Development & Alumni Relations Office 


26 March 2018

Illinois born Queen’s graduate, Jessica Toops (MA Irish Studies, 2015), has followed her passion by setting up  a new company – AnceStory NI – a professional genealogy service providing in-depth archival expertise, and help in tracing roots and building family trees, across the island of Ireland.

Jessica, who came to Queen’s in 2012 as part of the University’s Study Abroad International Summer School, ended up studying for a Master’s degree before deciding to remain in Belfast to start her own business.

Speaking recently to IrishCentral, Jessica talked about her love for Belfast, Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, and about the challenges of starting a business here.

“I completed my undergrad degree in History at Western Illinois University in 2013 and decided to go on the Study Abroad Irish Studies International Summer School at Queen’s, as I was really interested in Irish history.

“During my time on the summer school we explored different parts of Ireland and I just fell in love with the country, the people and the history. I knew I had to come back!” said Jessica.

With the experience of the Summer School behind her, Jessica decided to apply for a Master’s degree at Queen’s.

“I applied to study for an MA in Irish Studies at the University after getting a taster during the summer school. I did my dissertation on exploring second-generation return migration “home” to Ireland from North America, and the performance of Irish identities in public and private spaces,” she added.

As part of her Master’s, Jessica took up an internship at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), where her love for researching family histories began.

During her PRONI internship, Jessica also worked as a researcher on a six-part documentary UTV series – The Big House Reborn – on the £7.5m restoration of Mount Stewart, a 19th-century house and garden on the shore of Strangford Lough owned by the National Trust (available on DVD).

After graduating in 2015, Jessica returned home to the United States and worked in archives, before travelling back to Dublin for a period and eventually moving north to Belfast.

Talking to IrishCentral about starting her business, Jessica said: “My experience working at PRONI and researching family histories – like I did for the Mount Stewart documentary – gave me the idea for AnceStory NI.

“Starting my own business was a way for me to do have a career in the field I was passionate about in the city I had fallen in love with. I applied for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa through the Graduate School at Queen’s and was successful.

“Setting up a business in a different country is not without its challenges, especially when it comes to visas. Oftentimes, it means meeting a lot uncertainty and self-doubt with blind determination. In that regard, support I received from the University, particularly from the Graduate School, has been unparalleled.

Currently working with clients across the world researching their family histories, Jessica couldn’t be happier. “I am so lucky to be working professionally as an historian. Family history to me is all about storytelling. It’s my job to conduct archival research and weave together the facts I uncover to tell your story.”

To find out more about AnceStory NI, please visit

General enquiries to Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.


Back to Main News









Top of Page