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Jessie Raymond: Trip plans hinged on luck of the Irish

In 2019, my husband Mark and I will reach a milestone: our 25th wedding anniversary. I want to celebrate with a trip.
It’s early yet, but I thought I’d better spring the idea on him sooner rather than later so (a) we’d have time to save up for this adventure, and (b) he could get used to the idea of leaving his Addison County comfort zone.
I want to go to Ireland.
I had read about scenic walking tours there, and a vacation like that sounded great to me. You spend your days hiking scenic trails along the Irish coastline, ending up at a different B&B each night.
Mark didn’t see the appeal of this, claiming that a walking tour was just a forced march you voluntarily paid for. He questioned why our luggage, which would be ferried by van from inn to inn, deserved a more leisurely holiday than we did.
But I’ve always wanted to see Ireland. I’m a quarter Irish, thanks to my maternal grandmother. Though I never met her, I’ve always felt a pull toward my Irish roots. Green is my favorite color. I think I’d be a natural at Irish step dancing. I even spin wool on a spinning wheel, just like I picture my Irish ancestors doing in a thatched cottage at the end of a narrow lane.
So this trip wouldn’t just be a lark on foot, I told Mark; it would be a trip “home.” I’d do some genealogy research and find out just what part of Ireland my ancestors hailed from — no doubt some rural and picturesque region, to match my imagination (or perhaps the inherited memories of those who came before me?). We’d stop in at the local pub and chat up the locals, and before you know it, we’d discover that they were my cousins. I could hardly wait.
The next day, I subscribed to Ancestry.com and started digging into my past. At first, the results were promising. Though it took a few hours to get the hang of online genealogy research, I found out that my grandmother had been born in Annapolis, Md., in 1893. Later, I discovered that her parents had been born in Annapolis as well.
Funny. I felt more recently Irish than that.
It got harder to follow the records at that point, but after a few days spent hunched over the computer humming “Danny Boy,” I tracked my grandmother’s lineage back a bit more and found that one of my great-great-great-grandfathers had been born in 1796.
Also in Annapolis.
After an intense few days on Ancestry.com, during which I neither slept nor showered, I pored over death records and nearly illegible Census forms, and concluded that, alas, I am more American than Irish. No matter how vividly I envision an ancestor of mine knitting coarse fisherman’s sweaters while sitting on a three-legged stool at the edge of a peat bog, I’d have to go back countless generations to make a family connection to my homeland.
Mark, for his part, feigned disappointment that there was no longer a compelling reason to go to Ireland. But I wasn’t giving up. After 25 years of marriage, what says love more than doing what your wife wants — especially when it means so much to her sense of cultural identity?
He might have gone along with that, but then I made a disturbing discovery.
If I had more living relatives and hadn’t been so blindly besotted with my romantic Irish roots, I would have spotted the problem years ago. See, my grandmother’s maiden name was Evans. And that, I learned during a casual Google search last week, is a Welsh family name. And her mother’s maiden name was Stuart. That’s Scottish.
Obviously.
It turns out the only Irish thing about me is that my mother’s sister married into an Irish family, making my cousins half Irish. I’m no geneticist, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t, by extension, make me a Daughter of Erin.
Finding out that I’m not who I thought I was has changed more than our travel itinerary. I’ve cancelled my appointment for a shamrock tattoo. And from now on I’m moving my arms when I dance.
Mark, at least, is happy. He says now we can spend our 25th anniversary in the land of his real ancestors instead of my imagined ones. He’s already booking our plans for 2019.
Weybridge, here we come.

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