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Priest can trace family back to Ireland -- and Africa and Scandinavia, too
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The Rev. George M. 'Pat' Thompson, a retired Catholic priest who lives in Moline, can trace his roots back some 50,000 years. His ancestors came to this country from Ireland, but before that, they can be traced to Africa, Iran and Scandinavia.
MOLINE — The Rev. George M. "Pat" Thompson, a retired Catholic priest, can trace his roots back some 50,000 years, and the story illustrates the path taken by many others who have made their home in the Quad-Cities.

The path his ancestors walked meandered through Africa, Iran and Scandinavia before finally ending up in Ireland. Both of his parents grew up in Cork Hill, Davenport, an area long regarded as an Irish district in the heart of the Quad-Cities.

"Almost everybody was Irish in Cork Hill," Rev. Thompson said during a recent interview.

An amateur genealogist, Rev. Thompson has had his DNA analyzed to get an idea of the route his ancestors took before ending up in the U.S.

"My first known male ancestor lived in northeast Africa 50,000 years ago, and his descendants migrated east to Iraq, and then Iran, and then up to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and then west through western Russia to Europe," he said.

Later, his ancestors made it to Scandinavia before eventually ending up in Ireland. His Irish ancestors, on both his mother's side and father's side, had Norman rather than Celtic roots. Celts were a group of tribal societies that arrived in Ireland during the Bronze Age.

"It's curious that my male ancestors were Normans and my female ancestors also were Normans," Rev. Thompson said. "They were also Catholic."

Normans got their name from the region of France called Normandy, although that's not where they originally came from.

"The Normans were from Scandinavia, and they conquered Normandy in the 10th century," Rev. Thompson explained. "Then, when William the Conqueror became King of England, the Normans crossed the channel and settled in England."

The Normans were Catholics and fled England because they were persecuted for their faith.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and Rev. Thompson's ancestors had settled in two parts of Ireland. In the 19th century, when his ancestors left Ireland, the country was wracked by famine and poverty.

"They came to New York City, and then took another boat down around Florida to New Orleans, and then another boat up the river to Keithsburg," Rev. Thompson said. "People don't have much of a regard for Keithsburg, but 150 years ago, it was a very important town, a river town, and so that's where they got off the boat, and then, by team and wagon, they went to the place where they would establish their farm."

The family set up a farm near Alexis in Warren County, looking for better opportunities than they had in Ireland.

By the time Rev. Thompson was born — in 1926 in Mercy Hospital, Davenport — his father was working as an assembler for Farmall in the Quad-Cities.

Rev. Thompson studied for the priesthood at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. His first appointment was to St. Catherine's Catholic Church in Aledo, where he served from 1952 to 1956. Later, he served in parishes in Dwight, Kewanee, Ransom, Sheffield, Bloomington and Silvis before retiring.

He now lives in Moline and used his retirement to fulfill a lifelong dream and travel to Ireland for the first time. He visited County Mayo, in the West of Ireland, where one branch of his family came from, and County Kilkenny, where another part of the family hailed from.

He enjoyed his time in Ireland and found the culture and the country similar to home.

"If it wasn't for the Irish accent, you'd have thought you were in the USA," he said.

When Rev. Thompson was growing up in the Quad Cities, neighborhoods were more closely linked to ethnic groups. He said that has changed now, and he thinks that's a good thing.

"People are so much more mobile now then they used to be," he said. "I think people are more accepting of one another than they used to be, which is a good thing, but it's not perfect, of course."

— Location: Western Europe, occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Great Britain.

— Population: 4,722,028 (July 2012 estimate). No. 119 in the world.

— Languages: English (official, the language generally used); Irish (Gaelic or Gaeilge, spoken mainly in areas along the western coast).

Source: CIA World Factbook.

Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, April 24, the 114th day of 2014. There are 251 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: We learn that it is a contemplation to start a paper mill in Rock Island during the summer by a gentleman from the East.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The gates of Oklahoma were swung open at noon today, and a throng of more than 30,000 settlers started over its soil.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Iowa Coliseum Co. was incorporated with $40,000 capital and planned a building on 4th Street between Warren and Green streets in Davenport.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Plans are being discussed for resurfacing the streets in the entire downtown district of Rock Island.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Some 45 jobs will be created at J.I. Case Co.'s Rock Island plant in a expansion of operations announced yesterday afternoon at the firm's headquarters in Racine, Wis.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Gardeners and farmers cheered, but not all Quad-Citians found joy Saturday as more than an inch of rain fell on the area. Motorists faced dangerous, rain-slick roads as the water activated grease and grime that had built up during dry weather.

(More History)