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God bless the Irish!

March 17, 2011

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

As luck would have it, I have an Irish story to share on St Patrick’s Day.

Having discovered recently that my great-great-great grandfather had a sister in Australia (who also recorded her birthplace as ‘Whitehouse, Bedford, Ireland’) I decided to have another search for this mysterious place I had been unable to locate in previous searches.

This led me to discover an old IGI entry for Frederick and Rachel’s mother, Abigail (Pritchard) Hanna, noting that she was buried at ‘Cammoney COI Cemetery’.

When I googled this, Google helpfully suggested perhaps I meant ‘Carnmoney’, and indicated that COI stood for Church of Ireland.

I did some research on Carnmoney, Co. Antrim, in Northern Ireland, and discovered that there was a place nearby called Whitehouse.  Eureka!

Carved in StoneFurther research led me to the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS), which has a list of publications for purchase.  One of these publications is a CD, created from a book which is now out of print, which was published in 1994, Carved in Stone.  I bought this CD/book and some others from the NIFHS website (as I recorded in my second bookshopping spree post).

The morning after my online purchase, I received a fairly standard (but very prompt) email to inform me that my purchases had been dispatched and should arrived in 7 – 10 business days.  As the email came from a person, and not from an automated no-reply thing, I sent a quick ‘thank you’ email and said that I would wait with great excitement for my purchases to arrive.  I was SURE that my great-great-great-great grandmother’s headstone would be listed in one of these books – but which one?

That email elicited a response, lightly suggesting I ‘calm down’ and be patient.  I laughed.

Clearly the ‘Journal Despatch Officer’ at NIFHS had no understanding of the importance of my purchase, or the years I have waited to make the anticipated discovery.  How could he?

My package arrived this week, along with another package from Amazon Books.  I opened the Amazon one first, looked at the goodies within, which on any other day would have filled me with joy and excitement and kept me amused for hours.  I looked at them and went ‘yep, that’s what I ordered’ and turned straight away to the OTHER package.

The Ballymoney Northern Herald and Ulster General AdvertiserWhen I opened it there were two books and a CD.  I looked at the first book,The Ballymoney Northern Herald and Ulster General Advertiser – Births marriages and deaths 1860-1863, searched a few names in there to see if I could find any relevant entries (I couldn’t).  The Hidden GraveyardThen I opened the other book – The Hidden Graveyard.  This is the one I bought as a failsafe – if what I was looking for wasn’t on the CD, then it would most likely be in this book.

It wasn’t.

So then I put the CD in my computer, and opened it up and started scrolling through.  Yes, I could have just done a text search, but I was enjoying the anticip….

And then, there it was.  Only it wasn’t just a headstone on the grave of my great-great-great-great grandmother’s grave.  It was this:

erected by Langford Hanna of Belfast in memory of his son Greer who departed this life 19 March 1851 aged 1 year 10 months also his daughter Ruth who departed this life 24 November 1868 ? aged 21 yrs his beloved wife Abigail who died 3 May 1873 aged 50 years his daughter Minnie died 27 April 1875 aged 27 years the above named Longford Hanna died 7 June 1880 aged 61 years

What I gained from this transcription that I didn’t already know:

Date of death and age of Langford Hanna (and therefore approximate year of birth), ‘his son Greer’ and date of death and age, ‘his daughter Ruth’ and date of death and age, Abigail (Pritchard) Hanna’s age (and therefore approximate year of birth), ‘his daughter Minnie’ and date of death and age.

My knowledge of this family previously was: Parents’ names, and children – Frederick Greer Hanna, Rachel Hanna and Mary Hanna.  I found Mary Hanna when searching for baptisms/births for Frederick and Rachel.  Mary turned up and is so far the only one I can find records for.

When I entered these details into my iFamily tree, it turns out that Frederick Greer Hanna is one of the youngest children.  That explains how he came to have his older, but deceased brother’s name as his middle name. There are Greer’s (surname) buried in the Church graveyard and in the Hidden Graveyard, so there is very likely a family link with them that I have yet to discover.  Greer has travelled down the generations – Frederick had a son called Greer.  Greer’s sister named her first son Frank Greer (my grandfather), Frank wanted to name one of his daughters Zena Greer after his aunt and uncle (but didn’t) and I have a cousin whose middle name is Greer (although she tells me that was after Greer Garson – her grandad didn’t think so though).

Ruth is another name that travelled down the generations.  Frederick Greer Hanna named one of his daughters Ruth, and my Grandfather named one of his daughters Ruth, after his aunty.

I have wondered why Frederick and Rachel came to Australia.  It seems that their mother, father and several siblings (even young adult ones) had died by 1880.  They seem to have arrived in Australia sometime prior to 1886, the year they both married in Brighton, Victoria.  There may have been other children.  There may have been other family members who travelled to Australia. But it is beginning to look like there wasn’t much in the way of family to keep them in Ireland, after 1880.

The next morning, I sent an email to the Journal Despatch Officer at NIFHS to let him know my long awaited package had arrived.  I asked him if there was someone at the Society or at the Church who takes photos of the gravestones.  This was my attempt to fight off the urge to drop everything and fly to Ireland to see for myself.  I expected at most to receive an email address.

When I got home from work there were three emails waiting for me from NIFHS.  The very lovely Journal Despatch Officer, a volunteer, had gone out to the cemetery and taken NINE photos of the cemetery and ‘my’ grave from various angles.  The stone has fallen and the lettering worn off, in the 16 or so years since the transcriptions were taken.  That is disappointing.  But I was so thrilled I cried.

I was excited at the prospect of finding a transcription that said something like ‘here lies Abigail Hanna died xxxx RIP’.  What I got was so much more.  And then to receive actual photographs of the actual cemetery, and the actual grave – taken the day before St Patrick’s Day!

As I wrote in my reply email, I was speechless.  I wasn’t completely speechless, but to try to find the words to convey the magnitude of my feelings about the Journal Despatch Officer’s kindness and generosity, and what it meant for me to have the photos he sent me – well, I still can’t.

It goes something like this.  The parents on that gravestone are my great-great-great-great grandparents.  The children are the siblings of my great-great-great grandfather.  I am of the fourth generation of this particular line of my family tree born in Australia.  The fifth generation resident in Australia, but the fourth born here.  The fourth generation with no first-hand memory of Ireland.  My father always felt very strongly connected to his Scottish roots.  I have Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish ancestors.  And yet I have always felt most connected to Ireland. Of course I feel MOST connected with this corner of Western Australia, where I was born and that I have spent most of my life in – but Ireland has always had the most pull as an ancestral home for me.  I have index entries and documents that show that my ancestors were in Ireland.  But this transcript, linked to an actual grave in an actual cemetery connected to an actual church in an actual parish in an actual County of Northern Ireland was somehow more real than those.  Perhaps it was the photo of the Church on the cover of the book/CD – or perhaps the research I have done to find out what the places this family inhabited look like now (which made me want to go there).  But to have nine photographs taken on the actual day I received them, by someone who was actually there, of a physical, tangible (if one was there to touch it) object that recorded the proof that my family existed in that place – that was something I had neither anticipated nor expected – and it made me cry and long to be there.

Whether he likes it or not, that volunteer despatch officer in that family history society in Belfast has a new friend for life.  Cemetery photographs courtesy of David Deane, North of Ireland Family History Society.

God Bless you David.  And God Bless the Irish!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 20, 2011 9:08 am

    wow! what a journey there! your joy over these discoveries is palpable, positively leaping off the page…I am very happy it worked out for and the oul motherland didn’t let you down. 🙂

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