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!