Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The power of the written word!

This is one of those overly verbose posts of which my average reader may just want to take a pass. I'm writing it down here as a way to preserve the flit of an idea that I spent way too many hours of what should have been my sleeping period developing into a body of thought. Right now it's still in a rambling form but I have the desire to pursue this line of reflection and set it down in a more conventional manner.

For those of you who didn't heed my warning above here is a short set-up to the following musings.

1] Through my recent genealogical pursuits, I have discovered that for MANY generations back, in ALL the branches of my family tree, I find all of them to be educated people.

2] I've been amazingly lucky to find documents confirming my relationship to people as far back as 1770.

3] My daughters have no one in their Guatemalan family tree with any education.

4] My daughters will find no documents of their ancestors.

5] How can populations of people blessed by the dumb luck of their birth be so educated yet ignorant? Can we ever really reconcile the inequalities of 'birthright'?

It started as just an "Oh wow!" moment as I came across the entry in a church register. There it was,  written in a beautiful old script  "---date--- 1835, baptised Daniel Sullivan son of Patrick Sullivan of Ardgroom Inward, a teacher, and his wife Honora". In 1835 my great-great-grandfather was a school teacher. One would logically assume that he was educated as a child in order to obtain the position of teacher...especially given the knowledge that the competition for teaching jobs in County Cork was fierce since he lost his to the brother of the parish priest (read sarcasm there)! From that first "oh wow" I've come to realize that everywhere in my ancestry there is proof of education.' Teacher', 'news dealer', 'engineer', 'nurse', 'fireman', read the occupation lines on the old census forms I've found. Old census forms filled out by the occupant of the property in 1860 Chicago showing the clear script of a great-great aunt as she listed her surviving children and herself "widowed". Then my musings moved on to the marvel of modern technology which allows me to see these beautifully formed scripts written on paper so many long years ago AND the marvel of being able to actually piece document after document together to form the story of a family. These thoughts ran around my brain as I lay trying to sleep but this morning the ideas ran around another corner!

See, as I stood sorting laundry with the whining thought in my head of "Why should a woman with a doctorate degree still be doing this mundane chore???" the powers that be shoved me around that next corner!! Or maybe just good old Catholic guilt at the self-pity....anyhow I suddenly was pondering how very hard the birth mothers of my daughters worked just to survive. I'm sure my conscience was just trying to pull out of the "woe is me" moment but it became more. These women work much harder than I by FAR. They have no computer, library, art museum, movie theater, satellite radio, or cable television to offer mental respite. Even if they did they could not read the words on the screen or comprehend the subtleties of modern urban life. At that thought my mind's eye pictures the thumbprint that sealed the adoption contract between two diametric worlds! A THUMBPRINT! Really! A finger rolled on a pad of ink in a lawyer's office in Guatemala is the only way these women could affirm their participation in a phenomenally complex legal arrangement. 

The mind has a funny way of presenting complex ideas which we 'get' immediately but take time to form into verbal or written expression! Right now I am wrestling with a rush of thoughts that need codifying. Like how it took 11 months to handle the paperwork for Mari's adoption-so just how many years would it take her to find any records in Guatemala should she embrace my passion for genealogy? Given the political and social history of the Maya in Guatemala is there or was there ever any written documentation of either of their ancestors? Can the vision of a thumbprint strike the same emotional chord as the script in an old church ledger? Why do Americans feel that we can compare our lives on any social or political level to those who's only way to document is with a thumbprint? How can I prepare for the time when my children will struggle with questions on the fairness of life especially given the overwhelming bounties here versus the deprivations in their birth places...just because I had the dumb luck to born when and where I was born and their families the tough luck to be born in Guatemala? There is so much power in the written word and I have the incredible blessing of having generations of practice...now if I can only find the powerful words needed to persuade the world on the right of all humans to obtain an education?

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Today the relationship went from tentative to committed!!! Yes ma'am I'm in love with my new camera. Clearly we are still on our honeymoon and as it is not my first time in this kind of a relationship I'm sure there will be rough patches ahead but for now I'm savoring the honeymoon!!!!

Took it on another weekend outing...

The therapy riding center where Alyssa volunteers was having a little fall fair fundraiser and the $5 pony rides were enough of a draw to bring us out into the fall chill. The fall colors are starting to emerge and Mari was quick to notice that one's leaves were the color of Julia's hoodie while the other was a little more dramatic in it's color selection like the more dramatic sister hmm???

Nice for quality horse time when it's your cousin who's the sidewalker.....

especially when it's a cousin who will run for you so that you can get a little trot/canter action!!!

Andrew was a volunteer in the flea market section and was on a real high knowing he was the most successful salesman! 

Auntie Peggy was CAMERA-LESS

but still offered up coaching lessons. Seems I need to break the habit I have gotten into [due to the miserable zoom on my old camera] of coming in close on a subject. The bazillion times zoom on this new camera will take some practice...so I practiced....

and practiced.....

[loooooove this one!!!]
and practiced!

 [gloating, bragging, cartwheeling over this shot!!!]
After another outing like today we just might have to give consideration to a menage a trois with Photoshop........

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Since I splurged on a new camera I must wait on a new computer. In an effort to keep my 512 MB desktop limping along for another year I've been spending some time going through files and programs and cleaning house! The memory is mostly used up with picture files...ironic huh?!? The problem with clearing out and storing old pictures is that I usually get sidetracked with looking at them and reminiscing. Just thought I'd show you one that sidetracked me this morning.

NINE years have passed!!!! HOW?????????? Taking this family picture on the day that Mari [who came home one month before the 2001 citizenship law went into effect] received her citizenship was soooo very important to Patrick. As a fellow immigrant, he was even more emotional than I about the event that marked the end of the adoption marathon. She loves to drag out the VCR tape of all the Chicago news coverage from that day because dressed in her red/white/and blue and waving her little flag in the front row as she recited the Pledge of Allegiance we had taught her for the event [parroted as she was still very Spanglish at that point in time] made her the darling of the media coverage!!! It was a special ceremony held at the Field Museum in Chicago for all of the LAST adopted children in the mid-west who needed to go through the Citizenship process and of all the children in the room our Mari was the ONE that ALL the news outlets focused on....including the local papers...especially after discovering that Patrick had become a citizen almost 30 years earlier to the day! We even did an interview with Univision...in Spanglish of course. Funny, but as relieved as I was that Julia was an "automatic" citizen {long tirade for another post about that} I do feel kind of sad that she does not have the same kind of 'memory' to mark the moment....

Monday, September 20, 2010


As well documented in previous posts, I'm a just a tiny bit obsessed with genealogy these days. As loathe as I am to endorse such a heavily commercialized product as Ancestry.com I must admit that their latest ad campaign has worked wonders for my endeavors! You see, the more people that join and add their information the more chances you have to link up with other distant relatives and share your findings. I have a few lines in my family tree that have hit a brick wall. Every last one of them end/start with the original person to emigrate from Ireland!

The problem is many fold...firstly there is the magnitude of people who all emigrated from Ireland in the late 1840's to early 1850's due to the Potato Famine. Couple this with the fact that they all came steerage,which shipping companies ranked lower than freight, meaning the detail of the records are severely lacking. In those days the shipping company simply presented a list of names, ages, and birth country. Unlike the records I've found for my husband's aunts who emigrated through Ellis Island in the early 1900's which included address of last residence and address of US destination which all help to pinpoint just which Mahoney family of whom  they were a member. Lastly is this beloved tradition in Irish families to honor the elders by naming the children after them resulting in families having 100's of members with the same name!!!!! Seriously!! 

By this I mean that a father of eight children will invariably have EIGHT grandchildren with the same name...okay slight exaggeration as the children of his daughters would have different last names.....sometimes since [like my in-laws] it is not unusual on an island with so many last names for someone to marry a spouse with the same last name!!! Genealogy for those of us with Potato Famine ancestors becomes a real detective mission.....

So this is my Great-grandfather. His name is James Sullivan....about a thousand James Sullivan's emigrated in those years.......

So this is his brother, William Sullivan. You'd think by looking for records that included both a James and a William in the same family I'd narrow down the pile? Think again!

Hoping against hope that I could crack the wall that prevented me from reaching back another generation into my Irish past I slogged through my grandfather's photo albums and envelop of handwritten notes on his relatives that my mother has been saving all these years.

In 1917 I found this picture of PJ Sullivan taken by my grandfather. The hand written caption just says, "PJ Sullivan, Butte, Montana". There are a couple of other group shots captioned, "Cousins in Butte, Montana". So I dove into the Butte, Montana genealogy scene...which turns out to be quite a prolific and active crowd!!! Now one little note in my grandfather's stash mentions his father being from County Cork. More specifically from the "Beara Peninsula, County Cork". Yeah....well the Butte crowd enlightened me on that wonderful tidbit...over 1700 Sullivan's from 70 different Sullivan families on the Beara Penninsula emigrated to Butte, Montana during the 1850-1917 time period!!!!!!!!!! I was completely daunted by the task of slogging through all of those individuals with the hope of making a connection to "my" Sullivan family. Then in a casual, rather off-handed comment on a Butte message board the name Riobard O'Dwyer pops up as a genealogist based on the Beara Peninsula who specializes in the Sullivan clan.....couldn't hurt to contact him, right?

Our first communications did not go well. As explained above, asking the man to investigate the birthplace of James and William Sullivan was like asking him to inspect the blades of grass on a football field!!! As I passed the disappointing news on to my Mom she responds with a surprising tidbit of information she had tucked into her brain many long years ago..."You know Great-uncle Bill was an Episcopalian?" HUH???? Pressed harder she relates a family 'legend',

"Well we were always told by Uncle Bill that his father was a teacher in a country school until the local parish priest canned him so the priest could give the job to his own brother. I thought I remembered him saying that his father's name was Patrick but I cannot be certain of that but I do know that according to Uncle Bill the last four or five children were raised Protestant because their father was incensed at the priest!" [Explains a lot about my family's quirky relationship with the Catholic church...seems it runs in the family!!!]

So I decided one night to forward that bit of family lore to Mr. O'Dwyer............and four days later I received an e-mail.....

Dear Mrs. Mahoney,

Using your information of last Thursday I spent Friday examining the records of the Church of Ireland (Episcopalian) and have come across the following information:

Margaret daughter of Patrick and Honora Sullivan baptized    16 June 1841
Joanna daughter of Patrick and Honora Sullivan baptized        5 Jan 1843
James Aloysius son of Patrick and Honora Sullivan baptized 16 October 1850
William son of Patrick and Honora Sullivan baptized                24 November 1857

The curate lists Mr. Patrick Sullivan as a 'farmer' [duh! the priest gave away his teaching gig?!?!?] with a residence of Ardgroom Inward, Beara Penninsula, Co. Cork, Ireland.

Riobard O'Dwyer

One wall busted!!!!!!!!!! You simply never know how much such a little bit of information can do in genealogy. Moral of this story? Get your parents and grandparents talking NOW! Record every last utterance as you never know which one is the key to your past!

Now I'm off to 'chat' with the Butte crowd to see if we can figure out who the heck old PJ Sullivan was....and if Margaret or Joanna are the connection to Butte....

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Making More Memories!!!

Early in the original movie The Parent Trap there is a touching scene where Haley Mill's character gives an enthusiastic hug to her Grandfather while taking a rather exaggerated inhale. When asked what she was doing she replied, "Making a memory!" Obviously that scene resonates with me!! But as an adult I realize that it is a rare child that has the maturity to recognize the importance of making memories so for my daughters' sake I strive to do this for/and with them. 
With that preface as context for this post, part of my memory making campaign is to have TRADITIONS! Two weeks ago we received the brochure announcing the opening of one of my favorite places to make memories...the apple orchard (-: 

What better place to give my new camera it's first work out?!?!? What was even better was the fact that this year we had the opportunity to avoid the weekend crowds due to the fact that the girls only had a half of day of school on Friday. What I underestimated was the middle school power of peer pressure!!!!

Need I elaborate on the mood in the car after "forcing" a newly minted 7th grader to come straight home [thus missing out on the 'fun' time hanging out at the local McDonald's with her peers] and putting on a t-shirt that 'matched' her little sister to enhance the photo shoot potential?? Sigh...I very nearly caved and left her home...but there aren't many years left when I can "force" participation in TRADITIONS so I stood my ground. There's just something magical about pulling into the temporary grass field parking lot and opening the car door to the lovely aroma of cider donuts wafting out from the barn. So magical that it can scrub the sour mood of a hormonal twelve year old right away!!!
Peggy's shot
My shot

She jumped right up on the entry wall to help me inaugurate the new era of photo documentation! The child who automatically says before each pose "And you CANNOT use this on the blog or Facebook!" was suddenly charmed...

Peggy's shot

Okay, really lame lead in to a photo but the point is that no matter where Auntie Peggy [had to have the guarantee of shots from a proven photographer!] or I asked her to pose she more than willingly obliged.

Usually Julia is my amiable model but the allergy medicine failed us this day and she struggled to keep her eyes clear and focus on 'enjoying' the experience.

My shot

Peggy's shot
I guess having a Mom with a new toy asking her to pose amidst the flowers didn't help?

The day ran on a weird parallel...running from attraction to attraction excitedly checking out new additions...

My shot
while also role modeling Auntie Peggy who sees photo opportunities naturally...

a skill I am trying to develop. Not sure my impulsive, live in the moment personality will ever actually allow this skill to fully develop but I'm giving it the good old college try! Seeing as how this is my blog I must say I have a vested interest in putting myself and my children in the best light possibly so this next series of photos and their accompanying captions just might, maybe be seen a little differently by Auntie Peggy! Sibling rivalry is only tamed never extinguished after all....ain't that right LITTLE sister ???

So, here we go.....

 Peggy's shot

My version of the shot

Peggy's shot

My version of the shot
Peggy's shot

 My version...okay on this one she wins but I think I held my own today?!?

Peggy's girl on a wall.
My girl on a wall.

Her group shot.
My group shot...definitely feeling I won this one!!

 But then she had this as a comeback! [note Julia's suffering ):]

Peggy's still life.
My still life.

 This would be me being snotty...vestiges of sibling rivalry.

I would not want to leave you thinking that this was all about the new camera and photography 'competition'. It was really all about the memories...TRULY it was!
There's the big school bell that they love to ring so they can hear it's enormous clang reverberate across the fields.

 Of course there's the apples and the picking of said apples.

There's the laughs over the littlest picker trying to handle the ladders...

and the signs that sibling rivalry has started to be tamed...
for the adult sisters as well! [Mari's shot!!!]

There's the shopping....
and the free sample of new items like the ever so yummy pumpkin butter that found it's way into the shopping basket along with the tried and true corn salsa!

Memories, and laughs, and inside jokes.....
the 2010 installment all wrapped up and stored safely in our hearts and minds to be brought out again on some future night to wrap snugly around this clan of sisters and hug them together....FOREVER!