Everything’s Relative: Go West, Young Man

Everything’s Relative: Go West, Young Man

My great-grandfather came from Ireland to New York City when he was a young man. He married and eventually fathered eight children&#151four boys and four girls. A country man at heart, he hated the big city and persuaded his wife to let him visit the West. The rural beauty...

My great-grandfather came from Ireland to New York City when he was a young man. He married and eventually fathered eight children&#151four boys and four girls. A country man at heart, he hated the big city and persuaded his wife to let him visit the West. The rural beauty of the southwest Oregon coast hooked him. He went back to New York and begged his wife to move west with him, but she refused. She and her children were not about to move away from civilization. She further told him she would have him declared dead if he stayed away too long. He went anyway, taking a ship to Panama, disembarking and walking across the isthmus, and catching a different ship up the west coast of the continent to Oregon. He returned to Oregon for good in 1855.

There he met my great-grandmother, then a widow with two children whose own husband had disappeared in the Alaska gold fields. They were married and had eight children&#151four boys and four girls. (One of my aunts claims he gave them the same names as the eight children in New York, but I don’t know that for certain.) My great-grandfather worked at various jobs out West, including fishing and logging, and filed for a homestead in Coos County, Ore.

After his death, the secret leaked out when two men from New York came seeking their father. They had with them a quit-claim for a piece of property their father had owned in the heart of the city. My grandfather (the eldest) and his two closest brothers signed the agreement, feeling that the New York family should have the property.

In the 1940s, one of my older cousins went to the University of Oregon for a year. His roommate was a young man from New York who said he had some relatives in Oregon. He turned out to be a descendant of our great-grandfather. It was my cousin who found out what had happened to the Manhattan property our grandfather had signed away: It had been sold and on it had been built one of New York City’s greatest landmarks&#151the Empire State Building.

Last year my son and daughter, son-in-law and my four grandchildren and I went to visit New York City. Of course, our first stop was the Empire State Building, which would not stand where it does but for our little-known Celtic immigrant ancestor: a legacy to his descendants in New York and Oregon.

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