Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ireland part 2: Meet the Family

Genealogy has always fascinated me. I am very clearly American, born and raised in the country known as 'the melting pot', but have always wondered exactly where my roots are from. Throughout the years I've gathered that my Mom's grandmother was an immigrant from Poland, and that I am a mix of Russian/Polish/Irish and probably about 10 other nationalities. (My grandma spoke both Russian and Polish fluently, but unfortunately that skill never got passed on to my generation.)

As I was getting ready to leave for my year in Spain, a relative off-handedly mentioned that we have relatives in Ireland. *Cue me jumping up and down at the thought of being able to visit Ireland*.
After I settled in in Algeciras, I sent a 'hail mary' sort of postcard to the address I had been given. A couple months passed with nothing. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from the niece of the couple I had mailed. She explained that my direct relative was 88 years old and not in the best health, but that he and his wife would be delighted, of course, to have me visit.

Two days later I booked a ticket, and three weeks later I showed up in their little coastal town in Northern Ireland. Call me compulsive.

The day that I spent getting to know this side of the family was by far the most rewarding day I have spent since coming to Europe. Over the course of the day I met my 3rd set of grandparents, and another aunt and uncle. (That's easier than saying than 'the 88 year old man who is a blood relative and his 82 year old wife, their niece, and another guy who is a direct descendent of the guy who my genealogy traces back to.' Right?)

Let's start off with some background, so you can get to know my family too.
In 1810, my great(x5) grandfather was a minister at a little church in Northern Ireland. (He was very well respected, and I managed to find quite a bit written about him on various history sites.) He married and had a bunch of children. Most of those children had lots more children. One of those children married, and they had lots more children. One of those kids moved to Illinois, where he met and married a woman who was also originally from Northern Ireland. They had lots more kids. And so on and so forth, until my mom was born.

Rewind to the minister's grandchildren, still living in Northern Ireland. While one son moved to Illinois, other kids stayed in Northern Ireland and continued to raise their families in the same town where their father had preached. I'm not sure of that lineage, but the end result was my grandma, grandpa, aunt and uncle that I got to meet.

(Confused yet?)

What this means is that part of the family history can be traced back through that single town for over 200 years. Aunt M drove me around, pointing out sites like the church where he was a minister, the farm where he was born, the graveyard where numerous other relatives are buried, and the current houses of all the living relatives. It was an incredible mix of old and new. It was fun to see how Aunt M interacted with everyone in the community. Because the town is so small, only around 1,500 people, and she has lived there her whole life, she knew everyone and everything about the small town. She gave me an incredible tour of the area.

Later in the day I met uncle N, and he showed me pictures of the little town from the 1920's. He was so excited to meet me, and thought it was great that I was just stopping by for the weekend. Aunt M told me he was known as "the bear" because he was such a big guy, but very sweet and fun. His Irish brogue was a bit harder for me to understand than Aunt M's though, which made for a couple awkward moments when I didn't want to admit I couldn't understand him. Luckily, after living in Spain for 7 months, I've gotten really smooth at the smile-and-nod move.

After that it was off to meet Grandpa B and Grandma M. Grandpa B had been bedridden for the past 4 weeks and wasn't doing very well, but I watched his eyes light up as I walked in the room, which was enough to make me tear up a little. He asked me how I liked 'their section of the world', and I replied that I loved it and never wanted to leave. That got a small smile from him.
Then Grandma M showed me pictures from over 20 years ago when my great grandmother and her kids came to visit. She had met my Mom's parents as well, and we shared stories about my Grandmother's strange eating habits. (If you're family you know why that's funny). She immediately made me feel so at home, like I belonged there. We talked for ages, and there was never a dull moment in the conversation. It was such an amazing feeling to connect with relatives on the other side of the world. I wish I had gotten to know them years ago, they are a great bunch!

Driving out to see the house where my great(x5) grandfather was born. I loved how the sea was so close no matter where in town we were.
This plot of land is where my great(x5) grandfather lived. It used to be a farm on the outskirts of the town. Most of the farm is still there, and this gated entrance, but the house has been knocked down.
 Town garden, right by the sea.
 Town garden mural.
 Beautiful coastline.
 200 year old windmill. 
 Main St. in 1946. It still looked pretty much the same, except with a few more buildings and few less horses. 
Main street today.
 Crazy-talented cat at Uncle N's. I'm not sure if this means he wanted out of his cage, or if it was just good exercise...
 Uncle N's wife, Aunt M, Uncle N (The aunt and uncle are not the married ones, sorry if that's confusing. They're relatives.)
 A picture of a picture - Grandma M and Grandpa B are the white-haired ones.
 Grandma M and Aunt M
Irish cows just hanging out in the backyard of their house. 
 The famous church! It was built in the 1700's and hasn't changed much since. The graveyard has graves from the 1800's all the way up to now.
 Gorgeous location right by the seaside.
 Turns out I was unknowingly named after a relative.
 Yellow flowers that absolutely cover Northern Ireland. 
 View across the bay of a nearby town
Cute beach houses.

As the day was wrapping up, I was contemplating exactly how much it would cost me to "miss" my flight home and spend a couple extra days in Northern Ireland. Luckily though, common sense kicked in and I decided against it. This made it especially ironic when there was a miscommunication the next morning over which airport I needed to go to, and I realized at 5:30am that I was at the wrong airport for a 7am flight. Sigh. I knew my weekend had been going too smoothly. 

1 comment:

  1. We knew you had a great-great(whatever) aunt Emma; it's just that we didn't find that out until after your name had chosen you.

    So did you miss your plane?