March 15, 2014

Ryan of Boston, Massachusetts

In honor of upcoming St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd focus on what is, frankly, the least explored branch of my family tree: that of my Irish-descended paternal grandmother.

Irish ancestry is difficult; good luck looking for ancestors with surnames like RYAN and FITZGERALD when you don't even know where in Ireland they originated. I figure that my irish immigrant ancestors were poor potato farmers who worked land owned by others, and were driven out of Ireland by starvation during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s and 1850s.

I have personally found that, in genealogy, the trail often stops at the Atlantic. Even most of the lines of my English ancestors who came over during the Great Migration of the mid 1600's cannot usually be traced back any further than the original immigrants. With my Irish and Jewish lines (my father's side), I really can't go back any farther than the generations that immigrated.

My grandmother's ancestors arrived in the 1850s, so I can thankfully at least go back to 3rd greats on her side.

The first RYAN ancestor immigrant was 2nd great-grandfather Thomas Lynch RYAN (1831-1916), who immigrated about 1857 and settled in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. According to his death record, his parents were David RYAN and Johanna LYNCH.

Thomas and his wife Johanna (nee FITZGERALD) had several children:

One, my great-great uncle James Francis Ryan, would join the fire department and rise to the rank of district chief. His younger brother, my great-grandfather David, would spend 10 years as a police officer before participating in the Boston police strike of 1919 and subsequently losing his job.

David's daughter, my grandmother Clare, was always rather broad-minded for a woman of her generation, and, in a time when mixed marriages-- either between races or between religions-- was a rare thing, married my Ukrainian Jewish grandfather.
The Ryans have a large monument at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Roslindale, MA. Photo courtesy of my cousin Barbara.

My grandmother, Clare RYAN, c. 1933

When updated DNA results last year to make them more specific, I was rather surprised to find that the amount of my Irish DNA is estimated at 39%. This is quite a bit higher than the roughly 25% I was expecting, and constitutes the largest percentage of my DNA. Then I recalled that my mother had some Irish ancestry too-- her 2nd great grandparents Richard HOWES and Catherine ROSS came from Ireland, according to census records, and there are names like TOWLE (originally TOOLE) and BAILEY on her side of the tree as well.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.


Ancestry line:

David RYAN m. Johanna LYNCH
Thomas Lynch RYAN (1831-1916) m. Johanna FITZGERALD
David Thomas RYAN (1875-1939) m. Mary Elizabeth FITZGERALD
Clare Regina RYAN (1911-2001) m. Boruch K
My father (b. 1933) m. S. HOWES

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