Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Talk at Armagh & District History Group

September 23, 2011.
The Internet has totally transformed how local histories are now being written. Ireland stands to gain significantly because so many of its people in the last four centuries emigrated. It is now the Internet that connects us all up. Many of the descendants of these emigrants contribute their long lost stories to the pool of shared knowledge. On October 12th, the Armagh Local History Society will host a talk by Sharon Oddie Brown about the ongoing impact of these changes.

In 2003, Brown started sharing much of her own research online. The focus of her web site is the inter-connected history of hundreds of people, particularly those from Armagh, Louth, Down, and Monaghan. Currently, more than 6,000 people from around the world log on to her website every month. Less than a year ago, she also started writing pieces for a blog which has so far been visited by more than 24,000. Both the blog and the web site have also become indispensable as research tools.

Many of the descendants of the various waves of the Irish diaspora saved photos and scraps of paper that those who stayed home might have binned a long time ago. Total strangers are now sharing scanned copies of documents that had been carefully saved for generations. To be sure, archives and library holdings will always be essential, but this is a whole new layer of material.

Born in Canada, Brown’s father came from Killynure, a farm on the road to Monaghan. For the past decade, she has been researching the story of her great-grand-uncle Thomas Jackson. He was the son of a Co. Armagh tenant farmer and grew up during the mid-1800s famine. He left in 1863 to work in banking in the Far East. Thanks to a mix of his ethics, personality, and know-how, he turned HSBC from a small operation of less than a dozen young men into a major international bank. He was eventually knighted and then made a baronet in recognition of his achievements. Perhaps we’d all be better off if all banks were run by the sons of farmers.

Jackson’s mother, Eliza Oliver, was born at Killynure. She was one of the Huguenot Olivers who arrived in the region some time before the late 1600s. Thanks to the Internet, Brown met the owner of seventy seven letters that Eliza wrote to her son in Hong Kong and Yokohama in the mid to late 1800s. He shared them, and they are now on her website.

Brown will talk about how her quest has also introduced her to fellow researchers and relations in countries as far away as Zimbabwe. She will tell you how a great-grand-daughter of Rev. Daniel Gunn Brown was given up to an orphanage in Scotland, and was then connected to his story thanks to Brown’s web site. Also, thanks to this site, one of Sir Thomas’ signet rings was passed on to one of his descendants, a young man who is currently a gardener for the Prince of Wales. She will also touch on the stories of dozens of the Stitts, and Coulters, and Gilmores, and Jacksons, and others who made names for themselves in far off lands.

TIME: 7:30 October 12th
PLACE: Irish & Local Studies Library, Abbey St., Armagh - in the old City Hospital building.
CONTACT: Armagh & District History Group, Secretary Helen Grimes: 028 3752 7851.

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