When I was a freshman in college (fall 2006) I purchased a National Geographic magazine issue highlighting various wonders of the world. One of the articles featured Newgrange, a neolithic monument in County Meath, Ireland. Built around 3,200 BC, it is 1,000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids. Many mystical tales and legends are associated with Newgrange, and the ancient site is aligned with the winter solstice. As soon as I finished reading the article on Newgrange I knew I had to visit someday. I just had to.
March 17, 2011 the genealogy bug officially bit me. I had been watching an episode of Who do you think you are? and the episode was focused on Irish ancestry. (It was St. Patrick’s day, of course!) Obsessed with my family history and history in general, I thought: Okay, let’s finally do this. Time to find those ancestors.
I began with my father’s side. Over many months, I found a surprising amount of Irish ancestry that neither my dad or I had known about. My paternal grandmother never talked about her mother’s ancestors. I quickly found her mother, my great grandmother Lillian Frances Palmer, in various records that listed her place of birth as Chicago, Illinois.
Great grandmother, Lillian Frances Palmer
Lillian’s parents Joseph Sidney Palmer and Ellen Frances Manger were both born in New Orleans, Louisiana. The couple married in New Orleans on March 8 1886 and moved to Chicago when Joseph accepted a prominent position at a fruit company. When I read that Joseph listed his mother as being Irish in origin, and Ellen listed both of her parents as Irish in origin I was ecstatic! Finally, the mystery of my grandma’s mother’s people was unraveling. I started with the mother of Joseph Sidney Palmer.
Joseph’s mother, Ellen Bardin arrived in New Orleans as a very young girl. I have yet to find her passenger list papers, but by 1842 she was married to one G.W. Murray. Murray died in 1846, leaving Ellen with one young son. In 1851 Ellen married my g-g-g grandfather William Henry Palmer, co-owner of Brady and Palmer Lumber Co. Together they had five known children: William Lee (1852-1860), Virginia Anna (1854-1950), Mary Ellen (1856-1856), Thomas Melvin (1857-1880), and Joseph Sidney Palmer (1862-1908).
Ellen was widowed a second time when William Henry died of paralysis in 1870 at the age of 47. Ellen lived another 27 years until her death on April 24, 1897 – she was 75 years old. I found a wonderful obituary for Ellen in the Times Picayune:
Wow! If ever an obituary gave me the sense of an ancestors personality, this one did. I imagine Ellen as feisty, tough, with a tremendous giving nature. And so loved by her family and community to have such a piece published in her memory. Recently I discovered the Palmer plot in Greenwood, Cemetery, New Orleans. The family: William, Ellen, Mary Ellen, William Lee, Thomas Melvin, Virginia Anna, and John Murray (son from her first marriage) are all resting together.
Ellen’s youngest son and my great grandfather, Joseph Sidney is buried in Chicago, IL with his wife Ellen. Finding their final resting place was an adventure best saved for another blog post!
As mentioned earlier, Joseph’s wife Ellen was the daughter of Irish immigrant parents: John H Magner and Margaret Garvin. John and Margaret were from Cork (not known if County or town), Ireland. They married 10 Nov 1853 in New Orleans and had five known children: David John (1858-1920), John Patrick (1861-1933), Thomas Patrick (1862-1918), Ellen Frances (1863-1908), and Margaret (1870-1906).
John H Magner worked as a drayman and Margaret as a housekeeper. Both are buried in the same cemetery as the Palmer family.
It was wonderful sharing this information with my family, but my Irish ancestors weren’t finished surprising me yet. On my paternal grandfather’s side I found my great great great grandfather Walter Murray was a native of Ireland. This was especially exciting because the origin of my father’s middle name, Walter, was a mystery. Now we knew the ancestor who inspired it!
Walter was born 18 May 1835 in Croghan, Roscommon, Ireland to James Murray and Margaret Fitzmaurice. I was fortunate in finding the baptism records for Walter’s siblings, and trailed his sister Catherine to England. Catherine married an Englishman of Irish origins and her descendants still live in England to this day. Through them I was able to find out that My g-g-g-g grandfather James Murray worked as a grocer.
Croghan, Roscommon, Ireland (photo courtesy of Kieran Campbell)
Oh, but it doesn’t end there folks. My dad and I had both taken autosomal DNA tests (from Family Tree DNA) which break down your ethnicity the best it can by percentage. You are then matched with people in the company’s database who share your DNA and a relationship is predicted. My dad was predicted to be a 2nd-3rd cousin with a man born and living in Ireland. Interestingly, this was my dad’s closest DNA match. I was predicted to be his 2nd-4th cousin. Our Irish cousin (Matt) was just as excited to have found cousins living in the states. We narrowed down which side of the family we were related on by DNA testing my dad’s first cousin. The conclusion? Our connection was through the Walter Murray of Croghan, Roscommon branch.
That Matt and I shared an Irish ancestor so recently was astounding to me. Here I started my genealogy research not knowing I had any Irish ancestry, and now I was presented with living Irish relatives. How lucky I feel to be living in this day and age when science can help us reunite with long lost family blood lines.
October 2011 I was on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. It was happening. I had found a wonderful family in Malahide, a village minutes outside of Dublin city to host me. When my host mom picked me up from the airport, I knew this was going to be a great trip. She was so genuine, warm, and hospitable – as was the rest of my host family. I loved being introduced to Ireland through the eyes of a local family. People can be friendly and rude all over the world, but my experience in Ireland was overwhelmingly like that of my host family: genuine, friendly, hilarious, and hospitable.
Cousin Matt and I had a magical day of sharing family history and touring the surrounding areas of Dublin and county Wicklow where his parents and grandparents lived. One of our stops was in Glendalough, a glacial valley in Wicklow. Winds were nearing 60 MPH, which added to the dramatic history and lore of this mystical place. Hermit Priest St. Kevin lived in Glendalough in the 6th century and his settlement was destroyed in 1398 by English troops. A round tower built to ward off invaders loomed nearby. Stories of faeries, sea monsters, and religion surround this place.
Matt and I have kept in touch (our entire families correspond!) and I am so grateful for the family connection. The rest of my time in Ireland was well spent. I lived the dream of visiting Newgrange and hunkering down to four feet and walking sideways into the neolithic tomb (quite a feat for this 5’10 girl). Spending time with the bog bodies housed in Dublin blew my mind. Well, the entire national museum blew my mind and viewing the exhibits of the ancient Celtic peoples was spiritually satisfying in ways I cannot describe. And the Viking exhibit, oh boy. When I saw the Viking Skeleton resting with his sword – he must have been 6 feet fall – I was glad I missed the heyday of Viking raids.
Up close and personal with ancient ancestors
More highlights included visiting Connemara, Galway, the cliffs of Moher (winds were 80MPH – I was crawling on the ground!), the Burren, and Cong/Clonbur recreation area. Building friendships with my homestay family, cousin, and various locals made the trip for me because I do believe life is about relationships and people, not things. I was grateful to get in touch with my Irish heritage and cannot express how much I admire Ellen, John, Margaret, and Walter for leaving their homeland so that I might have more opportunities than they did. As someone who spent a year working in the Czech Republic with luxuries such as the airplane, phone, skype, internet, etc., the homesickness was still overwhelming. To imagine truly leaving home and knowing you will never return is devastating. But they did it, for themselves and future generations. And they thrived! There is still much of Ireland left for me to discover, and I must say I feel that familiar tug around my heart to visit again soon.
Below are various photos of my trip for your visual enjoyment. And please dear reader, feel free to share a journey in which you visited a place significant to your ancestry! Until my next post: Dia Duit and Slán go fóill.