Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Missing Nun

Mother Mary Camillus AKA Elizabeth McGarr 1842-1911

     I continue to study the lives of all the McGarrs who came to Auburn, New York in the 1800's, and as usually happens when enough attention to detail is paid, events and names collected over time take on new significance as it becomes clearer how all the pieces fit together.  Which of course is the point of researching friends and relatives of our ancestors in the first place. 

     Today I stumbled upon the story of Elizabeth McGarr, daughter of Daniel McGarr and Anastasia Lyons, and my second cousin 4 times removed.  I believe her father and my 3rd great-grandfather, who was also named Daniel McGarr, were cousins, their fathers being brothers.

     While reading through the McGarr notes compiled by Evelyn Twining of Auburn, New York back in 1979, I was reminded that Elizabeth, like her sisters Mary Ann and Bridget, belonged to the Order of the Sisters of Mercy.  Even more interesting, after several Google searches I found a book online containing a photograph of Elizabeth and some unknown, (to me), details of her life.  Elizabeth, known in religious life as Mother Mary Camillus, was head of a boarding school for girls in far away Rio Vista, California, nearly 3,000 miles from Auburn!  The book read in part--
It was Archbishop Patrick Riordon who invited Mercy Sisters Mother Mary Camillus McGarr to send three sisters to Rio Vista to operate the recently constructed St. Gertrude Academy.  The sisters arrived in Rio Vista in 1876 and started preparations for the first term.  Mother Camillus filled the position of mother superior until her death in 1911 and was buried in the convent cemetery.
     By 1880 the school had grown to sixty students from all over California and some from out of state.  It's thirty five acres sat atop a small hill surrounded by beautiful landscaping.  What a perfectly lovely story of my cousin's life's work.

     But... trying a few different search terms brought up this disturbing news article that appeared in the Daily Republic in March of 2010--
   When St. Gertrude's Academy for Girls was torn down, it left behind a mystery.  What happened to the bodies buried at the sister's cemetery? Gertrude and Joseph Brunning who started the academy were buried there...a sixteen year old named Jennie McLaughlin who came to live with the sisters when she was one was buried there in 1921; and the final resting place of Sister Mary Camillus McGarr, the founding sister of St. Gertrude's, is said to be located in the cemetery as well.
   But where is the cemetery?  Where are the bodies?  There are now houses where the cemetery used to be.  The mortuary has records of  them being buried at St. Gertrude's, but there is no record of them being exhumed.
     Unexpectedly, the uplifting story had taken a sinister turn.  The academy closed in 1930 and the sisters were sent to different posts. What happened then?  In 1932 the headstones were removed, though years later a resident found marble corner markers in his backyard, in a spot not shown on any cemetery map.  I would imagine the developers and their bulldozers soon arrived and building commenced.  

     It's quite sad that no one knows what became of the remains. Surely if they had been moved they would have been re-interred in a nearby Catholic cemetery.  And surely there would have been a record of that?  It's hard to believe they could still be there under the homes, unnoticed even as construction progressed, but then again perhaps not.  Out of curiosity I checked on the prevalence of basements in California.  Here in the northeast where I live we have basements due to the cold winters.  A home's footings need to be below the frost line which could be three or four feet down.  California's bay area where Rio Vista is located doesn't have that problem so there was no need to dig down very far at all.

      Unfortunately this disturbing tale doesn't have an ending.  I hope my cousin and the others rest in another Catholic cemetery and not under some bungalow, but who knows?  It was the 1930's and there was money to be made...

Friday, April 6, 2018

More Adventures With The McGarr Clan

     Two days of snow.  In April.  While annoying, it does give me the perfect excuse to hibernate some more and continue my study of the McGarr family.  As time goes by I become more convinced that I've correctly identified the parents of my 3rd great-grandfather Daniel McGarr, who raised his family in Ballyraggan, County Kildare, as John McGarr and Catherine Murphy.  I've spent these two days concentrating on proving it.

     The first clue was the marriage of a John McGarr in Auburn, New York, the record of which named his parents as John McGarr and Catherine Murphy.  His burial record names those same parents.  John Jr. of the marriage record is exactly the right age to be my Daniel's brother but unfortunately the baptismal registers for their home parish of Rathvilly, while they exist for the late 1700's, are illegible so I was unable to find a baptism for Daniel or John Jr.  However, several other children of John and Catherine, namely Richard and Elizabeth, can be seen in the registers from the very early 1800's.  The family address was Garretstown in County Carlow.

     Looking at my Daniel's children we see his first child, a daughter, was named Catherine and the second of two sons was named John.  We're all familiar with the naming pattern, this choice of names is significant.  One of the other children born to John Sr. and Catherine Murphy, the above mentioned Elizabeth, immigrated to Auburn, New York, (like her brother John Jr.), with her husband Lawrence Burns and their children, who were all born at Raheen, County Carlow.  I was disappointed to find no child named John in Elizabeth's family in Auburn censuses but then I noticed a four year gap between her first two children.  I took a look at the Irish Parish Registers on Ancestry and found John "Byrnes" baptized 2 September 1832, parents Lawrence and Elizabeth McGa-- the address was Raheen.  So Elizabeth's second child was named John and her only daughter was Catherine.

     Another McGarr of John Jr., Daniel and Elizabeth's generation who appears in Auburn is Michael McGarr.  He was a sponsor at several baptisms in the 1840's, most interestingly, including the 1844 baptism of John Jr.'s son Daniel. Michael can be seen in the 1850 census of Auburn, New York with his wife Mary and children Margaret age 10 and Richard age 6, all born in Ireland.  I was unable to find Michael's baptism or any for his children, nor a marriage record.  A partial entry for Michael, son of John appears in the records of Rathvilly Parish in 1801 but it's impossible to read more of the record.  The address appears to be Ricketstown, a short distance from Garretstown but there's no way to tell if this is a McGarr baptism or not.

     I'm including a map of the area my McGarr ancestors called home with the pertinent townlands marked by a red X.  Keep in mind, while the map makes it look otherwise, these places are only a few miles apart.  Some even closer.

     And what of John Jr. with whom all this speculation began?  His first child, a daughter, was named Catherine and his last son was John.  Also worth noting, John McGarr Sr. and Catherine Murphy named a son Richard as did all of their children mentioned here including the possible child of theirs Michael McGarr.  Perhaps Richard was the name of John Sr.'s father and his children passed the name down to their children?  And just maybe, that name ties them all together.

     One last but important clue was the DNA match on Ancestry between my father and a descendant of Elizabeth McGarr Burns, daughter of John and Catherine Murphy.  None of this proves beyond doubt that my theory is right but it seems to point in that direction and sometimes, when the needed records don't exist a preponderance of evidence will have to do.  Along with that naming pattern.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday's Tip/If You Don't Have An Ancestry World Subscrition

     For a time I had Ancestry's world subscription, but got very little out of it and chose to cancel.  Recently some church records for my Warner line began showing up in my tree's hints.  This family was from Warwickshire, England so clicking the hints sent me to Ancestry's annoying pitch to re-subscribe rather than to the record itself.  

     There is a way around this I found.  If there is another user's family tree among the hints, clicking on that will show their tree and the records attached to it.  You still can't view the record, but "going in the back door" allows you to view the abstracted facts the record contained instead of being sent to the photo of the world traveler in the enormous hat.  Most of them anyway.  

    At this point, Family Search is putting so many of the same records on their site for free you may find it there also.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

One Last Word On The McGarr Children


      I finally got around to trying to track down the baptismal sponsors of William and Mary McGarr,  the children of William Sr. and Catherine of whom I wrote about in my last blog.  William's sponsor was Michael J. Farrell and I found several possibilities for that individual.  Mary's sponsor was another story.

     I speculated that Mary was already ill at the time of her baptism in April of 1871, probably with the scarlet fever that had recently taken the lives of  her two older brothers, and that her baptism was hastily arranged due to that illness.  When I searched for Mary's sponsor, C. McCallion, in the1870 census of Alabama the only match was Charles McCallion of Huntsville, Alabama.  A member of the clergy.  I wrote again to the archives in Mobile who confirmed that Charles McCallion was indeed a member of the Catholic clergy and he was in Alabama at the time of Mary's baptism.  It seems to me, it was likely he who performed the baptism, and on such short notice that he himself took on the role of sponsor.  The already deeply bereaved parents may not have been emotionally up to the task of seeking out an acquaintance to act as Mary's sponsor and with their families being in New York, Father McCallion  stepped in to fill the roll.

     At least that's how I read the clues left to me.  It's amazing how an event in the lives of ordinary people can be reconstructed after the passage of nearly one hundred and fifty years by use of databases, news archives and email.  Twenty years ago I'd have found none of this.  Internet genealogy is truly amazing.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

An Answer, But A Sad One

     What happened to the children of William and Catherine McGarr?  Is it because I'm a mother that I just couldn't let this go or was it curiosity?  Three children and then within the span of a month, no children.  It boggles the mind.  The unimaginable loss, and yet this same tale played out in numerous households in the 19th century.

     An earlier blog tells of the tragedy, but it's not overstating to say it haunts me.  What could have happened to those dear little ones, all under the age of four?  It must have been an illness of some sort but would I ever know exactly what occurred?  All I was certain of, is that within twenty days William and Catherine lost their entire family that horrible April of 1871. Twenty six year old Catherine would bear no more children once William Jr., Robert, and Mary were gone.

     A few days ago I sent an email to the archivist of the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama in the hopes the horrific event of three little lives lost might have merited an explanation of some sort in their burial records.  However, there are no burial records.  When these sad events occurred, Shelby Springs where they lived after leaving Auburn, New York, had no priest, nearby Montavallo was a mission of  the Catholic Church at Selma.  Being a mission, clergy visited Montevallo only several times a year as the archivist informed me.  Residents timed their sacraments such as marriages and baptisms to coincide with the expected arrival of the priest, but of course deaths were not something that could be planned for in advance.  And so, I was told, it was unlikely a priest had attended the burials of the McGarr children and there was no mention of their burials in Selma records.

     It seemed like another wall, no death certificates, no burial records, but then Karen at the archives did a very wonderful thing, she sent me copies of the two baptisms of the McGarr children in her possession, William and Mary's.

William Marion McGarr's baptism. Catherine used her mother's maiden name of Kelly in the record.  Her name was in fact McGarr, the same as William's.
Mary McGarr's baptism

     Robert was the middle child but his baptism was not to be found, probably due to Montavallo's status as a mission without a priest of it's own and poor record keeping.  William was born in 1867 and Mary in 1870.  Robert was the middle child, his grave stone gives his birth year as 1868.  William was baptized in Selma, and Mary in Montavallo.  Her baptism gave her birth-date as September 12, 1870 and she was baptized April 19th.  A long time between birth and baptism to be sure, but with no priest nearby they were probably awaiting a visit from one.  But wait, if she was born in September of 1870 she would have been baptized in April of 1871.  Her brother Robert died April 5th and William April 8th.  And here was Mary being baptized on the 19th in Montavallo!

     That was a bit of a surprise.  Mary too would pass away on the 25th, six days after receiving the sacrament, perhaps she was already ill by the 19th.  Back in 1871 the Church still taught that unbaptized babies went to limbo, did the frantic McGarrs send for a priest to insure Mary's baptism?  It's possible, William was a railroad official and was quite well to do.  The last clue I found was a newspaper article dated April 20, 1871:

     And there it was, the disease that took the children was scarlet fever.  I have to wonder if the newspaper got it wrong and it was little Mary who was ill and not William. I've seen such mistakes in newspapers. Scarlet Fever is rare in adults, but regardless I had found the cause.  It must have been a dreaded disease, in 1874 a two year old relative of mine in San Francisco died from it and in 1907 my grandfather's brother at age four in New York.  I wish I was able to visit their graves, I left flowers at Find a Grave, but it's just not the same...

Monday, February 26, 2018

Declined! In Which Rep. Blackmar's Cause Of Death Is Swept Under The Rug

Esbon Blackmar
     A while ago, while looking for more information about Milo Galloway, I stumbled upon this photo of Esbon Blackmar.  Esbon was a business associate of Milo's and for a short time a United States Representative.  The site where I found the picture was Find A Grave and along with the picture it had a short biography of Esbon which I was surprised to find attributed his death to an accident.  

     Newspapers of the period in which he died all described his passing in November of 1857 as a suicide due to financial setbacks.  The same fate that I believe befell Milo, who died five months before Esbon.  Both were quite well to do men who suddenly lost their fortunes, though the newspaper is strangely quiet about Milo's death.  Other records tell the story however, of lawsuits and defaults.

     I sent a copy of the newspaper article from 1857 to Find A Grave and finally heard back from the individual who maintains Esbon's page-- Declined. General reason: Content submitted does not belong in this data field.  What does that even mean?  Why doesn't a story from a contemporary, local newspaper belong?

     Personally, I believe it's wrong to whitewash history, even if it is that of a relatively unknown person.  Part of genealogy today is about context and the everyday details of ancestor's lives.  Trying to  understand them and their motivations as best we can through our 21st century lens.  Besides which, this sad event occurred over 160 years ago.  For researchers who might be interested, I'm posting the obituary as it appeared in 1857--

SUICIDE OF HON. ESBON BLACKMAR --The  citizens of Newark, Wayne County were thrown into great excitement this morning in consequence of the announcement of the suicide of Hon. Esbon Blackmar, not only a prominent citizen of Wayne County, but well known throughout western New York.  On Monday last, Mr. Blackmar was compelled to yield to the pressure of the times and make an assignment.  It is supposed that his financial embarrassment so depressed his spirits as to cause him to commit self-destruction.  The lifeless body of Mr. Blackmar was found in a spring or shallow well in the cellar of his house.  His head was downward and the feet projecting just above the tile surface of the water.  He represented his district in congress some ten years since and was widely known and esteemed as a man of ability and integrity.  He was largely involved in banking and in produce dealing. -- Rochester Union
     Another news article claimed he was "harassed by creditors" the day before his death and the site WikiVisually notes, "according to published accounts his business failed in the Panic of 1857 and he was in debt for more than $150,000, (about $3.7 million in 2014)."  I understand that suicide is an unpleasant topic, but I would certainly want to know what had happened were it an ancestor of mine.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

So They Hung Patrick After All

     April will be here before I know it and with it, Patrick Hore Day.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about Patrick's short life and hoping that by some miracle his death sentence wasn't carried out.  Perhaps a jailbreak or sentence commuted to transportation.  Alas, last night I found a newspaper article that confirmed Patrick had been hanged as scheduled on April 5th in 1798.

     The second sentence in the above article reports the craven execution of Patrick and three of his fellow patriots.  I first learned of Patrick when several boxes of papers of the Browne-Clayton family were discovered by the National Library.  The following is from those papers:

     United Irishmen Patrick Hore and his gang, namely Christopher Beaghan, Oliver Carey, John Currin, John Howlett and James Muldoon were arrested on 14th March 1798.  They were charged with ‘being evil disposed and Designing persons’ who, on 10th March, had gathered at Mount Neal, Carlow, and ‘wickedly’ conspired 'with certain other persons' to ‘Willfully and of Malice prepare to Kill and Murder the Honorable and Reverend Francis Paul Stratford [brother of the Earl of Aldborough] against the peace of the King. That they on the 10th of March in the 38th year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the third King did at Mount Neal, Carlow between Sunset of said day and Sunrise on the Day next following did Cut down take and Carry Away one Deal Tree, Value 5 shillings, One Ash Tree, Value 3 shillings and one Oak Tree, Value 10 shillings the goods of Francis Paul Stratford, Esquire without his consent, he being the Owner thereof.”
     On 26th March, they appeared before the General Assizes held at Carlow, where upon Information taken by Benjamin Bunbury, revealed that these six men had met earlier in the year at Garristown where they ‘contemptuously maliciously and feloniousy did Administer an Unlawful Oath and Solemn Engagement upon a Book to Mathew Brennan of the import following that is to say "Damnation to the King and All the Royal Family and all his heirs and forces by Sea and Land " and that he [Mathew]should be United with them’. It was further alleged that the day after they met at Mount Neale they were planning ‘Wickedly Unlawfully Maliciously and feloniousy did Compere Confederate and agree together and to and with each other … to Kill and Murder Luke Lyons against the peace’.
     The six men were found guilty and sentenced to be ‘hanged by the neck till dead, execution to be done on Monday the fifth day of April next’.

     When the news article mentions the charge of digging graves it must be in connection to the supposed plots to murder Francis Stratford and Luke Lyons.  It does go on to say that two of the convicted were transported, but if the papers were referring to them as the "Patrick Hore Gang" I don't hold out much hope for Pat.