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.