Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Geneablogger Deborah Large Fox Interview on Irish Genealogy

This Q&A with Genealogist Deborah Large Fox was previously posted in our weekly newsletter but we feel is well worth posting this very popular genealogy blogger's interview, in it's entirety, for those who have not signed up for our free newsletter...enjoy!

A member of the popular Geneabloggers Group on Blogger.com, Deborah Large Fox's Help! The Faerie Folk Hid My Ancestors! blog was voted as one of Family Tree Magazine's Top 40 Genealogy Blogs 2011.  One of Deborah's many goals is to help researchers navigate through the quagmire of Irish genealogy.

In the 1990s, Deborah left the practice of law and became a researcher for a local historical organization, while giving classes and lectures on genealogy in the Philadelphia area, which she continues to do.  She has recently moved to Toronto with her husband, and is excited to be joining the Canadian genealogy world. Some of her Irish ancestors immigrated to Canada in 1844. Deborah also founded the Irish American Family History Society .

When Deborah was 14 years old, her grandmother gave her a letter written in 1847 by her third great grandmother in County Tyrone, Ireland, to her children in America. The letter spoke of the crop failures. On news broadcasts that evening were stories of the violence of ‘The Troubles.’ Deborah’s grandmother pointed at the televised riot scenes and told her that the letter came “from right there.” Deborah was hooked.

Fox recently fielded questions from TheWildGeese.com’s Family History Producer, Alannah Ryane.

TheWildGeese.com: One of your passions is ‘injecting’ the human and historical element into the data stream of genealogy. How can we fellow genealogists accomplish that?

Deborah Large Fox: Sure, getting hits from an online database will fill some blanks on a chart. So many researchers stop at that point. But, that data can also help us to “flesh out” our ancestors and bring them to life. For example, what does it signify to find your ancestor on a Freeholder’s List in County Kilkenny?  We must avoid the trap of noting simply the year and location. Instead, ask yourself: What were the political, economic, and perhaps religious ramifications of your ancestor’s being on that list? When you add the “why” to the “when and where,” you are on your way to watching your ancestor evolve from a name, to a stick figure, to a person with a unique story. That story is part of yourself!

WG: What do you cover in your talks on Irish genealogy?

Fox: My most requested talks cover the basics of Irish records and of Irish history and culture. I find that even experienced family history researchers are often in the dark regarding many of the basics of Irish research because so many Irish records are local in nature. Also, too many researchers today concentrate on plugging names into search engines and noting the results. They don’t understand the records they are finding. Irish family history research is a constant learning process. In my blog and talks, I ask my audience to learn along with me. I don’t regard myself as an expert by any means. I learn as much from my audiences as they do from me.

WG: What tricks or shortcuts have you found to finding the elusive data of Irish Family History?

Fox: No real shortcuts, but some tricks. One is to pay attention to family stories. The Irish tradition is an oral one, dating back to the ancient Celtic bards. Yet, time after time, professional genealogists say that family stories are mostly false. I have heard scores of family stories from my audiences over the years, and each story, if not entirely true, still held a kernel of truth. Maybe our ancestors embroidered their family tales a bit, but those tales hold important clues for finding that elusive data.

WG: What do you think it is about the Irish that makes them so resilient in overcoming the devastating challenges they have faced through centuries?

Fox: There is an old saying, I don’t know if it is an Irish one (if it is not, it should be), “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” From what I have learned of Irish history, the challenges served to strengthen the ties that held the Irish together as a people. One of these ties is the family.  As I wrote recently, sticks alone can be broken, but bound together with string, they are strong. Family is that string for the Irish.

WG: We have noticed that the Irish Diaspora has a more emotional tie to Ireland than the recent young people who have left.  They seem to reflect the attitude of the early immigrants who wanted to put it all behind them leaving us with little or no information about their origins, which has made it difficult to find actual locations.  Can you comment?

Fox: I have noticed the same, and I think that what you say has probably been true throughout the history of immigration. I think it is just natural to want to put everything behind you when you are leaving a place. Don’t forget, the person who is emigrating probably has an adventurous and forward-looking nature. The less baggage—physical or emotional—the better. I would think many of our ancestors simply could not bear the pain of talking about the homes and families they left behind. Others didn’t see much sense in talking about the past when they were building a future.

WG:  I have discovered through my own research that we carry the memories of our ancestors in our DNA, and it seems to me that Irish descendants have a stronger desire for that connection to their past than most. Have you found any indications of this?

Fox: I have surely noticed that the Irish descendants seem to have a stronger desire than most other researchers to connect to their pasts. I have often wondered about this, myself. The connection seems to be such a passionate and visceral one that I believe that there is a genetic component at work. What is interesting to me is that this desire to connect is not dependent on whether the person grew up in a family that preserved the Irish culture. It seems to come from within the person.

WG: TheWildGeese.com promotes the continuation of Irish culture through the Diaspora.  You have written on the subject, can you explain how we can discover even small indications that our family carried on some of these traditions?

Fox: Oh my, you have hit on one of my very favorites topics! I give a presentation called “Beyond ‘Just Because’” that explores the myriad ways in which our families carry on traditions, often without knowing it. Food is a huge cultural conduit. Family recipes often have roots that stretch back to Ireland. Holiday traditions are another. Favorite sayings and peculiar pronunciations of words are also clues. Again, the key to discovering these traditions in our own families is the word “Why?” … “Why do we do it this way?” And don’t be satisfied with the answer, “Just because, we always have done it this way.”

WG: The driving force behind the creation of my webisode series “By Her Roots” was to, as you say in your post “Genealogical Soil,” find myself "standing on the ancestral dirt.” I believe Ireland would benefit greatly by putting more energy behind genealogy travel and allowing more free access to the records. Could you comment on this?

Fox: Free access is key. I know many researchers who balk at paying for records for various reasons. My own budget for my genealogy research has risen astronomically through the years. I do understand the costs involved in creating access to records, and I tend not to grumble about paying my share. But I think that the benefits to Ireland would soon outweigh the costs. Not only do the descendants today have a passion to find their ancestors, they seem to have a strong need to stand on the land of their ancestors. And, after they stand on that land, they want to go into town and have a pint or two, and then bring home as many Irish goods as they can stuff into their suitcases!

TheWildGeese.com’s Alannah Ryane has extensive experience in media production, including interviewing for print, radio and television. Alannah was awarded a grant from genealogist and author Megan Smolenyak to assist in the production of the Family History Series “By Her Roots,” which Alannah produced for RootsTelevision.com.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cromwell And His Irish "Friends"

Almost all genealogy researchers have a goal of discovering the immigrant ancestor especially the Irish! Where did they come from? Why did they choose this land? What did they do after they got here?
I realized, that to answer these questions, I needed to know more about the Quakers. The more I researched, the more ancestors I discovered to be of this religious persuasion. Their method of record keeping was a treasure trove of information. They diligently recorded births, marriages, deaths, and burials. The notes of their monthly meetings were a glimpse into their everyday lives.
Thomas Pim, my third great grandfather, was born in 1790, East Caln, Chester County, Pennsylvania, the first recorded birth in our family bible. He had 12 second great-grandparents, all members of the Religious Society of Friends, with eight of them married in America before 1715. These wonderful people came from England, Ireland, and Wales.
Immigrationof the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania, 1682-1750: With Their 
EarlyHistory in Ireland,” by Albert Cook Myers, was filled with details about my ancestors. Two names that were often repeated in the book (published in 1902) were those of Oliver Cromwell and William Edmundson. Both men played important roles in the lives of my ancestors in Ireland.
Many of the soldiers in Cromwell’s New Model Army were given land in Ireland that was confiscated from native Irish as a reward for their service in Cromwell’s invading force. Some of my ninth great-grandfathers were among this group. Myers suggested that because of Cromwell’s actions there was greater opportunity for religious sects to develop, though clearly those thousands of Irish who suffered massacre and confiscation at the hands of the New Model Army would have a less benevolent view. William Edmundson, a veteran of Cromwell’s army, began to try to convince his former comrades about the goodness he found in the Religious Society of Friends.
Myers quotes John Grubb Richardson (1813-1890), a prominent and representative Irish Friend, who says of his family, "We were members of the Society of Friends, our forefathers having been convinced by the preaching of William Edmundson in 1660. All our ancestors came from the north of England in Cromwell's army, and received grants of land from him to settle in Ireland."
John Grubb Richardson is my fourth cousin five times removed. Our common ancestors are John Pim, Mary Pleadwell, Thomas Jackson and Dorothy Mason. They are John’s third great-grandparents and my eighth great grandparents.
John Pim (1641-1718) was converted by William Edmundson in Cavan. He followed Edmundson to Laois, moving from Mountmellick to Maryborough (Portlaoise), to Coolucant and then to Mountrath. Here he and his wife Mary raised eight of their 11 children, three having died young. In apparent acts of civil disobedience, John was imprisoned many times in the 1660s for non-payment of tithe to the government-established Church of Ireland. He had a successful butchery business with Richard Jackson. Mary tended their interests in John’s absences. The Quaker Pims in Ireland descend through this John Pim and Mary Pleadwell. Their descendants were merchants, selling glue, candles, blue, and soap. The Pims had a mill producing rapeseed oil at Lackagh.
Anthony Pim (c. 1774-1842) was a brewer. He was also involved in the importation of American and Baltic timber. In 1856, James Pim & Sons, Market Square, were grocers, wine merchants and woolen drapers, with a thriving woolen business in Dublin. There are Pims in Ireland today, many of them still associated with the Friends.
Another film at the LDS Family History Library gives detail of Richard Jackson, who migrated, from England, to Lurgan, County Armagh, in 1649. He married Margaret Keete, also from England, at Carrickfergus, County Antrim. In 1655, he moved to Cavan, and in 1659 moved to Mountmellick. He joined the Society of Friends in 1654 and was imprisoned for his beliefs in 1661. Their son, Robert Jackson, is often mentioned in "The Journal of William Edmundson". He sometimes accompanied William in his travels. According to Mountmellick Quaker records, Richard was a soldier in Cromwell’s army and came to Ireland in 1648. He became ‘convinced’ about 1654.
William Edmundson went to see Richard Jackson upon his deathbed and said of him, “He was convinced of God’s everlasting Truth about the year 1654, since which time he walked in the Truth, and with the Lord’s people, bearing his share of suffering as it came, whether spoil of goods or imprisonment of body, for the Testimony of the blessed Truth, which he had received of the Lord, and in which he believed. He was a serviceable man in the creation, and more especially in the Truth. ...” [Records of Mountmellick Meeting: "The seventh of ye second month, 1679.”]
Richard’s father, Anthony Jackson, served the English government in a number of capacities:

  • Admitted to the Inner Chamber 1616.
  • Became private secretary to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, until the assassination of the Duke by John Felton in 1628.
  • Became a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber of Charles I.
  • Called to the Bar 1635.
  • Promised the place of Protho-Notary of the Court of Common Pleas at Oxford in 1646.

From The Great Ancestral Hunt
Because of his support of the Stuarts, he was arrested by Cromwell at Worcester and imprisoned in the Tower of London eight years, charged with treason. By that time, his property was gone and, being penniless, he was released. His sons, meanwhile, were granted manor estates of confiscated lands in Ireland for their support of Cromwell in 1648, and the family moved there in 1649.
Anthony was born about 1599 in England died about 1666 in Ireland. The name of his wife is unknown. He left three sons who continued his legacy -- John, Richard, and Anthony. It is even posited that Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, is a descendant of Anthony.
In 1660, Richard Jackson, among other Friends, was fined 40 shillings and imprisoned for 14 weeks, for holding Quaker meetings.
My sixth great-grandmother, Dorothy Jackson, who married William Pim, in 1715, in Mountrath, is the granddaughter of Richard Jackson and Margaret Keete. William is the grandson of John Pim and Mary Pleadwell. William and Dorothy are my immigrant ancestors to America.
When a Quaker individual or family, moved from one location to another, it was necessary to have a certificate of removal to present at the new meeting. This document usually stated whether or not one was in good standing with the meeting and whether or not the individual was married.
As I researched at the Family History Library, reading through the old Quaker records on film, I found that many certificates of removal from Ireland to Pennsylvania were signed by Pims, Jacksons, and other names I had begun to recognize. 
For me, it was like reconnecting with old friends.
My life has been enriched by discovering ancestors who had high ideals for living, and regardless of consequences, lived up to those standards. They turned their hearts from war to seeking after Truth, as they called it, and made their corner of the world a better place.  

ABOUT THIS BLOGGER:   Susan Potts Kimura graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in history and was a genealogy researcher for a genealogy firm in Salt Lake City.   She is currently an elementary school aide working with slow readers.  We look forward to more articles from Susan on her Irish Quaker Ancestors!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Connecting the Past and Present: Chatting With Genealogist and Author Megan Smolenyak, Part 2 of 2

We continue and complete our interview with genealogist, author, producer and speaker Megan Smolenyak, wherein we discuss her work with Unclaimed Persons, finding the family of a World War I veteran from Ireland, and her latest book!
                -- TheWildGeese.com Family History Producer Alannah Ryane

Alannah Ryane: I would think that one of the more rewarding hats you wear is your work with helping coroners and medical examiners locate the next of kin for Unclaimed Persons.  The number of volunteers you have enlisted to assist you with this is amazing and they have solved 251 cases. What got you started in this area and what was one of your more moving experiences with this group?

Megan Smolenyak:  It was a newspaper article about a specific coroner’s office in Pennsylvania that first alerted me to the very existence of this quiet epidemic maybe seven or so years ago. I started researching cases on my own for several counties, and then decided to make a video about a few of those cases – and that’s what triggered Unclaimed Persons. I was inundated with requests from other genealogists who wanted to help, so I started a very ad-hoc group that gradually grew and developed a structure. I no longer run the group (that’s done by the tireless Skip Murray and Janis Martin), but continue to cheerlead and “recruit” for it and solve cases. It’s hard to single out any one case. Some stand out because of the circumstances and others because of what it took to find the family, but I have to say that it’s especially rewarding when the family is grateful to have been notified. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to be left wondering, but thanks to Unclaimed Persons, there are hundreds of families who no longer are. The one thing I would say is to call your brother – or whatever relative you have a bit of a feud with. Too many of these cases result from long-held grudges about trivial matters. Don’t let it happen to you.
Alannah: While working with the U.S. Army and their on-going repatriation efforts, you were asked to locate the next of kin of a World War I veteran who immigrated from County Galway in 1892, named Private Costello. How does the emotional aspect of stories like this affect you?

Photo Courtesy of Megan Smolenyak
Megan: Thomas Costello was one of my first WWI cases, and it hit close to home because my own grandfather – whose parents had come to America from Ireland – served in WWI.  You might have noticed that I have a soft spot for all things Irish, so when I realized he was an immigrant, I was determined to find his family.  As it happens, I had planned a vacation perhaps just 15 miles from where he was from in Tuam, County Galway, so I even tried visiting the local library!  It took a while, but I was eventually had the honor of attending his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.  And there was a lovely article by Tom Gilmore of The Tuam Herald that featured a photo of Private Costello’s relatives, including a youngster who attends the same school he did and is actually holding the soldier’s school records in the photo.  I happen to be an Army brat, so every case is meaningful to me, but this one was especially so. (Read more at the Huffington Post.)

View on Amazon
Alannah: Your new book, "Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing," is to be released in January 2012 and promises to reveal more secrets to your "Indiana Jones" style of sleuthing. In the book, you received thanks from Stephen Colbert as you assisted in his family history research for his segment on "Faces of America."  I have written before on that segment because I thought it was a such a wonderful moment, when he read the oath of allegiance his Irish Immigrant ancestor had to read after being starved out of his homeland. Can you please share one of your more moving and rewarding experiences while wearing any of your many hats . . . and perhaps some advice to everyone about researching their family tree?

Megan:  Yes, I was thrilled that Stephen, who’s about 94% Irish, was kind enough to provide a quote. I have to say that on a personal level, getting hugs and kisses from the Obamas and [Irish Prime Minister Enda and his wife, Fionnuala] Kennys earlier this year in Dublin was pretty darn special. I had no idea back in 2007 when I traced then-candidate Obama’s roots to the little village of Moneygall [County Offaly] that he would wind up going there as President to raise a pint in Ollie’s pub and meet his cousin, Henry Healy, who’s now fondly known as Henry VIII (since they’re eighth cousins). And of course, it’s always fun to see your handiwork make the news or be featured on TV.  But I think it’s probably the quiet stuff that matters most. Each soldier buried, each unclaimed person reclaimed, each cold case re-opened or solved, each orphan heirloom returned, each adoptee reunited with their birth family – you get the idea.  You don’t hear about these, but each one means a lot to a few.  As to advice, reach out to others.  Genealogy is ultimately about connecting across oceans and time, so don’t do it in a vacuum!  And whenever you hit a brick wall in your research, do everything you can possibly think of and then just leave it. Our ancestors want to be found as much as we want to find them, so they’ll often meet us half-way if we’re patient.

Alannah Ryane is TheWildGeese.com's Media Manager and Family History Producer.  A native of Ontario, Canada, she has an extensive media background, including CBC-TV news production, conducting TV, radio and print interviews and promotion for independent and foreign-film distributors in Toronto.  Her passion for genealogy resulted in her series “By Her Roots” for RootsTelevision.com. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

‘Connecting Across Oceans and Time’: Q&A With Celebrity Genealogist Megan Smolenyak

Photo Courtesy of Megan Smolenyak
Genealogist, Author, Producer and Speaker Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, that's her real name) wears many hats and has appeared on so many TV shows including Good Morning America, the Today Show, the Early Show, CNN, NPR and BBC. She has also written numerous books. So it was a real challenge for me to craft questions she may never have heard before.  My solution was to cover a few of her famous and not so famous genealogy branches, many of which were created out of her passion alone and a desire to share her expertise.

To say that I admire her is an understatement. Megan awarded me a grant (something she did for so many genealogists out of her own pocket) when I took on the very daunting task of producing, shooting, editing and financing my genealogy series By Her Roots on my Irish Ancestors for her very popular RootsTelevision.com genealogy channel. Just to keep things interesting Megan's genealogy career has branched out to include her being a Cold Case Researcher for the Army, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the FBI.

As former Chief Family Historian and spokesperson for Ancestry.com, Megan has a bottomless bag of wisdom on how to move through the minefields of genealogical and historical research. Her expertise has put her into the world of Celebrity as a consultant on
"Who Do You Think You Are", "Faces of America", "African American Lives", The PBS series "Ancestors", "Timewatch" and "They Came To America".  We have all now read how she traced Obama's Irish Roots and found Michelle's Slave Ancestors!

I began this interview, with a question stemming from my own goose bumping late nights and attempts to solve the mystery of how I ended up experiencing life with this particular strand of DNA. DNA, I believe holds all the experiences of those who came before us.
Alannah Ryane, Family History Producer

ALANNAH: You and Dr. Ann Turner wrote the best selling book TraceYour Roots With DNA about genetic genealogy. You also helped Alex Haley's nephew discover their Scottish roots through DNA testing. Now The Genealogical Society of Ireland and Ireland 's Royal College of Surgeons have launched a new project to explore human genetic variation in the Irish population. What are your thoughts on this project and the path genetic genealogy has taken today?

MEGAN: I first got into DNA back around 1999 as a result of my work with the U.S. Army’s efforts to identify soldiers from past conflicts such as WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam .  Because of that, I was one of the first in line when DNA testing became available commercially, and as an early adapter, I launched one of the first ever geographic projects way back in 2001. At the time, folks wondered what the heck I was doing, and it was hard to defend back before many “got it.” So I’m delighted now to see projects such as the Irish DNA Atlas project. I’m bummed that I can’t participate since I’m only half Irish heritage-wise, but I expect to be one of the many around the globe who will ultimately benefit.  In terms of genetic genealogy in general, I continue to be greedy. Would just like more, more, more! More tests, more tools, more studies, more data, etc. Let’s hope more countries follow this Irish model.

ALANNAH: One of your longest and more famous investigations uncovered the true story of Annie Moore the teenager and first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island . Something about Annie's family tree didn't sit right with you and after a number of years the difference between the two identified Annies was revealed. What was it that made you suspicious and what can you tell the rest of us that have often fallen into the trap of accepting truths that steer us in the wrong direction?
Annie Moore & Brothers at Ellis Island
MEGAN: I actually only learned about the wrong Annie by accident. I was working on a PBS documentary on immigration to America . Being an Irish American, I knew of Annie and “pitched” her as a story, telling the producers I would track down her descendants for an interview. They agreed, so I set about finding them. It was easy to do because of all the articles about them. But one of the challenges with historical documentaries is finding appropriate visuals – not nearly as much as we have these days – so I told the producers I would snag Annie’s paper trail to use as illustrations. The first one I found said she was born in Illinois , but that didn’t worry me since such errors are common in old documents. But then I found another that said Illinois – and another. And that’s how it dawned on me that the wrong Annie had been permitted to slip into the cracks of history. Finding the real Annie was a needle in a haystack situation, so took about 4 years. What blew my mind is how many people had simply accepted the tale of the other Annie without so much as checking a census record. When it comes to family lore, there’s almost always a seed of truth, so those tales are always worth pursuing, but you have to be open enough to recognize other realities when they smack you upside the head! BTW, the Annie saga continues. I’ve been involved with excavating her story for 9 years now.

Here is a video we featured this week on our Family History Channel on YouTube because it was created by a teacher to instruct students on Ellis Island. The soundtrack by The Irish Tenors is the song the story of Annie Moore's entrance to America.

In Part 2 of this Interview Megan answers my questions on working with coroners and medical examiners to locate the next of kin for unclaimed persons, as well as the kin of a WWI Irish Immigrant from 1892 Co. Galway.

ALANNAH RYANE  is TheWildGeese.com's Media Manager and Family History Producer.  A native of Ontario, Canada, she has an extensive media background, including CBC TV News Production, TV, radio and print interviews and conducted promotion for independent and foreign-film distributors in Toronto.  WG