Courtesy of Patrick O'Neill
|Tom and Bridgett O'Neill began my family's life in America. Tom was known for his "robust temperment" and athletic abilities.
Researching your roots
© 2012 Group Tour Media Blog,
August 15, 2012
By Erin Albanese
Reunion photos of my dad’s side of the family always have something in common: O’Neill surf wear T-shirts. Everybody is wearing them.
My relatives sport their surname with pride, sharing a common fascination with being Irish and paying tribute to the Emerald Isle no matter how long it’s been since our ancestors stepped onto American soil. They love their heritage.
They buy items printed or inscribed with O’Neill. The coat of arms hangs prominently in their houses. They scoff at anyone who spells the name with just one L at the end. This Irish pride seems to carry forward through the generations, even as the gene pool gets mixed more and more with other nationalities and ethnicities. A reunion trip to Ireland needs to happen.
I guess there’s just something about being Irish, or it’s just a cool last name, or a reason to enjoy corned beef and cabbage and green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. Over the years genealogy has come up among the O’Neill clan many times. (Our O'Neill heritage in the U.S. started with Thomas O'Neill and Bridget Sinnett who came from Kilkenny County, Ireland. Bridget immigrated about 1865 and Thomas about 1867. They had 10 kids, many who also went on to have sizable families.)
Though my family’s fondness for their last name may be on the intense end of the spectrum, many people are very interested in genealogy. The NBC show “Who Do You Think Your Are?” has traced the histories of celebrities including Helen Hunt, Paula Dean, Rob Lowe, Brooke Shields and many others. The show reveals that many of us have fascinating tidbits buried deep in the past.
Genealogy group tours are of interest to those who want to visit the country linked to their ancestry, said Kathy Wurth, who founded her business Family Tree Tours in 2006. It is one of several companies that offer genealogy group tours.
Wurth, based in Missouri, has led trips to Germany and Ireland, and has had interest in tours to Italy and East Prussia. A seasoned genealogist, she said the TV series, plus retiring Baby Boomers with increased time to travel has generated interest. Most Americans’ ancestors are immigrants from somewhere, she said, so it’s natural to wonder about where they came from and why.
The main goal is to bring tour members to their hometowns. The groups travel, lodge and sightsee together, but break off to visit the place of their roots. She’s seen people become acquainted with cousins they’ve never met.
“It’s quite an emotional experience to finally get to go there,” Wurth said. “I’m glad to help people have that experience.”
She also works to assist with research and connect people with local contacts. They spend part of the tour accessing archives. Her 10-16 member groups travel by train while on tour, taking time to meet locals and learn about the country during the 10-12 day trip.
It’s like a puzzle putting together who we are, and it’s interesting to think of how far back we can track each of our connections. We all must think of it in some way at some point. We have come to exist as a result of other people’s time on this planet and are forever linked to them in history. They may have influenced who we are in some way, our genetics for sure, maybe our language, beliefs and customs.
Or, less dramatically, our T-shirts.
GTM staff writer Erin Albanese may now have an Italian last name but still has O’Neill blood! She has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she currently resides in Wyoming, Mich.
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