We're delighted to introduce a new guest contributor to our blog - Tyrell "Ty" Rettke. After battling ulcerative colitis and a series of corrective surgeries, Ty is on a round-the-world adventure and will help people he meets in various countries to trace their family histories.
From a small town (Ketchikan) in Alaska, Ty, 28, is interested in history and in tracing his own family heritage. In the first of his monthly posts, he heads to Ireland to see his roots.
There are many reasons people travel. One trend is people visiting their ancestral homes. For me, this includes Ireland. So when I made my way across the Atlantic on my mission to circumnavigate the globe, I decided that Ireland was a must for my journey around the world.
My lineage traces back to Ireland through my paternal grandmother (my father’s mother’s side). Her father’s mother, Rose, was born in Ireland in 1849 and at 25 (c. 1874) had moved to the US. She married John later that year. John’s father, Dennis, was born in Ireland and, by 1849, had moved to Wisconsin, where John was born.
In Ireland, it can be very difficult to trace roots back much further than the early-to-mid-1800s because the records haven’t been preserved very well. In my line, it is unfortunate that there is not much extant information about the generation that was actually from Ireland. The places they lived, where they went to church, what they did -these things have been mostly lost over the years. This coupled with their relatively common surnames - Murphy and Hagerty - meant that I will need to do much more digging to find more information over the coming years to pinpoint where they lived all those years ago.
Just because I don’t know the exact city or town they lived in, however, doesn’t mean I can’t make the best of my visit to Ireland! I was more interested in seeing the landscapes and meeting the people at this point. It would be wonderful to see an old house or church that my ancestors might have visited, but since that was not an option now, I decided that getting to know Ireland, as it is now, was what I would dedicate my journey to.
To that end, I find myself at a golf course and resort some 45 minutes south of Dublin. The large 350-acre site has an 18-hole course designed after Augusta in the US. The long fairways always seem to be buzzing with the sound of a mower somewhere in the distance. The land on every side of the course is owned by the same family, but leased to a few local ranches - a horse ranch and a dairy farm. Each morning, I ride along one of the fields, filled with waves of yellow buttercup flowers, and see the horses as they graze.
Once, while on a break from learning about greenskeeping, I strolled along the fence and a yearling came up to inspect me. He let me take a few close up pictures of him, tried to nibble my shirt, accepted a pat on the forehead and then was off grazing again with his mother. It’s incredible being in such a lush area. The vibrancy of the greens is astonishing. My hometown - Ketchikan, Alaska - is a very green place, but the shades of green are much darker. The trees and bushes here are a bright shade of green. When the sky is blue and the sun shining, looking out over the vast green fairways looks like a painting. In the distance, you can see the fields, and small clusters of homes, some with smoke rising from chimneys.
Some 150 years ago, my own ancestors might have lived very near here, so the place seems more like home, even 12,000 miles away. The ironic thing is that Ireland and Ketchikan are similar. Both are islands, and at a similar latitude. The weather is similar, much to the surprise of the people I work with. They expected tales of polar bears and endless miles of snow and ice. It was fun to explain that much of the year back home is T-shirt-and-jeans weather, much like here. We do get some snow, I explained, but mostly it just rains. I said we get 12 feet of rain a year, mind boggling to most people. Ireland is also a very wet place, so it wasn’t as much as a surprise, but I still got some wide-eyed reactions.
Working at the golf course is a perfect blend of people. There are some old-timers who have been working the grounds for decades, and one lad is only just out of school with a certificate in greenskeeping. There are a few guys only 5-10 years older than me, and two are my father’s age. I find it interesting hearing the stories of the way things used to be, should be and the way things are. Right now, as in much of the world, Ireland is suffering from the economic downturn. Jobs are hard to find and budgets are tight. Much as it was during the famous potato famine, times are hard.
Irish hospitality, however, has not suffered. I see the same kindness, quick wit and humor in every person I’ve met, that I find in myself, my father and my grandmother. She has a mischievous smile and a sharp wit that always falls on the side of a joke. I see now that these traits have passed to us straight from the Emerald Isle.
I still have another month in this rural outpost before I move on to my next adventure, and I intend to make a few trips to the nearest major document repository to see about finding more information about my family ties to this green and beautiful land. It might not prove fruitful, for the reasons mentioned earlier, but I know that because of my love of history and the connection that I share with this place, it’s not as important that I find answers during this trip. If anything, it gives me a great excuse to come back another time!
MyHeritage will feature Ty's family history travel updates on this blog.