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.

Capture

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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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Dewdrops

For many years, at great cost, I traveled through many countries,
saw the high mountains, the oceans.
The only things I did not see
were the sparkling dewdrops in the grass just outside my door.

~Rabindranath Tagore

I have been very fortunate in my life to have traveled to many places all over the world. I was blessed to be able to actually live in a few. Each country opened my heart and eyes in a new way. There were wonderful, joyful, carefree times, and more difficult, very uncomfortable times. There was fear and worry. There was celebration and excitement. I grew in ways I would never have been able to do had I not traveled.

And yet, coming “home” was the real lesson. When I left Ithaca I felt I had been liberated from many things: parents, American culture, high school cliques, peer pressure, boredom, a broken heart. Parts of life felt stagnant and mundane. I did not want to be only an American. I was going to become a world citizen.

So I traveled. With eyes wide open. My senses were like a sponge. My brain rewired as I learned and experienced new things, had new thoughts and gained new perspectives. My body changed from new foods, less four wheel transportation. I sat next to sheep on buses, and stepped over dead bodies. I ate eyeballs and other balls, intestines and stomachs. I learned how having a cup of tea can be a three hour silent event. I discovered weaving silk is very hard and that I don’t like salted goat milk. I was jostled in religious parades and sat in stillness and silence in Japanese gardens. I was followed by herds of children begging for money and food. I found myself surrounded by groups of men because I had blue eyes.  I was invited into homes and slept on floors literally crawling with scorpions. I was awakened by earthquakes and “trapped” by a declaration of martial law. I traveled by plane, boat, train, bus, trolley, subway, cart, truck, helicopter, elephant and foot.

I ran out of money and sold my blood. I got very sick and had to go to a hospital every day for testing. I experienced altitude sickness, fainting, food poisoning, acupuncture and cupping.

I grew up.

And then I came home and looked out the window and saw the “dewdrops.” All the beauty, mystery, hope, sorrow, sadness, pain, possibility and wonder right outside my window. I hadn’t seen all that ever before as clearly as I could now.

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Redbud leaf, by me

I did have to travel in order to come home and be able to see the dewdrops….right out my own window. I don’t think the meaning and message would be as clear as it is now without all those experiences in my life. I learned to look through different lenses. The experiences from the world provided a means for observing, assessing, evaluating and synthesizing information and experiences, challenging beliefs and even personal opinions.

What’s outside your window? Your living room window, your car window, your bus window, your office window and the restaurant window? The window to your thoughts, biases, perspectives, your heart, your education and religious background? The window that showcases the planet, the environment, the universe? The window that shows you the life of others, their struggles and joys?

What do you see?

What I’ve been reading, and watching, this week : This Week

“Into The World”

College seems like a lifetime ago. Ha! It really was! I reminisce with college friends and we laugh as we try to piece together fading memories. There are some beautiful memories that thankfully haven’t faded. They are the ones that were built on the pillars of love, trust, hope, respect.

I met my husband in college. He was building a wooden sailboat. I asked him if he would sail me to Nepal. He said yes. We were not geographically impaired. We were making a commitment of sailing through a lifetime together.

I went to a small Quaker college. It was founded on the idea of experiential learning and being a citizen of the world. I learned weaving in Greece and  Tea Ceremony at the Urasenke School in Kyoto, Japan. I worked at the International School in Kyoto and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete. I worked in Montessori schools and learned from Waldorf teachers.

One required reading was Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere Learn more  I was happy to discover it is still required reading in the field of education.

Heading to Japan I was asked to read The Chrysanthemum and the Sword  Learn more

Books by Lawrence Durrell helped prepare me for life in Corfu and Crete. Learn more here Books by Durrell  The legend of Theseus and Ariadne came to life as Ana Lisa and I walked through Knossos. Ariadne’s Thread by Judith White explored the mythology that ruled ancient Greece, and it translated nicely into the theories of Jungian psychology. Learn more

theseus-and-ariadne

I also discovered Anais Nin, DH Lawrence and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Along with Nin and Pinkola Estes I read powerful books by Jean Shinoda Bolen, The Tao of Psychology and The Goddess in Every Woman.  Learn more

It’s cliché, but it feels like life was simpler then. Maybe it was as a college student traveling the world, fairly carefree. I saw beautiful places and met wonderful people. I experienced a lot of things that were very uncomfortable, and in hindsight also unsafe. I came to understand what it meant to be a world citizen. Firmly believing in the binding threads of humanity, the power of love, inclusion and respect.

In the crazy world of today it feels as if the Global Citizen, with the ideals of inclusion, respect and interconnectedness is at odds with the fear mongering, hate powered belief that is “Us/We” vs “Others/Them”.

So, I offer this feminist oriented peace poem from Jean Shinoda Bolen with the sometimes dispirited, but mostly fervent belief, that we can live in peace and respect with one another.

Peace Poem

Untappped source of peace,
The only real hope
Is to draw upon the collective wisdom of women. 
Those with direct experience of the cost of war:
The life of child, grandchild, sibling, spouse.
The loss of limb or mind of someone near and dear,
The loss of laughter, the pervasiveness of fear,
The loss of hope for the future.

Untapped source of peace,
Those who know of domestic violence:
Seen the effect of bullying on sons,
Seen daughters become silent, 
Seen light go out in their eyes.
Those who know
That when every child matters,
When none are hungry, abused or discounted
The world will become a kinder place
For us all

Untapped source of peace,
Women with empathy
Who live in a world apart,
Are safe, loved, and fortunate,
Yet can imagine
Being helpless, beaten, and raped,
Then forced to bear a child
Conceived in violence. 
Women who know in their hearts
That what happens to any woman
Anywhere
Could happen to them.

Untapped source of peace,
Women who see loved ones filled with vengeance and hate,
Hypervigilant, fear-ridden, or afraid to sleep
Because of the nightmares.
Husbands, brothers, sons, and now daughters
Home from wars,
Bearing little resemblance to who they could have been
In a peaceful world.

Untapped source of peace,
Women in circles,
Women connecting,
Women together
Bringing the sacred feminine, 
Maternal instinct, sister archetype,
Mother power
Into the world.

~Jean Shinoda Bolen

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Heraklion, Crete: a “lifetime ago”