An Elusive Ancestor

Posted by Great Great Great Family Trees on October 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM

M0ST FAMILY TREES include at least one elusive ancestor or relation who seems to just disappear from history, whose personal file seems to have been stolen from the collective memory bank and whose story is deemed to remain untold. And then sometimes, just when you think there is no more to be found and they are resting in an uneasy peace in your shoebox, up pops some gem that opens the door to the final chapters of the tale.


Many years ago my father told me his grandfather had a brother called Richard Hennessy who died in the Great Earthquake in San Francisco in 1906. I discovered Richard was born in 1877 in Forenaught, Killea here in Co. Waterford but he was on the missing list by the time of the 1901 census. I could not find his name on any emigrant or ship's passenger list. I once checked a list of those 500 or so souls who died in the earthquake but Richard wasn't among them. And so he slowly over the years became a kind of exotic, mythical member of the family, half real half imagined.


A few weeks ago I met a distant cousin of mine, Pat Hennessy, at a funeral. That wasn't so unusual - he's an undertaker! He had lately seen a Hennessy family tree I had drawn some years ago which included the elusive Richard. He told me, to my total amazement, that there was, among his late father's belongings, a photograph of Richard and a photograph of his gravestone!! In the photograph Richard looks like he was doing well for himself. He's smartly dressed with a fancy ring and pocket chain visible. He also sports a magnificent moustache. He looks very like his older brother, my greatgrandfather Maurice Hennessy, in a photograph of the Ballytruckle hurling team taken c.1900.


Richard died six months after the earthquake which was on 18 April 1906. This tallies with a family story that he had survived the quake itself but died some months later from complications. It also explains why he hadn't appeared on the list of the dead.


The information on the tombstone lead me to a newspaper obituary for Richard and the discovery of 'his cousin Michael Hennessy'. Who the heck is he....?

Today's lesson: Cast your net as wide as possible among the extended family. You'll be surprised what exotic creatures you might catch.

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Reply Caroline Hennessy
10:04 PM on October 3, 2014 
It is amazing to think that this photograph has been gathering dust for so many years. And now it has a new life and the character within it almost tells his own story. Thanks for sharing - makes me want to unearth an old pic too.
Reply caroline Hennessy
8:08 PM on October 8, 2014 
just checking your blog page for access. thank you

Great Great Great Family Trees.  + 353 87 152 8582 and speak to Tony Hennessy.