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  • Happy Saint Patrick's Day from OneGreatFamily

    Saint Patrick's Day, now celebrated in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, is an unusual blend of Christian and pagan customs, and a celebration of the venerated Catholic saint and missionary, Patrick.

    Patrick was born in Wales in 385. When he was sixteen, he was taken from his home and sold into servitude in Ireland, where he spent six years working as a shepherd. During this time, he became a devout Christian. Upon escaping from slavery, he went to Gaul, where he studied Christian doctrine for fifteen years and was eventually ordained to the Catholic priesthood. He subsequently returned to Ireland as a missionary.

    Contrary to popular belief, Patrick did not introduce Christianity to Ireland. There were already Christians living in Ireland, but they were a very small minority, with most of the indigenous Irish population following Celtic-pagan beliefs. Having already lived among the common Irish people for six years, Patrick was ideally suited to bring Christianity to Ireland on a large scale.

    In his missionary efforts, Patrick used his knowledge of Irish culture and pagan belief to explain Christianity in terms that the people would understand. The shamrock, for instance, was already an important symbol to the people, signifying spring and rebirth. Patrick employed the shamrock to represent the Trinity: three separate pieces all part of a whole. Patrick's newly-won converts adopted the shamrock as the symbol of their Christianity and wore it on their clothes; later this transformed into the custom of wearing green to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day.

    Another prevalent Celtic symbol was fire. The Celts used bonfires to honor their gods, so Patrick adopted this custom into the Catholic celebration of Easter, and early Irish Christians celebrated the holy day with fires and revelry. Because the Irish pagans also worshiped the sun, he superimposed an orb over the cross to create a new icon of the Irish Catholic faith. This emblem is now recognized as the Celtic cross.

    One common myth about Patrick is that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Actually, there were never very many snakes in Ireland to begin with. This legend comes from an incident that is purely symbolic: Patrick stood on a hilltop (which now bears his name), held up his wooden staff, and "banished the snakes" from Ireland. The "banishing of the snakes" represented the eradication of pagan doctrines from Ireland. Within two centuries, Patrick's vision had been realized, and Christianity had triumphed.

    Patrick died near present-day Dublin on 17 March 461. He was canonized by the Church, and the day commemorating his death is now a holy day of religious observation for Catholics in Ireland. Today Saint Patrick's day has become a secular holiday as well, and a celebration of all things Irish. Superstitions of leprechauns stem from Celtic beliefs in fairies, small magical people given over to mischief and trickery. Another Irish idiosyncrasy that has become well-known is that of the Blarney Stone. The ritual of kissing the stone, hoping to tap into its magical qualities and receive the gift of eloquent speech, has been performed by millions of people. This kind of pagan practice is hardly new; special stones and landmarks existed all over the ancient world, everywhere from the fertility rock at Giza to the oracle at Delphi to the spring of youth and vitality in Tuscany. It was through this kind of hybridism that Christian missionary efforts among the Celtic people were so successful, and through the Christianization of Ireland that Saint Patrick's legacy lives on.

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  • German Genealogy

    There are more Americans claiming German ancestry than any other ethnic group. More than likely, you have at least one German ancestral line that you'd like to learn more about.

    Many German immigrants, upon arrival to the new world, took a new surname: the English equivalent of their German names. For example, Mohler became Miller and Schneider became Taylor. These surnames are relatively easy to identify. Other surnames, however, do not have an equivalent in English. These names are transliterated instead of translated. For example, Kurrer becomes Kerr and Dirsch becomes Dearth. [i] German pronunciation is different from English pronunciation, so that is the reason that surname transliterations may have different spellings than their German equivalents. The letters "DT" make a T-sound, and the vowel combinations "AU" and "EU" as "oi." Keep this in mind as you're moving back through your family tree. If names don't make sense, make sure you're pronouncing them the German way.

    Because Germany was unified so recently (in the nineteenth century) this can make locating records difficult because there was no central governing body to require all the people to keep records. The key, however, is to utilize church records.

    Catholic church records, as you would guess, are all in Latin. Lutheran records, however, can be found in either Latin or German.

    Don't forget to check genealogical societies (or online blogs and message boards) that are devoted to German research. You never know what you may find there!

    Some other sites that you may find useful are:

    Archives in Germany

    German Emigration and Passenger Lists

    All the civil records that you find (and, as previously mentioned, some church records) are in German. If you don't speak German, you can still conduct genealogical research if you're armed with a few basic German genealogical words:

    Burial: Beerdigun,
    Wedding: Hochzeit
    Birth: Geburten

    When you learn a few German words, and some searching techniques, German genealogy becomes easier than ever.

    [i] A Genealogical Handbook of German Research, FamilySearch

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  • Mexican Genealogy

    Since 1820, Mexico has been the fourth largest source of immigrants to the United States, and the number of Mexican immigrants is only increasing. If you are Mexican-born or have Mexican ancestors, consider yourself lucky. Unique surname traditions and widespread availability of church records make it easy to trace Mexican ancestry.

    Understanding how surnames were passed down will help you in your search for ancestors. Traditionally, a child was given her father's surname followed by her mother's. For example, a child named Maria whose father's surname was Garcia and whose mother's surname was Sanchez would be named Maria de Garcia y Sanchez. In more recent times, her name would be listed as Maria Garcia Sanchez or Maria Garcia-Sanchez. Once Maria married, her name would change. If she married a man with the surname Gonzalez, she would become "Maria de Garcia y Sanchez de Gonzalez." This traditional surname inheritance is very helpful for researching your genealogy. If you have Mexican ancestry, you'll never face the common genealogical problem of having the trail going cold because you don't know an ancestor's maiden name. Be aware, however, that in recent years many family members may just to take their father's surname. When you are searching for individuals in the census and other records, search under their mother's surnames, father's surnames, and both surnames put together.

    To find records of your Mexican ancestors, start by locating them in census records to find out approximately when they came to the United States. If they immigrated before about 1906, their immigration records can be found in the county where they settled, if the records exist at all. More recent immigrants filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and you can write to the immigration office to obtain their records.

    Vital records are easy to come by in Mexico. Local governments have been keeping these records since about 1857, and Catholic church records have been kept since the Spanish conquest. Catholic church records record christenings, marriages, and burials, and their accuracy and usefulness is unrivaled in the world of genealogy.

    If you are fortunate enough to be able to cross the Atlantic and trace your genealogy back to the mother country, knowing the origin of your ancestral surname can help locate your ancestors in Spain. In early times, a Spanish surname was derived from one's father's name by adding "es" or "ez" on the end. For example, if your father's name was Alvaro, your surname would become Alvarez, and Gonzalo would become Gonzalez. Some Spanish surnames came from occupations; for example, "Molina" means miller. Some surnames come from regions in Spain, and these are especially useful in determining where your ancestors came from. The surname "Vasco," for instance, is a sure indication that your ancestors are from the Basque country in northern Spain.

    If you know the basics, finding your Mexican ancestry is easy and fun. ¡Buena suerte!

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