Two degrees of ancestral separation


Randy Seaver’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun last weekend was Two Degrees of Separation. Obviously I’m not having much fun on Saturday nights that it takes me to Tuesday to respond to this challenge, which rather intrigued me.

So, how far back in time could I go with my ancestors by using an ancestor I knew as the pivot point.

As it happens not too far, certainly not as far as Randy managed. Despite many branches of longevity on our tree the furthest back my known personal linkages took me was the 1830s. There were two reasons for this: 1. the timing of my families’ migration to Australia and 2. (in some cases) the early demise of their ancestors.

I was surprised to discover just how recent and ephemeral was this grandparent-grandchild link that we seem to take for granted these days. But more on that another time.

I was lucky that I knew all four of my grandparents and these are the links which took me back.

My grandfather, Denis Joseph Kunkel b 1880, knew all four of his grandparents and would have seen quite a lot of them I imagine. Even though his family moved around with the railway, they spent most of their time near where the grandparents lived. I like the fact that he knew them well and perhaps was close to them. I only wish he’d told me about them …or was I not listening?  All these grandparents have birth dates in the early 1830s though only one is a confirmed date (the rest were Irish –say no more!). If Denis lived in today’s world, where international travel and Skype connect families separated by distance, then he would also have known two of his great-grandparents who were still alive in Ireland, and I could connect back to the c1804..

My paternal grandmother, Catherine b 1887, may have the record for the earliest connection, assuming (and it IS an assumption) that she met her grandfather, Duncan McCorkindale before his death in Greenock Poorhouse in 1889. She wouldn’t have remembered him though, as she was only two when he died. Still IF the family visited him from Glasgow then he would be the earliest contender for our “two degrees of separation”, having been born in 1808.

With my maternal grandmother, Laura, the story is the same. Her Northumbrian-born grandmother lived with them in Charters Towers and Laura would also have known as her Partridge grandparents but again, birth dates are in the 1830s. All earlier generations pre-deceased her birth.

My paternal grandfather, James, certainly knew his paternal grandparents (both born 1830s) as they also lived in Gorey, Co Wexford and the two families emigrated to Australia within a year of each other. Perhaps before they emigrated they travelled to Tullamore, Co Offaly to visit his great-grandfather Martin Furlong, in which case this link would connect back to the early 1800s.

Thanks Randy for a new way of looking at our ancestral families, and enlightening our current family experience.

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4 thoughts on “Two degrees of ancestral separation

  1. Thanks, Pauleen, a thought-provoking and interesting post. Your grandfather James’s family (a few further generations back) would probably have known my 3xgreat grandfather’s family, the Delaneys, as they lived near Gorey, in Ballyellis, not far from Carnew. Nicholas Delaney was accused of taking John Hope (‘The Batchelor’) into Gorey, where Hope was piked to death in 1798.

    Small world…

    • I often think Australia is indeed a small world. I suspect they may only have known each other if Nicholas’s family stayed in Gorey as my lot didn’t get there until late 1860s…railways again. But you never do know. The Sherrys were in the townland of Knockina just outside Gorey.

  2. I really found your statement that “I only wish he’d told me about them …or was I not listening?” to be thought provoking. There were many times I wasn’t listening when my mother or grandparents told me things that didn’t seem important, but that I’d really like to know now. Often I can half-remember tantalizing bits of conversations, but can’t put the whole story together. However, those half memories sometimes send me in one direction or another when I’m doing research, so I guess maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for not paying attention.

    • Thanks Sheryl. I’m glad you’re half-memories prove helpful in your research strategies. I guess it’s the simple reality of life that far too often kids have too much to do just being kids and having fun to pay attention in this way. I’ve been lucky in recent years that I’ve been able to talk to my parents (maybe they think it’s more like an inquisition?) to clarify things I didn’t know/found in records. Sadly I don’t remember anything specific my grandmother told me yet I spent part of nearly every day of my life with her for 20-odd years. Certainly in the teenaged years I wasn’t paying attention. Another incentive for us to keep documenting our histories??

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