On Sunday, February 4th, there was an episode of the show Victoria on PBS–Victoria being the show that fills the Downton Abbey and The Crown-filled holes in my need for British costume dramas–which dealt with the Irish Potato Famine.
I watched it with extreme interest and a bit of trepidation. Since the show is about the monarch who reigned during the Potato Famine, I wondered how much the show would fictionalize. I’ve been hearing about the Potato Famine my entire life; it looms large in Irish immigrant families, even though my family didn’t leave Ireland during the Famine.
By the 1840s, the majority of Irish-Catholics were smallholders—tenant farmers. (Catholics weren’t allowed to own land in Ireland by the 1840s). They raised livestock and crops for their landlords but most of that grain, meat, and dairy were exported from Ireland to England.
A huge number of Irish-Catholic tenant farmers relied on the potato as their only source of food. When a blight hit the potato crop in 1845, causing the potato crop to rot, people started starving. I thought Victoria did a good job of portraying the attitude a lot of establishment Protestants had toward the Irish peasants–that they were stupid, intemperate, had too many kids, were lesser than they were–and that the blight was “God’s will.” In the meantime, while the Famine was in full force and an incredible number of people were dying, being evicted, going into workhouses, and emigrating, there was still food and livestock leaving Ireland and going to England.
I think the episode seemed overly sympathetic toward Queen Victoria. She may have been relatively tolerant towards Catholics, but I don’t think she gave much of a crap about the Irish.
1.5 million people died during the Famine years. Another million immigrated. Ireland’s current population of 6 million still hasn’t recovered to its pre-Famine numbers.
…All of this brought me around to a question I’ve periodically had rolling around in my brain when it comes to Irish history and my family.
What the hell were we doing during the Famine?
My ancestors didn’t start immigrating to the United States until, at the earliest, the 1890s. But County Mayo had a large population drop of 30% during the famine. The vast majority of the poor in Mayo were solely dependent on the potato.
So I started Googling–I was just trying to find any information on County Mayo during the Famine, in the hopes that maybe I’d find something that might mention the villages my ancestors lived in. I still haven’t figured out what we were doing during the Famine, but I did read a few things which indicated that things were not good in those places at the time.
I came across Irish Genealogy, a website set up by the Irish government with Birth, Marriage, and Death records. I found actual birth dates for ancestors! I found causes of death for ancestors! (Lungs are not our strong organ; there’s a lot of consumption, pneumonia, bronchitis, and influenza).
|Death record of Winifred Athy, my 3x great grandmother|
And then I found this. So background: Margaret Moran is my 2x great grandmother on my grandmother’s side. I knew that she’d eventually have eleven children, that she was born and died in Ireland, and that she had died in 1937. Through Ancestry.com, I’d figured out that her birth year was 1866. Well, on Irish Genealogy, I found her marriage record, which had her father’s name on it. So using that, I did a search for birth records–only one came up in the correct district with the correct father’s name in late 1865. It’s her.
Her mother’s named Bridget. Cool.
But I can’t clearly read Bridget’s maiden name (The bit circled in yellow below). Does that say Bridget Moran formerly Moran?
If it does, I found where my family is possibly inbred.
(There are other Morans in my grandmother’s family. So, like, not totally surprised there, but yeah…)
It’s also the only record I found on the site that I’m having trouble making out.
Note: I actually forgot that this will post on the blog’s ninth birthday! Happy Birthday, Blog!