WDYTYA? key documents: Emma Willis's episode

By Jon Bauckham, 3 August 2017 - 10:15pm

Emma Willis's episode of WDYTYA? was filled with a fascinating mixture of English and Irish sources. We look at some of the most important documents seen on screen...

Emma Willis Who Do You Think You Are
Emma Willis's genealogical journey took her from Birmingham to Ireland

Star source

Historic newspapers

Articles from historic newspapers are a prominent feature of Emma Willis’s episode. The story of James Gretton’s ‘brush’ with the law comes from the 18 January 1862 edition of the Birmingham Evening Post, available online at British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast.

Both websites (which hold exactly the same newspaper collections) also contain a wealth of Irish newspapers, including the Freeman’s Journal and the Evening Freeman, in which Emma’s craftsman ancestor Michael Kirwan Sr is frequently mentioned.

However, the announcement of Richard Fowler and Harriet Fisher’s marriage in the Leinster Express, dated 1835, comes from the Irish Newspaper Archive.

Other key sources

Trade directories

Early on in her Who Do You Think You Are? journey, Emma discovers that her 3x great grandfather, James Gretton, worked as a “horn and hair merchant, and dealer in English and foreign sizing”.

The information comes from Dix’s 1858 General and Commercial Directory of Birmingham, available as part of the Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941 collection on Ancestry.

A wide collection of trade directories can also be accessed free of charge via the University of Leicester’s Special Collections website.

Irish Catholic parish registers

Emma’s father manages to find a baptism record for Emma’s great great grandmother Margaret Kirwan in the National Library of Ireland’s Catholic parish registers collection.

A free website featuring browse-only scans of the microfilm was launched by Library in 2015, but Ancestry and Findmypast have since launched their own searchable versions of the collection.

Emma Willis Who Do You Think You Are Margaret Kirwan Irish Catholic parish registers baptism
Margaret Kirwan's baptism is recorded in the National Library of Ireland's Catholic parish register microfilm collection

Irish civil marriage records

As she delves deeper into her Irish roots, Emma discovers that her 3x great grandparents, Michael Kirwan and Harriet Fowler, married in a register office rather than a church – most likely due to their ‘mixed’ religious backgrounds.

Whereas the civil registration of Catholic marriages began in 1864, the procedure was introduced for non-Catholic marriages in 1845. As it took place in 1861, an entry for Michael and Harriet’s marriage can therefore be found in the Irish Civil Registration indexes, available at numerous locations including Ancestry, Findmypast and the Irish government’s official genealogy website, IrishGenealogy.ie.

'Full' copies of Irish civil marriage certificates, revealing further information about the bride and groom, can be purchased from the Irish General Register Office here. However, a cheaper photocopy for research purposes can also be ordered using this form.

Irish marriage settlements

Genealogist John Grenham is able to provide crucial information about Emma’s 5x great grandparents thanks to an 18th-century marriage settlement record held at the Registry of Deeds in Dublin.

Microfilm copies of records from the Registry of Deeds (which also includes leases, wills and rent charges), are currently in the process of being digitised and uploaded to FamilySearch, while an incomplete index to the material is available here.

More information about using the Registry of Deeds for genealogical research can be found on John Grenham's excellent website.

The Dictionary of Irish Architects

Emma learns more about Michael Kirwan Sr’s work as a stone cutter and marble mason thanks to The Dictionary of Irish Architects.

Free to use, the online resource allows users to search for details of Irish architects, builders and craftsmen active between 1720 and 1940.

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