For Lunneys, tracing family’s roots a labour of love
OTTAWA — Not all the Lunney men were priests. It only seemed that way.
There was the first Father Ed, the American, then the second Father Ed, the one who left the priesthood late in life, and Father Bill, the soft-spoken one, and Father Len, the singing principal. And we shan’t forget Mary, who became Sister Alphonse Marie, but was also the second Father Ed’s actual sister.
And the Father Lunneys were not brothers, but cousins. It all needs to be written down and sorted out, doesn’t it? And it was.
A new book is just out, From Fermanagh to Fitzroy & Beyond … about the descendants (and there are some 700) of Edward Joseph Lunney and his wife Johanna Mantle, who emigrated to Canada from Ireland separately, marrying here in 1836 and settling in old Fitzroy Township.
It is one of those remarkable books we see more of today. Made possible by the explosion of interest in genealogy, the miraculous archival reach of the Internet, and the economics of small publishing.
It is, of course, a labour of love and the product of obsession. Jeri Lunney knows only too well.
“We just had to know,” she says, of the on-and-off research that was ignited with a first trip to Ireland 12 years ago.
“I think we have to know where we’ve been in order to know where we’re going.”
Jeri, 68, a retired teacher, is married to Al Lunney, 72, the one-time mayor of Mississippi Mills. The couple now live in downtown Almonte.
Al, born James Alphonsus, is the great-grandson of Edward Joseph. Al’s father, Hugh Edward, died when Al was only three. The loss of his dad at such a young age became an important motivator in the couple’s research, Jeri says.
(Like many old Irish families, the Lunneys generally followed a tradition of naming boys after fathers and fathers’ fathers, producing a small, confusing army of Edwards, Hughs and Jameses, and necessitating nicknames.)
The book is also the trigger for a Lunney family reunion planned for July 20. More than 100 are expected from across Canada and the United States.
Jeri is the first to admit she had loads of help in compiling the book, particularly from smaller family trees already compiled by earlier generations and a network of dogged researchers. She has worked on the 400-page book steadily for about two years, probably putting in a couple of hours a day.
The journey of the Lunney compilers had many of the hallmarks and dead-ends that face modern-day genealogists. There were hours spent in graveyards, here and abroad. Deciphering hand-written documents by our barely-literate ancestors. Sorting out the mysteries of spellings: Lunney became Lunny and Lonny and, on the patriarch’s wedding registry, Lowry, the source of great confusion.
The Internet, of course, became a gold mine. “Even in the last year, I can find out 10 times as much as I could before,” says Jeri.
Still, the story of Johanna, the matriarch, the mother of 10 children, was a tough one to track down, Jeri explained, mostly because of incomplete records.
She empathized with the difficult farm life Johanna must have led and the way, in death, she was overlooked. There was a gravestone for Edward, who died in 1872, in Indian Hill Cemetery in Pakenham, but no mention of his wife.
It took some detective work, but the Lunneys were able to confirm that Johanna was buried with her husband. In August 2012, she and Al placed an inscribed stone on the ground below Edward’s upright marker. The circle, in a sense, was completed, 127 years later.
“We spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to get information about this woman. Because we had to,” said Jeri.
“We had to vindicate her existence, if that’s the right word to use.”
While generalizations are difficult to make, there do seem to be some common Lunney traits, she agreed: honesty, humility, a strong work ethic, a keen spirituality, yet a love for singing, music and laughter.
Many were farm people, who maintained rural roots even as they moved to cities.
For instance, Father Len Lunney, now 80 and retired as a monsignor, still keeps a bush lot near Pakenham and tinkers on a number of antique cars. He is probably best known for his nearly 30-year career at St. Pius X high school.
The reunion is timely in another sense. So many of the fourth generation are gone, she noted, including Father Bill, who died in 2009, age 81, and Father Ed, who left the priesthood in 2004 and died in 2012, age 83.
Nor is genealogy a dry exercise in record-keeping, Jeri explained. Grown children were asked to interview their parents to produce entries for the book, making discoveries that astonished them.
“We had some pretty special things happen between children and their parents.”
Indeed. So does it happen with the living and the dead.
(For more details about the book and reunion, please CLICK HERE.