When American Dr Anne Drabczyk was sent her late great-grandmother’s journals, she had no idea that she would, in time, publish them as a book.
But, earlier this year she did just that, transcribing the ‘cursive handwriting from onion-thin pages’, into a book entitled, ‘An Irish Colleen Travels Abroad’.
Anne’s paternal great-grandmother Mary Theresa Fishers’ three journals, which she maintained from 1881 through 1883, as well as an autograph book signed by characters she encountered on her travels, were gifted to her by her late Aunt Dorothy ‘Paddy’ (McManus) Foran.
Explaining the background, Anne explains, “I was born in Belfast, Ireland, and my family emigrated to the United States when I was young.
“Although I became an American citizen, I grew up with a strong-sense and celebration of my Irish heritage. As I grew older, I became more interested in genealogy and throughout the late 1970s I had a supportive genealogy ally in my aunt Paddy.
“We kept correspondences going strong through what we today call ‘snail mail’. It would take weeks for inquiries and replies to cross continents, to and from the United States of America and Australia.
“Long-awaited letters brought bits of documentation, improved insight, and always additional questions regarding the family tree.
“Then in 1978 while taking a college history course with a genealogy theme and perhaps because of my stepped-up inquires, I received a package in the mail from my aunt Paddy. An enclosed note from Paddy stated that the package contents had been stored over time in a trunk in a barn at her sheep-station, and that they would finally find their permanent home with me.”
That package contained Mary T Fisher’s incredibly descriptive journals, which are now printed for the world to see in ‘An Irish Colleen Travels Abroad’.
In the book Mary talks about the places she visited during her travels through Europe from 1 June 1881 to 14 October 1883 as a lady’s companion to Mrs Janis Brooks of Boston.
Included in her observations are two trips to ‘dear sweet old Londonderry’, in October 1881 and then again in September 1883.
Anne says, “It is clear throughout the journals that Mary thought fondly of Derry and loved her family. Her writings provide keen insight into daily life and upon one visit back to Derry she describes joy at learning the names of 28 nieces and nephews.
“This book provides a wonderful snapshot in time into British, European and American travel and customs of the late 1880s and so historians will find it an interesting read. Derry citizens will likely find historical references beneficial to their own genealogy efforts.
“The book is just a great read, and places an average person in context with the timely occurrences of her society, geography, politics and family. It demonstrates that a life well lived is comprised of the mundane as well as the occasional adventurous moments.
“I am so delighted that Mary had the foresight and tenacity to craft her journals for us all to enjoy. I hope the book will inspire families to have conversations about their own experiences, and that there will be a scribe present to record the tale.”
An event searching for all possible relatives of Mary T. Fisher will be hosted by the Derry Central Library next Monday, September 21st at 7pm.
On the night, local genealogist Brian Mitchell will present a talk on Mary T Fisher using genealogy resources available in the library for researching family history.
A map plotting Mary’s travels, as well as some of Mary T. Fisher’s story and what is known of her family tree will also be on display from Saturday 19th to Saturday 26th September, with hopefully new additions to be added during the week.
Anne explains, “Mary Fisher had numerous siblings, and they married and had large families. Readers will find some commonalities in the Fisher, McDonald, and Doherty family trees. Sarah Fisher married John McDonald in 1866 and Mary Theresa Fisher married John’s brother Daniel Aloysius McDonald in 1884. Charles Fisher married Eliza Jane Doherty in 1867 and Annie Winifred Fisher married Eliza’s brother Samuel Doherty in 1876. Undoubtedly there are direct descendants alive today who live in and around Derry.
“Hopefully extended family will enjoy reading this work, and perhaps contribute to the continuing tale, and I welcome inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Who knows, if response is robust, we may plan a Fisher family reunion in the not too distant future. Somehow I think Mary would be present in our midst.”
Linda Ming, Heritage Collections Officer, based at the Derry Central Library said, “Tourism was becoming popular in the Victorian era. Some people who did ‘the grand tour’ wrote books about their time abroad but it is unusual to have a journal written by a maid.
“If anyone would like to learn how to research their family tree staff in the Heritage department of Derry Central Library will be happy to guide you. You can also look out for beginners ‘Family History’ sessions.”
l The book ‘An Irish Colleen Travels Abroad’ - the journal of Mary T. Fisher’s travels - is available for loan at Derry Central Library.