Pierre man celebrates Irish lineageParade grand marshal, a Mitchell native, spent 4 years tracking his heritage.
By: Allison Jarrell , Pierre Capital Journal
PIERRE — It took much more than the luck of the Irish for LeRoy Mernaugh to unearth his family tree.
For the past four years, the third-generation Irishman has flipped through the pages of an old family Bible, sent out letters, made long distance phone calls and sifted through newspaper archives on the track of his footloose sires from the Emerald Isle.
On Sunday, 94-year-old Mernaugh will celebrate his Irish lineage alongside his wife Daisy as the Grand Marshals of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“Some people don’t care about their ancestry, but I like to find out who my relatives were,” Mernaugh said. “I have a lot of shirt-tail relatives scattered all over.”
Mernaugh was born in Mitchell in 1918 and spent the majority of his childhood in Letcher. He and his wife Daisy met in Watertown while he worked as an agricultural engineer for the Soil Conservation Service, and the couple moved to Pierre in 1971.
Mernaugh had four brothers, but is now the only one left of his generation. He inherited a large family Bible from his younger brother, a relic that for a long time sat in his aunt’s attic.
The Bible became a wealth of information for Mernaugh; he found marriage records, births and deaths and old photographs.
“I never saw a picture of my granddad until I found one in here,” he said.
Mernaugh’s grandfather was born in Ireland, and he, his wife and their 14 children journeyed from Wicklow to the U.S. in what Mernaugh estimates was 1867.
The family wound up in Glen Haven, Wis., a small river town where they established a farm. Mernaugh figures that his family came to South Dakota in 1890 — a discovery he made while visiting the Cultural Heritage Center, where he skimmed through obituaries in copies of the old Letcher Chronicle. “They farmed in South Dakota for years,” Mernaugh said. “They lived off the land. Until my brother died, that farm was in the Mernaugh name for over 100 years.”
Mernaugh’s father and mother met in Letcher and were married in 1916. While his father didn’t share much family history with him growing up, Mernaugh remembers the strong bond between his family and relatives — ties that he’s worked hard to recreate.
“In the Mernaugh family, they all got along real well, and they always came back to Letcher,” he said. “I never knew of any two that didn’t like each other.”