Monday, April 24, 2017

Mystery Monday: Chasing John Sheehan Part 3 - John and Lizzie

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

Unknown man in 1918 with "John Jr."
Is this John Sheehan?

The 1892 New York City census for Brooklyn included the household of John and Lizzie Sheehan, both born in Ireland about 1862. John was a fireman, which made me think the mystery man in several photos might have been wearing a fireman’s uniform. The couple had three daughters: Mary – 7, Margaret – 4, and Annie – 6.

John and Lizzie Sheehan 1892 Brooklyn, NY census
1892 Brooklyn, NY census
So let’s look at this family through the years as recorded in the census records.

In 1900, there was no John and Lizzie to be found. I even tried Eliza and Elizabeth, but no couples matched the family of 1892. FamilySearch offered up a death record for one Annie Sheehan, age 11, with parents John and Lizzie Sheehan. However, her age is not consistent with the Annie of 1892.

There is something peculiar about that census that makes me suspect the enumerator made an error. Usually children are listed chronologically, but in 1892 Annie was listed as the third child but was older than the second child. If the enumerator entered the names and ages incorrectly, this could be the Annie of 1892.

In 1905, the only John and Lizzie were parents of 4 children: John Jr. - 14, Nellie - 7, James – 5, and William - 2. If this is the right John and Lizzie, why was John Jr. not enumerated in 1892 and where were Mary and Margaret? Possibly they were married by then and out on their own.  Or maybe this is a different family.
John and Lizzie Sheehan 1905 Brooklyn, NY census
1905 Brooklyn, NY census

Yet this same family appeared in the 1910 Queens, New York census. John’s date of birth was 1866, not the expected 1862 or 63. He had changed careers from a laborer at the brick yard to longshoreman. Lizzie reported 4 of 6 children living. However, if this was the same John and Lizzie from 1892, she should have reported 4 of 7 children living. The gap between the ages of John Jr. and Ellen (Nellie) suggests the missing children were from that period. If so, then this is definitely a different John and Lizzie from the 1892 couple.
John and Lizzie Sheehan 1910 Queens, NY census
1910 Queens, NY census

Another John and Lizzie family appeared in Manhattan along with their 5 children. Four of the five were born in Ireland, and the family had been in the United States only since 1904, so this is definitely NOT the family I am trying to track.

New York 1918
Trip to New York 1918
My grandaunt Lillie Killeen in the backseat with "John Jr."
In 1915, John and Lizzie of Queens and their 4 children had moved from High Street to Nurge Street. John was no longer a longshoreman; instead he worked as a laborer with cement. Son John was a chauffeur and son James was a messenger boy. Nellie was a nurse girl, which probably meant she took care of other people’s children. This census made me sit up and take notice because of John Jr’s job as a chauffeur. Among the photos passed down to me from my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh are photos of family in a car with a chauffeur. That might mean nothing, but it could be something.

And with that, John and Lizzie sightings come to an end. There are a few records worth mentioning, however. Italiangen and Ancestry both list a marriage for John Sheehan and Lizzie Latts on 29 August 1886. That date fits well with the John and Lizzie of 1905-15 but less so with the couple of 1892 with the daughter born in 1885, assuming the age and date were accurate. BUT – and it’s a BIG BUT – FamilySearch shows a marriage on the same date between John Sheehan and Lizzie PATTS. John’s parents were John Sheehan and Bridget Russell. MY John Sheehan was son of Daniel Sheehan and Bridget Gorman.

FamilySearch has some birth records for children born to John Sheehan and Lizzie Patts:
  • Margaret 1889 Manhattan (mother listed as Elizabeth Patts)
  • Lizzie 1891 Manhattan
  • May 1894 Mahattan

However, these names and dates do not resemble the families in any of these census records. Furthermore, they also do not appear in any other census records with parents named John and Lizzie.

FamilySearch has death records for several children whose parents were named John and Lizzie Sheehan:
  • John born 1887 and died 1887; no mention of a cemetery
  • William born 1888 and died 1888; buried at Calvary
  • Agnes born 1894 and died 1895; buried at Calvary
  • Annie who died in 1899 was buried at Holy Cross.

FamilySearch also has death records for a Lizzie Sheehan who died a widow in 1906. That is obviously not the Lizzie who was alive and well in 1915.

1.       Of the two couples named John and Lizzie Sheehan who closely fit my research parameters, the one from 1892 is not the one from 1905-1915.
2.       John and Lizzie Patts/Latts Sheehan are not my family as proven by the marriage record which provided the names of John’s parents.
3.       If Lizzie Patts/Latts was the widow who died in 1906, I can eliminate the 1892 family altogether and perhaps pursue the children of the 1905-15 couple for more clues.
4.       John Sheehan of 1905-1915 did not work in jobs that required a uniform, so even if he is MY John Sheehan, he is not the unidentified man in the photo.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sepia Saturday: Pep and Go

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo is of some girls on Sports Day at their school in 1907 although I have no idea what umbrellas had to do with Sports Day. It certainly looks like it was sunny. That aside, the sports theme gives me the perfect opportunity to write about a certain photo from the scrapbook that my grandaunt Velma Davis Woodring created during her two years at Harrisonburg Teachers College (now James Madison University - GO DUKES!).

Bernice Marshall Jenkins Giles 1925
Bernice Marshall Jenkins
March 1925

This is not my grandaunt Velma. It is a girl who likely lived in Velma’s dorm, Wellington Hall pictured here. Everything about this photo intrigues me from that smart tie to the neatly pressed and creased knickers to those shoes which look completely inappropriate for tennis. The way she is holding the tennis racket makes me think she might play a tune on the strings.

But it’s the expression on her face that I keep going back to. Was she sad? Was she just serious?
Yearbook photo 1926

So who was she? Using the 1926 HTC yearbook, called The Schoolma’am, I studied the faces of every girl who parted her hair on the left and played on a tennis team. My conclusion: Bernice Marshall Jenkins. Had she worn glasses for her yearbook photo, I would feel more confident, but the curly hair, the mouth, the chin, and even the general shape of her face resemble the sad or pensive face in the snapshot.

The group photo of the Pinquet Tennis Team provides another look at Bernice that bolsters my confidence that I found the right one. So for now, Bernice Jenkins it is – that is, until some family member stumbles into my blog and tells me I’m wrong.

Pinquet Tennis Club Harrisonburg Teachers College 1925
Bernice is seated last right 

The quote attached to Bernice’s yearbook photo strikes me as ironic.

“Quite the jolliest girl we know,
Full of pep and lots of go.”

Jolly? Really? Whodathunk? Her activities likewise depict a kind of energy and school spirit completely absent from any of her photos in either Velma’s scrapbook or the school yearbook.

Delving into Bernice’s past – which is what I do! – I found little to explain either the serious countenance or the jovial reputation. She was the youngest of nine children born to James and Minnie Jenkins of South Boston, Virginia. Her father was a tobacco buyer. Of course he was! South Boston is in the heart of tobacco country in Southside Virginia.

Bernice shows up faithfully in the 1910 and 1920 census, but she is noticeably absent in 1930 and 1940. However, in 1940 she and her HUSBAND Jesse Giles appear on a passenger list arriving in Tampa, Florida from Havana, Cuba. Honeymoon trip?
Jesse and Bernice Giles Passenger List from Cuba to Tampa 1940
Passenger List 1940
from Havana, Cuba to Tampa, Florida

Jesse Giles was a native of North Carolina. Born in 1900, he registered for the draft in 1917. His job at the time was Assistant Clerk of the Court. At 17??? In 1930, age 30, he was still unmarried and living at home with his widowed mother. His job – sculptor. Sculptor??

The two next appear in Florida’s 1945 census. She was a teacher and he worked for the government. (I guess that sculpturing gig didn’t work out.)
1945 Florida Census, Hillsborough County
A contributor on reported that Bernice taught in Tampa, Florida for 20 years and served as secretary of the Hillsborough County Education Association for 8 years. She also was an editor of “The Teacher” magazine.

Bernice outlived her husband by 25 years. “Home” was still Tampa, Florida. However, as she got older, she must have returned to Virginia to be nearer family. She died in a nursing home in Richmond in 1985, just shy of her 80th birthday.

Be a sport and visit Sepia Saturday for more stories full of pep and go.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mystery Monday: Chasing John Sheehan Part 2 - John and Bridget

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

John Jr. held by unknown man New York 1918
Is this John Sheehan
with John Jr?

Last summer I took three online courses through DAR in preparation for my upcoming role as Registrar of my local DAR chapter. One of our assignments was to distinguish four men with the same name in order to determine which one or ones could be credited with patriotic service. We were given an assortment of documents to analyze and apply as our evidence. It occurred to me that maybe I could apply the same process to finding John Sheehan, oldest brother of my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh.

In this case, it is not going to be easy. First of all, I do not know whether John even left Ireland. For now, I am going on the assumption that he did, and since all of his sisters immigrated to New York, I will assume he did the same. For now anyway. I am sure people smarter than I am could suggest a more logical approach to this exercise. I don’t have one, so I am just jumping in with the hopes that I will find my way and not merely hop around looking at this John Sheehan and that one without good reason.

The 1892 census in New York offered a couple candidates all living in Brooklyn. I recall my own grandmother and grand aunts talking about visiting family in Brooklyn. Maybe one of these John Sheehans was one of them.

John and Lizzie Sheehan 1892

#1 – John and Lizzie, both born in Ireland. While this John is 30 years of age, it is a year older than expected if he truly remembered his birthday was June 1863. However, his occupation as a fireman makes me wonder if the uniform on my mystery man was that of a fireman. Also, the girls are of the right age to be married and a mother by 1917 IF my mystery man was indeed John Sheehan and grandfather to my mystery children, John Jr. and Bob/Bobie.

John and Ellen Sheehan 1892
#2 – John and Ellen, both born in Ireland. This John is only 27, suggesting a birth year of 1865, which seems too far off the mark if John knew his birthdate as clearly as his sisters did. His occupation as a laborer is contrary to the photo of my mystery man; of course, that is assuming the photo is of John Sheehan. My main objection to this family is the name following this family: “James Sheehan.” My guess is he was John’s brother, based on their ages and the fact that there was a child also named James in John and Ellen’s family. My John Sheehan had no such brother, so I will ignore this family.

John and Bridget Sheehan 1892
#3 – John and Bridget, both born in Ireland. This John Sheehan was 29, suggesting a birth year of 1863, matching that of my John Sheehan exactly. While I usually allow a fuzzy birthdate and age for most people, my Irish great-grandmother and her sisters seemed always to know exactly the month and year they were born, so I hope John was equally aware. What I like about this record is that first of all, John and his wife Bridget were living in Brooklyn, the same place two of Mary Theresa’s sisters lived. Second, this John Sheehan was a driver, which I take to mean either a chauffeur or perhaps a cable car driver. Does the uniform worn by this unknown man - who I hope is John Sheehan - be that of a driver?

So let’s follow this family through the census records.

John and Bridget, Brooklyn 1900
1900 – The John and Bridget at 416 Grove Street in Brooklyn may or may not be the same family. John’s birthdate appeared as June (good sign!) 1861 (grr – bad sign), not 1863. Worse than that though is that Bridget was 7 years younger than her husband rather than only 2 as in 1892. They had been married 11 years. She claimed 0 of 1 child living. That means probably the time is up for this John to be a grandfather to John Jr. in 1917. I still have hope because John’s occupation was railroad conductor which seems a reasonable career move from “Driver.”

John and Bridget, Brooklyn 1905
1905 – John and Bridget closed the gap in their age difference with him 45 and her 43. Still, that puts his birth year at 1860, not 1863. BUT he was a “motorman,” suggesting this is the same family as the one from 1900.

But wait! Here is another John and Bridget. This pair lived in Manhattan where John worked as a
John and Bridget #2, Manhattan 1905
Groom, evidently taking care of horses used in transportation or hauling of goods. They had 5 children between the ages of 3 and 19, all born in the United States. Now I wonder why they did not show up in the 1892 or 1900 census.

1910 – John and Bridget were enumerated with the fancy spelling “Scheehan.” John was a streetcar
John and Bridget, Brooklyn 1910
conductor, and once again Bridget reported 0 of 1 child living, assuring me I am tracking the same family, whether or not they are mine. In the household were a nephew, John J. Fogarty, probably from her side of the family (that is, IF this is my family), and two boarders. Agewise, John was closer to matching the 1863 birth year as he was listed as 48, but he aged only three years since the previous census five years before.

The John and Bridget of Manhattan along with their five children moved to Queens. John was retired from the stables. The three oldest children were working.

Bridget Sheehan, Brooklyn 1920
I could not find either John and Bridget couple in 1915, but in 1920, the first Bridget was a widow. In her household were her nephews, the Fogarty boys, James and John.
John Jr. and Unknown man
Photo was captioned
New York 1921

Conclusion: The John Sheehan with a wife named Bridget is NOT the man in the photo because he appears in photos dated after 1920. The man in the photo is either a different John Sheehan or someone else altogether.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mystery Monday: Chasing John Sheehan

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

Over the past couple of years, I have done just about all the online research I can do on the siblings of my father’s maternal grandmother and my great grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh. There is one brother left to tackle: John Sheehan. I have put him off far too long. Isn’t the reason obvious? That name! Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is named John Sheehan.

This is what I know: John Sheehan was born June 1863 in Croom, County Limerick, Ireland. He was the second child and first son of Daniel Sheehan and Bridget Gorman. On 28 June, 1863, he was baptized. Witnesses were Michael and Elizabeth Sheehan.

John Sheehan Baptism record 1863
From Catholic Parish Registers 

This is what I DON’T know: Just about everything. However, just to narrow that down a bit, I don’t know if John even left Ireland. His brother Denis remained in the motherland while all the girls immigrated to New York. So if John did, in fact, precede or follow his sisters, did he live in New York or somewhere else?

This is what I WANT to know: Just about everything. However, just to narrow that down a bit, is this John Sheehan? 

John Jr 1918 and unknown man New York
John Jr 1918 New York
John Jr in the basin about 1917; man unknown
John Jr. in the basin 1917 New York

John Jr about 1921 with unknown man  New York
John Jr about 1921
If so, how is he related to the children identified in photos as John Jr. (born about 1917) and “Bob” (a girl, born about 1919)? There are a few pictures of him with them, but more often the children are pictured with a woman who could be a wife or sister.

My plan in the coming weeks is to examine census records and whatever else might be available to help answer these burning questions. Even if I don’t come to a logical conclusion, maybe I will at least eliminate some of the possibilities.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sepia Saturday: Angels with Devil Horns

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

Leo Slade and Fred Slade Portsmouth, VA 1937
Leo and Fred (my dad) 1937
(not quite the right age to be an altar boy yet!)
Like the three boys in this week’s Sepia Saturday photo, my dad and his brother served as altar boys when they were young.  That was in the 1930s at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in downtown Portsmouth, Virginia. At that time they (and their parents) were living with their grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh, a VERY Irish, VERY Catholic matriarch. She loved those boys and was determined to see to it they were raised right. That meant they received a proper education at the Catholic school and they served the Church. Likely most of the boys that were in Daddy’s class at St. Joseph’s Academy were altar boys too.

The role of altar boy was an important one. He carried the cross and processional candles; he held the book for the priest; he carried the incense and censer; he rang the altar bell; he presented the bread, wine and water to the priest, and he washed the priest's hands as well. The altar boy was instructed thoroughly in all parts of the Mass and responded IN LATIN to the priest’s prayers. He also joined in the chants of the liturgy. During Mass, he displayed proper reverence at all times to set a good example for the congregation to help them be more reverent too.

As an assistant to the priest, an altar boy was expected to be well-behaved in general, not just in church.

But boys will be boys.

One day at school, Daddy and his friends held one of the boys by his ankles and lowered him out the window to peek into the girls’ classroom below them. What was so enticing about that classroom to make little boys risk life and limb is anyone’s guess. This adventure or prank – whatever it was – was short-lived, however, because meanwhile upstairs in the safe confines of the classroom, the boys were startled when the nun came back. Everyone knows not to cross a nun, so there was nothing for the boys to do but let their friend go. Drop him, they did, right into the bushes.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall that day!
Lillie Killeen 1930s
Aunt Lil
As punishment, the boys had to remain after school with the nun. When she realized she had to get to the bank, she made the boys go along with her. Who did they run into but Aunt Lil, a maiden aunt who also lived with Daddy’s grandmother. Daddy thought surely they would be in trouble now, but part of being a successful mischief-maker is being a quick thinker. They told Aunt Lil they were guarding the nun because she was carrying money. Apparently sweet Aunt Lil bought that story.

Please visit the bloggers at Sepia Saturday where everyone is on their good behavior.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sepia Saturday: Heads Up

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

When I saw the amusing photo from this week’s Sepia Saturday challenge, I immediately thought of my mystery children whose photo I have used several times.

John Jr. and Bob and unknown woman New York beach 1921
John Jr and his sister Bob with Cutey, the poodle
and unknown woman
A beach in New York, probably 1921

I made myself promise not to use it again because I have nothing new to add to the story. So I won’t.

Instead I challenged myself to find an ancestor who was born, married or died on April 1st. There was only one: John F. Breeden, my first cousin three times removed. Born 1 April 1853, he was the third child of George and Lydia Jollett Breeden, my 2x great-grandfather’s older sister and brother-in-law.

Spending most of my research time on my direct line means that my research on collateral lines is slim, so I went in search of John Breeden’s great story. What did I find? I found the April Fool’s joke was on me. I had entered his wife into my database with John’s brother. But thanks to Sepia Saturday, I now have that fixed.

John’s story is rather unremarkable. He married Mary Susan Patterson on the 6th of January 1876 in Augusta County, Virginia. They had two children, Sarah Ann and John Dodge. Then at the ripe young age of 36, John died. The end.

However, John’s brother James Madison Breeden and one of James’s grandsons offer a bizarre, if not twisted, answer to the prompt photo of the “headless” and “body-less” boys.

Like many of his neighbors, James Madison Breeden worked for the Norfolk & Western Railroad in Shenandoah, Virginia. He worked his way up to the responsible position of Track Foreman. It was in doing his job that he fell, striking his head on the tracks. He died from the injury.

Snipped from death certificate
James Madison Breeden
James Madison Breeden

OBITUARY: James M. Breeden, aged about 60 years a highly respected citizen of Shenandoah died on Tuesday in the Roanoke Hospital from injuries received while at work at Shenandoah the day previous. Mr. Breeden had been an employee of the N. & W. R.R. for many years and on account of his advanced age he had been given light work around the shops and yards at Shenandoah. About 10 a.m., on Monday he started to cross the turn table and in doing so slipped and fell striking his head and fracturing his skull from which he never regained consciousness. The remains of the deceased arrived at Shenandoah on Tuesday night. Mr. Breeden was a consistent Christian and a member of the United Brethren church for many years. He is survived by a widow and three sons, J. Vernon Breeden, of Roanoke, and D.B. and J.W. Breeden, of Shenandoah. The funeral took place on Thursday at 2 p.m. at the United Brethren church. Interment which took place in the Cemetery at the church was in charge of the Odd Fellows and Red Men, of both of which orders the deceased was a member.
SOURCE: Page News & Courier, Friday 21 May 1915

The obituary did not mention that James Madison had four grandchildren (plus one on the way), all children of his oldest son Joel Vernon. This next story concerns only one of them:  Maxwell Peary Breeden.

Maxwell was born to Joel Vernon and Zaida Maiden Breeden 30 November 1909. He grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. He worked as a clerk for a printing company and ten years later was advertising manager at a local department store, which probably put him in a strong financial position when he married Dorothy Ann Lewis in 1932. During World War II he served in the Air Force. Afterwards apparently he returned to the advertising business. At his death he was employed at Houck & Co., a major advertising firm in Roanoke. Whatever troubles Maxwell struggled with in 1968 are not revealed through online search, but a death certificate makes it clear that he was not a happy man.
Snipped from death certificate
Maxwell Peary Breeden
Self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.


For cheerier stories of good times at the beach, please visit Sepia Saturday.

 PS – Happy Birthday to cousin John Breeden who would have been 164 today. 

© 2017, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.