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Who’s Your Granny?

Genealogy, News

Who’s Your Granny: The Modern Way to Research

 

I don’t think it’s overstating things to assert that the pursuit of genealogy has been revolutionized over the past two decades. I first started delving into my family history in the mid 1990s, when a friend brought me with her to the Mercer Museum’s Spruance Library, where the Bucks County Historical Society maintained their archives.

Armed with a notebook and several sharpened pencils, I spent an afternoon immersed in dusty old published family histories and census records that involved searching indexes and battling a microfilm reader. It was glorious. And also daunting.

Fast forward about 10 years, and I was still visiting historical societies and courthouses whenever I got the chance, but I was also blissfully accessing census records at 3 a.m. from the comfort of my home via my computer and courtesy of Ancestry.com. No longer was I limited by an archive’s hours or the soundex version of a census index. I learned how to become creative in my keyword searches, and to work around the names of ancestors being mistranscribed.

These days, as I continue researching not just my own ancestors but also the families of other people, I utilize every online resource I can find. Some of them, like FamilySearch and Irish Genealogy, are free and invaluable. Others, such as Ancestry and Newspapers are subscription databases that I find equally invaluable and worth the price. Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: The Irish Immigrants Who Went Home

“I’ll take you home again, Kathleen, across the ocean wild and wide
To where your heart has ever been since first you were my bonny bride
The roses all have left your cheek, I’ve watched them fade away and die
Your voice is sad when e’er you speak and tears bedim your loving eyes.”

The familiar lines of “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” penned by Thomas P. Westendorf in 1875, evoke all the emotions associated with the theme of Irish immigration to the United States, particularly in the years after An Gorta Mór. They are the lyrical depiction of the sadness and longing experienced by the millions who crossed the Atlantic for a better life; the trade-off being they would never see their homes or families again.

It’s the prevailing image we all have, and for the most part it’s true. Although many Irish would be reunited with family members who had already come over, or relatives they would help to bring over at a future date, and letters were exchanged, a return journey was out of reach for the majority of those who immigrated to America.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and I’ve been intrigued by occurrences of “return migration” that I’ve come across over the years. Here are three different instances among those I’ve encountered.

The first, believe it or not, was in the 1600s. My earliest Irish ancestor to reach the shores of America was Miles Riley, born about 1614 in County Cavan. In 1634, he and his older brother Garrett arrived in the Virginia colony on the Bonaventure. Several years later, another brother, Thomas, joined them.

From what I’ve been able to glean, in the mid to late 16th century, the Clan Riley began losing a lot of their land and prestige. First to other clans, then to the English, and then through power struggles within the family. However, though their circumstances had changed, the brothers were not without means as they embarked on their new lives; they were given land grants and Miles is recorded as receiving an additional 1,100 acres in Virginia for sponsoring 20 immigrants in the 1660s.

But sometime in the early 1650s, Garrett found a way to return to Ireland as a landowner. He sold off his land grants in the colonies and bought his passage back to Ireland. He shows up on tax rolls in 1655 and 1665 as owning a six-room thatched cottage in Kells, County Meath. Exactly how and why this came about is a story still to be discovered, and hopefully there are records out there somewhere with more information. Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: The Hegarty Sisters & Their Very Different Lives as Earl Grey Orphans

Between the years of 1848 and 1850, over 4,000 young women, ages 14 to 20, left Ireland’s workhouses for the shores of Australia as part of Earl Grey’s Orphan Scheme. They had been carefully selected as part of a plan to ease the burden of poverty and starvation during An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) in Ireland, while at the same time providing Australia with the female presence lacking in that country. For the girls who made the journey, it was a way of escaping a life of predetermined hardship for the promise of the unknown, the possibility of something better.

But not all the futures were to be created equal. Some would thrive, establish families and find happiness; others would struggle to survive, and some would end up dying in destitution. Catherine and Anne Hegarty from County Roscommon were two sisters who arrived on the same ship, but whose lives turned out very differently.

Catherine Hegarty is the second great grandmother of my “Aussie cousin” Carol’s husband, Terry. Terry didn’t know anything about this branch of his family, but in 2015 he decided to take a DNA test and start digging. Over the past five years, he and Carol have made some incredible discoveries about what brought his ancestors from Ireland to Australia, and along the way uncovered a story that deserves to be told. Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: Earl Grey & the Scheme That Launched 4,000 Orphans

For Henry, the 3rd Earl Grey (son of Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey for whom the tea is named), it seemed like the perfect solution to two problems he was facing in 1848 as British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. He was hearing from Australia, where the ratio of men to women at the time was 8:1, that they needed more females to join the population. And at the same time he was being inundated with reports on the terrible overcrowding in the Irish workhouses, where conditions were deplorable even amidst a nation of starving people.

Ireland, no stranger to hard times, was facing an unprecedented period of starvation and poverty. What was once designated as “The Famine” has since been more fittingly reclassified as “An Gorta Mor,” or “The Great Hunger.” But no matter what you call it, people were looking for ways out of the unrelenting destitution and death that had become a way of life. Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: Owen Kaney, 19th Century Irish Philadelphia Ancestral Character (and an Irish Diaspora Center FB Live Video)

Genealogy, for the deeply rooted, is far more than the mere act of collecting names and dates. At its best, and in its most gratifying moments, it is about the connection to people long gone but without whom we wouldn’t be here to discover them. We don’t just find them in a census, we make their acquaintance. And when we’re especially fortunate, we reincarnate a character who has been languishing for generations in an ancestral attic.

Sometimes, of course, we do feel lucky just to find a name and a date. Elusive ancestors can be a real pain. But when the names and dates lead to photos, and newspaper articles, and old love letters, we’ve hit the jackpot. And I get as excited over other people’s ancestors as I do my own. Take, for example, the fellow in the photo at the top of this article.

His name is Owen Kaney and he was the great grandfather of my stepfather-in-law. Born in Philadelphia on April 22, 1843, to Irish immigrant parents, he is without a doubt a great ancestral character. And I don’t know nearly enough about him; for instance, I haven’t figured out yet where in Ireland his parents were from, and I don’t know much about his life before the Civil War. But I do know that before his death on February 26, 1888, he crammed a lot of living into his 44 years. Continue Reading

Genealogy, History

Who’s Your Granny: Old Family Notes May Be More Treasure Than Trash and An Irish Diaspora Center FB Live Video

I just want to begin by clarifying that there is a vast and vital difference between the definition of “hoarding,” and the act of saving really good old family stuff. But, on the other hand, there can definitely be a fine line between that which is considered trash and that which is celebrated as treasure to the hardcore genealogist.

Because anyone who has spent time searching for that elusive paper trail on a mystifying ancestor knows the frustration of not being able to break through the brick wall. Sometimes the records are missing or lost, or records weren’t kept at the time and in the place we’re looking. Sometimes we don’t even know where or when we should be looking. We put aside that ancestor or that line and decide to come back to it later. And then, occasionally, through the miracle of modern technology, we find our family’s answers online in a distant cousin’s tree.

This is one of the reasons I tell researchers to never give up. You never know what’s out there, what’s been hidden away in an attic or a basement that is now ready to see the light. Genealogy has entered an era when people are willing and able to share old photos, stories and even scraps of paper that have been passed down through generations. Continue Reading

Genealogy, News

Who’s Your Granny: Old Photos and an Irish Diaspora Center FB Live Video

I had these two great aunts – we’ll call them Edith and Gladys Melton (because those were their names) – who lived to be 94 and 92, respectively. They were at least half Irish, their mother was a Riley who had not one but two lines going back to Miles Riley who came to Virginia from County Cavan in 1634. They lived their entire lives in the small town in western Pennsylvania where they were born, in the one-time schoolhouse that had been their childhood home, where they grew up with their eight siblings. They were of a different era, one in which people designated them “old maids” or “spinsters.” They took care of their mother until she died at the ripe old age of 94, they were career girls who worked for over 40 years at the G.C. Murphy five and dime store in town, their front door was always open and their kitchen was always welcoming.

But this isn’t a story about my great aunts. It’s a story about their photos.

Make no mistake about it, they loved pictures. When they were younger, they loved being the subject of them, and as they grew older they made sure no one left their house without smiling for the camera. They collected, and hoarded, photos. It’s difficult to imagine in the instaworld of today that there was once a time when images were not so easily shared, and who got to keep the only portrait of Granddaddy could ignite a family feud to rival that of the Hatfields and McCoys. But, oh, there was indeed such a time. And it was no secret that these two sisters were sitting on a vast collection of family photos that had been hidden away from the world for almost a century. Continue Reading

Audio

Podcast: The Ins and Outs of DNA Testing

irishphiladelphia.com’s genealogy maven Lori Lander Murphy returns with another installment of Who’s Your Granny (with occasional editorial comment from her dog Daisy).

DNA testing is becoming more popular. There are many DNA testing services, and all employ different methods. Consequently, they may render different results. Some of them are more strongly focused on finding your family history, and some aren’t.

If you’re a genealogy beginner, what do you need to know?

Lori explains. Continue Reading