Have you ever felt like you belonged in a certain place, as though your blood and breath ran through the ground beneath your feet? I used to feel that way about Bozeman, my hometown. I loved every blade of grass, every sidewalk crack, every crooked tree, every gentle mountain breeze, every snowflake. I felt like I was sculpted out of Montana clay.
For the last several years, however, I haven’t felt that way anywhere, not even Bozeman. I loved Indiana, I liked the San Francisco Bay area, and I was very fond of Ireland, but I didn’t really feel part of anywhere. Strangely enough, all that has changed over the last year. It’s as if I had to spend those years traveling and living other places in order to re-awaken myself to a deep connection to home. Part of me has been wondering, too, if this belonging I sense actually goes back to my Irish heritage on this island.
So I’ve been digging in to my Irish ancestry a little more. Thanks to other family members, the foundation of my family tree was already pretty solid – dates, names, places for the first few generations were already on paper. I am a wide mix of German, Dutch, Italian, Scottish, French and French-Canadian, and even Native American, in addition to Irish. My mother’s side goes further back (all the way to the mid-1600s!) than my dad’s, and as far as I know, hers is the only side that draws from Irish roots. This is where Ancestry.com came in. Luckily/Unfortunately, I was ill for about 9 days recently with a stomach bug, so I had plenty of time to kill. The research led me to some really cool discoveries, and a few rather tragic.
I’m able to trace six good solid leads on Irish relatives. I would love to know more about their stories, but am already way ahead of where I was a few weeks ago, and that is kind of thrilling – my own personal “Who Do You Think You Are?”
- Mary Ann Moore McDonald, born 1840 in Co. Carlow, was my 3rd great grandmother. She emigrated to Ontario at some stage in the 1840s – 50s and married my 3rd great grandfather and Canadian native, Elihu McDonald. Her first child Donald McDonald, my 2nd great grandfather, was born when she was just 16. At some stage they moved to Ludington, Michigan, where she passed away in 1914. I’m having a hard time tracing any further back on Mary Ann, but will keep trying.
- Alicia Potter Hume, born 1800 in Parsonstown, King’s County — which is now Birr, Co. Offaly — was my 4th great-grandmother. She had four sons, whom she raised with her husband William Hume, Sr. (a Scotsman) in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Alicia passed away in 1875 in Dublin and was remembered in a lovely obituary by her son, John, who was editor of the Chilton Times (Wisconsin).
- William Hume, Jr. , was my 3rd great-grandfather, born in 1834. He emigrated to America and was living in Manitowoc, Wisconsin where he married Catherine Cunningham and had three children, including Katherine Hume Bauter, my 2nd great-grandmother, in 1860. Unfortunately, he died in the Civil War in 1862 at the age of 28 and is buried in Kentucky.
- James Porter and Sarah Cook were born in the late 1700s – early 1800s in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. They were my 4th great grand parents. From what I can tell, they had three children, including Sarah (below).
- Sarah Porter Bauter was my 3rd great grandmother and was born in Cookstown in 1828. She emigrated to the USA in 1848, possibly with her sister Mary Jane. This would have been right during the Great Famine, though according to my research, Cookstown was quite a busy textile village in those days. Not sure if her parents came with her or if they were even still living at that stage. She married Frederick Bauter in 1856 in Alexandria, New York, and they had four children, including my 2nd great-grandfather, Elwin Bauter in 1861. She seems to have lived a good long life and passed away at 86 in Wausau, Wisconsin. Her photo just makes me smile.
There are still some unanswered questions – some people don’t match up, some people don’t show up at all, and others are a complete mystery (as in my dad’s family tree more than three generations back). These are all lines I’ll have to trace more diligently in the future, probably doing it the “old-fashioned” way and digging up original records. The next step for my Irish “digging” is to set up a meeting with a genealogist in Dublin. I’d also like to visit some of these towns and reach out to their historical societies. Cookstown is about an hour and a half’s drive from us and Parsonstown/Birr is about two hours, for instance. Dublin I go through every day and Kildare and Carlow aren’t far either.
However, as fascinating as all this Irish family history has been, I have to say there’s been one woman in my history I can’t stop thinking about, and she was actually Canadian. Her name was Nancy Ricollett Fisher, and she was my great-great grandmother. She actually passed away on this very day, 107 years ago, by suicide. I had no idea there was such a story in my trunk of family secrets until I discovered it on Ancestry.com. There it was, in full vivid detail, on the front page of the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News, August 12, 1912. Her husband, my great-great grandfather William Fisher, was a ship’s captain on the Great Lakes and was often gone for long periods. She suffered mental health issues for years, apparently, and was branded as “insane” by neighbors. It’s desperately sad. So today, I want to salute Nancy, even though she’s not Irish, because she was one of many, many brave women in my family history who had their share of difficult times. I do not have a photo of her so I’m putting up a picture of this stunning painting from Arthur Hacker, entitled “The Fisherman’s Wife,” which sort of reminds me of the loneliness and anxiety of having a spouse who is gone for long periods. (Obviously, I don’t have the copyright, but I hope the Hacker estate will understand. Also including a link to Walker Art gallery in Liverpool where it hangs, so I hope you’ll all go see it! :))