When we started doing the Historic Graves Project I thought we'd get about 100-200 Irish surnames.
How wrong could one archaeologist be?
Growing up in Cork city I thought I knew most Irish surnames - O'Connell, O'Callaghan, Lyons, Sutton, Hurley, Connery, O'Mahoney, Varian, O'Keeffe, were the surnames that surrounded us - my own surname didn't quite fit in though cos I think we were the only Tierney's in a school of 1000 students. Our teachers were Daly, Olden, Lynch, Hannon.
A few years into the Historic Graves Project though, we did a surname search - we had 3,500 different surnames registered from Irish headstones! In 2017 we found we had 8314 different surnames.
Now our main tool for searching those names is the family search page. Enter your surname, forenames, dates and even pick a specific graveyard - hit enter and off you go. The results will be 100% the product of hundreds of surveys by hundreds of local Irish communities and surprisingly interesting.
Here are two sample searches.
1. a search of HGs headstones for the 5th most commonly encountered surname Walsh https://bit.ly/2H65jfG
2. a search of HGs headstones for the rarer Kenefick - a name I recognised from growing up in Cork city https://bit.ly/2JR00yk
There's a big difference in the quantity and distribution of these two surnames. Both have ethnic origins in the Norman Invasion of Ireland but perhaps at different ends of a social scale.
Ok, John, that's nice to know but what does it mean?
Once you have done your search and got your red tags on the map - what then? The key thing to know is that those red tags are the geocordinates recorded when the community groups photographed the headstone. The map is autogenerated when we upload the photographs.That means you do not really need to know the geography of Ireland or Munster to find your family grave. Just save the lat/long coordinates into a GPS or smartphone, or use the small google map on the left to save the gravestone location to your phone/tablet. A simple way to do that is copy and paste the coordinates into maps.google.ie eg. 51° 49' 19.794" N, 8° 14' 10.0608" W.
Bingo! Now you know where the grave is --you may never have heard of Corkbeg before but your voyage of discovery has begun. If you get to visit Ireland you will learn Corkbeg is about 30 minutes drive from Cork city. That Corkbeg is across the harbour from Cobh (formerly Queenstown) where a huge amount of Irish emigrants took passage abroad.
And for me, this is where the fun lies - the GPS coordinate is accurate to within a 20 m bubble - when you get to Corkbeg you will still need to rummage around to find the headstone. Wear stout boots, waterproof leggings & bring a flashlamp to read the inscription yourself. Then you'll be walking the same ground your forebears did, all those years ago.
By the way, Corkbeg and neighbouring graveyards were all surveyed by a local team consisting of three gents, Eddie Tucker, Jimmy O'Leary and Micheal Kenefick, plus, I'm sure a small army of assistants. SECAD funded two days training for them and they went on to survey nine graveyards and over a 1000 headstones in the E Cork harbour area.
If you wish to support community groups to survey their local graveyards then please consider making a donation to the project and write to firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions/questions you may have for surveys.