I have, off and on, been investigating the past for over two years. Specifically, I’ve been exploring the family tree. Yes’ I’ve been bitten by the genealogy bug.

My mother plagued me for years to delve into our past and promised to pay any fees involved. She had always been intrigued by her own family, and especially her own line which went back to a Sarah Joyce, my great-great grandmother. She came from Crossmolina or Crossmaglen, Mum said, although she had hardly any other information.

Other than that trifling bit of info I was in the dark. It seemed hopeless to even try looking, until the magic moment when the 1901 and 1911 Censuses were made available online. And there was Sarah, a widower, with her some of her grown up children. A few clues were at least a start. Sarah was coy about her age – gaining just six years in a decade, which was useful in that it made me distrust a lot of evidence from then on unless I could see some kind of corroboration.

No matter how much she asked me I never got around to doing anything further until some years ago, before Mum died, when the Government created yet another website, this time for births, marriages and death records. This time I invested many hours labouriously checking out all the McSweeney births in Cork. She had some family. The births seemed to go on and on, until at last the gap seemed almost too big.

Mum had given me a list of Sarah’s children, but I quickly discovered all was not what I expected. For a start she had more children that Mum knew about. Some were registered with no names. When I looked for marriages and deaths only some turned up. We knew three had emigrated to the US and Canada (the US ones turned up a few months ago thanks to MyHeritage.com), some didn’t have births registered. It was a mess with lots of mysteries waiting to be solved.

I looked for Sarah’s marriage and came across a few possibilities, one in a Co Cork Church, which Mum thought unlikely. And so things lay until Mum died in 2018.

Suddenly I had all her family papers and photos and what a treasure trove they turned out to be. A few months of hard work browsing through those documents and I began to fill in the family jigsaw bit by bit. We had no family birth record for one granduncle because there had been some confusion when he was born and his birth wasn’t registered. When he was due to sit his Intermediate Examination one of his brothers had to swear that he was born on a certain date. I looked up the date but his name wasn’t there. However, when I was checking out the baptism dates of one of his sisters his name came up! Mystery solved.

The online records of St Joseph’s Cemetery in Cork where most of Sarah Joyce’s family were buried proved very useful. By painstakingly going through every name I uncovered deaths and places of burial.

Ships records revealed not just when my great-granduncles sailed to the US, but who saw them off and who was waiting for them on the other side and their addresses. I also tracked down British Army records of two of my grandfathers, and the details behind the death of a granduncle in Italy during World War Two. Thanks again to online research I even discovered where in Italy he was buried.

There were plenty of shocks in my online sleuthing, and so far I have discovered 320-plus members in the family tree. The pity is Mum isn’t around to show her. She would also have been astonished to find I was right about Sarah Joyce’s marriage. She was 18 when she married as I had suspected. Her civil marriage record I came across only by accident when I misspelled her name!

Just before the Covid-19 lockdown began I started to write up what info I had on the main members of our extended family. It runs to around 100 pages, complete with extracts of births, marriages, deaths, photos and other documents, plus short biographies. It’s something for members of my family to read and know their family history. I’m just sorry Mum didn’t live to read it.