Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny …millions of Irish immigrants have called America home

Ireland came to America because, deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed, for decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America… Enda Kenny, Taoiseach

Maybe because some of us tend to forget our ancestor’s journey, is the reason why history repeats itself.Maybe with each successive wave of immigration, we should remember our own history. While many demand that certain groups stay out, or assimilate faster, it would be a good time to recall that it took generations for our families to complete the journey.

My ancestor’s left Ireland during the Famine. They made their way to New York and to the marble quarries of Westchester County. Later, they moved a few miles into Yonkers and made their living at the Alexander Smith Carpet Mill. Here in Yonkers, branches of my family tree joined together. My great-grandfather, after several years in the carpet factory, was the first to leave the labor field for a desk job selling insurance. Fifty years later, after World War II, my grandfather, 3rd generation Irish, left the enclave and reinvented himself in Washington, D.C.

Three generations of quarry labor and factory work. Three generations before my grandfather broke away. From serving in the Coast Guard, he discovered his love of radio and love of performance. He landed a radio job in DC, which led later to television and advertising. My father, fourth-generation, was the first to go to college.

As the Taoiseach says, the Irish came here because they believed in the shelter, compassion, and opportunity of America. They worked hard for generations in order to provide for their families. It took generations to move out of the neighborhood from which all was familiar, to leave the remnants of Ireland behind.

Achill Archaeology Field School

Presentation created for high school World History students based on my field school experience at the Achill Archaeology Field School

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Kilroy Was Here and So Was Gertrude: Telling Family Stories

Kilroy Was Here
 

It’s 1948. My Grandpa Art Lamb marries Rita Hubbarth. His father, Jimmy Lamb, gives Rita a plastic pregnant doll. He tells his new daughter-in-law that the doll’s name is Gertrude.

What it says on the base of the stand is “Kilroy was here,” a popular World War II reference. Get it? Kilroy, pregnant girl-doll?

According to my grandmother,Rita, the doll is supposed to bring fertility to the newly married couple. Gertrude has been passed down through each generation since to married couples in the Lamb family. She’s had an almost-perfect success rate.

The question everyone asked: Why was this little doll named “Gertrude?”

Family Stories: Getting to the Source of Love and Loss

It took a little bit  of research through the census records (minus a Nova Scotia glitch)  to find the answer.

In 1905, Jimmy and Rose Lamb had their first daughter, Gertrude. By 1910, she was gone, one of the first of three Lamb/Heffernan children to pass away in this particular generation.

Unfortunately, between 1910 and 1920, they lost their second daughter, Anastasia.  In 1924, Rose was gone as well – taken by tuberculosis. I wonder why the doll is Gertrude’s namesake, as opposed to her mother Rose or her sister, Anastasia? Whatever the reason, giving the doll her name, opened the door to learning previously unknown history.

Rose Glennon Lamb with Gertrude
(in back, white blouse)

My father remembers Jimmy Lamb as “grumpy,” (who could blame him?) but didn’t know why. Jimmy remarried, and his second wife, Mae, raised all of Rose’s children – the five who survived to adulthood.  My grandfather referred to Mae as his mother, although he always kept the photo of Rose Glennon Lamb, who died when he was five. No one ever spoke of Gertrude or Anastasia.

Yet forty years after the death of his first child, Great-Grandpa Jimmy Lamb remembered his daughter Gertrude.

When families don’t tell their stories, the stories become lost. History is hidden. As sad as it is, there is something to be told, that can’t be forgotten. Historically, Rose and Jimmy worked at the Alexander Smith Carpet Mill in Yonkers and were directly impacted by the Industrial Revolution. Lives were lost due to tuberculosis. Out of this, is the story of a man who survived incredible loss to rise up and become a community leader and local politician…all stories that will be continued after Tanners and Quarrymen, as part of the Famine series.
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FamilySearch.org Beta: Use It!

For those of us involved in historical research, the advent of online primary source documents has been a godsend. At least for me. Microfilm reels make me queasy.

The reason why I like FamilySearch.org and FamilySearch.org Beta is because I don’t need a library card or password to log on. Yes, I’m that lazy HeritageQuest.

Or pay a fee. Yes, I’m that poor Ancestry.com.

Maria Lamb, 1905 Census, Yonkers, New York.

 The Beta site has many more resources than the main site. Family Search site contains1880 census records, social security documents and user-input birth and marriage records. The Beta site includes more obscure census data, such as the New York State 1865, 1892 and 1905 records. And I’m only talking New York.

Records are available for numerous states and countries – browse by location or document type. These include census, marriage and birth records, death records, military, migration and probate court. Year span ranges from pre-1700 to the present. Outside of the United States, the majority of records exist for North America and Europe. Still, there are a few for Africa, Asia and the Middle East. New Zealand and Australia lie somewhere in between.  The downside is that not all of the collections have browse-able images. Many do, but not all. Due to privacy laws of various countries, some information cannot be displayed.

Beta also has a great online tutorial with lessons for beginning research, creating a family tree, and a list of all the LDS centers where you can get research help in person. FamilySearch is created and maintained by the LDS church.

Tanners and Quarrymen: The Irish Immigrants of Westchester County

“Caught between long periods of unemployment, the natural ruggedness of the work, and the economic and social inequities of the time, the communities that sprang up around the quarries, particularly Waverly…became slums infested with crime and corruption…there was probably no place in the country that contained so many thieves as Waverly…” (Torres, 56).

Go great-great grandpa. This is the neighborhood where my family settled upon arriving in America from Ireland. Three generations of my family lived around these marble quarries, in the neighborhood of Waverly, in the town of Eastchester, New York. In the Westchester county of the late 1800’s, most of the Irish immigrants worked in the quarries. By the turn of the century, the demographics changed and the neighborhood filled with mostly Italian immigrants. It’s debatable whether Torres’s description is accurate.

There is a Waverly Street in Tuckahoe, a line of well-maintained suburban houses. There is also Waverly Square, a collection of shops in the Tuckahoe/Eastchester area. I wonder if my ancestors could have imagined their  now a well-to-do neighborhood in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.

Hugh Lamb would have attended school here. It closed in 1884.

John Lamb, an immigrant from Ireland – possibly county Westmeath – and his son, Hugh Lamb were tanners, specifically glove makers. It seems that they made the gloves for the quarrymen. I’m still researching this role in quarry neighborhoods. Since Masterton (one of the quarry owners) employed blacksmiths at various site to take care of the work horses, oxen and mules, I’m guessing that he would have had craftsmen to make work gloves for the men lifting and blasting marble.

James Joy, another Irish ancestor, was a stonecutter. Stonecutters were step up above the laboring quarryman, requiring skill and expertise to design a ton of marble into an evenly cut pillar. The quarryman was responsible for lifting the marble intact, and the stonecutter cut and dressed the marble.

I have to wonder if my folks were part of the “crime and corruption” crowd, as Torres describes. I can only imagine they stories they could tell about early life in Westchester or the conditions for Irish immigrants, leaving their homeland due to famine. So that is my task, my goal as a writer: to take the outline of history and then imagine their stories.

Source: Torres, Louis. Tuckahoe Marble: The Rise and Fall of an Industry.Purple Mountain Press, 1976.

Also take a look at: http://eastchester350.org/

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