Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sympathy Saturday/Oliver Ryan's Misfortune

Oliver Ryan and his second wife Margaret Cotter

      Last year I wrote a blog about my 3rd-great uncle Cornelius Ryan, who with his parents came to America from South Tipperary  in 1860.  Con was born in 1844, the year before the famine began in Ireland, in the small townland of Goldengarden.  In Palmyra, New York Con became a shoemaker, and it was there that he married Anne Hennessy.  There too, their son Oliver was born in 1870.   No fairy-tale ending awaited this Ryan family however.  In the fall of 1877 Cornelius died, and six months later his wife Anne also passed away leaving eight year old Oliver an orphan.  For some time I believed Oliver went to live with his mother's brother, Edward Hennessy in Port Gibson after her death, since he was with him and his family  in the 1880 census.  Then a Ryan cousin stumbled across guardianship papers for Oliver filed in 1878 naming Edward Welch, the husband of Ellen Welch as Oliver's guardian.

     That of course begs the question, why was Oliver not living with Edward and Ellen Welch in 1880?  Looking at the papers themselves and the way they were worded, Ellen's name was grouped with several Hennessy relatives, like she was one of them.  I next looked at the 1880 census but no Edward and Ellen Welch could be found in or near Palmyra.  I then checked the Catholic Cemetery in Palmyra, and there they were, Ellen Welch age 39 died in 1879 and Edward Welch age 60 also died in 1879.  They died the same year...there just might be a story there, so the next stop was the Old Fulton site with it's wealth of newspapers.  There was a story all right!  Ellen had passed away first, leaving Edward so grief stricken over the loss of his young wife that he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.  He was found lying on her grave in St. Anne's Cemetery in Palmyra--

May 28, 1879--At Palmyra Edward Welch, a laborer, shot himself dead on the grave of his wife who had died two weeks before.  After her death he would not work but wandered around bewailing his loss.

     I then checked Ancestry's deaths section and there I found a copy of Edward's will made on 22 April 1879.  In it Edward named Oliver Ryan, "my nephew who lives with me and is now my adopted son", as his sole heir.  No mention at all is made of Ellen so it appears to me she probably died in mid April.  I think the newspaper was mistaken when it claimed Ellen had been dead only two weeks when her husband took his life.  Edward made the will providing for Oliver and just over four weeks later he ended his life and his anguish.  And the poor little boy who had just lost a second mother figure was uprooted yet again.  I hope Oliver was able to remain with his Uncle Edward's family til he was grown.  There of course is no 1890 census, but New York's 1892 census shows Oliver in Farmington just a few miles from Port Gibson listed next to the Gorman family.  He might even have been living with them, that census does not give relationships or house numbers.  His Hennessy grandmother Bridget was a Gorman before her marriage so these people may have been family to Oliver.  

     The following year he married Elizabeth Cotter, and they had two children, Oliver Jr. in 1894 and Grace in 1896.  Elizabeth and Oliver's happiness would be short lived; twenty-one months after Grace's birth, in December of 1897, Elizabeth died.  In January of 1901 Oliver married again, this time to Margaret Cotter who may have been a sister or cousin of his first wife.  This marriage would last 24 years until tragedy struck once again in August of 1925 when Margaret passed away.  Oliver Jr. died in 1941, quite suddenly according to his obituary.

     Oliver himself died 21 February 1953, aged 83 at the home of his daughter-in-law, Oliver Jr's widow, Mary.  His daughter Grace survived him.  Oliver Ryan was one of those unfortunate people whose lives are plagued with tragedy.  It seems unfair he had to endure so much from such a young age.  I earnestly hope there were many joyful moments as well for Oliver.


  1. What a sad story. Some people had such sad tragic lives and it is heartbreaking to see it all unfold through the research. You did a beautiful job finding and sharing so many of the details of Oliver's life.

  2. Thank you Michelle, I've always felt bad for Oliver especially now that I know the whole story. You hit the nail on the head about how sad it is to watch it unfold.

  3. When I learn of situations likes these -- lives like these -- I wonder how the individuals endured it all, What sustained them through difficult times? I hope the 24 years married to his second with, without tragedy, were happy years for Oliver.

    You did a great job telling Oliver's story, Ellie. Thanks.

  4. Thank you Nancy. I often wonder the same thing, I know untimely deaths were more common then, but I don't think that could really have made much difference in trying to deal with them. It sure didn't with Edward Welch.

  5. Poor Oliver, he must have become a very self-reliant chap.

  6. I bet he did, he must have learned not to rely on much but himself.