This diary is much more personal and “straight” genealogy and family history, as compared to last week’s more political and sociological entry.
Growing up I often heard the story that my grandfather’s grandmother Eliza (on my mother’s side in Brooklyn, New York) was one of nine children from County Derry, Ireland. Her eldest brother came to New York in 1857, then moved to San Francisco in the early 1860s. In 1864 the three eldest sisters, one of whom was Eliza, came to New York and waited for word from him about whether to undertake the long journey to California.
By the time a letter arrived telling them of California’s wonders, my great-great-grandmother Eliza had fallen in love with Michael, a young man recently arrived from County Clare. She decided to marry him and stay in Brooklyn. Eliza’s sisters sailed to San Francisco, crossing Panama by land, and she never saw any of her siblings again although I've now learned they corresponded regularly. What should have been evident, though I never really made the realization, is that there is a large family in the San Francisco area. They all knew each other to some extent and, for them, we were the long-lost cousins.
After their wedding in 1865, my great-great-grandparents Eliza and Michael built a life for themselves on the East Coast. In late 1866 Michael became a U.S. citizen, and I have a copy of his citizenship certificate in my house. Although Eliza and Michael’s first three children died very young, they later had seven more children who lived to adulthood, and twelve grandchildren. They were both still alive for the births of nine of those twelve grandchildren, including my grandfather, Jim.
Michael had been trained as a barrel-maker but soon put his childhood on a farm to good use, growing vegetables in a postage-stamp sized lot for sale from a pushcart. In the 1870s the family moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, in the hopes of a larger plot to grow on. Like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Michael was misinformed. New Jersey may be the “Garden State,” but Jersey City’s as urban as Brooklyn.
Eventually, though, Michael bought a second cart, which his older sons took out for him, and secured a contract to sell to a Manhattan grocery chain, which required taking his produce on the ferry across the Hudson River several times a week. When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, Michael saw a way to get to Manhattan without the expensive and erratic ferry. He moved the family back to Brooklyn, where I was born and many of his descendants still live today.
Internet searches in the days after I first found John’s website led me to several online genealogy fora, where I made my amusing discovery. Some members of several of the California branches of the tree had been doing family history for years. They’d all found John, who lived eight time zones away from them, back in the 1980s. For them, the missing link was us. The New York branch was the big mystery. None of them knew what became of any of us after 1920 and the California researchers – and John – had posted several online queries over the years trying to find my branch of the family. Not knowing Eliza and Michael had returned to Brooklyn from Jersey City, they were tracking down hints in New Jersey and running into a series of dead ends. It doesn't help that Michael's family had a very common last name.
We also found out, as we had a virtual toast for what would have been Father Bob’s 100th birthday this year, that he’d been in touch with every single one of us but did a very lousy job telling us about each other’s existence. It was a fun moment.
Like the song says, “I once was lost but now am found.”