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Mary Sullivan Conran, from Janet Maher family photograph album, colorized ©2010 Janet Maher

Mary Sullivan Conran, from Maher family photograph album, colorized ©2010 Janet Maher

Although I was disappointed not to have won a literary award from the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, I very much appreciate the review they included in this issue of Connecticut Genealogy News! About my book, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut, they wrote:

A massive volume of Irish lore, this book will attract not only the beginning researcher but also those charter members of TIARA. The author, a native of Connecticut, has equipped this scholarly book with multi-colored and black and white photographs. The author uses larger print size than usual as she maps and transcribes the oldest Catholic cemetery in Naugatuck, where generations of people and their descendants who helped shape the character of southern Connecticut lay interred. An excellent set of researcher’s tools enable the user of this material to accurately navigate throughout its contents. Starting with a clearly defined table of contents and ending with a plethora of selected bibliographical works, broken into sections determined to be primary and secondary sources, this book’s organization is a reader’s delight. The concluding section entitled Recommended Organizations is a source not usually included, but is an added bonus for the researcher.

In the course of my research, photography was a partner to historical and genealogical study. Our family images provided questions and sometimes hinted at answers, helping to create ties between individuals. After years of puzzling over one large group photo, included in full in my book, I finally determined that the striking older woman in this detail, above, was Mary Sullivan Conran. Mary, the daughter of Mary Maher and Patrick Sullivan, of Ireland, had several siblings who also emigrated to Naugatuck, Connecticut. She was the wife of Edward Conran, one of the close partners of my great great grandfather, Patrick Maher, and godfather to Patrick’s youngest child, Josephine (future principal of Salem School).

In my study of birth records in Freshford, Kilkenny, I believe that I discovered Mary and three of her siblings. She was born in 1826, relatively close in age to Patrick Maher, who was born in 1811, from nearby Queen’s County/Laois. (In Naugatuck, four years were shaved from Mary’s age. This, however, was a slight amount compared to those subtracted in census and birth records throughout the decades by so many other historically young-looking Irish women.)

Mary Sullivan Conran died in June, 1910, at age eighty. My research of the first community of Irish Catholics in nineteenth century Naugatuck suggests that she would have been the last remaining elder of the original immigrant group. I discussed this revelation with a descendent of the Conrans, who thought she recognized a resemblance to another photo of Mary Conran that she remembered.

I find these kinds of discoveries to be quite thrilling. Having spent my entire life as an artist, little could I have known that the path of an historian might have been another possibility–albeit aided by art! It’s also delightful to have discovered through this work that our family was not as tiny as it had always seemed. I wish that we could have known our ancestors during their lifetimes, but am grateful for the journey they nonetheless provided.

©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ní Mheachair

All Rights Reserved

From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut was published by Apprentice House, Baltimore, MD. It is 400 pages and includes 336 images. It may be obtained at: Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, CT; Naugatuck Historical Society, Naugatuck, CT; and Quinnipiac University Bookstore, Mount Carmel Branch, Hamden, CT. In Baltimore it may be purchased from Loyola University Bookstore and The Ivy Bookshop. Online it may be purchased from Amazon.comBarnes and NobleAmazon UK, and from me via Paypal or by check (P.O. Box 40211, Baltimore, MD, 21212).