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 three decker 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 Sheehan 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 census 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 sadly, no longer with us. 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, and is buried in St. John’s Cemetery. Bridget, her mother, was the first of our Sheehans to emigrate to America, arriving in 1890.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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The Story of Daniel Dunn

I don’t know exactly when or where Daniel Dunn, my great great grandfather, was born. Based on later records like census returns and marriage certificates, it was somewhere in Ireland, around the year 1844. His father’s name was also Daniel- his mother’s name was Ann. This information comes from the earliest document connected with Daniel that I’ve found so far, the Cambridge, Massachusetts marriage registry. On July 2 1865, Daniel and Mary Ledwick of Somerville were married. Mary’s parents are recorded as James and Mary Ledwick. Daniel was 20, his bride 19. Continue reading

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Finding Uncle William

When I started researching the family history, I managed to figure out the basics of all of Dad’s siblings except for his brother William. He was Grandfather and Grandmother Sheehan’s second child, born in Worcester in 1904. The only other fact I knew in the beginning was that our cousin Rusty was his daughter. Rusty’s real name was Eleanor, (probably named after Grandfather’s sister Ellen) and we used to see her and her husband George Brunt when we’d visit Florida. I remember being confused when Mom told me Rusty was my cousin, because she seemed to be close to Mom’s age (she was born in 1928). To me that made her an aunt, not a cousin!

William married Helen Gaffney sometime in the early 1920’s. In addition to Rusty, they had another daughter, Mary, born in 1926. In later years, Mary lived in Grafton, and I remember visiting her house with Mom and Dad when I was younger. There was also a son, Thomas, born in 1929, who became a very successful lawyer and insurance executive. The family appear in the 1930 census, living in Worcester. William was 25, and worked as an office clerk at a “loom works”, probably Crompton & Knowles. That was the last record I could find prior to the 1940 census being released in 2012. Continue reading

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My DNA gets refined

A year or so ago I had my DNA analyzed by Ancestry.com in the hopes of learning more about our family’s history. The results were slightly underwhelming- but the other day I received an updated analysis that’s pretty interesting. Continue reading

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May 26 1877- Grandmother Mary Casey Sheehan is born


Ballaghavorraga (Ballymarket), County Waterford. Photo from Google Street View

One hundred and thirty six years ago today, on May 26 1877, Mary Casey was born in a little village called Ballaghavorraga (or Ballymarket) in County Waterford. Mary was the sixth child born to Michael and Anastasia (Morrissey) Casey. In 1891, at the age of just 14 years, Mary emigrated to the US, settling in the railroad village of Mechanicville NY, where she worked as a domestic servant in the home of a prominent factory owner.

Several members of the Casey, Powers and Sheehan families moved to Mechanicville in the following years, including, in 1901, Nicholas Sheehan. Mary and Nicholas were married in Mechanicville on May 21 1902. Their first child, Francis Patrick Sheehan, aka “Uncle Frank” was born in Mechanicville the following year. Shortly after that, the family moved to Worcester, where Nicholas’s brother Edward (“Uncle Ned”), and sister Bridget had settled.

Nicholas and Mary lived in Worcester until 1951 when they retired to Florida, along with their daughters May, Helen, and Kathleen. Mary died in Coral Gables Florida in 1962.

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Happy Birthday Uncle Bud

unclebudEarl Lernard Dunn was born on this day in 1926, in Winchendon, Massachusetts.

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