Where’s me granny?

I recently filmed a segment  for an upcoming episode of “Who Do You Think You are?”  – don’t ask, can’t tell – and found the old itch acting up. Years back, I did two series of “The Genealogy Roadshow” on RTÉ and that same old urge is still there to jump up and down and shout, “Look at me, Ma! Look at me!”

“Look at me, Ma!” Out-take from The Genealogy Roadshow

Thinking back, watching the finished shows was very different indeed to making them. Stories that had been just problems to be solved or lines to be remembered during filming became intensely touching when the camera showed the depth of the feelings produced in the participants. I’m thinking of the astonishment and joy of the American family meeting a completely new branch of their family in Ireland, of the woman seeing a photograph of her grandfather for the first time and recognizing her own face in his, of the family finally imagining in dramatic detail how their grand-uncle fought and died in the First World War.

The real lesson of the series was one already known to anyone who has done any genealogical research, a lesson not treated with enough respect by shows that depend on celebrities to hold the viewers’ interest. There is an endless variety and a recurring fascination in the family stories that stretch back behind absolutely everyone, however humble. To retrieve and reconstruct these stories can evoke the dense skein of everyday history as if it were our own experience and let us feel its detail in ways that no other form of research can match.

On a personal note, though, I remember being a little disappointed. Years ago, children in Dublin used to annoy cyclists by shouting out helpfully as we pedalled past, “Hey Mister! Yer back wheel’s going round!” I had been hoping to hear some of them in the street shouting after me, “Hey Mister! Where’s me granny?” No such luck.

7 thoughts on “Where’s me granny?”

  1. John,
    Your comments are so spot on! I live in America, and knew for years that my great-grandmother was born in County Limerick. Prior to an extended trip to Ireland last year, I did some research (thanks in part to you) and found the exact spot she had been born as well as the location of her parish in Hospital. Although the house was no longer there, walking around that land, and visiting her church gave me a spirit of connection that I am not sure I ever experienced before. The best was yet to come however. By happenstance, I discovered my Irish family living less than a mile down the road from the place she was born. I am now in regular contact with them, and we have shared photos and information that have enriched our lives on both sides of the pond. Every word you wrote above is so true. Thank you.

  2. John,
    I love these shows, Celebs or not! My favorite is “Genealogy Roadshow”, I love seeing people tied to the places they have grown up by famous, infamous or just plain people Ancestors! However, I wish they wouldn’t make it look so easy to find these documents and perhaps a little blurb on how to find those type documents on your own!

    Each new Ancestor on my personal tree is a treasure and I am finding more & more roots in Cohoes, NY, where my sister travels frequently and I hardly knew existed before these finds. But Ireland is still calling me and one day I hope to find some treasures on your website! Thank you for the blogs.

  3. How I wish these shows could appear on American TV. Our genealogy shows are too celebrity-focused or focused on a small number of ethnicities with very little Irish. It is tantalizing to read your post, John, and know we’ll never see the show over here (US).

  4. Hi John, whatever happened to The Genealogy Roadshow? Will it ever be recommissioned? That looks like you on that bike; is it a photo from some period drama you were in?

  5. Hi John

    I can relate to what you have written here. I visited Drogheda with my parents a few years ago to see where my grandfather lived before coming to Australia . We knew where his house was and were able to walk down that road and see the remains of the cotton mill where the entire family had worked and the 2 churches where they were baptised, married or are buried. That was a thrill!

    It was also great to finally discover when he arrived in Sydney after many years of fruitless searching. He deserted ship at Sydney Harbour on 30 April 1910, where he continued working as a fireman on the ships heading in and out of Sydney and where he met and married my grandmother.

    The biggest thrill was finding a cousin of my dad’s who we didn’t know existed. We visited the convent where we knew a relative had been a nun. She died in 1982 but there were still some nuns who remembered her so we went to talk with them. I discovered that her birth name was exactly the same as mine! (We only knew her as Sr Kevin). As we were enjoying our cup of tea, one of the other nuns mentioned that another person had been asking about this same nun a couple of years previously. That person turned out to be my Dad’s cousin. We had a lovely couple of days with him and his wife. He was able to take us to visit all the important places to our family, including the cemetery where many family members are buried and houses where they lived. He showed us the war medals of Dad’s uncle who died in the Battle of the Somme and where his name is engraved on the memorial in the town.

    It was so amazing to discover these relatives who we didn’t know existed there in Ireland and fill in lots of blank spots in our family tree.

    Thanks for your blogs, always enjoy reading them.

    Catherine

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