Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Devotional Revolution

     I’ve read on some message boards that the genealogy centers in Ireland work from indexes and don’t have actual microfilm of the parish registers, and that may be true in some cases, but not all.  Wicklow for example has the Baltinglass Parish microfilm which they searched for me at no charge when my results page at the Irish Family History Foundation site, (which you remember is no longer free), instead of coming up with the McGarrs I  searched for gave me multiple hits on the surname Connors and I complained. 

      In fact they found a baptism that would have never shown up in any index since the name of the child and father was not given, just the mother’s name and address, a sponsor’s name and the other sponsor's
Anne Donahoe Ballyraggan -Garr & Anne Coleman

surname.  In this case that was enough since I knew from other sources the child’s name, parent’s names and address and the approximate year (1831) the baptism should have occurred.  The Wicklow center hypothesized that the priest had written the entry some time after the actual event and had forgotten some of the details…he made a mistake.  They do happen.

     I’m betting they happened more frequently before the famine when baptisms and marriages were commonly performed at home rather than in a church.  I’ve discussed this recently in the blog, Stations in Ireland.  Things changed drastically following the famine.  The massive reduction in population meant there was now enough space and clergy to allow for the practice of Catholicism in Ireland in the same manner it was practiced on the continent.  Modern historians have coined the term “devotional revolution” to describe what happened next.

    Archbishop Paul Cullen, a native of Kildare and later Ireland’s first cardinal, was a man with a mission.  As unbelievable as it may seem, the typical Catholic in pre famine Ireland was not what we today would consider a practicing Catholic.  Mass attendance was spotty at best, many had no real understanding of the basic tenants of their religion.  Even worse, in rural areas vestiges of the old pagan religion were still practiced.  Celtic fertility rites and of course the rambunctious Irish wake were examples.  Many of these country folk were the very ones swept away by the famine making the Archbishop’s attempt at reform easier.

      Archbishop Cullen introduced sweeping changes, among them a better trained clergy, now required to wear the Roman collar, the use of the rosary, the introduction of retreats and novenas, and the obligation to hear Mass weekly.  He encouraged Catholics to take advantage of confession and communion regularly; and they did.  Ireland evolved into one of the most orthodox, conservative countries in the world with the words Irish and Catholic almost synonymous.

    Paul Cardinal Culled passed away in 1878, but the revolution he began lived on and forever altered Ireland.  As we know, the Irish people became devout Catholics and the Church enjoyed immense growth and influence in Ireland and would for decades to come.         

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday/Mother & Daughter

  During a brief warm spell awhile ago, my husband, who is very tolerant of my genealogy obsession, drove me to a remote part of Wayne County, NY to search for the graves of my Vincent ancestors.  While only a little over an hour from our home, the town of Butler is what you could call a few miles past the back of beyond.  We drove around a bit before we located the cemetery behind a small white church.  We also located a lovely trash heap directly adjacent to the cemetery as seen in the photo, but that’s a topic for another blog, sigh…

      As we walked down the path behind the church, I couldn’t help noticing two large stones near the center of the cemetery that unlike all the others there were not facing the road.  They instead faced each other.  I wondered whose relatives had placed those cockeyed stones.  Of course they were my relatives.  At least it made them easy to find.

     The story behind these stones is a sad one, but then few stories concerning tombstones are happy ones.  Sarah Charlotte Vincent, the former Sarah Fowler was the wife of John Vincent whose name is above hers on the stone.  The name below hers is their 20 year old daughter Mary Ann.  You can see from their stone that Sarah and Mary Ann both passed away in 1883.  What the stone doesn’t tell you is they died less than two weeks apart that awful summer, both of consumption, now known as tuberculosis.  First Mary Ann, then a heartbroken Sarah followed her daughter to the grave.

     The stone facing theirs belongs to Sarah’s parents Merritt Fowler and Abiah Wells who bore sad witness to the deaths of their daughter and her child.  Abiah was the daughter of Austin Wells of Revolutionary War fame.  A Google search of, “Austin Wells” Cambridge, turns up many hits.
      For anyone who may have ancestors in Wayne County, New York the following site has burial indexes and is very helpful for locating cemeteries with driving directions for most of them--

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Google Image Search

    Hanging beside photographs of my ancestors, I have several images of 19th century Ireland on the walls of my office and kitchen.  Looking at them never fails to remind me of the hardships that were part of everyday life in Ireland during that period.  One of my favorites is of a group cutting turf in a bog as ominous clouds gather over the mountains behind them.  None of the subjects in the photo look very happy, particularly the young woman standing in the foreground.  I have another of her done in close up, clearly taken at the same time.  In this one you can see her bog stained bare feet and she has removed her apron revealing a ragged skirt riddled with holes.  These pictures are evocative rather than beautiful, but they speak to me, they remind me of where I came from, and so they have a place here in my home.

     The group photo was copied, then printed, matted and framed from this site--  The images there are free to use as long as the site is acknowledged, which is what I’m doing here.  There are quite a few interesting photos here worth perusing.  Which brings me to my peeve for today.  Looking at images around the net I have noticed several sites which will sell you prints of these same photos for in the neighborhood of $30.00.  They have ensured you will not copy those displayed on their site by plastering writing across the face of the photo.  I hasten to add, I do not condone copyright infringement, but that is not the case here, they are in the public domain.

Page that appears after clicking the camera icon.
     Should you come upon this aggravating situation, finding a copyright free image you’d like to use that has been defaced, there may be a way around it.  Google search can search for the photo on the net using just the image, no text.  Select Google images, and in the search box that appears you will notice a little gray camera to the right.  Click on it and you will be given the option to upload an image from your computer, or use the image’s URL.  Google will then search for that and similar images.  Even simpler, images saved on your desktop can just be dragged over to the search box.  You can now view every version of the desired photo that is online.

     Other uses might be for old unlabeled personal photos.  Obviously Google can only match your image to images already on the web, so you might not have good luck identifying an old portrait, but you may be able to tell where the photo was taken if there are distinct buildings in the background.  A few years ago I saved an image of a neighborhood and didn’t label it.  Of course I forgot what it was of.  In seconds Google had found “Irish Hill” in San Francisco.  Now I would love to see some free facial recognition programs with age progression and recession please.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Stations in Ireland

   A curious custom in old Ireland was that of “stations.”  I’m not talking about Stations of the Cross performed by Catholics worldwide during the Lenten season.  The stations I’m referring to occurred twice a year at Easter and Christmas.  For a variety of reasons there were too few priests in pre-famine Ireland to minister to their flocks, and a dearth of space in which to worship.  The trouble began with Henry the Eighth’s interesting love life.  When the Pope refused him a divorce, he in effect divorced the Pope.  Henry seized the churches and property of the Roman Catholic Church in the British Isles and gave it to his new Anglican church.  But it wasn’t until Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649 that things got really nasty.  Cromwell was a brutal man, responsible for thousands of deaths in Ireland; under his command, Catholicism was banned, Catholic Priests executed and land owned by Catholics seized.

     The British followed this up with the Penal Laws that took away the few rights Catholics had left.  The effects of all this was a huge drop in the Catholic clergy.  Slowly though, they began to trickle back, and by 1697 there were about 1,750 priests in Ireland.  With the relaxing of laws against Catholicism, their numbers grew to 2,100 by the year 1750.  Twenty years later however, the number of priests had dropped to 1,600!  Even more alarming, the population in that period exploded.  By the year 1800 there were only 1,860 priests in Ireland to care for over 4 million people.  What had happened in the late 1700’s?  For one thing, wars in Europe kept crop prices high and though they were still poor, the Irish had enough to eat and their birthrate skyrocketed; secondly, Rome decided there were too many priests in Ireland for the poverty stricken population to support and restricted the number that could be ordained there.  Every year it got a little worse, in the west of Ireland the ratio was 3,000 to 1 and the rest of the country wasn’t much better.

Mass being celebrated in a cabin.
     The Irish clergy solved this problem by instituting the practice of stations.  A few weeks before the event, the priests announced they would be holding stations at the homes of several of their more prominent congregation members residing in outlying areas.  Everyone living near the appointed homes was expected to attend and give their confession, then stay to hear Mass, which would be offered from a portable altar the priest and his curate brought along.   In pre-famine Ireland, weekly Mass attendance was not a requirement; performing ones Easter duty was the mark of a practicing Catholic though those who dwelt in larger towns attended more often. Marriages and baptisms were commonly held at home also, only confirmations which were performed by the bishop were regularly held in chapels.  This custom continued right up to the famine when the dramatic decline in population from death and emigration restored a more balanced ratio between priest and laity, effectively ending the tradition of stations.
     I’ve often wondered if this practice sometimes unfavorably affected church records.  More than a few incomplete entries exist in the records of Baltinglass Parish in Wicklow.  The baptism of Bridgett McGarr for instance, left out her name and that of her father; I was only able to figure out it was hers by the date, address and the names of her mother and a witness named McGarr.  Her parent’s marriage was likewise muddled with the surname of the bride wrong, and a witness identified only as the wife of Pat Tallon.  Perhaps after returning to the sacristy the priest neglected to immediately record the sacraments he had performed and when he did so, he forgot some of the details—like the baby’s name!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

County Kerry Burial Index

     Spring is here, though you’d never know it by the inch of snow on the ground here in upstate New York and in the spring a genealogist’s fancy turns to thoughts of…you guessed it… cemeteries.  I wanted to share this site I came across   It’s a database of burials in County Kerry.   By using the browse function you can select a cemetery and see what dates are covered, then click on the link for the cemetery book and read through it.

     You can also use the search function, by townland, cemetery, date or name; or all four at once.  The burials don’t go back terribly far, the oldest I’ve seen is for around 1899, but if some of your relatives remained in Ireland you may get lucky and find one of them here.  Or would finding them in a cemetery be unlucky… for them anyway?

      If it’s older records you want to view, try this site  featuring Catholic records from Cork and Ross, Dublin and County Kerry, along with Church of Ireland records from Dublin, Kerry and Carlow.  These are actual church burial records, not cemetery listings; they also have baptisms and marriages. Nearly all the burial records however, are Church of Ireland; most Catholic parishes did not keep burial records until the 20th century.  If your ancestors were Catholic you should still take a look at the COI records, Catholics are sometimes found there.

    If you do find an entry of interest, you can use the mapping function at the first site to get an idea of where the cemetery is located in Kerry.  There are 140 of them indexed at present, and plans to add more in the future.