By Elizabeth Moran
My family has no shortage of strong women.
Dating back to the 1500s, Moran women have been boldly influential and have included a French duchess who became an English queen and a fearless Irish pirate.
Even today, this strength is evident centuries later when the Morans gather. Holidays are full of strong opinions and conversations that might be terrifying to guests. Fantasy sports teams are overly competitive in my family, and I can promise you that no opinion will be kindly sugarcoated.
Moran women are especially known to be strong-willed, according to Kathleen Moran, my second cousin, who has been studying the Moran family genealogy for many years.
“There is evidence that we are related to Eleanor of Aquitaine and Grace O’Malley,” Kathleen said. “I am most proud of Grace O’Malley who was an Irish pirate who stood up to Elizabeth I. Eleanor and Grace are why Moran women are so strong right down to this day.”
Historical Moran women
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful women in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Her wealth and power grew because of her title of Duchess of Aquitaine. She later became Queen of France in the year 1137 when she married King Louis VII of France. From 1154 to 1189, Eleanor reigned as Queen of England after her marriage to King Henry II of England.
Not only was she the queen of two different countries, but she also participated in a crusade after the fall of the county of Edessa and was a patron to a number of poets at the time, showing her appreciation of the arts.
Grace O’Malley, my Irish pirate ancestor, always wanted to be a sailor but was discouraged from becoming one because of her gender. She pushed through these barriers in the 1500s and eventually had her own fleet of ships. Grace fought against the English in an attempt to get her brother and son back. She is known for using her strength and leadership to try to preserve the old Gaelic way of life, even as English rule was spreading throughout Ireland at the time, according to online documentation.
The strength of these medieval women can be seen in some of the most recent generations of Morans, too.
Hard work pays off
My grandmother Cecilia Moran landed a job at the Union Pacific Railroad computer department, a department with mostly men, when it first formed in 1957. She passed a series of technical tests for the job with no education — just pure determination and intelligence.
“They were all very hard working people — both my mom and dad,” said Patrick Moran, my father. “None of them went to college, but they worked hard no matter what. It was a big thing for them to see their kids succeed.”
The Morans have been an enduring family over they years. The motto on the Moran coat of arms reads: “Lucent in tenebris,” which means “they shine in darkness.” I take this to mean that even in dark times, Morans have been strong enough to overcome obstacles and the worst situations they’ve encountered through the years.
“Even as hard working as they were, they went through hard times,” my dad said of his parents and grandparents. “They were survivors and hard workers.”
The Morans originated in County Cork, the largest and southernmost county in Ireland. They came to the U.S. sometime between 1818 and 1824 by means of coffin ships, which were ships with such deplorable conditions that many died. They were seeking economic opportunity, jobs and freedom from British oppression.
Since then, my family members have visited our home country to learn more about our family lineage and connect with our Irish roots. I hope to visit one day.
Our strong Irish heritage is shown in our holiday food traditions. Corned beef and cabbage was a regular meal that my dad grew up eating, and we still make it for St. Patrick’s Day. Oyster stew is served on Christmas Eve – although my mother eats the oysters raw on crackers like she would with her Norwegian relatives back in Morris, Illinois.
Farming as a way of life
My mom, Ruth Moran, whose maiden name was Jorstad, comes from a long line of hard-working farmers. My maternal grandparents — Wesley Jorstad and Edith Stangland — both have strong Norwegian ties. Edith is 100 percent Norwegian and Wesley is of both English and Norwegian descent.
Edith’s father, Stene Stangland, came to the U.S. from Norway on a boat in 1906 when he was 19. He made the journey with his three brothers. They were looking for farmland, which they first found in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Later, Stene moved to Illinois to start his own farm and family.
When I think of my mom’s family, I see traits that are eerily similar to my dad’s side: strength, fearlessness and hard work.
My mom grew up on a farm in the small town of Morris, Illinois. But this small town farm girl forged her way in the energy business, first working on a pipeline and eventually working her way up at the Omaha Public Power District.
Baking brings us together
She brought her small town ways to the city – like the old world baking skills she learned from her mom. To this day, my mom makes traditional Norwegian desserts she grew up making and eating. Kringles, a soft pretzel-like pastry, and lefsa, a traditional Norwegian soft bread rolled with butter and sugar, are a couple of our favorites.
I plan to continue these baking traditions; I’ll always cherish memories of three generations– my grandma Edith, my mom and me – making lefsa together in my grandma’s kitchen.
“You’re a nice reminder of my mom,” my mom said to me. “If you look at a picture of her, you two have the same profile.”
I see the resemblance in a framed newspaper article that hangs on my family’s porch with a picture of my grandparents on their wedding day in 1941.
The article wasn’t about their wedding, though. The local newspaper wrote about Grandpa Wesley being suddenly drafted in World War II, forced to leave behind his wife, Edith, who was pregnant with their first child, Janice.
He was allowed to come home from the Great Lakes Naval Base on the evening of Janice’s birth and christening, but he wouldn’t return for another two years after that. I can only imagine my grandma dealing with that situation with strength and grace.
A lot of strong women have come before me. I truly believe that I am where I am because of my family’s strength and hard work through the years. As I am on the verge of graduating and setting out into the job world, I can only hope to take my family traits with me.