Monday, May 21, 2007

Finding Family Places 1

Ireland is filled with wonderful scenic and historical sites to visit. But when I made my first trip to Ireland, all I wanted to find was the place that my Irish great grandfather Michael Harshaw came from.

I was already luckier that many descendants of the Irish Diaspora. My grandfather had recorded some important facts about his father's life in Ireland. The most critical of these was the name of the place and the county which young Michael left on his solitary trip to America.

Most maps of Ireland were not sufficiently detailed to point me where I needed to go. However, I found that Ordnance Survey maps filled in the gaps. Survey map number 9 pinpointed the exact place my grandfather mentioned, Loughgilly in County Armagh. These map contain enormously helpful detail. In addition to place names, they show the locations of the smallest roads, dots to indicate building locations, and crosses to indicate churches. Anyone searching for family locations in Ireland should bring at least one of them along.

My husband and I arrived in the area of Loughgilly without any difficulty using a combination of the Ordnance map and a regular road map. That is the point at which we ran into trouble. We couldn't find Loughgilly. We traveled around the lovely back roads of Ireland taking pictures of any site that might prove important later on. But Loughgilly seemed to have disappeared. The only place bearing the proper name was an old Church of Ireland Church.

Frustrated, we stopped at the lovely village of Mount Morris to ask directions. A fairly unhelpful store clerk pointed us to a small road we had already traveled. We knew there was nothing useful there. Without any other option, we drove on toward Belfast. I was most frustrated and disappointed. I had waited so long to visit Ireland, and had no idea when or if I would be able to come back.

More careful research before I left would have avoided this frustration and disappointment. Only after my trip was just a memory, I discovered that a successful search for place in Ireland required the name of the correct townland. Loughgilly was the name of a Parish. If I was to find the exact location of the Harshaw family holdings, I needed to know the townland name.

That essential piece of information is often hard to find. Nothing in any family papers mentioned the correct townland. I seemed to have hit a wall without a door. But Michael had worked to pay for the rest of his family to come to America. They represented other people with the same information Michael had failed to record. Fortunately, an obituary for Michael's brother Andrew provided the needed information. The Harshaw family had lived in the townland of Ballydogherty, Parish of Loughgilly. On my most recent visit, I took the photo of the sign marking the road where the Harshaws lived. I had found one family place.

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