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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 24, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

    Make sure they don’t die

    John Grenham

    When I was a boy, my father would often tell me stories of his own boyhood in Athlone in the 1930s. As I got older, the repetitions grated, and became one of our many I-know-it-all conflicts. Now that my own son is mocking me for telling him the same five stories over and over, I can understand my father’s motivation (and irritation) a bit better. At a certain point in life, when mortality ceases to be an abstraction, the urge to pass on memories, to make sure they don’t die, becomes well-nigh irresistible.

    This is the same urge that lies at the root of much family history. But how long does it last? How many generations does it take for extended family connections to be peacefully forgotten? I think it can last a very long time indeed.

    An example: Father Bartholomew Donovan of Melbourne wrote to me recently. His great-great-grandfather, also Bartholomew, was a house carpenter born in Cork city who emigrated to New South Wales in 1838 and became a successful builder. Fr. Donovan recently traced the family to St. Finbarr’s parish, identified Bartholemew’s parents as Anthony Donovan (also a carpenter) and Mary née Daly, and found records of no fewer than five siblings (Sarah 1798; Mary Ann, 1800; John, 1804; Simon, 1806; Ann, 1815). Three of them, his direct ancestor and sisters Sarah and Ann, emigrated along with two of their spouses, while the parents and three of their remaining children stayed in Cork.

    Fr. Donovan now wants to know if any descendants of the Anthony and Mary who stayed behind are still alive, and still in Cork. He is coming for a visit in April to meet any possible relatives. Even at fully five generations distance and over 200 years later, the urge to keep those connections alive is enduring.

    If you think you’re related, let me know and I’ll pass on the message.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]