11/02/10 - posted by Frank Dunnigan
JoAnne, you've defined my ancestors to a T...

At my father's 1980 funeral, an elderly woman (really elderly--she was past 90 at the time) came in to Arthur J. Sullivan on Market Street. I recognized her name as the sender of an annual Christmas card to my parents, but years earlier when I asked just who she was, Dad replied that she was "some old friend" of his long-gone parents.

Seizing the Irish opportunity to chat up the crowd at wakes, I asked the woman directly just how she knew us. She put on her best patient schoolteacher smile (I later learned that she was retired after a lifetime with the SFUSD), and touched my hand as she replied, "I'm your father's first cousin, dear"--politely calling me "dear" instead of "you idiot". When I still didn't quite get it, she went on, "your grandparents were my uncle & aunt".

Who knew?? Even Mom was surprised to hear this. Alice went on, "Your father's father and my mother were brother and sister, born in 1872 and 1865 right here in San Francisco". She noted that her mother had married at age 21, while my grandfather was closer to 40 when he married, so she her sister were a full 25 years apart in age from my father and his brother, even though they were all the same "generation". She went to explain rather delicately that Grandma had never cared much for her Dunnigan in-laws, so after my grandfather died in 1934, no one saw my father and his brother, "but we're still family, dear". Mom and I decided to resurrect the connection, and became more involved with Alice (who lived in her 43rd Avenue house in the Richmond for well over 65 years), meeting dozens of other wonderful relatives for the first time. Fast forward to the new millennium, and I was the one who looked after Alice's last two sons and arranged their funerals in 2001-2002.

Irish families are indeed remarkable...
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