Monday, March 21, 2016

Mystery Monday: Margaret, Is That You?

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.

It seems every other day I am blogging about my inability to identify these people. 

Unknown family of Mary Theresa Sheehan Walsh New York 1921
New York 1921
Children are "Bob" or "Barbie" and John Jr.
Poodle is named "Cutey"

I know the children are “Bob” or “Barbie” and John Jr. They are frequently pictured with the woman on the left and that poodle. The young woman in the center is likely their mother, leaving the woman on the left to be a candidate for grandmother. The woman on the right might be a sister to the grandmother and thus aunt to the young mother and grandaunt to the children.

But who the heck were they??
Unknown sister of Mary Theresa Sheehan Walsh with John Jr and Bob plus Cutey
Unknown sister of Mary Theresa Sheehan Walsh with John Jr and Bob plus Cutey


Since I already know my great grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh’s family as well as the families for her sisters Elizabeth Sheehan Byrnes and Delia Sheehan Christian, and her brother Denis Sheehan, possibly the women were Mary Theresa’s other sisters Margaret Sheehan and Johanna Sheehan, or maybe even the wife of her brother John Sheehan.

Josie with John Jr. and Bob
Josie with John Jr and "Bob"
The children are pictured only one other time with the woman on the right in the first photo. In that one picture, she is identified as “Josie.” Maybe that is a nickname for Johanna. Or not. Since Josie does not seem to be the one MOST related to the children, I decided to focus some attention on Margaret as my #1 suspect prospect for Bob and John Jr’s mother or grandmother.

For a while, I was convinced that Margaret was Mrs. Thomas Creamer, the woman listed right after Delia Christian on a list of passengers traveling to and from Ireland in 1936. Surely Delia would not have made that trip alone to visit family left behind in Ireland.

Travel document for Delia Christian and Margaret Creamer
from FamilySearch

Travel document Delia Christian and Margaret Creamer

My theory was strengthened when I found a birth record for her children in which Margaret’s maiden name was identified as Sheehan.

And then the terrible news: a death record named Margaret’s parents as Martin Sheehan and Johanna Kiely.  It is not unusual for family members to be mistaken about the facts, but these names are just too far off the mark from Daniel Sheehan and Bridget Gorman.

Back to the drawing board, as they say.

As I was preparing this post, I gave FamilySearch another shot at making me a happy girl. I must have entered my search terms differently this time because up popped a marriage record for Margaret Sheehan and John Nagle.
Marriage record Margaret Sheehan and John Nagle
Marriage record Margaret Sheehan and John Nagle
from FamilySearch

The convincing detail is the name of her parents. Evidently someone could not read her mother’s name but those letters look like they belong to “O’Gorman” (or just plain “Gorman”).

Pinning down the right family has been a challenge – it is surprising how many couples were named John and Margaret Nagle – but I do think I found them.

In 1905 the young Nagles lived on East 101st Street in Manhattan. They had one daughter, Marie age 1.

Five years later they were at the same address. John was a bank attendant. I do not take reports of age too seriously in census records, but I noticed that the ages of John and Margaret widened. Also Margaret’s date of immigration year was listed as 1896 instead of 1893 as previously reported. There were now three children, Mary, Margaret, and Richard.

1910 Manhattan, New York

I could not find the family in either the 1915 or 1925 census.

By 1920 the child count was up to six with Mary, Margaret, Richard, John, Helen, and Maurice. John was working as special police for the bank. Margaret’s immigration date changed once again, this time to 1894 and a date of 1898 for naturalization. They rented a home on Van Sicklen Avenue in Brooklyn.
1920  123 Van Sicklen Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Nagles' Van Sicklen Ave home on the right
from Google Maps
In 1930 they were still on Van Sicklen Avenue. John was a Floorman for the bank. Daughter Mary was gone, likely married. Daughter Margaret was a typist for the bank. Richard and John were clerks at a printing company.

The next census in 1940 brought a surprise. John was listed as married, but “7” was penciled in beside the “M.” That symbol denoted separation or pending divorce. Margaret was not in the household. Unlike typical divorces where children side with the mother, all the children were with their father (except Mary, of course, who was still likely married).

1940 123 Van Sicklen Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Maybe the Margaret Nagle at 1064 Madison Ave in Manhattan was our Margaret. She claimed to be widowed, but even as late as 1940, women often claimed to be widowed rather than expose the shame of divorce.

What became of Margaret Nagle after 1940? I do not know. However, I managed to find a few tidbits about the children.
  • Mary married a man by the name of McManus, as proven by her death record dated 23 April 1989. The record names her parents John Nagle and Margaret Sheehan. I found two possibilities for a spouse in the 1930 census – Richard or Hugh. There were several other Mary and Somebody McManus, but the details of birth and parents’ births match only these two. Fortunately a Christmas card in Mary Theresa’s scrapbook set this record straight: she married Richard.

  • Richard died in 1993 in Highstown, Mercer, New Jersey.
  • John Jr. died 1 September 1983 in New York. He is buried in the Calverton National Cemetery for veterans. He had served in the Army.
  • Maurice died 29 January 1989 and is likewise buried in the Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton, New York. He too served in the Army.

While I am confident I have found the family of my great-grandmother’s sister Margaret, I am disappointed that I still do not know the identity of the family with the poodle. This cannot be Margaret’s family. Why? Because none of her children fit the names and birth years of the mystery children John Jr. and “Bob,” and because her children were too young to be parents about 1917.

Maybe the mystery children and poodle belonged to Mary Theresa’s brother John Sheehan. How many John Sheehans could there be in New York? One or two? I wish. More likely hundreds.  


My guardian angel Dara of Black Raven Genealogy couldn’t believe Margaret would be divorced because she was an Irish woman and Catholic to boot. So Dara went hunting and found a death record. (Why did this record NOT come up when I searched?) Margaret died in May 1934. The address was still Van Sicklen Avenue in Brooklyn.
from FamilySearch
So what about that “M7” code signaling that John Nagle was possibly divorced? He had been a widower for over five years. One explanation I found was that the “7” was often added later by someone going over the enumerator’s records to indicate that a spouse was not included in the household despite one member claiming to be married. It might have been a separation, a pending divorce, an indication that the spouse was away for some reason (such as being hospitalized). Or it could even mean that the enumerator was lied to, that the person was not really married at all. Richard was the informant; surely he knew his mother was deceased, but perhaps in his mind, his father WAS married.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Wendy, I enjoyed your photos and your commentary about trying to solve the mystery! I do have a question: My hubby's family has Shehen/Shehan ancestors living in London circa 1830, with a birthplace of quote Ireland unquote around 1801. Brick wall for me. Any idea where your Sheehans might have come from in Ireland? Thanks, Marian

    1. They were from Limerick. We had always been told Cork. Maybe they were close to the county line. I will email you.

  2. I'm betting lots of John Sheehans out there! Sounds like a very common name. I admire you being able to keep all these things straight and trying to unravel the pieces!


    1. Oh yes - lots of them. I have a Christmas card signed "John, Bridget, Bill and Margaret," so I will start by looking for John Sheehans with a wife named Bridget. They could be someone else totally, but at least it's a place to start.

  3. Well done, Wendy, you're sorting them all out, family by family. I wonder if Margaret Creamer was a cousin?

    1. I wonder too. I made a note to see if Daniel and Martin were brothers possibly.

  4. Typical - one piece of new information leads to many more questions. Grrrrrr.

    1. Will there ever be a day when we will have no more questions?

  5. Genealogist helping genealogist----love that Dara was able to step in and help solve that mystery. The thing that always kills me about pictures without names on them is the fact that it was quite a bit more expensive to take pictures and have them developed back then. They weren't always snapping pictures like people do today, so I know these people and events were meaningful for the ones who took the pictures! I don't have many pictures, but of those I do have, many have no names on them. Seems to me you've been slowly but surely piecing together your picture puzzles and have successfully figured out a good number of them however.

    1. I guess my "success" has been in identifying who the picture is NOT.