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.


  1. I didn't realise Sheehan was such a popular name. You have such wonderful patience trying to solve who this mystery man is.

  2. I have quite a few unidentified photos in my collection - wanna work on those?

  3. You'll get there one day, Wendy!