Editor’s Note: This video is an introduction to the complete talk given at the Canavan Family Reunion dinner on September 25, 2021.
The venue for the talk was The Cliff Dwellers club in Chicago. Founded in 1907, it’s a small arts club on the 22nd floor of a building just across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago. Its outdoor terrace has an exceptional view of Lake Michigan from an aerie high above the Chicago’s Millennium and Grant Parks. Almost 80 members of the extended Canavan family and their guests were present. The program traced the relationships of all the Reunion families to their common ancestors.
The celebrated progenitors are usually dead and gone, but all seemed alive and present for this special evening. The leading ancestral lights were Anthony Canavan and Catherine Kirby and their children. The descendants of three of their nine offspring, daughters Honora and Ellen, and son Anthony Canavan, Sr., filled the room. For potentially dull, if not to say deadly subject matter, the crowd remained more than engaged throughout. They had such a good time the word “boisterous” comes to mind.
A la David Letterman, this part of the evening’s program was followed by cousin John Hanley’s Top Ten family memories and self-introductions and stories by many of those present. The evening was topped off with a raffle that had five big time winners. Similar prizes were also awarded to the five members of the Reunion planning committee, Tony Bowe, Beth and John Hanley, Rob Bowe and Meg Meyer. The winners all took home personalized Anthony Canavan, Sr. coffee mugs. Everybody else took home memories of a unexpectedly fabulous family gathering.
My mother Mary Gwinn Bowe had done pioneering research into the history of her extended families in the 1950s and ’60s. Her genealogy and storytelling work The Families was privately published in 1970. The Families had dealt in part with Canavan family history because my mother had married a Canavan. My father’s mother, Ellen Frances Canavan, was the 12th of the 13 children born to Anthony Canavan, Sr. and Ann Hughes. These Canavan parents had left County Mayo, Ireland in the late 1840s with three of their children to escape perils of the Great Irish Potato Famine. After nine years in Philadelphia, the growing Canavan family of my paternal great grandparents moved to a farm in Kankakee County, Illinois, just south of Chicago. There they took up farm life in earnest on land near to where Anthony’s older brother Austin Canavan had previously settled.
This website and the Canavan Family Reunion in Chicago in 2021 both came about for the same reasons. Over the years I had taken after my mother in a number of ways. I followed in her footsteps as a packrat of family memorabilia and, like her, I almost always took pictures at family gatherings. I also had greatly admired the work she had done in The Families in ferreting out and recording for posterity an important and interesting set of family histories. These facts, together with being alerted to the power of the coming computer age during my Pentagon Army service from 1968 to 1971, led me over the ensuing decades to digitize her many albums of captioned family photographs. Some of her albums even contained pictures going back to Civil War times, when photography was the next new thing. My mother’s genealogy work led me to continue to update her earlier efforts and digitize that as well. This digital updating enabled me to include pictures in most of the family trees for the first time.
However, these factors alone would have led to neither this Canavan Family website nor the Canavan Family Reunion in Chicago in 2021. We can thank the first deadly global pandemic in a century for that. It was COVID-19’s stultification of social life that provided the missing secret sauce needed to bring about both the website and the Reunion.
Being quickly bored and rendered near witless by the lockdown, I turned to the digital resources I already had at hand in spring 2020. I then went about educating myself on how to build a website (www.wbowe.com) for the extended Canavan family. My goal was to create a tool that might help create and sustain over future generations the kinds of important family bonds I had benefited from during my life.
My operating definition of the extended Canavan family was and is quite simple. You are part of the extended Canavan Family if you are a descendant of Anthony Canavan and his wife Catherine Kirby or their son, Anthony Canavan, Sr. You are also included if anyone in your extended family once married a Canavan descendant. Being in both categories myself, the definition seems a suitable one. The definition of the extended Canavan Family might seem large to some, but it feels just right to me.
With these organizing principles in mind for the website, it didn’t take long after its creation for interest to build in the possibility of holding an in-person Canavan-based reunion once the ravages of the COVID-19 virus abated. And indeed, in spite of the residual anxiety arising from the virus’s lingering Delta variant strain, the Canavan Family Reunion in Chicago in 2021 attracted over 80 people to its events. By all accounts it was a smashing success.