She’s going back to her acting roots, so I took a dive into her ancestral ones.
It’s been a while, but Meg Ryan, America’s rom-com queen, anointed through her memorable roles in When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail, is re-emerging with What Happens Later, a movie she co-wrote, directed, and stars in. I’m among the many looking forward to getting snowed in at the airport with both Ryan and her co-star, David Duchovny, but in the interim, decided to climb her family tree.
Born Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra, she assumed her maternal grandmother’s maiden name of Ryan when she became an actress, and those with Irish ancestry will recognize Meg (as well as Peg and Peggy) as a nickname for Margaret. As I researched, it slowly dawned on me that her original name reflects three generations of her direct maternal line since her grandmother was named Margaret Mary, her great-grandmother Emily, and her great-great-grandmother Ann. What a lovely tribute.
After some digging, I arrived at the following roots recipe for Meg Ryan: 31.25% Irish, 25% Rusyn (from present-day Poland), 25% Polish (from present-day Lithuania), 12.5% German, and 6.25% English. Yes, I know it’s confusing that her Rusyn ancestors were from Poland and her Polish ones from Lithuania (welcome to the dynamic borders of Slavic genealogy), but for now, let’s focus on her Irish portion.
As I delved more deeply into her Ryan line, it started ticking all the classic New York Irish boxes, starting with her immigrant, great-great-grandfather, Timothy Ryan, who worked as a bartender. This was likely with his brother, James, who was a liquor dealer and associated with a billiards saloon.
Timothy’s son, Thomas (Meg’s great-grandfather), had intended to become a lawyer, but inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, joined the police department instead and worked his way up to Inspector. Spending about four decades on the force, he was known for being dedicated and squeaky clean.
So bartender, police officer, and fireman. You can’t get much more New York Irish than that. Or can you? One of Thomas Jr.’s sisters, it turned out, was a Rockette.
In fact, Emily was one of the original ones known as Roxyettes when the dancing troupe migrated from St. Louis, Missouri to New York. The Ryan family is rightfully proud of this, but Thomas must have been especially grateful since he met his wife – whose sister also happened to be a Rockette – through this connection.
It seems the Ryan line also introduced the entertainment gene as high-kicking Emily married a pioneering NBC radio star whose name (Charles O’Connor) might be recognized today if he hadn’t died young. And then there was Thomas and Emily’s sister, Lucille.
This great-aunt of Meg’s was a hospital recreational worker for the Red Cross, serving in Africa, England and France during World War II. Instead of returning home at the end of the war, she joined the American Forces Radio Network as both an announcer and actress. Working primarily in France and Germany, she was the only female announcer on the network, and her show (“My Gal Saturday”) was broadcast across much of Europe.
That’s all well and good, I can almost hear readers in Ireland saying, but where in Ireland do the Ryans come from? In this case, it’s O’Briensbridge in County Clare that gets the bragging rights.
And for those who might be hoping to claim Meg Ryan as a distant cousin but have no Ryan ancestors, there’s still a chance. As I mentioned at the outset, she’s 5/8ths Irish, so other names and places come into play. If your family tree includes Duggan, Keliher, Luby/Looby, McManus, Thomas, or Whyte/White, you could potentially be related – particularly if your Duggans hail from Macroom, Cork or your Lubys from Clonmel, Tipperary.
Now you’re equipped to watch What Happens Later being well versed on what happened before. ♦