Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Mothers of My Mother

In genealogy, as far as ease of research goes, it’s fairly easy to find your line of fathers, by tracing your surname through history. These lineages have been documented for centuries in church records and government census reports. Barring fires that destroyed documents- which was, unfortunately, fairly common. Most of the 1890 Census was lost in a fire at the Commerce Department in 1921.
What was sad, in my research, was discovering how many female names were lost in history. Most of those are noted as, for example, Mrs. James Chilton. But those women had names and lives, and I want to know them. I am saddened by the periods of our history where women were seen as commerce to bargain with and property of their spouses, if for no other reason than, without man or woman, none of us would be here. To me that puts us on equal footing. As much as I wanted to know my line of fathers, I also wanted to know my line of mothers.
I know the woman who bore me (and raised me, and loves me still). I know my Grandmother, the woman who bore my mother. But I also wanted to know the woman who bore my grandmother, and the woman who bore her, and the woman who bore her. What bodies did the souls of my ancestors incubate within, before emerging into the world? Practitioners of Ifa, a religion shaped around ancestor worship, believe that you cannot know yourself if you cannot name seven generations of your ancestors. And so, I wanted to know the mothers of my mother.
I was able to find two more generations of my mother’s maternal line before I hit a dead end. When I was young, I knew my Grandmother’s mother wasn’t alive but I didn’t know anything about her family beyond the fact that her father’s family was German. My Great-Grandmother was Margaret Loretta Burke. She was born in Lockport, New York in 1893. She married Robert George Art, the grandson of a German immigrant, and before they married she worked as a glove maker. Margaret and Robert had four daughters before her death in 1938 at the age of 44.
I discovered Margaret’s mother on a census report, Eliza Conners, born in December of 1866. Eliza was 100% Irish, a first-generation American. After she married in 1884, she and her husband Frank Burke lived on Washington Street in Lockport, NY (I wrote about going to find their home in last week’s blog). Frank Burke was also Irish. He was a city laborer, who worked on the canal, and later, specifically, as a lock tender. They had thirteen children, eleven who survived.
Eliza’s mother, my 3x Great-Grandmother, was Mary D. Dowd of Ireland. She was born in 1834. Her husband, David Conners, was also born in Ireland, but I don’t know if they married there or in America. All of their children were born in New York, where he was a laborer. Mary’s father, Barney, resided with them in America.
Mary’s mother is unknown to us, for now. She is my sixth generation backwards. I am content to know the line waits with her in the soil of Ireland. I find myself wondering if her mother also resided on Irish soil, and where that family line will find itself if I can open the door to push further.

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