QBFHS Journal

The following article is is an excerpt from the current QBFHS quarterly journal, “Voices of the Past”.  The complete quarterly journal is available to members only.

For more information on joining QBFHS, please click here.


Finding Lost Cousins

As happened to so many others, it seems that, beginning in 1911, there was a mass exodus of my family members from Ireland to the United States.  In 1912, my grandmother’s sister, Mary Jane Patterson, emigrated to the United States and married Steward David Vennard, who had gone ahead of her.  In 1912, my grandfather’s sister, Mary Ellen Ferguson, married John Vennard and they emigrated to the United States.   I have since discovered that Jane Vennard, Thomas Vennard and Lizzie Vennard also emigrated to the United States. These were brothers and sisters of the previous Vennards as they all gave the same street address in Portadown, County Armagh.   My grandfather’s other sister, Eliza Jane Ferguson, married John Pierce and, in 1913, they, too, emigrated to the United States with their two children.

My Grandfather Ferguson emigrated to the United States in August 1912 and did not return home as expected, so Grandmother emigrated to the United States in April 1913 to find out why he never returned home.  She was a young woman of twenty-two with my father, only two months old in her arms.   Due to lack of work for unskilled workers, they returned to Ireland and remained there the rest of their lives.

I found most of these people on ship’s manifests but could not trace them beyond their disembarkation point, either New York or Boston.  It was a dead end and some of my family were suggesting that the Vennards were a lost cause and had probably never existed and it was just family lore.

Then I had a strange discovery.  I went to bed one night with my iPad for entertainment. I was switching between Solitaire, e-mail and YouTube when there appeared on my screen an obituary for a woman named Eileen Perry Vennard. Wow, where did that come from? The name meant little to me. There are lots of people named Vennard. I was totally puzzled as to how that appeared on my screen.  I do not have any sites such as Ancestry on my home computer or iPad as I do all my research at the local Family History Centre.

Because of the strange and surprising way this had appeared, I continued to scan the obituary with mild interest. I noticed she was born in Manchester, Connecticut, which was of some interest because, when reading the ships manifests I noticed that that a couple of the immigrants had stated they were going to Manchester, Connecticut.

I read on. She seemed like a nice woman so I read on again.  When I got to the end, I noticed her children listed and as my eye moved down I noticed with a shock that her grandfather and grandmother were Steward David Vennard and Mary Jane Vennard.  It just had to be them!

The next day, I wrote to one of the children listed on the obituary, Joan Perry Doyle saying,

“You have not met me but I am doing some research on our families. I hope I have the right person. If so, I am your second cousin and would love to hear from you. If not, I am sorry for disturbing you.  I am also hoping to contact other members of your family as I feel it is important to show our connection to your family in our family history.”

I then outlined the connection between my family and her family.   Within a few days, I received an e-mail saying she was pleasantly surprised to learn of our connection.   She mentioned that she was giving a copy of my letter to her sister Janet as she also wants to learn more about my side of the family. They had tried to trace the Ferguson side of the family on Ancestry without success.

I was delighted and immediately let her know that I had received her e-mail and said I would be sending information on her family within the week. I offered to send copies of the ship’s manifests and US customs transcripts, which I have. I also made it clear that I was willing to share all the information I have on her family and I am trusting that she will do the same for me.

The very next day, I received a short e-mail from her thanking me and enclosing a photo of her grandfather and grandmother, Steward David Vennard and Mary Jane Patterson.

My research was at a standstill when the obituary appeared on my screen, seemingly out of the blue. It was an almost magical experience. I take no credit for this discovery, as I did nothing to bring the obituary onto my screen. I have since looked at it again and find that it came from a source I have never heard of, Geni.  That’s a magical name too, is it not?

How that obituary appeared on my screen I will never know, but it has opened up a huge area of research for me as I can now, through information supplied by Joan, find out about the lives of all of the couples listed previously.  To me, it’s like opening a treasure chest and finding unexpected, but very much appreciated gifts of knowledge about my extended family members.

Submitted by Mary Lightheart
Member #363