Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Updates to my Memorials of Deeds Pages

Rabbit Holes and my Deeds Research


The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were
filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures
hung upon pegs.
Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll. Project Gutenberg (my emphasis)

In the past two decades, while transcribing and adding to my collection of Irish Memorials of Deeds -  more than 6,000 so far - I have often identified with poor, confused Alice. Down the rabbit hole! While Method and Madness may be the name of an Irish Whiskey that I enjoyed on a recent visit to Ireland, it could also be a good description of my research approach. Falling into rabbit holes may be utterly crazy-making, to me and to Alice, but it does open up one’s head to new ways of seeing. 

As part of trying to better understand the lives of shared ancestors, I have started documenting collateral lines – aunts, uncles, cousins and such. Quite revealing. Plus, I have been digging into the leases of their neighbours. As a realtor might say, Location. Location. Location – or perhaps more accurately in this case: Rabbit-hole, Rabbit-hole, Rabbit-hole. You can check out the recent update of my collection of Irish Memorials of Deeds, to  see where it might take you. Who knows? (Updates include adding more hyperlinks to the original sources, as well as links to townlands, and to relevant family trees.)

As a result of one recent rabbit hole, I ended up with enough data to create a Purefoy Family Tree. Why that particular rabbit-hole? Well, I had found that two William PUREFOYs – cousins of each other – had held leases bracketing land in Clonad in Kings Co. (aka Offaly), land which had been granted to a Francis JACKSON in 1667. Decades later, other JACKSONs lived nearby. Would the leases of the PUREFOYS lead me to an earlier ancestor? Also: Why did Francis JACKSON not continue to lease that land?

Of course nothing in Irish history or geography is ever simple. There are three townlands called Clonad in Co. Offaly (aka Kings Co.), but the one that we need here is the Clonad in Parish Clonsast, Barony Coolestown. The page that I then did of a Purefoy Family Tree became an example of the fun that happens when others respond to shared data. The photos which David H. Molony of Tipperary, sent to me after I first uploaded that post, give that family story some added snap and meaning. When I then assembled a page on PUREFOY deeds, it became easy to see a few PUREFOY-JACKSON links worth following up on. While there were no slam dunks, sometimes the breadcrumbs lead to breakthroughs. Not that I have yet found out who this Francis JACKSON was (am still exploring several options).

More recently, I also started tracking and adding transcriptions of leases held by other folk who simply shared my Irish family surnames: JACKSONs, OLIVERs, etc . It turns out that families in the merchant class, many of whom had made their living in the linen trade, either parked a son in convenient ports to handle the shipping end of things, or else they made sure that their daughters married someone who could take that on. This is why families with access to ports in Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk, Belfast, Coleraine, and Cork etc. often turn out to be connected to family homes in other counties. In Ireland when it comes to the expression  follow the money one should also add the caveat of follow the land.

In Ireland, the upper middle class of the 18th & 19th century included merchants, tradesmen, and “strong farmers”. Many of them finalized their legal agreements by shaking hands in front of witnesses in nearby pubs or else over Strongbow’s tomb in Christ Church Cathedral. The signatories in the memorials of these agreements were labelled as Esq.,  Gent, or often just as plain Mr. A few were described as widow, relict, spinster or Mrs. There was quite a range when it came to status.

I often imagine the lives of these people when I visit Ireland and walk past The Brazen Head Pub (est. 1198), or else stand beside Strongbow’s tomb in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. I imagine how they dressed, how they walked, what their voices sounded like, and what the air around them smelled like. If I stand there long enough, I can even imagine the whiff of the powder from the wigs worn by the Esqs. or the earthy scent of manure on the pant cuffs of those Gents who still actively farmed. Being there, on the land, and giving free rein to imagination is all part and parcel of embracing the total picture.

 People will tell you where they've gone They'll tell you where to go But till you get there yourself
You never really know
From Amelia by Joni Mitchell

PS If you have read this far, your reward is this racy doodle added by some long ago clerk or reader sketched on the parchment of one of the Townland Indexes. I wonder if they ever got caught. The speech bubbles are a little hard to read but say: (The Major) How dare you since I married you. The woman (with the head of a bird?) replies: So you did you Villein

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