Monday, March 29, 2010

Setting the Scene

When my mind's eye visualizes Ireland, a place I hope to visit in the next year, I think of lots of green, rocky shorelines, and pastoral farmlands -- often with sheep dotting the landscape. Everyone I know who has been there cannot stop talking about the beauty of the place. My daughter told me when she traveled there that she had this immediate sense that she was "home".  She said that she felt like she looked like the people, and they like her.  What could possibly have prompted our ancestors to leave such an idyllic place?  We all know the answer -- starvation is a great motivator.

Recently PBS aired a series called Faces of America moderated Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  He was profiling the Irish family history of Stephen Colbert.  Stephen Colbert's family came from County Limerick (as did ours). Click on this segment to find out about the Potato Famine:        A Very Sad Period in Irish History

The program went on to say that there was actually intentional starvation of the "paupers" of Co. Limerick.  Families were offered free passage to the United States, but only if the entire family agreed to be relocated.  The policy was a sort of Final Solution for the underclass. The book Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt depicts the depths of poverty experienced by many in our homeland.

We are fortunate in our family to have a family history.  The original was written by Hugh Mathew Ryan "for his wife, Mary Ellen Ryan (nee McInerny)".  I have found McInerney spelled with many variations in different sources. The copy I inherited from my mother has a handwritten note that says the history was copied by Hugh's daughter, Margaret, on November 30, 1884.

Some things are ambiguous.  For instance, the first line refers to "Hugh Mathew Ryan" and says that he died of old age on September 8th, 1855, in County Limerick, Ireland.  (Throughout these posts, I am going to take the liberty of correcting some of the obvious misspellings from the document I have).  Right underneath this statement, it discusses Mary Ellen Ryan, wife of Hugh M. Ryan, and says that she died on July 2nd, 1902.  It was actually July 3rd, 1903 in Cincinnati.  What I wouldn't have given if Hugh had included the name of his mother.

The next GREAT clue came from a notebook I inherited from Grandma Ryan. Her notebook has the best clue of all -- it says that Mr. Mathew Ryan died of old age Saturday, September 8, 1855 Seat of Parish of Green, Lemirick (sic) Co., Ireland.  Her spelling matches the spelling used in the original.  One of the interesting observations here is that the father is referred to as "Mathew" and not "Hugh Matthew".  Having the name of the small town is fantastic!

Her notebook goes on to discuss a Jeremiath (sic) Ryan, son of Mathew Ryan, who enlisted in 1855.  This seems to imply that Jeremiah is the brother of "our"  Hugh Matthew.

Luckily for genealogists, you can still get service records.  Here is the copy of the record for Jeremiah that totally supports Grandma's notes.

I thought I had it made.  I knew Hugh Mathew's name,  I thought his father's name was Mathew, I had the name of a probable brother, and I knew they came from Pallasgrean (multiple spellings) in Co. Limerick. My excitement was premature.  In the next post, I will tell you what I learned about Pallasgrean.

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