09 March 2010

Family Tree

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.
~Alex Haley~

I hope to write a series of blog posts about my family tree, at least what I know so far. I think it'll be good to get the information and stories out of my head and on "paper" for future generations. Today I am starting with my dad's side:

I was born in NYC, Manhattan to be exact. Same as my father. We lived in an apartment, I talked about it here. My dad's parents (my grandparents) lived in the apartment building next door. (Not where my dad grew up, but he still was born and raised in Manhattan). My grandmother Frances Clarke (Nanny) was Irish, but was born and had grown up in England, my grandfather, Thomas Cox (Pa) had grown up in Ireland, so they both had accents. I didn't think much of their accents, as living in NYC many people had accents.

The story, as I had always heard it growing up, was that Pa was coming from Ireland to America and Nanny was coming from England. They met on the boat and by the time they got to America, they were in love. The real story, which came out after both grandparents had died, was that Nanny got pregnant while they were on the boat, (guess there wasn't much to do on boats back then, especially if you were in steerage), so they had to get married. That baby ended up dying a few months after birth, he would've been my Uncle John, my dad was born 13 years later.

My dad didn't talk to much of his childhood. I know it was hard. I know they were poor, but most Irish were back then, especially in the big cities. The neighborhood my parents grew up in was mostly Irish and Italian, and poor, so everyone was in the same boat.

Pa held a variety of jobs over his lifetime. He was a milkman for a while (drove a milk truck) and was a member of the Teamsters. In his later years he worked for the Port Authority in NYC. It's what he did before coming to America that he was most proud of. He was a member of the IRA, the Irish Republican Army. He told us that he was one of the first members of the IRA. He was the youngest of 12 children, and there wasn't much to do in Ireland if you weren't the first born son (and inherit the land and farm) or a daughter who would be married off, so for a teenage boy, the IRA was it. I don't know what he did as an IRA member or what happened to him other than one story he used to tell us: After he had been with the organization for a while, and had done whatever they told them him to do, the Black and Tans came for him one night. He was asleep in his bed, and they dragged him away from his home. He said they tortured him for information, of which he said he had none. He thought they were going to kill him, but they didn't. After a very long night they let him go. He had nightmares for most of the rest of his life after that. He never told my dad any details, and he never told us kids any. It's kind of a shame really, so much history, such much information, lost forever. My grandfather wasn't a very nice man, he wasn't good to my father and he was very stern with us, his grand kids. I often wondered if he was always that way or if he was a product of his circumstances, the things that had been done to him.

In recent years I have begun exploring my family tree. I have limited information, I know who my great grandparents were, but barring a trip back to Ireland, I'm not sure how to get more information. Yes the Internet is a wonderful thing, but unless someone, somewhere, put that information on the Internet, it isn't there for my grabbing. My grandfather told us the birth records were kept in the Catholic churches, and many of those churches were burned to the ground during all the years of trouble with the British. So our record might not be there at all. I do know my grandfather had a sister who came to the states when he was a baby, and she died before he ever came here, so he never knew her. I never had first cousins, both of my parents were only children, but I do remember a 2nd cousin, who was my age, that I knew when we lived in NYC. My parents never fostered an interest in us keeping up with our relatives. After we moved to the Midwest when I was 8, we lost most contact with those relatives. I find it sad, and now it makes it that much harder to find these people who share my gene pool, my heritage.

This is what I know about my paternal grandparents: My grandfather was born Thomas Francis Cox, June 15th, 1902. His fathers name was John Cox and his mothers name was Bridget Devine. My paternal grandmother was born Frances Clarke, June 13th 1908. Her parents were Francis Clarke and Margaret LaVelle.

I plan to write more of their stories and delve into my mothers side in upcoming posts. More to come............

When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.
~Edna O'Brien~

To live in hearts we leave behind, Is not to die.
~Thomas Campbell~

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