Letter from America
Sullivan County, New York
February 6th, 2012.
A treasured photo of my grandfather’s grandparents, JOHN and MARY DILLON, hangs on the wall directly above my computer. I oft times stare at it and wonder: “What would you think of all my genealogy research; this ‘snooping’ I am doing into your past?”
I think their spirits are pleased with my quest. I am unearthing their secrets, their joys and their sorrows, their birthdates and places as well as any scrap of info I can find pertaining to their lives. I believe that by doing these things, I am contributing to their immortality and possibly to my own. I live by the Dillon family motto: Dum spiro spero. Translated from the Latin this is: “While I breathe, I hope.” At times I have a sneaking suspicion that were my ancestors here today, they might tell me to “Let it be”, “Let sleeping dogs lie” or possibly “Be careful, you may get what you wish for”.
They came from a famine-ravaged Ireland in 1849. They were Roman Catholics and were persecuted because of their beliefs. They came to a country (USA) that offered them religious freedom as well as a chance for a life filled with liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They were a farming family. They worked fervently to make a fine and honourable life here in Sullivan County, New York, for themselves and their children. They prayed for the family they left behind and passed their beliefs to us, their descendants. They spoke little about their past, leaving no paper trail for future generations to follow. Few tales were told of their beloved homeland. Was it indeed as beloved to them as we lead ourselves to believe? I am sure it was in spite of all.
We, the American descendants of these brave Irish people, romanticise Ireland to such a degree that we forget our people would not have left their homeland had it been a glorious place to live “back in the day”. We listen to sweet Irish music and envision “the land of fairies and wondrous wishing wells”. We celebrate St Patrick’s Day in a hearty and overindulgent manner. We dream of the green fields of clover and the soft Irish mist. It is unlikely that my grandfather’s grandparents had such dreams. Instead, they may have had nightmares of hunger, humiliation, persecution and death. Is this why they closed their painful Pandora’s box, making it very difficult for us to peek inside? Although they did not throw away the key they certainly hid it in a deep dark place. Did they strive to hide their past in order to protect future generations from the pain and prejudice that haunted it? I ponder this often; I wonder.
I make no apology for my genealogical quest. I will continue to pursue my Irish roots diligently and with pride. Had I not done so for the past decade, I would not have the knowledge I now possess. I have gained a stronger love and deeper respect for John and Mary (nee Welch) Dillon. I draw strength from their courage and their optimism; their faith and their stamina against all odds. I am proud to be descended from these brave, honest and loving Irish people. Although I never met them in the flesh, my heart holds a never-ending love for them.
The love, pride and family loyalty they instilled in their children is their legacy. This abiding love surpasses the grave eternally. What is the proof of this? It is ME! It is my children and their children. We are living proof that John and Mary Dillon’s prayers have been answered. We hold each other dear as well as those gone before us and those yet to come.
By Ellen Neumann
Comments appreciated always. I will respond to all.
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