Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday

     My 4th great aunt Ellen Ryan Maher rests in St. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery in Palmyra, New York.  She was born in Goldengarden Tipperary in the fall of 1840 to Cornelius Ryan and Alice O’Dwyer, my 3rd great grandparents.  Ellen was baptized on November 7th in the parish of Annacarty/Donohill, a small upland parish just a few miles north of Tipperary Town.  She joined six older siblings, and four years after her birth, the eighth and last child Cornelius Jr. was born.  I knew from church records and her tombstone that she died on August 25, 1877.
      Finding the details of where or how Ellen’s death occurred wasn’t easy.  Though she was buried in New York, she was living in Lexington, Ohio at the time of her death.  Could she have died on a visit home?  New York vital records don’t start until 1881, too late to be of use here.  Looking at the Family Search website one day, I noticed a database entitled Ohio Deaths and Burials.  Of course I checked, and naturally nothing came up.  I then did another search using the date from her burial records and the name Ellen with no surname, and there she was…Ellen “Marker”.  I knew it was her, Marker and Maher are pretty similar, the date was correct, and her mother’s name was listed as A. Dwyer.   The index gave her place of death as Lexington, but it gave no cause.
     While the state of Ohio did not keep vital records at that early date either, they did require the local probate courts to record deaths.  I wrote to the Richland County Probate Court requesting Ellen “Marker’s” information, hoping a cause would be included.  Amazingly enough they don’t charge for this service which was a nice change.  It was a few weeks before it arrived in my mailbox, but it was worth the wait, I had Ellen’s cause of death, childbirth.
     Ellen Ryan had arrived in New York Harbor on August 14, 1860 with her parents and younger brother Cornelius Jr.  After disembarking they traveled to Palmyra, New York where her older brother and sisters had already settled.  Three years later Ellen married Edward Maher, an immigrant from Kilkenny, and in exactly nine months their son Lawrence arrived.  Edward Maher worked for the railroad and sometime prior to the birth of their next son, Cornelius in 1867, he moved the family to Lexington, Ohio where their daughter, Margaret, was born in 1869.
      As the year 1877 was being rung in Ellen received the sad news her father back in Palmyra had died. But Ellen had news of her own; she was expecting their fourth child!  Childbirth in the 19th century was viewed differently than today.  While there was joy and anticipation, there was also apprehension.  At the time Ellen became pregnant, an estimated 400 in every 100,000 births resulted in the death of the mother; puerperal fever, (an internal infection), accounted for 55.5% of those deaths followed by hemorrhage at 22.5%.  Eclampsia and miscarriage made up most of the rest. Unfortunately, Ellen was about to become one of those statistics.  She died that summer at the age of 36. 
     Her obituary states that she died after a painful illness of several days duration, making puerperal fever a likely cause.  Ellen’s remains were returned to Palmyra, where her mother still lived, for interment in the Catholic cemetery there.  I’m still trying to determine what became of the baby, there is no mention of a child on her tombstone nor in the 1880 census.


  1. Ellie, my husband's family had a similar history. The mother died a short while after giving birth--thus, while the child was still an infant. Just as times were difficult for expecting mothers when it came time for the delivery, I imagine it was full of dangers for the infant left behind. In my husband's ancestor's case, the child was cared for by grandparents, but failed to thrive and died a few months later. I only know this thanks to records in a family Bible--but even then had to piece together the story.

    1. Jacqi, Bible's can be a godsend, no pun intended. Often the only way to identify a child who was born and died between censuses. Childbirth,infancy and even early childhood were indeed dangerous times...