March is Irish-American Heritage Month. The Irish immigrated to America in record numbers between the years of 1841-1860. Most Irish settled in New York and Massachusetts but many major cities across the country saw an increase in the Irish population. Most Irish faced great discrimination and stereotypes. The thought of the day was since the Irish were descendants of the Celts and not Anglo-Saxon, they were inferior. Many Irish-Americans have become presidents and other government officials as well as others who aren’t so famous but still helped build this great country. I have Irish ancestors through my paternal grandmother’s mother. I decided to explore those roots a little bit now that I have access to amazing databases as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. It’s been an interesting journey which started out as a simple search and has opened up a whole new world of information.
Margaret Jane Robinson is my 2nd great grandmother. She was born on March 22, 1874 in County Cavan, Ireland to William and Mary Ann (nee Lamb) Robinson. County Cavan is located in the province of Ulster and part of the Border Region. In medieval times, the area was part of the kingdom of East Bréifne. The natural landscape of drumlin hills and loughs have the area a high degree of defense. The poorly drained clay soils also provided an obstacle for any invaders. Areas of Cavan were hit hard by the Great Famine potato blight (1845-49) with the winter of 1847 hit hard by typhus and cholera. The 19th century saw several mass evictions. To be evicted from your home was a death sentence. If you didn’t have a family member to take you in, your only other option was emigration. I found the record of Margaret entering the country in 1894. She could have been a part of these mass eviction which took place. The next record I can find of Margaret is the 1910 census as she has married my great great grandfather, Charles E. Burns. I don’t know the reason why she came to America or which family members came with her. I don’t how she ended married and living in Oakland, California. When her daughter, Lillian (my great grandmother) married, she would live with her in Klamath, Oregon where she would live out her days. Margaret died February 6, 1945 at the age of 70 due to hepatic cirrhosis.
Charles Edward Burns is my 2nd great grandfather. He was born on August 23, 1869 in Oakland, California to Thomas and Ellen (nee Clancey) Burns of Ireland. He was a musician and played the trombone. In the 1900 census, Charles was married to Elizabeth Burns with three sons: Charles, Frank, and Thomas, and living in New York. By the 1910 census, he is married to Margaret with two sons and two daughters and in living in Oakland. To imagine in 10 years, he would lose his wife, Elizabeth and a son. I presume that Elizabeth may have died after giving birth to their daughter, Elizabeth (born 1901). He would marry Margaret on April 27, 1908 and have a second daughter, Lillian (born 1909). Charles died on November 27, 1911 at the age of 42 due to endocarditis (inflammation of inside lining of the heart chambers and heart valves). The son I have been able to find records of is Frank who died May 7, 1950 in Klamath Falls, Oregon. I have not been able to find any record of what happened to Charles’s other sons, Charles and Thomas, or his daughter, Elizabeth. All three would disappear from the census records. What happened to Charles’ other three children? I can only guess between 1900 and 1910, his sons, Charles and Thomas, have died. By 1920, Elizabeth could have been married or she, too, could have died.
While searching on FindAGrave.com, I found my great grandparents, Joseph and Lillian Mingo’s grave sites, I discovered that they had a fourth daughter named Virginia Lee. Baby Virginia was born on February 28, 1943 and died on April 4, 1943 at the age of 1 month and 6 days. She died from an acute infectious meningitis as well as an unknown micro-organism nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). I have never heard about this sister. I always thought my great grandparents only had three daughters. I searched more into my great grandparents and I discovered that they were married on August 17, 1927. Their first child, my grandmother, was born seven years later in 1934. I was curious about the long time between marriage and first child. It seemed a long time for that era to wait so long. I asked my grandmother if she remembers if they talked about having problems having children. She told me that she remembers that they did. It also makes sense since there is a gap between the sisters. Their second daughter was born in 1938 and their third daughter in 1940 and lastly the baby in 1943. With this new information, I wonder if my fertility issues are contributed to by genetics, which makes sense because everything is genetically linked. I feel a strange bond with my great grandmother Lillian as she and I both share a struggle to have children. Even though I never met Lillian as she died seven years before my birth, I feel a stronger connection with her knowing that she felt the same pain of fertility issues as well as losing a baby so tragically.
Although I wasn’t able to find more concrete information about my ancestors’ lives in Ireland or their lives in America once they arrived here, this journey has been eye opening. Through demographic information, I can form an image of who these people were. Margaret left her home in Ireland and made her way to America where she would meet her husband and have a family. The marriage was a short one with Charles’ death after three years of marriage. A simple search about my Irish heritage has led to amazing discoveries. I would encourage everyone to looking into their family history. A great place to start is FamilySearch.org, a free site as well as Ancestry.com which is a paid service although they do offer a 14-day free trial. I also recommend FindAGrave.com. It is a site of gravesites about information about the person and family histories have been added. I have found so much information from this site alone. All you need is the person’s name and approximate birth and death years. You never know what you might discover when you all you have is simple information.
Links to get you started: