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.

The Sheehans come to America: Bridget

Patrick and Bridget Sheehan had eleven children, and six of them emigrated to America- at least as far as I know at the moment. Here’s a short history…

I believe the first of the Sheehans to come to the US was Bridget, who was also the first born child in the family. Bridget was born in 1871, and probably emigrated in 1891- that’s the date given for her arrival on the 1900 US Census. In 1893 she was living in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in November of that year married Michael Greene, who was also a recent immigrant from Ireland. Their first child was a son, named James, born in 1894. A daughter, Mary, followed in 1896. Mary died from cholera infantum, shortly after her first birthday. Continue reading “The Sheehans come to America: Bridget”

The death of Mary Greene

Mary Greene was the first daughter of Michael and Bridget (Sheehan) Greene. Born in Worcester on 8 May, 1896, she died just a little over a year later, on 7 August, 1897. According to the Worcester death registry, the cause of death was “Cholera Infantum”. You might think that Cholera Infantum is just plain cholera when it infects a child, but in fact it was a specific disease, also called “Summer Complaint”, that could reach epidemic proportions among babies and very young children, especially in the overcrowded tenements of the late 19th century.

about-us-bottleIf you Google “Cholera Infantum”, you will eventually come across references to Pepto-Bismol. That’s because Pepto-Bismol was originally a concoction called “Bismosal Mixture Cholera Infantum”, which was specifically aimed at treating this disease.

This is from the Pepto-Bismol History Page:

Today, we think of how Pepto-Bismol soothes the digestive system after we’ve overindulged at a meal or eaten unfamiliar foods while traveling. But in its early days, Pepto-Bismol did more than comfort; it actually helped treat a very serious illness.

The medicine we now call Pepto-Bismol was originally developed at the start of the 20th century, when high standards of hygiene and sanitation weren’t as widespread as today. Looking to cure a frightening disease called “cholera infantum,” which struck infants suddenly, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes death, a doctor concocted a formula in his home that proved effective against these symptoms. The formula was made from pepsin, bismuth salicylate, zinc salts, salol, and oil of wintergreen, along with a colorant to make it pink, and he called it Mixture Cholera Infantum. (Researchers would later learn that cholera infantum was caused by a bacterial infection, treatable with antibiotics.)

Little Mary succumbed to the disease before Pepto-Bismol, and long before antibiotics. And she wasn’t the only one- of the twenty or so names on the same page of the death register, four were infants who died from Cholera Infantum.

Tragedy on Lake Quinsigamond

Greene family grave at St. John's WorcesterIn my last post I mentioned that St. John’s Cemetery had no record of Bridget (Sheehan) Greene, Grandfather Sheehan’s eldest sister, being buried there. This despite the fact that the Telegram death notices for Bridget and her husband Michael, both said that they were interred there.

I decided to give it another try last week, checking on the sons and daughters’ names as well, and guess what? The person I spoke to on the phone found Bridget right away!

Better still, she told me that there were a number of people buried in the plot- in addition to Bridget and Michael were their sons Harold and James, and daughters Nellie and Julia and their husbands. There was also an additional daughter- Mary, born in 1896, and died the following year. I visited the grave Saturday, and it occurred to me looking at the stone that Julia, who died in 1999, was buried there 102 years after her sister.

The stone also disproved one thought I’d entertained- that one or both of Bridget’s sons had died in World War I. I’d been unable to find either Harold or James in the 1930 census. I eventually found Harold in the 1920 census, living with his parents, but not James.

The cemetery records revealed that Harold had in fact died in 1930. I found his obituary in the Telegram, and learned that he died at the Rutland Heights Hospital, which was a veterans’ facility at the time. The newspaper story didn’t specify the cause of death, saying only that there had been a long illness. It did confirm that Harold had fought in “the Great War”, and that he had also seen action on the Mexican border in the hostilities that preceded that war.

The big surprise was James. Continue reading “Tragedy on Lake Quinsigamond”

Three more sisters for Grandfather Sheehan

Back in April I came across an old Rootsweb posting that led me to Grandmother Sheehan’s parents. I later found an earlier posting by the same individual that showed three marriages that had taken place between the Casey and Powers families in Stradbally. In addition to those marriages, one of the Powers siblings, Patrick, married Maggie Sheehan, and one of the Casey daughters, Mary, went on to marry Grandfather Nicholas Sheehan.

I’ve confirmed much of the information in the rootsweb postings, but discovered an apparent error when it came to Maggie Sheehan’s husband, Patrick Powers. Patrick died in 1962, and his obituary gives his parents’ names as Maurice and Margaret Scanlon Powers. The rootsweb post has Catherine McGrath as Patrick’s mother. I haven’t come up with a definite solution to the discrepancy- it’s possible that Catherine McGrath is an error, or that there were actually two Powers families involved. The person who posted the original messages told me by email that he no longer had any of the information he relied on for the posts.

I decided to try working backwards in time from the earliest record I had found of Patrick and Maggie, the 1910 census record. I eventually came across a 1900 census form that showed Patrick living with Maurice (Frank) Casey, and his wife Nora (Powers) Casey. Although the census form gives Patrick’s relationship to the head of household as “boarder”, I’m pretty sure he was Frank’s brother-in-law, and Nora’s brother.

Scanning up a few rows from Patrick I found none other than his future wife, Maggie Sheehan. And Maggie is said to be living in the household of a Michael J. Green and his wife Bridget. Maggie’s relationship to Michael? Sister-in-law! Which means that Bridget is Maggie’s (and Grandfather Sheehan’s) sister! The census gives Bridget’s birth date as July, 1872, which would make her, so far, the eldest of Grandfather’s siblings.

Needless to say, that changed the course of my research- I headed off in search of what happened to Bridget after 1900. I found her and Michael in 1910, not in Mechanicville, but, where else, Worcester. The 1911 Worcester City Directory lists a Michael J. Green living at 75 East Worcester St. Working back through the earlier directories, though, I came up with a Michael J. Green, wireworker, living at 2 Milton Place in 1905, the same address Nicholas F. Sheehan had occupied the year before!

Bridget and her husband Michael Green(e) had actually lived in Worcester prior to that date, and were married in Worcester in 1893. The two sons shown on the 1900 census were both born in Worcester, and the family was back in Worcester within a couple of years of 1900. So far, it looks like Bridget was probably the first Sheehan to settle in Worcester, followed by “Uncle Ned”, and then Grandfather Nicholas and his brother Michael.


Michael and Bridget Greene died in 1936, just a few months apart from each other. Bridget’s obituary in the Telegram says that she was very active in the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party, and had been a member of the Worcester Democratic City Committee. Mom has said that Grandfather had a sister that was very active in politics, and I had assumed that she was talking about Maggie in Mechanicville. After reading Bridget’s obituary, it seems more likely that she was the politically active sister Mom had heard about.

The obituary also added two more sisters for Grandfather- it says that among Bridget’s survivors were her sisters “the Misses Nellie and Julia Sheehan of Ireland”. Bridget’s two sons aren’t mentioned in the
obituary. At least one of Bridget’s sons served in the military in World War I (one of the organizations she belonged to was the “War Mothers”, which was formed during that war), so it’s possible that one
or both may have died in the war.

Bridget’s daughter Julia became a kindergarten teacher, and taught in the Worcester schools for 40 years. She died in 1999 at the age of 92. Daughter Nellie worked for the telephone company, and died in 1991.
Neither Julia or Nellie had any children. There was also a daughter named Margaret, born in 1901. She married Timothy Hally, but I haven’t found any information on her after the 1920 census.

One mystery is that while both Bridget and Michael’s obituaries say they were to be buried in St. John’s Cemetery, when I called the cemetery office to check the location, they said there was no record of either of them being interred there. Bridget’s obituary also says that she left three grand-children, so there may be some of her descendants around still, descended from Margaret, or one of the sons. Bridget’s obituary and marriage record both give her mother’s maiden name as Bridget Doody, which sounds more likely than the Marguerite Doody given in Uncle Ned’s obituary in 1960.

Another possible veteran of the Revolution

In the previous post about Solomon Shippey’s service in the Revolution, I mentioned that he’s the only veteran of that war that I’ve found so far. Today I came across a record that might indicate that the elder Stephen Cogswell, another of my fourth great grandfathers, may also have served in that war, albeit briefly.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the War of the Revolution”, an index published in 1898, has this:

Cogswell, Stephen. Private, Capt. Joshua Whitney’s co., Col. Josiah Whitney’s regt.; service from July 31, 1778, to Sept. 14, 1778, 1 mo. 15 days, at Rhode Island. Roll dated Worcester.Stephen

Stephen would have been 19 at the time, probably living with his parents in Paxton. If this is our Stephen Cogswell, it would mean that he served in the unsuccessful attempt to push the British off Aquidneck (Rhode) Island, which became known as the Battle of Rhode Island. The battle concluded on August 29, 1778, with the British still in control of Newport, which might explain the brevity of Stephen’s service.

On this day. May 13, 1794

Today is the birthday of Lucy Seaver, born on this day in 1794, probably in Holden. In 1812, at the age of 17, Lucy married Eriel S. Rider of Fitchburg. Rider doesn’t seem to have been around for long- eight years later, in 1820, Lucy Rider marries again- this time to Stephen Cogswell of Paxton. Stephen and Lucy had six children, and after farming in Rutland and Worcester (and possibly Glocester Rhode Island?), moved, in 1854, to Dublin New Hampshire.

Another Cogswell mystery?

Rufus Cogswell’s story is a particularly sad one, and it may be even sadder than I thought, and also more mysterious.

Rufus was the son of Stephen and Lucy Cogswell. His sister was Lydia, who married Leonard Smith, and was my great great great grandmother. He apparently moved to Dublin at the same time as his parents, in 1854. By 1860, Rufus, then 31, had married Elmira (Knowlton) Moore, a widow with three children by her first husband, James Moore.

Rufus and Elmira had two children of their own, Nathan and Milton. Milton died at the age of sixteen, but Nathan became a farmer, first in Dublin, and later West Swanzey, and was still alive at the time of the 1930 census, when he was 69 years of age.

In September of 1862, Rufus enlisted to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War. Two weeks after he enlisted, he was dead. Not from combat, but from disease. He had only made it as far as Washington DC, and that is where he was buried, in the Old Soldier’s Home cemetery, the first national veteran’s cemetery in the US. Elmira was widowed for the second time.

What I didn’t know about Rufus was that Elmira may not have been his first wife. While reviewing the 1850 census for information about Rufus’s parents, Stephen and Lucy Cogswell, who at the time were living in Worcester, I notice some additional Cogswells on the same form- a Rufus Cogswell, and his wife and daughter, both named Lucy. The daughter was three months old, the wife 21, and Rufus 23.

Searching marriage records, I found a record of a marriage on July 5, 1846, in Thompson, Connecticut, between Lucy A. Blackmore of Thompson, and Rufus Cogswell of Glocester, Rhode Island. There isn’t definitive proof that this Rufus and Lucy are the same couple listed on the census in Worcester four years later, but it seems likely, especially given another marriage listed on the same page, from 1842- between Mason Cogswell of Worcester and Abigail Swan of Thompson. Rufus had a brother Mason, who farmed in Worcester, and whose wife was named Abby.

If this is the same Rufus Cogswell, it might mean that the family lived in Glocester, which is just east of Killingly, where the Smiths lived. That might explain the subsequent marriage between Leonard Smith and Lydia Cogswell, Rufus’s sister, that has always puzzled me.

But if it is the same Rufus, it creates another mystery- what happened to his wife and daughter?

Grandfather Sheehan’s brother Edward

Having learned about Dad’s spinster cousins yesterday, I tried to find some more information on their father: Dad’s uncle, and Grandfather’s brother, Edward. According to his draft registration in 1918, his full name was Edward Frank Sheehan. If Frank was short for Francis, that makes you wonder if all the boys in the family had that as their middle name. That was Grandfather’s middle name, and it may have been Michael’s as well, since his middle initial is “F”.

The draft registration gives Edward’s address as 1 Milton St., which is just a short distance from the house at 2 Milton Place, where Grandfather lived next door to Michael Sheehan in 1904. Grandfather Sheehan’s draft registration forms indicate that he was missing part of the third finger on his right hand. Coincidentally, Edward’s form, though hard to read, appears to say “First two fingers right hand are bad”.

Which may have had something to do with his employment: in 1918 Edward worked for the American Steel and Wire Company, at the South Works on Millbury Street.

Possibly because of a decline in work at the steel mill, Edward left to become a fireman at the Reed and Prince Screw works off Cambridge St. by 1930. He worked there into his 60’s, and apparently retired sometime before 1950, when he is listed in the Worcester City Directory without an occupation.

Earl Dunn Sr.’s place of business

Uncle Bud told me that his father owned a building at 6 Claremont St., near Clark University, and operated his roofing business out of it. Here’s a picture of the building, (barely recognizable under the siding and weeds), along with Bud’s memories:

“[Dad] went into business for himself in 1932 or 1933.  He was operating his business from the building he owned at 6 Claremont St. in Worcester.  This was a two story brick building with a basement and a distinctive mansard roof.  It was on the east side of Claremont about a half block north of Main Street…. You entered from Claremont St. and there was a driveway from the property exiting on Silver Street. Dad bought the building sometime around 1940 or 1941…  His sheet metal shop was in the basement and we parked the trucks on the ground floor level.  He rented a part of the building to the distributor for Schuler’s Potato Chips, and he used to bring home large cans of potato chips.  The brick building on the corner was the Home for Wayward Girls, a Catholic institution that provided a home and birthing place for unwed mothers”

“…sad to see the Claremont St. building in the sad shape it’s in.  It was a very stately and stout brick building, and the vertical surfaces of the mansard roof were slate… I went there every day after school to work in the shop and answer the phone for Dad.  Classes at Classical High ended at 1:00 P.M. and I would walk to the shop and work until Dad came back from the day’s job and I’d ride home with him.”