Your Life, Your Journey

” Do Shaol, Do Thuras”

The Irish phrase “Do Shaol, Do Thuras” means “Your Life, Your Journey.”

Many years ago I was handed a box by my step mother. My father had recently passed and she was transferring this box of family photos, history and information on to me. I was to become the keeper of this information. Inside there was the history of our coat of arms, copies of patents, invitations to award dinners and events, wedding invitations, old telegrams, newspaper clippings, strange piles of marketing flyers…..some things I knew what they were. Other things, I had not a clue. Pictures of people were mysteries….no names, no places listed, no dates. No connection to be made. Just faces looking back at me.

I realized I could either throw the box and it’s contents out, or get the information organized and keep it safe. I made a decision to protect the information and unwittingly dove head first into the world of genealogy.

This past Christmas my daughter began talking about a family trip to Ireland. We had been talking about doing a “big” trip somewhere. My now decades old foray into genealogy saw Ireland as a solid contender as a destination. Northern Ireland in particular was at the top of the list. And a sleepy town in County Down called Portaferry became one of the highlight destinations.

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Portaferry, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. June 2017. Photo by me.

The venture into genealogy has been a true journey for me. Past history has become living history. I have felt at times as if my ancestors were walking by my side on this journey.  Each story uncovered about these family members put them in a spotlight for me. As I have gained perspective on their lives, my life has gained some perspective too.

Your life. Your Journey. My Life. My Journey.

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”
~Linda Hogan

Genealogy is sometimes fickle. Information exists sometimes, but not always. Oral history is sometimes proven, but not always. People with the good-intentioned desire to make connections sometimes make them up, ignoring dates, places and more. Brick walls are at every corner. Angels appear out of nowhere with a missing piece of the puzzle. Genealogy really is not a single person’s journey, but a collective effort at finding and piecing the puzzle pieces together. DNA testing helps but only if there is a living male descendant.

Exploring the past, I have been able to get as far back as the mid to late 1700’s in Portaferry. This was the first place I could connect my maternal 4x great-grandfather, James Vance, to.

There is no DNA proof. There are no birth or census records yet found in Ireland that connect him to Portaferry. The church he most likely was affiliated with there was destroyed in a massive storm, along with any records. There are Revolutionary War records where he indicated he “was from” Portaferry, Ireland. There are American records that record Portaferry as his “home”. There is only one place in the world called Portaferry.

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Scots-Irish history supports the reason for his family’s journey from Scotland to Ireland in the 1600’s, and then eventually to Pennsylvania in the mid 1770’s. Oral history from family supports this also.

So Portaferry became a family destination. (And I am ever so grateful my family agreed to this)

We are bound to our ancestors and to those who made us,
whether we want to be or not.
What matters is what we make of what we are.”
– Kate Elliott

Upon arrival in America both sides of my family eventually settled in parts of Pennsylvania. My son lives there now and when we go to visit I find myself looking out the car window, watching the scenery fly past. Questions loop around as thoughts: What thoughts did they have leaving Ireland? Did they know where they were going…have relatives here already? How many family members did they say good-bye to? What few things did they bring with them? What was it like for them to see the Monongahela River and the rolling hills of PA? Did it look like home?

Those questions arose again as I walked on the ground and streets where this Scots-Irish ancestor of mine most likely walked, Portaferry. In talking to a town historian there he said, “Portaferry wouldn’t have looked too much different land wise…it’s the same now as then. What you see now is what he saw then.”

 

 

There was great power in that summation for me. A connection to the past. My eyes saw what he saw. The water. The hill. The windmill. The castle. The tower across the water. The forceful tide flowing in and out through the Narrows everyday. The Irish Sea in the distance. All that was the same, then, as now.

I was looking at what he saw everyday.
I saw what he saw.
I was standing where he stood.
I was walking where he walked.
It almost felt like we could walk together and reminisce.
Share a memory.

Political and religious persecution were no doubt the motivating forces in James Vance leaving Ireland. He was part of the last of the five large waves of Scots-Irish to leave Northern Ireland for America in the 1700’s. Up to a quarter of a million Scots-Irish were estimated to have emigrated across the Atlantic from the north of Ireland through the 18th century (with an even greater amount following in the 19th century). Shortly after he landed in Philadelphia he enlisted in the fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. His grave in Greensboro PA has the Rev War marker next to it. He served under Captain Reading and Col. Chambers and fought in the battles of Germantown and Monmouth. He was with Washington and Lafayette in Valley Forge.

 

 

After the war James joined with a group of German immigrants in a business endeavor with Albert Gallatin (who later became Secretary of the Treasury under Jefferson and Madison) establishing the first “Glassworks” in New Geneva PA. The name Albert and Gallatin, as well as the German given and surnames of the glassblowers (seen on the marker below), became intermingled with the Vance family as friendships developed and marriages took place. Thinking back to when we visited Gallatin’s home, Friendship Hill near Port Marion PA, I realize I had many of the same thoughts and emotions I experienced in Northern Ireland. At Friendship Hill I saw the same things James would have seen. I walked the same path James would have walked on. I stood in a room James would have stood in, looking at he same furniture he sat on. I could imagine him greeting his friend Gallatin. Family history tells of Lafayette and James embracing warmly in Gallatin’s living room.

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Statue of Gallatin, his home, James grave and marker from the Glassworks where James worked.

Eventually James married and settled down to raise a family. Two of James’ sons became well known potters in a flourishing pottery trade in New Geneva PA. When his sons moved to Cincinnati they continued with their pottery work. Their sons, James’ grandsons, lived there and designed and built steam powered paddle boats in Cincy that ran up and down the Ohio River. Their children, James’ great grandchildren, grew up to build buildings that are still standing in Columbus Ohio.

These individuals left a mark on history.

Several years ago my family visited what was my great-grandfather Vance’s farm in Columbus Ohio. Now part of Highbanks Park, only the land remains. The buildings of the farm, then state of the art, and the house, with greenhouses and a swimming pool, are gone. Still, we walked the trails. We walked on land my mom walked and played on. The same land her father walked on. And the same land her grandfather walked on. We saw what they saw. My children stood on the banks of the Olentangy River. The same river their grandmother, great-grandparents and great great grandparents stood by.

 

 

Genealogy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I never would have imagined I would spend decades searching for little clues of history that would weave together a rich tapestry of stories and adventures. I never would have imagined the information would lead me to a small, sleepy town near the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland.

“Do Shaol, Do Thuras”. “Your Life, Your Journey.”

It was James Vance’s life. It was his journey. And it is my life. But my journey includes his journey.

Do Shaol, Do Thuras”

Each one of us are the result of the love of thousands.

What matters is what we make of who we are.”

All this is infused into the making who we are. Whether we know all the history or not, we are the result of the love, the joys, the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors. Of course it is our life and our journey. It also is our life given to us through the life and journey of others.

What matters is what we make of who are—-drawing on and respecting all the snippets, remnants, blood and DNA of those who came before us. Add to that all the combined experiences we’ve had, with all that is at this moment. Standing here. Now. It has made us who we are.

All of this grounds me somehow. What written history I can find about my ancestors on both sides of my family is that they gave to others. They lifted others up. They adopted orphans. They worked hard. They were teachers and ministers. They bailed people out of Depression era debt. They literally raised churches. They built boats that aided commerce and travel. They built stores that served people and communities. They tanned hides and sewed shoes. Some built furniture while others were self taught itinerant doctors who knew the how to combine medicinal plants into elixirs and ointments with healing properties. They built carriages and forged horse shoes. They grew flax and wove linen cloth. They were council members in the towns they lived in. They supported Women’s Suffrage. They carried bodies off of battlefields. They fought in wars and they resisted wars and fought for peace. They were regular people.

Of course there are a few characters too! We all have a couple. We have pirates, disposed ministers and a witch!

I am a richer person for knowing my family’s history. I feel a kind of connection to some of my ancestors.

It’s all a journey. A personal journey most certainly. But also a journey that began before we were born. A journey of others that led to us being born.

I’ve been fortunate to get to know James Vance as intimately as I have. To have stood where he stood. To have walked where he walked. To have seen the same views he saw. To have been in rooms where he sat.

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”

Be still. Watch and Listen.

**Check out what I’ve been reading This Week

 

 

 

 

At the Top of the Tree

In a few weeks my family is going to Ireland. The “homeland”. The place of my ancestors.

Decades ago I was quietly nudged into the world of genealogy. My parents passed on and I became the keeper of the stories, pictures and documents that made up the branches of our family tree.

My tree is obviously unique because of the people in it. Except, as Robert Louis Stevenson points out,

Each has his own tree of ancestors,
but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal.”

As Sagan’s beings of star-dust, we all of us go back to the same place. In the beginning.

We share DNA that goes back a long, long ways. Our “pre- human” ancestors looked very similar. Relatively small groups of individuals on the edge of survival gave way to the massive population of the planet.

A few weeks ago we went to Pittsburgh to visit our son. While there we stopped by a very old, very beautiful cemetery, to see the graves of my husband’s ancestors who came over from Wales.

There is meaning for me in the grave stones of my ancestors. Some are simple, some ornate. Some have Revolutionary War markers, some are uncared for and unreadable. Many are simply missing and all that remains is green grass on the lawn of a fenced in area that was once full of grave stones and memorials. Many plots have generations of family side by side. Some say “Mother” or “Father”, others have the name carved into the granite. There are carved willow branches on some, hands clasped on others. A few inform the world that might stop by to look, that this person was “beloved”. This person mattered very much to others.

And, as in the case of John and Anna Moore Evans, they are at rest far from their parents and siblings. Far from the place on earth that welcomed them into the world and provided them a home and food and a place to grow.

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Our Family Tree….crooked, but hey!!

 

The stories of my family’s ancestors are the stories of us all. The names and places are different, but the triumphs and struggles, the courage and weakness, the joys and sorrows are the same. Many choices led these people to board ships crossing the Atlantic, leaving nearly everything behind. Some carried Bibles, some carried pots and pans. Some paid for passage, some were indentured for ten years upon arrival. Some where running away, while some were running to something. Some fought in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, some did not. Some succeed and some failed. There are documented records and stories of some, and memories passed on only as stories for others.

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My “Irish” ancestors were “sent” to Ireland from Scotland to shore up the Protestant cause. They fought in battles and grew and wove flax. Some had titles and estates, others owned nothing free and clear. A few had a formal education. All were educated by life.

Conflict, fear, possession and control seem to be things that are ageless. I know my ancestors, and my husband’s, faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived here. They were “outsiders.” Immigrants. Some were the wrong religion in a country founded on religious freedom.  Few had the financial means to live well upon arrival. Many had lost loved ones on the boat crossing the Atlantic. A few had sponsors, while others were “owned” as indentured servants for awhile.  Some where killed by Native Americans, others by disease or disaster. Some were ministers, one was believed to have been a witch in the small town called Salem. A couple were pirates.

There were those who led the way to the future. My ancestors built horse buggies that gave way to cars. Another worked with glass and those roots are now found in the Pittsburgh Glass Company. There are buildings with their names still on them, and banks that still safe guard the working person’s money. Paper bags and rolling garage doors were the innovative visions for some. Believers in the importance of higher education, colleges and universities list their names as Founders. Steam boats that ferried people and goods up and down the Ohio River came from the creative minds of others.

So, we are going to Ireland to walk on the ground our ancestors knew so well. We will look at the same views of the ocean and hills that they saw every day. Hopefully we will know gratitude in our hearts for those who came before us, allowing us to return and wonder at their decision to leave Ireland behind.

And I hope too, to remember our common ancestor,that binds us always together:

Probably Arboreal

If you’re interested in some of my family’s stories, here is the link to my other blog. (I haven’t added anything in a while.) It is a combination of stories from my family, my husband’s family and my brother in law’s family. Under the “categories” tab on the right you can read about my family, Beggs.  A Cup of Tea

There is a lot to read  This Week