Monday, March 28, 2016

Mystery Monday: Hiding in Plain Sight

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that encourages bloggers to write about mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in their genealogy and family history research which is currently unsolved.

During the month of March, I am remembering my Irish ancestors by writing about my recent discoveries. The stories still qualify for “Mystery Monday” as there are so many questions yet unanswered.

Making my way through the sisters and brothers of my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh, I took a deep breath and launched into the search for brother John Sheehan. It did not take long for frustration to set in. Every John Sheehan born in the mid-1860s and living in New York seemed like a likely prospect.

Temporarily abandoning all hope of finding John Sheehan, I shifted my attention to Johanna Sheehan, the oldest daughter of Daniel Sheehan and Bridget Gorman.

At FamilySearch, I entered the barebones of information: a name, an exact year of birth in Ireland, residence New York, and parents’ names. In seconds, there she was. It was a birth record for someone I had never heard of naming the mother “Johanna Shehan Hederman.” It was 1897 and Johanna was 36 years old.

Realizing this Johanna was born in 1861 just like MY Johanna, I then searched for Johanna Hederman. Was I shocked to see the census for 1900! Of all things, she was living in the same apartment building as who else but my great-grandmother. I must have looked at the Hederman family dozens of times while compiling information about Mary Theresa, but the name meant nothing.

1900 Census Bronx, New York

So why didn’t I think to apply the FAN theory to begin with? Delving into Family/Friends, Associates, and Neighbors is indeed a crucial step in learning about our ancestors. However, I learned of Johanna only weeks ago, thanks to Dara of Black Raven Genealogy.

Johanna had been hiding in plain sight all along. It is time to bring her out in the open.

She was baptized on March 10, 1861 in the Ballingarry Diocese of Limerick, Ireland, so likely she was born about March 3 in the Castletown district of Croom, like the other Sheehan children.

Baptism record Johanna Sheehan 1861
Baptism record for Johanna Sheehan, daughter of Daniel Sheehan and Bridget Gorman
sponsors Thomas Gorman and Ellen Grady
from Catholic Parish Registers at

According to the 1900 census in Bronx, New York, Johanna arrived in the United States in 1883. Patrick Hederman came from Ireland as well and had been in the states for twenty-three years. The two had been married fifteen years (1885). While Patrick worked as a porter, Johanna kept house and cared for their two children Catherine (born 1887) and John (born 1896). They were the only two survivors of seven children born to the Hedermans.

By 1910, the Hedermans had moved from their apartment at 4024 Third Avenue in the Bronx to nearby 374 159th Street.
1910 Census Bronx, New York
Patrick took a job as a coffee roaster for a coffee company. John at age 14 was a “new boy” at what has been transcribed as “El Railroad.” A Mexican restaurant in a train car? Electric Rail? Misreading of something else? And maybe John was not a “NEW boy” but a “NEWS boy” selling newspapers. As for Catherine, she was gone, likely married.

In 1920, the family had moved yet again, this time to 3334 Ft. Independence Street in Bronx, still renting. Patrick was earning a living as a porter for a grocery store; John was a laborer in the building trade.
1920 Census Bronx, New York

Patrick was back to roasting coffee in the 1925 census and living with his family at 2333 Webster Avenue.

One more move – of record anyway – found the Hedermans at an apartment around the corner from Webster Avenue at 461 East 187th Street in the Bronx. At age 72, Patrick was retired. John no doubt contributed his pay as a brick handler to the family’s rent of $40.
1930 Census Bronx, New York

Patrick died July 12, 1932. Johanna probably died between 1930 and 1931 as she did not appear in the 1931 city directory, but Patrick and John both did.

Finding Johanna is bittersweet. I found her, yes, but I still have not solved the mystery of the family with the poodle and the children John Jr. and “Bob.” My hopes that son John Hederman was the father of the mystery children were dashed when I found him still single living at home in 1920. 

As for Catherine, a Christmas card sent to Mary Theresa and signed “Catherine Donnelly” lifted my spirits as I started imagining her with a husband named John Donnelly. She was certainly old enough to be mother to someone born in 1916. 

Catherine Donnelly Christmas card to Mary Theresa Sheehan Walsh before 1939

However, none of the three John and Catherine Donnelly couples matched the facts. Catherine married, for sure, but her husband was Charles Fraundorf. They married in 1908 and had one daughter named Gertrude.
1930 Census New York
note that the enumerator added "Limerick" to her parents' birthplace
Christmas card from Catherine Fraundorf and family
in the scrapbook of Mary Theresa Sheehan Walsh

If I am to identify those adorable mystery children and the woman with the poodle, I need to find John Sheehan. It will not be easy. Why should I expect otherwise?

Sheehan relatives New York 1921

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Amazing research you have to do and the coincidence of them living in the same building as your great grandmother, they say it's a small world.

  2. I had not heard of the 'FAN theor'y term before. I will have to remember that. Thanks!

  3. Somehow I believe with your determination you will find John one day.


  4. You have been so thorough I can't believe you haven't found him. Yet.

  5. I wonder if El could be elevated railroad?

    1. Yes, I think the "el" means the elevated- which was electric and used subway trains.

  6. Well done Wendy, you've nearly found all the siblings. Hopefully, John Jr and Bob will reveal themselves soon.

  7. Wendy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!