Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'd Bet My Tin Cup...

[The following is a submission for the 15th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture: the 2nd Annual Small-Leaved Shamrock Summer Reading Challenge]

I Hate Moving
At last count, my husband and I have figured that we have moved 12 times in the 15 1/2 years that we've been married ~ all moves in the state of Texas.  [Roots, what are those?]  No, we're not a military family.  They've just all been family- and/or job-related moves.  Needless to say, I hate moving.  I hate the packing of the boxes, the transferring of utilities [Budde Rd., anyone?], the loading of the truck, the driving, the unloading of the truck, the unpacking of the boxes, the wondering of whether or not something of real value has been broken, and most of all the expenses involved.  I hate every aspect of it.  The next time we move, it'd better be because I won the lottery.  I'm not doing any move-related work [except for all the shopping for my mansion].

By Foot, By Wagon, By Ship...
No doubt it is hard work to move, but it was even harder for our ancestors to move.  Every time I trace an ancestor's migration path and compare it to a time line to see how they traveled, I am both amazed and humbled.  Their means of transportation was not easy to say the least, and how far they went is beyond my comprehension.

From Ireland to Texas Via New Orleans
This is why when I look at the small amount of information that I've been able to find on my 2nd great-grandmother Annie O'Brien, I am truly dumbfounded.  What makes a nineteen year-old young Irish lady board a ship in Dublin, Ireland with, I would guess, everything she owns, and set sail for New Orleans, Louisiana in the year 1872?  Admittedly, I've not done much research on her.  I have a copy of her death certificate obtained from [Record Search], and  I found on as well as on microfilm at the library that she married my 2nd great-grandfather Daniel Rook(e) Vaughn in 1874 in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.  Additionally, I was able to follow them in the census to Texas where they lived and raised children until their deaths.

My Tin Cup Is Always Half-Full
From what my mother has told me, she was supposed to have been a strong-willed lady [supposedly part of my "long line of managing women" that I descend from] who had a penchant for Irish Whiskey.  It's been passed down orally in my family that she had a tin cup that she'd take once a day to the local saloon's back door and have it filled up.  [It could have been worse ~ it could have been a whole bottle of Irish Whiskey or she could have been a "saloon girl."  See, for me, my tin cup is always half-full...]  It has also been said by various family members that it's a good thing she died in 1918 because she never would have survived Prohibition.  Just this wee bit of information makes me thirsty for more of Annie's story.  I want to know her.  I want to meet her.  In order to do that [seances aside], I need to search for her.  I have to find out what was going on at the time she was living in Dublin as well as the history leading up to her birth.  The only thing I really know about Irish history that may have influenced her was the Potato Famine.  Was this why she moved?

It's A Lot Like Listening To A Violin
With all this in mind, I chose for my summer reading challenge a book entitled, "In Search of Ireland's Heroes...The Story of the Irish from the English Invasion to the Present Day" written by Carmel McCaffrey.  Now, you might be wondering why I didn't choose a book about  the Potato Famine.  I'm glad you pointed that out.  I find that reading history is a lot like listening to a violin being played.  In the hands of a master violinist it is pure poetry to the ears, but when it's accompanied by the rest of the orchestra, it makes sense to not only the ears, but to the mind and heart as well.  You can't take a piece of history out of context and be able to read and understand it.  Moreover, according to Isaac Newton, "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."  You can't understand the reaction [and the motivations behind it] without understanding the action that it's reacting to.  Confused?  Let's say for example, when my daughter comes to me and says that my son hit her, I always ask both of them their side of the story.  My thinking is that somewhere in between lies the truth.  Plus, there might be a good reason that he hit her.  Maybe she hit him first... [As a side note, for my sanity, I try not to micromanage my children.  I advocate them solving their problems on their own.  It's not a part of my future plans to be a 70-year-old mom mediating who hit who and why they did it.  I'm going to be too busy traveling to awesome places like Ireland.]

From An Irish Point of View
Ms. McCaffrey's book was and is an excellent source of the history of Ireland leading up to the day my Annie set sail for New Orleans, and then through to present day.  It is very easy to read without feeling like it was "dumb-downed."  That's probably because it isn't.  It's just that she writes like she's talking to you.  [She's Irish, so in my head, I added the accent, too.]  Furthermore, I'm glad that I chose not to read just about the Potato Famine because I would have missed why it was so devastating to the Irish.  In other words, their reaction of the action.  Don't worry, though, I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow of Irish history from about 1200 and onward.  In order to learn all about Ireland's heroes, you need to read the book like I did. If you have Irish heritage like I do, or just desire to know Irish history from the Irish point of view, then this book is for you.

So That's Why...
I learned that just as a family tree does not stand alone, neither does a country's history.  There were many times while I was reading the book, that I had "Ah-ha" moments.  I would think, "So, that's why..."  Of course it covers English and some European history, but it covers some American history as well.  It gives a better understanding of some of our American forefathers and their motivations, the affects of the American Revolution on Ireland, and a small look at the American Irish who managed to stay connected with their homeland.

Going To Bed Hungry
So, did I learn anything about Annie O'Brien?  You can bet your tin cup I did.  I learned that no matter how hungry I get, I will never come close to understanding what true hunger is.  The fact that her mother and father made it through the famine and had Annie is a true miracle in and of itself.  Annie reported that she was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1852.  This would've been 2 years after the famine officially ended.  According to Ms. McCaffrey, 1.5 million Irish died from starvation and disease. 1.5 million.  Certainly, the aftereffects of the famine were still being felt severely in 1852 and throughout Annie's childhood.  I would imagine that there were nights she went to bed hungry, or if she didn't, her parents did.

Will The Real Annie Please Stand Up?
On Annie's death certificate, her father is listed as James O'Brien, and her mother's name is unknown.  So, does this mean she never talked about her mother?  Could it be her mother died young?  Annie's son Daniel Vaughn, Jr.  was the informant on her death certificate, so maybe because he was the youngest, he never heard any stories.  Maybe he just didn't remember them.  Additionally, I have yet to find the passenger list that marks her voyage.  Do you realize how many Annie/Ann/Anne O'Brien's there are, not to mention that her first name could have been Mary [rolling of the eyes heavenward].  Like I said above, I haven't done a whole lot of research on her. Furthermore, even though the census and her death certificate list her birthplace as Dublin, Ireland, I'm not even sure if that's correct.  It was common to just list Dublin, Ireland because that's the port they left from, even though they might not have been born there.  I also know that she was Catholic, as is all of my mom's side of the family.  So, maybe church records will help me find her.  Although, an Annie O'Brien with a father named James may not be very easy to discern from all other ones in Dublin, Ireland.  Also, in all the Texas census she is listed in , I've yet to find any O'Brien's in the same vicinity as she.  So, did she come alone?  Had everyone in her immediate family passed away in Ireland?  Was she an orphan?  Was she really an O'Brien?  [Sigh.]  There are so many questions...

A Feast ~ the Likes of Which She'd Probably Never Seen
After visiting New Orleans for the first time this past weekend, another question has been added to all my other questions.  When she finally got off that ship, and got a whiff of the Creole food, the Cajun food, and the seafood, how much was her mouth watering?  I wonder what she ate first, for food is definitely one thing that New Orleans is known for, even in 1872.  Could you imagine what that must of been like for her ~ to not only have food, but spicy food and lots of it?  I'd bet my tin cup that her eyes were bigger than her stomach on more than one occasion.

All Aboard!  Next Stop ~ Ancient Ireland
In the book, "In Search of Ireland's Heroes", the O'Brien name/clan is mentioned just once in the beginning of the book.  Ms. McCaffrey indicates that after the English Invasion the O'Brien's were still in power in Munster [southern Ireland].  Now, the O'Brien's were not the "movers and the shakers" of the time period that this book covers.  [of course not...]  Clans such as the Fitzgerald's, the O'Neill's, and the O'Donnell's take center stage in this book.  Apparently the O'Brien's were the "movers and the shakers" of ancient Ireland, an account of which can be found in Ms. McCaffrey's prequel to this book and is entitled, "In Search of Ancient Ireland."  Also, according to many published genealogies of this clan, the O'Brien's descend from a Brian Boru who was crowned as High King of Ireland in 1002.  Now, that's a family story that is a "must-read."  So, in my "off-time" from searching for more of Annie's story, I'll be ensconced in ancient Ireland and Brian's story [the High King ~ not the football player] while sipping from my tin cup.


  1. Enjoyed the story -- good read! I guess we'll have to call each other "cousin" now, for our bunch also supposedly descends from Brian Boru. Do let me know if you find any good books about him. V.

  2. I love learning about our family histories. Great site!


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