Al and Jeri Lunney and the Lunney genealogy

Jeri and Al Lunney
Jeri and Al Lunney

It is said in small town Ontario that you are a newcomer unless your grandfather is buried in the local cemetery. By that standard, Almonte resident and former Mississippi Mills mayor Al Lunney can claim to be a bona fide native of the town. His family has been in the area since the 1830s and five generations of Lunneys are buried in the Indian Hill Cemetery in Pakenham.

The Lunney story in America began with the immigration of three young Irish Lunney men, brothers Edward Joseph and Hugh, and their cousin Patrick, ages 20, 12 and 10, to the township of Fitzroy in 1830. In 1830, Fitzroy Township encompassed the western part of Carleton County, bordered to the northeast by Torbolton Township, to the southeast by Huntley Township, to the southwest by Pakenham Township and to the northwest by the Ottawa River. On what boat the young men traveled to Canada is unknown but recently discovered documents confirm that they were in Fitzroy by 1830. Edward Joseph, Al Lunney’s great grandfather, married Johanna Mantle and Al is the grandson of Hugh Andrew, Edward’s eighth child.  In 1836, Edward and Johanna Lunney bought a farm for 75£ (they did not receive a land grant) where the Lunney family lived until Al’s widowed mother Elizabeth moved to Pakenham in 1949 with her seven children, Al being the youngest and the sixth son. That farm is still owned by a Lunney, Al’s nephew.

The Lunney clan is now scattered throughout North America and they recently published a fascinating genealogy of their relatives and ancestors, From Fermanagh to Fitzroy and Beyond, tracing the descendants of Edward Joseph and Johanna Mantle. At 400 pages, it is a labour of love twelve years in the making. The book is also a tribute to Jeri’s superb organization.

In 2001, Jeri spent a part of the school year teaching at Neuchatel Junior College in Switzerland. On the way home, Jeri and Al visited Ireland and hatched the idea of creating a genealogy of the Lunney family whose roots were in Northern Ireland. When they returned home to Almonte, they talked to family members, conducted cold calls, checked obituaries and used the internet to locate Lunneys. And they found them, some 700 of them.  There is a saying that there is a Lunney in every Catholic graveyard in eastern Ontario. Fortunately, Al had an uncle, Alec Lunney, who had created a genealogy of the family in 1946 and a California cousin who had traced the family in 1995 so they did not start at zero; however, a huge amount of labour was involved. Jeri, the central organizer, spent a couple of hours a day on the genealogy for the last two years and she is one of many contributors to the project.

Jeri assumed responsibility for the Canadian Lunneys and developed a formula for this genealogy. Members of Al’s generation were to be interviewed by a member of the following generation for the book. The younger generation was responsible for collecting histories and pictures in collaboration with their parents. In September 2012, members of the Lunney family gathered for a dinner to give permission for the writing of their stories. The younger generation who wrote the stories rummaged through materials including much that had never been seen before. They located scrap books and dragged out old suitcases of documents. Included in the material that came to light were diaries kept by Al’s mother, Elizabeth, from the early 1900s until the 1960s.

In the course of the research Al got to know his father who had died of cancer when Al was just three years of age.  Al learned that his father had been a very active worker in the Liberal Party and articles written about him indicated that he was highly respected. His funeral was one of the largest in the district. After his death, his widow Elizabeth assumed the responsibility of the family farm with the help of her second son, John, who left university to run the farm. The eldest son was in the air force during World War II. John and his younger brother, Tom, ran the farm until 1949 when Elizabeth sold the Lunney homestead and bought a larger farm near Pakenham. Al lived there until he was 18 years old.

The book contains photographs of the five generations of Lunney tombstones in the Indian Hill Cemetery and a story about each of the Lunneys, a talented group comprising teachers, musicians, farmers, vintage car enthusiasts, a number of priests, one nun and one mayor and warden – Al.

The Lunney genealogy went to press in April of 2013 and the young generation of authors organized a family reunion in Pakenham on July 20, 2013. One hundred and twenty-five Lunneys showed up to celebrate the book and each other.

Some marvelous stories came to light during the research for this book.  Peter Lunney was one of the five sons of Edward Joseph Lunney who migrated to the United States.  He went to California, married and had two sons. After the untimely death of his wife, Mr. Lunney gave his two young boys up for adoption and had little contact with them. One of those children became a priest in California. The child had no connection to the Lunney family until the friend of a Lunney cousin was visiting California and just happened to stop in at the church for Mass. The distinctive Lunney features made her ask the priest’s name, and indeed, he turned out to be Father Edward Lunney who was then warmly welcomed into the clan.

In July of 2013, the Ottawa Citizen wrote a story about the Lunney genealogy which resulted in a new discovery just a week before Jeri and Al were interviewed by the Millstone. A person researching the descendants of Patrick Lindsay contacted Jeri with a document in which John Curry and Edward Lunney on behalf of Mr. Lindsay who was involved in a dispute, swore an oath that they, John and Edward, had arrived in Fitzroy Township in 1830, that they worked for Patrick Lindsay for five years and that Patrick Lindsay had owned land at that time. This gave solid confirmation that Edward Lunney had arrived in Fitzroy by 1830.

Al has this advice for budding genealogists. DO IT NOW, before you lose the members of the older generation who know the family lore. He and Jeri agree that they started the genealogy just in time.  He also commented that as the internet has resulted in an explosion of an interest in genealogy, every small rural schoolhouse risks being overrun by relatives researching family history. All those city dwellers came from somewhere and many from rural communities.