I’ve done the research in bits and pieces, sometimes putting in hours at a time, sometimes not touching it for weeks. But I’ve found out some fascinating things. Finding out about one’s ancestors and family - what you know about the choices they made, what you don’t know about the choices they made, helps you figure out who you are. (Which is one of the things I urgently need to do, as part of my psychological homework and all that.)
At least, that’s the way it’s working so far for me.
So I have these relatives, John-and-Sarah - my maternal great-grandfather’s parents. Just finding her name was significant. Now I know why my great-grandfather named his eldest child Sarah Ann. After his mother, who died before he became an adult. As did his son, my great-grandfather, who passed away when my grandmother was nine. As did my mother, who passed away when I was ten. Was there also a legacy of mourning the missing parent, so very deeply?
It’s eerie, these echoes through the generations.
Last night, tunneling through time till midnight, I found the record of John-and-Sarah coming to America in 1854, from Ireland. Today, I found that tracing them back further might be beyond difficult, to impossible, as there were major fires that accidentally destroyed most Irish census records from the early 1800's to 1861. (And after that, they were deliberately destroyed, until 1901.) Kind of sad, in a way, and kind of cool, in a way, because if I can’t get the verified information, I’ll get to fill in the blanks from my own imagination.
Still, there were things I found out. Like that they were already married when they came to America. Since their first (recorded) son was born two years later, and children followed at close and regular intervals, I had to wonder - did Sarah perhaps miscarry or lose a baby, on that hard passage to America? Or in Ireland, before they left? Their first American son was not named for his father, though the second was - why? Was the first named for John-or-Sarah’s father, or grandfather? Or their third son, my grandfather - that name seemed to come out of nowhere. Or, did it?
I found some history on the ship, the bark, aka barque ( a barque is a type of ship), Creole out of Londonderry. I found she made about 40 TransAtlantic voyages, between the time she was commissioned around 1850 and the time she was decommissioned in 1862.(Decomissioned means dismantled for scrap, though if her owners had been OCPD hoarders, she'd still be in a backyard somewhere with a tarp thrown over her, along with another 40 ships of the line. "She could come in very useful someday," they'd say, "you never know when there'll be another great migration to or from America in sailing ships.")
I found that on at least one occasion, she was in a bad storm, struck by lightning just off the Irish coast, losing the mainmast and barely limping back into the closest port. I wonder about the weather John-and-Sarah endured, on that trip that brought them to America in fall 1854 with 200-odd other passengers and crew. Fair? Stormy? Whatever the weather, once you were on the ship, there was no turning back. I noticed, on some of the logs for these ships, the double-asterisks that denoted a passenger had not survived the journey.
I also noted, on the log I found noting their entrance to America, that unlike some of the other travelers, John-and-Sarah had no baggage. I fantasize about the idea, of just going somewhere, carrying only what you have in your pockets, and perhaps a small bag, not noted in the log, and it’s strangely appealing. I think of all the material possessions I have, and how I wonder sometimes if they belong to me, or if I belong to them? I think of my OCPD b-f , how he is so terribly burdened with so much psychological baggage, weighted down with all the things he thinks he Must Do or Can’t Do. (Not to mention, all the physical possessions he hoards so fiercely. He would have the Creole in his backyard - just in case) How strangely liberating it must be, to just leave the place you’ve lived your entire life, and just go, with your hopes and dreams and whatever you can fit in your pockets and perhaps a small knapsack.
John-and-Sarah arrived in one state, quickly emigrated to another, where most of their children were born, then moved back to the first, where they apparently bought a farm, and where Sarah, and later, John died. Their third son, my great-grandfather, returned to the county/state of his birth and married my Danish great-grandmother, where they had six (recorded) children, including my grandmother, and owned a horse farm, according to family legend. My g-grandpa’s siblings apparently remained where their parents farmed and a few of them owned farms of their own, in the coming years.
These stories, these traces of family history make me ponder any number of things, but mainly that life is risky business. That sometimes taking chances fails miserably, and sometimes it pays off - perhaps in the short term, perhaps in the long term. Despite the uncertainly, despite whatever sacrifices they had to make, life in American was obviously more appealing to John-and-Sarah than staying where they were. I know that even with the best, most complete planning, still so many things must have come up they never expected.
In order to survive as an emigrant, you had to be super-flexible. If you weren’t flexible, if you couldn’t adapt, if you couldn’t find a way to scratch out a living despite the reality that America’s streets were not paved in gold... you died. (I can't imagine a lot of people with OCPD as successful emigrants. They'd be telling the captain he was not sailing the ship the in the right way, and would be exhibiting Demand Resistance when the immigration officials asked to see their papers...)
You had to have incredible courage, and strength - and luck, too, to come to America, and raise a family here.
I think of John-and-Sarah, and I want them to be proud of me, to look at me adapting and surviving, and beyond that, thriving. I want them to think I’m brave, that I don’t run whimpering at the first setback. I want them to be proud of me. To imagine, if we ever met, that they’d look at me and say, there’s our girl!
What do you know of your family history, that inspires (or scares) you?
Tell me about it, below.