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The Famine

2012-06-30 20.39.28

The Famine Memorial - Dublin

  A question that is frequently on my mind is why did our ancestors survive the famine?   I asked that question many years ago to a relative who had taken us to visit the home where my husband’s grandmother was born in Monaghan and his answer…they grew oats and they had a cow.   I asked the same question to relatives in Mayo this summer and got a similar response.  Although their holding was only 13 acres at the time of Griffith’s in 1853, it was larger than most of the other tenements in the townland.  I read an interesting article today on an Amerian Journalist’s reporting of the Great Hunger

   When I lecture, I frequently remind people how important it is to understand the history of where your ancestors lived.  What was happening when your ancestor lived there?  What records were kept? What were the borders at the time your ancestor lived there?  Remember that records typically remain in the jurisdiction where they were created.   As you’re looking for records in the US, remember the family farm may not have moved, but as new counties were created, the records for different time periods may be in different places.  Are you looking for your ancestor’s death in Pennsylvania in 1889?  You won’t find a vital record as Pennsylvania didn’t keep records at the state level until 1906!  (That was a big surprise to me, coming from Connecticut where vital records date back into the 1600s.)  There are great records both online and off to help you better understand the history and records of a locality.  FamilySearch has great outlines on states and countries.  Just go to their WIKI and search for the locality.  Another excellent resource for the US is the RedBook: American State, County and Town Sources, edited by Alice Eichholz.  Good news, you can find his now online for free in the Ancestry WIKI.  

   There are many books you can read on Irish history.  If you find the history books too dry for your taste (I sometimes find they’re good for insomnia) you might consider reading historical novels.  The stories are fiction, but the events are historical and I find them helpful in understanding how our ancestors lived.   Back in 2011 I wrote about some Irish historical novels, and I frequently recommend Edward Rutherfurd’s Dublin Saga, The Princes of Ireland and the Rebels of Ireland.  You can find this series, and other historical novels about Ireland here. Many are available both as hard copy and Kindle so check both locations.

   Back to The Famine. I’m currently reading The Killing Snows: The Defining Novel of the Great Irish Famine by Charles Egan.  The novel takes place in Mayo and it is a heart-rending story of survival.  The Famine in the West of Ireland was devastating…it’s a wonder that anyone survived.  But it puts into perspective why families who were able to emigrate never talked to their children about the homeland.  They were here to be Americans.  

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017