Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Finding Your Roots

Today I am definitely stumped on what to write about.  I looked over my family’s many entries over the years and came across one my daughter did a while back about top ten vacations we ever took.  And, seeing as I am knee-deep in the packing process for our next trip, this is kind of on my mind.  My twist on it tonight is trips we’ve taken to places from which my ancestors hail.

Birmingham, England A few years ago, we spent a long weekend in London & Birmingham.  The whole adventure was very fast and short, but I managed to carve out an hour at the (then) brand spanking new Library of Birmingham, up on the top floor where the ancestry archives are.  Although one is supposed to make an appointment far in advance, I managed to wangle my way in and got one of the researchers to pull a few books off of the shelves.  In them, I found some of the names of my great grandparents and their jobs, etc.  It was pretty cool to see names that I know in print.  I would love to go back there (more prepared) and see what information I could dig up.

Garbarino, Italy I had been to Italy before, but this time I was determined to visit the hilltop town of my maternal great-grandparents.  We hired an Italian speaking driver, drove up a nausea-inducting winding road, and then started knocking on random doors.  Some poor woman was in the shower but hurriedly finished and came down to talk to us.  We asked her if she knew where the Garbarini’s lived.  She said they are all named Garbarini living up there.  Even after all these years, the family did not comingle with other folks enough to start getting other surnames showing up there.  While I do not genetically know if the people I met were my cousins, the probability is high.  And just as we were about to hop into our minivan, the woman we spoke with eagerly informed us that Frank Sinatra’s mother is from “our” town.  So basically what I am saying is I might very well be related to Ol’ Blue Eyes.

Belleek, Ireland Are you catching on that I am very northern European?  Anyway, this particular adventure was absolutely crazy.  Like Italy, I had been to Ireland before, so when it came to be that we were going to head there again, I insisted that we go to where my maternal grandfather was born – Belleek.  This time, I tried to prepare in advance and figured the best place to start was to contact the local Catholic Church.  Easy enough, right?  Well, I simply could not find one online.  This seemed very strange to me but I decided this might be because of Ireland’s and Northern Ireland’s history with The Troubles – maybe they didn’t want people to know what they are doing, where and when (as a website would most likely say).  Out of desperation, I emailed the Belleek Pottery factory and asked if they could give me a contact and also what is the name of the local church?!  A kind woman gave me lots of info, including the name of a person who turned out to be a poorly speaking minister of a Protestant church.  After many attempts at communication, the nice minister gave me the name of an elderly man who is a local historian of sorts.  We email back and forth and agreed to meet at the pottery factory when I got there.  This man, indeed, was a fountain of knowledge.  He was in his late 80s, and knew the history of the town like nobody’s business – replete with aerial photos and a history book he had written.  I had brought pictures of my great-grandmother and he said “oh that same picture is on the wall in the factory” and then proceeded to show me the very same picture from over a hundred years ago. Based on the uniforms, he could tell me what her job was, etc.  He then took me to the equivalent of main street and showed me the building my family once owned – and here is the capper – his father used to rent the property from my great-grandfather!  And, he was able to tell me what my great-grandfather did for a living: he was a blacksmith and owned his own business.  The last thing that we did which what really cool was go to the church (finally, we found the church!).  As luck would have it, he used to be the record keeper of the adjacent cemetery and could show me where my ancestors were buried.  Very fascinating indeed!  Talk about finding a needle in a haystack.  I am very grateful to that generous soul for helping me to bridge the gap of time.

I know what you are wondering: is she finished?  The answer is no – I have one more place to my list: Baden Baden, Germany.  I have been to Germany twice, once to a location an hour of Baden Baden, but could not get there on that visit.  Next trip, I will make it to that town and I promise to update this essay!


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  1. I LOVED your experience in Ireland. My relatives are from Ireland too but I didn't do much searching when we were there...my husband has relatives living there and we spent our time visiting THEM.

  2. Sound like great trips! I loved the Italian hill towns I've visited (mostly Perugia and nearby little towns). Ireland is on our list--my wife and I both have roots there. I'd also like to visit Switzerland and trace the roots I know about there.