The Strength of My Female Ancestors: Working in the early 1900’s Friday, Jul 25 2014 

Recent developments in my professional life have me pondering how I would’ve survived in the 1900’s. I seek a career that fills both my bank account and my artistic spirit – two goals not easily achieved simultaneously.  As I grow more and more picky about job choices, I consider my female ancestral relations. These women were employed as housekeepers, seamstresses, office clerks, and factory workers.

I’ve made mention in prior posts that history was never my favorite subject during my years of schooling.  It  just wasn’t that interesting to me – all the dates to memorize, names to know, and facts to remember.  It all seemed so impersonal to me.  It’s only since I started along the genealogy path that I wish I knew more about not only American history but other nations as well.  I wish I knew what the socio-economic state was in Philadelphia in 1899 or understood why my ancestors emigrated from Ireland before the famine.  What prompted their decisions and choices?  I’m intrigued about the resilient women in my history but also all the others who experienced struggle, grief, and poverty, whose names are known only to their descendants.

My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth, had three children to provide for at the turn of the 20th century after her husband died young.  The widowed Irishwoman owned the homes she lived in and worked as a seamstress in 1900 and housekeeper in 1910.  I can only imagine that she must have dealt with incredible challenges to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothes on her children’s backs.  It’s her story I long to tell.  Her experiences I yearn to know more about.  She’s a mystery to me, and I’m excited to delve into her history.

The strength, determination, and perseverance of my female ancestors puts my circumstance into much clearer perspective. So, when I complain about not finding an “ideal” job or missing a day of fun with my visiting family members, I think about the women who came before me and the difficult times they lived through.

 

Happy searching!

My Brave Immigrant Ancestors Sunday, Mar 9 2014 

Picking up and moving from a place you call “home” to a land filled with wonder and uncertainty had to be both daunting and freeing; scary and exciting; lonely and friendship-building.  Nothing brought that idea to fruition more to me than visiting Ellis Island.

Ellis Island

During my roughly 5 years of ancestry research, I found wondrous records that provided insight into my ancestors’ lives.  How many children did they have?  Where did they live?  What were their occupations?  I started looking at them as more than just names of deceased relatives.  I wondered what sort of experiences they had and how they compared to present day. Sure, the modern word has it’s own share of joys and sorrows but so did 1899.  How did my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Deen(e)y, manage to raise her children after her husband died so young?  Then her five-year-old daughter, Mary, dies only a month after her husband.  The pain, grief, determination that must have swirled within her.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I yearn to know about Elizabeth Burke Deen(e)y.

As I stood in the Great Hall at the Ellis Island museum I gazed in awe at the enormity of the situation.  What entangled web of emotions did the newcomers experience?  Standing amidst a plethora of strangers all with the same hopes of a new life must have been both terrifying and comforting.  “Will they let us all in?  What kind of questions will they ask?  Will I understand what they’re asking me?  Why are they separating members of the same family?”  My heart ached just thinking of the possible scenarios my ancestors, and yours, would’ve likely encountered upon arrival.  That’s not even taking into account the image of leaving home ingrained in your memory and the long passage it took to get them to America.

I have been unsuccessful in locating the Immigration records for my Irish ancestors.  From family stories, I believe Elizabeth Burke came over first and Thomas Deen(e)y followed her, an action that was apparently quite scandalous at the time.  However, I can’t find a marriage record in either Ireland or the State for Thomas and Elizabeth.  My search continues to learn more about their lives in Ireland and when they arrived stateside.  In the meantime, they are not the only immigrants in my family tree.

The majority of ancestors on my maternal branch emigrated from Europe, Eastern Europe to be more specific.  Some came from Germany but another lineage called Austria/Hungary/Czechoslovakia home. Helen (Helena/Ella/Ellie) was born in Sasova, Czechoslovakia in 1858.  She married and had  her first child by age twenty, remarried my great-great grandfather in 1882, and immigrated to the States around 1890 with her husband and daughter from 2nd marriage. According to the 1900 census, Ellie had 10 children but only 6 were living, five of those 6 were living with her.  While I do not have records proving or disproving that Ellie came through Ellis Island, my thinking is that regardless or where she arrived, the trepidation and motivation would have been quite similar.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

Elizabeth and Thomas settled in Philadelphia while Ellie and John made Luzerne County, PA their new residence.  The struggles they encountered in the states (i.e. discrimination) I can only speculate about.  Despite any hurdles in the new country, were they glad they made the brave choices they did?  And, did they ever look across the Atlantic towards the land they once called home?

In contemplating the life-changing choices my immigrant ancestors made, I wonder about my own.  Would I have had the courage at such a young age to pick up and move away from a place I considered to be home?  Even if poverty, political oppression, or starvation plagued the region, would I have been brave enough to seek out a better life for myself and my loved ones?  And, if they can do it then why do so many people today agonize over moving from one state to the next given the ease of transportation and online career networking available?  I’m not claiming it would be easy in today’s time, but by standing in the Great Hall I gained some much-needed perspective.

Click here for more information on Ellis Island.

Let’s Be Civil Wednesday, Nov 20 2013 

Without reservation, I admit to being proud none of my ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy.

For those of you familiar with my blog posts, you’ll know that I don’t have a firm grasp on history.  I don’t care much about locations, dates, and people involved.  Mostly because it didn’t directly affect me.  Call it closed-minded or self-involved, but learning about dates and facts bored me to tears.  How would knowing what date Columbus “found” America teach me about the journey I was on at the time?

Despite my apathetic concern for historical facts, the Civil War intrigued me more than any other event in American history.  To this day, I love reading books about that time period or watching films that depict the struggles.  Deep down I had immense pride in the fact that my parents’ families originated in the North, the likelihood being my ancestors would have fought on the Union side.  Thankfully, that assumption turned out to be correct.

Regardless of the uniform color, these were young men and boys taking up arms against one another.  They had mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, and children that loved them.  Their loved ones wept at their funerals, cried tears of joy at their safe return, and felt pride at their bravery.  Passing swift judgement against another is counter-intuitive to who I am and what I strive to achieve.  I’ve struggled within the past few years to be more understanding and open-minded in regards to the Confederate soldiers.

I allowed myself to admit that the Confederacy wasn’t necessarily fighting in support of slavery so much as wanting to have the CHOICE to decide for themselves.  I understand wanting control over your life and circumstances.  To feel threatened when others make decisions for you.  You feel voiceless, powerless and filled with anger and resentment.  However, the governing officials and landowners were not the only ones dealing with those issues – so too were those who fed them, cleaned house, and helped raised their children.

All of that said, I’d be saddened and disappointed if I found out one of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy.  I acknowledge it and accept it.  For as much as I can understand and sympathize with the desire to fight against what restrictions are placed on you, I’m more concerned with righting injustices.  The freedom of men, women, and children matters more to me than pride.  I would not want to live in a nation where others were deemed subservient, inferior, or devalued due to their skin color or gender.

Did every Union soldier believe wholeheartedly in civil rights?  Probably not.  Can I assume all Confederacy soldiers opposed the abolishment of slavery?  No.  But knowing that my third great-grandfather fought in support of his oppressed brothers and sisters…that makes me proud to be an American.

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