Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random Acts

A few weeks ago, my 64 year old, well-upholstered bod was busily clambering up and down ladders in the Deeds Registry, hauling down tombstone after tombstone, and then returning them to where they belonged. These are the old parchment books with script that dates back to the days of quill pens. Each of them feels as if they weigh a good thirty pounds, but they probably weigh only twenty. I had just thumped another one down in front of me, when a woman working at the table across from me quietly asked: Are you Sharon Oddie Brown?

Apparently, she had recognized me from my web site and had been following my work for some time. Well, that is always way beyond cool for someone like me who trucks away on this and that in total solitude. As part of introducing herself, she asked if I had ever heard of RAOGK.

Now if you tried to pronounce this acronym, RAOGK, it might sound like what you might scream after stubbing your toe and not wanting to offend a tender heart within hearing distance.

It is nothing like that.

It turns out that not only is there a web site, but you can even buy a t-shirt with the logo. Or a bag, a coffee mug, you name it. It stands for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. Now, that is even cooler. SEE: RAOGK on, I say.

On this trip, I made notes of as many JACKSON references as I could in the names index at the Deeds Registry, including every citation that I could find for them during the 18th Century and much of the 19th. Then I did notes on the ones that had the most promise, at least with respect to the lines that I am ferreting out.

Okay, I will admit that this is a tad obsessive, but this approach has already been bearing fruit. The thing is that these deeds sometimes recite other, earlier deeds and it is often the only way to pry open the door on some aspects of the late 1600s Irish land transactions. It is also one of those things that are way too time consuming and idiosyncratic to hire a researcher to do – unless you are Mr. or Ms. Moneybanks, which is not my lot in life.

As I have said before, much of my research these days follows the advice of Deep Throat in the movie All the President’s Men. It is simple, just: Follow the money.

That being said, collaboration and sharing is an amazing facet of current research with the advent of the web. It leads to meeting people like Dawn in the Deeds Registry. She is one of the volunteer transcribers who contribute to a site set up by Nick Reddan in Australia. There are now more than 57,000 deeds that he and his volunteers have indexed and shared on this site, no fee required. SEE:

Aside from sparing people the fear of death by ladder and falling tombstone, this site makes it possible to find people who are not necessarily either the lessor or the lessee of a property. Sometimes these deeds include the names of those who may have been a witness, a neighbour, a child or a wife. These are often the kinds of people who fly beneath the radar and who don’t show up anywhere else – especially since the loss of the records in the 1922 fire in Dublin.

Nick has a template that you can use to submit your own deeds data, and as the old saying goes, Many hands make light work. He also has a list at rootsweb, which you can join to be alerted to any breaking news with respect to additions to his Irish deeds transcriptions. SEE:

With respect to my own growing pile of transcriptions, I gave Dawn a copy of my file before I left Dublin. It had started at 219 pages before I left home and ended up being more than a hundred pages longer. I plan to clean it up a bit – remove some of the typos and such, then share it with Mike in Vancouver, another volunteer researcher who I have yet to meet. The two of them will then perform some magic to turn my chart into data that fits into Nick's template.

In a recent email, Mike taught me a new trick. I had always assumed that if I wanted a microfilm from LDS, that I had to go to Burnaby, order it, pay my $6.00/film, and then truck back out there six weeks later to view it. For me, each trip required a half days travel and a $50.00 ferry trip. Understandably, that kind of job always fell to the bottom of my endless To Do list. But, Tadah - No longer.

Mike told me that I can have them shipped to the Vancouver Public Library through Inter-Library loan – still for the same $6.00 that LDS would charge, fair enough – and then view them there. How good is that? I can do that all by bus and not need to take a car across on the ferry.

Here is what I see happening next. With the help of Nick in Australia, Mike in Vancouver, Dawn in Dublin and a chorus of unseen and unknown others, we will combine our forces to slay the beast of ignorance – at least with respect to the treasures of the Deeds Registry.

As my great-great grandmother might have pronounced from out of the folds of her pleated, Presbyterian bonnet, One good deed deserves another.

PS. I will also post the deeds and references that I have transcribed onto my web site. It will happen bit by bit, after I take time out for Xmas, and also enjoy some time with family and friends – who I miss more and more as I near the end of my six week stint away from home.There is an old Country and Western song that has a line How can I miss you if you don't go away. It suits. Except I am the one who went away.

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