A Tale of Three Sisters
I knew many of these people worked at the GE (General Electric) or went to our church (Sacred Heart). I went to grammar school with cousin Walter's son Leo, but he didn't seem to know anymore than I did. Another classmate was Jimmy Clancy, who lived next door to my grandmother. We were understudies for Mary and Joseph in the first grade Christmas play. But he denied we were related at all.
I was determined to untangle theses relations. I know that when my grandmother, Mary Scanlon, came to this country, she lived with her uncle, Pat Griffin, in Westfield, Massachusetts. I found Uncle Pat and his family in the 1920 census, and working back, found he was married in 1890 to Catherine Murphy. His marriage record showed his parents as Thomas Griffin and Mary Wholean.
My birth grandmother, Mary (Scanlon) McDermott, died when my mother was 16 days old, in Westfield, and my mother was raised by her maternal uncle and his wife, John and Nellie (Bryan) Scanlon. My mother told me when she came home with them to Lynn, her great aunt, Margaret Devaney, knitted her a sweater. Margaret was Uncle Pat Griffin's sister. I found Great Aunt Margaret and her husband Patrick in the census, and through Vital Records found that they were married on April 18, 1890, in Lynn. Margaret's parents names were listed as Thomas Griffin and Mary Holland.
I knew from our travels that cousin Jim Gould's farm was in Saugus. I found Jim and his wife Nellie in the 1920 and 1930 census. They were married in Lynn on June 24, 1908, Jim's parents were identified on the marriage record as James Gould and Nora (Houlihan) Gould. In my reading about Irish surnames I found that Holland could be a derivation of Houlihan. Now, the name of Uncle Pat's mother, Wholean, made more sense. It could be a phonetic spelling of Houlihan.
Leo Curran was my grade school classmate. His father Walter was related somehow to my mother and he painted as a hobby. I found Walter in the 1920 and 1930 census. His parents were James and Mary E. (Collins) Curran. They were married in Worcester on November 29, 1899. James parents were listed as John and Catherine (Houlihan) Curran. Eventually I located marriage records for 10 children of Catherine, Mary and Nora Houlihan, Wholean or Holland. My working theory was that Catherine, Mary and Nora were sisters, But I had no way to prove this.
I had put this part of my genealogy aside for a time, hoping that when I went back to Ireland I would be able to find out more. Then a fortuitous encounter on Facebook changed everything.
Marian Pierre-Louis is a house historian and a realtor. Marian lectures on African American and New England genealogy. Because we have a common friend, Connie Reik, she friended me on Facebook.
While Connie is a librarian and an active genealogist, I know her originally from my knitting guild. But, not one to look a gift horse in the moth, I accepted Marian's request.
On April 21, 2010 Marian posted a link to Michael Brophy's blog. I know Michael as a member of TIARA (The Irish Ancestral Research Association), and I think I knew he had a blog, but I had never read it. I learned from Michael's blog that the Irish Board of Tourism had put up pre-1900 Church Records online. These included many records for the Dingle area, where my ancestors had emigrated from.
That evening I found the marriage record of Mary Houlihan of Milltown, daughter of Denis Houlihan and Catherine Doody. She married Thomas Griffin of Scrag Commons on 11 February 1861 at the parish of Dingle R. C., Diocese of Kerry.
And the marriage record of Catherine Houlihan of Milltown of Denis Houlihan and Catherine Dowd. She married John Currane of Milltown on 13 February 1866.
And the marriage record of Hanora Houlihan of Milltown, daughter of Denis Houlihan and Catherine Doody. She married James Goold of High Street on 2 February 1871.
Since Dowd is a common variation of the surname, I am satisfied that these three women were sisters, and the link connecting all my cousins is the marriage of our common ancestors Denis and Catherine (Doody) Houlihan of Milltown, Dingle, Ireland.
Patrick Griffin, John Griffin, Margaret (Griffin) Devaney, James Curran, Margaret Curran, Catherine (Curran) Leahy, Elizabeth (Curran) Mahoney, James Gould, Dennis Gould, Ellen (Gould) Shea and Nora (Gould) Sullivan, all first cousins, came to Massachusetts between 1886 and 1909. They were 11 of the 28 children of the Houlihan sisters. All but two of these immigrants had children. Of the nine that did, I have identified 53 grandchildren of the Houlihan sisters.*
Kate (Griffin) Scanlon, my great grandmother, never joined her cousins in American , but 5 of her 10 children. John Scanlon, Maurice Scanlon, Nellie (Scanlon) Sullivan, Mary (Scanlon) McDermott and Catherine (Scanlon) Cavanaugh joined their relatives in Westfield and Lynn, Massachusetts.
And, as always, Jimmy Clancy was right. We are not related, by blood anyway. His paternal grandmother, Alice (Bryan) Clancy, was the sister of Nellie (Bryan) Scanlon, the aunt we raised my mother as her own child.
* this article was originally published in Volume 27, number 2, Spring 2010 newsletter of TIARA (The Irish Ancestral Research Association). These are the numbers as of that point in my research.
View from the Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast
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