MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . JENNIFER GERAGHTY-GORMAN
This week is one of my favorite weeks of the entire year! During the week, and for some of us all week long, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish. All of my ancestors on my father’s side of the family are originally from Ireland and I have been lucky enough to visit Ireland on 4 occasions (once for an extended visit of 6 months). When I started researching my family’s history, one of the blogs I came across was On a flesh and bone foundation: An Irish History.
This week and as a special treat, I get to introduce you to Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman who I think is one of the best genealogy bloggers writing today. I first happened upon her blog a few years ago and was touched not only by her heartfelt and deeply personal writing style, but also her understanding of the complexities of Irish history, her ability to convey the deep sense of longing experienced by her emigrant parents, her willingness to tell the fascinating stories of her family’s experiences at home and abroad, and her generosity in sharing her knowledge of Irish research when she expanded her blog from the personal stories to a wealth of information and tips for those who want to learn how to research their Irish ancestors. The fact that she intersperses her amazing writing with spectacular photographs is simply an added gift to us. Join me in learning a bit about what makes Jennifer and her blog so special.
A Little Bit About Jennifer
“I am the only Canadian-born member in my Irish family of origin — my father, mother and only brother are all Dublin born — and I have no Canadian ancestors. My life’s work is the study of Irish history, and the research and writing of it as a social historian. I hold three university degrees: B.A., B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. Currently, I am working on two distinct Irish history projects, both of which find their origins in the critically important decade of 1913-1923.
My interest in Irish family history was spurred by my need to understand who my family is, what it means to be Irish, and why my parents approached the world in the way in which they did. When I was growing up, and even into adulthood, discussions with my mother and father about our family history were a rare thing. I treasure those times when Mam and Dad were open to talking about the past.
Growing up in Canada, I keenly felt a sort of great divide. When we travelled home to Ireland, it seemed to me that in the eyes of my Irish family members I was a curiosity of sorts, neither fully the Irish child, nor fully the Canadian one. They doted on me, yet I always felt as though I was the outsider looking in. Although I travel on an European Union/Irish passport, in Irish government records, I am a foreign-born Irish citizen, and will forever be one step away, not quite fully Irish. I believe I am trying to bridge that gap, if only in my own mind.”
How Jennifer Got Started Doing Family History and Her Current Focus
“In collaboration with a maternal uncle in Dublin, I created my first family tree when I was 15 years old. Unfortunately, life got in the way, as it inevitably does. That tree was lost, and I didn’t return to family history in earnest until after my father died in March of 2000. In a Thankful Thursday post entitled What made you fall in love with family history? I wrote about what brought me back to family history.
With respect to areas of emphasis, I tend to focus on whatever inspires me. Sometimes I write about family members in the distant past, other times about those in the more recent past. I also enjoy writing Tuesday’s Tips posts to share what I have learned as a researcher. Over the last couple of years, I focused some of my research on land and property. Using land valuation records I was able to trace the tenancy and then ownership of Warblestown House in Lispopple, North County Dublin — a house still occupied by family members — to show it has been in our family for over 150 years. It was very exciting to be able to trace the house history, and my cousin who currently lives in the house was very pleased with the results.”
How Family History Has Changed Since Jennifer Got Started
“It seems to me there has been an explosion of interest in family history over the last 15 years. With respect to Ireland, there has been a concerted effort by the Irish government, through the Ministry for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, to make materials more accessible to those living outside of Ireland. In March 2015, when I read ‘Maximising Our Cultural and Genealogical Heritage,’ the 48-page report born out of a series of public meetings and penned by TD Catherine Murphy, I jumped for joy at the realization that the Irish government is truly serious about the dissemination of records of Irish heritage. (You can access the Report of the Joint Committee on Maximising Our Cultural and Genealogical Heritage here.)
This is a very delicate dance for the Irish government, since they have to balance privacy concerns with the desire to open records to interested parties in Ireland and beyond. With the creation in 1995 of the official statute known as The Heritage Act of 1995, the government did commit “to promote public interest in and knowledge, appreciation and protection of the National Heritage … (including books, documents and other records, including genealogical records).” This focus by the current government is a continuation of that commitment. However, not everyone on the island of Ireland believes such records should be open to the public gaze, something made clear when the Belt of Crozier (i.e. official clerical admonishment) was given to Taoiseach Enda Kenny by the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, upon the online release of the National Library of Ireland’s (NLI) collection of Roman Catholic parish registers.”
Why Jennifer Created Her Blog & Her Thoughts on Blogging
“The creation of a family history blog was born out of a couple of things. First, feeling deeply disenchanted, I stepped away from academia, and the pursuit of a PhD. in Irish History, and journeyed down an entirely different path, teaching Pilates body movement. Although I love Pilates practice, teaching it was not my cup of tea. I truly missed academic research and wanted to continue researching and writing about my first love, Irish history. At that time, blogging about the history of my ancestors in Ireland seemed the perfect thing to do.
Second — now don’t laugh — I was inspired by a scene in the movie ‘Julie & Julia’ in which the character Julie says, ‘I have thoughts; I could write a blog’. My husband echoed her husband and chimed in with ‘and you’re a writer’, and so my blog was born.
To be perfectly honest I was on tenterhooks at first, worried about the reception I would receive from my family over me sharing our history, but I’ve had very positive interactions with the majority of family members who have read the blog. In the two years before she died I was able to share the blog with my mother, and she seemed very happy to learn how much research I had done, and how much I had learned about her family history.
One of the most exciting aspects about blogging has been reconnecting with family and friends in Ireland, as well as the world over, and meeting new ‘cousins’ and making new friends. I will be forever grateful to Carol A. Bowen Stevens, one of the first followers on my blog, for encouraging me to set aside my fears and jump in with both feet, as well as to Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers for his encouragement and technical advice early on.”
Jennifer’s Favorite Posts from ‘On a flesh and bone foundation’: An Irish History
“For the most part my favourite blog posts feature those stories about the lives lived by my ancestors and family members, but I’ve also enjoyed blogging about personal experiences ‘inside’ family history.
I’ve chosen the following four posts:
- Within these walls, the life of a family: Over 80 years on Gordon Street — the story of my mother’s family home (published Monday, October 20, 2014).
- Walking away from family: A disappeared brother, Declan Geraghty — the story of the disappearance and death of my dad’s youngest brother (published Tuesday, May 21, 2013).
- Fearless Female: Anne Mary ‘Annie’ Magee Geraghty & The Cumann na mBan — the story of my paternal grandmother’s service in the women’s branch of the Irish Volunteers during the War of Independence (published Wednesday, March 26, 2014).
- 34 days — a deeply personal post about the imminent death of my father, a time I was unable to truly process until more than a decade after my dad passed away (published Friday, February 10, 2012).”
[Please take the time right now to read these posts and then come back here – oh and have some tissues at the ready. So often we forget the transforming power of the written word – Jennifer’s posts remind us. Her posts are a lesson for all of us that it is quality, not the quantity of our writing that is important – whether that is a blog post, an article or a book – Simply brilliant! – Tessa]
How Jennifer Divides Her Genealogy & Family History Time
“Over the last couple of years I have returned to researching and writing about Irish history. As I mentioned earlier, I am working on two history projects. The history work takes me to Ireland a lot — 15 trips, soon 16, over the last 7 years — and when I am there I endeavour to make time specifically for family history and genealogy research. It doesn’t always work out, but I try my best.
My mother used to say ‘Jenn is steeped in Ireland,’ and every single day that is true. I am either working on the history projects, doing history reading and research, or doing family history/genealogy research.”
What Jennifer Considers the Most Interesting Change in Genealogy in the Past 10 Years
“Many of us have long understood the significance of family history and genealogy, but I think one of the most interesting changes over the last ten years is that family history has gone mainstream. Even the major television networks have produced shows about family history and genealogy. Although they don’t always get it right, the fact is the interest is there.
People from all walks of life are deeply interested in what some historians have referred to as ‘the small stories,’ those which detail the lives of so-called ordinary people. For me the small ordinary stories have always been the most extraordinary, and it seems everyone has such a story.”
The Top 3 Items on Jennifer’s Genealogy Bucket List
“The three big things currently dominating my bucket list are:
- As a member of a ‘1916 family,’ I have been invited by the Irish government to attend the official State functions for the 2016 Commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising, so very shortly I will be travelling to Dublin. I am deeply grateful to be attending these events to commemorate the life of my granduncle Michael Francis Magee, who at the age of 18 fought as a Section Commander with the Four Courts Garrison during the Easter Rising, as well as the life of my grandmother Annie Magee Geraghty who joined the Cumann na mBan in support of her elder brother.
- The completion of both of my Irish history projects and their subsequent publication.
- Long term, I do still hope to complete my doctorate in Irish History.”
Jennifer’s Advice to Anyone Starting a Family History Blog
“Find your passion and write about it. Be open to learning, and go offline to read as wide a range as possible of books about family history, genealogy and the history of the country or countries in which your ancestors originated. Be authentic, and write about what you know.
Open your heart and share your stories. Life isn’t perfect. No matter how great someone’s life might seem from the outside, little do we know how it looks from the inside. We all face challenges, and as human beings we only have each other, so along the way engage with others and offer a little encouragement when you can.
Above all: Find joy in the process!”
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Please take a moment and visit Jennifer at On a flesh and bone foundation: An Irish History. I am never disappointed when I visit her blog. She informs, entertains, reminds, and educates us (the hallmark of a great and gifted teacher) and I often find myself laughing, tearing up, or thinking of my own family. Check out not only her blog posts, but also spend some time getting lost in the various topics she has included at her blog. Must visits (and you don’t even need your passport) include: Faces of Family History, Finding Irish Ancestors: Research Aids, 17 Tips +1 for Family History/Genealogy Research in Ireland, Tuesday’s Tips, and definitely spend some time at the Bookshelf and Films. Why not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish by sitting down with your favorite beverage (whether that is tea or whiskey – my choice is Jameson) and immersing yourself in Jennifer’s blog – Sláinte.
© 2016, copyright Tessa Keough. All rights reserved
Tessa Keough divides her time between Arlington, Virginia and Portland, Oregon. She got hooked on researching her ancestors after seeing a pedigree chart at a family reunion. She shares her paternal genealogy at The Keough Corner, her maternal genealogy at Scandia Musings & More, and technology and methodology tips at her YouTube channel TessaWatch. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Tessa via email firstname.lastname@example.org.