Thursday, December 29, 2011

Joshua Pim -- An Irish Wimbledon Champion

By Susan Kimura

When doing Irish genealogical research my approach is to find the end-of-line ancestors and then come forward, filling out each generation as completely as possible. This includes finding all siblings, spouses, grandchildren, great-grand-children, and cousins. It is fascinating to see how the family multiplied, where and how they lived, their occupations, levels of education, interests, and sometimes, even heartaches.

From The History of Irish Tennis
I found an article in the Logansport, Pharos Indiana Tribune from 1895 about  “Dr. Joshua Pim, the lawn tennis champion of Great Britain and Ireland, is without doubt one of the greatest experts Americans have ever seen.”   Thrilled with this new information I continued to research and found  an article on Joshua written by Mark Ryan.  This  article was like a short biography. He included birth date and place, parents’ names, and then went on to describe Joshua’s career as a tennis player. He actually won Wimbledon in his first appearance in 1890, and then played there again in 1891, 1892, and 1893. Joshua eventually gave up tennis to become a medical doctor.

Dr. Joshua Pim
Eureka!  Checking my data base I found Joshua Pim, born about 1870, Ireland, to Joshua Pim and Susan Middleton, the very same quoted in M. Ryan‘s article. Using this new information I was able to find a photo of Joshua Pim! Josh was no longer just a name - a dash between two dates - he was an actual person, a world champion tennis player, a medical doctor, a husband and father, and my fourth cousin three times removed.

Joshua’s fourth great-grandfather, Richard Pim, is my tenth great grandfather.  Another descendant, of Richard Pim, Abigail Pim, was born to John Pim and Sarah Clibborn in Dublin in 1767. She is my second cousin seven times removed. John and Sarah were both born in Ireland, had sixteen children, and then disappeared out of the Quaker records somewhere around 1780. More research led to finding a memorial tribute to Minister Abigail Pim from the Friends in England.

Piety promoted, in a collection of dying sayings of many of the people called Quakers: with a brief account of some of their labors in the Gospel, Volume 2 edited by William Evans, Thomas Evans p.193, offers insight into Abigail’s life. While yet a child, her family moved to England.  [No wonder the family had disappeared from the Irish records.]  She had a frail physical constitution, but a sharp mind.  She was inclined to spiritual values and felt herself called to the ministry at the age of twenty-nine. She believed that heeding “the still small voice” allowed one to walk the path of mortality in safety, avoiding the temptations of the adversary. After the death of her mother in 1812, Abigail visited Friends adjacent to London and also in Ireland. She also ministered to female prisoners in jail, reminding them of Christian values.

A Wimbledon champion, tennis playing, medical doctor and a spinster who found peace in ministering to prison inmates and sharing the Truth as she lived and believed it.  What wonderful things to discover about one’s ancestors. These are only two of the ten thousand descendants of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Pim, who have left their mark on the world.

ABOUT THIS BLOGGER:   Susan Potts Kimura graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in history and was a genealogy researcher for a genealogy firm in Salt Lake City.   She is currently an elementary school aide working with slow readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

IRISH MINUTE: Memories of Christmas During ‘The Big Snow’ in Mayo

Maura Mulligan was first-born in a family of six siblings, children of farmers who ran the family farm in the rural village of Aghamore, County Mayo.  After immigrating to the United States and working for telephone companies and even trying life in the convent, Maura took up memoir and fiction writing 10 years ago.   Her memoir "Call of the Lark" about her childhood in Ireland, immigration to America and her time spent in a convent is due from Greenpoint Press in 2012.  For this Christmas week, Maura took some time to talk with’s Dan Marrin about memories of Christmas on the family farm.  Tell me a bit about the farm on Aghamore.

Maura Mulligan: There were several fields between [our farm] and the next house, two acres between one house and another.  It could be very lonely if people were on their own, but when I was a child, people would visit each other in the long winter nights.  We did not have television then, of course, or running water or electricity.  Some people had a radio, but we did not.  We did have a gramophone, though, so some people would come to our house to listen to songs.  It was a whole different world.

WG: I read a piece from from 2009 where you talked about your childhood memories of Christmas in Ireland.  What was Christmas like in your house?

Mulligan:  In that time — the 1940s when I was a child — we didn’t have much money, of course ...  So … I don’t really remember getting any exciting gifts.  You’d always get something small -- just something that was necessary, gloves, socks.

You got in your stockings, maybe, an orange and a few sweets, a small toy or a pencil or something like that. Oranges were very unusual, because they only came around at Christmastime.  If you got an orange in your stocking, it was a big deal.

WG: You said in that Christmas piece that December 26, St. Stephen’s Day, was even more of a joy than December 25.

Mulligan: Yes, absolutely because of the Wren Boys.  I remember most of all [when they came] the year of “the big snow,” the blizzard of 1947 — all you could see was this white wall on all sides of us.

When the Wren Boys came, they’d come calling to every house in these bright colors.  They were all dressed up with ribbons, and they disguised their faces and looked unrecognizable until they started singing and dancing.  Then we’d start to guess who they were.  They weren’t just boys either that did it -- they were called “boys” but there were plenty of girls who did it.  Eventually, my sister and I joined them, as well.

In my grandfather’s time, the wren was a bird that would be killed and carried on a holly branch around from house to house.  He couldn’t tell me why they did it — it seemed pretty brutal, and that stopped eventually, thank goodness.  But the practice of going around singing and dancing from house to house continued.

Wren boys would come from different villages; sometimes they’d come from as far away as five miles.  They’d start very early in the morning; you could hear their tin whistles in the distance.  Then as they came closer, it got more and more exciting.

When my mother would open the door to them, it was just the most exciting time.  They came every year, but I remember that blizzard year most of all.

(Editor's Note: This illustration, titled "The Wren Boys," depicts the Christmas tradition of people processing with the bodies of wren birds attached to a bush. It is from the book "Ireland: Its Scenery and Character" by S.C. Hall; illustrations by Daniel Maclise, London: Jeremiah How, 1841)

As a Wren “boy,” you’d spend days preparing what you’d wear, and then you got money or treats, depending on how good you were at singing and dancing, sort of like Halloween.  Some musicians were quite accomplished and would get more: if you didn’t know how to play music, you’d take a comb and put a piece of newspaper against it and make a sound.

WG: Almost like taking blades of grass between your fingers to make a whistle?

Mulligan: The same idea.

WG: What kind of songs would they have been?  Traditional carols?

Mulligan: The Wren people would sing whatever they’d like, not necessarily Christmas carols, but whatever they thought they were good at.

WG: Church hymns?

Mulligan: No, no, no one sang church hymns except in church.  [laughs]

Maura Mulligan’s memoir, “Call of the Lark,” will be published by Greenpoint Press in the spring of 2012.  More of Maura’s memories and writing is available on her website. WGT

Irish Minute, from, gives voice to individuals supporting any facet of the heritage of the Irish, worldwide. Contact us, via, to suggest individuals to interview.

DAN MARRIN Is a New York-based correspondent and producer for

Thursday, December 8, 2011

3,000 Quakers Help the Irish During The Great Famine

The Irish Society of Friends and The Great Famine of 1845-1852

During Ireland's Great Famine 3,000 Irish Quakers contributed their time, money and influence to alleviate the suffering of those around them. The Pim family were among them.  This is another installment in our ongoing series about this benevolent family from the Religious Society of Friends.

Jonathan Pim / Courtesy HistoryIreland.Com

In trying times of crisis, such as flooding, fire, or famine, there are always common men and women who step forward to offer succor.  The services they perform elevate them from the level of common to that of uncommon. 

Among these uncommon people are my third cousin (six times removed) Dublin coffee and tea merchant Joseph Bewley (1795-1851), along with my fourth cousin (five times removed) Jonathan Pim (1806-1885).

Joseph and Jonathan, like myself, are descendants of John Pim and  Mary Pleadwell.  John and Mary were converted to the Society of Friends by William Edmundson before 1650 in County Cavan.

Joseph and Jonathan were two of an estimated 3,000 Irish Quakers to provide relief during An Gorta Mor (Irish for "The Great Hunger."   At a meeting with his Friends, in November 1846, Joseph proposed that the Society form a Central Relief Committee, operating out of Dublin, to feed as many of the starving Irish as possible.  Everyone in the room agreed to the proposition, and second cousins Joseph and Jonathan were chosen as joint secretaries.  There would be no religious strings attached to the services they would render.

Pim Brothers

Both Joseph and Jonathan were men who loved Truth, improved their natural talents, sought to do good, and were astute businessmen, as well as devoted and loving husbands and fathers.  Joseph had retired from the family business of tea and coffee shops in order to devote more of his time to his family and the Society.  His contemporaries described him as a soft-spoken man, a great listener, a dispenser of wise advice, and someone who truly loved his Lord.

Jonathan, much the same kind of man as his cousin, was the owner, with his brother William Harvey Pim, of the Dublin firm Pim Brothers & Co., drapers and textile manufacturers.  Jonathan  would become the first Irish Quaker to sit in Parliament (1865-74).

Coordinating efforts with a relief committee (CRC) established in London, they worked closely with their co-religionists in America, raising funds and keeping the world aware of the desperate situation in Ireland.

Quaker Soup Kitchen / courtesy The Quakers In Ireland

The relief efforts of these Quakers, both men and women, saved thousands of lives.  They purchased, at cost, 294 copper steam-vats from Abraham and Alfred Darby, a Quaker company in Liverpool, which refused to allow them to pay full price. These boilers were for cooking a soup, called “stirabout,” a mixture of rice and maize from America.  The vats were set up in workhouses and other facilities throughout Ireland. Quaker women opened schools in Ireland and taught practical subjects, such as reading and writing, lace making, quilt making, and net mending.  They also worked in soup kitchens, distributed clothing, and nursed the sick and dying.  Over a year’s time, they distributed over  £200,000 in relief aid.

Fifteen Quakers died from causes related to the famine, among them Joseph Bewley, who literally worked himself to death at the age of 56.    Jonathan Pim collapsed from overwork.  In a letter to his brother James, Jonathan wrote:  "Now the lives of thousands are at stake.  The people must be kept alive, who ever pays for it.”   

Quoting wikipedia,  "Jonathan Pim (1806–1885) was a founding member of the Dublin Statistical Society and president for many years. During The Great Famine (1845-1852) he was noted for offering relief to those who were suffering. He wrote Condition and Prospects of Ireland and Transactions which appealed for radical land reform in Ireland. After the famine, he bought an estate in the west of Ireland for the purpose of benefiting the tenants. After the first Irish Land Act was passed, he swiftly gave the tenants the opportunity to own the land."  

The legacy left behind by these uncommon men and women, 'Friends' in the finest and truest sense of the word, blessed countless lives during and after The Great Famine. For in saving lives, these unassuming rescuers allowed thousands, eventually millions, of Irish and their descendants to not only survive but thrive, in new lands as emigrants or in their native land in the coming decades of tumult. As have done martyrs through the centuries, who gave their lives for the causes in which they believed, these Quakers lived up to the teachings of the Bible, in which they so fervently believed.  As Jesus himself uttered, as handed down through the King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.), "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

ABOUT THIS BLOGGER:   Susan Potts Kimura graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in history and was a genealogy researcher for a genealogy firm in Salt Lake City.   She is currently an elementary school aide working with slow readers.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Discovering My Irish Ancestry -- From Chicago To Limerick

Sarah Breakey O'Malley on her wedding day (c. 1893)
and later in life
My name is Robert William Burke Jr. (Robert, son of Robert, son of John, son of William, son of Francis, son of Patrick, to use the old Celtic way of naming one’s self).

I’m the oldest of six children.  Both my parents were half Irish, so I proudly call myself half-Irish (although sometimes I think I got more than half my genes from various Irish ancestors).

A love of history runs in my mother’s side of the family and being the oldest means that I remember more of my mother’s stories than most of my siblings.  So I guess it was only natural that I became the family historian.

I always loved hearing stories about my Irish ancestors when I was growing up.  My mother was raised in part by her grandmother, Sarah Breakey O’Malley, who was born in Ireland.  Her family emigrated to America around 1870 and settled on the outskirts of Chicago, just in time for the great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Great-Grandmother O’Malley told my mother stories about growing up as a Catholic in Ireland and the persecution that the people suffered for refusing to give up their faith.  She also told stories about the saints and the wee folk (leprechauns).  Fortunately, my mother was able to keep fact and fiction straight and passed these stories on to me.

Like a lot of people, I really became motivated to research my genealogy after watching the miniseries “Roots” on television.  As best I can recall, I formally started researching my family history in 1978.

I bought a couple of beginner’s books on genealogy, one of which contained several forms for recording family history and creating family trees.

Every genealogy book I’ve ever read suggests the same thing: Start interviewing your oldest relatives first.  Sadly, I learned the truth about this statement when I discovered that I had a great-aunt Blanche Burke who died six months before I started my research.  I never knew of her until after she died.

I was born in Portland, Oregon, in the same hospital as parents.  So even though I was then living in the San Francisco Bay area, I made several trips to Portland.  I had relatives there, so, naturally, I interviewed them.  I also visited several cemeteries.  Old tombstones can contain a wealth of information about deceased relatives.

I once traipsed around Masonic Cemetery, established in 1878, in Harrisburg, Oregon, for half an hour until I turned a corner and found six family graves in a row.  It was like hitting the jackpot.

In addition to wandering around cemeteries, I also visited a funeral home in Portland.  They had records dating back several decades.  These not only gave me information about my deceased relatives (e.g., date and place of births and deaths, cause of death, name of spouse, etc.) but they also gave me the informant’s name, usually a close relative.

Once I had the date of death, I was able to go to the main library in Portland and look up the decedent’s obituary.  Obituaries can be a treasure trove of information.  They not only list the surviving spouse and children, but also sometimes mention any children who died before the decedent.  That was how I learned that my great-grandfather had two brothers.

Some city libraries also have an index for the main city-newspaper.  I was able to look up stories about various relatives in the index and then find the stories on microfilm and then print them.  These indexes saved me countless hours perusing old newspapers looking for articles.

Death records are also a great source for genealogists.  Unfortunately, state governments have learned that they can charge 'an arm and a leg' for these documents.  Finally, U.S. and state census records can provide a lot of information.  I’ve always blessed the unknown census enumerator who not only wrote down the month and year of my relatives’ births, but the actual dates as well.

There’s no substitute for research, but it doesn’t hurt if you get lucky along the way.  Famous and infamous ancestors are often easier to research because they are more likely to be the subjects of articles and letters.

Bishop Maurice Francis Burke
My great-great uncle, Bishop Maurice Francis Burke, was the youngest of eight children.  He studied for the priesthood in Rome, and was ordained by Cardinal Costantino Patrizi Naro, vicar general to Pius IX and dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Bishop Burke spoke six languages fluently, and according to family tradition, for a time translated for Pope Pius IX during papal audiences.

Finding his biography gave me his parents’ names -- my great-great-grandparents.  However, I was unable to trace my Burke lineage any farther back for almost 30 years.

Then, about three years ago, I attended a one-day seminar about Irish genealogy sponsored by the California Genealogical Society.  At the seminar, I learned that the old Irish church records (Catholic and Protestant) were being put online.  The Burkes had come from County Limerick, and the records were available on Searching for names is free, but looking at an individual record costs 5 euros.

Johanna Casey Burke and Francis Noonan Burke,
 the author's great-great grandparents
Burke is a common name (the 14th most common surname in Ireland and the most common among Norman-Irish families).  However, I was eventually able to locate my great-great grandfather’s baptismal certificate.  Not only did it contain the year of his birth, but, more importantly, the names of his parents.  Finally, after waiting for 30 years, I knew the names of my great-great-great grandparents, Patrick and Mary Noonan Burke.

William Burke and Mary Lonergan
at their wedding in 1872

Having a famous ancestor (whether a direct or collateral ancestor) can also provide side benefits.  My son John is named after my grandfather John Lonergan Burke.  My grandfather was named after his mother’s brother, John Lonergan, who fought during the American Civil War.  When I was teaching my son about the Civil War, I was able to personalize it for him by showing him a family connection that went back to the 19th century.

Another lucky happenstance occurred when my uncle (John Burke, also named after his father), wrote to the Diocese of St. Joseph, Missouri, which Bishop Burke had led from 1893 until his death in 1923 (on St. Patrick’s Day, no less).  While my Uncle John wrote to the diocese, John Bongart, unknown to us a third-cousin, also wrote to the diocese seeking information about the bishop.  John Bongart's maternal grandmother had been a Burke.  The diocese put John Bongart in touch with my Uncle John, and I soon contacted this cousin, who lived then in Florida.

One aspect of researching my genealogy I particularly enjoy is collecting old family photographs.  Many years ago, one of my aunts was kind enough to have negatives made from all her family photos, going back to my great-great grandparents on the Burke side of my family.

Someday, I hope to publish a book about both sides of my family, with a special emphasis on my Irish ancestors, who left the land that they loved to come to a New World, in order to give their children and their children’s children a better life.  More than anything, I want my children to know where they came from and to take pride in their Irish ancestry.

This was supposed to be a short essay, but you know how the Irish love a good story.  Still, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my quest to discover my family history, and that you find valuable the sources I have used for discovering information about my family.


Robert Burke trained as a lawyer and now works for a publishing house focusing on legal data and information. He and his wife, Helen, hail from Antioch, California. They have three children, Katie, 20, John (Sean), 17, and Michelle, 13, all imbued with an appreciation for their Irish heritage.  

If you would like to discuss genealogical research, particularly Burke ancestry, you can contact Bob here.