Lies, Lies, and Yes, More Lies

Well, I guess in genealogical research they really aren’t lies; maybe we should call them misgivings of rumors once heard and passed down.

There are certain parts of my research where I set out with a hypothesis handed down for generations, some learned as a child at my grandmother’s knee, while others were learned as an adult. Though there is truth to each story, in reality; the facts have been either misconstrued to make our family seem to be on the shirt tails of famous. Or, in another case, the facts were right, but my perception of those facts were way wrong!

My perception of the facts, being wrong as it were, only helps to muddle the genealogy confusion when I share those stories with no sources to back up the stories I am passing on.

In the first story, the one heard at Grandmom’s knee, I was told that we are decedent’s of the brother of Patrick O’Leary. Patrick was married to Catherine, the owner of the famous cow that supposedly started the Great Chicago Fire. The story goes that Daniel O’Leary moved his wife and children from Chicago to Burner Mountain, West Virginia, in a hurried fashion to the great relief of rioters in Chicago that criticized and even harmed anyone named O’Leary.

In doing basic research I noted a few things, to begin with, our last name is “Leary,” according to my Grandmother they dropped the “O” in order to remove themselves from the travesty of national attention. However, they also would have switched their religious affiliation from Catholic to Protestant.

My husband pointed out that moving to “Burner Mountain” after such a horrific connection to burning a city seemed a bit odd. My research had to prove Grandmom right, because I had moved to West Michigan, long after her death, and the Great Chicago Fire is well known for having developed our once logging community in efforts to rebuild Chicago. I wanted us to be a part of something good, something that seemed a horrible event, that was really good for other communities. I wanted to be part of a positive!

In my search for the truth I learned about a new book, “Did the Cow Do it?”┬áPurchasing the book I quickly learned that there was no known brother to Patrick O’Leary. My disappointment was evident, but I pressed on by switching gears and studying the roots of the Leary Family.

My grandfather was really born in Burner, West Virginia, but prior to that his family resided in Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada. They had never even seen Chicago, had never written an “O” before their last name, or practiced Catechism. It was all smoke (excuse the pun) and fairy tale.

Now, Grandmom married Daniel T. Leary, so it wasn’t really her story, more it was her husband’s story to tell, but he had passed on long before my birth. I’m not sure if she made up the story, or heard it from someone else, I just know that she didn’t like when I sang the nursery rhyme, “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.”

Let’s fast forward 35 years, to present day. Not only do I seek the dead through documents, I also hold an interest in ghost hunting. Imagine my delight to learn that ghost hunters around the globe are seeking to investigate Pennhurst State School and Hospital; I know I had an uncle that not only lived there but he also took his last breath there.

BRAKES, brakes, bra … He did in fact live at Pennhurst State School and Hospital ANNEX 2. Which is actually White Haven State School and Hospital. It was not the main building, or even on the same property, it turns out that White Haven State School and Hospital is still in existence.

My perception was that he lived in the main building of Pennhurst and was, quite possibly, among the unrested souls. Maybe it was my wish to become famous, maybe I wanted something good for this family, maybe I wanted better writing material, or maybe I just wasn’t listening effectively.

With all of this in mind, what have I learned? The facts, they are what they are, even though they may prove my stories or perceptions to be wrong, I am still following the heart strings of those that came before me, and without them, I would not exist.