A few years ago, my entire family traveled to Ireland for a week during the summer. That’s two adults, six kids ranging in age from preteen to adult, and one husband. It was the first family vacation we had been on together in years and it was precipitated by some genealogy my dad I did.
I’ve always been fascinated by genealogy, and I must have inherited that fascination from my dad. Since I was in high school we have spent hours scouring ancestry and genealogy websites looking for clues. As any good Irishman knows, whenever you get to a certain point in Irish records you inevitably get told, “Sorry. Those records and everything prior to them burned in a church fire”. It’s the way of the Irish genealogy world. But we soldiered on, looking for relatives in America and abroad.
For years we hit walls and dead ends. My great-grandmother was a favorite subject of the searches because we knew she left behind a rather large family when she fled to America as a teenager. But we never made any headway.
Until one fateful day when my dad called me. “Check ancestry.com! Go see the message we got!”
I was briefly confused as I tried to remember what I had posted that might garner a reply. But a look at our history showed that we had just received a response to a message board posting that I had written almost 3 years earlier. A message that hadn’t brought us any luck or information in those three years. Suddenly, a new world opened up as I read the latest reply to a dormant thread.
The message left us stunned. We did not know that my great-grandmother’s father had another child during his second marriage. And we soon learned that Ronnie, my great-grandmother’s half-brother, was still living in Ireland! We were planning a trip there and when the family found out they demanded that we make plans to meet. We willingly did so.
A few months later, we were in Ireland. We made plans to meet with my uncle Ronnie, who took the train cross country to see us. We spent a day driving around the Irish countryside as he showed us where he and my great-grandmother grew up. We visited the house they lived in, the town they grew up in, and the cemeteries where most of the family is buried. It was an amazing day and one I will not forget.
Today, on St. Patrick’s Day, I wished my Irish cousins well via Facebook. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I am now “friends” with family members who never left Ireland. We chat and stay in touch with each other and share stories. When I re-shared a photo from that trip to Ireland, my cousin commented and asked when we will be back. Without ancestry.com and Facebook we would not have forged these connections (and may not have found each other!).
St. Patrick’s Day is a fun holiday but it’s also deeply rooted in my heritage. I’m proud to be Irish (and Scottish!) and wear my claddaugh necklace with pride. I own more green than more normal people and you can find Irish blessings and proverbs throughout my house. But the close-knit family is what makes me truly Irish, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.