Sunday, August 19, 2018

Celtic Connections Conference -Pathways to Our Past

Celtic Connections Conference

I had the privilege last weekend of attending the Celtic Connections Conference in Newton, Massachusetts.  This is the first Irish, Scottish, Welsh specific conference I have been able to attend.  “The conference was hosted by The Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA) and the Irish Genealogical Society International (IGSI).  Both organizations foster education in Celtic history and culture.”

On Thursday, August 9th I took part in a Sightseeing Bus Tour of historic sites in the area. 
  • We began with a stop at the Lowell National Historic Park in Lowell, Massachusetts.  There we able to watch a short video about Lowell and the Industrial Revolution and the part our Immigrant Ancestors played in it’s founding and growth. 
  • From there I went to the Mill Girls and Immigrant Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center.  This was one of the  boarding houses that the New England girls from farming families came to live while working in the Mills in Lowell.  They had rooms they girls stayed in, they dining room, etc. set up to show what live was like for the girls.  We were able to learn about what they ate and what their lives were like in the early 1800s as they mills began.  I purchased a book entitled The Lowell Offering Writings by New England Mill Women from 1840-1845 that I think will be a great read about what the girls went through on a daily basis working in the Mills.
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  • Later we walked to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum for lunch and talks about education in the area during this time period for immigrants and about the cemeteries in the area.  Following that I was able to walk through floor of the mill.  There were rows and rows of looms for making fabric.  About 4 of them were running so we could really get the feel for what it was like for the girls that worked there.  The noise was deafening.  I can’t imagine how the girls aged 14-18 worked for 12-14 hours a day at the looms with the noise.
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  • Next, we boarded the bus and were on our way to Kimball Farm Ice cream in Carlisle, MA where the list of flavors were overwhelming and the small size was comparable to a large size at most shops.  They even had Mini and Tiny sizes :) The perfect afternoon stop in my opinion!
  • Later we drove to the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts at the Minute Man National Historic Park.  While I had been there about 20-25 years ago it was good to see it again and try to imagine what it must have been like for the young soldiers in 1775 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

Bus Tour Group Photo
Bus tour group
On Friday, August 10th the Conference officially began and we were ready to listen to the great list of speakers, several coming from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Here are a few of the ones that I particularly enjoyed from Thursday and Friday, August 11th:
  • Fiona Fitzsimons’ talk entitled Irish Church records.  Fiona gave a great review of the records that are available with great examples that went beyond her handout.  This was a very interesting talk about how to understand the records based on what was happening socially, terminology frequently used at the time, etc. 
  • Kyle Betit’s talk entitled Irish and Irish Immigrant Societies and Their Records.  I was interested in Kyle’s talk because of an ancestor (John W. Rowan) who we recently found out was a Mason.  Kyle gave us a wealth of information on many of the societies formed by immigrants and suggestions on where to look for information.
  • Donna Moughty’s talk entitled The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland Online and Off.  Donna gave a great overview of what record sets are available at PRONI (Public Records Office of Northern Ireland), how to access the index online and most important of all, how to get ready to do a research trip to Northern Ireland.
  • Dr. Bruce Durie’s talk entitled Scots Migrations to Colonial America.  Bruce gave us a brief history of the groups within Scotland, when and where they settled in America.  I have done little research to date on my Scottish ancestry because they came in the late 1600s –early 1700s.  He gave me hope that I may be able to find information in the US and in Scotland.
  • John Grenham’s talk entitled Things You Don’t Know You Didn’t Know about Irish Genealogy.  I have used John’s website for my Irish research so it was interesting to be able to meet him in person.  John talked about how we frequently become familiar with commonly used websites and may not realize the limitations of the site.  We may not find information and think we are at a loss.  He challenged us to refresh our perspectives and use a variety of sites in order to find the information we are seeking.
  • Dr. Bruce Durie’s talk entitled Why the Scots & Irish (Welsh, Bretons, Picts, etc.) are NOT Celtic!  This was a very interesting and rather surprising look at the term “Celtic”.  Bruce stated that “Celtic as applied to the original people of Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany- is a 300-year-old-mistake.”  He discussed the research being done, genetic and historical, and how the history that was passed down is very flawed.  He stated we need to stop using the term “Celtic” for these groups of people.
Lunch both days was included and we were treated to Kate Chadbourne's presentation of Fairy Paths & Ancient Ways: Songs & Stories of Roads & Remembering on Thursday.

On Saturday for lunch Sharon Kennedy presented a reenactment entitled The Strike for Bread & Roses: Lawrence, Massachusetts.
There was a dinner on Friday that I decided to attend where we were treated to Katie & Friends-Songs from Both Sides of the Atlantic.

Three days of immersion into the culture and genealogical information available for researchers was amazing.   (I highly recommend a bus tour of an area you are not familiar with.)  I could have listened all day to the variety of accents I heard at the conference.  For days after I felt I could hear the accents and it made me feel more passionate about taking trips in the future to Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

I also thought about how wonderful it is to go to an event such as a Conference.  I went knowing none of the participants and yet how comfortable it was to sit and talk to anyone there.  Everyone was so ready to say hello and talk genealogy to someone they had never met.  Each time I sat at a table there were interesting new ‘friends’ to talk to and get to know like Linda and Jim from Harrisburg, PA, Mary from Boston with a touch of green in her hair and I was delighted to have Fiona Fitzsimons as a table mate at dinner on Friday.  I was also able to talk to some of the Conference (TIARA and IGSI) organizers who were very accommodating in the hopes of everyone enjoying their time at the Conference.  They did a really nice job of setting up this great learning experience for everyone.  Great job to all the organizers and volunteers who made this a reality!

I would definitely recommend you look for the next conference this group will sponsor in 2020 that, I believe, will be held in Michigan.IMG_0915

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If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,

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