Walking in Their Footsteps

by Laura

One of the more fascinating aspects of tracing my family trees…although your milage may vary…has been tracing the migration patterns of my ancestors. Birthplaces, ships’ records, census records, all have something to add to the mental map I’ve created as I’ve “watched” my families move from one place to another. It’s taught me that my naive assumption that ancient peoples lived and died in a single place just wasn’t always true. Some folk seem to be as mobile as we are; moving from place-to-place for all sorts of reasons:  work, family, a more reasonable climate, religious persecution. Those things which have caused me to have lived in 24 different houses since I was born, also motivated my 5th Great-Grandparents to do pert ne’er the same.

In my adoptedFather’s family, his stepfather, Leo, was born in Vienna, Austria at the time of the Austro-Hungaian Empire. The year was 1900, and by the time he was a teenager, Europe would be embroiled in the first of two devastating World Wars. Leo’s parents, Josef and Anna were from a different part of the Empire, Bohemia, which is now a part of the Czech Republic. Josef was a tailor. So was it work that caused him to move from his part of the Empire to the capital, Vienna? Hard to say. But they were only there for about four or five years, because in 1906, Leo’s sister, Anna, was born in Zurich, Switzerland. I’ve been unable to find a record for her birthdate or place;  I only surmise it to be Zurich because Leo sailed from Hamburg, Germany to New York in 1907 and gives his prior address as Zurich.  About a year later, Anna and her children, Leo and Anna, sail from Rotterdam to New York and have the same prior address. So… from Bohemia, to Vienna, to Zurich through Germany to New York, eventually to Chicago. I know from census records and other documents and Family History the rest of the story; how Leo met my Father’s Mother, and raised my Dad and his Sisters.

In my birth Family, I have my own trek across the sea. My 2nd Great-Grandfather, James McManus, was born in Fermanagh, Ireland in 1844. This was the year before that usually given by historians for The Great Hunger (The Irish Potato Famine). But we know, as these things usually go, it hardly happened on a unique date in a specific year. So, judging by the date of James’ birth as well as that of his younger sister, Mary (1846), we know they were there in Ireland until, at least, 1846. By 1851, according to census records, they are in Renfrewshire, Scotland. The Great Hunger is generally thought to have “ended” by 1852. Many Irish, those who were able, migrated to Scotland for survival. James was six at the time of his family’s move to Scotland; his father, John, was an agricultural labourer (according to the census). James is listed as a scholar…so he was getting some schooling. His older siblings, ages 16 and 14, were working at the local textile mill. A family member, relationship undetermined but whom I suspect is his Father, Edward, yet listed as a visitor, has his occupation given as a tailor. His two other sisters are also scholars. It would seem they have settled into the local area.

By the time James’ Dad dies, he’s back in Ireland, though. James stays in Scotland, moving to Glasgow, marries, and has a family. His Son, William Graham McManus, marries a local Scottish girl with family roots 1000 years old. It is his Son, John, who is my Grandfather…and emigrates from Scotland to America in 1926. So, in eighty years, my McManus forebears have moved from Ireland to Scotland to America. Driven by famine and centuries of war and genocide and terrible political decisions, with the very real necessity to feed and care for themselves and their own, they travel across land and sea to find a place of refuge; a place of hope; a place where they are free to be who they are, to work hard, to educate their children, to make for them and theirs a better life.

So, too, as my Dad’s family, who were driven by political upheaval, discrimination and, I suspect, religious persecution in the face of the coming conflagration that would be WWI. We, as a people, are the result of many things: part business venture, part religious zeal, part wonder and excitement at discovering what’s past the known horizon. We have no more right to deny others that same experience than anyone had to deny it to us, whose DNA is made up as such as these…

When did we stop thinking we could welcome folk in, especially those who have no where else to go?