Prologue: The following post incorporates research done by my brother William Moran and Melrose Iowa genealogist John P. O’Brien.
When they came to America, my Irish great-grandparents could neither read nor write. They had no telephone, no automobile, no good roads. Our far-flung family stays in touch with telephone, email, Facebook, texts, and tweets. Not so 150 years ago.
Family lore says great-grandfather Anthony Moran, along with a brother, emigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania, and worked as a coal miner. My dad once mentioned that he had distant cousins in Lucas County (next county over from Monroe County, Iowa where my dad grew up). This was all we had. No names. No pictures. No letters.
A few years ago the 1916 obituary of Anthony’s wife Bridget surfaced. It reports that “William and James Moran of Lucas attended the funeral of their aunt” (Albia [IA] Republican 12/21/16).
The obituary led us to James Moran in Otter Creek township, Lucas County Iowa. In the 1880 census James is 60 years old and his sons Michael, William, and James are in the household. Eighteen-year-old Michael’s birthplace is listed as Pennsylvania.
With that information, in the 1870 census, we pick up James’ household in Schuylkill, PA, a mining area. We had already located great-grandfather Anthony and his family in Schuylkill in the 1870 census. In 1870 the brothers and their wives cannot read or write.
By 1880 the two families live in adjacent counties in Iowa. We don’t know why they came to Iowa. What we do know is that farming was healthier than mining, and Iowa land was to be had for almost nothing. In 1880 both brothers can read but not write.
Google locates Otter Creek Iowa about 30 miles and a 30-minute drive from Melrose Iowa. In the 1800’s and early 1900s, how far could a horse and wagon travel in one day? Answer: about 15 miles. In 1800’s how many miles could a man or woman travel on horseback in one day? Answer: about 30 miles.
Even in 1916, travel from Otter Creek to Melrose would have required most of a day or money for a train ticket. And Bridget Moran wasn’t a blood relative of William and James Moran. Their uncle Anthony had died in 1909. Still the two nephews traveled to Melrose for Bridget’s funeral.
John O’Brien found this item:”Anthony Moran from Edina MO spent Sunday with his cousin Dr. Moran [great-grandfather Anthony’s son] and family” (Melrose Bell, August 11, 1919). Cousin Anthony, the eldest son of James Moran, farmed in Otter Creek in 1900 and by 1910 has relocated to Edina. Since Edina was 100+ miles from Melrose, we assume cousin Anthony traveled by automobile or train.
A couple of years ago, a cousin and I discussed the 1967 obituary of our Uncle Walter Moran, my dad’s brother. A cousin Ralph Moran is listed at Walter’s funeral in Los Angeles. “Who the heck is Ralph Moran? Why have we never heard of Ralph Moran?” we were saying to each other. There was no one alive from that generation to ask.
When we found the James Moran family, we found Ralph. He is William’s son, James Moran’s grandson, and my Uncle Walter’s second cousin.
I began this reseach with the idea that the families lost touch early on. The families did lose touch. But it wasn’t the illiteracy of the immigrants. Nor was it the 30 miles between Otter Creek Iowa and Melrose Iowa. And it wasn’t early on. Only in my own generation was the link broken.
Why? We can only speculate. My father and his siblings went away to college, married, fought in WWII, and moved out of state. By 1951 both Melrose Iowa grandparents were deceased.
What was lost is found again. Now James Moran and his many descendents populate a public family tree on Ancestry. The names match, the dates match, and James is connected in this tree to his brother Anthony, my great grandfather.
I see distant cousins out there, as they perhaps see me in my brother Bill’s Moran family tree, our identities blanked because we’re alive. One day we may be friending each other on Facebook. Now we’re only a click away.