Sunday, March 29, 2015


The 13th New England Regional Genealogical Conference is only a few more weeks away,
(April 15-18 2015 at Providence, R.I.) and it's loaded with knowledgeable speakers giving
presentations on a variety of interesting subjects. One of those speakers will be professional
genealogist Michael Brophy. He's done research for the Who Do You Think You Are on Gwenyth Paltrow and for Dead Money, an Irish TV series.  He specializes in Irish and Irish-American
genealogy and in heir tracing, as well as technology for genealogy. Michael also is my fellow
resident of Abington, Massachusetts, a heavily Irish-American community. 

The organizers of the Conference asked New England genealogy bloggers to help get
out the word by conducting email interviews with the speakers.  I chose Michael because
of my own interest in my Irish heritage, and he graciously answered some questions for

1. What prompted you to become a professional genealogist?
After a beloved Aunt died on my maternal side her son published a book that included a well researched family history. After admiring the work, I asked my recently retired father what we know about the Brophy side. He replied “Not much”. That set me us off on a father-son research project to find out as much as we could about our ancestry. A few years later, after taking several courses and attending a number of conferences, I started to take on clients for research and giving lectures.

2. What are the unique challenges of researching Irish genealogies?
Some the main building blocks of genealogies in the United States are federal census records and vital records which are birth, marriage, death and divorce records. In Ireland, the most of the 19th century census records were either destroyed deliberately by the British government or lost in the destruction of the Irish Public Records Office in 1922. Civil registration of vital records did not start for all Irish citizens until 1864, a late start when compared to the vital records we have for most New England town dating back to colonial times. Other records such as tax records and church records are typically used to compile genealogies that are not nearly as complete as the records we have in the US.

3. We live in a state, Massachusetts,with one of the largest Irish-American populations in America.
What are the the advantages and disadvantages of researching Irish-American genealogy here?   

The advantages are we in Massachusetts are the most open record state in the nation. Vital records have no restrictions, meaning that anyone can view any birth, marriage, or death record up to the present day excepting special cases such as adoption and illegitimacy. Our records repositories are close by in the Boston area and are easily accessible. We have an active genealogy community here with experience and know how in researching Irish-American families.

I suppose the drawbacks are that getting into Boston to the record repositories means traveling into Boston with all the associated headaches with traffic and parking. As with Irish-American research, researching a common Irish surname such Murphy, Kelly, or Sullivan will require a lot of patience and persistence as you eliminate the possibilities. Published genealogies of Irish-American families in Massachusetts are rare when compared to more established families in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England.

4. Assuming we aren't still buried in snow drifts, will you be attending the Abington St. Patrick's Day Parade this year? 

My family and I were there and the parade was great as always. We kept moving to stay warm!

Michael will be giving a variety of presentations at the NERGC:
Snag-it For Genealogists on "Tech Day", Wednesday, April 15  9:30-10:30am.
Descendancy Research on Saturday, April 18 8:30-9:30am 
Kilroy Was Here: A Genealogy Case Study of a WW II Icon on Saturday, April 18 3:15-4:15pm.

He'll also be holding a free Special Interest Group discussion on Thursday, April 16 at
7:45 pm in the evening. The subject will be Irish genealogy.

That's a wide range of subjects! You can read fuller descriptions at the Conference Registration 
Brochure page and learn how to register for the NERGC on their main page here.

My thanks to Michael Brophy for taking part in this interview!

No comments: