Friday, March 30, 2012

'From the pens of babes': Recording Folklore and History in Ireland

In 1937, the Irish Folklore Commission created a programme called the Schools' Folklore Scheme. The purpose of this programme, within the Irish school system, was to have children document the folklore and local history of their own home areas. Each week the children were assigned a specific topic, and were instructed to conduct research on the subject matter, and to talk with their parents, grandparents, and oldest members of their community. Their goal was to gather stories, histories, and memories which were applicable to the subject. Following these discussions they were to write about the topic in a copybook which had been specially provided for the task.

A wide range of topics were included, such as legends, proverbs, songs, local beliefs, and even cures for ailments. Subjects ranged from the benign, such as games and pastimes, to the very serious subject of the Great Famine. In the case of the Great Famine, some of the children found that their oldest family members refused to talk about it. Still others were happy to discuss the subject, finding relief in talking about a matter which had previously been avoided. For the children involved in the project, it afforded a wonderful opportunity to learn about the past, as it was recollected and understood by their parents and grandparents.

The project was scheduled to run over a period of approximately eighteen months. Five thousand primary schools in the twenty-six counties of the Irish Free State were included, involving around one hundred thousand children. Their copybooks were then collected by the Irish Folklore Commission.

In the documentary short film 'O Bhéal go Béal - Scéim n Scol', which aired on RTÉ in 2010, the filmmakers discuss the programme with four former students, who are seeing their individual copy books for the first time since they handed them in back in school. It is wonderful to see the reactions of these students, who are now in their mid 80s, as they recall the time in which they produced the stories, and share the memories they have of talking to their parents and grandparents about Irish history and folklore.

Thankfully the entire collection of copybooks is now held in the archives of University College Dublin. More than half a million manuscript pages comprise the collection, now known as the Schools' Manuscript Collection. Often adults who were involved in the programme visit the archive in order to view the books they produced when they were children, as well as those of their classmates.

I have included the YouTube version of the film below. The film is in Irish, but has English sub-titles so it is easy to follow along. To view films like this one, on a wide range of subjects, visit the website of the RTÉ International Player at http://www.rte.ie/player/# (click on Leargas -TV50 in the Classics Irish section)



Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Finding baby Jane: 'Daughter of a Box Maker'

My mother's middle name was Jane, a name she bore in honour of her grandmother, Jane Early Ball. When I was a child, and my mother and I would talk about family of long ago, I would ask her why it was that no girl in our family was ever given the first name Jane.

Perhaps because of my penchant for the novels of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, I always thought Jane was a pretty name, so I did not understand why it had not been passed along. My mother explained that she did not know why the name was never again used as a first name, but it was not, end of story. After some research, I discovered that the name Jane had indeed been passed on as a forename, and no one in my family had any idea there had once been another girl named Jane.

The exercise of finding Jane is an interesting one because it demonstrates that you may find traces of ancestors who lived and died prior to the 1901 census and 1911 census by using clues you might find in those materials. 

If you have an ancestor who lived within the urban metropolis of Dublin, Ireland, then you may want to try the same kind of search.

Clue #1: The 1911 Irish census and lucky number five


In the 1911 census of Ireland, one addition which is a boon to family history researchers is the column in which the head of household was required to record the total number of children born alive, and the number who were still alive in 1911. Looking at this section on the Ball family census, you will notice the total number of children born alive is recorded as '5'.

In my research I had found records accounting for four of these five children, namely Patrick, Mary, Christopher, and Francis Joseph. Along with his siblings, Mary, Patrick, and Christopher, Francis had been accounted for in the 1901 census, but he had disappeared by the time of the 1911 census. Thus in 1911 the number of children still living is recorded as '3'. As I recount in this article Francis Ball 1893-1905: 'case maker's son' lost, I discovered that, at the age of only twelve years, Francis Joseph Ball had died 6 June 1905. However, the details about child #5 did not appear on either the 1901 or 1911 census, and if not for that number five, I would have never known to look for another child.

So, who was child #5?


Link to the 1901 and 1911 Irish Census materials via The National Archives website.
Link to the Ball Family Census of 1901.
Link to the Ball Family Census of 1911.

Clue #2: All of Child #5's siblings were christened in the same church

Discovering that there had been a fifth child led me back to the parish registers in which I found the baptismal records of the four other Ball children. Patrick Ball had been christened in 1885, and his sister Mary had been christened in 1886; however, there was a significant gap between Mary's christening and that of her brother Christopher in 1889. This gap signalled that it was highly probable I would find the record for child #5 in either 1887 or 1888.

In the 1888 register of St. Kevin's Church, Harrington Street Dublin, I found Jane Ball. Little baby Jane was born 22 May 1888, and was baptized 1 June 1888.

Baptism of Jane Ball, daughter of Francis Ball and Jane Early, 1 June 1888.
Teresa Early, sister of Jane Early was baby Jane's baptismal sponsor.
Click on image to view larger version.
These registers comprise part of the collection of Dublin parish registers which can now be viewed online for no charge on the Irish government website Irish Genealogy.

Clue #3: Birth and Death registrations at the G.R.O.

Birth registration of baby Jane.
Click on image to view larger version.
Since I now knew that Jane was born 22 May 1888, and I knew there was no record of her in the 1901 census, the likely assumption was that she had died sometime between June of 1888, when she was christened, and April 1901, when the census was taken. With this in mind, I began to search for a death registration in reading room of the General Register Office, Dublin. I did not have to look for very long before I found her in the listings of 1889. Jane Ball died 28 August 1889, at only fifteen months of age. Her cause of death notation reads, 'Diarrhoea dentition, 9 days certified'.

Death registration of baby Jane.
Note her condition, i.e. marital status, Jane is referred to as 'Spinster'.
Clue #4: Her brother had been interred at Glasnevin

When their son Francis Joseph died in 1905, Jane Early and her husband Francis Ball had their son interred in Glasnevin cemetery; therefore, I decided to check to see if baby Jane Ball had been interred in Glasnevin as well. My idea found substance when I discovered a record for Jane in the register of Glasnevin cemetery. Jane Ball was interred two days after her death, on 30 August 1889; she is buried in the St. Patrick's section of Glasnevin Cemetery, not far from the St. Brigid's section in which her brother would be interred in 1905.

Extract from Glasnevin Burial Register 1889.
Click on image to view larger version.
Link to the genealogy research page of Glasnevin Trust in order to search the cemetery registers. The search is free; there is a fee for viewing the full record.
Click on image to view larger version.
So....

I found child #5. She was baby Jane Ball, the second born daughter, and third born child of my maternal great-grandparents Francis Ball and Jane Early.

Of course, I am only left to imagine the impact Jane's birth and death had on her family. When Jane was born her family lived at 16 Montague Street in an area of Dublin City called Rathmines. It would have been only a short walk to take the children to St. Stephen's Green to enjoy a summer's day. In the August of Jane's death only fifteen months later, the family was living at 16 Merchant's Quay in a tenement fronting the river Liffey.

At the time of baby Jane’s death, her mother Jane was carrying her third born son, Christopher. Since he was born in December of the year in which she died, Christopher would never know his elder sister Jane. Christopher was christened on the same day as his birth. I find myself wondering, was it the fear of loss over baby Jane’s death that led Francis and Jane to have Christopher baptized on the same day he was born?

There are no answers to any of the questions which now remain, only these documents, the bare bones of a life. They must serve as remembrances of the life of baby Jane Ball, daughter of a box maker.

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.
Click on all images to view a larger version.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Mappy Monday: Mapping out the life of an ancestor

In order to gain some understanding about the lives of our ancestors, it is an interesting exercise to map out the homes in which they lived, as well as any other places, such as hospitals and cemeteries, which were a part of their history. Today, on what is the fifty-ninth anniversary of her death, I am remembering my paternal grandmother Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee by showing you the places which were a significant part of her history. I have also included a second map which details the life of my maternal great-grandmother Jane Early Ball. In the maps I have included below, click on the individual blue pins to read about the significance of each place. Also, while the satellite version of the maps appears here, you can choose to view each one as a regular map once you click on the larger version.

When it comes to my paternal grandmother Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee, I am often struck by the fact that while she was fighting for the freedom of the entire country of Ireland, her own world was a relatively small one. Annie began life with her family in one room of a tenement house in Upper Dorset Street Dublin. The Magee family, which then numbered four, shared the house with four other families, including Patrick Magee's sister Mary and brother Francis. Once Patrick became a skilled craftsman, working as a scriber at Jameson's Distillery, the family fortunes began to change. Patrick Magee's position enabled him to qualify for an artisan's cottage of their own in Stoneybatter. Eventually the family of four grew to six in the house on Ostman Place. Anne's marriage to John Geraghty brought her to a house on Manor Street just a few blocks away from her parents, then further away to a house in Cabra. The last house she lived in was on Kildare Road in Crumlin.


View The world of Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee Geraghty 1900-1953 in a larger map

In the case of my maternal great-grandmother, Jane Early Ball, I find myself fascinated by the exercise of mapping out the homes in which she lived throughout her life. Such a map enables me to visualize the changes in fortune which affected her life. Jane spent her childhood living with her family in various homes in the Liberties area of Dublin, an area notorious for its poverty. Married life brought Jane first to a life living in Rathmines, a better area of Dublin, and then to a tenement on Merchant's Quay, and another on Fishamble Street, after her husband lost his mind to dementia. At the end of her life Jane Early Ball was living by herself in a single room on Mountjoy Street.


View The world of Jane Early Ball 1852 - 1914 in a larger map

Try mapping out the life of a family member on your ancestral tree. It will give you a sense of their migratory patterns, and perhaps a better understanding of the lives they lived. See this post from January of 2011 for more information on creating such maps on Google maps. In particular click on the link in Thomas MacEntee's comment for complete instructions on creating maps.


Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

For World Poetry Day: Irish Poet Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland reading some of her work, including 'Quarantine' and 'That the Science of Cartography is Limited'.



For a biography of Eavan Boland visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/eavan-boland

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh: Happy St. Patrick's Day

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh: Happy St. Patrick's Day!

To one and all, may this day bring you luck and love. 
Hug a family member, raise a glass, drink a cuppa tea, take your mom to Mass.

'Tis better to buy a small bouquet,
to give to your friend this very day,
than a bushel of roses white and red,
to lay on his coffin after he's dead.

Cheers to you,
Jennifer

Hey, who knew? I've my own pub in the octagon in Westport, County Mayo.
These super fans weren't celebrating St. Patrick's Day;
they were on the train from Athlone to Dublin for an Ireland vs. Slovakia football match,
but I don't think they'd mind being included today for wearing the green.

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wordy Wednesday: Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

This was intended to be a Wordless Wednesday post, but ended up a lot 'wordier' than usual, so I have to call it Wordy Wednesday. The principal focus of this post is images taken inside of St. Patrick's Cathedral Dublin, but some explanations were required, thus the 'words'.

I have taken a lot of shots of this church, but these are a few of my favourites. These particular photos were taken on 11 September 2011. For me it was an odd day for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact of it being that terrible anniversary. I felt physically awful, and had all kinds of problems with each one of my cameras; I was carrying three. The place itself is a bit of a photographer's nightmare with lots of pot lights, spot lights, and shiny surfaces casting light back at you, usually when you least desire it.

Also, I had arisen late that day, and my schedule was completely turned upside down, so I arrived at the church later than I had planned, and a service was going on. You are not allowed to take photographs while a service is in progress, so I was waiting outside of the church talking to my new friend Margaret, who happens to be one of the proctors at the church. Margaret is basically in charge of corralling unruly tourists. While we were talking we were approached by a number of tourists who had come to the church for mass, and I was surprised to discover how many of them thought St. Patrick's Cathedral is a Catholic Church; it is not. St. Patrick's is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, a member church of the Anglican Communion.

Christ Church Cathedral, the other Cathedral in Dublin, is also a Church of Ireland Cathedral, and is the official seat of the Church of Ireland in Dublin. Believe or not there is no official Catholic Cathedral in Dublin, only St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral. The explanation of all of this is in a post for another day. For now, please enjoy these indoor shots of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Be sure to click on them to view a larger version.

One of the first sights you notice on entering the Cathedral is this remarkable monument, which dates to 1631,
and stands in memory of Richard Lord Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, his wife Lady Katherine, and their children.


The choir area and the Knight's stalls.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the chapel of the Order of St. Patrick. These knights and their sovereign were each given a stall in the choir area of the chapel in which was displayed his, or her in the case of Queen Victoria, heraldic symbols. Notice each stall is topped by a helm; the fabric draping from it is called mantling. The family crest is on the back of the stall, and hanging above each stall is that particular knight’s heraldic banner bearing his coat of arms.



The main altar.
The main pulpit crafted of stone and marble stands on the right hand side of the main hall.
The golden eagle lectern stands on the left.
The inscription reads: 'How beautiful are the feet of those that preach the gospel of peace'.
The stairway to the organ loft.
Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.
Click on photographs to view larger version.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Certificate read 'Place of Death: The Workhouse'

Consider what you might least like to see written on the death certificate of one of your ancestors.  Perhaps it might be the word 'Workhouse' recorded as the place of death. In September, at the GRO research room in Dublin, I had a discussion with a man who was very upset about discovering this on the death registration of his great-great-grandfather:

Place of Death: Workhouse S.D.U.
[Translation: Workhouse South Dublin Union]

He was visibly upset by this discovery, and indignantly declared, "This is impossible. The record must be wrong. My great-great-grandfather had a good job, and their family was very well off". In order to ascertain that the certificate he was holding was definitely the one he had requested, I checked the entry he had found in the register books. It was correct.

We talked about his research in order to help him confirm that the person indicated on the certificate was indeed his ancestor, and we talked about the workhouse and what it meant to live, and to die there. We also talked about the fact that this discovery opened up the possibility for 'in person' research at the National Archives of Ireland, located in Dublin.

In the case of the Dublin Workhouses, the NAI has the registers of admission and discharge for the North and South Dublin Union Workhouses. Dating from 1839, each workhouse register includes a wealth of information. The registers include the date of admission, name, age and sex of the person admitted, along with his/her spouse's name if applicable, home address at time of admission if applicable, and his/her pre-admission occupation.

If an individual was admitted as a patient to the infirmary which was part of the workhouse complex, rather than the workhouse itself, then there are notes about his/her condition at the time of admission. The date of discharge is noted at the end of the entry, and may be the date the patient died at the workhouse, or the date he/she was institutionalized elsewhere.

Several times during our conversation, my fellow researcher mentioned that everyone in his family has always been a hard worker, and earned everything they had in life, and I realized that he was personally affronted by what he read on the certificate. It seemed clear he had, perhaps sub-consciously, accepted the lie about those in the workhouse system, which had been disseminated in the annals of history, that workhouse inmates were there because they were lazy and didn't work hard enough. This was certainly not the case.

George Nicholls, charged by the Crown with the task of founding the Irish workhouse system, concluded after his first visit to Ireland, (a visit of only six weeks in which he visited only 3 counties) that the workhouse system would work in Ireland, just as it had in England. Nicholls believed that the workhouse would serve to teach the desperately poor idlers in the land, who could not bear confinement, to desire employment outside the workhouse. He completely ignored the fact that for the labouring class in Ireland there was little or no work to be had.

Nicholls wrote,

"The Irish are naturally, or by habit, a migratory people fond of change, full of hope, eager for experiment.  Confinement of any kind is most irksome to an Irishman." {1}

In addressing Parliament over his objections to the workhouse system, the great Irish patriot, Daniel O'Connell said,

"The labouring classes [in Ireland] are anxious to procure employment; they never refused it; they in fact work for twopence or threepence a day rather than be idle.  There is no necessity, therefore, for poor houses in Ireland in order to stimulate its labouring population to look for work." {2}

It is no secret that we in the twenty-first century live in a world in which many believe hard work alone guarantees a good life. So too, it is sometimes easy to forget that we have systems in place which support us in employment, health, and other aspects of our lives. Sometimes we view the lives of our ancestors purely through the optic of the twenty-first century, and in doing so we forget their lives were, in so many ways, very different from ours. Many of our ancestors were living on the brink of disaster, perhaps one pay packet or one illness away from the workhouse.

When I conversed with the man in the research room I understood his dismay, because I have faced the same notation on the death registration of one of my own ancestors, my maternal great-grandfather, Francis Ball. I remember when I first laid eyes on that notation, I had a similar sort of reaction in terms of disbelief, albeit a less angry reaction. 'How can this be correct?', I thought. After all, Francis Ball was the second in four generations of successful cabinet makers. He and my great-grandmother Jane Early had married in St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral. They had five children. They had a life. His young sons Patrick and Christopher were apprenticed to him as cabinet makers. How could this be; how could such a man die in the workhouse?

When I looked at the cause of death, matters became much more clear to me.

Click on image to view larger version.
In the column for certified cause of death, the certificate reads: "Senile, dementia, syncope certified".  The working life of Francis Ball ended because of his dementia. With the income of the main breadwinner ended, there was neither money to care for him at home, nor to care for him in a hospital. Thus, in the Spring of 1909, Jane Ball had to admit her husband to the infirmary at the South Dublin Union Workhouse, where he would literally drop dead just a few short months later.

Better care for Francis Ball at the end of his life might have been effected had he been of age to qualify for the Old Age Pensions act which had passed in 1908, but as the certificate attests he was only 56 years old, and those pensions were meant for the over 70 set. He would have been admitted to the workhouse under the Medical Charities Act of 1851, the foundational act for the Poor Law Medical service, which provided free medical treatment for the poor in the workhouse infirmary.

I find myself wondering what it was like on the day of admission when Jane Ball and her sons took her husband, their father, to that place. As they walked away from there, did they look back as the 'occupiers' took him away, or was that sight too painful a prospect? One thing is certain, those sons never mentioned the loss of their father in the workhouse infirmary, neither to their children, nor to their grandchildren. That painful secret was left to the historical record.

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Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Reference:

O'Connor, John. The Workhouses of Ireland: The fate of Ireland's poor, Anvil Books, Dublin, 1995.

Notes:

1. O'Connor, page 62.
2. O'Connor, page 65.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Madness Monday: 1926 Irish Census legislation soon: let the madness begin

Click to view a larger image of an example which shows
the wealth of information recorded on the 1926 census.

Since Tuesday 6 March 2012, when Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, uttered his intention to present legislation in June or July for the release of the 1926 Irish Census, the internet has been lit up with claims about the census and access to it. However, some of what has been reported is not accurate.

Many of you, especially those who have been with me over the long haul, know that misinformation makes me like a rabid dog foaming at the mouth, absolutely stark raving mad. So, here on Madness Monday, by going right to the horse's mouth, I would like to clear up some misinformation that is floating around about the release of the 1926 Census.



In Ireland the horse's mouth belongs to Mr. Jimmy Deenihan TD. He's the man who has to make sure all the legal, fiscal, technological, and other resource 'ducks' are in a row when it comes to releasing the census. Okay, between the dog, the horse and the ducks, I realize I have a lot of barnyard imagery going on here, but please bear with me.

Here is what Mr. Jimmy Deenihan said, along with when he said it:

Thursday, 24 November 2011:

“The 1926 Census was the first undertaken by an Irish Government and it is my intention to have the census returns digitised and made available on-line as a 1916 centenary project, subject to resources and the resolution of legal and other issues.”

Tuesday, 31 January 2012:

“The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enabling the publication of the 1926 Census. The project requires two principal components to be addressed. The first is the legal necessity to change the relevant legislation to permit publication of the Census before the expiry of the statutory 100 year period, while respecting certain rights. The second is the technical process whereby the material can be converted from the paper records to a searchable electronic database in a cost-effective fashion. Legal advice has been obtained in relation to the legislative changes and consultation with bodies involved is in progress. Possible technical approaches are also currently being considered, as are their resource implications.”

Tuesday, 6 March 2012:

"I previously informed the Deputy that I intended to introduce legislation to enable digitisation of the 1926 census returns. The legislation has been approved by the Cabinet. Following its enactment, I will have to come up with the resources to implement it. I cannot start the process until the enabling legislation has been passed. It is hoped it will be ready in June or July." [emphasis is mine]

So...

1. A caveat: The first thing you have to make note of when reading oral or written replies made by politicians is that the word INTENTION shows up a lot. An intention is not the same as a guarantee.

2. The legislation has not been passed, nor has it even been fully drafted. Although the drafting of this legislation is a major step, it is the FIRST step toward opening up the 1926 census. As Mr. Deenihan said, "it is hoped it will be ready in June or July". Then it will be presented to the Dáil, and presumably passed into law.

3. Digitization DOES NOT mean the 1926 Irish Census will instantly show up online. Clearly the intention is there to make it available to a global audience; however, if and when it is put online, there is currently no indication about the conditions of access. It may be free, just as the 1901 and 1911 census records are currently, or access may be pay-per-view. That decision has not yet been made public.

Also, Mr. Deenihan indicates, as I have emphasized in the passage above, that he has to "come up with the resources" to implement the digitization.

Further, in November of 2011, Mr. Deenihan indicated it is his intention to have the 1926 census made "available as a 1916 centenary project". The target dates of other centenary projects, such as the release of Military Pension Records, is 2016, the year of the centenary. Will the 1926 Census show up before then? Who knows. Whether or not this decision has been made, one thing is clear, it has not been made public.

4. A genealogy newsletter out of Ottawa Canada claims, "Allowing a few months for digitization and the 1926 Irish census should be available to all later in 2012."  NOWHERE has such a statement been made by either Mr. Deenihan or members of his department. The digitization and release of this material is a process which will take time, and time parameters have neither been determined nor announced.

The future release of the 1926 Irish Census is something about which I am truly excited, and I look forward to being able to peruse it, and to rejoice in all the data it has to offer. However, I am definitely a "just the facts ma'am" girl, so I think we should follow what has actually been said about the matter, rather than what we hope will be the case.

************************************************************
Sources:

The statements made by Mr. Deenihan, as well as those made by any other member who has spoken during Dáil debates can be viewed online. The entire text of the Dáil Debates held in the Houses of the Oireachtas can be viewed on their website: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/

Census example image via CIGO http://www.cigo.ie

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Surname Saturday: Irish Surnames: Did you know?

In the 14th century, two hundred years after the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland, many of their descendants could no longer read English. It was thought by the English Government that they were becoming 'too Irish'; therefore, any Englishman living on the island of Ireland was compelled by law to use only surnames which were deemed to be of English origin.

A 1366 Statute in English law reads as follows:

"Every Englishman do use the English language, and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish."

In the 15th century a law was enacted compelling Irishmen, who resided in particular districts of Ireland in which they might find themselves living near to English persons, to use only English surnames.

The law of 1465 reads as follows:

"Every Irishman that dwells betwixt or amongst Englishmen in the County of Dublin, Myeth [County Meath], Vriell [County Louth], and Kildare shall take to him an English Surname of one town, as Sutton, Chester, Trym, Skryne, Corke, Kinsale; or colour, as white, blacke, browne; or art or science, as smith or carpenter; or office, as cooke, butler."

So...

If ever you are wondering about the origins of an Irish family surname such as Cook or Butler, or why the surnames of your Irish ancestors appear to inexplicably change, this may have something to do with it.

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Source: Sir Robert E. Matheson: Special Report on Surnames in Ireland with Notes as to Numerical Strength, Derivation, Ethnology, and Distribution; Based on Information Extracted from the Indexes of the General Register Office, Alex. Thom & Co. (Ltd.), Dublin, 1909.

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day: Becoming a 'legal' person

Image courtesy of the Graphics Fairy
Today throughout the world there are many celebrations marking International Women's Day. Although celebrations are often scheduled around this specific date, many are held throughout the month of March. In Canada this year's theme for International Women's Day is: Empower Rural Women - End Hunger and Poverty. In honour of International Women's Day, once again I want to share with you something about which I learned at my very first International Women's Day celebration.

In 1986, when I was in my first year of university, I participated in the university's celebration marking International Women's Day. On that day I learned of an historical event which I would mark later in that year, "Persons" Day. Before participating in the International Women's Day events, it had never occurred to me that there had ever been a time in which women the world over were not legally recognized as persons. As a young woman it seemed to me as though there was never a door that was closed to me. The world was my oyster, so to speak.

Around the world there is a wide variance with respect to the dates on which women were legally declared as persons. In the United States the Supreme Court legally declared women as “persons" in 1875, but held that women constituted a “special category of nonvoting citizens". In Canada women were not legally declared as "persons" until 18 October 1929. The historic legal victory which led to this declaration was due to the persistence of four Alberta women and their leader Emily Murphy.

Born in 1868 into a prominent legal family, Emily Murphy became a self-taught legal expert at an early age. When she moved to Alberta in 1903, Emily began a campaign to ensure the property rights of married women. Largely because of her work, the Alberta legislature passed the Dower Act in 1911, protecting a wife's right to one-third of her husband's property.

The fight to have women legally recognized as persons began in 1916, when Emily Murphy and a group of concerned women tried to attend the trial of Edmonton prostitutes arrested under "questionable" circumstances. Emily and her compatriots were ejected from the court on the grounds that the testimony was "not fit for mixed company." She was outraged, and protested to the provincial Attorney General.

"If the evidence is not fit to be heard in mixed company," Emily Murphy argued, "then the government [must] set up a special court presided over by women, to try other women." To everyone's surprise the Minister agreed, and offered Murphy the post of presiding over such a court. Accepting the offer with some reticence, Murphy became the first woman police magistrate in the entire British Empire.

Although as a new magistrate Murphy was welcomed by some of her colleagues in the courts, others challenged her position purely on the grounds that she was a woman. A woman was not "a person" under the British North America Act of 1867; therefore, they argued that her decisions meant nothing. This argument echoed one which had been mounted in opposition to the appointment of a woman to the Canadian Senate. When petitions from various women's organizations failed to open the Senate to women, Murphy turned to the law. She found a section of the Supreme Court Act which allowed any five interested citizens the right to petition the government for a ruling on a constitutional point.

For twelve years Murphy led the fight to have women declared legal persons in Canada, and enlisted the help of the following four Alberta reformers:

1. Nellie McClung, a good friend of Murphy's, was renowned as a human rights advocate and suffragist. She was also a former member of the Alberta Legislature.
2. Louise McKinney, a leader in the temperance movement.
3. Henrietta Edwards, a vigorous campaigner for women's rights and a legal expert in law pertaining to women and children.
4. Irene Parlby, a Minister without Portfolio in the Alberta Legislature. Parlby had entered politics with the goal of improving the lives of women in rural Alberta. Her participation in the campaign signified the support of the Government of Alberta.

The Persons Case, as it is called, reached the Supreme Court of Canada in March 1928. The court ruled against women. Undaunted Emily Murphy and her party brought the case before the Privy Council in Britain. In the Privy Council's celebrated ruling of 18 October 1929, it declared that women were indeed legal "persons" under the British North America Act.

To have legal recognition of personhood was quite an important development in the rights of women. Before such a time a woman was viewed as chattel (i.e. property) and could be disposed of in what ever way the male members of her family saw fit. In other words a woman could be given in marriage without her consent, could be divorced on the word of her husband alone, and in the most extreme case, if a woman was murdered by her husband he might suffer minimal or no penalty.

Thanks to the efforts of Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Henrietta Edwards, and Irene Parlby, Canadian women have been legally "persons" since 1929. Their story serves as a good reminder that in some countries in this world women still do not possess the legal status of 'person'. There is still much work to be done.

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For more information visit this archived page on the Alberta Heritage site: The Famous Five

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012. (parts of this article appeared on this blog 8 March 2011).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wordless Wednesday, almost: Mo Éire, My Ireland: a blogiversary celebration

Thank goodness for people such as Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers and Shelley Bishop of A Sense of Family, otherwise I would have gone through yesterday blissfully unaware that this blog is now Two Years Old (two years and one day). Guess that means I am now in my terrible twos.  So now with not a tantrum in sight, and in celebration of the second birthday of 'On a flesh and bone foundation': An Irish History, please enjoy this photo retrospective.  For me these images taken on my travels throughout Ireland represent all that I love about Mo Éire, My Ireland.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The history in an Irish birth certificate

After my father died my mother gave me the gift of my father's birth certificate.  I was overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude at having received it, because I felt as though the certificate connected me to my dad at the very beginning of his life, at the time when children are all about possibility.  His whole future lay ahead of him.  Also, as an historical document, Dad's Irish birth certificate reveals some elements of what was going on in the history of his nation, and in the life of his family at that time.

Click on photograph to view a larger version.
The document {footnote 1 see below} is physically interesting; it is crafted of parchment and is just over 16" long.  The columns in which information appears bear bilingual titles, Irish and English, and the Irish appears on the page above the English.  This is note-worthy because it serves as a metaphorical representation of the fact that, even though in this time period Ireland was still bound to Britain, the Irish government wanted citizens to see themselves as Irish first.  The document also bears the seal of Éire, denoted by the familiar symbol of the harp.

Following the Irish War of Independence, with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Irish Free State was established in 1922; however, Ireland was still tied to Britain as part of the Commonwealth.  The Irish were almost entirely out from under the foot of British rule, but it was not until 1937 that Ireland had its own constitution, and it was not until 1949 that the last ties with Britain were severed, and twenty-six counties of Ireland became The Republic of Ireland.  When my father was born, the Irish Free State was only seven years old.

In the upper part of the certificate, reference is made to the legislation known as the Registration of Births and Deaths Act of 1863.  This is the act which put into place the legal requirement that the births and deaths of all Irish born citizens must be civilly registered.  The act was amended later in the year 1863, via a private members bill, to include all marriages as well (non-Catholic marriages had been subject to registration since 1 April 1845).   The civil registration of these life events officially began 1 January 1864. {2}

The South Dublin Lying-in Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin.
(Now known as The National Maternity Hospital.)
Established 1894.
The birth certificate names Holles Street Hospital as the site of my dad's birth.  My father and his brothers Patrick and Enda were all delivered in Holles Street Hospital.  Originally opened under the name The South Dublin Lying-in Hospital in Holles Street {3}, and now called The National Maternity Hospital, it was built in 1894 for "the relief of poor lying-in women and for the treatment of diseases peculiar to women". {4}

Care at the Holles Street hospital was designed to reduce infant mortality, as well as the appallingly high death rate of poor women in childbirth.  In nineteenth century Dublin, and into the twentieth century, both middle-class and upper-class women continued to enjoy the choice of having their babies in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, attended by their physician and perhaps a midwife or doula.  For a woman living in poverty, the birth of her child at home meant little or no medical care, and the need to rely on the expertise of older female relatives and neighbours, whose skill for assisting in the delivery of children may have had its limitations.

My grandmother Anne is named on the document as Annie Geraghty "Iníon Formerly" Magee.  For me three things stand out about the way in which her name is recorded.  First, although my grandmother's birth name was Anne, she was always called 'Annie', a name my dad loved.  Second, her surname appears as it does on her own birth record, Magee, spelled M-A-G-E-E.  On some of the birth certificates of her other children, her surname is either not included or is misspelled as McGee.

Third, the literal translation of the Gaelic is really interesting to consider.  'Inîon' literally translates to 'daughter', in other words daughter of Magee.  "Ainm Sloinne Chéile agus Sloinne Athar na Máthar" literally translates to "name surname together and surname [of the] father [of] the mother".  In other words the registrar is asked to record the spouse's surname, so a marriage relationship is assumed.  Also, what we call a maiden name, or a woman's name when she was single, is very directly identified as the name of the woman's father.  On the birth certificate the mother is described purely in terms of her relationships to the men in her life, her husband and her father.

Despite the fact that John's father Patrick Geraghty was very successful in this period as a 'Car Proprietor', the owner of a horse and carriage business, and living in a wealthy Dublin suburb,  his son John's little branch of the family tree qualified as poor.   It is noted on the birth certificate that John and Annie Geraghty were living in a house at 19 Manor Street N.C.R. (North Circular Road).  In 1928 this house in Stoneybatter was allegedly given to John and Annie by John's parents as a wedding gift; however, the skeptic in me doubts that John actually owned the house.  Although Patrick Geraghty was very wealthy, family stories tell that he was a notorious miser; therefore, I am inclined to think that he still held the deed on the house in which his son lived, and so a title search is necessary.

Even if we assume that John Geraghty was given the house, and owned it outright, he had trouble providing for his family, so the birthing of his children in Holles Street Hospital was likely a matter of necessity.  By the time of son Enda's birth, the family no longer lived in the house on Manor Street, but instead lived in a house on Leix Road in Cabra.  Had the house been lost because of John's dissolute ways, or did his father evict John and his family?

John's employment history has been described by his own children as 'spotty' at times, and this birth certificate notes another in a long succession of jobs.  John Geraghty's profession at the time of his son Michael's birth is noted as 'Store clerk'.  This notation, viewed together with the birth records of his other children, offers up a picture of the employment life of John Geraghty.  The birth registrations of his children note him variously employed as a car driver, a labourer, a store clerk, and an office clerk, and again as a car driver.

Finally, across the top of the document are the English words, "To alter this document or to utter it so altered is a serious offence".  Although these words are not an exact translation of the Irish which appears above them, they speak to the very serious nature of the records of birth, death, and marriage, and the importance of the truth of the matter.  After all, these records form a significant part of the history of a nation and its people.

The tenth century Gaelic manuscript Leabhar na gCeart, (The Book of Rights), reminds us that, "Beatha an Staraidhe Firinne — Truth is the Life of History".

Footnotes
{1} In the interest of privacy I have 'hidden' certain dates and numbers; otherwise the image of the document is unaltered.
{2} General Register Office : History of Registration.
{3} National Archives Ireland; Census materials.
{4} National Maternity Hospital, Dublin (Charter Amendment) Act, Irish Statutes, 1936.

Copyright©irisheyesjennifer2012.
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