My grandfather William died before he was 60, leaving my grandmother a young widow. He suffered from diabetes, which scientists now link to the “thrifty” gene that allowed people to store fat in times of plenty to prevent starvation in times of Famine. Today, my brother suffers from the same disease.
At fourteen, my father Patrick was in charge of the farm and responsible for his eight younger brothers and sisters. I believe that handling so much responsibility at such a young age shortened his life – he died in his 60s.
Part of the old Kingsley house that still survives as our “back kitchen” was a soup kitchen during the Famine, if I have the story from my mother right. I remember, too, though the memory is faint and “hushed” that when I was a child and workmen were digging the foundation for a new cow house, they found the skeleton of a young woman. My mother said she was from Famine times and had a mass said for her soul.
I keep rechecking the census forms trying to glean some more information -- something I missed. I discover in the 1911 census that Patrick’s widow, Mary Harty, my great grandmother, like my father’s mother, Mary Seymour, spoke English and Irish. And I discover another branch of Hartys that may be my great uncle John’s family.
In the 1901 census, John Harty is listed with two daughters, Bridget, 18, and Kate, 16. This discovery leads me to wonder if John was the one who purchased the land from the Kingsleys. Did my grandfather inherit our farm from his uncle because John’s daughters, as women, would not have been eligible to inherit the land?
There is so much I don’t know.
I turn to check my mother’s family in Waterford, and I get a message that the website is “temporary unavailable” due to maintenance. I wait for a while and try again, but I can't get access. I take it as a message from the ancestors that it’s time to leave things be.
I look out the window and see that night has fallen. The office is empty and I’m astonished that it’s grown so late. I have been in another world and I’m reluctant to leave.
In my mind I see the row of beech trees that were planted many generations ago on the land that became our farm. I can easily imagine some ancestor pausing there under the spreading branches. If only those trees could talk and tell me what they know of those who went before.
I long to know more, but I'm happy for what little I do know, and for the technology that allows me to reach in and probe the mysterious connections to the past.
You can find the Census Records here.
Visit the Irish America website here.