Lusitania families reunited

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Every year on 7 May Merseyside Maritime Museum usually marks the anniversary of the tragic loss of the Lusitania with a commemoration and minute's silence at the quayside, by one of the ship's propellers which is now part of our collection.

For the centenary of the sinking in 2015 there was also a special service at Liverpool Parish Church Our Lady and St Nicholas. The service included an unexpected twist for Mary Jones, who attended in memory of her great grandfather Michael Cooney, a fireman in the engineering department on board the Lusitania who lost his life in the tragedy, along with his son, also called Michael. One of the people who spoke at the service was Joyce Percival. When Joyce started talking about her great grandfather, who was lost on board the Lusitania, Mary was surprised to hear the name she gave was Michael Cooney. She realised that they were distant relatives.

After the service everyone made their way to the Lusitania's propeller for the commemoration and minute's silence. Joyce remembers when Mary first introduced herself at the propeller:

"She walked up to me and said nothing but showed me two roses she was carrying in memory of both our ancestors. We were both quite emotional."

two women

Joyce Percival and Mary Jones at the Lusitania commemoration in 2015

Joyce's grandmother Mary was the older sister of Mary Jones' grandmother Frances. The two women have kept in touch since the service and Joyce had another surprise in the following weeks when she was tracked down by another distant relative, Frances - the daughter of Michael Cooney's youngest daughter Catherine.

Frances had heard Joyce talking on Radio Merseyside as part of the Lusitania centenary events, then contacted her via the museum. Frances and Joyce's father were cousins and she has shared many memories of his younger days with Joyce. In return Joyce has told Frances about her research into 200 years of their family history.

The sinking of the Lusitania was one of the most horrific incidents at sea during the First World War and it had a huge impact on Liverpool, as so many of the crew had lived in the city. The annual commemoration brings people together to pay our respects to those lost over a century ago. However, by reuniting family members in this way, it is also a wonderful way to ensure that the 1,191 people who died on the Lusitania are never forgotten as their stories are passed on over many generations into the future.