A Utah man’s search for his immigrant ancestor reveals common story of many new arrivals
Unmined • A man’s search for his immigrant ancestor reveals the story of thousands new to Utah.
Published: May 24, 2014 02:11PM
Updated: May 24, 2014 01:01AM
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The Park Record newspaper from Feb. 22, 1890

What may seem like the distant past really isn’t all that distant.

At Salt Lake City’s old Main Library I used to slow-scroll and burst-zip through microfilms of historical newspapers looking for references to my ancestors. If you finagled them just right, those knobs could get a reel of newspapers whirring at the perfect speed for your mind to rapidly scan and absorb everything on every page.

My eyes would vibrate, seizurelike in their search for certain keywords — and mechanically my wrist would turn in micromovements to slow the film when I saw what I was after: Bart McDonough ... McDonough and Kervin Stables ... Western Federation of Miners ... Ancient Order of Hibernians ... Knights of Robert Emmet ... Ontario Mine ... Marshal McDonough ...

To be fair to my father, he’s the one who gave me the genealogical bug. He is more adept than anyone I know at digging and scratching and redigging tirelessly in the wider historical trenches. People contract my dad to till the soil of their family histories, and as a result one clan even found out they’d been using the wrong last name (and claiming the wrong heritage) for a generation or more.

My dad’s understanding of the latticework that is the past, to this day, far outweighs anything I can even begin to approach. And it will always be that way, because he is a generation closer to “history.”

Nevertheless, for a decade or more I have been obsessed with one particular subject.

The Marshal

My great-grandfather Bartley traveled from Galway, Ireland, to, well, somewhere in North America before appearing in Virginia City, then Bodie, Calif., and finally the mining camp that is today Park City, Utah. That was where he would settle.

There was a lot I already knew about the man before I started my quest, because frankly, a great-grandfather isn’t that far removed. Hell, I know people who know their great-grandfathers. Whenever I discover that to be the case, out of whatever bizarre pride I’m quick to tell them that my own great-grandfather was Park City town marshal before the turn of the last century and later marshal for all of Summit County; that he rode horseback to chase down outlaws and that he operated a stable and a bar; that he was a hard rock miner and mining union leader who was a pivotal force in the building of the camp’s miners hospital – where he could easily have died of the black lung that killed him.

He didn’t, though. He died at home.

A funny story my family tells about our relocation from Park City to Salt Lake City is that history screwed us. We sold the place Bartley built on Woodside Avenue, in the heart of “Old Town,” in the 1950s for around $900. Flash-forward a few decades and it’s easy to see how we might think we got cheated. Today, property in the same section of the ski resort town John F. Kennedy helped develop can be worth millions.

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I used to twist and turn those knobs on the microfiche and microfilm machines and every-so-often I’d come across something unknown and new to me about the McDonough clan in the West. Then I’d show it to my dad and once or twice it was even new to him, too, and of course that would just increase my need to hack and pick away at the rock walls of history obscuring my familial past.

Nowadays you can do Boolean searches of digitized online newspapers — it’s a modern miracle. A search of the phrase “Bartley McDonough” within Utah newspapers at the Library of Congress’ historical digital newspaper site returns 42 results.

At the University of Utah’s site (which, for trivia’s sake, predates the LOC’s), the same search returns hundreds of entries.

No longer the whiz and flutter of film reels and the bleary-eyed meta-absorption of the past. Now it’s the creative crafting of proximate keywords and the inventive spelling of surnames. With a mouse-click, the thing you desire is in front of you.

Still, I lament the loss of the randomness inherent in the old method.

Like self-selecting for media we agree with, not having to scroll through everything means that you’re blind to the context of what you ultimately find. Also, you miss out on the opportunity to come across completely random gems that have nothing to do with what you’re researching (first clipping is from “Face Books” The Latest Fad, New York Tribune, May 13, 1901; second clipping is from A “Face” Book, New York Tribune, Sept. 22, 1902).

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The endless repetitions that ripple across history are just part of that context.

Bartley was born in 1854 somewhere in Galway, left Ireland in 1876 and by 1880 was in Virginia City and soon after, Bodie — which, like many a Western gold town, had its boom and bust before being abandoned altogether. By 1885, Bartley was a Utahn (though not really – Utah wouldn’t become a state for another 11 years).

Part of the reason I’m so obsessed with the man is because there is actually a great deal of evidence of him (much of it compiled here by my lovely aunt Anne), and at the same time so much that we don’t know.

One of the earliest newspaper references I can find is this slim piece advertising a St. Patrick’s Day Ball given by the Park City branch of the Irish National Land League in 1888. Bartley, at the time working underground in the Ontario mine, was “on printing.” (Clipping from Park Record, March 3, 1888)

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He reprised this role during a “grand benefit ball” given in Park City by a group called the Knights of Robert Emmett to the widow Mrs. Pat Murphy, for St. Patrick’s Day 1890. (Clipping from Park Record, Feb. 22, 1890)

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A quick side note here: Preceding Bartley’s name in this latter advert and also “on printing” is Roger Power — another Irishman, from Waterford, who would soon become Bart’s brother-in-law.

Strangely, before I ever started this project, I had heard family lore about “The Widow Mrs. Murphy ball.” The story goes that there was no such widow and that money gathered at the event was sent back to Emerald Isle for the Fenian cause.

Evidence is scant on that matter.

There’s also very little evidence for another McDonough story – that of the Prohibition-era funeral for several “Parkites” who died in a terrible mining disaster in Montana, which, it is said, never actually occurred. The coffins of the nonexistent lads, transported back to Utah, were apparently filled with Canadian whiskey.

Apocryphal or not, rich stories are lost unless they are told — and for one brief moment allow me to plug an important cause: Ask your older friends and relatives about their lives. You’ll never regret it. And, the other side of that coin: If you’ve got stories to tell, tell them.

The earliest evidence of Bartley that we have (at all) is his notice of intent to become an American citizen, in California in 1880. But he must have arrived on the East Coast, maybe even in Canada. How he ended up out West — via what route, and with what layovers, we may never know.

Aside from preserving a story, another reason I’m obsessed isn’t at all novel. Bartley is a link in the randomly lucky chain of humanity that allows for me to have happened.

Sometimes it can be surprising to learn just how random and lucky.

In 1887 — five years before the birth of my grandfather — I find that Bart was taken to Salt Lake “to be treated for injuries received from a horse.” (Clipping from Park Record, Aug. 20, 1887)

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It is a happy accident that any of us is here at all.

The expanding scope of that accident is also astounding to me. When my parents were born in 1945, there weren’t as many people on the planet as there are today in just two of its countries: India and China. At the time of my great-grandfather’s birth, the entire world population was that of just China’s right now.

That algae-bloom of humanity complicates the interconnectivity of our species — and even the context of our daily lives. The six-degree-of-separation rule used to be the four-degree-of-separation rule. And before that? They say technology makes the world smaller, but not that long ago, the smallness of the world meant it was already united.

On the topic of technological bridges, I should say that the story of my great-grandmother, Bartley’s Irish wife whom he met here in Utah, is as integral to my being as is The Marshal’s. That tale, like so much that lies unexcavated, needs telling, too. But then there is less mystery there. I can actually call or even Skype the descendants of the relatives Minnie Power McDonough left behind in Waterford, Ireland. Incredibly, through the generations we never lost contact with that side of the family, and it could be said that the relationship has even strengthened over time. In fact, my cousin’s maid of honor at her wedding was the Irish granddaughter of Minnie’s cousin.

In contrast to that bond, we have no connection with the family of Minnie’s husband. Bart seemingly came out of nowhere, and mystery is yet another parent of obsession.

And I’m still digging.

There is a lot I’m leaving out here that I’m sure my dad would say needs mentioning. Bart was a union leader representing the working miner by day and then (and here there actually is some evidence) working to raise money with Irish mine owners for the Republican cause a continent and ocean behind him.

He was a faithful Catholic and a civic leader who was dedicated to the concept of fairness. That trait served his son, my namesake and grandfather, well as a judge on the Utah Supreme Court, where he would eventually serve two terms as Chief Justice. Quite a jump from the still-unknown beginnings of his immigrant father.

Finally, Bartley was well-loved by his community, as is evidenced by reports of his death, hailing what was by several accounts “the largest funeral” seen in early Park City.

Not uncommon to the shared history of so many who may be reading this; this piece of the past I obsess over is part of the repeated tale of that endless (and ongoing) lot of immigrants who have landed here because historical circumstances forced and lured them simultaneously into an unknown future.

My clan and I — Bartley’s American descendants, the majority of us still in Utah and now numbering in the hundreds — are the inheritors of that history and his legacy. (The first clipping from Deseret Evening News, Aug. 12, 1910; second clipping from Park Record in 1910; third clipping from Miners’ Magazine remembrances, August 1910)

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