Searching for My Roots: Pilgrimage to Painesville

Pilgrimage to Painesville
by Sheila Ives

For many Americans of Irish descent, Ireland is the destination to connect with one’s Irish heritage.   Sometimes, though, there are places closer by that can also have profound significance.   For me, that place is Painesville, Ohio, where my mother’s Irish family had lived.  

It may sound strange, but I had never been to Painesville.   There was an unspoken sadness in our household surrounding this city and my relatives who had lived there. For years as I passed the highway exit sign for Painesville, I would wonder what I would find if I got off there– but I never did.  

Two years ago, I was contacted by Tim Hadden, a DNA match from my grandfather Thomas Lynch’s family.   He was so enthusiastic about making a connection with me and my sisters.  He generously shared information about our mutual ancestors and sent me photographs taken during his trip to County Offaly, where our Murphy ancestors had lived.

The countryside looked so beautiful, and I was excited to learn from him that we had relatives living there still.   I admitted to Tim that I had never been to Painesville, and he immediately offered to give me and my sister a tour of the city to show us sites of interest related to my grandfather’s family.

My sister Maureen and I met Tim at the Morley (Painesville) Public Library, in the wonderful, spacious local history and genealogy room there.  My Irish ancestors from Limerick and Offaly had arrived in Painesville during the mid-1850s and 1860s, part of the diaspora of Irish who left their homeland due to the potato famine. 

Tim showed me resources and files that I might find useful to explore during future visits.  Then it was off to lunch to meet up with another new cousin, Tim Murphy.  

Strange Coincidences
Actually, I had met Tim Murphy years ago at a workshop on Irish genealogy held at the Western Reserve Historical Society.   We were sitting next to each other, and during a break Tim asked me what Irish ancestors I was researching.

When I mentioned the names Lynch and Flanagan from Painesville, he looked at me intently and said he had to go to his car to get some research notes.  As it turns out, he had been trying to make a connection to my Murphy family members but hadn’t been able to find the necessary documentation. 

We had intermittently kept in touch for several years, but it wasn’t until we had our DNA tested that we knew for sure that our Murphy ancestors were related.   So, after a fine lunch and a toast to newfound relations (Sláinte!), it was off to tour Painesville.

My cousins had thoughtfully planned our itinerary.  We drove through the neighborhoods where my mother’s Flanagan and Murphy relatives had lived. I saw the location of the Storrs & Harrison Company where my grandfather Thomas L. Lynch had worked as a rose specialist.  At one time it was one of the largest nurseries in the country. 

We stopped for a moment near my great- grandparents’ farmhouse, named Cherry Garden, after the estate in Offaly where my great- grandmother’s grandfather James Murphy had been a tenant farmer. The farmland is now overgrown, but I closed my eyes and imagined the corn, oats, timothy and clover hay that once had grown there.

Then it was off to the two cemeteries where my Irish relatives are buried.  When we came to the gravesite in Evergreen Cemetery for my grandfather Thomas L. Lynch, my cousins looked almost apologetic.   Although there were gravestones for my great-grandparents and two of my grandfather’s sisters, my grandfather was in an unmarked grave.  

All I could think was that there hadn’t been enough money to provide one for him.   We returned to the library at the conclusion of our tour.   As I drove home, I was so grateful for my cousins and the effort they had made to introduce us properly to Painesville.

Remedy an Unmarked Grave
I was troubled, however, by the thought that my grandfather was in an unmarked grave and resolved to remedy that.    I contacted a local monument company to have a gravestone made for him. I was hoping that I could have one made that would be like those of his other family members.  

After visiting my Lynch relatives’ graves, the monument company owner reported back to me.   It would be very expensive to duplicate my great-grandparents’ graves.   Although not particularly large or ornate, the stones were substantial and completely smooth except for the engraving.  

At my visit to the monument company, the owner suggested an alternative that he felt would be compatible with the other stones.   The stone I chose was rough-hewn and granite gray in color, but I liked its craggy texture and natural appearance. 

I kept the engraving simple but requested a single rose be etched next to my grandfather’s name.   I was told that my grandfather’s gravestone would be in place by that Thanksgiving.  I let my cousins know that I had arranged for the stone to be made, and that I would return to Painesville in the springtime to see it.

After Thanksgiving, Tim Hadden emailed me.   He and his wife had visited Evergreen Cemetery on Thanksgiving Day and had stopped to view my grandfather’s new gravestone.  Tim wrote that he thought I would be pleased to see how it had turned out. I was grateful again for his thoughtfulness.

Finally, the day arrived for my sister and me to return to Painesville.   The sky was overcast and there was a steady rain.  Not the weather I had hoped for, but I didn’t want to delay seeing the new gravestone. 

We met our two cousins in a popular Grand River restaurant to have lunch.   It was good to see them after so many months and to catch up on what had been happening in their lives. Then my sister and I drove to Evergreen Cemetery.   I was sure that I knew the location of my Lynch family’s plot. 

However, after trampling on the soggy ground at several sites, I realized that I didn’t know where they were buried.   I silently berated myself for relying on my faulty memory and not being better prepared.  

There was nothing to be done except to contact the city’s cemetery office to ask for help.  With the assistance of a city employee armed with a cemetery map, we finally located my grandfather’s gravestone. I knelt down to get a better look.  

I was pleased at how the stone looked. With my fingers I gently traced my grandfather’s name and the single rose etched beside it. I had never known my grandfather.  He and his immediate family were all dead before I was born.  

I had only a few black and white photographs of him and his family to remember them by. He no doubt had had his failings and shortcomings, as we all do. Still, he was my grandfather.  

I thought of him toiling for years in the nursery, nurturing the colorful, fragrant roses who protected their beauty with piercingly sharp thorns.  He had brought their beauty into other peoples’ lives with his work.  I was glad that in this small, visible way I was able to leave a reminder that he had walked on this earth and had meant something to his family.

It was time to leave.   The rain had been falling steadily, and I was soaked.  As I approached the car, I turned one more time to look back at his gravestone

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam– May his soul rest at the right hand of God.

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