Healing the extended family

One of the strongest drivers of genealogical research is the satisfaction of retrieving people who have been forgotten or deliberately written out of official history. That sense of righting historic family wrongs is powerful and addictive.

Here are two stories to illustrate why.


One famiy’s 1911 census return listed a 16-year-old son who had disappeared completely from family stories. It turned out he had enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1915, and somehow survived Ypres, gas attacks and three solid years fighting in the British Army on the Western Front. But the Ireland he came back to in 1919 had changed completely. His family, now staunch Republicans, refused to have anything to do with him.  So he moved to England and broke off all contact. Three generations later, his English grandchildren were tracked down and reintroduced to the wider family.

In another family, the only surviving photograph of one set of great-grandparents had a bizarre flaw. Where the great-grandmother’s face should have been, there was only a blank disk. Someone had very deliberately cut her from the picture.

Welcome back, greatgrandma.

For years, the family wondered what it was she had done to deserve such obliteration. Then a genealogist sifting through a deceased second cousin’s attic came across a locket and realized the photo it contained was the missing face.

Far from trying to eradicate her memory, one of her children had taken the piece of the picture to remember her by. And now her face was restored to the photo and became visible for the first time to her descendants.

Those of us who give genealogical advice sometimes joke that the job is equal parts genealogy and psychotherapy. But the healing provided by family restorations like these is genuine.

23 thoughts on “Healing the extended family”

  1. I know from the family Bible and wills that Isabella Moore from Creeslough, County Donegal came to Philadelphia about 1869. She was my ggmother’s sister. But the family I found in Ireland has never heard of her. They had much correspondence from her siblings in America. They doubt her existence, but my mother went to her funeral in 1921 in Philadelphia.

    1. My grand aunt Anne Hunter married George Moore who emigrated from Creeslough to Philadelphia 1922.His parents were Edward (the Post) and Elizabeth Russell. George’s grandparents were Edward Moore and S Moore and greatgrandfather Alexander Moore.

  2. How very true and makes me feel I am not frittering away time doing this. I recently had a related experience. My grandfather was not forgotten or written out of our family history–far from it. But thru a series of catastrophes in his early life, he had neither birth nor baptismal cert. It caused him unending problems throughout his life. But thru the most Byzantine of research trails taking years, I found his baptismal record which also included his birth date. He is not here to rejoice but his 19 grandchildren and many greats and great-greats certainly are.

  3. My great,great grandfather ‘s family (O’Ragan)must have disowned him when he took part in the 1798 Irish rebellion, so far none of us have been able to track any back to Ireland. We heard a few stories of his father disowning him and his mother may have helped him escape to Canada by giving him some silver for passage but no one seems to find out much except on census records in Canada in the 1850’s,’60’s he is listed as RC but wife and children as Wesleyan Methodist. This would be another reason his family would disown him and so would the RC Church.

  4. I could not find our first emigrants’ only Irish-born son after the USFederal Census of 1860. Was he the substitute who served in the Calvary in the Civil War for a doctor? Was he one of the two men with his name in the 1880 census? Did he die of illness or early immigrant violence? Mystery. So when a stranger on Ancestry.com took my great grandparents from my tree and attached them to another man who was in-law to his line, I wrote and said sorry but they’re not his parents. Well the lovely man solved my mystery. That great great uncle was no longer Patrick. He’d changed his name to Joseph (not a suspected family name) and had had a good career in new york’s emerging train system. And he was the Calvary soldier, and he might have the the only other male to male descendant from our Y line besides my brothers living in New England. So another hunt opens. Especially since Family Tree shows we are Irish Type III DNA but earlier than many and all alone on our branch right now. I am truly grateful to that stranger for his kindness. Onward from here. . .

  5. Unknowingly, when I uploaded a family photo of my maternal grand-mother’s 1st cousin to my family tree on Ancestry did I realize I was uncovering a long kept mystery that the cousin’s 2nd wife hid and subsequent family members never knew. The great-grand-daughter messaged me and thanked me that her mom who was still living at the time of my posting the photo, could finally rest knowing the truth. The photo was of the male 1st cousin and a beautiful woman exquisitely dressed. I kept the photo in a frame on the wall just for the beauty and age of it never knowing until much later who were actually in the photo, but, I knew it had to be special for my grand-mother to have kept it all those years. With her passing in 1960, my mom & I didn’t know who to ask who the people were in the photo. The Ancestry member said that the story of her great-grand father, who was the man in the photo, had been married to a beautiful woman. After her death, he didn’t remarry for some time but when he did, the 2nd wife did not want the 1st wife revealed due to how much he had loved her & how beautiful she was. Not knowing I was exposing a well-kept family secret, I posted the photo on the profile pages and from that discovered that the 1st wife had had a baby and both the wife and baby died in child-birth. The great-grand-daughter said that explained to her the reason her great grandfather was so loving and attentive to his children and grandchildren during the years she remembers him. Her mother was so grateful to finally find out the secret that her grandfather had hidden all those years so as not to upset the great-grandmother who would never speak about it when asked. The great-grand-daughter & I remain good friends & 4th cousins to this day. Sadly, both of our moms have passed, but we have wonderful memories of them & their ancestors along with living relatives we never would have even known existed if it wasn’t for that old photo.

  6. Each new peice of the Family Tapestry can be a thread of it’s own, but when you can weave them together into a story they are truly remarkable. I find old photos fascinating and it is especially enlightening to see the resemblance of an Ancestor in a living face.

  7. So true for many of us decendands . I cant find my grandfathers record of birth or baptism in Kildare iv tended the grave in england of his wife i never met because she died in England and i was born in Cork 21 days earlier, my grandfather i remember very well iv found my Grandmothers family in Tralee but the grandfather i knew i cant find in Kildare. Lawrence Patrick Fox roughly 1869 birth as he was 91 ys old at death in 1960. Iv tried and tried. to no avail. if anyone knows how or where i could find him on paper he told my father that all records were distroyed in the 1921/1922 uprising is this correct.Dublin records .

    1. Try looking at the government web site irishgenealogy.ie hopefully you will find him there. It’s free. Try also variations of his first name. Good luck.

  8. This is and interesting discovery for my search that might fit in this category. I have found a very close baptismal record in Co. Mayo. It states that John Gallagher, illegitimate andfrom a workhouse, was baptized about 2 months after birth by John and Ellen Carey. Well, I have been searching for John Hugh Gallagher whose mom and dad were John and Ellen possibly Gallagher. As I say, the dates and names are so close. Plus, John Hugh stated in a US census that he was from Ballinasloe. What was located in Ballinasloe…a workhouse. Well, I am not shocked because I have been studying Irish history too. It is another example of the realities of life in 1864. It seems that bastard and pauper were two of the most horrible and haunting words in the English language for those folks.
    In any case I hold the Irish ancestors in ver high regard and have tried hard to learn about their stories and the country they came from. Does anyone else have a search that lead to a workhouse and a type of adoption or foster family? What records help with this or do you think this is an end? My great grandfather John Hugh and my grandfather oddly enough became estranged in this country Due to a disagreement and perceived snub regarding distributing resources among sibs ( family hearsay). Perhaps his rough road caused residual problems through the generations. I have nothing but compassion and gratitude.

  9. Before I started, I thought our history would be relatively easy. My G-grandfather wrote a brief history of the immigrants and their children. Not! G-Grandpa left out one child of the immigrants, who died a violent death. This ancestor said some unkind things about a woman and was killed for it. At first, I judged him a black sheep of some sort and probably not a “true” member of the famiy – he was just a half-brotehr, after all. But, as I dug deeper, I realzed the black sheep’s half-brother had just died, who he probably idolized. As I dug still deeper, I realized the black sheep was a bit of a fop, not a serious person, but apparently well-meaning. But, he was killed before he could grow up, really. That’s different. Now, in my own small way, the black sheep is welcomed back into the fold.

  10. I was surprised to realize recently that my father’s older brother did not pass away until 1972. Because he was never mentioned in any family conversations I was privy to, I presumed he had died. Just another family tree mystery encountered!

  11. A family history project I’m working on at the moment includes a husband who left Ireland for the USA shortly after the births of his only two children. For some reason the children were both committed to institutions, the boy to Artane and the daughter to Sligo. I traced the father, who had appeared to die alone in New York in 1945. While I know where he was buried the name Gallagher, being quite common in census returns in the USA presents a challenge to unravel the exact back story of the family. The habit of not using christian names has also been an obstacle. Ann became Lily over the years. Early days and a lot of research still to carry out.

  12. “But the Ireland he came back to in 1919 had changed completely. His family, now staunch Republicans, refused to have anything to do with him.”

    This makes me think of Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way, which is bleak and beautiful and utterly devastating.

    And this will no doubt sound all misty-eyed and sentimental and corny, but: I do think my genealogical research was a real gift to my mother, who is now since deceased. Through dogged (some might say obsessive!) attention to detail, and through sheer genealogical geekitude, I guess, I managed to find and meet distant cousins of my mother in two separate places (southwest Cork and South Armagh) — and this even though the direct maternal ancestors had left Ireland for Canada during the Famine period!

    In both cases, there was a real connection made, with cards and letters exchanged between Ireland and Canada; with some distant Cork cousins visiting the family in Toronto; with a distant Armagh cousin sending my mother prayer cards when she was dying of cancer. For my mother, it was a real recovery of lost Irish family ties, and yes, it was somehow therapeutic for her. So: corny, yes, but it meant a lot to my mother; and in retrospect, it was worth poring over all those LDS microfilms of the tithe applotment records (which records are now online, of course!).

  13. I have seen a baptismal record for a child marked Traveller. I understand only that this is a population with specific charachteristics that face various prejudices for whatever reasons. Are these folks ever possible to trace ? Are these records ,especially with an RC affiliation ,

  14. Having read through old 1850-1980’s family letters that tell of mothers’ heartache,family difficulties and hardship it is a shame that either religion or financial problems for whatever social reason seem to be the main cause of family breakdown in past generations. Now my extended family is more diverse than probably acknowledged in previous generations, I have recently found my half brother and sister because of the developments in genealogical DNA and am thrilled to have found them at last.

  15. I am struggling to find my g father Patrick Lawerence Fox of Kildare born 1896 roughly he was 91 yrs old when he died in 1960/ can any one point me in the correct direction.

    1. Irishgenealogy.ie a record of the birth of: Laurence Fox, born, 17th January, 1869, Father: Laurence Fox, Blacktrench, labourer, Mother: Bridget Nolan, registered in the district of Newbridge, Nass, Co. Kildare.

  16. I went to Ireland 3 years ago, knowing only the town where my grandmother lived…..our driver connected us to the Catholic Church in the town and she made a meeting with us and a cousin I,had never met….he took us to the church, cemetery and finally to a small structure that was half falling down, but was the house where my grandmother lived. He invited us to his house for dinner and we discussed relatives who left Ireland and some who stayed….it was my dream,come true ❤️❤️❤️

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