Happy St. Patrick’s Day! There’s this line that everyone’s a “wee bit Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a fun, little joke that no matter what your nationality is, you can claim Irish for the day, even if you’re not. It's your pass to don green and drink beer and party like you're from the Emerald Isle.
My dad has always told me that his roots go back to England and Ireland, with a little Scottish thrown in there. So, I was fairly certain there was some Irish there, but I never had a real confirmation. This past summer, I took a trip with my aunt, meant to help me learn a little about our family background.
My Aunt Marilyn is my dad’s older sister. She’ll be turning 89 this month. She’s the one in the family who has had a big interest in genealogy and I always wanted to learn more from her. Taking a trip with her seemed to be a good opportunity. Marilyn was a teacher and later a probation officer. She still has that teacher way about her - she’s gentle and patient and explains everything thoroughly and seems to know everything. She's traveled the world and has had amazing experiences that I so enjoyed hearing about.
The purpose of the trip was to make our way through four states and she was going to introduce me to some cousins (2nd and 3rd cousins) who I have never met. I was very excited about it. She also wanted me to see the farm where my grandfather was born in Kentucky.
We first went to Dayton, Ohio to meet her first cousin, Carole. We left on Labor Day and visited her at her home with her kids and a nephew and niece and their kids and the next day we went out to dinner to celebrate her 85th birthday. Carole’s mother and my paternal grandfather were siblings.
Next it was on to Ashland, Kentucky to meet a cousin, Karen, for dinner. I believe her dad and my grandfather were cousins. The third visit was to meet a cousin, Grant, in Frenchburg, Kentucky. He was closer in age to me than the other cousins we were meeting (he's around 40). Instead of staying at a hotel this time, we were welcomed into his home with his wife, Ashley, and 8-year-old son, Jaxon.
They were so hospitable and so happy to spend time with us. If I remember correctly, Marilyn had met Grant once as a very young boy on a visit to the area decades ago. The connection with Grant is that his great grandmother was a cousin of my paternal grandfather. While my paternal grandfather (who died before I was born) was born at the Oldfield family farm in Maytown, Kentucky, his family relocated to central Illinois when he was a child.
It was amazing to learn that the farm where he was born is still there and still intact, although the once-tobacco farm isn’t producing tobacco anymore. Grant’s grandfather and then father had lived on the farm. He’s an only child and his father passed away last year. He takes the responsibility of carrying on that family history very seriously.
One day he took us for a ride over to the farm. On the way we visited two cemeteries and although some of the names were ones I had heard in bits of conversation, I really couldn’t make a connection to any of them other than the few that Grant specifically pointed out - like his parents and grandparents. The third cemetery we visited was actually on that family farm. Grant later showed us a land deed stating that the family acquired the land around 1830.
The little cemetery sat at the highest point on the hilly farm. We couldn’t drive up in our car and had to hop in Grant’s truck to be able to navigate the terrain. Once at the top, we snapped a couple photos. The stones are old and worn and mossy, but you could make out the names and dates. Greenery covered some of the stones, but two were easily visible - the names on them were Dennie Oldfield and Martha Oldfield. Again, the names really didn’t mean much to me - I hadn’t really heard the last name Oldfield until this leg of the trip.
We went on with our visit. Grant took us to an out of the way farm-to-table restaurant in the Daniel Boone National Forest after he learned I was a food blogger. He took us by some scenic falls in the area. And on the final day we accompanied them to church before heading on to spend a night in the capital of Kentucky, Frankfort.
That night at the hotel, Marilyn brought in a bag of papers she’d had in the car. She had a number of photos she’d been pulling out to show relatives we met. As she went through the papers, she said, “You might like to see this.” It was an amazing treasure — a handwritten family tree she’d constructed probably a quarter-century or more earlier. It followed my dad’s paternal side back to 1761 to a great-great-great-great-great grandfather who had fought in the Revolutionary War. In looking at it, I saw the same names that I had seen on headstones in the cemeteries and it sunk in that at one - maybe two of those cemeteries, I was related to every person buried there in some way.
I matched up the names to those two headstones that were in that little cemetery high on the hill of the Oldfield family farm. It turned out Martha, whose maiden name was Murphy, was my great, great grandmother, born in 1830. Another little booklet had been typed - I could tell it had been typed on a manual typewriter - and had more detailed history of the family. It ended with a paragraph about how this information was being recorded so that it wouldn’t be lost to future generations. I got chills reading that. It was dated 1958.
As I flipped through I came to Martha Murphy and it showed that her father was John Murphy. And the next thing I read was really life-changing. It said that John Murphy’s father, also named John Murphy, was born in Dublin, Ireland. He came to the U.S. as a stowaway on a ship at age 17 and landed in Virginia. I was just in awe. I really enjoyed learning so much about where our family lived and what they did over the past couple of centuries in the United States, but I hadn’t yet seen anything with a direct link to where they were before they came to this country. It was amazing to read in a little booklet typed by a relative 60 years ago the confirmation of where this one part of the family came from. It confirmed that in the late 1700s, my great-great-great-great grandfather came here from Ireland. It was late at night and Aunt Marilyn was asleep and I was reading all this information by a dim hotel light over the desk. I was on Eastern time, an hour ahead of everyone at home, so there was no one awake to share this amazing discovery with. I wanted to jump and up and down and giggle and scream, but I had to just sit there silently and read it over and over again. I sent a quick text to my sisters and my dad that I figured they’d read in the morning: “I traced us back to Dublin, Ireland. Now on St. Patrick’s Day I can truly say that I know that I’m Irish.”
So, this is the first St. Patrick’s Day that it’s confirmed that I can truly say that I am of Irish decent. And it feels so cool to really know it’s true.