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Very little is actually known about Stephen Durnan because there may have been changes to the spelling of the surname, and very little historical record exists to this day of him. What is known is that Stephen was born in Ireland, on May 17, 1833. His parents were Thomas Durnan (Durnigan) and his mother was Kary McKay. Stephen had one known brother, Charles, born about 1835. Stephen died on July 15, 1888, aged 55 years [due to a strangulated hernia caused by loading lumber on a wagon according to his obituary in the Oelwein newspaper]. Stephen married Bridget McGuire on May 25th, 1865, in Kane County, Illinois. It is assumed that Stephen and Bridget farmed and lived in Illinois for some time as their first four children were born in Illinois. (another family tradition is that he was a common laborer/border living above her Father Patrick's store). [Family tradition has it that Sometime between the birth of John and James, known as "Jimmy" as evidenced by the Census record from 1900, Stephen and Bridget moved to Bremer county, Dayton township, Iowa. [Actually it was in the unicorporated town of Buck Creek in Fayette County, IA just west of Fairbank, IA]. According to family oral history, Stephan was able to buy his original farm near Fairbank due to his having accepted a fee to serve in the stead of a wealthy individual who was subject to the draft in the Civil War - he was never called to serve. Ten more children are confirmed to have been born to Stephen and Bridget while in Iowa. Census records indicate the these latter children were all born in Bremer county.
- Bridget McGuire, spouse, born Aug. 1847
Stephen and Bridget's confirmed children are:
- Kate Durnan born approx. 1867
- Maggie and her twin sister Mary Durnan born approx. 1868
- Thomas Durnan born Dec. 1, 1869 in Kane Co., Illinois
- John Durnan born approx. 1871
- James (Jimmy) born Feb. 1873
- Ellen born Feb. 1st, 1874 - Oct. 9th, 1880
- Charles born Dec. 11th, 1876
- Bridget born approx. 1879
- Elizabeth born approx. 1881
- Martha born Feb. 1882
- Stephen born Jan. 15th, 1884 - Jan 30th, 1890
- Edward (Eddie) born Jun. 1886
- William (Willie) born Feb. 1888
The story handed down is that Stephen and a brother came over to America during the potato famine. They most likely entered the United States through Boston as no known record of their arrival exists and most records from Boston were destroyed in a fire during the late 19th century. Historical records do show that the Durnan family was well represented in the United States in the early part of the 19th century. For that reason, there is reason to believe that Stephen and his brother would have stayed with relatives for some time after arriving here. It has been said that Stephen and his brother each took a different vowel in their surname. Historical record and indeed burial record as evidenced by headstones in the Immaculate Conception cemetery in Fairbank, Iowa prove that the Durnan and Durnin families were related as one headstone is shared and has both Durnan and Durnin family members buried together. One reason that finding direct historical record may be so difficult is that Stephen, and his wife Bridget who too immigrated to America in 1857, most likely had a thick Irish accent and those recording their name probably spelled it wrong. On the 1885 Census, indeed Durnan is spelled both Durnan and Durnen both within the same family. Other references to known Durnans are spelled an invariable number of ways from Durman to Durning. Verbal history says that Stephen spent some time in New York, Ohio, and working in the rice fields "down South", before settling in Illinois. It is here that he married and started a family before moving to Dayton, Iowa. Dayton used to be a small community in rural Bremer county. Dayton even had it's own Post Office at one time. It now commonly refers to the name for the township. Stephen and his wife most certainly bought their farm there as the 1900 census shows that Bridget owned her own farm free and clear. It is said that Stephen suffered a bad hernia during a barn raising and that he died the night of July 15, 1888 when he was 55 years old, and it is said that the reason was from a bad infection from the hernia. Stephen is buried along side his wife, and several of his children and grandchildren in the Durnan family plot in Fairbank, Iowa at the Immaculate Conception cemetery north of town.