For Week 8 of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, the topic is courting.
Well, I have to say I’m not sure I have any romantic stories to tell. Many people in my family seem to do better the second (or third or fourth) time around in partnerships. That includes me. I am currently in a polyamorous relationship with two wonderful partners, and worlds happier than I was in my first marriage. I think that’s because we really do outgrow other people or make ill-considered choices when we’re younger, or a combination of both.
However, that’s not the kind of courting I’m going to talk about this week, because I don’t think my story is interesting (I got to know both of my significant others through playing D&D). Instead, I’m going to write about my favorite topic again, great-great grandma Emma Anna (Murphy) (Regan) Shaw.
What is it about her life that fascinates me so much? I don’t know. I think it’s because who she is remains a mystery, despite having many of the facts of her life from birth to death. Again, I wish I had a picture of her, as if that could somehow magically give me some kind of insight into her personality.
This newspaper article from 1910, however, tells me more about her as a person than I’ve ever been able to learn anywhere else:
To sum up the article, Emma and my great-great grandfather, Erastus, co-owned a cranberry bog with a man named Alfred Hennessey. When they had disagreements about it, the land was partitioned, and Hennessey was given a right of way over Emma’s portion of the bog.
According to Hennessey, she wasn’t too keen on this, because when she saw him out there picking berries one day, she whacked him over the head with a gallon jug, which broke, and then hit him again with the handle that remained in her hand.
Emma’s story differed in that she intentionally went out to watch for whoever was trespassing and saw Hennessey and some children picking berries for him. She then confronted him to demand that he leave, and she claims he responded by calling her names. Supposedly, he grabbed her by the arms and pushed her, so Emma “biffed him one” with the jug she had with her – though she also claimed it was a quart, not a gallon. When he swore at her, she then hit him between the eyes.
I love that her testimony is quoted verbatim close to the end of the article, because regardless of the kind of jug she had when she hit the plaintiff, she was clearly a feisty lady who didn’t take crap from anyone! Even funnier is the statement by the judge that he was well-acquainted with the dispute over the bog. Do you think he was having a Judge Judy moment while these two fought over the land?
One of the most exciting things happened to me in December of 2019 – I finally resolved a 26-year-old brick wall! During 2020, I poked at my new research questions here and there, which included delving into the ancestry of my great-great grandmother Emma’s father, Francis Wallace (1838-1892).
At first, I didn’t find much beyond my great-great grandmother’s baptism naming him as her father and a Nova Scotia directory listing for him in Port Mulgrave, employed as a clerk. Not much to go on, but I persevered during 2020 and put together a family group for Francis.
There weren’t many Wallaces in Nova Scotia, so I looked at all of them, particularly those in the same area as Francis. Little by little, I found that Francis was the brother of Vincent J. Wallace (1835-1878), who married Margaret Mahoney and worked as a customs agent. Vincent and Margaret had at least 3 children together.
This find was thanks to locating the baptisms of both Vincent and Francis, whose parents were listed as James Wallace and Rebecca Elizabeth Smith. Their father, James, also worked as a customs agent. Even more interesting to me was the fact that James and Rebecca’s marriage told me not only the names of their parents, but also that James was from County Wexford.
As it turned out, my great-great grandmother’s maternal grandparents are also from County Wexford. Since so many people emigrated in groups or stuck with people from known communities, this makes sense. I wonder if the Murphys and Wallaces knew each other in Ireland, or if they were from different parishes (seems more likely).
I found that Francis Wallace came to Boston and died there in 1892. While his death record and probate offer no further details about him, it’s interesting to know he followed his illegitimate daughter to Massachusetts.
Of course, I still couldn’t be absolutely sure that Francis was Emma’s father with only a baptismal record. However, it was nice to have a paper trail that added 2 to 3 generations to an ancestor who’d given me so much genealogical trouble for my entire adult life.
You can probably imagine my excitement when a DNA match who confirmed Wallace ancestors showed up in my Ancestry matches last week. When I receive new matches, I always keep an eye out for certain surnames. This particular match was a Wallace, but because the match was female, I didn’t assume this was her maiden/birth name.
However, as soon as I built out her family tree, I found that she descended from James Wallace and Rebecca Elizabeth Smith through a third son – Edward William Wallace! I did a happy dance to celebrate having a DNA match who shared this ancestral couple with me.
Someone asked how I made the connections between Francis and Vincent, and got to this point with the Wallace family. I ultimately accomplished this research with a combination of methods – DNA, indexed records, and unindexed browseable records. These records included directories, baptisms, marriages, probates, and Canadian censuses, as I tried to pinpoint which Wallaces were mine.
There are, I’m sure, even more records that are not digitized that have additional facts about my Wallace, Smith, Murphy, and Fraser ancestors in Nova Scotia, and certainly back in Ireland and Scotland.
Now that I feel this lineage is proven, thinking about Vincent and James Wallace brings me back to a family story: my great-great grandma Emma used to show one of my great-uncles pictures of ships she said were owned by wealthy ancestors. My great-uncle thought those ancestors were in trade or had a route from Nova Scotia, Canada to the Boston area.
Once I made the connection to the Wallaces who worked as customs agents, this story made sense. I doubt my Irish ancestors owned ships, but Vincent and James certainly inspected cargo coming into Nova Scotia. And how would that cargo have arrived in the early and mid-1800s but on a ship?
If you’ve read through Part 1 and Part 2, I’m sure you’re wondering what happened next. At least, I hope you are…
When I saw the burial record for Margaret Murphy with Emma A. Shaw as the person who’d purchased the plot, I couldn’t contain my excitement. But I would have to over the next 5 days, as we traveled to visit my lovely in-laws, went to a convention with some fellow geeks, and then home again.
Once we settled back into our routine, it took a couple of days before I was ready to delve back into my research. On December 11, I got to work, but what the heck was I even looking for, now? I did a bit of researching in circles that night, and then told myself to open Melanie’s notes and recommendations, my Emma timeline, and refocus.
From Burial to Probate
If Margaret had passed away and Emma purchased her plot, along with a second plot (not sure yet if it remains reserved or is occupied and, if so, by whom), wouldn’t Margaret have some kind of probate? Of course, she would. Even if it wasn’t extensive and she was poor, as possibly evidenced by the fact that she’d died in the City Hospital, there would be something.
With renewed focus, I dug into the images-only collection of the Suffolk County Probate Index on FamilySearch and immediately found 2 possible cases. There were 2 different administrations for a Margaret Murphy who died in the county in 1890. One of them might be the Margaret I was looking for.
Next, I went into the Suffolk County Probate Docket and that is where I found her case. Of course, I downloaded every single pertinent record image as I went. I opened a second browser tab, so I could go through the docket, volume by volume and page by page, to read through Margaret’s actual probate file.
Finding Emma Again!
First, I found that Emma A. Shaw of Middleborough had stepped up as administratrix, as a “sister of the deceased” and “only next of kin.” If this was true, my Guysborough theory did not hold water, because Laurence Murphy of Guysborough from that particular Murphy family lived until at least the 1901 Canadian Census. If Emma was the last of Margaret’s family, then they must have come from a completely different family.
Also, if this was true that Emma and Margaret were sisters, they could not be the daughters of Patrick and Mary (Fraser) (Lowry) Murphy of Guysboro, because Margaret was born about 1842-1848. Emma was born about 1861-1863. With an age difference like that, their mother had to be quite young in 1842 or thereabouts, and middle-aged by 1861 or so. The Mary Murphy of Guysborough was born about 1806. No way did she have a child at the age of 55-57, sometime from 1861 to 1863.
Still, there was another aspect to my Guysborough theory, and that was that the Emma Murphy found in the 1871 Census wasn’t the daughter of Patrick and Mary, but a granddaughter through one of their daughters. It was still a possibility, albeit now a slim one, with Emma claiming in legal records that Margaret was her sister. I just needed to either prove or disprove a connection. I needed, in good old-fashioned terms, a smoking gun.
Reading on through the probate file, I found that Emma chose not to fulfill the responsibilities of administratrix (no reason was given) and someone else, an Edward Jenkins, was appointed. He did his duties… and then, something marvelous happened.
A Red-Hot Smoking Genealogical Gun…
There was, indeed, another family member who stepped up. Perhaps this person had seen the notice run in the Boston Globe. Perhaps the administrator also ran the notice in another newspaper, but didn’t mention that publication in the probate file. Either way, Margaret and Emma were not alone in this world.
Laurence Murphy, a brother of the deceased, of Guysboro, Nova Scotia, appeared. He petitioned that Edward Jenkins continue to act as administrator of the estate on February 2, 1891:
Emma and Margaret belonged to the Guysborough, Nova Scotia Murphys!
After that, the property in which Margaret and Emma had purchased half shares together was sold and, it appears, Emma’s life continued to move on without her maternal family.
And thus, I’d found the document that tied it all together, wrapping my theory up as nice as you please in lovely paper, with a pretty bow on top. The one family that had any chance of fitting, did!
A Revised Timeline of Facts
But who was Maggie to Emma? Sister? Aunt? Perhaps even mother?
Aunt, for sure, as Laurence was Emma’s uncle, and their sister – Eliza – was Emma’s mother. Emma was an illegitimate child, born to Eliza Murphy (daughter of Patrick Murphy and Mary Ann [Fraser] [Lowry]) of Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia, and Francis Wallace of Port Mulgrave, Guysborough, Nova Scotia. She is likely the Emma Ann Wallace found in St. Ann, Guysborough, Parish Records, Book 2, Baptisms: 1861-1863.
Emma’s gravestone gives a date of birth as February 14, 1861, but that means she was 1 1/2 when she was baptized. Not knowing Catholic baptismal traditions, I take the birth date with a grain of salt, as I always have.
By the 1871 Canadian Census, Emma was age 10 and residing with Nicholas and Johanna (Marah/Marr) Flavin. The Marah and Murphy families seemed to have some connection, because Margaret “Maggie” Murphy’s 1844 baptism was sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Laurence Marah. Johanna (Marah/Marr) Flavin and Laurence Marah/Marr were siblings.
On October 4, 1879, at the age of at least 16, Emma was one of the sponsors for the baptism of James Gregory Cleary. This coincides with the 1930 Census) stating that her first marriage occurred at the age of 16. She wasn’t married just yet by this date, but could have been married shortly thereafter.
From October 4, 1879 to Emma’s marriage to Erastus on November 17, 1888 remains a blank. While Emma is unaccounted for over 9 years, that’s simply fertile ground for more discovery – when she first married, when she came to the United States, supposedly started or was involved with running a store in the Boston area, and then ultimately settled in Middleborough.
She conceived my great-grandfather, Harrison Clifford Shaw, by mid- to late -August of 1888 in order for him to be born on May 9, 1889. DNA, in this instance, has proven our connection to our Shaw ancestors in Carver, Massachusetts, so I have no doubt that Erastus is the father of Emma’s one and only known living child.
After that, Emma’s life appears pretty straightforward. She married, her son was born, and she moved forward with her life. Other than 1910 court case where she was charged with assault against a neighbor over a land dispute (she sure was a feisty one!), Emma’s existence appeared to be as normal as any other. But the life she left behind in Nova Scotia as an illegitimate child might have been far from wonderful.
I still want to know her story and wish I could talk to her face to face. That can’t happen, but I feel like I have at least a little more insight into her life with these discoveries.
Now, if only we could find that elusive photo of Emma that
However, I had Research Consultation time I had banked with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (American Ancestors), because for the past few years, I’d been renewing my membership at the Friend level, instead of just the Research level. The Friend level includes the benefit of 15 minutes of Research Consultation time and you may accumulate it up to a certain amount. I decided it was time to use it.
After filling out the details on their website, the coordinator scheduled me to talk to Melanie McComb, also known as The Shamrock Genealogist. NEHGS connects you with the genealogist best suited for your query based upon various factors and I was excited to finally have someone take an in-depth look at over two decades of my hard work!
Melanie requested anything and everything I had, so I made
sure she had access to everything I’d collected, from vital records to
newspaper articles to the timeline I’d drawn up with my verified facts and
tentative dates, places, and people, and so much more. Having someone else
analyze everything was what I’d been wanting for such a long time, and now I
was finally getting the new perspective I needed.
During our call, Melanie offered numerous suggestions and, even though I was taking notes, she also sent me a comprehensive follow-up with her analysis and ideas. *A side note to say I would highly recommend this service through NEHGS. It is well worth the Friend or higher-tier level memberships, or paying for out of pocket!*
I set to work immediately, prioritizing Melanie’s recommendations and reaching out to people. One of the first things I did to follow-up after her call was dig deeper (no pun intended) to find out where Margaret was buried.
As Melanie pointed out, it could be useful to know if she was interred in a Catholic or Protestant cemetery, because the records for my Emma were all Protestant. The records for that Guysborough Murphy family were all Catholic. A mixing of religions within the family seemed unlikely and Melanie was gently skeptical of Emma being connected to the Guysborough Murphy family because of this, giving more weight to the possibility of her being born in Maine based on the censuses and death record. Also, there are many Murphy and Reagan families in Maine, and she suggested I really delve into them.
All this time, I’d given more weight to the Guysborough family partially because of the 1871 Canadian Census entry for Emma Murphy being the only one “left” for me, partially because of the name Laurence, and partially because in her 1888 marriage to grandpa Erastus, Emma had given her place of birth as Nova Scotia. However, it was the only time in all records pertaining to Emma that Nova Scotia was ever mentioned, except in the death of her son, my great-grandpa Harrison Shaw. Therefore, Melanie’s skepticism was entirely appropriate.
Digging Up a Burial
So, going back to Margaret’s death record in Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1915, the entry didn’t list her place of burial. However, I somehow stumbled upon the Undertaker’s Return of Margaret’s death and it did list her place of burial. Voila! She was interred at Calvary Cemetery in Boston.
I visited the Boston Catholic Cemetery Association and conducted an Online Burial Search on their website. Sure enough, there was a Margaret Murphy who died in 1890, buried at Calvary. So did this confirm she was Catholic and perhaps not the Maggie Murphy with whom Emma purchased land in Middleborough in 1889? Was I instead dealing with two Murphy women, (potential sisters?) who’d simply landed in Middleborough by 1888/1889, and then one disappearing without a trace?
I took a deep breath and emailed the contact person for the Boston Catholic Cemetery Association, and hoped for… Well, I didn’t know what I was hoping for. Margaret’s death record and Undertaker’s Return did say she was a widow and had a husband named William Murphy, so I guess that, at the most, I anticipated receiving a record stating that the two of them were buried in the same plot. And such a record would be another dead end for me.
When 2 months passed without a response, I reached out again
with a gentle follow-up request. I know people are busy and genealogical
inquiries don’t take priority when you’re writing to libraries, churches,
cemeteries, and other organizations, and I try to always acknowledge this when
writing to people. Patience and good letter or email-writing technique and
etiquette are as important as ever, even in 2019!
On the morning of December 5, 2019, I woke up bright and early. It was 2 days before my 45th birthday and we were leaving that day for a long weekend. You know how the night before something you’re anticipating – a holiday, an event, a vacation, etc. – it can be difficult to sleep? That was my issue the night of December 4, so when I rolled over at 7 a.m. on the 5th, I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall back to sleep. I picked up my phone to glance at my email.
There was an email from the contact person Boston Catholic Cemetery Association. She had sent me a JPG and a PDF, apologized for the delay, let me know there was no fee for the information, and wished me Happy Holidays.
And a Happy Holiday (and Birthday) it was about to become, because the PDF and image showed that the plot for Margaret Murphy had been purchased on December 24, 1890 by none other than my great-great grandmother, Emma A. Shaw!
What happened next, however, was what I’d been waiting to find since 1993… Find out how the story ends – and begins anew – in Part 3!