I have had an item on my bucket list for a long time, but I didn’t think it was very realistic. I wanted to experience the kind of fairytale family reunions that my husband’s family had, and that he had been telling me about for years. His family would come from all over the country to have a three-day long family reunion on the banks of the Mississippi, across from Illinois in Iowa.
Below are pictures of our cousin’s house where the reunion was held. It was built in 1871 is now on the National Register of Historic Places. This is not where our fourth great grandfather started out in America. Like most immigrants, he started with nothing.
My husband’s side of the family are such nice people. My own family isn’t nearly as nice, so when it comes to spending time with family members, we gravitate to his side of the gene pool. They have all the attributes you would want in a family if you ordered them on Amazon – open, affable, interesting, kind, and intelligent.
They have become my family. All the aunts, uncles and cousins have stayed in touch over the years, but since our little branch of the family moved to Indiana, we fell out of the day-to-day contact that we once had with them. We went to a reunion this summer to reconnect with them and see how everyone was doing.
There were at least four generations of the family there and it was amazing to see all of those people descended from just a few. One of our cousins had done some pretty thorough genealogy research and had constructed a family tree that went back to the early 1800s when my husband’s ancestor left Ireland to come to America. It was not the famine that caused him to come to America, but he did come because his life was in danger.
Our Irish ancestors were a scrappy bunch. They got into trouble quite a bit for things like minor theft, trespassing, or fist fighting. Bad for them, but good for us. Getting in trouble got them into the public record far more often than just the records of baptisms, weddings, and deaths that were kept in parish records. If you get into trouble, your name and place of residence make it into the record, and you get connected to a place more vividly than if you minded your own business and were a law-abiding citizen. It seems that our ancestors made it into the record a lot, so our cousins were able to piece together where they lived and possibly what caused them to come to America.
Like many immigrants, they were willing to take their chances in America because their situation in the old country had gotten dangerous. It seems that our Irish ancestor, my husband’s fourth great-grandfather, had been left behind in Ireland when his parents had gone to America years earlier. Maybe they felt he was too young and would not survive the sea voyage. Maybe they were hoping to send for him after they got established. No one knows. He never reconnected with his parents that we know of.
In any case, our Irish ancestor was raised by his uncle and grew to be successful enough to buy the small farm in Ireland that he had worked as a tenant. There seems to have been some bad blood about it though, because he shows up in the public record as filing a complaint against his neighbor for shooting at him. Shortly after the complaint, he appears again in a ship’s manifest, bound for America. He shows up next in Boston as a footman in one of the great houses there. He married a woman who was probably also from the area of Ireland where he was raised. There is no absolute proof of this, but her family name shows up a lot in the parish records in Ireland. They next show up homesteading in Iowa. We don’t know how they decided that Iowa was the place for them, but after seeing the pictures of the ruins of the Irish farmstead left behind, it’s obvious how like each other the two places were. The area they moved to in Iowa had many of the characteristics of the land in Ireland. Perhaps our ancestors felt that it was the next best thing to being at home.
So now here we all were. Near the farm that our ancestor once owned in Iowa. All of us connected to a single man and woman who left everyone and everything behind to start fresh in America.
When I saw the long sheets of paper that were posted at the reunion showing the family tree with all the boxes showing the births and deaths and places where they lived, married, raised children, and died, I realized how deeply connected I was to all of the people at the reunion and all of the other people with whom I share my life.