mad in pursuit travel notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS

Ireland Highlights, #3: It Takes A Village

relationship farmers

PHOTO RIGHT: Paddy C (cousin), me, Tomas C (from Mountbellew) and Tony M. (Manchester, England)

The nerd in me wants family history research to be about mining online databases -- teasing the gold out of the dragon's vault. But I also know that the richest family history comes from human connections.

Here's a story: I had a couple uncomfortable facts about an uncle, Michael Martin, which I posted. Tony M, from England, found them and took issue -- Michael Martyn (aka Martin) was his beloved grandfather. We dug into our facts and discovered two different Martin families in the same little townland of Rushestown. But there was still some mystery about an aunt Honoria who married into a Crehan family (we each had one). I told this Tony that I was headed for Mountbellew to see Rushestown for myself. He said he would join me and introduce me to his local cousin Tomás Crehan. Sure. I mentioned this to Carmel. She was horrified that I'd attracted a stalker on the internet. But, seriously, who would travel from England just to talk family history? Well, about 10 minutes after we checked into St. Anne's Guesthouse, Tony was knocking on our door, books, photos and papers in hand.

Paddy C.I had to put him off, since we were running out to see Maureen. So Tony connected with his cousin and they went off on a search for anyone who knew anything. Funny, the next day their quest landed them at my cousin Paddy Collins' house. At that very moment, Paddy and I were sitting at Maureen's dining room table telling stories and exchanging information. So Maureen invited Tomás and Tony to join us.

We spent a delightful couple of hours talking about the old families of the area. A lot of it was lost on me as the names flew by so quickly. And then there was the advice on how to find out more. A fellow named Gerry Ward could usually be found drinking in the afternoon at Henry's Lounge in Mountbellew. And St Anne's Guesthouse hosted a lunch everyday for all the old bachelor or widowed farmers in the area -- surely they would have information to share. Too bad I had no time to follow these leads.

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Tony M. is just one of a few passionate family historians I've met as a result of posting family histories online. There is Tony B. and Robert S. with their giant map of Stephens connections, whose family hails from Ballaghduff, as mine does. And Eileen C. from St. Louis who wondered how her grandmother got there and how Julia McKee and Thomas Dunne figured into the plot -- our families both have roots in or near Rushestown. Julia McKee turns out to be a Stephens. My great-uncle Mike Martin was granted a plot of land to farm by the Congested Districts Board around 1905. He and his Rushestown neighbor Matt Dunne were going to be neighbors on their new acreage in Cooloo. But Mike got himself in trouble and (in 1907) was essentially run out of town. His safe haven was Matt's brother Thomas in St. Louis. It appears that Julia Stephens McKee was already there, perhaps also assisted by Thomas Dunne. Mike Martin took his niece Ellen with him. In 1914, Ellen sent for her sister Bridget... who became my grandmother.

These stories reinforce my growing belief that doing Irish family history is as much about studying ecosystems as it is about lineage. Families stay close to their villages, even if they migrate thousands of miles away. "Clannish" people know who they can trust and cluster together. The Irish practiced "chain migration" -- someone emigrates, then raises enough money for the next person to emigrate, usually a sibling, but often enough a neighbor. Or maybe they didn't send money but provided a landing spot and knew who had jobs.

By the way, Tony's great aunt Honoria married and Matt Crehan and mine married a Mark.

CONTINUED>>>

May 28, 2012