Last night I visited my Grandparents and my Grandad talked me through his family tree. He’s Irish so it’s quite an extensive one…!
It started out with my Great Great Great Grandparents back in the 1800s and snaked all the way down to 2004. What shocked me was the number of my relatives who either immigrated to America, or lived there for several years in their early twenties before returning home. My Great Grandmother sailed to Chicago when she was 18 and only returned to Ireland when she had enough money for her dowry five years later – more on that in a moment. Some of them who settled never came home again because of the poverty they lived in.
As I looked down the different tracks, calculating how old the sons and daughters were when they got married, when they had their first child, I began to wonder if any of my ancestors had been gay. And it made me sad to realise there was no way I could find out. All I could do was wonder about the sons who never married or the women who became nuns. Did they remain unmarried because they loved another of their own sex? Were they really dedicated to God or in need for the company of all men/all women? Were any of the married women RSGs?
Now that marriage is legal for same-sex couples I wonder if any of us will feature on the family trees of the future. Finally our relationships can be recognised by a marriage date; Children can be born into the world with two female parents. Have you been able to identify any gay men or women in your ancestry?
Back on to the point about saving money for a dowry, in the Irish farming community a woman could only marry into another farming family if she had a sufficient amount of money to trade for her place as a wife – you either had to earn the money yourself, or if you had a brother and he married, his wife’s dowry would become yours. So in some cases, a woman could only marry once her brother found himself a suitable wife. How scary is that! We really have come a long way since then……
If any one knows of a good book on British or American lesbian history I’d love to hear about it.