Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Search: A Sea Of Irishmen

While research on my dad’s side of the family has been a project shared by many family members (both close and distant relatives) over the year, my mom’s side of the family has always been a more difficult endeavor. Where I have been able to build upon the foundation built by others on my dad’s side, the land had yet to be graded on my mom’s side until a few years ago when a few of us decided to break ground. It has been a bit of a slog at times but there is a lot of information now contained in our tree, a lot of family stories that have been confirmed, and a lot of documents that have been consolidated.

However, when following the paternal line on my mom’s side, there is quite the thick fog when delving into the 19th century. While I have been able to have a relatively complete record of my great great grandfather’s life, his father remains a mystery. Unfortunately, trying to find a specific William McKenna among the waves of Irishmen during the Potato Famine is a task that is difficult to say the least. And while the name isn’t as common in Pennsylvania in the second half of the 19th century as one would think it is still nearly impossible to verify the scarce documents that I do come across.

The other consideration is the simple fact that with limited job opportunities and significant backlash against the influx of Irish immigrants during that time, there are countless countrymen that remain without official records (an informational famine)… even the census has its limitations. In fact, much of the information I have been able to find about this particular generation comes from his children and what they later reported to the census taker and wrote on various documents. In the end, we have what we are left with is a name, approximate year of birth (1840), country of origin, and approximate immigration between 1845 and 1865 (port unknown).

That leaves a rather large pool of potential candidates when trying to sift through immigration, census, limited death records, and family trees. I have a mountain of names and documents that all seem to fit in one way or another but, when I try to put the pieces together, the shape is all wrong. While this is by no means an impossible endeavor, it is one that will take a considerable amount of time, more information, and a few lucky breaks in order for us to find this generation during my lifetime. And, unfortunately, I know I am not the only one who faces this challenge.