"Leave those old dead people alone," my elderly father said when I started asking questions about his grandparents.
Fortunately, not everyone in my father's family held the same view. In the early 1960s, long before online genealogical databases made family history available to anyone with an Internet connection, my father's cousins had documented their Irish family history, beginning with their great-grandparents, Thomas William Barrett and Hanora Ahern of Knocknagornah in County Limerick. Hanora and "Brown Tom" Barrett, as he was called, probaby to distinguish him from all the other Tom Barretts in the neightborhood, had 15 children from 1861 to 1884, 14 of whom lived to adulthood, an amazing feat in nineteenth century Ireland.
As a child, I studied and marveled over the typewritten, mimeographed book of the Barrett family genealogy with its long lists of names and dates. When finally the time arrived that online databases and genealogical communities allowed collaboration with other family researchers, I was able to add more data to the heap.
Three of the 14 surviving children of Hanora and Thomas Barrett emigrated to the United States after Thomas died in 1888, where they established large families. Four of the remaining siblings married in Ireland, leaving numerous progeny living not far from the family's home place in Knocknagornah.
I don't understand statistics, really, but I shouldn't be surprised that eventually, just a few years ago, I connected with a Barrett cousin in Ireland who has an active interest in the family history. Our grandmothers were first cousins; I'll let you check my math, but I believe that makes us third cousins. We are both named after our great-great-grandmother Hanora Ahern Barrett, and we are both photographers.
I was a bit amazed when I was able to share with her the family group photo at the top of this post; I'd found a copy in 2010 among my father's sister's photographs, so I don't know where the original might be, although I'm guessing it came back to the States via a cousin who had visited the family in Ireland.
So what does all this have to do with travel, you might be wondering? I've found a perfect excuse to go and see my cousin in Galway, given that TBEX Europe is happening in Dublin in early October. As I've only missed one of the many TBEX conferences since the first meeting in Chicago, I'm certain I would have found a way to attend without the extra motivation of meeting newfound family members.
Even so, this chance to make family connections has inspired great plans for my time in Ireland after TBEX.
My cousin and I plan to explore and photograph the old family home places she has discovered in County Limerick and County Kerry and meet more family members, even perhaps the four generations of our great-great-grandmother's Ahern family who still live in the house where Hanora Ahern Barrett was born in 1840.
As I prepare for my visit, you can be sure I will be sharing more Barrett and Ahern family stories.