An Gorta Mor

The Great Famine

Hunger and desperation forced thousands into the overcrowded workhouses and put enormous pressure on relief schemes which attempted to alleviate the distress. Over three quarters of a million people died during the Famine, mainly from diseases such as cholera. Between 1845 and 1851 over 1,500,000 people emigrated from Ireland. ~from poster “The Famine” Cobh Heritage Center, May 2014.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Pinelands Connections I

Geneology and DNA

“From the fire tower on Bear Swamp Hill, in Washington Township, Burlington County, New Jersey, the view usually extends about twelve miles. To the north, forest land reaches to the horizon. The trees are mainly oaks and pines, and the pine predominate. Occasionally, there are long, dark, serrated stands of Atlantic white cedars, so tall and so closely set that they seem spread against the sky on the ridges of hills, when in fact they grow along streams that flow through the forest. To the east, the view is similar, and few people who are not native to the region can discern essential differences from the high cabin of the fire tower, even though one difference is that huge areas out in this direction are covered with dwarf forests, where a man can stand among the trees and see for miles over their uppermost branches. To the south, the view is twice broken slightly — by a lake and by a cranberry bog — both otherwise it, too, goes to the horizon in forest. To the west, pines, oaks, and cedars continue all the way, and the western horizon includes the summit of another hill — Apple Pie Hill — and the outline of another fire tower, from which the view three hundred and sixty degrees around is virtually the same as the view from Bear Swamp Hill, where, in a moment’s sweeping glance, a person can see hundreds of square miles of wilderness. The picture of New Jersey that most people hold in their minds is so different from this one that, considered beside it, the Pine Barrens, as they are called, become as incongruous as they are beautiful.” From The New Yorker magazine, November 26, 1967, “Profiles, The Pine Barrens I” creative non-fiction by the great John McPhee.

This quote captures the contours of a place, now known as “The Pinelands,” a corner of Burlington County, New Jersey my English, Irish, Scottish ancestors settled from 1677 until my grandfather, James Edward Wills, left for northern New Jersey, Asbury Park, in the first years of the twentieth century. This past decade, more so since retirement 2017, I’ve explored these two hundred and twenty (220) or so years beginning with amorphous asides over the years from my father and second hand through my sisters then through online research via Ancestry.com (Ancestry) and other searches.

From my father and sisters I knew to search southern New Jersey. The United States decennial census, “thank you Constitution,” listed a George and Margaret Wills with my grandfather among their children. Great Grandfather George Wills was listed as a 14 year old child of George and Mary Wills in the 1850 census. How could I be sure? DNA technology with internet based social interaction helped there. I was contacted by a Dellett descendant, identified by DNA as a fourth cousin, who claimed Mary Wills as a double great aunt, the daughter of James and Ann Dellett. Here is a screen capture of an Ancestry “ThruLines” analysis showing the six living ancestors of James and Ann in the database. I removed the names and photos of the other five to preserve privacy. The DNA fourth cousin relationship was an exact match to the family tree.

Cousin Delette provided antique photographs of George and Mary. I did a “FindAGrave” search, their final resting place is in a place named Tabernacle, Burlington County, New Jersey. September 2019 my wife Pam and I did a weekend tour with a bed and breakfast base in the city of Burlington, New Jersey. The rest of the photos in the following slideshow are from that weekend.

Here is the same Ancestry “ThruLines” analysis with the immediate family links exploded. through my “first cousin 1 time removed” I was able to communicate with a “lost” niece of my father who shared reminiscences of him from the time he was just released from World War II Naval Service, before meeting Mom.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Irish Emigrant Experiences

Cobh Heritage Center

Continuing from the “Queenstown Glamor” of the SS Servia these are exhibits of what it was like to emigrate from Ireland in the 19th century.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Queenstown Glamor

Cobh Heritage Center

Nothing so grand as the SS (or HMS) Servia carried my ancestors from Ireland to America. This ship model, created for the 1992 film “Far and Away” is on display within Cobh Heritage Center. Said by some to be the first true transatlantic ocean liner. Launched in 1881 as luxury transportation by the Cunard Line of today’s Queen Mary. Last year, we enjoyed the arrival of Cunard’s Queen Victoria to Cape Canaveral. (Click the link for my blog of the event, one of the last cruise ships to sale during the pandemic of 2020).

It is notable the model played a small role in the film, yet is an incredible accomplishment. By the way, from 1849 to 1920 Cobh was known as “Queenstown” in honor of a visit by Queen Victoria. The Irish Free State returned the name to the original.

References

SS Servia – Wikipedia

Far and Away – Wikipedia

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Blessing of the Bonnets

Christina Henri, 25,566 bonnets, convict women Australia bound

January 1, 1835 the “convict” ship “Neva” departed from Cobh harbor for Sydney, Australia. The 241 people on board included 150 female “convicts”, their 33 children, 9 “free” women (probably the wives of convicts) and their 22 children, 27 crew. During the passage three persons died, one child was born. About 5 a.m. on May 13, 1835 the Neva hit a reef northwest of King Island in Bass Strait and broke apart rapidly. Twenty two survivors drifted ashore on two rafts formed by the fore and aft decks of the wrecked ship. Seven women died of exposure the first night ashore. Fifteen, six women and nine crew, were later rescued. No children survived.

Between 1791 and 1853 approximately 26,500 Irish people were forcefully transported to New South Wales. The 25,566 bonnets crafted for this project represent lives of female “convicts”. The slide show are photographs of the exhibit, Cobh Heritage Center, County Cork, Republic of Ireland.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Queenstown personal connection

Cobh Heritage Center

The Irish Free State was four months old when my then 35 year old Grandfather and Grandmother boarded the S.S. Montnairn out of Belfast. My mother, two months short of three years of age, accompanied them on this voyage to a new life as Canadian citizens. This slideshow is a mix of images from the Cobh Heritage center and my personal genealogy materials.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Father Brown’s Titanic Photographs

Cobh Heritage Center

The Cobh Heritage Center documents the experiences of Irish emigration. Here I share information about the Titanic’s maiden voyage through the photographic work of Father Frank Brown. Cobh, pronounced “cove”, as in “The Cove of Cork.”

Here is an informative and entertaining 5 minute documentary of Father Brown, his trip on the Titanic and subsequent achievements as a photographer.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Marantha House Six

near Blarney, County Cork

Continued…..The ground of Marantha House are a well appointed as the home, as you would expect from a luxury bed and breakfast on “Hydro Hill” also known as “Saint Ann’s Hill” close to Blarney, County Cork.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Marantha House Four

near Blarney, County Cork

Continued…..The view from our room, a fairway down “Hydro” hill. We were surprised to fine “sub-tropical” plants, such as the bamboo next to the recliner, in southern Ireland. Thanks to the Gulf Stream roses flourish and we spied palm trees, believe it or not.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Marantha House Three

near Blarney, County Cork

Continued…..More of our surroundings, “home” during our explorations of Cork City, Kinsale and Cobh. Marantha House is a luxury bed and breakfast on “Hydro Hill” also known as “Saint Ann’s Hill” close to Blarney, County Cork.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved