52 Ancestors #1 John Francis Burke


This challenge is set forth by No Story Too Small. I’m late in joining, but will catch up this week. The challenge for week one is “A Fresh Start.” That being said…

May I present my great great grandfather, John Francis Burke

There is no ancestor in my tree who made such a dramatic effort at a fresh start as John Francis Burke.

He was born in Dublin on February 27, 1847 in the middle of the potato blight in Ireland. One million people died of starvation and another million left the country. One can imagine how the family struggled. Not much is known about his parents or his childhood, but a family member told me his sibling had the same names as his children, so I expect there was a Patrick, Robert, Emmett, Nina, Virginia, Kathleen, David, and/or an Edmond somewhere in the bunch, and if I ever venture to Dublin, I should be able to find family records.

culpepper book 2 cover ideaWhen John was a young lad of 15, he snuck down to the shipyard and stowed away on an American-bound ship. After they set sail, the captain found him en route and told him the ship couldn’t take him back home. He replied to the captain, “If I wanted to go home, I wouldn’t have stowed away.” We don’t know the relationship or lack of one he had with his parents, but we can imagine a mother searching for her fifteen-year-old son and being heartbroken. I don’t know if he ever contacted his family after leaving Dublin.

The ship dropped him off in Miami, Florida in 1862. Yes, 1862, during the middle of the Civil War. Confederate War Records show a couple men with similar names that could be him serving in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. The 1870 census shows a couple names that could be him: one in Florida and one in Alabama. He finally shows up in the 1880 census as being a “ditcher” and living with his new in-laws, the Spencer family.

On December 10, 1879, at the age of 32, he married Nancy Didama Spencer in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. Over the next fourteen years, they had six children: John Patrick, Robert Emmett, George Washington, Nina Virginia, Kathlene L, and David Edmond.

burke JP Burke Sr headstoneAfter John’s death August 18, 1909, the 1910 census shows Nancy as a widow with five children still at home.

John is laid to rest at Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery in Duffee, Mississippi, among children and grandchildren.

His son John Patrick “Pat” (my great grandfather) was a fiddle player on the weekends at barn dances. I wonder if Pat learned to play from his father. Playing the fiddle is such an Irish thing to do, don’t you think?

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