Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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The Mystery of Anna Conway O’Connor

ConwayAnna Will 1926I didn’t know who Anna Conway O’Connor was but I had a privately printed copy of her Last Will and Testament, dated 1926 and probated in 1928. It was with other documents that came from my grandfather’s house. Why we had it was a mystery, and why we held on to it for almost a century without knowing who she was is yet another one.

So what did it tell me? At first reading, I was struck by how much money she was giving away in pre-Depression New York.  Ten thousand dollars here, ten thousand dollars there — which is $146,000 in 2018 dollars. That was a lot of money!  A second reading showed me that Anna also left bequests to names I recognized, including my great-grandmother Charlotte Flanders and her Heginbotham cousins.

ConwayWillp.3The big surprise was finding a stated relationship to “Alice McCormick, widow of my deceased uncle Peter McCormick” – and further, to “Annie McCormick, widow of my deceased uncle John McCormick,” and a large bequest to her beloved uncle Francis McCormick.  Alice and Peter were my great-great-grandparents, but who were these other people?  I clearly had work to do.  I started with the will and worked backwards. But once my eyes were focused, I started seeing Conways pop up near my known relatives for years.

Anna C. O’Connor was the widow of Thomas J. O’Connor when she died in January 1928. They are buried in Old St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx in a large plot that includes O’Connors, Conways – and McCormicks, including my great-great-grandfather Peter McCormick, who died in December 1898. He had originally been buried separately in the cemetery but Anna had his body moved to this new family plot when her husband Thomas died in 1926. Okay, that was weird, that someone I’d never heard of  had my ancestor moved to her family plot. But it was also intriguing. Peter’s wife Alice was a Protestant so therefore banned from burial in this Catholic cemetery.

1900censusclipThomas O’Connor was a widower with a young daughter when he married Anna. His first wife was Elizabeth Conway, Anna’s younger sister, who died of tuberculosis in 1912. Both were from Irish immigrant families; Anna and Elizabeth were born in England before the Conways migrated to the United States, where they lived in the Bronx. When I found them in the  1900 census, my heart skipped a beat to see who was not only living near them but in the same house: my great-great grandmother Alice McCormick, and her daughter and son-in-law, my great-grandparents. And two house numbers down the street we find John and Bridget O’Connor with their son Thomas, who later married both Elizabeth and Anna Conway. Wow.

My hypothesis was that Mary Conway was the sister of Peter, John, and Francis McCormick, based on relationships stated in Anna’s will.  Death certificates for  Elizabeth Conway O’Connor, Anna Conway O’Connor, and their brother Francis J. Conway all list their mother’s maiden name as Mary McCormick, which confirms it. I knew that Peter was indentured to a stone mason in Glasgow in 1856 but that the indenture was broken by the death of his master. I found him in Liverpool in the 1861 Census, listed with parents Patrick and Catherine McCormick with their children Mary, Francis, Peter, and John. All of the men were stone masons. All of those names appeared in Anna’s will and/or census and death records.

The 1880 Census finds the Conways and McCormicks at 347 76th Street in Manhattan, living in the same building and with consecutive family numbers.

1880 census ConwayMcCormick

Both Mary Conway and Catherine McCormack are listed as widowed, which is new information and can help me locate death records for their husbands. Mary is living with her children Francis, Elizabeth, Ann, John, and Lewis – all familiar names from Anna’s will and confirmed by other census records.  Catherine McCormack has sons Frank and John, both stone cutters.  Ages are consistent with other records.  It appears that widowed Mary Conway was living near her widowed mother and brothers. Peter McCormick, now married, lived a few blocks away on Lexington Avenue.  Anna’s brother Francis J. Conway, also a builder, was a witness to his uncle Peter McCormick’s naturalization and oath of allegiance in October 1886.

So now the question is, who was Catherine McCormack?  I know she was born in Ireland and I knew who her children were but I didn’t know her maiden name.  Her son Peter (my great-great-grandfather)’s 1898 death certificate lists her name as “Catherine” but no surname.  Now armed with additional names, I am researching death certificates for her other children. Francis McCormick’s record shows her maiden name as Catherine Murray which is lovely, but it only one source; I am still searching for records for her other children. However, the name also gives me a starting point for other research in New York, England, and Ireland.

The Conways and McCormicks overlapped in their residences, occupations, relationships, and even their resting places. I had never heard of Anna Conway but her little will allowed me to open new doors and uncover connections I would have missed.

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Little green leaves on researched lines

Ancestry.com has little “shaky green leaves” that pop up on our trees when the system finds what it thinks are possible matches. Many of them are wrong but for my direct lines, I’ve checked them all. But when a new green leaf shows up on a well-researched line, it usually means either a new family tree or a new database has been added.

shakyleavesSunday I found a new leaf for my maternal great-grandmother, Charlotte Ann McCormick. She was born in New York City in 1879 to Irish-immigrant parents. Her mother, Alice Heginbotham, was born in Dublin in 1842, the oldest of eught children to an Irish mother and English father. They came to New York in 1853 on board the Freia. Alice’s father made hats and all of the family ended up in the hat business at some point.

Alice’s family were staunch Protestants but she married Irish Catholic immigrant Peter McCormick, who was a stone mason and builder, between 1870-1879 (still working on finding that record).  The family story is that it was more important to marry Irish than to marry within the church, and that Alice and Peter made an agreement that any girls would be raised Protestant in her faith while any boys would be Catholic in their father’s faith. While that was never documented, they had one of each. My great-grandmother was the Protestant daughter and her brother Charles, the Catholic son.

In 1890 the McCormicks lived on 128th Street in Harlem. In April 1892, when Charlotte was 12 years old, a Charlotte McCormick was confirmed at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, located at 127th Street and Fifth Avenue, just 2 blocks from where my McCormicks lived. The right age, the right location – unfortunately for me, the record doesn’t show names of the parents for the confirmands, but still. This was the only Charlotte McCormick in that database (New York, Episcopal Diocese of New York Church Records, 1767 – 1970) and I’m confident that she’s mine.

charlotte_confirmation