Visiting PRONI

PRONI entry display

If you’re into genealogy, there are a few places you want to visit at least once to search records.  One of them is the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, or PRONI.

PRONI is in Belfast, in the Titanic Quarter.  They house original documents as well as microfilms and other copies, taken from churches, businesses, and individuals, along with government records.

I’ve traced all of my lines back to the people who came over to North America, so now have to start searching elsewhere.  When we were in Ireland (technically, the Republic of Ireland) in 2014, we went down to Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown), where my Doyle ancestors were from, and were able to get a little more information from the County Carlow library and the parish.  But those records only really go back to about 1800.

PRONI has records from earlier, although only for Northern Ireland.  The Ferriers are from Belfast according to the records I already have, and the McFarlands were Ulster-Scots from County Tyrone.  And despite options for on-line research, if you don’t know where to start, it doesn’t help.

Once you get registered for access, and get your ID card, you can go upstairs to look at the self-service microfilms, or request specific items to be pulled from the archives.  I was able to look at their electronic index in advance, so knew more or less what microfilm reels I wanted to search.

Despite fairly specific details, I had no luck finding the Ferriers, within 10 years on either side of the info I had.  The McFarlands were harder although there was info to be found.  The specific years that I was searching for had not been microfilmed, but I hoped that I would find related information about the family that might help me hone in on my family.  The specific records from the mid 1700s were microfilmed in no particular order, jumping 10 years from page to page.  Most of the records were christenings, with some marriages, and a few burials.  The handwriting was alternately easy and impossible to read.  The city names in particular were sometimes difficult to decipher.   It took me nearly 3 hours to go through the Cappagh Parish records on microfilm.  Then I had to read my handwritten notes and create a spreadsheet.

The only way to get images is to have the librarian do prints from the microfilms. They are somewhat emphatic that you are not to take “personal photos” within the restricted rooms.

Searching for ancestors on ships manifests is difficult, as until fairly recently, there was no requirement for a captain to submit one upon arrival.  A relatively new database is DIPPAM (Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People, and Migration), which includes many items about ships and transportation.  Using this, I was able to verify that the ship North Star did indeed exist, and departed from Londonderry on 1 June 1812 bound for New York.  I was also able to search Filby’s index*, which showed two McFarland families, apparently on the same ship, who landed in New London, Connecticut in 1811, as well as one who landed in New York City in 1812.  Now to tease out the inconsistencies in my information.  And figure out where the North Star actually landed.

Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index: A Guide to Published Arrival Records of … Passengers who Came to the United States and Canada in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries. 3 volumes plus annual supplements. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981-__. This series is a finding aid to published passenger lists. Be sure to read the “front material” to understand how to use the information you find.

Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography, 1538-1900. 2d ed. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1988.

More about Belfast

Fish statue with Samson/Goliath crane in background

We opted to take the Hop On Hop Off City bus tour after the convention was over, to fill in areas of town that we hadn’t gotten to already.

The tour guide, Eoin, explained the history behind the places we were seeing. He referred to The Troubles and their place in history. And it became evident that much of that divide still exists in Belfast.

One of the remaining peace walls that separated parts of Belfast. It’s 3 stories tall.

These walls and many others are covered with murals depicting important people in the history of Belfast, and people world-wide who have been important in terms of supporting and fighting for oppressed people. You can get more information from the Virtual Belfast Murals Tour site.

This series of murals is on Falls Road.

The spectre of Brexit weighs heavily on the Irish, particularly with concerns about a formal border again. The pound was at near historical lows compared to the dollar and euro. Despite this, there was construction going on throughout town as well as renovations on historical buildings.

View from the Observation Dome at Victoria Square.

Titancon – aka Eurocon 2019

Eurocon Banner

The reason we came to Belfast was to attend Titancon, which was also Eurocon for 2019. The convention is very much oriented towards Game of Thrones (it was filmed here), and is much smaller than many conventions we’ve attended.

Although we were definitely in relaxation mode, both of us were on programming. I was a participant on a panel titled “Medbots, Tricorders, and More” about the future of medicine, and moderated a panel titled “Weapons of Westeros” about the various mostly medieval/renaissance weapons used in the show. Stephen reprised the workshop on tea that he did in Dublin.

Stephen makes tea at Titancon

There were about 20 people from the Bay Area in attendance, which was somewhat surprising to many folks (although not us). Although there was less emphasis on the related timing than there was in 2014 (Loncon 3 and Eurocon/Shamrockcon), it made lots of sense for those of us with long trips to spend extra time in Ireland after Worldcon was over.

Glass of Thrones

As we walked along the river to the Titanic museum, we saw this gorgeous piece of art glass. I stopped to take a photo, and realized that it was one of a set of Game of Thrones inspired pieces.

In case you didn’t know, the show is filmed in Belfast, at Titanic Studios, just adjacent to the Titanic Museum.

There are six pieces in total, which were installed in April 2019.

One of the most amusing things to me is the different statements on the side warning folks:
It’s a long way down… Ascend at your own risk.
Climb at your own risk – for the step is steep and full of terror.
Remember Bran Stark – Climb at your own risk.
If you fall, no one will bring you back… Climb at your own risk
But nothing to stop you from climbing up.

More details here on the Visit Belfast site.

On to Belfast

Stephen and Andy read the map

We had a wonderful dinner at Fallon & Byrne on our last night in Dublin. We’d been there 5 years ago on the Fab Food Trails tour, although we just went to the wine cellar and shopped.

We took the train from Dublin to Belfast… with a “side” bus to finish the trip because they are working on the train lines. The Hilton Belfast hotel is just across the street from the train station. It was (of course!) raining when we arrived, so we put Stephen into a cab with all of the luggage and the rest of the group walked.

Titanic Museum

The next day we went to the Titanic Museum, which was a nice walk along the Lagan river. There were several interesting historical posts along the fence, as well as fantastic #GlassOfThrones artwork along the way (see here for more details).

Belfast Maritime Trail sign

I hadn’t realized just how big and busy a port Belfast was. Nor had I realized that they have been one of the premier ship building locations for 200 years. Harland & Wolff were premier shipbuilders, and then branched out into wind turbines and other newer technology in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, they declared bankruptcy about a week before we arrived. There are two huge hoists that dominate the Belfast skyline, known as Samson and Goliath, marked with H&W and used to move ships and other large objects.

I strongly recommend visiting the museum, and suggest you allocate at least three hours to go through all of the exhibits, especially going to see the SS Nomadic, which was one of the tender ships paired with RMS Titanic. Nomadic has been refurbished as she was in 1912, although she is in permanent drydock.

Worldcon 77, aka Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon – Part 2

Masquerade Award Ribbons

The Masquerade

We started on Wednesday afternoon with a tour of the CCD Auditorium, and had a chance to meet the professional staff. We verified our plans (made from afar with just drawings of the auditorium), and solidified our volunteer staff.

We got a chance to see how the auditorium would work and the views from the upper level on Thursday evening during the Opening Ceremonies and Retro Hugos. And were able to do some blocking work on the stage Friday morning as they were setting up for the evening’s orchestra/music event.

View from the stage
The CCD Auditorium seats 2000.

Contestant meeting, final tech prep, and then tech rehearsals all started before 10am on Saturday. We had four of the professional staff helping us, Stage Manager, Sound, Lights, and Video, alongside our volunteer crew. Rehearsal finished by 5:15pm, so we all had chance for a brief break and some dinner, before we opened the auditorium at 7:00pm, with two waves of seating. The show started on time at about 8:02pm.

Masquerade Director Kevin Roche
Masquerade Director Kevin Roche
Ric scorted in by Crowley & Aziraphale

We had a total of 35 entries cross the stage. About half were novices. A couple were folks who had first competed in Helsinki 2 years ago. The performance went very smoothly.

Masquerade MC Ric Bretschneider

Our halftime entertainment was Pecha Kucha Karaoke, led by our MC, who has hosted many Pecha Kucha events featuring both prepared presentations and karaoke presentations. The audience was entertained while the judges deliberated.

More photos can be seen in this Flickr album.

Worldcon 77, aka Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon – Part 1

British Airways plane at San Jose Airport

After Worldcon 76 in San Jose last year, we traveled to our sister city Dublin, Ireland. We’ve been looking forward to this since our visit there for the 2014 Eurocon. British Airways now has a non-stop from San Jose to London, so we took that flight and then a short hop to Dublin.

We coordinated with several friends and opted to stay at an AirBnB in the Silicon Docks area, just across the River Liffey from the Convention Center Dublin (CCD) where the bulk of the convention was being held. It was an even better location than we realized when we booked. There were several local restaurants within a block or two as well as a grocery store and bank just a long block away.

Most of us were involved in running the Masquerade in some fashion. We wanted a bit of time to relax before we got started with the work, so we all traveled in the weekend before.

hills of Ireland, near Glendalough
The hills of Ireland, near Glendalough

We learned how to work with the local transport system (TFI: Transport From Ireland) as we took the bus up to the office of Shamrock Rosettes to pick up the Masquerade ribbons. EPIC The Immigration Museum was just across the river on the way to the bus station. We did a day trip with Elegant Irish Tours down to Glendalough and Russborough Estate. (Thanks to Debbie for arranging it!)

The library at Russborough
The library at Russborough

More photos on Flickr here


Props: Chimney Sweep

This year we decided to be “old school” characters from Mary Poppins for the Oscars party. Most of the pieces were just assembling items from our closet. But there were two key things we needed — the Chimney Sweep prop that Bert carries, and the hat that Mary wears. Here’s how I made the chimney sweep.

I saw this post on Instructables:

So off I went to my local Joann Fabrics, to see what I could find that would work. The key find was chenille stems in black (think long pipe-cleaners). No need for paint. The second find was in the garage — black cardboard from a wine carrier. Maybe some touch up paint or even just a sharpie on the edges. The third key piece was a replacement shovel handle at Home Depot.

The wine carrier box had convenient pre-cut rounds (I guess for a tall bottle to stick out), which just popped out to use as the centers. They are about 1.5″ in diameter, so not too big. I colored the edges with a sharpie.

Then I glued down a total of 16 stems to each of the two rounds. Once the glue was set, I then glued them together.

Since the circles were just slightly larger than the end of the shovel handle, I opted to screw the assembly into the handle. This not only makes it easier to keep together, it makes it easy to undo for packing.

The final prop:

Battery Tender – trickle charger for your car

When my dad died, we had troubles keeping the battery in his car working, because we just didn’t drive it enough. After needing a jump from a friend, they recommended we get a trickle charger.

I did some research, and found the Battery Tender line of products from Deltran.  You just put the clips on the battery, plugged it in to the wall, and when the green light was solid, you had a full charge.  Of course, this required opening the hood to get to the battery.  What if I wanted to be able to quickly put the battery on and off the charger?  Deltran thought of this, they created the Ring Terminal Harness, which attaches to the battery posts and has a quick connect attachment to the charger itself.  I put one on my mom’s car, as she started driving less and less, and we just leave it attached all the time except when we are driving her car.  I put one on the truck, as we drive it infrequently, and it would be nice to boost it easily… but then the battery died.  The quick connect was not capped, and we could not figure out if this was the problem, or if it was just that the battery was old and at end of life.

So then I got their Digital Voltage Display accessory.  You attach this to the end of the cable and it will tell you what charge the battery has.  What we figured out is that the truck needs a fairly high voltage, definitely above 12V, in order to start.

They have several other accessories, including a USB port, a wireless battery monitor, a DC power connector and an ODBII connector. All can be seen here:

Worldcon 76

After years of prep, and some very frantic work through July and early August, we finally got to the day:  August 16th, Worldcon 76 in San Jose.
Worldcon 76 logo on the marquis at the San Jose Convention Center
We left home to travel 3 miles to the Fairmont hotel, our base during the convention, on Wednesday.  Everyone spent Wednesday setting up things like Program Operations (ProgOps), getting signs in place, and opening Registration for those who were pre-registered. Despite our best efforts, a few signs were missing and we were making things on the fly.  And once we saw how the crowds were moving and the rooms they kept asking us how to find, we made a few more directional ones.  One of the SJCC staff thought our idea for one was so good he was taking it back to management! Thursday afternoon the registration line was so long that I was walking the line to find my program participants so that they could get to their panels on time.  And I ran into my in-laws.  It was their first Worldcon, and we gave them their memberships for Christmas two years ago!
The biggest problem when you’re running the convention is that you don’t get much of a chance to actually participate in the convention.  But there were a few highlights:
  • having a chance to meet and work with all of the MexicanX Initiative participants.  They were universally friendly, professional, and willing to dive in wherever needed.
  • watching my husband create his own Masquerade entry and enter his first Masquerade competition.  He’s now gotten the bug and understands why most costumers are still working on things until the very last minute.
  • seeing N.K. Jemisin make history, winning her third consecutive Best Novel Hugo award, for The Stone Sky.
Now that it’s all done (well, almost, still a few loose ends to wrap up), we’re back to normal at home, working on the next set of Dueling DeadlinesTM.