Family history records found and returned to descendants in California

Friday, April 19, 2002

Almost everyone has heard the clich that the world is getting smaller every day. A recent incident simply proves that point. Last August, Jerry Hitchcock of Manila asked for my help in finding the owners of an old photo album/scrapbook that he had acquired. Several years ago his relatives, Winston and Wayne Hitchcock, bought an old 1940's delivery van. They eventually sold the vehicle to Don Hall. While he was restoring the van, Hall and his daughter, Debbie, found the album wedged between the walls of the truck and a peg-board lining material which had been installed by a previous owner. Debbie assumed the album belonged to a member of the Hitchcock family and gave it to Jerry. Someone had meticulously put the album together using photos, newspaper clippings, greeting cars, invitations, old stamps, certificates, and other mementos of the Cornelius Peter Dungan family. According to information in the album, Dungan had immigrated to Chicago from Dublin, Ireland, in 1870. He was associated with the International Silver Company and became its president in his later years. Because of its historical content, the album is a treasure to historians, but Hitchcock realized it would be priceless to a member of the Dungan family. He wanted the family to have the album and asked for my help in finding them via the Internet.

In September, 2001, I located a Dungan family web site and posted a message that I had information concerning the Cornelius P. Dungan family. I received a few messages regarding my inquiry, however, there was no message which contained any information about the branch of the family we were looking for. Finally, in February, 2002, I received an e-mail from John Rigney with clues that led me to believe he was directly descended from Cornelius P. Dungan. One of C.P.'s daughters, Mae, had married a Rigney. A wedding invitation and newspaper notices of her engagement and marriage were in the album. John Rigney stated that May was his grandmother and her father's name was Cornelius Peter Dungan. He also said he did not know much about his great-grandfather. I realized that when he received the photo album, he would know a great deal about him.

The album chronicled the lives of the various members of the immediate Dungan family. Also, included were clippings from the Chicago Tribune which heralded the end of World War I. There were pictures of the family's home in Oak Park, Ill., golfing vacations to Florida, fishing trips to Three Lakes and Squirrel Lake in Wisconsin, pictures of the offices and directors of the Butte Lake Mining Company in Casper, Wyo., a 1926 photo of a cathedral in New Orleans, the 50th anniversary celebration of the Dungans, an invitation to a reception for Marshall Foch, the Frenchman who headed the Allied supreme command in World War I, a "Pershing Patriot" stamp, members of the military at the University of Illinois in 1918 (including one of the Dungan sons), photos and newspaper articles detailing an interview with Dungan regarding the 1871 Chicago Fire, which he vividly remembered and many other noteworthy items and photographs.

After a few more e-mails, the day came to send the album back to its rightful owners. The package traveled via FedEX to San Francisco, Calif., to John Rigney and his family. In yet another fortuitous incident in this remarkable story, it arrived on Rigney's birthday while his family was gathered to celebrate. The occasion was especially notable because the family learned about their ancestor, Cornelius Peter Dungan.

I truly believe the ending to this story was made possible by the providential foresight of Cornelius P. Dungan. His meticulous labeling of photos and his wisdom to include other mementos of his family's life made the job of finding the Dungan family easier, even after an almost 60 year gap. Today, nearly every antique store has an old photo album or loose pictures for sale of families whose names have been lost forever. There is a sadness about them. One wonders about the faces staring back from the photos. Who were they? Where did they come from? They lived and loved just as people do today, but their stories are irreclaimable. This is not true of the Dungan family because their patriarch cared enough to include names and dates in his photo album. This story proves how vitally important it is to keep records regarding our families and to label pictures with names and dates.

Of course, without the technology available today, it would probably have been impossible for people from Northeast Arkansas to find the great-grandson (who lives in San Francisco, Calif.) of an Irish immigrant who became an early twentieth century silversmith from Oak Park, Ill. But, the whole story is improbable. How did the album get in the walls of the old delivery van? How did the van get from Chicago to Manila, Arkansas? Possibly, these questions will never be answered. And, it doesn't really matter how the photo album got to Manila, it only matters that Cornelius Peter Dungan is back with his family and his great-grandson, John Rigney, will be able to pass this precious piece of family history to his children and future generations.

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