Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are? (Part V)

Have I told you about my most recent obsession?  (Aside from endless speculation about flights to and from India, that is.)  I've been kind of interested for a while, but not motivated enough to do anything about it.

Until recently, that is.  Sparked by visits this year to all of those ancestral lands (Newfoundland, Ireland, Scotland), I actually starting poking around a bit over Christmas into my family history.  This is why I'm leaving for India a little later than planned, perhaps; I got sidetracked into delving into genealogy.

My parents both had gathered a lot more information than I'd realized, so I had lots of places to start -- and, as a side bonus, I think I've finally got all my mother's O'Neill cousins straight and know who belongs to which family.  (She's got something like 37 first cousins on that side alone, so it's a bit of an undertaking, particularly when I don't know most of them well.)  Both have a wealth of pictures so I can sometimes even put faces to the more distant generations of my family tree.

But the really cool thing (and what turned my interest into an obsession) was being able to trace backwards and find information about my great-grandparents, and then great-great-grandparents, and even (possibly) my great-great-great-grandparents in a couple of cases.  I'd always thought of myself as mostly Scottish, but it turns out I'm not:  as far as I've been able to figure out, I'm 9/16 Irish (O'Neill, Mulroy, Lamey, Doherty, McVeigh, Lynch, Sullivan, Nolan, and Kelly) , 1/4 English (King, Hefford, Noseworthy, and Hall), 1/8 Scottish (MacLellan and Gillis), and 1/16 Quebecois French (Leclare).  (No wonder I can't tan!)

It's amazing what you can find online; Canadian censuses alone provide a wealth of information, helpfully includng birthdates, ages, and (if relevant) year of immgration to Canada.  So that Dominick O'Neill I'd like to have gone looking for in Ireland?  Born February 14, 1837 in Ireland, immigrated to Canada in 1842 with parents Henry and Ellen and various siblings (the usual large Irish Catholic family).  Still no idea where in Ireland they might have hailed from, but it's enough information (probably) to track that down when I go back to the Irish genealogy people.

The Newfoundland side of the house (Dad's side) wasn't trackable through the Canada census (since the colony stubbornly resisted joining the country until 1949 -- my dad was born British), but there's a wealth of church records, district censuses, cemetary transcripts and other information painstakingly transcribed by volunteers onto a massive Newfoundland heritage website.  Everybody's there, somewhere, and with more time and effort I can probably put together a pretty good picture.

On my mom's side, once her ancestors got here from Ireland (and one from Quebec, by the first name of Napoleon), they helpfully stayed put, largely, in the township of Flos clustered on the concessions around the village of Phelpston.  So they're pretty easy to find -- the above-mentioned Dominick is even buried in St Patrick's churchyard in Phelpston, which I find pretty cool considering he's my great-great-grandfather.  There's a vast number of other O'Neill's there, too, including one John O'Neill who -- just to make future genealogy work more confusing -- married into the other, non-O'Neill side of my mother's family, wedding one Mary Doherty (after the death of her first husband Thomas Lamey), who's my mother's paternal great-grandmother.   I have a feeling once I get all the various O'Neills sorted out that they're all going to be inter-married and inter-related -- Phelpston was a tiny wee town and, well, neighbours had to keep marrying each other because there was no one else around.  I might be related to one of my high school friends, too, since there's a Kelly way back in my family tree.

It's fascinating anyway, and there are tantalizing clues to what were probably very tragic or dramatic stories:  a great-great-grandaunt (or something), who got lost in the woods in rural Newfoundland and was never seen again; a great-grandfather who had to change his name from Hefford to Hefferan because he (a Protestant) married a Catholic girl; a paternal great-uncle who was killed at the age of 24 in the wee hours of New Year's Day on a visit to the UK from Newfoundland; another paternal great-uncle who left home and disappeared, surfacing 60 years later in Chicago when he had a dream that he should call home; a maternal great-uncle who didn't go on the same campaign in World War II that killed his brother because he'd been ill.

Closer to home, as I learned more about both grandmothers, I became even more convinced than I was that both are remarkable women.  My grandmother Lucy MacLellan (born Hefferan) left her tiny village in Newfoundland as a young woman to find a job in a distant mining town, where she later met and married my grandfather; later, when he moved to Ontario for work in a northern mining town, she followed later on the train, with five small boys in tow.  (Brave woman!)  My grandmother Mary King (born O'Neill) left home in Phelpston for the big city of Toronto at the age of 20 (1929) and became a nurse in an age where women didn't, largely, pursue careers.  It's not so hard to do either now, in our well-connected world; but back in the 20's and 30's both of these women had to have a lot of guts to take such a leap on their own.    (And, if genes have anything to do with it, I'm going to live forever:  Grandma MacLellan died just a couple of years ago at the age of 92, and Granny King is still alive at 101.)

I'm hooked, anyway.  In a week or two of casual searching I managed to find a lot of information, so I'm excited to think what might be possible with lots of time and concentrated effort. It's fun, anyway. On hold while I'm in India, obviously ... doubt I will find any ancestors there!  This is definitely my project for 2011 when I'm back to real life in Toronto ... so if you're reading this and related to me, be warned:  expect a lot of questions as I'm probably going to hit you up for family info.

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