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Family History: Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day

I grew up believing that I was primarily Chinese and Irish. I knew that I was also Polish and thought I had some German in there somewhere, but my dominant background was Chinese and Irish. It became a running joke when Kyle and I got together. He liked to tell people that I was Chinese Irish and that I could build a whole cross-continental railroad by myself.

My Irish came from both sides. We had family stories about my great-grandma Grace being the product of an illicit affair between an Irish missionary and a young Native American woman. That story, if you remember, was blown to hell earlier this year when a little DNA research revealed that Grace didn’t have any of the genetic makeup necessary to make that story a reality. In all fairness, we have no idea at this point where Grace came from so she very well could have some Irish in there, but that’s no reason to start pulling out the Guinness.

(Just kidding. Any reason is a good reason to pull out the Guinness.)

 

Guinness

 

Anyway…

The Irish family story on my dad’s side was actually even better, from a family history standpoint, because it was a snapshot into American history and much more credible than illicit missionary affairs. The story was that my grandfather’s grandfather came to America from Ireland as an O’Lane, but he came during a time when people hated the Irish so he dropped the “O” to try to blend in. Interesting, no?

Sure, there were a couple of issues. For one, I couldn’t find a Peter O’Lane in any ship manifesto for the right time coming in to New York when I looked…but I assumed he just changed his whole name while he was at it. Then there was the issue of nobody noticing that this really Irish-sounding guy was Irish just because of his last name…which I chalked up to being a descendent of people who were really good at acting.

Or not.

I wanted to do some research into my Irish history for this holiday so I pulled out the big guns and started to really dig into the county birth records. I found Peter’s, and his dad’s, and his dad’s dad, and so on and so on and so on…

Let me introduce you to my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather:

 

Oil painting on canvas, Colonel Thomas Lane. A painted oval head-and-shoulder portrait of Colonel Thomas Lane, turned slightly to the right, gazing at the spectator, wearing a breastplate over an embroidered brown coat and a white linen/lace cravat.

Oil painting on canvas, Colonel Thomas Lane. A painted oval head-and-shoulder portrait of Colonel Thomas Lane, turned slightly to the right, gazing at the spectator, wearing a breastplate over an embroidered brown coat and a white linen/lace cravat. (Source)

 

Confused? Trying to see the Irish in there? Well, you can stop looking.

I am descended from a long long line of Lanes. British Lanes. British aristocratic Lanes, in fact, who came over in the late 1600s to buy land in America and (most likely) hire other people to work it. I’ve gone fifteen generations back and there isn’t an Irish person in site. Not through any of the wives. Not through any of the inlaws. These people are serious British.

So where did the O’Lane story come from? Hard to say. The most likely scenario is that somewhere along the line people lost track of how the family got to America and the O’Lane story was an honest attempt at what they thought was the truth. That probably happened somewhere between my grandfather and his grandfather, since people before that time wouldn’t have been trying to prove Irish heritage or assume their family tree was all salt-of-the-earth farmers. There was definitely a disconnect between the aristocracy and the group that ended up in Kansas, where my grandpa was born, so a little family history invention makes sense.

As for me, I’ve done at least ten generations in every direction for my dad’s family and if anyone out there was Irish you certainly couldn’t prove it on Ancestry.com. So thank heavens for St. Patrick’s Day where we all get to be Irish for a day. Sláinte!

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