Exploring one’s family history can sometimes reveal the proverbial skeleton in the closet.
For those who have done their own research in museum archives, or online on one of those ancestry search websites, the revelation that a relation had a secret or did something immoral can come as a bit of a shock.
Maybe great-great grandpa was a slave owner, or grandma had a half-sister she didn’t know about.
Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to uncover our past history and ancestry. And sometimes it just leads you to more mystery.
That’s been my case with a certain someone that could be related to my maternal grandfather’s side of the family – or not.
It’s always been sort of a joke in my family of who this “secret” relation is because of the last name he shares with my maternal side.
Could he be a distant cousin? The off-shoot of two family factions? After all, there are not many descendants of the motherland, Ireland, now living in North America who share the last name of Bulger (actually, there are even less Fronemans, but that’s a whole different story).
The subject of many books and a just released film starring Johnny Depp, James “Whitey” Bulger could be our long, lost relation.
After seeing the film on the weekend, I certainly hope not. He wasn’t a nice guy.
For those of you, like me, who have read Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s book, Black Mass, and have seen the film of the same name, you know Whitey Bulger was a dangerous criminal who led a band of thugs, known as the Winter Hill Gang, named after their South Boston neighbourhood, in many organized-crime-related activities, including murder, in the 1970s.
Whitey’s brother, William “Billy” Bulger, however, was an outstanding citizen, president of the Massachusetts senate at the time and later president of the University of Massachusetts (a post he resigned once it was found out what his brother had been up to).
Whitey basically got away with his crimes for almost a decade. He was enlisted as an informer for the FBI by his childhood friend, FBI agent John Connolly, who wanted to take down the Italian mafia. (You can’t make this stuff up!)
Eventually it all caught up with them. Connolly was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice charges stemming from his relationship with Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang.
But before Whitey could be charged, he bolted and was on the lam for 12 years before he was captured in 2011 and convicted on 19 counts of murder. Now 85, he will linger this life, and the next, in jail and purgatory.
It’s possible Bulger could be related to our family as he does have a Canadian connection.
In the 19th century, it is recorded that a few Bulger families left Ireland and settled in Canada. One of them, William Bulger, came to Canada in 1825 from Co. Wexford in Ireland, and settled in St. John’s, Nfld.
He was Whitey’s great-grandfather, whose descendants would eventually make their way to Boston.
According to my family records, my great-great grandfather, Daniel Bulger, settled in the Ottawa Valley in the 1880s and came from around the same area of Ireland as the other Bulgers.
He took a different route in life – becoming a school trustee. In fact, a one-room school house still exists on the property where my great-grandfather settled. The property has survived through four generations of my family, and the house is now owned by my mom’s cousin.
The relation between our two families back in Ireland is a little cloudy, so who knows, it could simply be that we share a name. But for what it’s worth, the family “secret” is out there still to be uncovered.
Rest my soul.