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For some reason this morning my thoughts run toward my maternal grandfather Joseph. I've always wondered what I would have grown up calling him. He was killed when he was just 33 years old and my mother 10. It wasn't until I was about 10 myself that I began asking questions about him. My grandmother, who lived with us, had an old pastel-tinted portrait that hung in the living room for as long as I can remember. I'd stare for hours at that portrait - as if the young man featured there could read my thoughts, recognize me, and speak back. We were always told that he had been orphaned in Manhattan, New York, that his parents died in a flu epidemic, and that he had been adopted by a kind man from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Supposedly, Martin Kearney moved his family to rural southwestern Missouri to live on a farm and escape a life of working in the mines. Finding the story behind this story provided one of the strongest motivations for my truly acting on my interest in family history. Ultimately, I found that the story - like much family lore - had a kernel of truth to it - a kernel, no more. Joseph was an orphan indeed - but his birth mother had left him in the vestibule of the New York Foundling Hospital. His "records" - when I finally received them - were disappointingly scanty - a series of sentence frangments really. But they did contain his birth name - Dernier. I don't know if his mother pinned his name to his blanket (he was about two months old); I don't know if the name is genuine or if she falsified it. At the age of three, Joseph Dernier road an orphan train to Missouri. There he was fostered by John and Mary Kearney, whose surname he eventually adopted. There are secret moments when I speak in my mind to my unknown great grandmother, thanking her for giving Joseph the chance for a good life. He had one --- it simply was too brief.

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Comment by Kate Steere on August 24, 2009 at 9:03am
Good post, Katie-
It is stories like the one you were told that starts most of us on our journeys to 'find' our families. Nice work on following the story to its end, and honoring your great grandmother in doing so. :)


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