I thought you might like to read my search story.
It's about my O'Connor ancestors (that's my maiden name). You will notice
as you read here, that I shared my story as it progressed with other researchers
on the "O'Connor Mailing List". I hope that you will not only enjoy my story,
but that it encourages and inspires you in your own search
~ back to your own ones.
Go gcuire Dia an t-ádh ort!
(Best of luck to you! in Irish Gaelic)
by Mary O'Connor Tossell
The O'Connor family bible came into my possession after the death of my grandparents. I noticed within it, a few pages with lists of family birth, death and marriage information dating back to the mid 1800's that I'd never seen before. Not long after, I received a 1924-newspaper article celebrating my great grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary from a second cousin, with lots of family details that were new to me. I realized there was a lot I didn't know, and ironically those that could help with any questions were no longer here to answer them. I will forever berate myself as to why I hadn't thought to I ask them when they were still alive.
In the spring of 1997, armed with this additional information, I hoped an answer to a seemingly unanswerable question might now be within reach. I was inspired to embark on a grand journey, to find the answer to my quest...
Where in Ireland did my O'Connor family come from?
I didn't have a clue as to a townland nor even a county. I really only knew the names of my great grandparents, and that one of my ancestors was born in Ireland. (I wasnt even sure which generation!) I thought the next step should be to try to find out who was buried in our O'Connor cemetery plot back where my grandparents came from in Vermont, hoping that might lead to a birth place in Ireland written on a tombstone or a burial record. If not, I thought at least it would help to locate their vital records once I determined exact dates.
While inquiring by phone long distance at the family cemetery, a very kind person going the extra mile at the rectory in Brattleboro, Vermont said:
"Wait, there's another plot of O'Connors"
"What?!" To my great surprise as it turns out, she revealed the names of my previously unknown to me, great great grandparents! I never even knew they were buried there. If she hadn't bothered, I may never have known! No mention though, of a birthplace other than merely "Ireland" and alas, no indication either on the tombstones themselves.
So... my emigrant ancestors were Maurice O'Connor and his wife Catherine Martin, both born 1822 according to the gravemarker. It was they, I later came to find, out who made the trek across the Atlantic during the worst part of the so called Irish Potato Famine; 1847, aka Black '47, the year of the "coffin ships" into Quebec....or maybe I should say the Starvation! Oh, but dont get me started on that one, that is for another time to tell.
Next step was to try to locate Maurice's death listing from the Brattleboro town clerk's office to obtain the month and day ... and maybe a birthplace, as I now had a year of death from the cemetery information. I was merely calling to find out how to go about getting a death certificate if you only had a year i.e. 1898, when the clerk asked me to wait while she checked. She had gone to a dusty shelf and pulled out the ledger for 1898! Would you believe it, she actually went through it month by month to finally find Maurice's death listed in October of that year, on the 20th ... evidence of yet another kindness that advanced my quest that much forward!
But wait, that wasn't all. As she went across the line of information she read aloud, and came to this:
Parents: Hugh and Johanna O'Connor
Wow!... the names of my great great great grandparents! As I was only looking for dates, that was a pretty exciting, unexpected find in itself! Ah yet again, it only said "Ireland" as a birthplace. At least I now had an exact death date. Maybe I could find an obituary that might mention a townland ...
By the end of 1997, I was getting rather depressed. I had already tried searching the Brattleboro church and cemetery records, tombstone markings, birth, death, marriage certificates, funeral parlor papers, Vermont Federal Census films, town directories, Vermont genealogy societies, U.S. naturalization papers, passenger lists, civil war veterans & Irish railroad worker references, and the local Family History Center (the Mormons). If I was lucky at all; they said merely "Ireland" as a birthplace. The naturalization papers I obtained from the National Archives in Waltham, Ma. had "Great Britain" even! But no townland mentioned, ever!
I had run out of ideas on how to find a townland in Ireland for my emigrant ancestors... after all this searching I still had no clue where my O'Connor family came from in Ireland. It was beginning to dawn on me that there was a possibility I might never find the answer to my quest.
It started to haunt me, "Would I ever know?"
It was at this point that I remember thinking aloud to myself...
It was only a few days later that I received an envelope in the mail from the Brooks Library, Brattleboro, Vt. I had all but forgotten having written, months earlier, requesting a search in their microfiche for an obituary in the local 1890s era newspaper. When I hadn't heard from them, I figured they didn't come up with anything. But now I had this envelope, I'll never forget, it was on Jan 3rd 1998...
I realized immediately the significance of the information this envelope may contain. I paused before opening it while I weighed this thought in my mind... Either it had, or it did not have my great great grandfather's obituary in it. I knew full well this might be my last good chance to find out the place in Ireland where my O'Connors were from ... and if not there... Well, I can honestly say I was almost afraid to find out what was inside.
My hands were shaking as I opened the envelope to see what lay there in...
THE VERMONT PHOENIX
|There was only one flaw in it all...
When I was young, I remember asking the question; "Why of all places, did our family end up in Brattleboro, Vt ?" The answer was: "That's where the work on the railroad ended." ...also family history had it that; "The brothers moved on to Chicago to look for work there". But 'Himself' said his Maurice was the only one in the family of that generation to have emigrated, his brothers had not. Hmmm.... as my family was so vague about our roots I wasn't even sure which generation worked on the railroad ... was it my great grandfather John or my great great grandfather Maurice? The real question was, could 'Himself''s Maurice really be MY Maurice? I needed to do a bit more research to prove the connection... but I must admit, my instincts told me this was probably my family.
There was something strangely eerie about it all, something I didn't pick up on 'till later, when I was replaying the answering machine message for my husband that 'Himself' had started to leave before I picked up.
... it was that 'Himself' sounded so very much like my dad ! It was just as if it was my dad talking with a brogue! It was uncanny! It also made me feel like I really had spoken with the Irish descendants of my ancestors from "across the pond"!
To top it all off, 'Himself' owns "Tigh 'Himself'" in Bally - - - Co Kerry. That's Irish Gaelic for 'Himself''s Place... a PUB!! What better spot to have a pint and toast your mutual Irish ancestors than Tigh 'Himself'!? Is that the Luck of the Irish or what?
Slainte to all of you in your O'Connor search!,
Please read on, the story doesn't end
'HIMSELF' Ó CONCHÚIR
If you someday find yourself in the western part of the Dingle Peninsula and want to hear how those who speak Irish as their first language sound, stop in at Tigh 'Himself' in Bally - - - and tell them:
"She Herself" the Yank (their cousin Mary) sent you!
Date: Fri, 13 Feb 1998 23:07:08 EST
GET THIS! Back in the mid 1800's to the early 1900's, the Irish from all over the states posted notices in the "Boston Pilot" newspaper, in search of missing friends and loved ones. This was "the" place to put such a notice. The 6th vol. in a series of 8 books is recently out, covering up to the U.S. civil war period which has gathered all these notices in $45 a piece volumes... quite a hefty price for only one volume even... so not expecting anything, but wanting to rule out a major source of info, and to take advantage of a very kind offer... look what I found when someone on the internet was generous enough to offer to do lookups in her volume, the first of the series:
"The Search for Missing Friends:
Volume 1 1831-1850. page 236
OF CATHERINE O'CONNOR, wife of Morris O'Connor, daughter to James Martin of Graan, near Dingle, co Kerry, who emigrated to Quebec last summer, with her brothers, John and James Martin, and is supposed to be in Upper Canada. Any information respecting her will be thankfully received by her husband, who is separated from her by the adversities of fortune. Address, Morris O'Connor, care of James O'Connor, Cabotville, Mass.
WOW! Turns out Graan is a phonetic pronunciation of Garrane, Co Kerry, its in the adjoining parish of Kilmalkedar, next to where Maurice was born, in Kilquane Parish which 'Himself' O'Connor told me about when I last reported to you. If this is the right Morris and Catherine, which I think it is, that ad was placed by my great great grandfather! Prior to this I didn't know if they were married in the U.S. or Ireland (looks like Ireland), I didn't know Catherine Martin's father or brothers names!, nor when they emigrated nor where they were from in Ireland!
This could be an answer regarding the "brothers going on to Chicago", and 'Himself''s Maurice's siblings not having emigrated at all... it may have been **Catherine's Brothers** who moved on to Chicago! That's IF its a match of course. I've also read that the Irish back then used the terms brother and brother-in-law interchangeably. Now I just needed proof.... something to make the connection between my U.S. O'Connor/Martin info and 'Himself''s O'Connors in Ireland.
Note: Neither Catherine nor Morris could read or write, can you imagine how desperate they must have been, and how helpless they were to try to find each other when they didn't even speak English in this new and vast country?... countries I should say; America and French speaking Canada !
Epilogue- When I sent the "Missing Persons" ad information to 'Himself' O'Connor, he talked the very reluctant local priest in Ballyferriter Roman Catholic parish near Dingle (which contained Kilquane and Kilmalkedar civil parishes) into letting him look at the actual parish records, in Latin! - which by the way, haven't been filmed by the LDS (the Mormons) like most of the rest of Ireland and the world really....and guess what...
'Himself' looked up the marriage record for his Maurice O'Connor; married Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1846 and spouse; Catherine Martin (parents James Martin and Catherine Moriarty)!... and the whole Martin family births, marriages, just like the ad, in Garrane.!!!
IT WAS THEM!
This confirms the Dingle connection to my Maurice from Brattleboro Vt, and my newly discovered 3rd cousin 'Himself' O'Connor and family in Bally - - -, Dingle, Co Kerry! I was so excited! ... and when I said that to 'Himself' he said;
"Oh, don't be exited, its just us"
Ever since I started my research over a year ago I've had this idea; that someday, if I ever found where Maurice was born, that I'd bring a bit of dirt from Maurice's gravesite in Vermont with me for a future visit to Ireland. So how about this... 'Himself' told me that the very same land that Maurice was born on, near Mt Brandon (the real townland name by the way, is Clash) is still in the O'Connor family to this day!! Between his Irish brogue and his unique (to me) vocabulary; I wasn't sure and couldn't quite make out what he said next... I thought he said:
"The house still exists"
"Still exists! You mean, I might be able to see it?"
Then I thought he said, "Yes, but it's a cow house now."
"'Himself', What do you mean by; 'it's a cow house now'?"
(obviously, a city girl <G>) ...after a long pause he said,
"Mary.... its where we keep the cows. Now what did you think it was, girl?"
So much for my romantic notions of bringing back a bit of Vermont to Mt Brandon! On second thought, I think maybe Hugh and Johanna's gravesite would be appropriate don't ya think? and by the way... Catherine and Maurice must have gotten together after that ad was placed in Nov. 1847 sometime by the next summer; around August of 1848; because my great grandfather John James O'Connor, was born June 17, 1849!
For those of you who might remember my story of how I thought I had not only located the illusive townland in Ireland, but had also possibly discovered living relatives still on the land my great great grandfather left 150 yrs ago...
I heard again from my 3rd cousin; 'Himself' O'Connor in Ireland... (or should I say 'Himself'Ó Conchúir; he does!) He sent me a letter; with family group sheets included (with notes in Irish Gaelic!). After searching parish records in Ballyferriter Roman Catholic parish **confirming** our family connection he told me this, which is really what I wanted to share with you;
"We are sure now, that our Maurice Ó Conchúir, is the same man you are looking for."
... and later he finished with:
"We are sure now, you are ours."
'Himself' signed it with: "Le mheas mhór, 'Himself'" (with great love, in Irish Gaelic) Pretty neat, eh? It gave me goosebumps when I first read it... and it still does.
I hope you've enjoyed my story, and that it encourages you to keep
Máire Ó Conchúir Tossell
"When you come to Ireland you will be welcomed with open arms; ... but there's no need for goosepimples!" Oct. 1998
As of St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, 1999 Click here to
Someday I will see this for myself, thanks again to Rody@aol.com.
de nobis fabula narratur (their
story is our story)
As you have read, there have been many people
along the way who have been incredibly kind and generous to me with their
help. I can only hope that I can begin to repay a bit of that kindness by
offering my Dingle site, my County Kerry -IrelandGenWeb site, IRL-KERRY mailing
list, and the Kerry Surname Query Boards to help other Kerry researchers
GO RAIBH MAITH AGAT!
This story is dedicated to
all those who helped me
Local Ireland for featuring my story in: Local Ancestors Kerry
"ADVERSITIES OF FORTUNE The amusing, entertaining and touching story of one woman's search for her O'Connor ancestors which ended on the slopes of Mount Brandon."
Online Genealogy Newsletter
"Dear Kerry Listers,
Thanks so much for your kind words Riobard! ~ Mary
Speaking of hearing Irish and Fios Feasa, they have a great CD-ROM called:
IRISH PROVERBS, 501 Irish Proverbs, Sayings, Blessings,
Curses, etc. Its a tool for learning Irish ... especially good because its
the way they speak Irish in Dingle, things they say everyday there. Here
is what Fios Feasa told me about it: "The Irish proverbs CD will help anyone
learn the language by listening to native speakers saying native things.
Tell the world that your cousin Seán Pól O'Connor (nephew of
'Himself') is one of the eight speakers and you can see a picture of him
and hear him say; 'Go n-éirí do bhóthar leat' (May your
road rise with you)."
* New England Historic Genealogical Society is the place to go for more info on the books "Search for Missing Friends" and joining could be a great aid to your research!
ÉIREANN DON NA hÉIREANNACH
You are our 3375th visitor -- since January
"But the refugees in 1847 were half-starved, weak, destitute, and incapable of hard manual labor. Too poor to leave Ireland when the crisis began, these families found passage on overcrowded, fever-ridden ships after a few businessmen discovered they could make money transporting these desperate Irish at bargain group rates. On one of these "coffin ships," as they came to be known, 20% of the passengers sailing from Cork to Quebec died during or just after the trip." Irish Immigration
Copyright © Mary O'Connor Tossell 2000