Sure, there’s always ancestry.com and the foggy memory of your Great Uncle Tom, but for the most factual (not to mention, coherent) overview of your family history, you’d best consult a professional.
If you’re Irish, there’s no person more qualified to piece it all together than Helen Kelly, the "genealogy butler" at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel, which recently underwent a luxurious refurbishment. A professional genealogist and a member of Accredited Genealogists Ireland (AGI), Kelly works with hotel guests interested in learning about their family history.
Ahead of their trip, visitors fill out assessment forms detailing basic information about their Irish ancestor, including approximate year of birth, number of children, and occupation. Kelly then assesses this information, along with family records, maps, and other source material, and puts together a concise genealogical report — the details of which she discusses over coffee or tea at The Shelbourne’s Lord Mayor’s Lounge.
After presenting her findings, Kelly empowers guests to take ownership of their own research.
“We’re the products of our parents and grandparents, but we’re also the products of our landscape,” says Kelly. “So I encourage visitors to travel to the exact townland their ancestor is from to see how the locals talk, what they look like, and how they live.”
Before sending guests on their way, Kelly advises her clients to “walk gently” (a polite way of asking visitors to be sensitive to their new environments) and be open to spontaneous exchanges.
“Take a chance on a chance encounter,” she says. “You never know where it might take you or what information you might uncover in the process.”