The brother and sister Dad never knew

Dad came from a pretty big family, ay least by current American standards- Nicholas and Mary (Casey) Sheehan had seven children who lived to adulthood. I’ve always had the suspicion that there might have been more children who didn’t make it that far- partly because of the gaps between birthdates of some of my aunts and uncles, and partly because of an odd entry on the 1910 census. On that census, Grandmother is reported to have given birth to four children, of whom only two survived. The problem is that the same form says the couple had four children alive at the time of the census- and we know that all of them lived to adulthood- Uncles Frank, William and Thomas, and Aunt May.

So I wasn’t totally surprised the other day when the Familysearch web site popped up a “record hint” concerning one Anastatia M. Sheehan, born on August 3, 1914, in Worcester, to Nicholas and Mary Sheehan. I had found my Aunt Anastatia without even knowing that she existed.

Anastatia was a popular name in Ireland at the time, and it was also the name of Grandmother Sheehan’s own mother, Anastatia (Morrissey) Casey. Anastatia doesn’t appear on the 1920 census listing of the Sheehans, so my assumption was that she had passed away prior to 1920.

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It turns out that Anastatia was just three when she died, on 3 September, 1917. The cause of death was “diarrhea – enteritis”. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but diarrhea, brought on by a bacterial infection, was one of the leading causes of death for children in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was particularly true in crowded manufacturing cities like Worcester. Twenty years earlier, in 1896, Grandfather’s sister Bridget lost a daughter to a similar disease, cholera infantum.

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Anastatia’s death wasn’t the only tragedy to befall my grandparents in 1917. While searching for her death record, I found another unexpected document. It was a death certificate, recording the birth, on January 20, 1917, of a premature, stillborn male child to Nicholas and Mary. The death certificate does not give a name for the infant.

So Dad had an older sister and brother that he would never know. Dad himself was born just over a year after Anastatia’s death, when Grandmother Sheehan was 41. By the time my Aunt Helen came along in 1923, Grandmother was just shy of her 46th birthday. To put that in perspective, Helen was already an aunt at the age of three, after the birth of her brother William’s first child, Eleanor (aka “Rusty”), in 1926.

That leaves open the question of whether or not there were additional children born to Nicholas and Mary that we don’t know about. I can’t say for sure, but it seems unlikely. My grand-parents were married in Mechanicville NY on 21 May 1902. Their first child, Francis Patrick (Uncle Frank) was born in Mechanicville on 13 March, 1903. No room there for an additional birth. Their second child, William, was born in Worcester on 17 September 1904. In theory there could be an additional birth in between, but if you do the math, there is a window of only about 14 days during which such a birth could occur. The Worcester City Clerk’s database doesn’t list any births of Sheehan children during that period.

I did the same calculations for the gaps between the births of the rest of the Sheehan children, and found that all of the babies born during those “windows” belonged to other couples.

Keefe Place is near the top of the image, just left of center. Note Kendall St at the bottom, which is still there, but cut off by 290.
Keefe Place is near the top of the image, just left of center. Note Kendall St at the bottom, which is still there, but cut off by the Expressway.

Anastatia’s death certificate provided another interesting piece of information- the family’s address in 1917. It’s another example of the Sheehan family’s habit of moving every few years. In 1917 they lived at 7 Keefe Place, an address I hadn’t previously come across. You won’t find that location on a current map, but a 1911 map of Worcester places it on the west side of Lincoln Street just about where the Expressway overpass is now. Their next door neighbor to the north was St. John’s Episcopal Church, which, like Keefe Place, was demolished in the early 60’s to make room for the Expressway. To the south was the original location of Sawyer’s lumberyard. In the back was the very polluted Mill Brook, the source of the Blackstone River, and beyond that, the Fitchburg railroad line. A far cry from Islandikane and Tramore!

By the time of Dad’s birth in 1918, the family had moved again, to 2 Union Place, near Posner Square.

More about that address here.

Found- my great great grandfather Sheehan?

The National Library of Ireland last week published its collection of microfilmed Catholic parish records on its web site. There’s a lot of information there, but it isn’t all that easy to find details on specific individuals. The records are only indexed by parish, month, year, and type of record (i.e. baptism, marriage, death)- so you can’t do a search for all the records that mention, for example, the name Sheehan. There are also gaps in the coverage, and the records for Fenor only go as far as 1881. Lastly, the records are hand-written, in Latin.

Despite all that, so far I’ve been able able to find one definite match, and a very tantalizing possible one. The definite match was for our grand uncle Edward Francis Sheehan (1873-1960), the eldest brother of Ellen Sheehan and of my grandfather, Nicholas Sheehan:

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The record shows that “Uncle Ned”, as we knew him, was baptized on August 13, 1873, the son of Patrick and Bridget Sheehan. It also appears to confirm that he was baptized “Edmund” rather than “Edward”. Uncle Ned apparently decided to go by “Edward” after arriving in the US. On the documents recording his arrival at the port of Boston in 1902, his name appears both ways. That suggests that Ellen’s son Edmond (Kevin) Sheehan, and my father, Edmund Francis Sheehan, may have been named after Uncle Ned. (Not to mention my big brother, Edmund Jr., also known as Ned).

Uncle Ned’s godparents are recorded as Nicholas Doody and Maria Crotty. Nicholas may have been Bridget’s brother- which might explain my grandfather’s name.

Now for the possible match. Our great grandfather, Patrick Sheehan, gave his age as 69 in the 1911 census, which would mean he was born around 1842- so I scanned through the Fenor records for 1841-1843, and came up with this:

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The entry isn’t easy to read, but appears to record the baptism of Patrick (Patricius), son of John (Joannis) Sheehan and Bridget (Brigida) on February 27, 1843. The godparents are Michael Walsh and Maria Boland. (Curiously, the names of the baby and parents are Latinized, but the godparents’ names aren’t).

It isn’t definitive, but it certainly seems likely that this is our great grandfather’s baptismal record. Sheehan was not the most common surname in the Fenor records, so it would be quite a coincidence for there to have been another Patrick Sheehan born around the same time in the same parish. All of which means that our great great grand-parents are probably John and Bridget Sheehan

For Memorial Day: Rufus Cogswell

Rufus Cogswell’s grave at the Old Soldier’s Home, in Washington DC

Memorial Day was originally a day to remember soldiers who died in the Civil War, so it’s appropriate to remember Rufus Cogswell, Mom’s great grand-uncle, who was the only person on the Dunn side of the family tree to die while serving in the military. Rufus was born in Rutland in 1829. When his parents, Stephen and Lucy (Seaver) Cogswell moved to Dublin, New Hampshire in the 1850’s, Rufus followed them, along with his sister (Mom’s great grandmother) Lydia, and Lydia’s husband Leonard Smith.

In 1859 Rufus married Elmira (Knowlton) Moore, a Dublin widow with three children. Rufus and Elmira then had a further two children of their own. On September 10th 1862, just five months after the birth of their son Milton, Rufus joined the Tenth New Hampshire Volunteers and headed off to war.

Rufus died two weeks later, on September 24, 1862, shortly after his regiment arrived in Washington. It was Rufus and Elmira’s third wedding anniversary. Continue reading “For Memorial Day: Rufus Cogswell”

On this day: April 19, 1947

momdadweddingMom and Dad were married on this day, April 19, 1947, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Millbury, Massachusetts. (The parish church is now in Worcester, but in 1947 it was just over the Millbury line, where Sclamo’s is currently located.)

From left to right: Rene and Ruth Guilmette, Dad and Mom, Yvette Sarazin, Dad’s brother Francis (aka Uncle Frank), his sister Kathleen, and Patrick Donahue.

A tree sculpture for the Fenor graveyard

Just happened to come across this news video from RTE about a chain saw sculpture that now graces the Fenor churchyard. This is the church Grandfather Sheehan would have attended before he emigrated. It’s also the final resting place of his brother Patrick, who died in World War I, his sister Ellen, and Ellen’s sons Edmond and Maurice (aka “Mossey”).

F57b_SheehanThis is the stone marking the Sheehan Family plot. There is a separate stone marking Patrick’s grave. I would have thought that Grandfather’s parents, Patrick and Bridget (Doody) Sheehan would have been buried here as well, but their names don’t appear on the grave listing that the parish of Fenor has published online. As a matter of fact, “our” Sheehans are the only ones said to be buried here. There are no Doodys either.

On this day, November 14, 1918: Dad

My father, Edmund Francis Sheehan was born on this day 96 years ago, Thursday, November 14, 1918. The First World War had ended just three days prior- Dad’s Uncle Patrick and his cousin Harold Greene were still serving in the British and American armies, respectively. The influenza epidemic was raging in Massachusetts. Mom was still three years in the future, but her parents, my Grandfather Earl Dunn, and Nana were married and living in Rindge, New Hampshire, where they would have been mourning the death of Earl’s father Daniel, just two weeks before.

Dad’s neighborhood in 1922

Dad was probably born at home, which in 1918 would have been a tenement at 2 Union Place in Worcester. The building is no longer there, but the street still exists, just barely. When Dad was born, Union Place ran between Grafton and Providence Streets, just south of Posner Square. Nowadays the street overlooks the eastbound Grafton St. off-ramp from I-290, connecting the shortened Providence St. to Coral St.

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The Union Place area today
In 1918 the neighborhood was bustling with the flood of Irish, Polish and Jewish immigrants who had come seeking a better future. (I suspect Dad picked up some of his more colorful expressions from the neighborhood kids. I remember once when a driver cut him off in traffic, he yelled “you thick schlemiel!” This was long before I even knew there was a language called Yiddish.) Grandfather worked in a boot factory on Harding Street, while his brothers Edward (Uncle Ned) and Michael worked in the wire mills.

Most of the houses in the neighborhood were the typical three deckers that had been built by the thousands in the city during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The New Yorker writer S.N. Behrman, who grew up in the neighborhood in the years before Dad’s arrival, recalled it this way:

These triple-deckers, which straggled up our hill, were mostly sadly in need of paint jobs and their mass appearance was somewhat depressing. But in many other respects they were not so bad. They had balconies front and back, which we called piazzas. The yards in the back had fruit trees- cherry and pear and apple. We had more pear trees in our back yard at 31 Providence Street than Mr. Carnegie had in his at 91st and Fifth!

Dad was the sixth surviving child born to Nicholas and Mary (Casey) Sheehan. It’s possible that the couple had two more children who did not survive childhood. On the 1910 census, Mary was reported to have given birth to four children, of whom two were still alive.

1910 US Census
1910 census entry for the Sheehan family

That information is contradicted by the following entries, which list four living children- Francis (Uncle Frank), William, Thomas, and Mary (Aunt May). So it’s hard to say for sure. There is a five year gap between the birth of William in 1904, and May in 1909. Grandfather and Grandmother Sheehan would have just one additional child after Dad- his sister Helen, born in 1923. By that time, Dad’s oldest brother, Frank, was already 20, and living in Jacksonville. (Note: Since writing this entry I’ve found that there were indeed two additional children born to Nicholas and Mary.)

Dad’s generation is no longer with us, as far as I can tell. He passed away at the age of just 64 in 1983. His oldest sister, May, died in 1998, weeks after the death of Helen, the youngest. Dad’s last surviving cousin was Julia (Greene) Hackett, the daughter of Grandfather Sheehan’s sister Bridget. Julia died in 1999. Bridget was the first of our Sheehans to emigrate to America, arriving in 1890.

Grandfather Sheehan’s criminal record

I’ve posted the sad story of my great great grandfather, Daniel Dunn here- now it turns out that there might have been a little criminal history on the Sheehan side of the family, too. It’s not anything like the Dunn story, but it’s still interesting. It involves my Grandfather, Nicholas Sheehan, who was the older brother of Ellen Sheehan

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I’ve found two records that mention Nicholas in the “County Waterford Petty Sessions order books”, which recorded minor criminal prosecutions in the county. The first comes in October, 1900, five months before he emigrated to the USA. According to the order book, a Sergeant James Hogan of the Royal Irish Constabulary filed a complaint against Nicholas Sheehan of Carrickavantry, for assaulting William Power:

For that the defendant on Sunday the 21st October 1900 at Knockenduff in said county did unlawfully assault one William Power of Garrarus who has declined to prosecute the defendant

It apparently didn’t matter that William Power “declined to prosecute”- Nicholas was “Convicted and ordered to pay Ten shillings and Six pence and for costs three shillings”.

While I don’t have a specific record of Nicholas living in Carrickavantry, it is one of the townlands in the parish of Islandkane, along with Garrarus, and Ballyscanlan, where the Sheehan family lived according to the 1901 census. The same census, taken shortly after Nicholas left for America,, lists only one other Nicholas Sheehan in County Waterford. That Nicholas lived some distance away, in Cappoquin, so it’s unlikely that he was the miscreant in this case.

The next run in with the law came just a couple of months later, on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) 1900. On that day Constable Thomas Wilson arrested Nicholas:

For that the Defendant on Wednesday the 26th day of December 1900, in a Public Place at Main Street Tramore in said County had been found drunk.

He was convicted once again, and “ordered to pay for penalty one shilling and for costs one shilling and six pence. In default of payment to be imprisoned in Waterford Jail for one week.” Apparently drunkenness was a common offense- note that the recording clerk used a rubber stamp to make the entry in the record book:

grandfather drunk
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Just ten weeks later, on March 10, 1901, Nicholas left for America, sailing from Queenstown (Cobh), on board the Cunard liner Campania. His name is at the top of the passenger list, followed by one John Power- possibly a relative of the man he assaulted?

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It wouldn’t be surprising- the Power, Casey and Sheehan families had a number of family connections. After he arrived in America, Nicholas married Mary Casey. His sister Margaret, who had emigrated to Mechanicville NY ten years earlier, and paid for his passage, married Patrick Joseph Powers (most members of the Power family added an “s” to their surname after they emigrated). My grandmother’s sister, Bridget Casey, married David Powers in Mechanicville, while her brother David Casey married Mary Powers.

It’s probably just as well that Grandfather emigrated long before the age of instant communication- he might not have made it through Ellis Island if the authorities had known about his record!

Patrick Sheehan’s death certificate

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I received the death certificate for Patrick Sheehan recently. As often happens with eagerly anticipated family history documents, it offers some additional information, but doesn’t answer all the questions I thought it might.

First things first- I don’t believe there’s any doubt that the certificate is that of my grand uncle Patrick, the younger brother of my Grandfather Nicholas Sheehan, and of Ellen Sheehan. The entry under “occupation” reads “of Fenor, Waterford Ireland, Private Machine Gun Corps, Farm Labourer”. His age is recorded as 30, which agrees with the census records from 1901 and 1911. (It doesn’t match the age inscribed on his gravestone, 24- that still puzzles me, but, given the other evidence, I can only assume that the age on the gravestone was a mistake.)

The primary cause of Patrick’s death is listed as “tubercular empyema”. The condition, a complication of tuberculosis, is still difficult to treat, and often requires surgery as well as anti-tuberculosis drugs. In 1919, the drugs were still years off, and the surgical techniques not as advanced as today’s, so the mortality rate was high. Tuberculosis was endemic in the UK and Ireland at the time, taking 50,000 lives in 1916, and only increasing as the war dragged on.

While the death certificate confirms that Patrick died at Belton Park in Grantham, the headquarters of the Machine Gun Corps, it doesn’t offer any additional information on his experience during the war. Hopefully we’ll find out more eventually. Meanwhile, I’ve added this information to Patrick’s remembrance page at the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.

More on Patrick Sheehan and the Machine Gun Corps

Insignia of the Machine Gun Corps
Insignia of the Machine Gun Corps

I posted a while back about some additional information I’d found on our grand-uncle, Patrick Sheehan, who is buried in the Sheehan family plot in the Fenor Churchyard. Patrick was the brother of Ellen Sheehan, and of my grandfather, Nicholas Sheehan. His gravestone indicates that he was a member of the Machine Gun Corps in the British Army in World War I, and his grave is listed in the Commonwealth War Graves directory. The medal card I found online in April didn’t really provide much beyond confirming that Patrick did see active duty on the continent, so I contacted Graham Sacker at the Machine Gun Corps database web site to see if he might have any additional information on Patrick. The response was a bit disappointing (a large number of British military records, likely including Patrick’s, were destroyed when a German bombing raid struck the War Office repository in 1940), but provided useful background on the MGC, and how Patrick may have ended up in the corps: Continue reading “More on Patrick Sheehan and the Machine Gun Corps”

A new clue about Patrick Sheehan

Patrick Sheehan Medal CardWith all of the talk about the World War I centenary, it’s appropriate that I recently came across another piece of information about my grand uncle, Patrick Sheehan, who served in the Machine Gun Corps in the war. Patrick was the brother of my grandfather, Nicholas Sheehan, and of Ellen Sheehan. Patrick died in 1919, and he’s buried in the Fenor churchyard, next to the plot containing the graves of his sister Ellen, Ellen’s sons Maurice (Mossy), and Edmond (Kevin), and Edmond’s wife Joan (Wade) Sheehan. Patrick’s gravestone includes the insignia of the Machine Gun Corps, as well as his regimental number, 88773.

patricksheehangraveWhen I first saw the photo Leon took of the graves a couple of years ago, I thought that the number would be a key to discovering more about Patrick, but, unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Just as many American military records were destroyed in a 1973 fire at a St. Louis records center, many British military records were lost when, in 1940, the London building housing them was destroyed in the blitz. It doesn’t appear that Patrick’s records survived that fire.

So I was surprised to discover this “medal card” in the online records hosted by the UK National Archives, that includes Patrick’s name and regimental number. It doesn’t, unfortunately, add a great deal of information on its own. It does indicate that he was eligible for the Allied Victory, and British War medals. These were awarded to all who served in operational units in the war.

The medal card also contains a cross-reference to the actual “medal roll”- in this case, 10 1B58, page 4841. Sadly, the medal rolls themselves are not available online- you have to actually visit the archives at Kew to access them. While the rolls don’t include any detailed information about the individual, they would at least reveal the specific unit Patrick was assigned to, which might provide some additional leads to pursue.