That first post, entitled "With the help of O'Connell's Angels", was an invocation of sorts to my favourite Dublin ladies, the angels which surround the base of O'Connell's statue in Dublin. It was also an invocation to my ancestors to continue to aid me in my ongoing search for their history, and the accurate dissemination of the facts of their lives.
As I have shared in the description of this blog, my search for my family has taken me across Ireland into a history which has included both the glorious and the ignoble, the beautiful and the profane.
Although I have not always been entirely comfortable with all aspects of the information found, I am very grateful for all that I have uncovered. The course of many years of conducting family history research has taught me a number of lessons, five of which I will share here.
1. Blood is definitely thicker than water.
It seems no matter how far back in time my research takes me, I feel a sort of protectiveness about my ancestors and relatives, and their respective stories. I have suffered heartbreak over the loss of members of my family, including young children who died needlessly, and young men who fell on the fields of battle in Europe during the First World War. So too, those connections make me want to be in the places in which my ancestors and relatives once lived and died, to tread where they once did. My connection to Tom Kettle, and the two Williams, Dunne and Pell, will take me this summer to the battlefields of France on which they once fought, and where Tom is memorialized, and to the graves of the two Williams in Belgium to pay my respects.
My connection by blood leads me to continue the search for the story of my maternal fifth great-grandmother, for whom I have only a name and an approximate year of birth: Ally Howard, circa 1740. I am intrigued by Ally in part because of her forename. In a period in which the names of other family members were recorded in a more formal fashion, on the baptismal records of her children, she is simply 'Ally'. Although her granddaughter Ally Cavenagh was christened Ally, she always wore the name Allice. It seems Ally Howard is the only Ally in the family tree. For some inexplicable reason I feel a real affinity with Ally, and hope to learn more of her story.
|'INSTRUCTION' on the left, and 'PEACE' on the right.|
Two of the four female figures which sit atop the complex in Dublin called Government Buildings.
Occasionally my mother used to talk to me about her grand-aunt Alice, my great-grand-aunt. When I was a child the story of Alice frightened me because she seemed to me to be a woman of unbounded cruelty who would beat my mother and her siblings with a wooden cane. What I found to be most cruel was that the thrashing was never delivered immediately following an infraction, but instead sometime later, and usually when the child was in a happy mood. I describe one such incident in the post entitled 'Tittering Lily', and childhood tales of Ringsend.
Despite this sort of treatment from Alice, my mother always spoke of her with great love, and over the course of doing family history research I have come to understand why. Alice is remembered with love because she held together their family unit. Also, for the youngest children who had no memory of their mother, Alice, for all intents and purposes, took on that role. Without Alice, the children may have been taken away from their father following the death of their mother.
|St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin. The church in which my parents were married.|
In the time following the death of my mother, I learned more about the connections within my mother's family, and about who shows up in such situations and who does not, who is compassionate and who is not. On a very positive note, as I shared in the post entitled 'Life lessons from my brother', I learned from my older brother as he bravely faced the loss of his closest friend. I have also learned a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with profound loss.
|Above: Bray Head in County Wicklow|
Below: A thatched cottage in the Boyne Valley, County Louth.
Family History is also about the places and spaces our ancestors and family members once occupied, and how those places impacted their lives. Even if the houses in which they lived no longer exist, we can still get a sense of what life was like for them.
Did they live in the shadow of a mountain, or at the edge of the sea? Were their lives bounded by the narrow spaces of a tenement life, or did they thrive in a cottage in a seaside village? Did they live and work the tenant farm nearest to the Lord's castle, or did they live in the castle itself, and bear the titles of Lord and Lady?
Elements in the natural world also connect us to our ancestors, on an unbroken chain through time. Our tenth great-grandparents rose to the same sun which awakens us each morning. They gazed at the light of the same moon which hangs in our skies at night. As the tide begins its rhythmic movement, drawing sea water out and then back into Clew Bay in Mayo or Dublin Bay in Howth, I know my ancestors might have watched the rush of the water in much the same way I am seeing it now.
5. There is always room for a little levity.
One of the things I most love about family history is those stories which round out the history of our family. Some of my fondest childhood memories relate to stories my parents told me, both the amusing and the poignant, such as the story in one of my favourite posts: 'Cycling Apparitions' in the Castle ruins: An Irish Story.
There are many other lessons I've learned over the years while doing family history research, but for now I'll leave it at these five. Researching the past also means looking to the future, and as I celebrate this blogiversary I look forward with joyful anticipation to all that is yet to come in terms of research and writing.
Finally, I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you who continue to share this journey with me. I am truly very grateful!
|Detail from a stained glass window in St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin.|