Monday, April 30, 2012

'To grandmother's house I go...'

When I was a young child at school, it seemed to me as though I was the only one without a grandmother, and I felt this absence keenly. Even those children who had lost their parents, somehow managed to hang on to their grandmothers. Some were being raised by them; some had their grandmothers living close by, or at most a few miles away. It was easy for them to go to grandmother's house. They could hop a bus to visit, or drive a short drive to drop by.

To skip across the schoolyard and share in the chant, 'to grandmother's house I go', was not a part of my childhood, because my grandmothers and I did not exist in the same dimension of time. My maternal grandmother died when my own mother was barely five years old, and my father's mother died more than a decade before I came along. For me, a grandmother was someone who existed only in old photographs, was rarely spoken about, and had long ago turned to dust. The facts of the matter did not dissuade me, though. They haunted my dreams, these grandmothers, and so I made a decision.

'To grandmother's house I go...'

It is not such a long journey, once I am in Dublin. It is grandmother Mary's house I decide to visit first. On the south side of the Liffey, it is in a neighbourhood that has always sounded like magic to me, Ringsend. I travel across a stone bridge, up and over the Grand Canal, and notice the ruins of an ancient mill to my right, a spray of deep green English Ivy across a wire fence to my left. I turn one corner, and then another; the house is about half way down the street. Among the rows of smokey red brick, I spy its silken black painted door, and golden door knocker.

I find myself slightly short of breath, as I stand across from the small row house on Gordon Street. Inexplicably, I search the upper windows for any sign of her looking out. A deep pain echoes in my chest, and tears begin to stream down my face, mourning the loss of someone I never even had a hold of, 'Grandmother'. I take the word and roll it around inside my mouth, 'grandmother', 'mother grand'. It sounds like celebration. I think about the word in Irish: 'seanmháthair', 'old mother', one who is old and wise, and takes care of you. I think about the word en français: 'grand-mére', 'great mother', like something which towers over you, towers over your life.

Leaving Gordon Street behind, I take my bicycle up and over the Liffey, travelling along the quays and then north into Stoneybatter, and grandmother Anne's childhood home, another erasure. I am drawn directly to the little cream painted cottage on Ostman Place, with its bright canary-coloured door. I run my hand along the smoothness of its plaster facade. It is cool to the touch, and somehow feels familiar. Under the shadow of the afternoon clouds, I envision her face in the window, 'Grandmother', her cheek pressed up against the cool of the glass, waiting for her brother to return, listening for the strike of his boots on the cobblestone road. The sound which never arrived.

What is it I expected to find? Did I imagine that somehow gazing upon these stone buildings, and whispering the magical word, 'Grandmother', would bring these women back to me? Doors would open wide, welcoming arms would draw me in to sit before a turf fire, to learn all of their stories, and to share mine. It is too much to bear. I climb on my bicycle and travel back down the hill toward Collins Barracks and Irish History, away from family history, and grandmother's house.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thankful Thursday: What made you fall in love with your family history?

What did it for you? What made you fall in love with your family history and genealogy?

Can you think of the one item or artifact that first drew you in, and had you spending hours doing research?

Was it perhaps a single conversation that sent you off in search?

Was it the discovery of an old photograph or document that put you on the path of your love affair with family history?

What made you fall in love with the history of your family?

Recently, I have been thinking about this topic all over again, and it reminded me of a post I wrote last year about what gave me my start in family history.

Today, I would like to again share that post with you, with some new edits, and ask you to think about what gave you your start in family history research, and what made you fall in love with it.

Thanks for reading.



One Friday night in 2011, on GeneaBloggers BlogTalkRadio, Thomas MacEntee asked us to consider this question: "Who gave you your start in Genealogy/Family History?", and further to that, "Who helped you along the way?".  On the chat board, immediately I typed in the first 'name' that popped into my head, 'my father'.  After the show I sat down and gave the question some serious thought. In my world, the history of my family is one about which my family members, particularly my parents, were often reticent to talk, but every now and then I was given brief glimpses.

If I was to pinpoint when I felt as though I was being actively encouraged to uncover our family's stories, then I would have to say it was born out of two conversations, and both of those were with my father. The first began during a very long commute, and may have been spurred on by the desire to avoid uncomfortable silences. The second was filled with detail and driven by the fact that my dad was dying.

1. The Second World War and free leather boots.

When I was in graduate school, I lived about 60 miles from the university I was attending. The commute was a long and often uncomfortable one; however, the time spent on the inter-city bus allowed me to get reading done, or grade assignments for the classes I was teaching. One semester the teaching work I was offered included a lecture session at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday mornings. Since the inter-city bus schedule didn't include a trip that would get me to the university on time, my dad very generously offered to drive me, leaving every Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m., so I could teach the class.

Truth be told, my dad and I had not spent a lot of one on one time together as I was growing up, so at first I think each of us was a little uncomfortable with the seventy-five minute drive to the university.  Initially we talked about the weather and sports, and he talked about his work a bit, but after a while there were noticeable lags in the conversation.

Then, one day he asked me what I was working on at school. There are two things about this conversation I remember very clearly. First, my dad began by saying, "I'm not an educated man, but would you mind telling me about what you're working on at school?".  I remember feeling a little stunned that somehow I'd made my dad feel as though he had to justify asking such a question, and I certainly didn't want him to feel that way. I told my dad I believe life offers us all sorts of education which is in many ways better than anything you might ever learn inside a classroom.  The second thing I remember about the conversation is I didn't want to just talk about what I was doing, I wanted to know about what he had learned in life, so I started asking him a few questions. I learned so much from his answers.

One of the stories which stands out in my mind from this conversation is one in which he talked about working for the Irish version of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) during the Second World War.  Ireland was officially neutral during this war; despite that, and given their proximity to England, the Irish government built air raid shelters, distributed gas masks, and required homes to hang black-out curtains.  When the air raid sirens sounded, it was the job of members of the ARP to go out into the streets to ensure street lights were extinguished, citizens were taking shelter, curfews were being respected, and black-out curtains were drawn so that no lights were visible.

To say I was dumbstruck by the story of my father as a 14 year old doing something so risky is an understatement. All I could say was 'wow', and then I asked him what prompted him to join. His answer was even more astonishing.

"They gave us leather boots for free Jenn", he said. "Leather boots! We were very poor, and my whole life I wanted leather boots, and they gave them to us for free. Those boots were a thing of beauty."

I felt a catch in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes when my dad told me this, and I literally could not speak. Just then I understood I really had no idea about the kinds of challenges my dad had faced in his life, on his way to being a successful self-made man. I was so very grateful he thought enough of me to share this story with me.

2. A diagnosis and a map.

My father had been a smoker for a very long time, and although he had quit smoking about fifteen years before his death, it was lung cancer that was killing him. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer on the tenth day of February, and he died thirty-four days later on the sixteenth of March.

Very clearly I remember the phone call I received from my sister-in-law saying my father was ill, and I needed to go home. When I returned home I was shocked to see my father. To me, Dad was always a very powerful man, tall and imposing. He was a handsome man with a mass of blond hair, and he took pride in his appearance. Within a short time Dad had lost a lot of weight, and now looked to me like a small boy curled up tight under soft blankets.

About two weeks before he died, one afternoon my father got out of his bed and joined us downstairs for tea. His once formidable figure, which walked firm and deliberate everywhere he went, now shuffled slowly toward the room in which we were to sit. My mother followed close behind carrying the tube through which the oxygen travelled which was now helping him breathe. His slight body swam in a soft cotton shirt and corduroy trousers which were now much too large for his disintegrating frame. We didn't talk about what was going on in his body; we didn't mention the 'C' word, although clearly it was growing within him with a voracious and vicious appetite.

Dad brought an old road map to the table, a tourist map really, of Dublin. His hands moved over the map pointing out places of significance: St. Stephen’s Green, the Four Courts, Trinity College, O'Connell Street. I was struck by the beauty of his hands. On the back of each, a light dusting of soft beige down covered skin which was a whitish grey colour. His nails were perfectly square and unblemished, like smooth pebbles. They looked as though they were manicured, which they were not. His hands concealed the anger at work in the rest of his body. They were peaceful, even happy, and they were willing to share.

As he pulled the map out full across the dining room table it made a lovely crinkling sound, and I felt as though I was being presented with a gift. It shoved back the plates and tea cups, the napkins and little fancy cakes my mother had laid out — the river Liffey, Phoenix Park, Dublin Castle, The General Post Office. His hands skimmed over the poor areas of Dublin which he had known best. I didn’t know exactly why he brought that map to the table, but he was dying, and it seemed to be of irrational importance to him that I look at it. It was as if he was trying to prove he had come from somewhere real, a place of substance.

He began to talk about his life, and as he spoke, I dug down into the bottom of my purse, found some crumpled pieces of paper, and scribbled down notes about what he told me of his family. He seemed quite happy to answer any questions I had. Throughout my life my father and I had been on opposite sides of a lot of issues, but at that moment I felt honoured he would share his stories with me. Even though, like my mother and my brother, I didn't fully understand he would be dead in a couple weeks, I guess a part of me knew enough to recognize how important this time was, and for that I am very grateful.

So, that is where this journey began for me, with these two conversations. My love for my family history has just grown from there. Each and every time I travel home to Ireland, as soon as the plane touches down on the tarmac, I whisper, "Thank you Dad, thank you for once more bringing me safely home". Each time I uncover a new piece of the puzzle I say, "thank you Dad, thank you for helping find this." Each time my dad told me any of his stories during those drives to the university, I always made sure to thank him for sharing them with me, and I thank him each and every day for guiding me on this wonderful journey of family history research.

Thanks so very much Dad!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday, almost: In the Crypt of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

The crypt of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin is the largest of its kind, not only in Ireland, but in the entire geographic entity which is the British Isles. You enter the crypt through the massive door pictured below. The crypt was renovated in 2000 so that it could be opened to tourists. Unfortunately at that time they also chose to put in a small café, souvenir shop and tuck shop. It is oddly off-putting to be viewing a family tomb while someone noshes on pastry at a table nearby. A large number of pot lights were also installed which makes photography more of a challenge. Nonetheless, it is a thoroughly beautiful and interesting place.

The two statues are the oldest known secular statues still extant in Ireland.
The coat of arms is carved entirely out of wood.
The statues once stood outside of Dublin's Medieval City Hall which was demolished in 1806.

Visit my other blog  'Over thy dead body' to view a genealogist's dream tombstone from the crypt of Christ Church Cathedral.

Visit the Christ Church Cathedral Website for a complete history and timeline of the church.

Click on photographs to view larger version.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'I beg your pardon sir, but the Marquis isn't yours, and the Mayoress isn't mine': Irish False Pedigrees

Today I am revisiting a post I wrote last summer which was originally inspired by a tweet from Leslie Ann, of Ancestors Live Here, to a site about false pedigrees. The subject has re-emerged for me this year after I was contacted by a man who says he is connected to me through the Ball line, and we are in turn connected to Blessed Margaret Ball, the martyr and 16th century mayoress of Dublin. More about this later.

Some of you may be familiar with the practices of 'pedigree pedlars'.  They represented themselves as professional genealogists, engaged in questionable research practices, and produced false pedigrees.  The most creative among them even produced fake documents to support their spurious claims. If you worry that some of your surnames appear on these pedigrees, such thoughts may make you want to bury your head in the sand, but before you do that, head over to and peruse this page. It lists the names of those best known to have engaged in the practice of creating false pedigrees, along with details of publications about them.

Perusing the list of 'pedigree pedlars' got me thinking about the possibility that false pedigrees may be produced unwittingly, by even the most well-intentioned family history researcher. A researcher may worry about disappointing someone, particularly if the outcome of their work proves that a long standing family tale is false. Also, many of us are familiar with hitting the proverbial 'brick wall', that moment when the document trail goes cold, and we are left with nothing but questions.  Unfortunately, instead of presenting family members with a 'brick wall', a well-meaning researcher might grease that wall a little and swing themselves up over it, all the while believing they will break those bricks eventually. I suppose I must also include those who make a false claim simply because a connection to someone famous, or infamous, is very appealing.

The problem is: False pedigrees do more harm than good.

Consider the case of actor John Hurt (star of The Elephant Man, and Mr. Ollivander to Harry Potter Fans).  On the summer 2010 U.K. version of "WDYTYA?", the actor was very disappointed to discover that his family is not connected to Ireland.  Throughout his life he had been told by his mother, and other family members, that they were descended from the Marquis of Sligo. The connection was borne out of the belief that his great-grandmother, Emma Stafford, was the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis. Hurt described how he had always believed Ireland was his ancestral home, given his great-grandmother's paternity.  Because of this belief, he held a special place for Ireland in his heart.

Ultimately, John Hurt discovered that, although his great-grandmother was indeed illegitimate, her father was not the Marquis of Sligo.  Further information provided by his family purported that it was her husband, Walter Lord Browne, who was descended from the Marquis; however, this also proved to be untrue.  The interesting thing is, it appears that Browne was the source of this false pedigree, as well as many other rumours about his own parentage, which falsely connected him to the Marquis.  In fact, Browne's father was a lowly clerk who ended up in debtor's prison.  In the end, researchers were able to uncover no connection of any kind to Ireland.  The truth seemed to cut through John Hurt; his disappointment over these lies was palpable. Unfortunately, claims of connections to the rich and famous often emerge from false pedigrees.

On the grounds of St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral Dublin,
Blessed Margaret Ball & Blessed Francis Taylor,
both imprisoned (in different time periods)
for refusing to renounce their faith.
As far as a possible connection from me to Blessed Margaret Ball, at this point I remain unconvinced. Margaret Ball was born Margaret Bermingham in County Meath Ireland sometime around 1515, although there is no evidence of her exact birth date. She married Bartholomew Ball of Balrothery, who eventually became Mayor of Dublin. As his wife, Margaret became Mayoress. She died in the dungeons of Dublin Castle sometime around 1584, having been imprisoned there by her own son Walter, then Lord Mayor of Dublin. In addition to refusing to renounce her Catholic faith, Mrs. Ball's crimes consisted of providing refuge for Catholic priests, and allowing them to say Mass in her home, at a time when the Catholic faith was outlawed by the throne.

Blessed Margaret Ball has been in the news a bit lately because she is one of the patron saints of the 50th Eucharistic Congress which will take place in Dublin in June of this year. My email friend says the surname Ball proves our connection; however, with respect to such connections, having the same surname is proof of nothing. I have not yet been able to reach back to the 16th century Ball line, either via documents or historical evidence of any kind, so I cannot confirm the connection. Mrs. Ball did have ten children, of whom four allegedly survived to adulthood, but I have found no evidence connecting me to them. In my opinion, as disappointing as it may be to my friend, at this point to connect myself to Blessed Margaret Ball purely on the basis of a surname would be to create a false connection.

Beyond avoiding feelings of deep disappointment, to claim a false connection means that the real connections may be ignored or even buried.  In my own family tree, I have connections to some persons who had a degree of fame in their day, but do I view them as more worthy of remembrance than others who languished in anonymity?  Would I give up my maternal great-grandfather Francis Ball, who died in a workhouse infirmary, in favour of someone rich and famous? Not a chance.

So, once again thank you Leslie Ann for pointing out these pedigree pedlars.  It reminds us of the need to be accurate, to use primary source documents where possible, to use only reliable resources, and to document and cite those resources. The further we move away from the original documentary history, the more malleable that history becomes.

Click on photograph to view larger version.
Thank You to The Graphics Fairy for the crown image.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Your Irish ancestors and The Titanic

Headline from The Cork Examiner Newspaper,  Tuesday 16 April 1912, page 5.
Today, Sunday 15 April 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the foundering and sinking of the luxury ocean liner Titanic. Built in the Harland and Wolff shipyards of Belfast, Northern Ireland, to the exacting specifications of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, better known as The White Star Line, the magnificent ship was widely believed to be unsinkable. Of course, now we know the end of that story.

Did any of your Irish ancestors perish onboard the Titanic? Was he one of five Irishmen to die during the construction of the ship?  Did a member of your family thankfully miss the boat?  Click on the blue link below to search a PDF document on which I have compiled a list which bears the names, and other pertinent information (town, County, etc.), of those Irish citizens, both passengers and crew members, who lost their lives in the sinking of the Titanic.  I have also included the names, ages, and job titles of those who died in the Belfast shipyard during construction of the Titanic.  The last list provides details of those twelve Irish ticketed passengers who for unknown reasons failed to board the ship at her last port of call, Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland.

Irish Lost on the Titanic, those killed in the shipyard, and those who never boarded

This file consists of four alphabetical lists as follows:

Irish born passengers who lost their lives in the sinking of the Titanic, 15 April 1912
Irish born crew members who lost their lives in the sinking of the Titanic, 15 April 1912
Irish persons killed during construction of the Titanic
Irish ticketed passengers who were scheduled to board at Queenstown (Cobh), but did not.

All persons included in the lists were Irish born. All of the locations given are locations of birth; the person indicated may have had an address outside of Ireland at the time of his/her death.



Encyclopedia Titanica
Molony, Senan. The Irish Aboard Titanic, Mercier Press, 2001.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday, almost: 'The Watchers'

'The Watchers' is a name I've given to those small heads you might see over doorways or hanging from precipices on various castles, churches, and other buildings around Ireland. I like to imagine all the history to which their stone eyes have been privy. They silently watch as the world goes by.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
St. Patrick's Cathedral Dublin
Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny
Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny
Dublin Castle, Dublin City

click on photos to view larger version.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Remembering Titanic: St. Colman's Cathedral in Cobh, County Cork, the last port of call for the Titanic

Sunday 15 April 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Every day this week on my other blog 'Over Thy Dead Body', I will be remembering victims of the Titanic with photographs of some of their graves from Fairview cemetery in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Cobh (pronounced cove), County Cork, Ireland was the last port of call for the R.M.S. Titanic. The metal behemoth was far too large to enter the narrow harbour and so was anchored at the mouth of the harbour on 11 April 1912, before departing for America. For many the spire of the St. Colman's Cathedral of Cobh would be the last sight of civilization they would ever see.

*Click on Photographs to view larger version.
All Photographs Copyright©irisheyesjg2008-2012. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Proclamation Of The Irish Republic: Commemorating The 1916 Easter Rising

Today 8 April 2012, the 96th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising is being commemorated in Dublin Ireland. The true anniversary falls on 24 April, and it is on that date that I will publish family history relating to the Rising. Today in commemoration, here is the text of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic as read by Padráig Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office, Monday 24 April 1916.


Irishmen and Irishwomen:
In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Having organized and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organizations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.  The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.  In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms.  Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State.  And we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irish woman.  The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provision Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine.  In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Our beautiful girl is gone...

'Sarah Jessica Barker'
27 April 2006 - 3 April 2012
RIP sweet girl
Our hearts are broken. Our beautiful Sarah is gone. She died yesterday at 5:30 in the afternoon at the hospital where she was receiving her care. We were there with her, as was her little brother Ulee.

Just nine weeks ago, I shared with you this story of Sarah and how much she means to our family. She brought 'joie de vive', the joy of life, into our home at a time when it was sorely needed, and we shall never forget her.

Sarah was such a young dog; she died only a couple of weeks short of her sixth birthday. We find it hard to understand why a little being who brought only joy into this world should be taken away from it, especially in a world that needs joy.

The little red ball that Sarah so much loved to play with now sits still upon my desk. It will remind me of all the laughter that Sarah brought into our lives.

Each and every day we will look at photographs of our girl and try to remember the joy, but for now only tears fill the place she once loved.

Tiny Sarah on the first day we met her.
Sarah and her red ball.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'Bridget Geraghty for churching': The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth

'Bridget Geraghty for churching'
From The Register of Leckanvy, Diocese of Tuam, 1865
Although being able to view transcribed church records online is convenient (and no doubt more cost effective), one of the things I most love about examining original records in Ireland is the interesting things you might come across within the text of a document. In an 18th century Roman Catholic Parish register, I once came across what looked like a grocery list scribbled in the margin. Aside from such amusing notes, you can also find entries which lead you to learn about practices which are no longer commonplace, and which in turn may lead you to records not yet uncovered.

The 'Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth', commonly called the 'Churching of Women' is a good example of one of these practices. I have come across reference to the practice of 'churching' many times in registers of the Roman Catholic Church, such as the one in the image above, but it can also be found in registers of the Church of Ireland, as well as those of other denominations.

Specifically, what is churching?

In Christian traditions, the 'churching' of women was a rite, an ecclesiastical tradition which manifested in a ceremony in which a blessing was given to a mother after childbirth. The ceremony included prayers of thanksgiving for the woman’s survival of childbirth.

In the Roman Catholic tradition a woman would be 'churched' as soon as she was physically able to go to church following the birth of her child. In the Church of Ireland, a woman did not receive the blessing until forty days after the birth of her child.

The Rules of Churching

Before I share with you the rules of churching, I would like to point out that this rite was not laid out in Canon Law. Although she may have been compelled by members of her family or her community, a woman was not ordered under church law to receive this blessing; she chose to be churched. If churching was chosen, then certain rules had to be followed. Although history tells us that over time the practice went through some changes, in 18th and 19th century Ireland the rules were very clear.

1. The woman must be married.

2. The child must not be born out of wedlock.

3. The child must have been baptized in the church in which the blessing of the mother was to take place.

4. The churching may follow not just live births, but still births as well.

5. A fee must be paid to the priest.

Why are such entries helpful for genealogy research?

An entry for the 1760 churching of my own maternal fifth great-grandmother, Allice 'Ally' Howard, led me to discover that she had given birth to more than just the two children for whom I had previously found records. In fact, Allice Howard birthed at least four live children for her husband John Cavanagh. References to churching led me to look for baptism records for the other two children in years I had not previously examined.

Also, churching was by no means an inexpensive ceremony. In the parish register the priest notes a paid fee of 2 shillings and 6 pence. In 1760, this price was the equivalent of one day's paid labour for a craftsman. Such an entry signals that the family were probably doing well since they could afford the ceremony.


Over time the practice of 'churching' women has been a controversial subject. There has been a lot posted about it online, some of it accurate, and some of it way off the mark. Despite the fact that the ceremony itself contains absolutely no elements of purification, some view 'churching', not so much as a blessing, but instead as the requisite cleansing of an unclean woman prior to her being allowed to once again enter a house of worship. The last Catholic missal which makes reference to the rite is very clear that it is "a ceremony of blessing and thanksgiving".

My own mom views the rite of churching in a positive way. Mom was 'churched' only once, after the birth of my brother Michael, and she felt it was a celebration, a supportive blessing. She felt as though God was watching over her at a time when, as a first time mother, she was feeling a little uncertain.

The rite was essentially dropped by the Catholic church after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, although in some areas of the world it morphed into a blessing of the family after the birth of a child, and it is still possible to request such a blessing in some churches.

No matter what your personal opinion of the practice may be, the fact of a female ancestor's churching tells us that sometime within the forty days prior to the blessing ceremony, she gave birth to either a living child for whom we might find a record, or a still-born child for whom a record may or may not exist.


The Catholic Encyclopedia online.
Donabate Parish Register, Diocese of Dublin, 1760
Leckanvy Parish Register, Diocese of Tuam, 1865
The Tridentine Missal, 1962.

Click on image to view larger version.

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