Finding our “Lace Curtain” Irish


My brother Charles and I spent the first day of summer digging through thousands of black-and-white photos, chards of our combined ancestry, stuffed into four large black plastic tubs. They had been shipped across country by our brother John, in NYC, who had no room for them.

I have my own tonnage of history, at the rear of a storage unit on the top of the hill behind my daughter’s house in San Clemente. Another legal size file box lurks in a locked storage unit of my loft in San Francisco.

Who Was Bushy Boy?

“I know our kids will just toss this stuff away, after we’re gone. We should try to identify these people, who NEVER wrote an encouraging word on the back of any of these fading shots of themselves, except “Nice shot of Bushy Boy” or “I see BJ on that ship, the one of the hanky, next to Auntie M.”

Bushy Boy? BJ was our mother, but who was Auntie M? The ship. Mother never said she had taken a cruise. To where? When?

We found some interesting pieces of information. Our grandmother’s grandfather [he would be the great, great, great grandfather] was a teacher in Howard, McPherson County, South Dakota. In 1900, his 16 pupils included two Slocum kids, Charley, Lizzie, Vennie and Eddie Riesdorph, Bertha, Theresa and Willie Rappe, a couple of Halls, Potters and a Schumaker.

His name was William D. Madole. The only Madole with matching initials I can find is a servant from New York City. Could it be that he educated himself and left NYC to become a teacher in a spot that is just as remote today as it was 114 years ago? The name “Madole.” Is this the “Lace Curtain” Irish blood my grandmother told me I had surging through my veins? A shortening of the surname “MacDowell.” If so, the servant status might make sense, as “No Irish Need Apply” was the sign of the times that greeted immigrants from that green land of luck, blarney and famine.

Richards or Ricardo?

My two brothers and I share the same mother. Different fathers. The families were shuffled together, some in separate albums that started to disintegrate as soon as we picked them up. Hundreds of envelopes, dated 1941, 1980, 1923, with photo negatives, too dark to read or match to the prints.

We uncovered history of the two Macbeth plantations in Charlestown, South Carolina. A reference to a Ravenel ancestor, who sticks around as the middle name of our NYC brother, John.

“Our fortune,” Charles said, as he opened a tin filled with postage stamps.

“We’re rich,” I shouted so loud that the neighborhood dogs started barking. I had unfolded a Nevada silver mine stock certificate noting 1,000 shares, worth $.10 a piece in 1917. Also in 1917, a yellowed newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Times, noting the return from France of one Sgt. Frank Macpherson Smith, wounded in the Battle of the Argonne Forest. Our mother’s father’s Purple Heart. Never mentioned.

History. Herstory.

Would this information be available to our great, great, great, grandchildren, if we stuck it on Facebook, instead of in a plastic tub, buried in the basement? is worse than Facebook – it can suck you in for hours. I do wish anti-immigration folks would subscribe to it, as it would only take about an hour to realize that nobody who’s here, now, has any claim to citizenship, unless you are a member of one of the hundreds of Indian tribes who made this land their home, thousands of years before any of us got here.

We are all immigrants, strangers in a New World that was not so charming and democratic [Greek to you and me] as some say it was. Or is. Time to tug at our roots and discover how much alike we are.

Time to re-print our money so that

e pluribus unum appears in 18-point type


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