Saturday, August 1, 2020

Sepia Saturday: The Merchant

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

Pictures like this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt can be a real time-suck for me because I find myself Googling to identify the model of the cars, to determine whether products like Meadow Gold milk and butter are still available, and to find old photos of buildings identified by their signage. It’s a handsome photo, one with which I cannot compete. I have grocery stores and grocers in the family, but most have already been introduced on my blog. The good news is I still have one more. The bad news – and it’s really not that bad – is that he isn’t family.

When Barry and I were planning our wedding in 1973, the FOLK WEDDING was the rage. I guess it grew out of the “Make love, not war” / “Do your own thing” attitudes of the 1960s-early 70s. Less formal than traditional wedding ceremonies, the folk wedding often included folk tunes accompanied by guitar. So I needed a singer. And a guitar. My aunt, my dad’s sister, suggested Joanie Glynn. What? Who? “You know – the Glynns. They’re cousins,” she said and Daddy confirmed.

I’ve gone years just accepting that the Glynns are our cousins. I figured they must be those distant cousins, those 2nd or 3rd cousins that no one really gets to know. When I actually did the research, I saw almost immediately that they are not MY cousins at all. They are not my aunt’s or dad’s cousins either. They are not even my grandmother’s cousins. The Glynns are cousins of my grandmother’s HALF-siblings. My great-grandmother married twice; my family descends from the second husband. The Glynns are related to the first husband, the OTHER side of the family.

So here is John Joseph Glynn. 
John Joseph Glynn (1862-1942)
probably Matthew C. Glynn  (1891-1969)
John Joseph Glynn was born to Michael and Mary Irwin Glynn in Ireland in 1862, immigrated to the United States in 1884, and in 1890 married Bridget Mary Killeen, sister of John Joseph Killeen, my great-grandmother’s first husband. John Joseph Glynn and John Joseph Killeen – try keeping that straight. I guess the Irish did not have much imagination when it came to naming babies.

Bridget Mary Killeen Glynn (1863-1948)
either John Joseph Jr or Ellen Frances

John and Bridget were in Virginia by 1890 as all 6 children were born there between 1891 and 1910. John operated a grocery store at the corner of Henry and Second Streets. In the 1900 and 1910 census, they lived on Second. In later censuses, they lived on Henry. In every census except 1940, John was enumerated as a grocer or merchant. City directories through 1935 also show him as a grocer. By 1936, he was retired.
Portsmouth City Directory 1935
Photo albums that I have inherited from my Killeen aunts Helen and Lillie reflect the closeness of the Killeen and Glynn families.
September 1931
Bridget, John Joseph,
daughter Ellen, aka "Nell"
Captioned "Brothers"
possibly John Joseph Jr and Matthew
but assumed age difference is too much

Lillie Killeen with cousins
William and Margaret Glynn
"Cousin Nell"
That's cousin Nell on the right - not sure of the other 2
I have the Glynns to thank for my very existence. My great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen had planned to be a New Yorker until John Joseph Killeen died in 1905 leaving her a widow with 5 children to raise. Her sister-in-law Bridget Killeen Glynn persuaded her to come to Portsmouth to be with family. According to family lore, it was Bridget who introduced Mary Theresa to her future second husband John Fleming Walsh. And as they say, the rest is history.

I’ll say this though about the Sheehan-Killeen-Walsh group, they did not and do not discriminate based on a last name. Family is family. A cousin is a cousin regardless of DNA.

There is more in store at Sepia Saturday.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Oh yes, and there are friendships that adopt people into families as well...which really makes for interesting group photos. This was most enjoyable.

  2. I agree with your last line; a cousin is a cousin regardless of DNA. I do remember those folk type weddings from that time. It kind of faded away by the time I got married in 1980.


  3. Wonderful pictures and a lovely story. Funny how cousins are cousins no matter what. I don't remember exactly when or why it began, but I regularly corresponded with my mother's first cousin for years. She's passed away now, but I've maintained the connection through emailing with her daughters who would be my first cousins twice removed. (I think that's how it goes?) As you say - family is family no matter the name! :)

  4. You've done these distant cousins justice with this great profile and lots of picture. Well done!

  5. I especially like the elegance of the first 2 portraits.

  6. I guess distance is a relative term when it comes to cousins. But are singing cousins like kissing cousins? And do country cousins and city cousins ever become suburban cousins? It's questions like these that keep me awake at night.

  7. What a wonderful story! Particularly the last part about your great-grandmother and the Glynns -- and the power of family, whether related by blood, marriage or just proximity. I had "aunts" and "uncles" who were merely friends of my maternal grandparents, but who were as much a part of their lives as their blood relatives -- and who made a lasting impression on me when I met them as a child.