Category Archives: ancestors

Scots-Irish?

This article first appeared in Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 2012, Moorshead Magazines Ltd. ©Cindy Thomson

In genealogy research, as in most things in life, it’s helpful to have a guide. That is what magazines such as this one seek to accomplish. But when it comes to real hands-on research, there is no substitute for real, live contacts who have made this work their main occupation. So, if you are among the 22 million Americans, or several million Canadians, who have family lines labeled Ulster-Scot or Scots-Irish, go where the records and events exist.

Who Were the Scots-Irish?

Learning about the Scots-Irish with author Cindy ThomsonThese ancestors were Irish, but they were Scottish as well, and perhaps, even English. They are identified as an ethnic group coming from the English-Scottish border to Northern Ireland (Ulster) in the early 17th century.

In the 18th century, many of these people came to America because of economic or religious reasons. To understand this migration, you have to go back to the 17th century, when Scottish and English land-grant owners sought tenants to populate the northern region of Ireland and drive out the native Catholics. The Lowland Scots fit the bill. They were Protestant, mainly Presbyterian, and they spoke English. The down-trodden Lowlanders had suffered endless cattle raid, had, themselves, resorted to such raids because of their poverty, and had lived on infertile, over-farmed land for centuries. The prospect of large, bountiful tenant farms in Ireland, a short jaunt across the Irish Sea, was more than appealing. But as the decades passed, the transplanted Scots because known as dissenters. They did not vow allegiance to the Church of England, detesting tithing to a church they didn’t support, and were governed by the Penal Laws, which oppressed them as well as the Catholics. The British government gave these statues the title: “Law in Ireland for the Suppression of Popery”, but they were commonly known as the Penal Laws and prevented dissenters from voting, bearing arms or serving in the military. Dissenters could not be married, baptized or buried with the assistance of any minister who was not ordained by the official church of the state; thus, their own church sanctions were invalid and illegal.

Inch Abbey. Learn about the Scots Irish with author Cindy Thomson

Inch Abbey, Downpatrick, County Down

Even so, by the time many of these people came to North America in the 18th century, some of the restrictive laws had loosened. The damage had been done, however, and the dissenters were bitter. To further aggravate the situation, when rents came due on many of the farms they lived on, the cost doubled, or more, in a practice called rack-renting. Those who worked in the linen industry also suffered at this time, because the Crown had begun to prevent the Irish from exporting their product anywhere but to England.

Family members who had already ventured to the New World sent back glowing reports about the ample, fertile land. Ship owners dispatched men to Ireland’s countryside peasants to extol the benefits of emigration. While some departed seeking adventure, most Ulster men and women did not want to leave Ireland, but their backs were against the wall. Ireland held no opportunities for these families.

When Did They Come?

Antrim Coast. Scots-Irish with Author Cindy Thomson

Antrim Coast

There were five time periods when the Scots-Irish emigrated in large numbers: 1717-18, when a destructive drought killed crops, the linen industry was crippled and rack-renting prevailed; 1725-29, when continued rack-renting and poverty prompted such a massive departure that even the English Parliament because concerned it might lose the Protestant majority in the area; 1740-41, when a famine struck and letters from relatives living in America were persuasive; 1754-55, the time of a disastrous drought; and 1771-75, when leases on the large estate of the Marquis of Donegal in County Antrim expired and the tenants could not afford to renew them. Years when economic pressures in Ireland were the greatest was when large exoduses occurred. The numbers dropped during the years of the French and Indian Wars (1754-63) and came to a crashing halt at the onset of the American Revolution. The Scots-Irish of the 18th century considered themselves Irish. Many came from families who had lived in Ireland for 150 years. It wasn’t until the Irish immigrants of the 1845-49 potato famine era arrived, that this group began distinguishing themselves as Scots-Irish. Today, the distinction helps researchers identify the group.

Where Did They Settle?

The early Scots-Irish pioneers to America settled in the western part of Pennsylvania where they found the Quakers more to their liking than the Catholics in Maryland or the Anglicans in Virginia. By 1730, the Scots-Irish had made their way into the lush Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the most western region of the British Colonies. The Scots-Irish, serving as a buffer against the Indians, enjoyed religious freedom because they were virtually ignored by the tidewater Virginians. A large number settled in the area covered today by Augusta and Rockbridge counties.

Always on the move, the Scots-Irish populated the Piedmont country of the Carolinas in the mid-18th century. Many of these settlers were new arrivals from Ulster who found Pennsylvania and Virginia too crowded for their liking and moved southward. Some were previous immigrants, pulling up roots for the second, third or even fourth time.

After the war with England ended in 1783, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which had declared lands west of the mountains off-limits to white settlers, was ignored. The restless Scots-Irish led the way behind such trailblazers as Daniel Boone.

Come back tomorrow for the rest of the article and learn where to find out more about this immigrant group.

Stepping Into the Past

Deadman's Curve NYC, www.cindyswriting.comHow to Go Back in Time

How many of us have remarked that we wished for a time machine. We have to see and experience things ourselves to truly understand them. But since that’s not possible, we can do the next best thing (something I always try to do when writing historical fiction) and read the words and thoughts of those who lived before us. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Read Their Words

ThomsonFamilyBook

Thomson Family Book

There is nothing like a diary or journal to get into the mindset of the people of the past. Did you know John Adams kept a diary? Here is a fascinating list of online historical diaries. There are slave narratives (audio believe it or not) on the National Archives web site.

You can find more at local historical societies and libraries. Sometimes they are hard to read but worth the effort. My husband found a hand-written genealogy written in 1888 by one of his relatives. It’s not just a genealogy, though. It has memories and stories that relatives told as well, including one man who was a chaplain in the Union army and accompanied the troops on Sherman’s march to the sea. It has remembrances about how one man’s mother was distressed when he joined a different church until a pastor set the mother straight, and even one interesting story about a trip to a fortune teller.

Live in Their Society

Nothing beats contemporary newspapers for learning about the world our ancestors lived in. Of course you can look for names and dates, but to get a feel for how they lived their lives and what events influenced them, read newspapers and magazines. The magazines often contained serial fiction that later was put into books that you’ve probably heard of. In my novel Annie’s Stories I talk about Harper’s doing this, and you can even read some issues online here. For historical newspapers look here.

Russian Immigrants at Ellis Island, www.cindyswriting.comLook at Photographs

There are many sites where you can find old photographs, and just doing a Google search will bring up many. If you’ve ever seen photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island, you’ve probably seen Augustus Sherman’s photographs. He makes a cameo appearance in my novel Grace’s Pictures. I love to study the expressions, but you can also learn a lot from the clothing (were they rich or poor?) and even from the setting (in a studio, at home, outside?) Those Ellis Island photographs often depict people in their native garb, something they may have quickly discarded once they stepped foot in Battery Park when relatives met them with more American clothing (so they wouldn’t stand out.)

Dutch Immigrant at Ellis Island

These are just a few things that help me go back in time. What other ideas do you have?

Living in a Land of Immigrants

Immigrants--author Cindy Thomson

Scottish immigrants at Ellis Island

The Melting Pot

Once when I was at a bed and breakfast in Ireland sitting at a table with folks from other countries, a German photographer noted that while both America and Canada are populated by immigrants, America is different. He didn’t quite say what he meant by that because the conversation drifted to 9-11 and Obama and other subjects that non Americans seem to want to hear about from Americans. While I didn’t ponder further at the time about why Canadians and Americans are different (I’ve met many Canadians and don’t consider them THAT different from me, eh?) I did think about living in a land of immigrants. I wonder if that’s why genealogy is such a popular hobby. Everyone seems to want to get back to their “immigrant ancestor”–the one who came over.

How Did We End up in America?

Well, I was born here, but only because my ancestors came over. There is some rumor about a bit of Cherokee blood, but mostly I believe I’m of Celtic descent. Really must do a DNA test sometime. Have you done one? (Please share in the comments.)

There are several reasons our ancestors might have come over, not to mention the different time periods when North America saw waves of immigrants. I’ve written a lot about Ellis Island immigrants because of the setting of my latest novels. My ancestors, however, came over earlier. One branch came from Ireland right before the Revolutionary War. There were several periods of Scots-Irish immigration in the 18th century. I wrote about that here. Of course many people can trace their Irish ancestors to the middle of the 19th century and the Potato Famine. I recently found another branch on my tree that came over

Immigrants--author Cindy Thomson

Irish famine cottage eviction

much, much earlier, in the 1680’s from Wales. Once you know when your ancestors came over, you can probably determine why just by looking at history. They didn’t come over on a fluke. They were driven by famine, crop failures, and political unrest. Some, like many Italian immigrants, came to seek their fortune and then go back home. (Some stayed on even though it wasn’t their initial intent.) Once you hear these stories, you’ll better appreciate how they paved a way for you.

Why Keeping the Culture Alive is so Important to Us

For Americans, it’s always been important to celebrate the culture from our mother country. Festivals and feast days, ethnic neighborhoods, food, dance, song, stories….

I have attended several Irish festivals to promote my books. Groups from Ireland, especially Northern Ireland and the Saint Patrick Centre–say they have nothing quite like this at home. They have attended these festivals and encouraged tourists to come visit them. It worked on me!

Dir of Saint Patrick Centre Tim Campbell with Author Cindy Thomson

With Tim Campbell, Director of the Saint Patrick Centre at Milwaukee Irish Festival in 2007.

Tim Campbell, Dir of Saint Patrick Centre with Author Cindy Thomson

With Tim Campbell at the Saint Patrick Centre, Downpatrick, Co Down, in 2010.

Get Involved in Preserving Culture

There are so many clubs, cultural organizations, genealogical societies, and groups I haven’t even thought of where you can get in touch with your roots. I think that’s mainly an American thing. Correct me if I’m wrong. But our roots are shallow in this country, so I think it’s only natural that we seek our immigrant ancestors.

Celebrating Culture--author Cindy Thomson

San José Library via Flickr

What groups are you involved in?

4 Ways to Preserve Your Family Stories

Stories, Not Just History

Sure you need to keep your family tree charts and group sheets safe, but that’s not what I have on my mind today. I’m thinking about the stories, the things that are so easily lost and not attainable in public records. Have you ever said, “I wish I had asked my grandparents about their lives when they were still here with us?” I’ve heard it many times, and I’ve said it myself. So here are some tips for capturing those stories.

1. Make a Recording

Record the Stories

Grant

Never has it been more convenient to get those stories and tales recorded. Most people have cell phones with video capability. You can also download an app just for recording audio–you know, like those tape recorders we had in the old days! Here is one in iTunes and here are some for Android. I’m not endorsing any, so look around and find the best voice recorder for you.

Hearing the stories about someone’s youth in his/her own voice is a treasure. Be sure to download the file to your computer and back it up. Here’s a don’t-do-what-I-did tip: Make sure you know where your cell phone’s speaker is and don’t cover it up with your thumb. I only got bits of this conversation (pictured below) between my mother and her sister. It was classic. Glad others were recording at the same time!

Cindy Thomson's family reunion May 2013

Remember to record your own stories. Tell everyone at your next family gathering what you plan to do and just have fun. Chances are you’d be talking about these things anyway, so get them recorded. Just make sure everyone’s aware of what you’re doing. You might want to edit too. Sometimes people say things they regret. Remember that Yogi Berra quote: I really didn’t say everything I said! Older people can be a product of the age they grew up in when there wasn’t as much political correctness, if you know what I mean.

2. Don’t Forget to Take Pictures

Cindy Thomson's familyIt’s easy to forget when you’re gathered with folks and caught up in conversations. That’s why my cousin hired a photographer for our family reunion.

Also take pictures of pictures if you have no other way to copy a photo you come across. The more copies out there the more likely a photo will not be lost. Share on Facebook/Pinterest/Tumblr…then the image will be forever, right? Some social media sites like Pinterest allow you to make private boards if you’d rather. And don’t forget to get in the picture yourself. (Isn’t everyone taking selfies these days?) When my sister passed away I was sad to discover that she’d managed to stay out of the way of cameras for most of her life.

3. Go Ahead and Use Paper and Pencil

Cindy Thomson's Family Tree BookTechnology fails often, doesn’t it? Take some notes, put out a guestbook, encourage folks to write things down. Everything that I have in my dad’s handwriting makes me feel connected to him even though he’s been in Heaven for a few years now. We’ve definitely gotten away from letter writing in this society, but often people will write down their thoughts and emotions better than they would in person. Don’t miss that opportunity.

4. Get as Much as Possible on Your Computer

I know that seems to contradict what I’ve been saying, but it doesn’t really. You need both electronic copies and paper copies. What if there’s a fire? What if your computer crashes? Oh, yes, there’s the cloud, so definitely get your family treasures out on the cloud as well. Do it all. Just in case.

Author Kate Kerrigan's computer

Author Kate Kerrigan shares some of her family history using her laptop.

Family genealogists are probably using a program such as Ancestry.com or Family Tree Maker software, and they are wonderful for storing not only names and dates, but also photographs, scanned documents, videos and voice recordings. And sharing with other family members is quick and easy. If genealogy is not your thing, I hope there is a keeper of the records and stories in your family.

Wrapping it Up

I know I’ve just thrown out a couple of ideas. I want everyone to know how easy and convenient it can be to preserve the stories of their ancestors and their own as well because EVERYONE SHOULD KEEP THE STORIES!

How are you keeping your family stories for future generations?

We’re Connected by Stories

Defining Our Attachment

“…it’s our stories that tell us who we are. Our parents’ and grandparents’ stories are unique to each of us, to which we have an irrefutable attachment.”

This quote came from this blog post. It speaks the truth, I believe.  This is the sum of why I started researching my roots. We are all searching, I believe, for a connection to each other and to God. Stories connect us. Even hearing the stories of someone not blood-related to you brings you closer to that person and that person’s struggles and triumphs.

How Stories are Collected

The post I linked to above is about a family business in Manhattan. There is another story about a family Clarke's photo by Cindy Thomsonbusiness that I have not stopped thinking about since I heard it. This one takes place on the other side of the pond, in the west of Ireland in a town called Ballina. The town, on the River Moy, is known for salmon. Clarke’s Salmon Smokery in downtown Ballina, which Jackie Clarke opened in 1945, is now run by his sons. The story about Jackie Clarke met my attention because I’ve visited Ballina and even eaten smoked salmon in one of the pubs there. (Truth be told my husband and I ate smoked salmon almost everywhere we went in Ireland and even had it in the airport before we flew home because you’re not allowed to take it with you!)

A Collector of History

Jackie Clarke, apparently, was a collector of items of historical significance. When he died in 2000 he left a floor of his house stuffed with items:

It is the most important private collection of Irish history material in public hands, comprising over 100,000 items spanning 400 years. It includes artefacts associated with Theobald Wolfe Tone; letters from Michael Collins, Douglas Hyde, Michael Davitt and O’Donovan Rossa. It also contains rare books, proclamations, posters, political cartoons, pamphlets, handbills, works by Sir John Lavery, maps, hunger strike material and personal items from Leaders of the 1916 Rising.–www.clarkecollection.ie

From the Jackie Clarke Collection

from http://www.clarkecollection.ie/Collection/

His wife donated the collection in 2005, and much of it is on display in a former bank building in town. This museum opened after my visit so I didn’t get to see it, but it started me thinking about the importance one man collecting history can have. How much of what he kept might have been lost had he not done it? I imagine a good bit. Lots of people keep mementoes, pictures, and items related to their own personal histories. But Jackie Clarke must have felt connected to his community and his country when he stowed away all the stuff he did. I can’t imagine why he didn’t share it in his lifetime. Apparently even his family didn’t know the extent of his collection. Perhaps he thought he was the only interested, but of course that wasn’t true.

My mother has stashed away items, particularly newspaper articles, when she felt they would be of historical significance in the future. She has nothing like the Clarke Collection, but she probably shares Jackie Clarke’s convictions. So much is digital now that there is little need to keep everything, but organizing it is still important so future generations can feel connected to their past. What do you think? Are you a collector?

The past connects us in important ways but only if we are able to hear the stories.

6 Novels Genealogists Will Love

But wait, might there be more than six novels genbuffs will enjoy?

First, don’t shoot the messenger. There are surely more than six novels someone researching their genealogy will enjoy, but these are some that come to mind for me, and in case you haven’t read them, I hope I’ll be introducing you to some new reading enjoyment. And go ahead and suggest more in the comments section! (These are in no particular order.)

 

1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

  • Why?ATreeGrows
    • Not only will the reader come away with a sense of time and space so accurate because the writer lived it, but he/she will also embrace this coming of age story because of course all our ancestors had to face growing up. Some themes are universal and this novel helps us realize that struggles and disadvantages can be learned from and moved past.

2. A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

  • afallofmarigoldsWhy?
    • Because so many Americans had ancestors who came through Ellis Island, some having to stay for a while like the character in this novel. Because some lessons are learned over and over again. Susan’s novel explores that concept by using a parallel modern story relating to 9-11 in New York City.

 

3. Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers

  • Why?
    • Because we arresized_her_mothers_hopee a product of our genes and upbringing, not doomed to be shackled but destined to grow through our disadvantages and become our own. Rivers explores this theme with an immigrant main character who is determined to fulfill her mother’s hope for her without repeating what she sees as her mother’s faults. Only the strong survive, and she’s determined to make sure her own daughter realizes this. A powerful message of what our ancestors probably experienced a the effect this determination had on their children.

4. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

  •  Why?
  • Hotel_on_the_Corner_of_Bitter_and_Sweet_cover
  • This is another generation story illustrating the divide between the immigrant parents and their children who grew up in America. It also examines the prejudices prevalent during WWII on the west coast.

5. Galway Bay by Mary Pat KellyGalwayBay

  • Why?
    • Because millions of Americans have ancestors who migrated from Ireland during the Potato Famine. This is the fictionalized story of Kelly’s ancestors, but it could be yours.

6. whenwewereWhen We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

  • Why?
    • Because I know many of you have Italian roots and will love this story. While it’s another story of struggle (our ancestors surely did overcome obstacles) it explores the American-Italian culture in the Midwest and explores how friendships could become family. The character finds her purpose in the end, and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

Ellis Island: A Thin Place

The following video is such a great inside look at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty that I wanted to share it with you. I felt the same way the visitors interviewed here felt–in awe. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has visited Ellis Island says the same thing. You get a feeling of appreciation, wonder, and respect. You might even sense the same thing by watching videos like this.

Seeing this caused me to contemplate the concept referred to as “a thin place” in Ireland. There are certain places where you can feel God’s presence more than others. Many times these are settings in nature, but not always. Perhaps some places–because they are places of historical significance, because the people who came before us experienced something incredible there–hold a remainder of those experiences that we can still sense today. I’ve heard people say that about Gettysburg, for example. There are cathedrals and places of worship that exude emotion even when empty. Sometimes graveyards are the same way, and I have to wonder if it’s because so many people have been there experiencing grief that still lies heavy on the place when they’ve gone away. In Annie’s Stories there is a brief description of Annie wondering the same thing.

Thin places are often referred to in Celtic spirituality, but I believe it is a common experience with people all over the world where in certain locations, whether we seek them out or stumble upon them, the separation between heaven and earth is particularly thin.

What do you think? Is Ellis Island one of those places?

Fighting to Be Remembered

As Independence Day in America approaches, I think about my personal family history, and how the names in my family tree helped build America. If genealogy is not your thing, you are probably missing the satisfaction of realizing how connected you are to those who built this country.

My Valley Forge Connection

For example, my husband has relatives who endured the conditions at Valley Forge, and if you know history, you know that even though no battles were fought there, the sheer determination of General George Washington and his troops just to survive and keep an army together set the stage of what was truly a miraculous revolution. Had my husband’s ancestor not survived–and he was in his 60s at the time!–my husband would not be here, and neither would my children.

And if I hadn’t researched that line I would not have found one of my favorite stories! William Thomson was court martial-ed for swearing at his superior officer, a man likely three decades younger than him. General Washington pardoned Thomson, saying he’d had good cause for his actions.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

But seriously, there are numerous examples of the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might enjoy our freedoms in America. I think it’s safe to say not one American reading this post has not had a relative who died fighting for our freedom in a war. Sadly, there have been wars in every generation. Don’t those soldiers deserve to be remembered? To have their stories and the facts surrounding their lives recorded?

Other Heroes

And even those who did not fight in a war, fought for survival, overcoming poverty, lack of education, poor English language skills, few resources other than a will to work hard and prosper. These things that drove our ancestors to build their places in American society are the kinds of stories I like to tell in my fiction.

What are the stories you’ve found of your ancestors’ sacrifices?

8 Reasons to Care About Your Family History

Let’s face it. Some people just don’t care about tracing their roots. They’re more focused on today, just trying to get by, and some have enough trouble connecting with living relatives. Who needs all those names and dates?

But they should care, and here are some reasons why:

1. You should know where you’re headed. 

Learning about those who came before you might just teach you where your future weakness might be and maybe, just maybe you can avoid some pitfalls. It might seem like a reach, but lots of traits, characteristics, and even illnesses are genetic. Once you understand that, you can work toward avoiding the mistakes your ancestors made.

2. You might find out you have a famous relative. 

Being family, even far removed, might connect you to all kinds of gatherings and events you would have otherwise missed. Of course I’m thinking of baseball, but there are other possibilities. Who knows until you start digging? But even if you don’t have a celebrity relative to lay claim to, you might have an ancestor who was a military hero. You could become a member of the DAR or SAR.


3. You might find lost cousins. 

Well, you likely will. When you look at the number of ancestors you have as the family lines branch out, there are certainly others out there researching the same lines. Not only can you share research and learn more, you might just make a friend!

4. You might dig up a story about an ancestor that will make juicy dinner conversation. 

I discovered one of my husband’s ancestors was at Valley Forge. He was an older man, about 60, and was court martialed for swearing at his superior officer. He was pardoned by General George Washington, who ruled that the man had had just cause for his actions. My father used to tell me, “Stop researching when you find the horse thief in my family.” To date I haven’t found one…in his family. My mother’s? Well…

5. You may find a family treasure no one knew existed. 

That treasure could be priceless, but if it’s not something you can take to the bank, it might be of extreme sentimental value or worthy of study to social historians. For instance, my husband found researchers continually referring to a family history written by a distant cousin in 1880. He found that the Ohio State Library had that hand written journal in its collection. When he went to see it he discovered it was not a copy, but the actual original. That was somewhat surprising because until then he hadn’t known any of his family lived in Ohio in 1880. Not only that, but the original had much more in it than what had been quoted by others. There is even a story told by a man who was a chaplain in the Civil War and witnessed much of Sherman’s march in the South. Eyewitness testimony that doesn’t appear anywhere else!

6. You might connect with a cultural heritage you hadn’t known existed before. 

When I traced my father’s line I came up with surnames he had never heard before. And those he knew, like his mother’s parents, he had thought were Irish, but they were actually Welsh. Recently I’ve discovered another line that appears to have come to Ohio via Massachusetts and Nantucket. I’m thinking a research trip is in order!

7. Some things might begin to make more sense when you see how traits or occupations or favorite hobbies and pastimes are repeated. 

There really is meaning behind the old adage of something being “in your blood.” My mother has always loved baseball. There are two professional players in her family line. I recently saw a picture of my great great grandmother and realized our family has been short in stature for some time. There are other less pleasant things you might learn, but they’re still important to realize how they’ve been passed down, such as alcoholism, weight gain, and other ailments.

civil war
Photo by  Tom Gill

8. Perhaps only those who do begin to trace their roots can grasp it, but you will begin to feel that you belong, that there is a place for you, that you have a legacy to continue. 

How many family members died in wars so that future generations can live in freedom? How many risked everything to come to a land where their children and children’s children can find work and prosperity? How many struggled to teach principles, values, and spiritual beliefs so that those who come after can have a foundation to prosper from? Once you realize the torch has been passed you to, it’s a game changer and you know many more will come after you and you want to leave them something as well.

Not every motivation to dig into genealogy is noble and romantic. It’s fun to discover new things. And I hope the skeptics out there who read this will realize it’s certainly not just about names and dates!