The Route to Your Roots
Published: May 2013
Field reports from four families who have embarked on genealogical journeys
Nancy Phillips Parent
An Irish-American Clan's Discovery: The Family Homestead
Guide: Irish Cultural Connections (353-47/86363 or 353-87/266-7694; www.irishculturalconnections.com)
My quest began many years ago, when I was 15 and came across an old family bible, a Phillips family treasure. In it, there was an entry for a Patrick Phillips of Monaghan who had the same birthday as I do, though he was born 130 years earlier. My grandmother told me that Patrick was my great-great-grandfather. That's when I started longing to know more about my heritage, a fascination I shared with my mother.
Several summers ago, my husband, 13-year-old daughter, and I surprised my mother on her birthday with a trip to Ireland for all of us. We were incredibly excited, and pored over the old bible trying to discern exactly where our family was from. Some of the entries dated back 150 years, and the names of villages weren't spelled consistently. My husband and daughter surfed the Net looking for Irish sites that might help us pinpoint where in Monaghan our family originated. After posting a question on a Monaghan bulletin board, a woman suggested I visit Plunkett McKenna's site, Irish Cultural Connections, to see if he could help.
We furnished Plunkett with our spotty information, and he went to work. Miraculously, he was able to locate our old homestead, now nothing more than a pile of rocks on some farmland. Not only that, but he found surviving members of the Kelly clan, whose property long ago bordered our family's and who were familiar with Phillips's history. He even located the church where Patrick and Mary, my great-great-grandmother, were married.
Through Plunkett we arranged to stay at Bill and Ann Holden's wonderful B&B in Monaghan. On arrival we toured the area with Plunkett. Stops included the Phillips homestead, our parish, and a wonderful visit with the Kellys. He also took us through a day in the life of our ancestors, who were poor farmers. We visited Mullan's Mills, the town where they shopped; landmarks such as St. Patrick's chair; and the sheltered meadow where they worshiped (we learned from the Kellys that the English required them to be practising Protestants, so they walked five miles every Sunday to this field where a priest said mass in secret). Thanks to Plunkett, we came to fully understand how Patrick and Mary lived—a truly humble existence—and why they had to leave during the famine. For my mother, it was a very gratifying homecoming; for my daughter, a valuable history and heritage lesson. And my husband and I were so pleased that we returned the following summer—with Plunkett's assistance, we renewed our vows in Patrick and Mary's parish. I wore Mary's ring!
A Texas Family in Search of a Sicilian Connection
Guide: Emilio Terrazzino (39-0922/414-893; www.papiro.net/pubblicita/emilio/home.html)
My husband's family emigrated from Modica, Sicily, through Ellis Island to Beaumont, Texas, in 1900. We knew little more than that about Don's Italian roots, until two years ago, when our son's company transferred him and his family moved to Genoa. In anticipation of visiting them, I embarked on a project to find out about our Sicilian history, beginning with my husband's grandmother Giovana Sudano, who had died at an early age in Houston.
I searched the microfilms at our local Mormon church in Waco, and ordered some films containing town records from its index. I was so excited when the first batch arrived from Salt Lake City—until I put one in the machine and realized it was handwritten, a century old, and in Italian! Not knowing any Italian, I almost gave up, but I learned to recognize names and dates, so I could identify family connections, including the names of Giovana's siblings and parents.
Along the way, I heard about an Italian Genealogical Organization, POINT (Persuing Our Italian Names Together), that was very helpful in teaching me how to research Italian families. I attended one of the organization's national meetings in Austin, and met a young woman based in California who's an Italian translator. She did a wonderful job translating the Mormon microfilms for me. Also at the POINT conference I heard about Emilio Terrazzino, a guide and translator who lives in Sicily and could help us with our search, and guide us when we were there.
In May of 2001 my husband and I, and our son and his family (children ages 10, 7, and 4), flew to Catania, Sicily, squeezed into a rented van, and set out to find Modica. We had arranged to meet up with Emilio Terrazzino on the steps of San Giorgio Cathedral, where our ancestors were baptized and married. Emilio took us to the city hall and helped us find family birth, marriage, and death records. He also showed us the street our family had lived on and the cemetery where they were buried.
I was surprised and very pleased by our son's and grandchildren's great interest in finding the place they had descended from. Alas, we didn't come across any surviving family members in the short time we were there, but the visit was an emotional and rewarding one. We capped it off with two days on the beach in the beautiful, historical town of Agrigento, on the Mediterranean. Yes, the experience was well worth all the time I spent in front of the microfilm machine.
An Illinois Mother Meets Her Adopted Daughter's Birth Mother in Korea
Guide: The Ties Program (www.adoptivefamilytravel.com; 800/398-3676)
In 1999 our family of five traveled to Korea with the Korean Ties tour. Our adopted daughter, who was nine at the time, is Korean, and I had carefully researched heritage tours for years—something I encourage all adoptive families to consider. What especially attracted me to the Ties Program, which guides visits in seven countries, was the fact that on their trips the group sends an adult adoptee social worker from that country to talk with families and children about their experiences. Our social worker Deborah Johnson's presence turned out to be critically important to us when, unexpectedly, we were presented with the opportunity to meet our nine-year-old daughter's birth mother. Deborah's counseling made the reunion a very positive experience.
Our program organizers worked hard to balance all aspects of the 13-day tour. There were 120 of us in the group, and we got around by bus—the kids happily clustered in the back—and there were water parks and Pizza Hut for relaxation, palaces and temples for culture, and orphanages and adoption agencies for pieces of each child's story. Visits to places such as the Eastern Child Welfare Society, a maternity home and orphanage in Seoul, were extremely emotional. We actually met with birth mothers, and that enabled the adopted children to comprehend what their own birth mothers might have gone through in making the decision to place them.
Over the course of our trip we visited an amazing palace and an old folk village, rode a cable car up into the mountainous peaks of Mount Sorak, shopped around Kyongju and Tumuli Park and the Pulguksa temple (great gift shop), saw traditional dance and music performances, and visited a grade school—and learned so much about our daughter's birth country. The adults loved the commentary from our Korean tour guides; the children and teens loved meeting each other and singing karaoke. We all adored the food.
The Ties Program coordinates with adoption agencies so that when babies are being sent to meet their adoptive families in the States, tour participants serve as escorts. We escorted a baby boy on the Seoul-Tokyo leg of his journey to Detroit, and our daughter caught a glimpse of what that part of her history might have been like. There were lots of caring arms to hold each baby—a nice thing for our daughter to see. It was also a healing experience for me, as I had felt so out of touch back in 1988 while I waited at the airport for her arrival. It was like pieces of a puzzle dropping into place for the whole family.
A California Family Treks to Peru to Learn About Their Adopted Daughter's Homeland—and Meet Her Birth Family
Guide: The Ties Program (www.adoptivefamilytravel.com; 800/398-3676)
Our goal in traveling from San Jose to Lima last August was to introduce us all—me, my husband, Dick, our 17-year-old son, Adam, and our 11-year-old daughter, Rebecca—to Rebecca's homeland and culture. We also wanted to take in so many of the sites we missed during our only other visit, 11 years earlier. En route we stopped in Miami and joined several other families traveling with the Ties Program, all of whom had also adopted children from Peru. There were 30 kids in our group!
We spent two days in Lima with two Peruvian guides and a Ties Program counselor. The guides were wonderful—not only full of information but so great with the kids. And in those first days we learned, to our surprise, that at the end of our 10-day stay we would be visiting with Rebecca's birth family—a meeting we had requested but couldn't be sure would happen. Our contact, an attorney who works with the Ties Program, told us that Rebecca's birth family, which included three older siblings, were ery excited about seeing her. He also remarked that she bore a striking resemblance to her sister.
A highlight of our Lima stay was a visit to the S.O.S. Village, an orphanage where we saw that the children are cared for lovingly. There we had a wonderful meeting with a young man who is deaf, as is our son.
Ariquipa, our next stop, is a beautiful city, and our local guide, Jorge, was very proud of it and enjoyed showing us around. When our group visited an orphanage, Horfanatorio Chavez del la Rosa, it was extraordinary to see all the kids in our group playing with the children there and holding the babies. Many of our kids wanted to bring a baby home with them. The orphanage had suffered damage from an earthquake earlier that year, and our group put together a spot pool of donations to help fund repairs.
After Ariquipa we flew to Cuzco, where we visited the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. We attracted attention from Peruvian people wherever we went. Everyone was friendly, but also curious about why we were traveling with Peruvian children. When we explained that we had adopted the children and wanted them to experience the land of their birth, the Peruvians were excited and grateful. It was amazing to see how these kids raised in the U.S. bonded with one another, and with the people of Peru.
Our visit with Rebecca's birth family was an experience we will cherish forever. And thanks to it, we and they are in frequent communication via cards, letters, and e-mails.