Wednesday, 27 August 2014
The Oldest Man in the Parish
I think I have previously mentioned that my in-laws are Irish. My mother-in-law was one of thirteen children and my father-in-law, one of ten.
This post was prompted by a conversation with my son as we were walking through a graveyard recently (not looking for any particular grave or having a graveyard fetish, there is a well used path through it!).
He commented on how different that graveyard looked to the one where his great-grandparents are buried in Ireland. We were in a very old Northumberland parish graveyard - so old and crowded with graves that the village has not used it for actual burials for a long time. In contrast, the cemetery that he recalled visiting last summer in Ireland is a huge affair, up a steep hillside with rows of family plots - many with a large number of names and photographs. (I never do get used to the photos...)
A grave that we had passed in the village was for a child and my son remembered that on the family plot in County Mayo, there is the name of his Great Aunt Sheelagh who died at age two. Not often being faced with child mortality in this day and age, last year he had been very shocked by this, particularly as it was within his Grandad's living memory.
Last week, he was more shocked when I explained that actually Sheelagh is not buried in the plot that he visited. She and a great uncle who sadly died in his teens are remembered there but were not buried there when they died. This was due to lack of money. Both are buried in a corner of a churchyard near where to where they lived but the actual site is unmarked. A sad but true fact is that this happened all to often in Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A number of Irish themed episodes of Who Do You think You Are?, for example, have ended with celebrities standing on grassy areas which they are then told are unmarked paupers' graves...
Such situations do not make family history research in Ireland at all easy. There are now some good sources online (eg www.rootsireland.ie or www.ancestryireland.com) but by good sources, we mean something a little different for the Republic of Ireland. Many of the actual originals that should be there, somewhere, just do not exist. And if they do exist, often the records remain in their parishes. Transcriptions are continuing apace but Irish genealogy is still one of the most frustrating areas to research!
During the years of British rule, people would not necessarily record their family's details apart from at their church - whether to avoid further taxation or as a protest. Even the records which were taken have suffered irretrievably. I quote from the Irish National Archives website....
"The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after the censuses were taken. Those for 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War, probably because of the paper shortage. The returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were, apart from a few survivals, notably for a few counties for 1821 and 1831, destroyed in 1922 in the fire at the Public Record Office at the beginning of the Civil War."
My own attempts to start a family tree for my children's paternal side have been thwarted by the frequent appearance of the same names through the generations but also within each generation in the same locality. My husband himself is something like the fourth generation with his name!
I do, though, have a secret weapon at the moment. My Father-in-law is now the oldest man in the parish, having turned 91 last week! He is not in the best of physical health but there is nothing wrong with his long term memory. Thanks to a distant American relation, a start has been made on a tree now and my Father-in-law has confirmed many of its details. Long may he continue to remember.