Inspired by the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, Horace Walpole gave us the word serendipity. The following three tales shine among my past treasures as extraordinary encounters that would have been lost to history had I not been in the right place at the right time.
In the fall of 1983, I drove to West Wareham, Massachusetts on a mission to find my great-grandfather’s grave. As I searched in vain for the stone, an elderly man who lived across the road from the cemetery spied my Vermont license plate and asked for whom I was searching. “Millard Morse, father of Emory,” I said. He retorted, “Who ARE you?” Continue reading Serendipity→
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 27 November 2015.]
For the last several months, I have been trying to determine the origins of each of my mother’s Irish ancestors. In a previous post, I mentioned my success in locating the origins of my Kenefick ancestors; however, I have been having trouble with some ancestors with much more common surnames.
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 29 June 2015.]
Over the years I have had the chance to discuss the subject of ethnicity (and identity) with avid genealogists and those who are not all that interested in the field of genealogy. Many people will quickly share with you what their ethnicity is, with answers varying from “American” to a varied mix of ethnic origins. This answer, as you can imagine, can vary greatly with the knowledge each person has as to what was passed down to them by their parents about their own heritage. What I have noticed in these discussions is the depth in which these generational levels of ethnic origin will differ. Continue reading ICYMI: A question of identity→
At Easter 2016, Ireland commemorated a seminal event in its struggle for independence, the Easter Rising of April 24–30, 1916. Led by men and women from the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan, about 1,200 rebels seized several key buildings in Dublin. With artillery and 16,000 troops, the British quickly overwhelmed the Irish insurrection, and the leaders captured and executed.
One leader, Thomas Kent of Castlelyons, County Cork, and his brothers had organized a branch of the Irish Volunteers in Castleyons in 1914. Thomas Kent was not in Dublin during the rebellion, but stayed away from home hoping to mobilize the Volunteers. When he returned home, the Royal Irish Constabulary (police) surrounded his house on May 2, 1916. Continue reading The Centennial of the Easter Rising→
Many Americans are familiar with the popular and scenic Ring of Kerry in Ireland. They might be less familiar with a peninsula just to the south, in County Cork, called Beara. Those who are attempting to trace their roots to the Beara Peninsula are among the most fortunate genealogical researchers in the world, thanks to the monumental work carried out by a teacher (and genealogist, historian, footballer, and champion accordion player) named Riobard O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer, who was born in the U.S. to Beara parents but grew up in Beara, took it upon himself to study the families of the peninsula as comprehensively as possible. He spent the better part of his life visiting the localities of Beara, gaining access to and transcribing its (sometimes nearly illegible) church records, interviewing its residents, and examining the headstones of its cemeteries. Continue reading A new Irish records database→
In my previous blog post, I wrote about my Irish great-grandparents raising their children in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Yet as I began sorting through my genealogical research in preparation for NEHGS’ upcoming Irish Family History Day on March 6, I began to think more about their decision to leave Ireland in the first place.
My Nana’s parents, Julia and Edward Deane, left their home in the village of Geesala in County Mayo for America in 1909, when they were 28 and 31 years old. Julia would often recall her difficult journey across the Atlantic, plagued by terrible sea-sickness, travelling on the Titanic as she used to say. “Mama, it was the Teutonic! The Titanic sank!” my Nana used to correct her. Continue reading Family traditions→
When I first began working on my genealogy, I quickly had aunts and uncles setting me to work on brick walls that had stumped them for decades. Overwhelmed by distant dates and unfamiliar names, I instead began with what seemed to me the simplest place to start: my maternal grandparents, Mary Deane and Walter Griffin.
I lived just a short bike-ride away from my Nana and Papa’s house, so I spent many afternoons seated at their kitchen table with a bowl of Jell-O as they sipped coffee and told me about their childhoods. I was fascinated by their stories of being raised by Irish immigrants in the tenements of Holyoke, Massachusetts, in the 1910s and ‘20s. Continue reading The name’s the same→
[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 March 2014.]
In Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America, his classic study of the eighteenth-century “Scots-Irish” exodus from Ulster to America, Charles Knowles Bolton cites court records, newspapers, correspondence and other primary sources. The book provides specific details about immigrant communities in New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, and lists many immigrants and their origins in Ulster.
In a time before microfilms, scanned newspapers, and Internet searches, Bolton culled through early American newspapers to locate the arrival of ships from Ireland bearing passengers for New England. He combed state and local archives, viewed correspondence, and reviewed town records to assemble his data. Continue reading ICYMI: The earliest mass migration of the Irish to America→
[Editor’s note: Katrina Fahy has written a number of posts on researching her Scottish, Irish, and German ancestors. Some of her techniques – and successes – are excerpted below.]
From Finding William Muir: When I began working as a genealogist, my mother expressed great interest in learning more about her father’s family: the Muirs. While she had much information on her mother’s side of the family, which was quite large, she knew little about her father’s side of the family beyond her grandparents, so I began there… Continue reading Strategies for Scottish and Irish research→
Vita Brevis recently marked a milestone, with the publication of its five-hundredth blog post. Early in January 2016, the blog will celebrate its second birthday, and, in a tradition started last year, today and tomorrow I will write about twelve representative posts published in the blog in 2015. With about 250 posts in both 2014 and 2015, Vita Brevis holds a lot of material for readers to sample, and I urge the curious to wend their way through the blog using authors, categories, or tags to navigate.