Posted by: downtothesea | December 12, 2008

Irish rover.

I still want to devote a little blog space to a few more family Christmas traditions, but this tidbit of information has been rolling around in my mind for days and I need to set it down, even if it’s in only the most basic stages of research right now.

I am currently taking a step back from lengthening my family tree;  my current goal is to expand my tree.  There is so much more to be learned about the folks who lived much “closer” to me, chronologically.  In effect, I’m doing a genealogical “regroup” before my enthusiasm spirals out of control and I’m not so much doing research as tacking pretty-looking assumptions together.

Owen McCabe (b. ca 1820), my ggg-grandfather, had arrived in Niagara Falls, New York with his family in tow by ca. 1855.  He’s there in the US census of 1860.  Now here’s where things get interesting.  Though Owen, his mother, and his father are all listed as having been born in Ireland, Owen’s wife and first child, both named Ellen (the child Ellen would be my gg-grandmother), are listed as having been born in Scotland.  Odd.

So I did some more research, and at Scotland’s People I found a marriage record for Owen McCabe and Helen Kelly dated 8 September 1850 in Gorbals, Glasgow, Scotland.  I know these are “my” Owen and Ellen, because the baptismal records of Owen’s and Ellen’s children in Niagara Falls record Ellen’s maiden name as Kelly.  I was mildy curious as to why Owen, an Irishman, would be living in Scotland, but I dismissed it with “oh, he was probably just looking for work in the last years of the Famine.”  Come to find out the story’s a little more interesting than that.

While I still need to consult a few more books on the subject, the following was the situation as I understand it, bearing in mind that my version below is extrememly oversimplified.  During the Famine, those Irish who could, scraped together what little money they had and boarded ships Canada, America, anywhere their prospects looked better than they did in Ireland.  But the poorest of the poor could make it only as far as England and Scotland, sometimes shipping out for free by acting as human ballast for coal ships.

Glasgow, Scotland was a final port of call for many Irish emigrants desperate for work, and they gathered in one particular section of Glasgow, “The Gorbals,” in great numbers.  This is where my Owen McCabe settled.  From what I understand, Gorbals was a terrific slum through the second half of the ninteenth century and was still considered one of the most dangerous places in all of Great Britain through the 1980s.  I’m very interested to find out more about Gorbals and its Irish immigrant population, so I’ll be digging around for that information over Christmas, I wager.

I suppose the moral of the story is not to ignore the places your ancestors lived.  The stories of the locations themselves may provide additional information about the lives of your family members you would never have learned about by simply sifting through census records and vital stats.  Three cheers for “satellite” research!


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