Patty Unleashed

Patty Unleashed: 9.14.16

Who do you think you are? The question often is asked indignantly, but it also happens to be the name of a pretty popular TV series on TLC that follows celebrities—and I use that term loosely—as they trace their family’s past. Each path to America is unique, and this show pulls those stories together in a quick 60 minutes.

My family, like all families, has stories, some true, many not. Family lore includes our great-grandfather emigrating from Ireland, landing in St. Louis and becoming a police officer. And a great-uncle involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, not on the law-abiding side. Then there were two great-grandfathers falling off ladders and dying from those injuries, the irony being neither of them was involved in the family roofing business. And a buggy accident on the Eads Bridge that killed two other great-grandparents. Anyway, with technology on my side, I decided it would be interesting to separate fact from fiction. So, with some help from my friend Jody Jones, who owns Beyond Your Tree Genealogy, I was ready.

I decided to start on my dad’s side of the family with ancestry.com. I found my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother. Then I found her parents, eventually tracing them all to Ireland. What was clear is that everyone married someone else who was Irish, and we weren’t very original with names. You were either John, Patrick, Catharine or Anne. But I was getting nowhere with my great-grandfather, the one who gave us our surname, Fitzgerald. Maybe that’s because he never used the same name on any two documents! Yes, my great-grandfather, the police officer, obviously did not see the benefit of listing his name the same exact way twice.

Was he John Patrick Fitzgerald, Patrick Fitzgerald, Pat Fitzgerald? And why did none of the documents show who his parents were? The beauty of ancestry.com is you can find nearly anything. But I could not find anything about the man who gave me the last name I’d used for 23 years. I searched newspaper clippings confirming he was a St. Louis police officer. The census showed he lived in St. Louis with his wife and kids, but where did he come from?

Then I realized, after spending hours trying to find the ‘beginning’ of Patrick Fitzgerald, that maybe his ‘beginning’ started here in St. Louis when he married Catharine Noonan. Maybe who he was in Ireland really didn’t matter—it was who he became in St. Louis that did. As his great-granddaughter, I am happy he was given a chance to start over in this country because without him there would be no me. I decided I’d leave Pat Fitzgerald alone and focus on family members who can be found, like the spy from the Revolutionary War on my mother’s side. That guy at least had the courtesy to have it written on his tombstone.

Contact Patty at phannum@townandstyle.com.

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