For those who don’t believe in the power of prayer, consider the case of Tracey Farrell Munro.
The Hamilton,Ontario-based landscape designer grew up on Long Island, NY, the daughter of a tennis champion who taught the game to the likes of the Rothschilds and Rockefellers, and his wife, a former fashion model for Vogue and Bazaar. Tracey had two siblings, but their family splintered when her parents divorced when she was 10. Later, after her own marriage failed, she raised her son, Charles, by herself.
“What I wanted more than anything was a family,” says Munro. “I have prayed for a family. All my affirmations about the life I wanted to create I saw in terms of family. If I thought it would never happen, it would break my heart.”
Then, one day, she got a phone call.
A man named Will Hill of Wyndmoor was on the other line. He was contacting her, after a search that took five years, to let her know that they were cousins. They shared the same great grandfather, Patrick Hill, from County Cavan. And she had a family—a big family—in Pennsylvania.
“My father was Joe Farrell and I knew his mother was a Hill,” Munro says. “And my sister’s name is Erin Hill Farrell.”
As they chatted, Will Hill recalls, “it was clear that we weren’t only relatives, we had so much in common as people.” They made plans to meet, and Munro traveled to Philadelphia several weeks ago. . .for a family reunion.
“It’s been awesome!” Munro said at a family dinner at The Shanachie Restaurant in Ambler. What’s been most remarkable for the newest member of the Hill family is seeing her DNA in action.
One day, her family took her to visit the gardens her great grandfather designed in the Philadelphia suburbs. “What he did is very similar to the projects that I’m doing—on large estates, swimming pools, waterfalls. . .” she marvels. A singer (“in two different a cappela choirs and chanting”), she was thrilled to learn that her Philadelphia family is musical: Will’s son, Tim, plays the bodhran, whistle, flute and uilleann pipes and is a fixture at the Shanachie and The Plough and the Stars’ Irish sessions. The author of several books of poetry, Munro was stunned to learn that her cousin, Joe Hill, is also a published author. “I really feel like I’m beginning to understand where I came from,” she says. “I felt like I now had all the pieces.”
The Hills made sure Munro really saw where she came from. One day, she and Will visited the location of the Farrell’s farm—her father’s home—near what is now Halligan’s Pub on Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown. They located two older homes that fit the description of the old homestead on Mill Road, then known as Cleaver’s Mill Road. “I have information from the 1910 Census when her dad was only two years old,” says Will.
One thing that really surprised Munro was learning that two of her father’s many tennis trophies were still in the family that really never knew him. “They told me that Aunt Doris, who recently passed away, used to polish my father’s silver cups,” she says. “He was a whole lot more important in the tennis world than I ever knew. My sister told me that he had hundreds of them in boxes in our basement. But he never kept any out. I don’t think he really identified with him. His attitude was, ‘It’s something I did.’ That’s the way I am too. This has really reminded me that I am my father’s daughter.”
Will Hill and his brother, Patrick, have been working on their family history since 1980 and started actively searching for Munro and her family in 2004. Her father—whose mother, Louise, was the sister of Will and Patrick’s grandfather, Patrick—left the Philadelphia area and never returned, at least as far as Munro knows.
What broke their “case” was a posting that Will made on the genealogy website, www.ancestry.com. “A relative on her mother’s side recognized the names I’d listed and responded,” he explains. “She knew where Tracey’s brother lived and I called him. He has since passed away, but he gave me contact information for Tracey and her sister.”
When Will called her, Munro remembers, “I thought, this is what I’ve been praying for.” In fact, it might be even a little bit more. Munro, like the Hills, felt an instant kinship. “When we got together we laughed, cried, went to lunch, went to pretty places, and had a blast. When you’re with your own people, there’s definitely a kind of connection that’s unspoken and automatic,” she says. “It’s been awe-inspiring, exciting, and very embracing.”