Friday, June 19, 2009

Not My Irish Roots

Last week a package arrived in the mail from my mother-in-law containing one of the most amazing documents I could have hoped to receive from her. A check for millions you think? Yes, that would be amazing, but alas, it was then actually the second most amazing document I could have received. It was a copy of a self-published memory book made for my husband's great great grandparents (Susanna & William), produced in 1910 just after their death, by their 2nd son George, elder brother of his great grandmother.

In it George describes his parents and the love they had for them (along with his description of their good looks), but the best part of the booklet was where he typed up several letters written to him by Susanna & William after he asked them to put down information about their Irish heritage.

The result is an incredible insight into the minds of his 19th century ancestors that is unheard of in my family, as no such records exist of anybody beyond some very old photos of my great grandparents. Ah, the joys of being married to a WASP.

In a nutshell, what we found out were several salient facts:

- His great great great grandfather was a terrible drunk (in Ireland, how scarce that must have been) and an architect/builder. While she grew up during the potato famine, there was nary a mention of it, though when she was a young teenager her (drunken) father moved them to a small farm that they worked as a family. No mention was made of what crops they grew (or didn't grow?)

- Susanna remembers her grandmother (I think that would make it 5 greats) meeting and being influenced by Charles Wesley (founder of the Methodist church who toured Ireland quite a bit), thus setting the stage for the next few generations to produce some very serious Methodist preachers.

- Susanna had a set of twins, her 8th & 9th children, who died after one day. Her 10th and last child, also a boy, born a year after the twins, died at 10 months of age. Her descriptions of her grief, written 25 years after their death was so raw and powerful, her desire to die from her profound sadness so strong, it jumped off the page.

- There are several sets of twins in every generation, and his grandmother was half a set (which of course we already knew). What we didn't know was that his grandmother (and her twin) had a second set of younger twin brothers.

- One of Susanna's sisters died on a ship on her way to Quebec as a young woman. Susanna blamed the mishap on a drunken captain (see the theme here?) who ran the ship aground. She reported that they tried to put 80 people on a single lifeboat, thus drowning them all.

- Some speculation that their family wasn't always from Ireland, but that a few generations earlier had come from England along with William The Orange to invade (circa 1696).

- His great great grandfather (also named William) came to the US in 1870 as a Methodist preacher, and was assigned to several places in Wisconsin, moving every 2 years. There is a Methodist church in Wisconsin that recently celebrated its 125th anniversary with a tribute to William. They finally settled in North Dakota, where it seems that cousins still live.

- William & Susanna grew up in neighboring towns but met at the Methodist Church that was between them. Today, one of the towns is in Ireland and the other is in Northern Ireland.

- William & Susanna were married in Skibberreen in 1863, near where William was preaching at the time. That church burned down in 2006, though it had been turned into a restaurant. The replacement church doesn't look that interesting, so Ireland also has succumbed to bad architecture.

- I like very much that this particular family line came down the pike in the form of a lot of Williams, my son's middle name.

- If you ever meet someone with the first name Blaney, I'll bet he's a cousin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such fun for us nice Jewish girls without traceable roots to wind up with these scions of history! When in Venice, we traced David's family all the way back to a 14th century Venetian doge. This book sounds wonderful.