From an early age, I became interested in genealogy. I remember doing my first formal research when I was ten. I still have the letters I received from my Grandmother saying that she didn’t know all that much about my ancestors. I wish now I would have had better questions to ask her so that she might have given me even little glimpses and insight about people that to me are only names in my family tree.
Perhaps, it was my fascination with the past that eventually directed me to a career in archaeology. About that phase of my life, I like to say that I was so very stuck in the past that I became an archaeologist. Ironically enough, when I started letting go of the past, I also let go of my archaeology career.
I digress. In any case, I’ve noticed that my geological interests are based upon different angles and questions at each stage of my life. When I first started, I was essentially looking for the answer to the question “Who am I?” Essentially, I wanted to know who were my ancestors and how did I fit into the family.
Later, when my children were born, my interests changed slightly. I still wanted to know who I was but I also felt awe at the fact that all these people had a hand in my destiny and that of my children. My daughter’s thirst for knowledge might have come from a long line of people who valued education. My son’s nose might be from a great uncle who I never met in person.
Moreover, in becoming a parent, I was now a part of not only my family tree but that of my husband’s as well. Suddenly, these people that I had met at my husband’s family gatherings and reunions, were now my blood relatives (through my children).
Now, as a grandmother, my interests are again changing. I now have all sides of my family tree “at the boat” so to speak. I’ve followed the lines back and over time I’ve come to know these people in many ways. I’ve watched them move from place to place, have children, and go through tough times. I have pictures of their gravesites and copies of their death certificates.
My main question now is why? Why did these people leave everything and everyone they knew behind for a faint hope and some possibilities? How brave (and perhaps foolhardy) were these people to risk everything to get on a boat and start fresh.
My ancestors (and that of my husband) all came from the United Kingdom (Ireland mostly) before and during The Great Hunger (The Irish Potato Famine). Feeding a family and making a decent living during those extreme times was near impossible.
I imagine cheap ship fares and free land in America probably looked pretty attractive to these individuals. Still, some people stuck it out and stayed while others decided to make a change. They did so fully knowing that they may not survive the boat trip over. Some even brought over small children and pregnant wives.
Why? What made some people stick out the horrible conditions? Why did others pin their hopes on a chance? What is it that makes two individuals, seemingly experiencing the same types of circumstances, react in entirely different ways?