Tony Hennessy MAGI

Kitty née Whelan in the US

Thirty years ago, not long after meeting my wife-to-be Caroline for the first time I,  rather unsurprisingly, met my mother-in-law-to-be Renee for the first time.  As soon as Renee heard I was a budding family historian she told me a story, a story she was to repeat many times over the years that followed.  The story had a start, a little bit of middle and no end and was usually introduced with a wistful ‘…I’d love to know what happened to my aunt Kitty…’

Catherine (Kitty) Whelan was born 25 June 1903 in Chapel Lane, Waterford, the youngest of three children of Malachy Whelan, a butcher and his wife Kate.  (Three other children had died in infancy). Tragically Kitty’s mother died when Kitty was still a baby and it was subsequently decided to send Kitty to be reared by extended family in Chicago.  So aged just six years old, Kitty was sent unaccompanied, with her name pinned to her clothes, to start a new life in America. She never returned to Waterford.  Kitty’s father Malachy died in 1932 and in time contact was lost between Waterford and Chicago.  The only other piece of the story that Renee knew was that Kitty had married a man called Swanson who was from Sweden.

Another marriage – that of the Internet and Genealogy, whose nuptials were celebrated in the early 1990s, – has proven to be the Happiest Marriage of all Time.  And so in 2006 I went online and began looking for Kitty.  Within a few short days I discovered through the Ellis Island records that Kitty had sailed in Steerage Class on board the SS Campania from Queenstown to New York in six days and that she was going to her ‘Aunt Hannah Bloom’ (Kitty’s father’s sister) in Chicago.  The 1920 census showed her as Catherine Bloom, the ‘daughter’ of Hannah Bloom.  I found Catherine Bloom’s marriage to Herbert Swanson and in 1964 her obituary in the Chicago Tribune which listed her six children and a ‘fond grandmother of 17’. Shortly thereafter I found myself talking to one of those fond grandchildren (who incidentally had never heard of Kitty Whelan!).  By the following day Renee was happily writing a letter to her newly discovered first cousin Annabelle, Kitty’s daughter.

Fast forward 11 years. Two weeks ago we had a visit to Waterford from Kathy, Kitty’s granddaughter, and her daughter Ashley.  It was a visit that bridged 108 years and some 3600 miles.  The Whelan family, including of course Renee, were out in force and some style to meet them and welcome them home.  Hugs were freely given and received with love, conversation and tears flowed.  And Kitty’s story finally found its ending, which is a happy ending.

There is a new beginning too.  Ashley has set up a Whelan family facebook (closed) group where the US descendants of Kitty and the Waterford descendants of Kitty’s brother Michael are introducing themselves to each other and also sharing the stories and photos of Kitty.  This is one such photo.