Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When inspiration is gone

On this blog in times past I have written about my dad inspiring me to begin in earnest my family history research.  In this post written in April, I talk about the push toward research that I felt after two conversations with my father. After Dad passed away in 2000, for a while it seemed as though my drive to do more research came from my desire to keep a promise made, to find out as much about my father's family as I possibly could.

With my dad gone, along the way with my research, my mother was the one who became more and more excited with each discovery I made. Oddly enough it is my mom's line which I have so far been able to trace the furthest, with evidence which takes me back into the early 1740s. Sharing these family finds with my mom led to conversations we would never have had otherwise, little talks about the small moments of life, and the significant ones too. Mom's interest in my finds, stories that she shared, and conversations with her, all served as inspiration to push me further in my research.

Now Mom is gone too; my inspiration is gone. At times I am so caught by grief, it is as though I am drowning in it. It comes over me in huge crashing grey waves. Some days it will not let me be. The wisdom of a grief counsellor tells me to let the memories be the buoy that saves me, but in truth that suggestion only caroms off my mind. I find myself irrationally longing for more of those conversations, more of something I cannot possibly have. I miss the sound of my mother's voice. Daily I struggle to remember each intonation, the sounds of happiness playing on her words, and the sounds of sadness too.

On my desk there is a pile of documents all related to family history. I have not touched them in weeks, and feel little compunction to go through them.

When memories are not enough, where do I find inspiration now?

This afternoon, something changed in me. Alone in my home I began to look through my parents' wedding album. I found myself learning things I do not remember having known before.

One of my favourite photographs in the album is one in which my parents are cutting their wedding cake at their reception. I knew they had a reception, but I do not recall learning that it took place in the Cumberland Hotel on Westland Row in Dublin, a hotel which stood at Number 17 Westland Row from 1941 until 1967. I knew my parents married on 2 August 1954, but did not know they married on a Monday. Like many people, Monday is not my favourite day of the week, but now I have a reason to view it differently.

Outside St. Patrick's Church, Ringsend, Dublin, Ireland
Also, there is one photograph in the album that I do not recall seeing before. It is the one pictured above. Some of the faces in the photograph are familiar and others are not. For me what is most remarkable about the picture is the joy on almost every one of the faces of the people surrounding my mom and dad at the very beginning of their married life. No one knew what challenges they might face, or what sorrows might befall them, but there it is, Joy.

There is no denying it will be difficult, but when my memories are not enough, I will 'climb' inside that photograph album and try to feel the joy they felt on that day. When the time is right I will continue to seek and to build our family history, knowing the joy it brought to my mom and my dad.

Click on photograph to view larger version.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: The north, the south? It's all just Ireland isn't it?

To those unfamiliar with the long and violent history of the island of Ireland, it may seem as though it has always been one big happy place populated with fairies and leprechauns; however, this is most certainly not the case. When you are doing family history research, if any of the limbs of your family tree cross the border from the Republic of Ireland into the state of Northern Ireland, or vice versa, then there are a number of options about which you will want to be aware when seeking documents which will help you in your research.

First of all, a quick look at the geography.

Map please...

View The two Irelands in a larger map

The odd little purple line which I have put in place on this map approximates the border between the state of Northern Ireland and the country of the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is bordered by the Republic on both the south and west sides. Northern Ireland is made up of six counties, Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry/Derry, and Tyrone. The Republic of Ireland comprises twenty-six counties. (Look here for a complete listing of all counties on the island of Ireland).

One thing about which you must be keenly aware when you are either corresponding with organizations on the island of Ireland, or conducting in-person research, is the fact that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remain TWO distinct entities. Despite the 1998 Good Friday Accord which established the Northern Ireland Assembly with its devolved legislative powers, and changes in the constitution of the Republic of Ireland which acknowledge Northern Ireland as a legitimate state, Northern Ireland remains under British rule.

The Republic of Ireland is an entirely separate country. Citizens in the Republic began dissolution of its connection with Britain in 1916, although that dissolution was not recognized until 1922, with the establishment of the Irish Free State following the Irish War of Independence. Although Ireland has had its own constitution since 1937, Ireland has been a constitutional Republic only since 1949, with a President and Taoiseach (pronounced Tea-shock: equivalent to Prime Minister), and no political connection to the English crown. It is very important to understand these facts, and be sensitive to them when conducting research.

If you are conducting research in person, one thing which serves as a good reminder of these separate entities is the legal tender. The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union, thus the legal tender is the Euro(€). Northern Ireland uses the British Pound Sterling(£).

"So what does this all mean when I'm looking for records?"

Searching in the State of Northern Ireland

If you have ancestors who were born, lived, and died in any of the SIX counties in the State of Northern Ireland, in addition to going directly to the parish which may hold the records of their life's passages, you will want to visit the following:



The General Register Office of Northern Ireland. It is responsible for the registers of births, marriages and deaths in Northern Ireland from 1864, and non-Roman Catholic marriages from 1845, to the present day.

This LINK includes a list of registration indexes for births, marriages, and deaths in Northern Ireland.


The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. It holds documents which relate chiefly, but not exclusively, to Northern Ireland. There are also some records from counties in what is now the Republic of Ireland. These records cover a period from c.1600 (with a few dating back as far as the early 13th century) to the present day.

This LINK will tell you which records ARE held by PRONI.

This LINK will tell you which records are NOT held by PRONI.

This LINK for PRONI's page of Online guides and indexes is also very helpful, and includes an excellent guide to Church Records.

PRONI also has an excellent 'Useful Links' page which provides with links for research for the entire island of Ireland.

Searching in the Republic of Ireland

If you have ancestors who were born, lived, and died in any of the TWENTY-SIX counties of the Republic of Ireland, in addition to going directly to the parish which may hold the records of their life's passages, you will want to visit the following:

The GRO, The National Library of Ireland, The National Archives of Ireland

GRO is:

The General Register Office of the Republic of Ireland, located in the Irish Life Centre, Dublin. It is responsible for the registers of births, marriages, and deaths in the Republic of Ireland from 1864, as well as a long list of other records as detailed in the link below. It also holds records dating from 1864 to 31 December 1921 for the six counties which comprise Northern Ireland.

This LINK will tell you which records are and are not held by the GRO.

This LINK will tell you how you may order certificates of birth, adoption, stillbirth, marriage, civil partnership or death. Be sure to check the information about which dates are included.

The National Archives of Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland, located on Bishop Street in Dublin, holds records which they describe in the following way, "the records of the modern Irish State [i.e. The Republic of Ireland] which document its historical evolution and the creation of our national identity". The NAI also offers a free Genealogy Advisory Service for those visiting in person.

This LINK provides information about the family history and genealogy materials held by the National Archives, as well as a list of its most popular genealogy resources.

The National Library of Ireland

Located on Kildare Street in Dublin, the National Library of Ireland is an important stop for anyone conducting family history research. Library material includes the microfilms of Catholic parish registers, copies of the important nineteenth century land valuations (the Tithe Applotment Books and Griffith's Valuation), trade and social directories, estate records and newspapers. The NLI also offers a free Genealogy Advisory Service for those visiting in person.

Visit this LINK for more details.

Using the resources of National Archives United Kingdom

In addition to the resources on the island of Ireland, make use of the resources available through the National Archives UK at Kew, England. Ireland was under British rule for over 700 years, so if you are looking for information which is held by neither Northern Ireland nor The Republic of Ireland, then you may find it here.

The LINK provides a summary of family history information available through NAUK.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

14 Tips + 1 For Conducting Family History/Genealogy Research in Ireland

Watching the tourists trot by on James Street, Dublin. 
Since the peak season for tourism in Ireland is upon us, I think it is a good time to once again post my list of tips for conducting family history and genealogy research in Ireland.

My original list of thirteen tips plus one, first published in 2010, has expanded to 14 Tips + 1 and is based on my annual research trips between 2008 and 2011. In September 2012 and January 2013, I will be returning to Ireland to continue my history research, and of course my family history research too, and I will update you on any further changes.

For a while now there has been a move afoot in the Irish government to amalgamate some of the services of the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and the National Archives of Ireland (NAI). Major changes are on the horizon. Already, there has been an overhaul of the entire genealogy advisory service, a free service which has been available for years at both the NLI and the NAI. The APGI is bowing out and the joint consortium of Eneclann and Ancestor Network is now offering what has been termed an enhanced genealogy service.

Also, because of the economy, many archives have been forced to slash staff numbers. Of course, such changes significantly affect researchers. Despite change, there are many steps researchers can take to ensure they make the very best use of their time in Ireland.

1. PREPARE, Prepare, prepare:

Before you set foot outside the country in which you now reside, do your homework. This means knowing as much information as possible about the persons for whom you are searching. This may sound counterintuitive, but according to members of the genealogy advisory service (NAI and NLI), the number one problem they encounter is people who have not done their homework.

Don't be the one who shows up with an 'ancestor' from the 1700s and expect someone to prove he/she is connected to you. Also, be aware of the fact that an advisory service is available to offer advice, not to do your research for you. In August of 2011, I encountered a very frustrated (and rude) man who thought he could just show up, give a little information, and have his family history laid out for him. If you are not up to the task, or would prefer to have a professional working for you, then consider commissioning research (click here).


Create a page and/or file for every individual for whom you are searching, and make sure it is filled with as much information as possible. Be the researcher who is best prepared. Irish archival and library staffs, and those at register offices etc., usually go above and beyond the call of duty, but even they have limits. In 2009 when I was in the General Register office Dublin, there was a woman looking for a record for her great-grandmother whom she said may have been born in Dublin and may have lived in Scotland in the early 20th century. What?!?!? That is all the info she had, and yet she was upset that they couldn't help her. According to the staff at the GRO, this happens more often than you might imagine.

3. ASK, politely ask:

In 2008, just by politely asking at Kilmainham Gaol, I was taken on a private tour of the floor of the gaol on which the Cumann na mBan women were held during the Irish Civil War, a floor not part of the regular tour. It never hurts to politely ask.

Long before you go to Ireland send emails, write pen and paper letters, or computer generated letters, to anywhere you can think of to ask for information. Include in your letter every possible way of contacting you, i.e. snail mail, email, business address, home phone, fax number, and mobile number.

In 2009, sending a letter to Guinness Brewery asking for information proved very useful. The archivist didn't have information specific to me, but she sent me a long list of all the Breweries/Distilleries that existed in the time period I was researching, including their locations, and on it I found the one for which I was searching.

4. BOOK your research time and get your reader's ticket:

In the past you had to either write letters or telephone the repositories and libraries in order to pre-book time and documents. Now many can be booked either online on their websites, or via email. A couple of days in advance of your visit, phone or email asking for confirmation of your appointments. Be aware that some institutions, such as the Bureau of Military History Archives, strictly REQUIRE advance reservation for conducting research. Bring photo I.D. to every one (your passport is best).

Most archives require readers' tickets. Some repositories may require that you wear your reader's ticket tag while you are in the facility. You must have your reader's ticket on your person in any repository which requires a reader's ticket. At the NLI, if you are only using genealogy services, and no other collections, you will be issued a Newspaper/Genealogy Badge.

Also, for most repositories readers' tickets have a limited lifespan; in other words, they expire. So, you cannot use that reader's ticket you got back in the 80s. They are usually issued for a period of up to three years, but this can vary depending on the repository.

For full information on reader's tickets for the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) click on the individual blue links.

UPDATE: As of September 2012, the Bureau of Military History Archives has now divided its research day. It is still open for research from Tuesday through Thursday inclusive; however the reading room opening times are now divided into two distinct research blocks separated by a one hour break time. The first research block is from 10 am to 12:30, and the second block is from 1:30 pm to 4:00pm. If you require more than one block of time be certain to inform the Duty Archivist when you book your appointment. Not to worry there is a lovely little pub called the Rathmines Inn, just down the road from the base, where you can get a delicious lunch.

5. ARRIVE EARLY and come prepared:

If you booked somewhere for a full day's research, arrive shortly after they open. This creates a good impression and lets them know you're serious about your work, and they will do everything they can to help you. Also, if you are going to a registry office, such as the General Register Office in Dublin, early arrival ensures you can get your registration documents before it gets too busy. Take advantage of websites, such as the LDS site, so that you might have the volume numbers and page numbers of the registration documents you need.

Click on the blue link at the end of this sentence for further information on using the research room of the General Register Office in Dublin.


Be aware of any limits on materials available to you. For example, although this long standing rule may change, currently in the General Register Office Dublin you can only buy 5 registrations per day to take away with you. However, you can request, pay for, and have mailed to you any further registrations you wish to buy. So, if you show up with a long list of Birth, Marriage, and Death registrations to which you wish to lay claim, be prepared to bring 'home' only five per day.


As of September 2012: Although the signs in the GRO research room still indicate a maximum of 5 registrations per day, I was allowed to buy 8 registrations, and then have the rest mailed to me.

As of January 2013: In addition to still being allowed to buy 8 registrations per day, you now have the choice of either having the addition registrations mailed or sent to you via email. You simply write your email address on the envelope they provide and they will send them by email. If they experience any problems in transmission, they will send them by snail mail. A caveat here for email. I had them email 8 registrations to me and received them as word processing files instead of digital images, so I was not able to immediately export them into my photographic archive.

One of a bank of stained glass windows above the stone stairs in the National Library of Ireland.

Remember you are one of many people of Irish heritage searching for information.

For example, if you plan to search the microfilm copies of R.C. Parish Registers at the National Library of Ireland, bring your patience, and arrive early. In 2010, the microfilms were made openly available to the public in one of the rooms with microfilm readers. Although the library has set out a protocol for use of the films, which requires that you fill out a form for the film you are using, and place that form in a box in place of the film you borrow, some persons ignore these simple instructions and just grab any film they want to use. Sorry to say it, but in my experience tourists are the worst offenders in this regard.

Suffice to say this habit of ignoring the rules, and thus making the microfilm reading room a free-for-all, makes me crazy; therefore, I usually arrive right at the time the library opens, so I can do research before the mad rush begins.

Also, if you do not know how to load a microfilm reader, ASK for help. Often I have come to the aid of people trying to jam microfilm onto a reader. Microfilm is fragile and can break easily if it is not properly handled. Thankfully, Fiona Fitzsimons of Eneclann has indicated that members of the new genealogy service team at the NLI will aid the inexperienced with loading machines.

8. ORDER DOCUMENTS in advance.

This gets you off and running as soon as you step into an archive or library. This has always been very helpful for me at National Archives, the Bureau of Military History at Cathal Brugha, and University College Dublin. Everything is ready and waiting. At Cathal Brugha, my contact brought me 'extras' he had uncovered, in addition to the documents I had requested. At UCD, by receiving a documents order in advance, my contact was able to give me an idea of the breadth of what I had requested, so I was able to edit my list to suit the amount of time I would be at the archive.

UPDATES: The documents ordering system for the National Library of Ireland works beautifully when you order in advance. Be sure to use it. Visit their website for precise details on ordering. If you do not order in advance of your visit be aware that they have instituted a strict system of in person document ordering times, so if you do not order in advance, you may find yourself wasting time just sitting there waiting for books/documents.

The NLI also has a new Family History Research Guide for beginners which is chock full of information. Stop by the Family History Research page of their website and download your own PDF copy.

Microfilm of The Irish Times newspaper (1823-1825 & 1859-2012) is now available on a self-service basis in the microfilm room, adjacent to the Main Reading Room. Microfilm of the Irish Independent newspaper (1891-2011) is also available on self-service.

9. BE AWARE of hours of business for Archives and Libraries:

Be aware of business hours for the archives and libraries you plan to visit. In Ireland currently all public archives and libraries are closed for research on Sunday. (At NLI only exhibitions are open on Sundays). Most archives and libraries are closed on Saturday, with the exception of the National Library in Dublin which is open for a half day on Saturday. Most of the heritage centres outside of Dublin operate only Monday to Friday, and many close for an hour midday for lunch, although hours of operation can vary widely. The hours of County archives and libraries can vary widely as well, so check first. (See and Irish Archives Resource). PRONI Belfast is also closed weekends, but offers later hours on Thursday. Some repositories only operate Tuesday through Thursday.

Many repositories limit document ordering hours. Also, since some documents are stored off-site, they usually require from one to three days lead time in order to retrieve them.

Shortly before you leave home, check the websites of the archives and libraries you plan to visit to see if there have been any additional changes to their hours of operation.

10. ASK IF YOU MAY USE YOUR DIGITAL CAMERA to record photos of the materials.

Ask first before taking any photographs of materials. Many repositories will allow you to do this, but they are very strict about the use of materials. ALL of the repositories will have you first sign a document which indicates that you will not use ANY of the materials for publication without their prior written permission. Some limit the hours during which materials can be photographed, and some have a specific area set aside for shooting photographs.

Entry in Donabate Parish Register 1778/79

If you are in Dublin, the Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin is a must see. With over one million people interred in its grounds it is a place replete with history. Visit their website beforehand to see if any of 'your people' are among their numbers, and then go and pay your respects. If you happen to be a graveyard rabbit, Mount Jerome Cemetery is another must see in Dublin. Over 250,000 people are interred in its grounds, with some buried under some of the finest examples of Victorian period stones. Check out the the Dublin Heritage web page for their directory of graveyards throughout the county of Dublin. Be sure to stop by cemeteries in any area of the country in which you might find yourself. You never know what you might see.

Stones near O'Connell's Circle, The Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, Dublin.
The Bradley Tomb, Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin.
12. TALK:

Talk to other researchers you meet, and tell them what you're working on. Prior to the opening of the 'new' research room of the Bureau of Military Archives in Dublin, researchers once had to work side by side in a very small room. At the most five people could squeeze in at one time; however, such tight quarters were conducive to conversation. Here I received a couple of great suggestions about books and documents from Paul, a researcher working next to me. Midway through a research day in 2009, the C.O. even put on tea and biscuits for us and talked to us about what we were working on. This archive is housed on the working Military base Cathal Brugha, so you must be escorted to it by a soldier, which offers another opportunity for conversation and learning.

13. TOUR:

Tour your ancestors' neighbourhoods. Look for the house where they lived. If it still exists, be brave, knock on the door, tell them who you are and why you're there. They may invite you in, and you may discover they know of your ancestors or their descendants. Some Irish are surprisingly open to this, and like me, you may find yourself sitting down to tea with complete strangers who will become friends.


Say thank you a lot. Always ask the name of anyone who helps you along the way. When you return home send thank you notes, or at least a thank you email, to the people who helped you. It will make you more memorable, and you may find little bits of helpful information show up in your mail later on.

Finally... one extra tip, although not related to research:

DON'T WHINE about the rain. Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic, and if you recall your elementary school science, that means its climate is 'governed' by the vagaries of the sea, so it rains there more than it does in a landlocked place. There is rainfall on about 280 days a year in Ireland, sometimes more, sometimes less. That doesn't mean it rains all day long; often the rain falls for just a few minutes or a couple of hours. After the rain comes the sunshine, and the rainbows, and that just has to make you smile.

A shot taken when I stopped for petrol in North County Dublin.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!: Fathers of our family


to lift, never to falter
to care, without fail
to love and support without error
these are dream words
these are not father.

to try, and then fail,
but try again
to love, and have trouble showing it,
but love anyway
to be strong, but allow frailty,
these are human words
these are Father.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers of our families!

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: Family Medical History: The life you save may be your own

Including family medical history in your family history and genealogy research offers a fascinating and possibly beneficial glimpse into the life of your family. The sum total of all family medical history can be very helpful when looking at your own health issues. You may want to use the information you uncover to determine if there is a risk of inherited disease.  When all is said and done, the life you save may be your own.

As with all genealogy and family history the best place to start is with living relatives who may recollect certain health issues suffered by deceased family members; however, they may not always be forthcoming with the details. For example in my own family the fact that undiagnosed diabetes was principally the cause of my paternal grandmother's death was kept a secret for many years. Some family members viewed the fact of diabetes as somehow shameful. The same goes for cancer. Many will not even utter the 'C' word, as some call it, preferring to refer to it as 'his illness' or 'her battle'. It may be difficult for us to understand such feelings of shame, but whether or not we understand it, it does exist.

Family documents offer a good starting point. Letters, memoirs, even family bibles, and other documents of this nature may include details of illnesses and causes of death. Sometimes a off hand remark in a letter or document may lead you to uncover a chronic illness or general pattern of ill health. Of course, it is important to respect the privacy of family members as you conduct this research, particularly if you plan to post it on a blog. I prefer to post about those long dead, as opposed to the recently departed.

Sources for gathering information about the medical history of your ancestors

1. Tombstones:

Always an interesting source and some may bear the cause of death. You might see Malaria as the cause of death listed on the stones of loved ones who died in so called 'exotic' or 'overseas' locales. If the death was the result of an accident, a gravestone, such as the one pictured below, may give the entire history of the matter in the ending of a life. In this case Henry Coff, a railway fireman, "lost his life near Glencairn Station by the breaking of the leading wheel of the engine truck".

2. Death certificates, death registrations, and parish burial registers:

Of course, these include a statement of the cause of death; however, some may mention diseases or ailments with which we may not be familiar today, such as 'General Debility', or may state different names for similar causes of death. For example typhoid fever may appear as enteric fever, gastric fever, abdominal typhus, infantile remittent fever, slow fever, nervous fever, or pythogenic fever. It is helpful to consult a medical dictionary from the period and region in question in order to best understand what is stated on the death certificate. Take a look at Antiquus Morbus, an excellent site which lists and defines thousands of archaic terms for diseases and causes of death.

The Liverpool death certificate of little Joseph Fitzpatrick 1901, brother of my maternal grandmother.
Cause of death given is 'General Debility'.
1864 death registration for Nicholas Fitzpatrick, twin brother of my maternal great-grandfather Thomas.
Cause of death is 'Cynanche Trachealis', which is better known to us today as 'the croup'. 

3. Workhouse records:

The National Archives of Ireland is a repository for some extant workhouse records including the North and South Dublin Union workhouses. For any other extant workhouse records check the libraries and archives of the county in which your ancestor lived (see Irish Archives Resource). While your ancestor may not have been an inmate of the workhouse proper, if he/she was poor, then he/she may have received medical treatment in the workhouse infirmary, and that treatment may have been noted in the workhouse register. These registers are not currently available online, and so must be consulted in person.

Registration of death for Francis Ball who died in the South Dublin Union Workhouse Infirmary.
4. Cemetery Burial Registers:

Some of these may include not only details relating to the burial site, but also to the cause of death. This record available through Glasnevin Trust in Dublin is a good example of such a record. Use the search page on the Glasnevin Trust website to find information for those interred in The Prospect Cemetery at Glasnevin, Goldenbridge Cemetery, as well as Dardistown, Newlands Cross, and Palmerstown cemeteries. There is a fee for viewing records.

Cause of death given is 'Phthisis', a more benign name for Tuberculosis.
5. Obituaries:

While they may not specifically mention the cause of death, clues can be gleaned from statements such as "after a long illness". Information is sometimes given about charities which will accept donations in memory of the loved one. For example if a cancer society is mentioned, it may mean the loved one suffered from cancer. Also, there may be a mention of a hospice which might hold records. (Hospices in Ireland have been in operation since the mid 19th century). Although such information offered in an obituary is by no means proof of a particular illness, it does offer a starting point. The Irish Newspaper Archives is a good resource for finding obituaries for persons who died on the island of Ireland.

6. Pension documents:

If a member of your family applied for a survivor's pension, the cause of death of the loved one may be listed.

7. Old Age Benefit Applications:

These may include information about the cause of death of deceased spouses.

8. Military records:

In addition to the familiar 'killed in action', a full military record will likely list all medical care delivered to the service member while he or she was on active duty. Some extant military records for Irish citizens who fought in World War 1 can be accessed through Ancestry and also through the National Archives UK site.


When I review the sum total of my own family medical history, it can be a bit daunting. Between the eye disease, cardiac troubles, diabetes, alcoholism, dementia and depression, I feel a bit unnerved; however, I view it all as encouragement to take the best possible care of myself so that I live a long and healthy life. Whether or not you use the medical history of your family for your own benefit, I believe you will find conducting this research to be a very interesting and challenging exercise.


Click on images to view larger version.
All materials and photographs ©Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Love, loss, and what she wore

When 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore' played the Westside Theatre in New York City in November of 2009, I felt drawn to go see it. Written by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, and based on the book by Ilene Beckermann, the female-centred play relates the life stories of the characters to the clothes they wore on various landmark occasions in their lives, such as a wedding, the birth of a child, the taking of a lover, the end of a divorce, the loss of a family member.

Going through my mom's clothes cupboards and dressers during this past week, and sorting through the items which mark the life that was my mother's, I had my own 'love, loss and what she wore' moments.

My mom was an elegant and stylish woman who always wore good quality clothing which she kept in immaculate condition. In each bedroom of her home, as I opened the closet, I looked at the sum total of its contents before touching anything. With a heavy heart I began the ritual of carefully taking out each piece of clothing, looking it over, folding it up, setting it aside, and remembering.

Some of the oldest clothes are imbued with the scent of Chanel No. 5, the fragrance my mother always wore when I was a child. Standing inside the small closet of the bedroom which she once shared with my father, I found myself drawing the dresses, jackets and sweaters close up to my face. With eyes closed, I breathed in the fragrance of Mother, and remembered the small moments: Mom touching the stopper of the tiny Chanel bottle to the pulse points on her wrists; Mom dabbing a touch of perfume just beneath the lobe of each ear.

Mom with Dad looking stylish in Casablanca, Morocco

In later years my mother developed a love for solid perfume, and I would buy one for her every Christmas. In the pocket of a couple of her jackets I found some of the solid perfume compacts. The perfume had long ago been used up, but the compacts are still there, small and lovely, with just the slightest hint of fragrance remaining. I picked up each one, ran my fingers over their smooth covers, and held them close to draw in the sweet scent. The soft click as I closed each one evoked memories of the joy I felt in choosing them just for her, and the smile that came over her face when she opened them each Christmas.

There are the soft pastel coloured sweaters in cable knit, the finely embroidered blouses in silk, the tweed suits and wool dress jackets. There are the tops and t-shirts from her world travels. There are the simple cotton shirts and trousers which were used only for gardening. Every piece brings me to a place of memory.

At the back of her closet there is the black suit Mom wore to my dad's funeral. I recall the deep quiet of the shopping trip to choose that suit. There was no joy; it was a task of utility. Mom never again donned that black suit.

In the cupboard of my old bedroom hangs the lovely black and white dress I persuaded her to buy for a dinner/dance. Mom didn't want to try it on because it has short sleeves. As she aged, my mom disliked the way her arms looked in short sleeves, but I talked her into buying the dress because she looked wonderful in it. I recall my father's eyes wrinkling with laughter on the evening of the dance, as he watched her in that dress move down the stairs toward him.

In a dresser drawer, layers of silk slips lie silent, in shades of muted pink and ecru. In another, a sea of beautifully tinted silk scarves sit square at attention, waiting for her to draw one out and gently wrap it around her throat.

In the lapels of dress jackets there are small jewelled pins just waiting for Mom to come unpin them, and return them to their place in her lingerie drawer. Instead that task has fallen to me. I gently unclip each pin and draw it from the lapel, carefully smoothing the fabric so it looks as though no pin had ever pierced it.

Soon all the clothing Mom had will be gone from her home, given to charity, passed on to others, but locked within each piece is a memory. The wearer may not know that it is there, but still it will remain, as another woman creates her own memories in the clothes once worn by Mom.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Thank You Family Tree Magazine

This morning I awoke to an announcement on the Twitter-verse that my blog has been included in Family Tree Magazine's Top 40 Genealogy Blogs for International Research. I feel honoured to be included, and offer my congratulations to all bloggers on the list. Thank You Family Tree Magazine!

Also my thanks and deep gratitude to all of you who continue to follow this blog. As you know life has been a bit rough for me lately, so to know I have your support means the world to me.

Thank You.

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