‘HISTORY REMEMBERS THE CELEBRATED, GENEALOGY REMEMBERS THEM ALL’
When I was about fourteen or fifteen I was shown an old, creased and slightly blurry photograph of an ancient looking woman standing in a field or a garden with a child in her arms. I was told she was my grandmother’s grandmother. My grandmother’s grandmother?! But would she not have been around in the Famine times? Did they have camera’s then??
“What was her name?”
“Mrs Bergin” I was told. “First name and maiden name unknown, lost forever…” I was told.
Staring at the photo I was struck by the realization that such a distant ancestor was actually a person in their own right, a human being who lived a life and not just a name and a date.
In time I discovered that Mrs Bergin was born Margaret Quann shortly after the Famine in a two-roomed thatched cottage in the townland of Keiloge not far from Waterford City. Known as Peg she was the daughter of Patrick Quann, a blacksmith. Despite its small size their home was a gathering place for music and playing cards and one might even get a free haircut from Peg’s brother Andy. And I was reliably informed that Peg’s party piece was to play the fiddle while dancing around two hot pokers taken from the fire! (I’d pay €1000 for a video of that!). Peg married Francis Bergin, a stone cutter with an established family business in the city and they went on to have seven sons and one daughter – my great grandmother Margaret Bergin.
Peg Quann’s story may not be of great significance on a global level but for me, as her direct descendant, it is an important part of my own family story. I have long since discovered that everybody has a story to tell but unfortunately not every story gets told. As professional genealogists it is our job to help people rediscover and tell their own family story, to move beyond a list of names and dates and put flesh on the bones and colour in the cheeks of the ancestors.