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Irish Roots

I’ve got LOTS of Irish cousins, mostly connected to my grandfather William Ryan, who had many nieces and nephews through his four siblings.  His ancestors include the Donovans and Conroys of Co. Cork, Ireland. His Ryan ancestors had the misfortune of being named William and Mary (only about 200 of them…) and apparently left no paper records of their existence. My Aunt Bernadette Ryan, with her Ryan, Kane, Tally & Symon ancestors also has a rich Irish history. Her cousins even have a pub in Ireland!

This is what I know of my ancestors from Ireland…

Thomas Donovan was born in Jan 1834 in Co. Cork, Ireland. He migrated to the US in 1852 on the ship Constellation. On May 15, 1859 when Thomas was 25, he married Ellen Catherine Conroy. She was born in 1832 in Co. Cork, Ireland and emigrated to the US in 1854 on the ship Commerce.  They opened a savings account in her name at Emigrant Savings Bank in 1863 in New York, listing their residence as 243 Cherry St. with their daughter Elizabeth. He was a longshoreman and she was a housewife. They were listed on the census for 1870 in Bethany, New Haven, CT. He was a tanner, she was a housewife. They had in their household three daughters and 80 year old Catherine Donovan, who I imagine was Thomas’ mother, although I can’t be sure.  In addition, a woman named Ama Kough and her daughter Mary were living in their house. In 1880 in the same place, he worked in a shoe factory, she kept house. By then they had 6 children, the oldest three (girls ages 19, 18 & 14) worked in a woolen mill. On May 10 1900, Ellen died after a lingering illness at the age of 68. A little over a year later, her husband Thomas died on his way home from work, falling into a canal and drowning.  I found out about his sad death in a newspaper article from the Naugatuck Daily News, and wrote about it here.

Their children were:

  • Elizabeth Mary C. (1860-) I found no record of her after 1880
  • Anna (Annie) M. (1865-<1930) married Michael Morris, and their daughter Nellie was the mother of Frank “Spec” Shea the baseball player!
  • Margaret “Maggie” (1867-1909)
  • Catherine “Katie” (1869-1898)
  • William (1872-)
  • Elizabeth (1876-1955)

Thomas and Ellen’s youngest daughter Elizabeth married my great great grandfather, William A. Ryan, born Feb 1874 in New York to William & Mary Ryan. He was a vaudeville performer, and then in 1900 a rubber worker, his wife Lizzie working as a Rubber Shoe maker.

William & Larena Harden Ryan

William & Larena Harden Ryan

Their three sons were William Joseph Ryan (my great grandfather), Thomas J. and Edmund. William Joseph Sr. lived his whole life in Naugatuck, Connecticut and worked as an Insurance Salesman, a Store Manager and a Factory Worker, employed for 31 years with a division of General Motors. He was married at age 22 to Larena Harden, daughter of William Arthur Harden b. 1871 in Quebec Canada to an English father and French mother and Lucinda Fournier, whose parents Ira Fournier and Lucinda Hutchinson were both born in Canada of French parents. I met my great grandmother Larena a few times – she lived to be 91, and played piano with the Senior Citizen’s Orchestra for over 25 years.

I know very little personally about my grandfather Bill “Ski”Ryan. I was told by my grandfather’s sister, Aunt Betty, that that he left school to travel on the road with bands in his 2nd year of high school. In 1942 at age 17, his Social Security application shows him living in Youngstown Ohio, employed as a musician by Jack Melton. He married my grandmother when they were both serving in the Army in during World War II, after her brief 1st marriage to Richard Shoemaker. Bill left my grandmother while my mother and her two brothers were still young, remarrying with the blessings of the Catholic church after having his marriage to my grandmother annulled. When my Grammie fell apart for a while after her divorce, mom and one uncle stayed with Betty’s family, attending Catholic mass with them in Latin!

William Ryan Jr with sister Betty

Betty & William Ryan Jr

My mother saw her father very rarely after that, and I have only one hazy memory of visiting him with his 2nd wife. I remember they gave my sister and I chocolate Easter Bunnies that must have been a little old. His wife Betty was a former gymnast or dancer, and I remember doing some small acrobatics with her.  He was an organ player who played with and wrote arrangements for several local Connecticut bands including Al Gentile and Hal MacIntyre and big name bands Raymond Scott and Art Mooney Orchestras and Joe Mooney Jazz Quartet. I remember asking my mom if Grammie was upset that she was dating my father – if she was bothered about his race, and Mom told me that Grammie was far more upset about my mom dating a musician.

My Irish heritage is somewhat diluted at this point. I’m not subscribing to any stereotype of Irish people here, but in my own family there is definitely a streak of alcohol abuse down my Irish family line, although we’ve got a few streaks of one sort or another in other branches of my family tree. My visits to this branch of my family were mostly to the home of my mother’s Aunt Betty, who raised a lovely large family with her Italian American husband Mike Palaia. Although my own family obviously didn’t embrace the Catholic faith, it is one of the things I most associate with my Irish relatives, along with the fact that they seemed to have comparatively large families.  Besides that, Betty clearly embraced her own family heritage. She is the keeper of photographs, she has the family bible, and she shared those with me, along with countless family memories and facts. Betty’s kids were close to my mom’s age, except for her youngest son Jim, who was just a little younger than me and has been a dear friend to me since we met as kids. I will always be grateful for my friendship with Betty and all that she has done to share our heritage.  I also proudly wear green every St. Patrick’s Day!

2 Responses to “Irish Roots”

  1. on 28 Dec 2013 at 6:18 pm Julia

    Hello. Do you know if William A. Ryan was a Vaudeville performer sometimes playing in Providence Rhode Island?

    My grandmother, born 1876, spoke to me about him.

    Thank you for sharing your information on Ryan.

  2. on 28 Dec 2013 at 6:22 pm jane Taylor

    Hello. Do you know if William A. Ryan was a Vaudeville performer sometimes playing in Providence Rhode Island?

    My grandmother, born 1876, spoke to me about him.

    Thank you for sharing your information on Ryan.



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