My Journey Into The Past - Sharon Shea Bossard
|There comes a time when an insatiable curiosity overwhelms us and it’s not long before we find ourselves searching the web, hoping to find reliable information on our Irish-born ancestors. It can begin as a casual look through the Ellis Island Ship Records, a phone call to an elderly family member in hopes they’re able to recall information on their parents and grandparents, or combing through family albums/bibles/old letters for names and dates.
When you’ve done the job of carefully tracking family in America, then you’re all ready to book your flight to Ireland.
Finding My Irish
This passion to find my Irish grew when I found myself wondering about my four Irish-born grandparents. I had never met my father’s parents, nor did he ever speak of family, and the only way I knew they were from the Cahersiveen area was from information imprinted on their gravestones in Omaha, Nebraska. And as luck would have it, their birthdates were included: Michael Shea (1859) and Bridget Murphy (1865) (pictured right).
I went to work gathering documents here at home in Chicago, beginning with Ship Records, City Directories, Parish Records of parishes where they had married and raised their children…anything that hinted at the schools, occupations, neighborhoods. And wasn’t I surprised to discover a first cousin living in Spokane, Washington. It was from my newly discovered first cousin that I learned one of my father’s best-kept secrets - I never knew he came from a family of ten brothers and sisters.
The trail leads to Valentia.....
Eager to help with the search, she gave me an old letter written by a Hannah Keating from CoarhaBeg, Valentia Island, Ireland, Sept. 13, 1949. This document provided the important link that led me to our grandmother’s family on Valentia Island.
Pictured left, Hannah Keating’s cottage on Valentia (Sharon with Margaret O’Shea Jordan, O’Shea yDNA Project Coordinator)
First Stop - The Parish Church, Cahersiveen...
My husband, Phil, and I will never forget that first trip to Ireland in 2003 and our arrival into Cahersiveen. Charmed by the raw beauty of majestic coastlines; the rugged, lush green fields splashed with Spring daffodils; a lively old-style town teeming with shoppers; and the grand Gothic Revival-style Daniel O’Connell Church located in the middle of it all, and a feeling of pride washed over me, for I knew it wouldn’t be long before I could claim this part of Kerry as mine.
Wasting no time, we got down to the business of the search. Our first encounter was to be with Tim Casey (pictured right with Phil) who was easily found working at the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church tending to office duties. (The Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church is Cahersiveeen’s Parish Church and Tim is the Sacristan). Tim kindly offered to take the time to show us the 1850 book that included Birth, Marriage, and Baptism Records. Unfortunately after much searching, nothing could be found on my grandfather Michael Shea.
Noreen leads us to The Glen
Taking leave of this lovely man, we scurried across the street to the Town Library where we found Chief Librarian, Noreen O’Sullivan. Noreen helped us considerably and even suggested we speak with a Patrick O’Leary from The Glen—a retired school teacher who has a vast knowledge of the area and the residents both past and present. Directions in hand, we jumped into our car and began our treacherous journey to St. Finan’s Bay in search of Patrick’s cottage. You won’t be surprised to learn that we drove through a fog-induced, blustery rainfall. Difficult as it was to manoeuvre the extremely narrow mountain roads, we spied Patrick’s yellow cottage in the distance and were very pleased to see smoke billowing from the chimney.
Patrick and his wife just could not have been nicer; they ushered us into the parlour where the crackling fire warmed our spirits. We told him of our search and he explained the area and the families from generations past. Patrick provided us with many important facts and information pertinent to our search and he even took time to drive us to the old Church and graveyard overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay. Back into town and after a delicious dinner, we laid out plans for our next day’s events on our visit to Valentia.
Searching for clues in the Graveyard and finding more cousins...
Morning could not have come quickly enough, for we were anxious to begin our search. While wandering Valentia’s Kylemore Graveyard investigating burial sites, we happened upon Kathleen Corless (pictured left), who after looking through paper work, identified herself as my second cousin and Eileen Murphy, of the “Paris” Murphys (no relation). That discovery delighted us, for it was “Paris” Murphy who then put us in touch with Kitty and John Murphy of Portmagee, pictured right. Seems John is also my second cousin, of the “Cap” Murphys. Kitty and John welcomed us into their home and then Kitty hurried to set a lovely table, and to our amazement assorted plates filled with home-made cakes and breads appeared along with a steaming pot of delicious Barry’s tea.
And from John and Kitty, we learned of another cousin, Brendie Murphy, of the “Clerk” Murphys, on Valentia Island.
Brendie, pictured left, welcomed us into his cottage and his wife Bernie made delicious sandwiches that were so tasty we still talk of them today. Brendie showed us many wonderful old photos and gave me an armload to take home for my album. Treasure indeed.
Off to Chapeltown’s famous pub for much more than a pint!
We then visited John William O’Sullivan of the Ring Lyne Pub on Valentia, and he entertained us with wonderful stories of his childhood. John William intoduced us to Mary O’Neill (both pictured below right) who has lived on Valentia for all of her ninety plus years and is a mine of information. As you can see, this was an adventure – everyone we met was so friendly and willing to help us on this search. So many pieces of information were offered which then went to piecing the jigsaw together.
So many wonderful folks opened their hearts and their cottages to us - too numerous to mention here, we are grateful to every single one of them for all their valuable assistance.
Needless to say, there were many more trips to Cahersiveen; each time we learned a bit more about my grandmother’s family BUT it seemed my grandfather would be lost to me forever, for nary a speck of information could be found.
Then, on one of our fact-finding missions through Dublin in 2006, we happened upon some information on Ireland’s yDNA Project. Thinking this would be the only way to resolve the whereabouts of my Shea’s, I ordered the kit and contacted my brother for a cheek swab - the test can only be done on males. No match popped up, but now I had a scientific team behind me, and new possibilities unfolded.
Success.... my grandfather’s family found at last!
On a trip to Ballinskelligs in 2009, Kitty and John Murphy’s son put me in touch with Patsy O’Shea in The Glen, and he agreed to accept a yDNA kit and do the swab.
Six weeks later the news arrived. We are a match!
Pictured left, Patsy & Maureen O’Shea of The Glen.
I would never have known my grandfather came from the Glen and were it not for this wonderful project, it’s very unlikely that I would have been able to trace him . I encourage those who have hit that brick wall when searching for family to contact Family Tree DNA. It really does seem the most efficient way to find family when all else fails.
If you’re an O’Shea/Shea and interested in the Family Tree DNA, please visit their website, www.osheaclan.org or www.familytreedna.com.
My Heartfelt Thanks.....
I would like to truly thank the people of Cahersiveen, Portmagee, Ballinskelligs, The Glen and Valentia Island for their friendliness and incredible co-operation. I knew this journey would be interesting and at times difficult but the amount of help I received was astounding. I treasure the fact that I share this bond of common ancestry with these good people and I would recommend a visit to Cahersiveen and the surrounding villages,to anyone who would like to find their ancestors in this area.
Sharon Shea Bossard resides in Chicago,IL and is the author of the book –
Finding My Irish which is an inspiring memoir of the author’s relentless quest to unlock her Irish heritage.
Her most recent award-winning book is Finding Your Chicago Irish, where she steers readers beyond the shamrocks and green beer and into the heart and soul of Irish Chicago with her entertaining and comprehensive guide.
Visit www.findingmyirish.com for additional information and advice..
About the Author
Sharon Shea Bossard has been involved in researching her Irish roots for more than three years. Sharon began to wonder about her Irish when she realized that she and her siblings had no memory of family events or stories to tell their children. The author recalled family stories perceived through parents’ whispered accusations, and she grew up believing that being Irish was akin to suffering from a dreaded disease--you knew you had it and lived with it as best you could. Recently becoming curious about her family history, she decided to search for any information regarding her Irish-born grandparents. Old documents revealed a story--one she couldn’t ignore. Facts concerning the lives of her grandparents emerged and secrets were uncovered. An overwhelming curiosity directed the author to dig deeper into family records, to travel to the villages in Ireland where her grandparents were born, and to locate family who still reside in those villages.
Sharon has just recently discovered what has been a part of her since before she was born, and she has come to know and love that "Irish feeling," the feeling that first called her back to Ireland.
Sharon is an Irish citizen and currently lives with her husband in Lake Zurich, Illinois. She has one married daughter and a son-in-law who also reside in Lake Zurich. The author earned her Master’s Degree from Northeastern Illinois University, majoring in Special Education, and taught for twenty-nine years in a suburban high school.