Sometimes, digging up your family history can be a long and lonely vigil with varying results. And no matter what people learn, they’re usually happy that they put in the work.
That’s been the experience of professional genealogist Lisa Dougherty, who says that more often than not, people are intrigued and fascinated by what they unearth about the family tree. Over the next three Wednesday nights, she will be helping people, specifically Irish-Americans, delve into their family background by offering a genealogy workshop at the Irish-American Heritage Museum on Broadway in Albany.
This Wednesday at 6:30 she’ll give a presentation titled “How to Find a Place of Origin for your Irish Ancestor.” Programs on “Irish Genealogy 101” and “Researching Your Irish Ancestor Using RootsIreland.ie” will follow on March 12 and 19, respectively.
Dougherty grew up in Glens Falls, studied art history at SUNY-Potsdam, and then worked in the photography industry for 25 years. When the digital age dried up the business, she rekindled an old interest in her family history and began training to become an independent genealogist.
It’s a great part-time job (she has a handful of clients), but much of the time she serves as a volunteer, offering free help to visitors at the Irish-American Society and both the Clifton Park Library and the Crandall Library in Glens Falls.
Before it closed in 2011, Dougherty also volunteered at the National Archives in Pittsfield, Mass. When her three weeks of Wednesday programs are done at the Irish-American Heritage Museum, she’ll speak on April 8 at the Hibernian Hall in Albany.
Dougherty will travel to Ireland for the fifth time later this year and is planning to write a blog during her visit. She lives in Castleton in Rensselaer County with her husband and their 13-year-old son.
Q: What kind of issues are you going to be addressing on Wednesday night?
A: Lots of times people have problems finding a place of origin for their ancestor. Sometimes the research is non-specific. It might just say, “Ireland,” and not be specific to any city or town. I’m going to help people find out more information and show them how to access records that are in Ireland. I’m going to talk about a specific website that’s a big help.
Q: Do you specialize in Irish-American genealogy?
A: I find myself gravitating more and more toward Irish research. I’ve done a lot of different groups in the past, but I’m at the point now where I’m happiest and willing to do a lot of work digging into Irish history. I’m a quarter Irish, and it was my father who first got interested in the family history back in the ’70s. He looked into his Irish roots and learned exactly where his great-grandfather was from. It was something he did not know when he started out, but genealogy became a hobby for him.
Q: How long have you been seriously interested in genealogy?
A: I’ve been at it for about 19 years and doing it professionally about four years. I do have private clients, and most of the time they are people who have been doing it a long time and are just stuck. There are also people who don’t have the time or skill to do the research themselves, but they’re interested enough and they really want to know. Just since I started I would say there are more people interested than there used to be. As things become more accessible on the Internet, the popularity of genealogy has grown. Once people learn how to use a computer and get better access, the more interested they get.
Q: Are more Irish-Americans interested in their family history than other groups?
A: A lot of Irish-Americans are interested in their family trees, but I wouldn’t say they are more interested than other people. Actually, the No. 1 ethnic group out there is German-Americans, followed by the Irish at No. 2. The German genealogy records are very good. When you start digging into your German history, you tend to be well rewarded, because they were very organized and had a lot of records. The Irish records are good to a point, but not if you go back too far. You go back before the beginning of the 19th century it gets pretty difficult for the Irish because they didn’t keep good records on people, especially if they were farmers. But the Germans kept excellent records.
Q: Where do you do most of your work?
A: I can do a lot of it at home on the Internet, but I do a lot of research at the state library, and I enjoy going to any other library I may need to go to.
Q: Are people ever disturbed by what they learn about their ancestors?
A: I’ve never really come across anything really sensitive that people wouldn’t want to know about. Sometimes, if there is something scandalous in the family background there’s usually a hint of it when they start looking. They’ve heard a story or something, and they want to confirm it. Most of the time it’s something that happened so long ago and is so buried it’s really become just an item of interest. It’s not something they’re going to be upset about.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org