Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Genealogy Research Has Given Me

Rose Of Skibbereen would never have been written if it weren’t that I got interested in my family’s history. Growing up, I always liked to listen to my mother’s stories about her Irish grandmother, but I never really got bitten by the genealogy bug till my mother passed away and left me her folders of research, and some old photo albums. 
My mother did her research in the days before the Internet, when she had to take a bus downtown and pore through the Philadelphia City Archives. She spent hours at various government offices, she badgered bored city employees for help, she searched miles of microfilm and made copies on those clunky old machines that smelled like chemicals and took long minutes to make a shoddy, blurred copy. 
When I got involved it was much easier. I was able to search online databases and find records in a matter of seconds that my mother had to wait weeks for. I could connect with other people who had information about my family, and exchange photos and stories with them by email.
And it really got to me. Because what happened is I began to realize there were stories about these people, my ancestors, and some of them were quite tragic. There were men who abandoned their wives with small children, there was alcoholism and insanity, there was poverty, there was abortion, there were unwed mothers, there were immigrants who left Ireland as teenagers who never saw their parents or family again for the rest of their lives.
What I found was the gritty truth about my past. I grew up in the cocoon of suburbia, and I never thought anything dramatic happened in my family. I was wrong, though, because the generations before mine had lots of drama, although it was kept a secret from my generation. 
I got lots of material for my novel, although I used my imagination to embellish the facts in many cases. I got a new respect for the hardships faced by the people who came before me. And I got a new love -- genealogy -- that I’m thinking of turning into a second career. I love family history. Every family has its own secrets, its triumphs and tragedies, and every family is worth researching, I am convinced. 
It’s a project worth undertaking, and I highly recommend it. You may be surprised at what you find out when you do genealogical research, but I can guarantee you’ll get a deeper understanding of your family’s roots. 
If you want advice on how to proceed, contact me at mcdonnellwrite@gmail.com and if I can help you, I will.