February 18, 2011 07:20 PM by Shayla Perry
Tonight, on an all new episode of the NBC reality show, Who Do You Think You Are?, actress, comedian, and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell travels from Jersey City to Ireland with her brother, Ed, in search of clues about the family of the mother they lost to cancer many years ago. But what heart-wrenching information did O’Donnell discover about her ancestors?
This week on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?….
Family has always been important to Emmy-award-winning talk show host Rosie O’Donnell, but since losing her mother to cancer in 1973, when she was just 10-years-old, O’Donnell admits that there’s been something missing in her life.
Being raised an in an Irish-Catholic home, not much was said of Rosie’s mother, or her family, after her death.
What little information Rosie did have, she got from her brother, Ed, who she has asked to help her on this journey.
Rosie and Ed search through old family photos, trying to gather as much information as they can. What they do know is the names of their mother’s parents– Kathyrn McKenna (Nana) and Daniel Murtha.
Rosie O’Donnell and her brother are also hoping to get the answer to a family mystery on their journey. An old photo of a woman hung in their playroom growing up, and no one could ever tell them the story of that woman.
Ed remembers his grandmother once telling him that the woman was Daniel Murtha’s step-mother, but that was all that they knew.
Would they find more answers about the mystery woman?
Daniel Murtha’s draft card names Jersey City, New Jersey, as his home, so that is where the two decide to begin their search.
Armed with her grandfather’s address and birth date, O’Donnell checks the Census records and discovers Daniel Murtha’s parents, and finds that her great-grandfather was born in Canada, and that Ellen, Daniel Murtha’s mother, was 10 years younger than her husband, Michael.
After another search, Rosie discovers that her great grandfather, Michael (Daniel’s father) was married to a woman named Anna in 1880, but Anna, is not Rosie’s great grandmother.
Assuming that Anna is the mystery woman whose photo hung in the O’Donnell home for so many years, that means that she was not her grandfather’s step-mother, as Rosie had been told, but her great grandfather’s first wife.
So what happened to Anna?
For that answer, Rosie O’Donnell travels to New York City to search for Anna Murtha’s death certificate.
At the New York Municipal Archives, Rosie is presented with Anna Murtha’s death certificate, though the spelling of her last name is different, which was to be expected.
From the certificate, O’Donnell learns that Anna’s death was caused by injuries she sustained after the explosion of an oil lamp. But Anna did not die quickly. It was a full 20 days after the explosion that she finally passed away.
In search for more answers about this explosion, Rosie heads to the Brooklyn Historical Society to find newspaper clippings
O’Donnell discovers that Anna was cooking breakfast for her husband, Michael, with an infant in her arms. The baby apparently pulled the lamp, knocking it onto the stove, which caused the explosion.
What happened to the baby?
In another newspaper clipping, O’Donnell learned that the child, who was 1-year-old, managed to escape unharmed because Anna had shielded it from the flames with her own body.
That baby, would be Daniel Murtha’s (Rosie’s grandfather) half-sibling.
Relieved that the child survived, Rosie heads to the local Catholic church to find records of baptism and hopefully, the baby’s name.
There, she finds that the baby, a girl, was Elizabeth Murtha.
After asking a genealogist to find everything she can on Elizabeth Murtha, Rosie O’Donnell is given more clues about the life of Elizabeth Murtha, including her family tree.
In New Jersey, Rosie is introduced to Elizabeth Murtha’s grandchildren and is surprised to find that they recognized the picture of Anna that hung in Rosie’s playroom as a child.
The family also learns that Daniel, Rosie’s grandfather, is listed in Elizabeth’s obituary as her brother, leading everyone to believe that he did have knowledge of his half-sister.
Happy to have solved the family mystery, and to have met some family that she didn’t even know she had, Rosie O’Donnell now wants to learn more about her great grandfather, and Anna’s husband, Michael Murtha.
Knowing that he was from Canada, Rosie travels to Quebec to find baptismal records, hoping to find clues that will eventually lead her to Ireland.
She finds that Michael Murtha was baptized in Montreal, and that his parents, whose names Rosie had not known before, were Andrew Murtagh (notice the difference in the spelling of the name?) and Ann Doyle.
Looking for Andrew and Ann’s nationality, hoping it will lead her to Ireland, O’Donnell heads to the archives and finds that Andrew and Ann had 6 children. Three of them were born in Ireland, and 3 in Canada.
Knowing that Ann died in 1876, Rosie O’Donnell searches for some kind of records to find what town she was from in Ireland.
Finally, she stumbles upon Ann Doyle’s death mentioned in a newspaper! And the place of her birth? Kildare, Ireland.
To find out about Andrew and Ann’s lives in Ireland and why they moved to Canada, Rosie travels to a neighborhood close to Kildare and is shown baptismal records for three of Ann’s children. But she also finds another child not listed in the Census– Patrick, who it seems died during the Potato Famine, and therefore didn’t make it to Canada with the rest of the family.
Curious as to how the other children survived the Potato Famine, Rosie meets with a librarian who presents her with evidence that Andrew, Ann, and four of their children lived in a place referred to as “The Workhouse,” and were eventually provided assistance to immigrate to Canada by two benefactors.
O’Donnell then visits the Birr Workhouse in Birr, Ireland to learn more about the living conditions that her ancestors experienced at the Workhouse.
There, she learns that men, women, and children were all kept separate, and individuals slept in straw mattresses, often sharing with 3 other people. These conditions caused diseases to spread quickly; and with the disease came death.
But after having seen what her ancestors endured, Rosie O’Donnell is given a new perspective on her own life, that she’s eager to share with her brother Ed.
She now sees that though her childhood was not perfect, and losing her mother at such a young age was difficult, it was nothing compared to the tragedy that her ancestors managed to survive. And that — their survival against all odds — is what should be remembered. That is what lives on inside of her.
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Photo credit: NBC