Fall River MA Herald News, 6 July 2003
copyright Herald News, reprinted with permission
by Gregory Baptista, Herald News Staff Reporter
FALL RIVER -- In 1998, Earle Flynn decided to trace his Fall River roots back across the ocean to their origins in Ireland.
Because the information he had on his Irish family was spotty at best, Flynnís first trip to the Emerald Isle the following summer yielded little more than a few photographs of roadside county welcome signs. But it began a four-year quest to chart his ancestorsí progress as they sought a new life, first in England, then in America.
In February, Flynn published "From Connaught to Fall River: The Journey and History of an Emigrant Irish Family," which was printed in a limited run of 150 copies. It includes census data, shipping passenger lists, and birth, death and marriage records, some dating back as far as 1858 and covering several generations of Flynns, Hanleys and Carrolls.
The title of the book refers to Connaught Province in Ireland, where his ancestors held ancestral lands that were confiscated by the English in the early 17th century.
Flynn explained that he printed the book primarily for his family. "Itís my contribution to the Flynn-Hanley legacy," he said.
"All members of the current Flynn family have a copy of the book," he said. "I never charged anybody for it."
Though itís not for sale, Flynn said he has donated copies to the Library of Congress and several local libraries from which he used research materials, such as one in County Roscommon, Ireland.
Flynn currently lives in Norton and he grew up in Tiverton, but he spent his early childhood in Fall River and attended St. Jean the Baptist School and Monsignor Prevost High School in Fall River. His grandparents, aunts and uncles all grew up in the Globe neighborhood of Fall River.
The research that culminated in "From Connaught to Fall River" began as an attempt to simply track names, dates and places. "I wanted to know where the origins were," Flynn said.
The origins, Flynn had known in a general sense, lay with his Irish ancestors. They were the progenitors of a family that immigrated to England between 1855 and 1876, then began settling in Fall River in 1885, drawn here like so many immigrants by the lure of thriving cotton mills and the promise of better working conditions.
After his first trip to Ireland with his wife in 1999 failed to give him much hard information to work with, Flynn said, "We came back and started here in Fall River."
He began his research in the Fall River Public Library and City Hall, obtaining death certificates for his grandparents and reviewing obituaries, which he said were particularly fertile sources of information. It was here in the city, he said, where he found the most information.
He also hired a genealogist in London to assist and contacted county groups in Ireland that accessed some local records for him.
Flynn learned the art of genealogical research mostly by doing it. He grew familiar with the wealth of sources he could draw from, including city directories, old newspapers and church and cemetery records. The National Archives and the Massachusetts Archives yielded U.S. Census Department data, ship passenger lists and naturalization records, Flynn said.
"You can get a lot of these resources online," he said, noting the helpfulness of Internet newsgroups and sites such as Ancestry.com.
Yet as he went along, Flynn said, the names, dates and places became secondary, and the story of his ancestorsí journey -- their motivations and their trials -- shone through.
"These people were Irish peasants," Flynn said of the early ancestors. "They farmed the land just to survive."
"As they progressed" and moved from country to country, he went on, "they had a goal. They needed to survive; they needed to raise their families."
Itís a story common to many immigrants, he said: one generation hopes for something more for their children. Flynn believes it paid off for his hard-working family.
"Most of my cousins have great jobs today; most have a great background in education," he said. "I think that is a result of our ancestorsí drive to better themselves -- thatís whatís really important."
The story of his ancestors, Flynn said, is inextricably entwined with history, and he learned much about both Irish history and that of Fall River while tracing his familyís genealogy.
It was the Irish potato famine from 1846 to 1851 that spurred Irish peasants to leave the country: "That really started the mass migration to the United States, England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand," Flynn said.
His own family settled in England, he said, and by the second half of the 19 century, they were working the cotton mills in the Manchester area of Lancashire County. "Mill conditions there were deplorable," he said.
At the time, Fall River was in competition with the textile industry in Lancashire. "Mill overseers (in Fall River) would post want ads in the local papers in Lancashire looking for weavers and spinners," Flynn said. "That may have driven my family over here."
Once Flynnís ancestors were here, they participated in what many still call Fall Riverís "glorious days." But "it was only glorious for a few," Flynn said -- a few who built their wealth on the hard labor of people like the Flynns.
Most of Flynnís book is hard data: various public records, a few photographs and research commentaries. For the most part, the real people of the family are visible through this documentary evidence only in flashes.
"Weíll truly not know what our ancestors were thinking or what their dreams were," Flynn writes in his bookís introduction.
But all the members of his fatherís immediate family were alive as he wrote the book, so Flynn decided to incorporate personal recollections from them.
"My father came up with this great idea," he said, to have each of the elder Flynnís brothers and sisters write a personal essay about their early lives in Fall River and later experiences.
All but one of those 11 siblings answered the call, Flynn said. "They all have a different perspective on growing up in Fall River," he said, though he noted with a laugh that some siblings occasionally disagreed about certain details in the essays.
Each of the essays has its own flavor. "Royís Story," written by Flynnís uncle Roy Norbert Flynn, is the most mischievous, recalling one after another of Royís trouble-making adventures, which often ended in a beating from "Mama." Flynn ends the book with his father Earl E. Flynnís recounting of his experiences in the Navy during World War II.
"It was nice to have their thoughts to pass on to my grandchildren," Flynn said of the essays.
Understanding history, whether the recent history of your parentsí generation or the distant history of long-ago ancestors, can change your perspective on the present, Flynn said. He feels his project to trace his family history has helped change his view of Fall River as a city.
"I think Fall River has a lot to offer," he said. "This could be a very vibrant city."
He said his research has led him to believe in the strength of the families here in the city, the strength of the work ethic, which he feels transcends ethnic boundaries.
"Itís typical of the people of Fall River: when thereís something to do, it gets done."
Flynn invited people seeking information on his family or his research methods to contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©The Herald News 2004