The Blog

A Tribute to a Strong Irish Woman, and a Curious Question of Fate

 Kate Byrne Mackin (1861-1918)

Although I never met my great-grandmother Kate, I’m guessing that she was a tough and determined women.  Kate married Joe Mackin on September 6, 1877 at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland.  Kate gave birth at least ten times, maybe eleven.  My grandfather Raymond often argued with his older brother Henry over this fact. Who knows.

The Mackin family immigrated to America in 1884. At this point, the family numbered only six individuals.  They stayed in New York City for a short time and eventually made their way to Portland, Oregon.  Joe loved Kate. Unfortunately, his love for whiskey and beer caused much trouble for them. The story handed down to me is that Joe was a steveador (dock worker).  Every two weeks, Joe was paid.  However, between the pay master’s office and Joe and Kate’s home were a number of drinking establishments. By the time Joe got home, his pay packet was often gone.

Kate, being the smart woman that she was, decided that she would be the one to pick up Joe’s pay packet.  I have often wondered whether her decision ever provoked bitter arguments between the two of them. But the scheme worked perfectly.

Because of Kate’s decision to manage the money in the Mackin family, they were able to buy two homes on Garfield Street in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.  The second home became a rental property, and provided additional income for the growing family.

In November, 1918 Kate died from pneumonia at the age of 57. She was a victim of the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918. Joe died much later, in 1937.

At the time of my great grandmother’s death, my grandfather Raymond was in the US Army and stationed at Camp Lewis, Washington. He was due to be shipped out with his regiment to fight in WWI.  However, he was given permission to attend his mother’s funeral. His regiment left for Europe without him, and soon WWI came to an end. He would never leave the US.

If my grandfather had left with his regiment, I wonder if he would have survived the war. Would he have been injured? Would my branch of the Mackin Family Tree ever have grown? Those are questions I often ponder, but will never be able to answer.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, what stories have you been told about your ancestors? If you could ask one question of an ancestor, what would that question be?

The Titanic, and my Irish vacation

My husband and I have deep ancestral roots that go back to ancient Ireland. So for our thirtieth wedding anniversary we went to Ireland to do a little genealogical research and some sightseeing.  With a Fodor’s guide on my lap, we drove around Belfast, the modern-day capital of Northern Ireland, looking for a place to spend the night. We eventually found a spot that met our needs and reserved a room. Much to our delight, this particular B & B  not only gave us a comfortable bed for the night, and a full Irish breakfast the following morning, but also a story that we would never forget.

Once we got settled into our room, the owner asked us if we would like a tour of this charming old home.  “Dunallan”, we were told, was built in 1881 and had been the home of the Andrews family at the turn of the 19th century.

Mr. Thomas Andrews, Jr. was an Irish business man and shipbuilder.  Okay, I said to myself, that makes sense. Belfast was after all a ship building town. But my ears perked up when I heard that Mr. Andrews oversaw the building plans for RMS Olympic for the White Star Line and its sister ship, the Titanic.  What? Did I hear that right?  The Titanic? Yes, the Titanic.  This serendipitous choice of a night’s accommodation had become an opportunity to touch and experience a little bit of history.

The owner of this quaint old house went on to tell us that Mr. Andrews and his family had lived in that house during the time he worked on building the Titanic. In addition, the design of the fireplace mantels and the adjoining tile work in this home were modeled for use on the Titanic. They were stunning.

We were told that Mr. Andrews was on board the Titanic, and died in the fateful crash.  And he died a hero.  Many survivors recounted stories of Mr. Andrews’ selfless actions which included urging reluctant people to get into life boats. He was also seen throwing deck chairs into the ocean for passengers to use as floating devices.

Gone are my Hollywood images of Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet.  They have been replaced with the thoughts of Mr. Andrews, his wife, and their young daughter. I wonder how they coped with losing a husband and a father, and a man who had designed one of the grandest ships of all time.

RMS Titanic sunk on April 15, 1912.  SS Nomadic is the only ship to survive that was designed by Thomas Andrews, Jr., and remains the only White Star Line ship still afloat.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, tell us about your family’s Irish roots. What stories did you uncover when you returned to Ireland? Are there any stories passed down from your parents and grandparents that you re-tell on special occasions? If so, we’d love to hear them!

What does Samuel Pepys’ diary mean to you?

Samuel Pepys (pronounced ‘Peeps’) was born in London, England on February 23, 1633. Samuel was the fifth in line of eleven children. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1654 and married his wife, Elizabeth St. Michel in 1655. He later became Secretary to the Naval Board, a member of Parliament, and as was written of him, ‘master of an elegant household, owner of a coach and pair of black horses; a man rich enough to retire and live with comfort, if not in abundance.’

However, what probably has brought Samuel Pepys the most fame and renown is his personal diary. His diary shows his gusto for life. His interest in recounting his daily activities and very private observations comes through in this diarty.  He speaks of his work in Parliament, of counting his many pieces of gold, of lusting after certain women (particularly those of “low virtue”),  and not surprisingly, of squabbling with his jealous wife.

Pepys began his diary at the age of 26 in 1659, and concluded it on May 31, 1669 when he feared eyestrain might lead to blindness. Pepys’ daily diary entries have intrigued and educated people over the centuries. They have also provided insight on 17th Century English life, from the royalty to the mundane.

In 1665, Pepys records burying in his garden a piece of Parmesan cheese and a bottle of fine wine, in the hopes that they would both survive the Great Fire of London.  One wonders what happened to them, and if he considered burying his precious diary as well.

Pepys also writes of experiencing tremendous pain due to a kidney stone. Despite being left sterile by the surgery, he survived.  Pepys proudly kept his recovered kidney stone in a felt lined box, and was happy to show it to anyone who wanted to see it. He also covers more “highbrow” topics including the entertaining lives and public deaths of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.

To bring this to a close, please give a little thought to this idea: think if you were related to Samuel Pepys.  Imagine all of the insight you would have into your ancestor’s life, his character, and his curious personality.

Okay, so maybe you aren’t related to Samuel Pepys. However, it’s not too late to preserve your own remarkable story so that your descendents will know about you. What have you buried in your backyard, or your heart, that may intrigue descendents hundreds of years from now? What observations do you have on the current political or social environment?  Nothing is too mundane. Just start writing; your children’s children will be happy you did.

A letter to myself on my (future) 80th birthday

Dear Me,

You have now lived a full eight decades of life.  Congratulations!   As you look back I hope that you will be able to say that it has been a good ride over these last eighty years.  I also hope that your body has continued to serve you well.  I sure hope that you have all your teeth, not too many wrinkles (except for those smile lines!) and that you still like to wear a nice fitting pair of black jeans.You will be the talk of the family if you do!

On your birthday, I’m sure you’re celebrating by remembering your long and amazing life. With the family by your side, you’ll watch the home videos we made, flip through the scrapbooks and photo albums, and talk about your favorite heirlooms from your grandparents that you still have on the mantle. You’re lucky, not only to be in good health but also to have recorded so much of your life history for the rest of the family to enjoy.

But please don’t forget – even though you are now an old lady (in body, but young in spirit), you can still continue with this legacy work.  Don’t forget to talk about your experiences, hopes, dreams, and what life has taught you along the way. Your children and grandchildren need to hear you tell your stories. They might be curious how you cherished the hippy era, living in San Francisco and that funny smelling stuff you smoked back then.  On second thought, maybe you might not want to tell them about that.

But do tell them about growing up. They will want to hear about how you felt when you became a mom for the first time.  They will be curious to know what got you through the tough times in life – through multiple miscarriages, the suicide of a close family member, and the disappointments  of rejection and failure. But most importantly, tell them how you bounced back and always kept your head up high. Life is all about learning from our hardships, and you’ve certainly done that.

Oh, before I forget, have a HAPPY BIRTHDAY and as you blow out the candles on your cake, please make a wish that you will live at least another 20 years. You still have a lot to accomplish and the energy to do it!

Photo credit: Birthday cakes blog

Seasons Greetings from the Reel Tributes Team!

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, we wish you all the best this season has to offer. And we wish you an incredible year in 2012; a year full of love, laughter, and family memories.

May we suggest you make this season not only one of sharing gifts, but also one of sharing family stories. Think about preserving a story or two for those who will want to know: ‘What were the most joyous holiday moments of the 2011 holidays?’

You’ll be glad that you did. After all, it’s hard not to love a great story!

Still looking for gifts? Check out our 11 Attributes to the Perfect Gift for the 2011 Holiday Season.

Best wishes for a great 2012,
The Reel Tributes Team
David, Caleb, Rebecca, Alison and Lin