Mary Murphy was born in Milltown, Co. Kildare on May 9th,1909; she was the daughter of James Murphy and Anastatia Glynn. She seemed to be very popular locally and stories about her have travelled down the generations. She was a bright, intelligent and articulate girl who loved life and all that went with it. Unusually for a girl at the time, she received a secondary school education from the nuns in Kildare town. She had one sibling, her brother James, who was my wife’s father. At the age of 19, in 1929, she emigrated to Boston in search of a better life; she planned to live there with her father’s sister, Bridget Kane, who had been born in Milltown in 1858 and had emigrated to Baltimore in 1881.
Mary’s ‘American Wake’ in Milltown must have been a grand affair, since the story goes it lasted 3 days! According to local legend all the neighbours travelled to Kildare station to see her off and there were scenes of great emotion as the train pulled out, taking Mary away, never to be seen by family or friends again.
I met Mary’s niece, Anastatia (Ann) in 1970, and I very soon heard about aunt Mary,her early death, and the baby she had in Boston.
Ann knew very littlemore than this; her father did not talk about the subject, perhaps he was too traumatised about the events. Ann had learned the little she knew from her mother, who never met Mary. All family documents,old letters etc. had been destroyed in a house fire in the 1960′s. Ann and I married in 1973 and within 2 years both her parents were dead, taking all the information to the grave with them. At this stage Ann did not even know Mary’s marriage name, which was a major stumbling block later.
Down all the years, Ann wondered what happened to her aunt Mary, and what became of her only paternal first cousin; it was really eating her so against the backdrop above, in 2007, we decided to embark on a search for the facts.
Neither of us knew how to go about this, and other than accessing a few websites we had no experience of such research. We initially found the Ancestry website very helpful (www.ancestry.com) and ‘The Ships Passenger Lists’ did produce the record of Mary leaving Queenstown on April 13th, 1929, on board the SS Republic; the record stated she arrived at Boston port April 22nd, 1929, where was met by Bridget Kane. The US Federal Census record from 1930 found her living in Boston, not with her Aunt, but with her cousin Edward Kane as a boarder. After that the trail went cold, and Mary Murphy seemed to disappear.
We therefore hired the services of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society (based in Boston), who produced two reports for us, but neither of these informed us of anything. We are now 2 years down the road, and frustration is starting to creep in; we felt our only hope was to upskill ourselves and learn more about Family History Research. So I undertook a diploma course in Genealogy at Independent Colleges in Dublin; this was run by two professional genealogists with a number of visiting lecturers. I am now a pseudo genealogist, and it has become a major hobby with me. Doing this course has really been the key to our success in finding Mary Murphy, even though the professional genealogists thought it would be impossible.
With our new skills and our more structured approach to family history, we really started again and built a complete history of the Murphy family, this time starting with Ann; we now included the Kane family in Boston. This journey took us not just to Boston but to Baltimore, to New York State ( where we found Mary had visited a relative) and back to Boston. At this stage we needed someone on the ground in Boston to visit the local repository and search records there for Mary’s marriage record , so we spoke to a genealogist who specialised in Irish Ancestors; he had in fact given one of the lectures at the course I attended, so I think fate was intervening here.
He agreed to take on the project and we supplied him with all the information we had built up; as the New England Society had already researched all the Mary Murphy’s in Boston and come up blank, our strategy was a little different this time. We were confident the record we needed was in Boston but we decided to search a different name and we picked on a likely Confirmation name. As a lot of girls in Kildare at the time were given Bridget, we decided on this one; after a lot of research at the repository, this strategy proved successful and Mary Bridget Murphy from Ireland, daughter of James Murphy and Anastatia Glynn, came out of the hat. It seems very easy now that such a simple guess provided the clue which broke down the brick wall; however, it had taken 5 years of fairly painstaking research to get us to this stage.
Mary married George Barrett in Boston in 1932; now that we had her marriage name the rest was very straightforward. Her daughter Maureen was born on Feb. 28th, 1933. A search for her death certificate told us Mary died in Boston, just 5 months later, Aug. 9th, 1933 from TB. We similarly discovered that George Barret died one year later from the same illness.
Maureen was now an orphan but we found her again in the 1940 US Federal Census living with her Barrett Grandparents. As it turns out these were the people who reared her. A search for a marriage record for Maureen Barrett produced a result in 1960 when she married James Ashworth. All that remained now was to find an address for Maureen Ashworth, assuming she was still alive. We found this, again using the genealogist in Boston.
Ann immediately wrote to Maureen and it was a major surprise to her because, while she knew her mother was Mary Murphy from Ireland, she was convinced nobody here knew about her, or cared. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Ann was now most anxious to meet Maureen, so we made immediate arrangements to travel to Boston. We were taking with us the only photo. of Mary Murphy in existence and this was very important because Maureen had never seen a photo of her mother. We also wanted to take with us something from her home place, so we took a St. Bridget’s Cross; and we were aware of The Certificate of Irish Heritage from the Obama visit, so we thought this would be an unexpected and very appropriate gift; it turned out to be so and Maureen said ‘she really loved it and would display it in a special place in her home’. Maureen has 3 daughters (all of whom we’ve met) and they expressed their appreciation that their mother should be recognised in this way and presented with such a wonderful gift by the Irish Government. From our own point of view, it was tremendously satisfying that Ann, meeting Maureen for the first time, was able to bring not only her mother’s photograph, but an official gift from Ireland, reconnecting her with her homeland. We would certainly endorse this Certificate of Irish Heritage, and would recommend it to anybody as a very beautiful and appropriate gift for those with Irish Ancestors across the world.
A most important element of our trip to Boston was a visit to Mary Murphy’s grave; this was very emotional for Ann as she is the only one of her family ever to get the opportunity to do so; it seemed to close a chapter which had been open for 79 year and bring closure to what had to be very family sad loss at the time. Not just a daughter, but a granddaughter as well.
We now had a successful conclusion to a family search, which at times had seemed to be a lost cause.