I gave a presentation today to an Irish genealogy group in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. As usual when Irish American family historians gather, I meet the nicest people, and today was no exception. And, as usual when Irish American family historians gather, frustration is a commonly expressed. It is good when people speak about their frustrations at these gatherings, because, in an odd way, knowing that others are having difficulty with their Irish research can be encouraging--misery loves company, you know! Many researchers, especially those starting out on this difficult journey, feel that they are alone in their inability to trace their ancestors to a place in Ireland. Often, they simply give up, or don't even begin to delve into their genealogy.
One man told me that he had no information about his Irish ancestors, apart from one record that listed "Ireland" as a place of birth for a grandparent.
"But do you have any family stories? You must have a story or two that has been handed down," I said.
"Oh, yes," he said. "We have stories about my grandmother."
He proceeded to tell me about a colorful woman who smoked a corn cob pipe. He had vivid descriptions of his grandparents and his family memories.
"Write all this down!" I said.
He seemed a bit unsure. He was clearly defeated by his inability to "jump the pond" with his family history.
But, even if he never finds an Irish record for his ancestors, what a treasure he would be leaving for his future generations if he collected the family stories about his grandparents. His grandparents are ancestors who are four whole generations past from his own grandchildren. The future generations of his family might not know where in Ireland the family originated, but they will know that they descended from a straight-talking Irish woman who smoked a corn cob pipe!
I think there is something magical about Irish family history research. Seems that once you start, your ancestors push you along the path until you make discoveries you never thought possible. But, you have to take that first step, put that pen to paper (or those fingers to the keyboard), and begin with what you know about who you know. And your greatest discovery will be that you know far more family history, already, than you think you do!