Friday, November 28, 2014

Stumbling Upon Stuff


Oh, the things you find when you’re looking for something else.

For yesterday’s post, I had wanted to conclude with a photograph of one of my first Thanksgiving meals—as a child. It was a simple picture my dad had snapped of my sister and me, flanking our mother as we took our seats for dinner. Everything looked so strangely small: the turkey on the kitchen table in our tiny Cape Cod home—a place so small, it didn’t even have a dining room.

Small, yes. But special. It not only evoked fond memories of times past, together as family, but it has become a reminder of a time when we seemed to be much more satisfied with so much less.

For months, I had saved that photograph to insert with a Thanksgiving post here—you know, kept it in that special place where I was sure to find it. In the rush of running around, preparing for The Big Meal With Company, wouldn’t you know I’d lose that token of what life was like in a simpler time.

Still, as my husband likes to point out, there may be a reason for a loss like that. He always cautions to pay attention to what you find while you are looking for what you lost. Along the way, in your search for that missing object, you may uncover something else that needed to be brought to your attention.

I suppose that is one way to say, “Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.” And here is what I found on my “journey” to locate that missing picture: document upon document set aside to help me complete my D.A.R. application.

Yes, the D.A.R. application. You only thought I finished that project when I last blogged about it. But there were a few details standing between me and Job Done. Most of them had to do with those petty requirements of documentation. After the loss of my aunt last year, though, in going through all her belongings, I happened—piece by piece, of course—to locate a couple of just about every document I needed. Including some evidence to help me navigate those tricky name changes done without benefit of legal verification—you know, the kind when a person just up and decides to change his or her name. Just like that. Try constructing a paper trail on a scenario like that.

Finding these papers prompts me to look at this upcoming month as time for a year’s-end round-up. Seems like there are always projects that get started, but for whatever reason, are then put on hold—and never revisited. The D.A.R. project is one that I would not like to keep in perpetual suspension, and now that I have what I need to proceed, it’s as good a time as any to complete the task.

Perhaps entering into this holiday season is the best time for clean-up efforts like this. Just looking at the last two days and how much time and effort went into activities other than my usual research helps me realize that steady progress on research is just not likely to happen in a month like December. Finishing up these shorter tasks may be just the ticket to gaining a sense of accomplishment without launching a new—and likely, messy—project. It would be much more satisfying to close out the year, knowing I closed the book on a research project that still needed to be completed. And, if I can pull this off right, it sure would clean the slate for a fresh start in the New Year.

“But it’s only November,” you say? Don’t blink. You might just trip and fall into 2015 without realizing it.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Day of Small Beginnings


If you are starting this day off in preparation for a gigantic feast of turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams and green bean casserole, plus umpteen side dishes, salads, and maybe a ham for good measure, you have likely been doing this Thanksgiving routine for quite a few years.

Thanksgiving hasn’t always been so big. I can’t help thinking of a new generation, just starting out, wondering how they will get “it” all done. Among my friends, I’ve had at least two mention how a grandson or nephew has moved to a new apartment, or just welcomed a first baby into a new household. Fresh starts like these are just the setting for a new generation clamoring for Thanksgiving to be celebrated at their house this year. I hardly imagine the board will be groaning under their first attempts at feast-making—but the gathering will be just as special as always.

I can’t help thinking about another someone who will be doing her own cooking—this one far from home. Not in her own country, even. Try picking up a package of cranberries for a Thanksgiving dinner when you’re preparing it in Ireland. I imagine she’ll be hard pressed to succeed at that feature of the meal’s mainstays—though she did remind me of her shopping prowess when she once managed to procure dried ancho chiles for a favorite soup recipe, upon her arrival in Cork. With or without cranberries, she has been helping another forlorn foreign student cook up a feast for several Americans on campus today, and will follow that up with another joint effort back at her apartment this weekend—between turning in several final papers, no less.

That reminds me of my own first Thanksgiving attempt. In our humble one bedroom apartment, my galley-style kitchen became the scene of my holiday culinary debut. It was the first in a long line of episodes in which a fear of not having enough food for company—or dishes which my in-laws would, you know, actually like—produced the obvious outcome: more leftovers than our refrigerator could hold. The menu came complete with a choice of four salads for starters—something which my family has not let me forget. Of course, nobody chose; they had to taste all of it. By the time we got to the main course, who knows if anyone was still hungry.

Yet, it was on folding chairs that we sat around the tiny table holding that feast. Our living room “suite” was an extra-long twin bed covered in tie-dyed fabric, with bolsters along the wall behind us. I think we had some beanbag chairs. Our bookcase was made of planks of wood held up by cinder blocks—upon which our one proud possession, a stereo system, sat nestled with our umpteen books. Hey, we were starving students.

As we pass along family traditions to a younger generation, often it seems the memories preserved in their minds are of those grander, more recent, variations of our efforts as hosts. It’s easy for teenagers to remember the gatherings where they get together with their cousins while the older generations settle in for more subdued activities. Not as clearly remembered are those humble beginnings of the simple Thanksgiving gatherings when they were toddlers and their parents were just starting out. Those earlier times, however, were just as sweet—perhaps even more so.

I sometimes wonder whether that tradition of grand celebrations sets the bar so high for the next generation that it provokes a sense of competition. Somehow, each new generation has to be better than the last. When it comes to more, though, in the realm of blessings, perhaps we face a diminishing return. The more we have, the less grateful we seem to be for each blessing.

As a country, too, we once had a small beginning. Once, it was a time that demanded not just hard work to get by—it was a question of struggling for survival. Whether you consider the “first Thanksgiving” to have been a legend or a reality, there is no question that there was a time when blessings were received with more thankfulness—every single blessing held a more significant meaning for its recipient.

After all these decades of bigger and better blessings, on this day today, I hope that, whether you ate too much pie, or had to go for a long walk before you could tackle that second round of leftovers, your sense of blessing will remain as keen as it ever was in the time of your small beginning.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“A Dear Profitless Spot of Land”


A gneeve, a sessiagh, a ballyboe.

Surely, none of these terms would make sense to anyone in the English-speaking world but the Irish—well, at least the Irish who are familiar with the “traditional” designations of land divisions. I’m sure you’ll be as grateful as I was to uncover a study explaining those ancient divisions of land in Ireland, compiled by the first director of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland and posted by some kind and sympathizing soul on Wikipedia.

The tally goes something like this:
            Ten acres equals one gneeve.
            Two gneeves is one sessiagh.
            Three sessiaghs becomes one ballyboe.

It is after this point that our tongues finally stumble upon words that seem vaguely familiar. Two ballyboes make one ploughland. And four ploughlands make up one townland.

And you thought pronouncing the names of the townlands was difficult!

The townlands in Ireland—that Gaelic system of land division pre-dating the Normans—form the smallest unit of governmental administration under the civil parishes. There are more than sixty thousand townlands in Ireland. To give you an overview of the townland names for just one county—County Kerry in the southwest coastal region of the Republic of Ireland—you can peruse the listing here. I’m sure you’ll spot some personal favorites among the many names listed, as I did—even if you can’t figure out how to pronounce them.

Despite the calibrations detailed above, those townlands are not of a uniform size, and an extensive amount of work has been done, over the years, to standardize the boundaries of these townlands.

Though you may have noticed the “town” in “townlands,” the concept of towns as we know it was not part of the traditional, pre-British, rural Gaelic system. That timeframe represented a more agrarian society and lifestyle. Indeed, the very term “ballyboe” comes from the Irish baile bó, which means “cow land.”

Of course, not every piece of property was designated for grazing land. But you can be sure each of those tongue-twisting townland names came with its own meaning.

As far as pronunciation challenges go, there are lots of townland names to put you to the test. Though I haven’t the faintest how to pronounce them, here are some of my favorites—all gleaned in honor of our visit to the townlands of our Kelly and Falvey ancestors in County Kerry.

There’s Coomdeeween and Cloonnafinneela. Derrylooscaunagh and Dromvally. Gortdromagownagh and Gortna Killa. Perhaps you’d fancy Inchymagilleragh? Great. You have your choice of Inchy East and Inchy West.

Or how about Knockacappul? Here’s one the younger generation can celebrate: Knockaneacoolteen. See? They told you it was so.

And here’s my personal top favorite: Knockataggle Beg. Not enough for you? There’s always Knockataggle More.

Yes. There is a place called that.

Of course, there are unimaginative townland names like Acres. Or Barleymount—not just one, but three: Barleymount East, Middle and West. Someone must have liked that name. At least you can pronounce it. And then, the least imaginative of them all: Castlefarm. Ya think?

Not to say these names are all nonsensical creations. They do, of course, have meanings. Meanings reaching back far before the anglicization of the island. To get an idea of some of the place name meanings, take a look at this list of townland names for just the area surrounding the village of Currow. The translations describe something about each piece of property, giving a much clearer sense of what life might have been like for those hoping to gain their living from these green—or rocky, or sometimes desolate—patches of land.

Though the land might have been beautiful, it must have demanded hard work from those trying to extract a living from it. Consider the Irish place name Farran, meaning land, field or territory. Add to it the Irish word for dear—or expensive—and you find the townland name of Farrandoctor actually reveals a wry editorial comment on one person’s lot in life:
 A dear profitless spot of land.


Field north of Killarney in County Kerry Ireland


Photograph: Field with cows grazing, to the north of Killarney in or near the townland of Lisheennacannina in County Kerry, Ireland; courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Greener Pastures Beyond Killarney


Breathtaking. Beauty. The hills. The greenery. The oohs and ahhs—and eeeeks!—as we drove along rain-slicked, one-and-a-half-lane country roads. That was the part of County Kerry, just north of Killarney, where our Kelly and Falvey ancestors once lived.

Because our Kelly line was the last to emigrate from Ireland, I thought we stood a better chance of tracing some of these ancestors on paper, back in County Kerry. Civil Registrations did not, up until 1864, include Catholic marriages—thus, I miss any governmental record of the marriage of John Kelly and Johanna Falvey—but beginning at that same date, the addition of both birth and death records helped at least a little in locating possible whereabouts of the family before they left Ireland.

Despite the lack of earlier governmental records, I did find a marriage transcription—supposedly from church records—listing a John Kelly “of Knockancore” who married a Johanna Falvey on March 2, 1859. As it turns out, their son Timothy—if, indeed, he was the firstborn of this couple—was born in 1860, fingering this marriage record as a likely candidate for our couple’s documentation.

Because of the Civil Registrations’ beginning date for births, I was unable to locate any record of their daughter Catherine’s birth—she being my husband’s great-grandmother. But various records for the birth of Catherine’s younger sister Mary suggest John Kelly no longer lived in Knockauncore—although, apparently, property records show both a Kelly and a Falvey woman renting property there since the early 1850s.

The trouble with the various transcriptions for Mary Kelly is that there may actually have been two children by that name—the one born in 1864 likely not surviving childhood, and her name subsequently given to a later child in 1867.

Of the various baptismal records, we can piece together the trail the family left as they moved from location to location. One record for the 1864 Mary had her living in Currow, although the sponsors’ names of James and Margaret Fleming match that of the neighbors in Griffith’s Valuation for the two Knockauncore women I suspect may have been the proud grandmothers. Another record for 1864—as well as the later Mary’s arrival in 1867—showed the birth in a place called Molahiffe.

It wasn’t until later that I found an entry for John Kelly, himself, in the Griffith’s Valuation for Molahiffe—which, it was explained, is the name of the civil parish. The actual townland was listed as Lisheenacannina—the very place our bed and breakfast host had struggled to identify for us during our visit in Killarney. I also discovered that the civil parish for Knockauncore was Kilcummin, another name I had run across. Could the Currow entries for the Marys with the same general dates have referred to the location ("Barnfield" and "Killeentierna") of the Catholic Church diocese? Or were these two Currow entries, coincidentally, for yet another John and Johanna Falvey Kelly who also happened to have two daughters born in 1864 and 1867—both of whom they named Mary?

Another question I had, before traveling to Ireland, hinged off these many small towns to which the family’s name was linked. Could they all be for the same family? Someone on a Facebook genealogy page had suggested comparing the distances between each of the townlands to see whether travel would be feasible, back in that era. Having driven in the area, I did sit down and map it all out.



The distances would not be beyond the realm of possibility. Then, too, when I discussed this with various archivists and genealogists in Ireland, they indicated that, due to rent issues on properties at that time, families could find themselves frequently moving from place to place. Our Kelly ancestors' situation could be an example of those rental difficulties.

No matter how beautiful the surroundings may have been, I imagine it would have been quite taxing to not be able to adequately provide for a family’s well-being. Couple that with possible letters home from other family members, boasting of a land of plenty and a place of abundant job opportunities, and those rain-kissed hills may have lost some of their verdant allure for a family hard-pressed to survive tough economic times.



Photograph: Field along a country road in or near the townlands of Lisheennacannina in the Parish of Molahiffe in County Kerry, Ireland; courtesy Chris Stevens.

Monday, November 24, 2014

County Kerry:
How the Other Half Lived


One thing I had to face up to, when heading to Ireland to do hands-on genealogical research, was that I was not seeking the lines of the well-to-do. On the contrary, my father-in-law’s Irish forebears were all of a rather regular sort. Why else would they have fled the shores of their beloved homeland for an uncertain future—not to mention, a risky voyage?

Still, when we drove from our home base in County Cork to explore the region where our Kelly and Falvey ancestors once lived, we didn’t only zero in on the specific patches of greenery which once housed their shanties. We took a weekend to look around. This was, after all, the famed County Kerry, home of the Ring of Kerry, the drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. This was home to the beautiful Lakes of Killarney.

Besides, the count in our Volkswagen Passat rental car was now up to four non-genealogists and one dedicated researcher. Clearly, I was outnumbered. We did the tourist route.

One helpful aspect about taking in all the details of an ancestor’s home region is how it gives the researcher a sense of the bigger picture of life. The fresh smell of the air, the ever-shifting movement of the clouds, the abundance of rainbows: all went into the ambience of what life must have been like for our last set of ancestors to leave Ireland.

It was likely not until the late 1860s that our Kelly family left County Kerry. By then, it was John Kelly, the former Johanna Falvey—John’s wife of nearly ten years—and their surviving children Timothy, Catherine and Mary who headed to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

That, however, was not before the arrival of Queen Victoria at a neighboring household in the county. Of course, it’s doubtful that John and Johanna ever got to catch a glimpse of the queen at her arrival. They were living in one of the townlands to the north of the town of Killarney. The Queen and her entourage, however, were housed at the impressive sixty-five-room mansion known as Muckross House.

Since I knew the queen had been in the neighborhood back then, perhaps that was enough to excuse our party’s curiosity in getting a gander at the estate, ourselves. After all, it’s been in the hands of the Irish National Parks system since 1932.

Muckross House facing the lake

If the gravel drive leading up to the entryway seems rather plain to you, consider the view that greets a visitor exiting from those doors. Let me turn you around so you benefit from the proper perspective.

View at Muckross House in the Killarney National Park in County Kerry Ireland

The view that greets you is a benefit of the beauty of the region—the Lakes of Killarney. To gain perspective, look for the two cyclists on the path just this side of the lake. Less than four miles from the town of Killarney, it seems like it is in a world of its own.

And it is. If you go about the same distance, only to the north instead of the south, you would still be in awe-inspiring natural beauty, but it would be sans the architectural splendors of such buildings as Muckross House.

There, you would find the rural settings where the commoner folk lived—the households of people like John and Johanna Kelly who would likely never be on the guest list for a social gathering at the mansion. Yet, while the door they exited each morning might not have been the entrance to as grand a domain, the view from the Kellys’ front door was likely as captivating as that of the Lord Lieutenant of Kerry, Henry Arthur Herbert, once host to the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Muckross House in Killarney National Park in Ireland


All photographs of Muckross House and estate in County Kerry, Ireland, courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sausage and Politics?
Add Genealogy to That


There’s an old quote that has made the rounds in various formats. One version has it going something like this:
Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.

Whether you subscribe to the version attributed to Otto von Bismarck, or to a more flowery form pinned on his contemporary, Vermont attorney—and poet—John Godfrey Saxe, you are sure to agree on the gist of the message: some things are better enjoyed in their finished state.

I’d like to propose that we add genealogy to that list. Here’s why.

For the three and a half years that I’ve been writing A Family Tapestry, I’ve either been spouting off on subjects that matter a great deal to me, or sharing my family history research.

Um, let me amend that: I’ve been sharing my completed family history research.

Then came that glorious day when I realized I’d be able to continue that research—at least on my father-in-law’s Irish lines—by going directly to the counties in the Old Country from which his great grandparents had emigrated.

That, if you hadn’t noticed, was when we made the big shift from reviewing the completed project to becoming spectator-participants in seeing the research unfold.

Sometimes, watching such discoveries as they unfold can be exciting. Mostly, that’s when everything turns out all right, we find the mystery ancestor and everyone heads to the kitchen for an impromptu ice cream sundae after the night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are brings the celebrity-du-jour’s ancestral saga to a satisfying end.

That’s not what’s been happening around here lately.

Take that 1852 Canada West census record from Paris, Ontario. I thought it was such good fortune to not miss the fact that our Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully family had settled in the same place as another Flannery household. Or that there was another Tully family right down the street.

Now I’m not so happy about that discovery. It’s making things rather messy, in fact.

Yes, I’ve found traces of those families in the baptismal and marriage records for the Ballina parish back home in County Tipperary. But not enough to confirm how the adults are related. After all, Denis and John could be siblings. So could Margaret Flannery Tully and Edmund Flannery. Then again, they could all be cousins. Worse, they could be more distant relatives who all just happened to come from the same place in Ireland.

There’s nothing that can be confirmed until I trace the records to some sort of statement about these people’s parents. And that is not something I’ve been able to find.

So I get sucked into tracing the lines down another generation. And another migration. And another nation.

Or maybe these are not even the same lines. What do you do with these unidentified “maybes”?

I know what I’d do if I were researching them: I’d continue looking in other places for more resources. I’d keep plugging away. Something would be bound to show up one way or another.

But for blogging? I imagine it could tax a reader’s patience. There are only so many research roller coaster rides a vicarious experience can include.

Then there’s the question of what to do, as I find these shreds of possible hits. Where do I plug them in? Michael Tully may be the son of John and Catherine Tully, but I don’t yet know that John Tully definitely fits the profile for my Denis Tully’s family—even if they turned out to be neighbors after a three thousand mile migration. I can’t just stick him on the family tree as a hypothesis. There is no such branch on that Tully tree.

To answer my own question, I do have a roll of butcher paper in my closet calling my name. I’ll likely find myself pinning a long stretch of the stuff up on a wall and taking a packet of post-it pages and sticking my notes up there in pedigree-chart fashion. At least that way, I can move names around on the page as I discover more details. Maybe someday, I’ll find the final shred of information that conclusively links them to the right spot in the Tully and Flannery lines.

In the meantime, that would leave you, dear reader, observing the making of genealogical sausage. A most unappetizing prospect.

So let this be our reminder call to bring us back to the original intent of my post-travel reports. While I will have to leave our visit in County Tipperary unresolved and put it on hold while I examine the makings of this Tully family tree, I have yet to bring you through the rest of our island tour. With that, let’s continue the journey’s report with a last visit to our stop in County Kerry, and from there onwards to the final week in Dublin.

Oh. One more thing: if you are curious about who, exactly, spoke those historic words likening the making of laws to that of the making of sausage, you might be interested in the Quote Investigator’s take on the subject. You’ll notice my amendment regarding genealogy didn’t make it into the final cut.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World…


While the shift to a virtual world of genealogical research is in full bloom, there still is a world back home that hasn’t yet withered on the vine. It’s the local genealogical society—the place where real people get together with others from their neighborhoods to share their enthusiasm for their latest research discoveries.

I still engage in that old style of genealogical connection, despite social analysis salvos like those found in books like Bowling Alone—or whatever may be said nowadays regarding those “dying” traditions of face-to-face interactions. And—you knew I’d be headed in this direction—it is exactly this week’s local Society meeting that I want to discuss now.

Thursday night, we had one of those meetings which got everyone talking. It zeroed in on one person’s experience, but it could have been an example of what the rest of us could be doing: writing our family’s stories. We have all done the research—often, decades of labor over multiple ancestral lines. But how do we share it?

If you have been following along here on A Family Tapestry, you know I’m a fanatic of Telling the Story. Well, I go beyond just that. I actually collect every example I can find of others who have gotten past the thought of it, and actually put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—and put in visible form the narrative hiding behind the research notes. If you are reading here, and are one of those people who actually have accomplished that objective, I have likely bought your book. (Unless, of course, your name is Colleen Brown Pasquale—but I promise, Colleen, your book is on my Christmas wish list!)

My purpose in delving into this sort of collection so deeply is that I want to examine how each author has chosen to unwind the yarn of her life—how to tell that story in a way that is meaningful, even to strangers. I’m not engaging in this study merely for altruistic reasons, of course. My hope is that I will someday do the same: publish a book of our family’s stories. I certainly have plenty of material to do so: everything from the World War II fallout in the life of my father-in-law, Frank Stevens, to the life-changing tragedy that robbed Samuel Bean of both his sight and hearing.

You can imagine how excited I was to learn that yet another such book was recently published—on August 12, 2014, to be exact. And the author happens to live less than an hour’s drive from my home. Not only that, but I had already met her when she was so gracious to allow our county Society’s fledgling writers’ special interest group to visit the one she conducted for a neighboring county’s genealogical society—just to see how to get things started for our own group.

Everything eventually came together to see that very same author become our speaker at this week’s Society meeting. We were treated to an artistically-crafted presentation on how Deborah Conner Mascot came to write the Mariani family’s history as pioneer settlers in the city of San Francisco, and how the author’s own family story eventually intertwined with that of the Marianis—including one Mariani descendant whose hundredth birthday was commemorated by the launching of this book.

With poignant memories infused in everything from the recipes tucked away in the book’s pages to childhood photographs of family visits, Vera’s Chicken Wings and Peas blends the universe of a well-to-do San Francisco family with the homespun life of a different family living on the Marianis' summer-hideaway ranch in the south peninsula Portola Valley. If you are like me, and enjoy seeing how others craft the stories they tell about their family history, you will enjoy seeing life through the eyes of author Debbie Mascot in her latest book. Better yet, if you live in the Bay Area and belong to a genealogical society there, don’t miss the chance to have Debbie share her story live with your group!

I am always touched to see the result of turning the struggles and victories of near-anonymous family members into stories that can be shared and passed down through the generations. We all can be “biographers of insignificant lives.” No matter how small, those lives—of our own family members—are full of hard lessons to be learned, wry observations on the nature of life, even humorous self-reflection. Sometimes, those lives bump up against history and may even share their own fleeting fifteen minutes of fame. But no one will remember those tales unless we take the time to preserve what we’ve learned and transform it into something that can be passed along to future generations.

I’m grateful for all the examples of other people like you and me who have accomplished exactly that. And Debbie Mascot’s book can proudly take her place among the others in achieving that goal—both for the Mariani family, and for her own.
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