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

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

Counting to 12

Settling in. Settling down. Close your eyes and count to 12. Take a deep breath. In and out.

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For many people around the world this is a season of religious importance. For me it is Spring. Rebirth comes in many forms. Literal. Spiritual. Let us pause for a moment and just be, in stillness and silence.

Keeping Still

Now we will count to twelve 
and we will keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

~Pablo Neruda

What does happen when our thoughts are slowed? No rush or worry.

It never could happen, but, what if, for a moment, the people of the world could stop. And just be? Be together. In silence and stillness. No spoken language as a barrier. No arm waving flurry of activity. No going or getting. No having or wanting.

What if we could collectively experience unity as human beings as well as unity with Nature, with all other living things?

What if we stopped hurting each other in this moment? What if we just tried, with our hearts, to understand each other? What if people forgot to hold each other down, forgot to hurt or oppress others? What if those struggling and in pain forgot their pain, for just a moment? What if for a moment we became united?

What if we tended to Nature as our own child? What if we protected Earth as if it mattered. As if it was a life or death choice? What if war was obsolete and we walked side by side, doing no harm, causing no violence?

What if we just had a moment of silence to think about what it means to be alive.  Not to worry about death and salvation, but to be alive. To survive. To thrive. To love. To heal.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive

It is spring. What slept as if dead is awakening. Rebirth. Nature can teach us.

Count to 12 and be still.

Readings This Week

Wisdom Dreams

I once dreamt I was telling stories and felt someone patting my foot in encouragement.
I looked down and saw that I was standing on the shoulders of an older woman
who was steadying my ankles and smiling up at me.
I said to her, “no no come stand on my shoulders,
For you are old and I am Young.”

“No no” she insisted, “this is the way it is supposed to be.”
I saw that she stood on the shoulders of a woman far older than she,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman even older,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman in robes,
who stood on the shoulders of another soul, who stood on the shoulders…

~Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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sunrise this morning

I admit it. I am a firm believer that some dreams are messages that I need to pay attention to. For me, they can be a processing tool, a problem solving tool, or sometimes, even a window into the future. There are times when my dreams are like an encyclopedia that has blown open to a page of facts, truths, possibilities that I need to know.

Most religions discuss the interpretation of dreams. Theologians, psychologists, therapists, musicians, poets, people who pay attention to dreams, see them as a connection, a nexus between the body, mind and spirit. There is a universal understanding that dreams connect us to something greater than ourselves. They provoke a sense of wonder and awe that by their nature are the essence of mystical experiences.

That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man,
even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it….
We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things,
and are asleep in regard to that which is real within our self.

~Paracelsus

So, if you’ve been following this blog, you know I am an admirer of Clarissa Pinkola Estés. When I read the above quote the proverbial light bulb of understanding lit up. As a Jungian psychologist and story teller Pinkola Estés’ dream integrated the ideas of messages found in dreams and the importance of each person being a story teller.

In our world today I believe that both of these things are important. I think we have become disoriented and separated from spirituality and our connectedness. We no longer know our own stories of where we came from, who we are, what matters to us, what our connections are, how we are related and connected to each other. We have become impatient or disinterested in hearing the stories others cry out for us to hear. There is a restlessness, an uneasiness in me that worries that we have lost the connection to and understanding of a compelling gift: dreams.

Pinkola Estés not only reminds us to allow and pay attention to the dreams that arise during sleep, but to remember we are standing on, supported by, encouraged and emboldened by those who have come before us. The falterings, the successes, the hopes and dreams of others are the foundation on which we stand.

Those pillars of known and unknown persons in the past gently tap us with encouragement and with a reminder that we must give voice to our own story as well as give witness to the stories of others.

We are the dreamers. We are the story tellers. We are the pillars for those still to come.

“Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.”~ Black Elk

“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.’
~The Talmud

Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”
~Marsha Norman

“Dreams say what they mean, but they don’t say it in daytime language.”
~Gail Godwin

 

 

 

Washing

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…
and break clear away, once in awhile,
and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean.”
John Muir

I love being outside, yet sometimes I resist that love and stay inside. After all, I have things to do. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, work related things, doing nothing in particular, letting the cat sleep on me, drawing, reading, tidying up, catching up on TV shows, being at work, writing for this blog. The list is endless and mostly trivial. Yet, some days I still resist going outside.

When I break away and out, and feel the wind on my face, smell the fresh air, feel the heat or cold, get wet from rain, feel hidden in the fog, receive a kiss from the sun, hear a bird sing or watch a chipmunk play, I am transformed. I often feel I am healed. Perspective returns. Priorities become clear.

“Give away the things you don’t need
Let it all go and you’ll soon see
And you’ll wash your spirit clean
Wash your spirit clean
Go and pray upon a mountain
Go and pray beside the ocean
And you’ll wash your spirit clean
Wash Your spirit clean
Be grateful for the struggle
Be thankful for the lessons
And you’ll wash your spirit clean”

Lyrics ‘Wash Your Spirit Clean’, Walela

forest home waterfall

Give away the things you don’t need. That probably includes the computer and TV!! But more subtly and I think, more importantly, it means to give away resentment, fear, desire, want, worry, doubt, anger, regret, some of the stories we tell ourselves over and over.

I “pray”, but I do not pray as in a petition to God. I pray as in sending “energy” into the world. My foundation and inspiration is the Metta Prayer. With many variations it says, ” May all beings be safe. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be loved. May all beings be filled with Loving Kindness.” I pray that I may be responsible for acting in ways that will make these things happen. I pray to be aware and mindful. I pray that I will be kind and compassionate. I pray that I will be quiet so I can hear. Still so I can observe. I pray that I may understand that the struggles and the lessons in life are things to be thankful for. They are how I learn, change, grow.

In Nature my spirit is washed clean. I am soaked, scrubbed, restored and hung out to air dry. I can feel the weight of all those stories I make up about myself and others, all the resentments, fears, desires, wants, worries, doubts, anger, regrets… all of them being washed and rinsed out of the fabric of my being. Sometimes I find I was not even aware of how dingy, stained and faded my thoughts, being, spirit had become.

When Nature has cleansed my spirit, my prayer becomes a continuous prayer. It becomes a living prayer.

Nature allows my senses to come alive. I can fall down in the snow and let the cold make me shiver.  I can feel the wind and the rain on my skin . I can hear the waves break along the shore and the birds sing. I can hear the tree branches creaking and leaves crunching under foot. Looking up there is the insane pairing of colors at sunset and the humbling expanse of the Milky Way. I swat at a mosquito and watch a butterfly. The smell of roses and lilacs require me to close my eyes, overcome by sheer pleasure. I allow myself to be immersed in Nature and my spirit is washed clean.

And then, the dirty dishes just are. The laundry just is. The crying child is only that. A long day is over. Being tired is nothing more than that. Good/bad disappear. Dreams of a new sports car, a bigger house, a new pair of shoes don’t seem to matter so much. Grandma never remembering my name, someone saying something mean, a person not living up to my expectations, me not living up to someones else’s expectations don’t really matter any more. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at work melts away. Desire to be in control, to be in charge, to be right, to look and act strong and determined don’t seem so important. The stories repeated of how smart, clever, kind, important, creative I am just seem silly. Memories can become that…things in the past that do not have to impact this moment. I can just be in this moment.

When I go out into Nature perspective is restored. My spirit is soaked, washed and rinsed….the weight of worry, disappointment, desire are all swept away as my spirit is washed clean. I am lighter, softer, more flexible….I flow and swirl.

Do I get all this right all the time? Nope. Do I falter and stumble? Yup. Will I stop/give up? No. Do I keep trying? Sure do.

Wash your spirit clean. Over and over again.

After thought: many of you tell me via email, Facebook, in person how much you enjoy reading these posts. Some of you even go as far as to say they help you look at things differently, or think about things differently. I sincerely wish you  would consider sharing your thoughts in the comment section of the blog post itself. I feel so strongly we have to have dialog to help each other maneuver through tough times. I learn a lot from all of you…even, and especially if you have differing thoughts and opinions. There is more to be gained in sharing what we think with one another in a respectful manner than in being silent. Regardless, thank you for your kind words and support.