Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are?

Do you ever wonder who you are and where you came from?  I don't mean, literally, where you were born or what your name is ... but, over the centuries, who are all those people that made up your family tree and where in the world were they?  How did all those individuals eventually result in the making of YOU?

Okay, that might be a slightly narcissistic way to thinking about genealogy.  But I've been fascinated by this train of thought lately, probably spurred on by my recent trip to Newfoundland.  (For those of you who may not know, I'm half-Newfy -- my father being born there, in a small mining village at the end of the highway, 9 years before Newfoundland was even part of the country.)   My mother's family's history is closer to home, rooted in and around Phelpston, Ontario (population 200 or so) for at least a few generations.

I can go back a little way, but I run out of factual information pretty quickly.  I can make an educated guess that the Irish parts of my family probably end up over here because of the potato famine.  For at least one part, it's true; one of my mother's cousins has done a lot of research about the O'Neill connections (my maternal grandmother's family), and the first one left Tyrone in northern Ireland in about 1840, around the time of the famine.  Beyond that, I remember none of the details.  (Note to self:  call said cousin and copy information.)

And family legend has it that the first MacLellans to reach Canada fled Scotland to avoid prosecution for stealing sheep (I like to think it was an act of political protest against the Highland clearances by English landlords); whether or not this is true, I like the story.  I met an Australian guy, also a MacLellan, in Oban, Scotland (where the MacLellans are from), and, to the best of our combined knowledge, our ancestors left the area about the same time.  (So we figured that HIS great-great-whatever-grandfather got caught stealing said sheep and shipped off to the penal colony, while mine got successfully away.)

And if you go WAY back into Irish history, the O'Neills were Irish royalty once, as the High Kings of Tara.  (So if history hadn't intervened, I could've been an aristocrat.  But Ireland's been conquered by outsiders many times since then -- not least by the Vikings, who brought some of their Irish slaves to their settlement in Newfoundland.)

But as for facts, this is as much as I've got:

Going, backwards, first there's:    ME.  Oldest child of 3 sisters (trust me, it explains much about me that I'm the first-born.)

People responsible:   Rosemary King and Ron MacLellan

Before that:  Gerald King & Mary O'Neill; John (Jack) MacLellan and Lucy Hefferan

Before THAT:  somebody King (another Gerald? can't remember) and Catherine Lamey; somebody O'Neill and Ellen Rose LeClair -- mother's side.  On Dad's side:  John MacLellan and Mary Ann Noseworthy; somebody Hefferan (great-grandfather) and somebody Nolan (great-grandmother).

Before THAT:  ????? No idea.  Except that an O'Neill ancestor hailed from the north of Ireland, and that my paternal grandmother's family used to be Hefford -- a Protestant Irish name -- before an ancestor changed it to Hefferan when he married a Catholic girl.

See?  Already out of facts and I've gone back less than 150 years.  (But you can see, at least, that there's a good reason I'm a redhead; at least three-quarters of my genes are Irish and Scottish.)

I want to know more.  I have to figure out how to find this out.

But for now, it's been very cool getting in touch with the family history that I DO know ... visiting the town where my father was born (which looks surprisingly prosperous, considering the mine closed almost 30 years ago), visiting my paternal grandfather's homeland in the Codroy valley in western Newfoundland, finding the cemetary (see picture to right) where his parents are buried on Cape Breton Island, and cruising around the small coastal town of Bellevue where my paternal grandmother's family hailed from.

I'm thinking I'll do more of this in coming months.  Take some time in September, maybe, to go back to Ireland and Scotland, ancestral homes of various branches of my family.  Embrace my Celtic roots and learn to play the fiddle, or try out a bit of Gaelic (Irish or Scots variety) ... with a shot or two of whiskey to help loosen my tongue.

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