2    Sep 20130 comments

Ty’s Journey: Part Three

This week, Ty travels from Dublin, Ireland to Paris, France and recounts his continuing adventures and travel tips.

In this edition of my post for MyHeritage on my travels, I went from Dublin, Ireland to Paris, France for a few nights, and then moved on to Villedieu Poeles, about 2 hours west of Paris.  The area is known for copper mining and craftsmanship, with roots to King Henry I (son of William the Conqueror), the Knights Hospitaller, Knights Templar and Knights of Malta.

On my first full day in Paris, I visited the Eiffel Tower twice, once in the early afternoon and again after sunset.  Another travel writer had asked me for some photos of the Tower at night, so I decided to give it a shot (pardon the pun).

Eiffel Tower at night during light show

When traveling for ancestral reasons, remember that almost every location – particularly in large, historic cities like Paris – offers two sides for your interests.  That which your ancestors knew: Their churches, houses or neighborhoods, places of work, and the culture of the city in general.

I've heard rumors that I might have some French ancestry, but have not yet been able to discover it. If I do, it would have been before the Eiffel Tower was built (1887-89). Yet, because my ancestors would never have seen the tower, I visited it because it's part of the city’s culture and history.It’s also important to remember the present when traveling. For your own safety, remember that Paris, as beautiful and cultured as it is, is still a big city. In any big city, be aware of your personal safety when you travel to new places.

While at the Tower, gazing up at the iron cobweb, I was approached by a young woman with a clipboard.  My first thought was that she was a tour sales or information person. On her clipboard was a “petition” for disabled people in France. She asked if I would be willing to sign. The page was a poorly photocopied letterhead with lines for names, age, country, city and a signature.

There was also a line for a donation amount. I asked about that and was told that a 10 Euro donation would help the cause. At this point I recognized the scam. The other signatures were most likely fake, a few starting it out to “seed” the bank. The first few donations were the largest: 50 Euro, 25 Euro, 30 Euro. There is no charity, or if there was, this person did not represent them and was simply collecting money for her own use.

Someone else approached me later, with a handwritten card with a story that she was a Serbian refugee here with her father and brother, who has leukemia.  She was looking for spare change to help the family. This was just another scam begging for money.

After these two had approached less than a minute apart, directly under the Tower, I started looking around. I saw perhaps a dozen people with clipboards or signs approaching people in just the five minutes I was there.

Most cities, especially large ones with homeless populations, do not allow begging, panhandling or soliciting on the streets and in public areas. Most places – even my own small hometown - require a permit for any kind of sale on public streets. No genuine charity would risk getting in trouble or ruining its reputation by sending people out with a clipboard to collect money from tourists.

Equestrian statue, King Louis XIV, courtyard of the Louvre Museum

Back to the positive side, while I’m here in Paris, I decided to visit the catacombs beneath the city. I've seen many photos and read about them for years. The story fascinates me, a growing city that ran out of space for the dead, so they recycled land by moving the bones to a maze of tunnels under the city, and reusing old rock quarries to store the remains of dead residents. It’s something that always seemed so mysterious, eerie and compelling.

It made me think of a recent find of a link to my Scottish roots. A MyHeritage Smart Match for my ancestor Alexander McKenzie was discovered for his grave in Canada.  Alexander was born in the Assynt region of Scotland in 1784, and died in Canada in 1871.

I've always had a strange feeling about graveyards and photography. When I’m visiting a graveyard I’m always self-conscious about taking photos of the graves. In fact, I usually don’t. I enjoy however having the link to photos of my ancestors’ graves when I find them online or through other sources. I don’t have anything against people taking photos of graves or markers, but I feel like it is somehow bad luck. It’s a strange paradox, to be a genealogist, a photographer and a travel writer, but have such a superstitious reaction to a rock bearing some words.

The catacombs make me think about the descendants of those whose remains were moved and reassembled. There are very few name markers for those interred – some 6 million individuals. The bones were mixed together and rearranged over the years; vandals have destroyed or stolen bones, or rearranged them into new designs. There is really no way to tell whose bones are whose. There are no reliable lists of names of those interred, as they've been lost over the years. There are many decorated and intricately arranged effigies and monuments constructed of bones moved underground.

Skulls and bones in the catacombs of Paris

It’s both fascinating and sad to think of the labor that went into removing bodies, and arranging them in patterns. Religious processions slowly flowed down the streets for years to move the bones from grave yards to the catacombs, ensuring the sanctity of the burials and protecting the souls. At the same time, the act of moving them and mixing the bones together caused a great loss of information. As the graves and mausoleums were dug up and moved, most tombstones were lost. Additionally, many disappeared after the 1789 revolution.

In a graveyard, tombstones usually have some information such as a birth date or death date; a location, or some other biographical information. For the some 6 million people who died before 1785, no information exists.

It’s strange to be both fascinated and dismayed at the same time. The catacombs are a mysterious, albeit morbid, location. Yet they represent an historical period of time, and information now lost.

Do you have ancestors buried in Paris before 1785?

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the photographs as well.  Be sure to visit my website to read more about my travels, and see more photos of my journey.

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