The Name that Binds – Joe’s Family

Mar 29th, 2014 | By | Category: Joyce Biographies

I don’t carry the Joyce name but names loom large in the family story. My connection to this tribe is through my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Bridget Joyce or was she Bridget Elizabeth Joyce? It’s just one of the annoying little mysteries that keeps me digging away. I know this much, she was from Galway and emigrated to Boston around 1895 as a young woman and worked as a domestic. It appears that she worked as a chamber maid at the famous Parker House Hotel, the same hotel where Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh would later work and John F. Kennedy would first announce his run for the Presidency.

When she married my grandfather,in 1907, him a Welsh born miner turned soldier, she was already carrying my Uncle Dan (also known as Mike…) and working as a maid for a well-to-do Harvard student, Lloyd Demarest, son of the famous Chicago muck-raking journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd and possibly the inspiration for my Dad’s and my middle name of Lloyd.

The man she married, my grandfather, was born John Davis in Wales (but it could have been Davies,) perhaps in 1866 or maybe in 1871 (he used different dates at different times and his life is it’s own sad and fascinating story.) He emigrated with his coal mining father and mother and younger brother Morgan to the bituminous coal fields of Northeast Ohio in 1872. By 1880 at either age 8 or 12, he was already working in the coal mines of Palmyra, Ohio but in 1889 he joined the Army in Pittsburgh, possibly to escape the mines. This may have followed the death of his brother Morgan in the great Johnstown (PA) Flood but whatever the cause, just a few months later he found himself in the Dakota Territory in the the 7th Infantry in the last of the Indian Wars, the Pine Tops Campaign that culminated in the massacre at Wooded Knee by the 7th Calvary. The infantry was not involved.

When Bridget met him he was now Harry Orfant, a Marine stationed at the Boston Navy Yard. When he later sought to change his name back to Davis (which ultimatley failed to the great embarrassment of the family,) she was not shy about writing to the then Secretary of War, John Wingate Weeks, requesting favors which he granted. I’ve never been able to determine the source of her acquaintanceship with the former Massachusetts Senator or the reason for their familiarity. I’ve found nothing that indicated that she worked for him but I know there’s a connection somewhere waiting to be uncovered.

Her obituary in 1939 refers to a surviving sister in Ireland but provides no name and the only other details I know of her are her parents names from her marriage application, Michael Walter and Nora (Honora?) Recently I was talking with my brother in Californa by phone, he’s much older than me and has different family memories. He asked me if I remembered Dad singing Irish songs. Sure, I recalled Dad rolling into “Galway Bay” after none too few highballs, but Dave said no, thats not what he meant and himself started singing a song in Irish that he remembered Dad singing to him as a boy and it was a song taught to him by our grandmother. So I surmise that she was also an Irish speaker but how I’m just a little sorry that I wasn’t taught it too.

When I read about Laurie’s and Sarah’s diverse family backgrounds and the DNA that links us all, it I wonder if the real story here is that these connections that cross continents and oceans and languages just shows that we are all really part of one larger tribe and what a different world it would be if we all truly understood that.

NB – Published with the permission of Joe Orfant.  Not to be copied or re-published without Joe’s permission.  he can be contacted at orfant@comcast.net

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