Touching the Past
As many of you know, my Irish heritage is a great source of pride for me. In part it connects me to the larger international Irish community, in part to my father's heritage, and in part to my biological parents, wherever they may be. It gives me a place to belong where I am unique, but not alone, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. When I started my graduate program, I had in the back of my mind a hope of finding my father's family, of completing his family history. Then, my mother's. Though not Irish (German, in fact), no less important. My dad was and is so proud of his fmily tree. He used to spend hours when I was a kid looking at the flimsy fax paper copies with me, having me read the names and dates, trying to figure out if he recognized anyone, and telling me stories about the ones he did remember. It was bonding time for the two of us, and those times were what originally sparked my interest in history. Well that, and my great grandmother telling me about coming from Kansas to Onekama, MI in a covered wagon. Pretty cool stf.
I guess I thought it would take a miracle for me to find them. Although we had information dating back to Ireland in the 1830s from my great uncle William's research, we had nothing really concrete, just family rememberances mostly. That was until I took a class in Irish history. Because I was a grad student taking an undergrad class, I had extra work to do...a 10-page paper on some aspect of Irish history. It was the perfect opportunity for me to use my father's to illustrate emigration patterns prior to the Great Potato Famine. Unfortunately, being the very private individual that my father is, he didn't want me to use it. I'm used to hitting roadblocks at libraries and historical societies, but not with my own family. It took some convincing, but he finally relented, and I was allowed to use it. I would have done it anyway--it was too good of a source not to use--but he didn't need to know that.
From William's research, I found that the family didn't actually come through the United States until much later. They actually settled in Canada first, Amherst Island to be exact. Apparently, this was not uncommon, given that Canada was still British territory then and travelling within the empire would be much cheaper than travelling out of it. In researching the island, I found a book, A New Lease on Life, written by Catharine Wilson. On a lark, a looked through the index and found "McGrattan." Convinced these couldn't be the same McGrattan's, my father's ancestors, I went to the pages and read. I went to the appendix and looked at the immigration records listed there. Unbelievably, these were the same people. Thrilled and in shock, I bought two copies of the book and gave one to my father with the pages marked where his family was, along with a copy of the paper I wrote. More fun bonding with my dad.
Yesterday, a new thrill occurred. A while ago, I had managed to track down a few of the people who provided source material to Wilson while she was writing her book, relatives of my dad's. And yesterday, one of his relatives came through. I received poetry written by my great grandmother's grandfather and photographs of him and his wife and some of their children. I can hardly believe that I can see them...they really exist. I can't wait to show my father what I've found. It will be a very special treat to present him with a binder containing the photos and emails I've collected since I started this. And I feel excited and honored to be a part of it. This is why I do history and why I will always do history, even if nobody pays me for it.