Wednesday, February 5, 2014

52 Ancestors: #5 Robert O'Connor

Robert Vincent O'Connor was my great-grandfather; father of my paternal grandmother. He married Bernice Stevens in November 1930 when he was just 19 years old. At the wedding, Bernice was already pregnant with my grandmother. Sadly, she passed away a week after giving birth.

Robert was removed from my grandmother's life when Bernice's parents, Eva and Thomas Fagan, adopted my grandmother as their own daughter. Presumably they did this because he was still a kid and in no position to take care of a newborn.

In chatting with my grandmother, she had little interaction with him throughout her life. This made uncovering his past more challenging since so little was known about him.

As an amateur genealogist, Robert represents for me my first successful foray into tracking down descendants with letters out of the blue, Facebook, and online white pages.

I knew he remarried and had other children. Using a variety of means I was able to locate addresses for the children. I sent the same letter to each one, apologizing for writing them out of the blue. I asked what they could tell me about Robert. And then I waited.

An email came first, then phone calls, and from further correspondence I was able to learn stories that shed more light on his life. I even received the first photographs I'd ever seen of him.

I learned that he was born in Colorado, and that his parents, John Francis O'Connor and Jelina Williams, had divorced when he was 12 years old. He was married several times. He passed away in 1981 in California, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery with a plaque commemorating his military enlistment.

While my research on his life and his ancestry continues, Robert is my lesson in the value and power of reaching out beyond the internet and talking with people. The stories, the images, the pieces are out there waiting to be discovered and brought together.