Friday, August 16, 2013
How Books Help My Research
I've always been an avid reader. I used to visit my school library at least twice a week and devoured books like most other kids went through candy. Since becoming obsessed with my Irish heritage and family research I read very little fiction these days, it's mostly works examining social conditions and histories of Ireland. It really has enabled to me understand what was going on in the country at the time my ancestors lived there, and has been a great help to my genealogy. So often, records are sparse and educated guesses are needed. Of course a guess, no matter how educated is not a substitute for proof, but given the state of Irish records, or lack thereof, enough circumstantial evidence is sometimes the best one can ever get. Then too, it can point you in the right direction where obscure records may be waiting.
Example? We have all heard of the Irish being accused of "clannishness", and settling near each other upon arrival in the USA which makes perfect sense, why not be surrounded by family and friends? But after reading histories of Ireland, I understand there was more to it-- this was the way they lived at home. Unlike today, pre-famine rural Ireland was bursting with people, they were accustomed to living in close proximity to each other. They were very social and enjoyed the company of others immensely, and that pattern continued in America.
I'm currently reading Emigrants And Exiles, by Kerby A. Miller. It's a fascinating book, scholarly and well researched, but quite readable. In one part, Mr. Miller describes in depth the social structure of Ireland in the years before the famine, and that description has been very useful in understanding what my 4x great grandfather Andrew O'Dwyer's life would have been like, and my 3x great grandfather Daniel McGarr's circumstances also. Turns out Daniel would have been considered a "middling farmer", one of only 30% of farmers whether Catholic or Protestant. The book goes on to describe the typical diet, housing, and even clothing he probably owned.
Since I discovered the details of Daniel's family a few years ago, my research has been influenced by some "educated guesses". Daniel had five daughters, one after the other, and then two sons were born on the eve of the famine. I've never found any more information on them, and I know from land records that Daniel's daughter Sarah and her husband Thomas Hughes inherited the lease on his farm. I've always suspected this probably meant the sons had died, possibly of fever during the famine, as other reading revealed there was a fever hospital within a few miles of their home. After reading Mr. Kerby's book I'm more convinced than ever this was most likely the case. He describes how inheritance worked at the time, and it was invariably a son, and not always the oldest, who inherited the farm. Daughters were given dowries, though often the farmer could only afford a dowry for one or two daughters. Had either of Daniel's sons been living, the farm would have gone to them.
Besides aiding my research, the descriptions of the famine and immigration found in other books satisfies my curiosity about my ancestor's lives. Even if reading them doesn't advance my genealogy, I consider it time well spent.