Barbara and I are going to Ireland in October for our 45th wedding anniversary, so it's a good time to learn about my grandmother, Alice McKenna, the only link to my Irish ancestry. After three days of surfing for info, I had more data than I had ever hoped for. My grandmother, born in 1874 in Washington, D.C., was the daughter of Michael McKenna (a grocer) and Mary Holloran McKenna. They had five other children: Susie, Jimmy, Nillie, Joseph and George. My grandmother often told me her father, born in 1844, was one of six or seven brothers from County Monaghan. The brothers were called the "red-necked" McKennas, but I have not made the Monaghan connection nor discovered what the "red neck" moniker was all about.
Michael McKenna's parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1849 when Michael was five. The alternative was to stay in Ireland and starve as many of the Irish did during the potato famine. Michael's wife, Mary Holloran, from Askeaton in County Limerick, lost her father during the great famine. Unfortunately, the Irish immigrants were not always welcome in this land and my grandmother would often tell me about the sign: "Irish need not apply."
The McKenna clan moved to Chicago in the early 1880s. That is where my grandmother met my grandfather, Francis (Frank) Martin Burge. As the story goes, his family was from Germany or Switzerland, but we didn't hear much about my grandfather's side. Maybe having a German in the family was a disgrace, particularly a cigar-smoking one who liked to bet on the ponies.
But grandfather was the greatest, and we shared all sorts of secrets. One day, when I was about seven, my grandfather took me to the bookie joint and it got raided. The cops pounded on the front door for 10 minutes, allowing all the patrons to escape out the back. After climbing a fence, we ran down the alley. "Frankie, don't tell anyone about what happened-it's our secret."
How time does fly, and now Barbara and I have grandchildren of our own. And many more memories.
When Frank isn't studying the McKenna and Burge families, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.