Food for Thought
It’s the Women Pay the Taxes!
This new page has been inspired by personal communication from Professor Winnie Woodhull of UCSD (San Diego) who seeks her Haggerty ancestors, possibly from Swatragh in County Derry. She makes a number of very valid observations about areas that the website could usefully look at.
Winnie suggests that there is a need to explore more of the experience of Irish, and particularly Derry and Donegal folk (in many cases they are of the same stock) in ‘mainland’ cosmopolitan places such as Glasgow. The Glasgow area in the 1840s and 50s was a heterogeneous place ethnically and in terms of religion, with a mix of Catholics and Protestants. At first, they migrated seasonally, then they took up residence permanently as their tenancies were taken away.
A key benefit for Irish Catholics in Lowand Scotland was that there was less friction with Protestant Scots or anybody else, whereas in Liverpool during the same period there were savage battles between the English and the Irish. It would be of great interest to find more historical or anecdotal evidence of the pattern of seasonal migrations to Scotland, and the pattern of agricultural labour or the work as navvies. People who were lucky enough to have family letters or stories might be able to enlighten researchers who have limited material of that kind. GenWeb-type sites focussing on particular family names might also be able to provide insights into common patterns of migration and common occupations, rather than strictly on BMD records and the like.
Winnie, as an American, suggests that this could be a counter to the tendency on the part of some Americans to assume that they had noble ancestry. Many people leap to the conclusion that so-and-so is their ancestor based on almost no evidence. This may stem from a naive sort of narcissism, but also from the fact that Europe is associated with kings and aristocrats in the American imagination. Hence the enormous success in marketing images of coats-of-arms. What does one say to them?
Finally, Winnie makes the point that the semi-illiteracy of many ancestors confounds the attempts of later generations to search for their roots. She relates the anecdote about one miner in Pennsylvania who left the bureaucratic business to his wife and, on being questioned in an 1876 court case about how much he had paid in taxes that year, he indignantly retorted he had no idea as “it’s the woman pays the taxes!”