24 June 2011


     I am going through big changes in my life this summer, changes that have made me stop and reflect on the lives of my ancestors. In September, I will be moving from the Philadelphia area to Toronto, Canada. My Large ancestors from County Kilkenny lived in Canada for a short time before continuing to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, so I will be reversing their route.
     My emigration will be much more bureaucratically onerous than that of Bridget Kavanagh Large in 1844. My husband and I need letters stating our purpose for visiting Canada each time we go there to prepare our new home. My last flight home involved a long afternoon wait at customs and an additional full body scan at the airport (not that I mind the security measures, I am happy to cooperate). The paperwork we will need to work and live in Toronto gives me a headache--bank accounts, car registrations, car insurance, health insurance, social security numbers, mail forwarding, doctors records, medical exams, visas, work permits, cat permits, veterinarian papers.
     Bridget didn't need any such paperwork in 1844.
     But she had a much harder emigration journey than my one hour plane ride or ten hours in the car. In the spring of 1844, Bridget received funds and permission to emigrate from Lord Wandesforde, the lord of the estate in the area of Castlecomer, County Kilkenny. She was a poor widow traveling with her seven children. She braved the cold Atlantic in a  "coffin ship." When she arrived in Canada, she needed food and supplies for her family, and the Canadian government provided her with the essentials she needed to survive. I have found records detailing the provisions that she received from Canada in Kingston. I wonder, would she have survived without this assistance from the Canadian government? She was so poor in Ireland that she had to beg Lord Wandesforde for blankets for her children.
     Below is the list of provisions given to immigrants, including "Widow Large" at Kingston, Ontario, in 1844. This list is from the Canadian Archives. I believe some of the others listed might be Co. Kilkenny people.

     Bridget's great great granddaughter will be traveling in an air conditioned and heated car. My cat Oscar will probably have a more comfortable emigration journey than did Bridget, although I am willing to bet that Oscar will be complaining more loudly. I will have the opportunity to take several trips to Toronto to select a home. Helping me will be two relocation professionals who will drive me around the city and supply me with maps and information. I wonder if Bridget had anyone meet her when she arrived in Kingston? Family legends claim that the both the Large and Kavanagh families had disowned Bridget and her husband Thomas when they married, because of religious and social differences. One tale tells of an aunt on the Large side, who tried to take the sons away from Bridget in Canada, forcing the family to flee to Pennsylvania. I have not yet been able to verify this story, but I am hoping that my time in Canada will help me to research and complete Bridget's story.
     So, even though I have been too busy with my upcoming move to do much genealogy research, I find I am thinking of my ancestors often during my immigration process. I am certainly learning to appreciate more and more the psychological and emotional trauma that our ancestors must have experienced when leaving Ireland for a new land. I can hardly bear to leave my family, friends, and Irish genealogy group behind. How horrid the conditions in Ireland must have been in 1844 to cause Bridget to set off across the ocean with her seven children, with only the hopes that the government or some kind soul would feed them when they landed!

16 June 2011


     I have found a very common frustration among family historians. A researcher finds a new cousin, or another researcher with common research interests, then that new contact becomes incommunicado. POOF! Disappears into thin air! In many of the stories I hear, this new contact seemed very enthusiastic about genealogy or about finding a new family connection. Usually, this person received far more information than he or she shared. Many times, this person hints about or claims to possess valuable family information. So, why the disappearing act?
     I think, although the stories are the same, the reasons people hide are too diverse to generalize. Some people get excited about meeting a new relative, then think twice about getting involved with more family members. Others want the information, but they are possessive about their own  records and photos, and simply don't want to share. Some envision themselves as THE family historian, and don't like sharing the title. And, some are just plain cantankerous!
     The disappearances I don't quite understand myself are the fellow researchers who don't respond or who disappear after getting the help they need. I am hearing more and more complaints from people who have had their DNA tested, have contacted their matches, and don't hear back. These matches are people who also have had their DNA tested for genealogical purposes and who signed a consent form to be contacted. They also paid a hefty sum to get their DNA tested for genealogical purposes. Why don't they follow through?
     I see this lack of responsiveness as a real and growing problem in genealogy. I know quite a few family historians who are now much more possessive about their work product and records because they were "burned" too many times by people who took their work and disappeared. Access to records and communication with relatives and fellow researchers are the key tools relied upon by family historians. Sharing and helping each other is crucial to us.
     What to do?
     Short of pestering, burglary (just kidding!!), and becoming more possessive ourselves, there is little we can do to force someone to communicate. In the law, there is an old legal principle that it is easier to restrain a person from doing an act than it is to force a person to act. Some people respond to repeated requests, others are put off by what they perceive as pestering and shut up tighter than a clam shell.
     The most effective methods reported by other researchers seems to be bribery and third-party involvement. I know some researchers who will not share all of their work product with a new contact. They use the promise of "more information to come" as an encouragement for the other person to share. I have also heard successful stories of other relatives or friends interceding with the recalcitrant person to obtain the needed information.
     But I do find it hard, myself, not to feel  a bit "burned" when a contact drops out of sight, especially after getting my information and sharing none in return. 

09 June 2011


     Once a month, a group of family history researchers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York (and sometimes Delaware) meet in Voorhees, NJ, as the Irish American Family History Society.  (IAFHS) The formal name belies a casual, fun atmosphere with great craic! Our June meeting had a titillating topic: "Tales and Taboos." We shared stories about our ancestors, stories which were often covered up by family members. We discovered that knowing and researching these stories are important because they can either help or hinder our research. For example, I had an ancestor listed on a census as a widow, with one child, living with her parents. So, I began digging. Turns out that she was not a widow--she and her husband fought frequently early in their marriage, and she left her husband often. I guess she was pretty mad at him the day the census taker came! But if I hadn't dug into family gossip, I would not have discovered the error in my records!
     I will list some of the common "tales and taboos" that might create brick walls in our research. Often, there is an explanation for why we are thrown off track, and that explanation makes for a great tale!
     MURDER AND MAYHEM! I've met quite a few researchers whose ancestors were murderers or murder victims. Not all of these homicides resulted in convictions. Sometimes they were listed as "accidental deaths," especially if they happened in a workplace or tavern. Many times, our ancestors died in workplace accidents or catastrophes that would be considered criminal today. Don't forget to check death certificates for any hint that a coroner's inquest might have occurred. You might be able to obtain the inquest records or find newspaper articles about the circumstances surrounding an ancestor's untimely death.
     KISSING COUSINS! The degree of relationship acceptable for marriage has changes through time and place. In many societies, marriages between first cousins and between uncles and nieces were accepted. Bigamy was not limited to the Mormons--I have heard many stories from researchers who found that their ancestors had two or more spouses without getting divorced. Can't find a marriage record for your great grandparents? You might consider that they might not have bothered making their relationship "legal!"
     BUN IN THE OVEN!  My vote for the all-time-brick-wall-making-event is birth date. Children conceived by or born to unmarried parents have been the subject of fudged dates and relationships on many a family tree. Consider this possibility when there are large gaps in the sibling order of a family--the "bonus baby" may in fact be a child of one of the daughters.
     DON'T BE AFRAID TO INQUIRE! I have found that some researchers are embarrassed to consider the idea that an ancestor might have been "scandalous," but an open mind often leads to genealogical discoveries.

01 June 2011


     If your ancestor was an Irish born member of the British Merchant Marine from September 1918 to December 1921, you are in genealogical luck. The IRISH MARINERS web site has an online index of 23,000 Irish born seamen, with some Canadian seamen as well. The index is the key to a collection of cards in the Southampton Civic Archives. The cards themselves contain photos, personal information, and voyage details. The Irish Mariners site is fascinating to visit even if you do not have mariners of that time in your tree. Some of the photos of the young Irish men about to go off to sea are precious. Link to the website below.
     If your family has tales of navy men among your ancestors, be sure to check the British naval records in the National Archives (U.K.). The Archives web page has a fantastic search engine, plus more records are being digitized and placed online as time goes on, so don't forget to check it often. Link to Archives' Naval Service records below.
      I want to send a big THANK YOU to a few fellow researchers who alerted me to the Irish Mariners site: Jack Langton of the Castlecomer mailing list, Pat Connors of Connors Genealogy, and Michael of the County Carlow IGP site and Carlow mailing list. I would like to mention the hard work of the many independent site owners such as Pat and Michael, plus the tireless volunteers who maintain the Irish Genealogical Project pages. These individuals give their time and effort to bring free online records to Irish researchers everywhere. Links to their sites below.
IRISH MARINERS WEBSITE: http://www.irishmariners.ie/index.php
NATIONAL ARCHIVES NAVAL SERVICE RECORDS: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/navy-cards-and-files.asp
COUNTY CARLOW IGP WEBSITE: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlcar2/Site_index.htm
CONNORS GENEALOGY (various Irish counties and NY records): http://www.connorsgenealogy.com/
BRENNAN WEBSITE (southeast Co. Laois): http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mjbrennan/index.htm