Monday, May 1, 2017

Mystery Monday: Chasing John Sheehan Part 4 - John and Katie

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.

Unidentified man with John Jr. 1918
Man with John Jr. 1918
My efforts to identify the mystery man in uniform and the mystery children known as “John Jr.” and “Bob” (or Bobie) led me to another possible couple of couples, this time all named John and Katie/Catherine/Kathryn.

Unidentified man with John Jr. 1921
John Jr. and Unknown
I eliminated John and Katie of 514 18th Street in Brooklyn because John was born in the United States. Then John and Kate of Court Street in Brooklyn were eliminated when the 1905 census revealed John was actually born in London; the nail in the coffin was the fact that they lived next door to Jerry Sheehan – likely a brother – who was also from London.

That left John and Katie who were living at 559 W. 48th Street in Manhattan. John’s birthdate of May 1862 is not far off from the expected 1863 date as noted in the Catholic Parish records. He was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1880. Katie, too, was born in Ireland and immigrated in 1882. John worked as a teamster while Katie kept house and cared for their children. She reported 5 of 7 living: Daniel (1886), John J. (1888), Thomas (1890), Patrick (1894) and Louis (1896).
1900 Manhattan, NY federal census
In following the children, I found a birth record at FamilySearch for Thomas Oliver Sheehan born 1890. His mother’s name was given as Katie Cleary. The excitement of finding a maiden name was short-lived as a later census showed one Patrick Cleary boarding with John and Katie, both of whom were born in the United States. As if this were not enough proof that I had not found the right family, little Thomas Oliver Sheehan’s death in 1891 included the fact that his mother was a widow. There went that family!

But when one door closes, another one opens. Up popped more birth records, this time for Thomas M. in 1890, Dennis in 1892, Patrick in 1894, and Mary in 1896. The record for “Thomas M.” came with a new maiden name: Kate Ryan. That same maiden name appeared in marriage records for Thomas and for Louis. Perhaps Dennis and Mary were the two children that Katie reported did not survive; the years fit. Or maybe they were Nora 1884-85 and Edward (1900-1900).

In 1905, Kate was the head of household at 559 W. 48th Street in Manhattan. John Sr was not there, but the 5 sons were. The 3 oldest were fully employed while the 2 younger attended school.
1905 Manhattan, NY state census
Any suspicion that John had died was resolved in the 1910 census when Katherine declared herself a widow.
1910 Manhattan, NY federal census
Shucks! And with that I knew the man in the photo could not be John Sheehan – that is, IF this is the right family. I wallowed in self-doubt for a while wondering what the heck I am doing, why I am even bothering going through New York census records for someone that might not even have lived in New York. He might have never emigrated from Ireland to begin with. Even if he did, he might not have elected to go to New York. Maybe he went to Massachusetts or to Canada. But I can’t stand to leave a task unfinished, so I gritted my teeth and moved on to 1920.

Ho Hum. Nothing too surprising. In 1920, Catherine was head of household and three of her sons were there: John, Patrick, and Lewis. Daniel and Thomas were married and on their own. The Sheehans were no longer living on West 48th Street. They had moved a couple streets away to 506 West 50th. Wait – what? 506?  506! 

1920 Manhattan, NY federal census
That’s the house number I have been wanting to find: 506. Just like the number in my mystery man’s photo.


1925 Manhaattan, NY state census

The moment I saw that oh-so-familiar number, “O-M-G” could be heard from Virginia to Manhattan. There was nothing left to do but figure out who the man could be and how he was related to the mystery children John Jr. and “Bob.”

Obviously, the man in uniform was not John J. Sheehan, Sr. since he had died before 1910. Could the man be one of the sons?

It is logical to start with John Joseph since the man in the photo was holding “John Jr.” However, John J. was still single and living at home in 1920. John Jr. was born in 1917 and sister “Bob” followed about 1919 or 1920.

I moved on to the brothers thinking maybe one of them named a son John and added the “Jr” to distinguish him from “Uncle John.” Daniel is out. According to his World War I draft registration card, he was married and had three children by 1917. This does not fit the timeline of photos. Furthermore, Daniel had no child named John.

Thomas and his wife Rose look like possibilities. They had a son John, but he was born in 1914 and could not be the infant in the 1917 photos.

Patrick is unlikely the father. He was still single in 1920. In 1930, he was head of household that included a wife and his mother but no children at all.

1930 Queens, NY federal census

Louis married in 1921 but was divorced by 1925. It is not likely that he was the father of John Jr. and “Bob” either.

  1. If this is MY John Sheehan and family, then the photo of man with baby is NOT John Sheehan. Nor does the photo seem to be of any of the sons.
  2. If I have found the right family, maybe I just don’t have the right clues. I’m missing something.
  3. It is possible that some other family member was visiting Sheehan relatives at 506 W. 50th St.
  4. I’m beginning to think the 506 address is just a coincidence.
© 2017, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Oh my, so close and yet still so far.

  2. With your determination, I just know that one day you will figure out who he is!

  3. Certainly been interesting following your method of research as you continue to try to solve your mystery.