Family tree leads California woman to Amboy

AMBOY - Maureen Acin’s desire to search for her family tree was there, but it was a gift received from her son, that fanned the spark. The gift was an AncestryDNA kit.

The kit lead to Acin joining and what she found there fanned the spark into a flame. The search was on. What she was searching for was her family, specifically any information about her maternal great-grandparents, Edward Conahan (or Connahan) and Margaret (Friel) Conahan. She knew they were both originally from Ireland and had lived in Philadelphia, Penn. but didn’t know if they had married before coming the the U.S. They had settled in Lee County, in the Amboy area. Her grandmother, Eleanor “Nellie” Conahan, married James Powers, of Freeport, so her search would also include his family in Stephenson County.

Acin found the Lee County Historical and Genealogical Society (LCHGS) online, joined and submitted requests for information. Unfortunately, she didn’t know how to best use the information they sent her and some of the information didn’t seem relevant. Various spellings of names, vague information regarding birth dates and lack of death certificates made positive identification difficult, but there were a few pieces that kept the flame going.

Having exhausted what could be done long distance, Acin decide a trip to Illinois was a necessity. Acin, of Lompoc, Calif. came to Amboy with her friend, Christine Cresswell of Santa Ynez, Calif., at the end of April. Acin, the daughter of two navy veterans, had been born and raised in California and had not visited family in Illinois in over 40 years.

Their “base of operations” was a bed and breakfast near the Illinois-Wisconsin stateline. When the “search team” came into the Amboy News office on a Thursday in April, they were looking for newspaper archives. They were told they would need to visit the LCHGS in Dixon to view files that were indexed by name to find the information they sought. Then they told us about the search.

“My husband is a good friend of Maureen’s twin sons and that is how I found out about her search. I love a good mystery or puzzle. That is what this is, a puzzle to be solved” said Cresswell. The pair asked if the library would have any information and were given the library hours and address.

Acin mentioned her great-grandparents names and that lead to a phone call to Mary Olson, whose maiden name was Friel. If anyone could help with the Friel part, it would be Olson. She agreed to meet them for lunch at the Depot Tap.

“Every Friel is connected,” Olson told them. Her own family research extended to Ireland and she brought her family tree with her to lunch.

Disappointingly, Acin’s Friel family connection was a distant, horizontal one. Lunch proved not enough time for the ladies to discuss their common interest of researching their families so the conversation was set to continue at dinner.

Acin and Cresswell returned to the Amboy News office after lunch to meet Diane Eisenberg. Eisenberg does volunteer work at the LCGHS and was able to give insight into some to the documents they had received. Eisenberg recognized a few of the documents as some she herself had copied when Acin’s original request had come in. She gave the searchers some tips on what to look for when they went to the LCGHS to do more research.

Eisenberg helped make a list of area cemeteries that might hold the keys to where the Conahan family was buried. Since East Grove was mentioned, she suggested starting with the St. Patrick Maytown Cemetery and then Sandy Hill. The stop in Amboy had proven fruitful, but the day was waning. It was time to meet with Olson for dinner. The search would have to continue tomorrow.

Part II will appear in a future edition.

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