Anyone researching their family history will have at least one “brick wall”, most will have more than one, like me. I am sure I will be blogging in the future about those which I’m dealing with, but today I will start with one of my great-great-great grandfathers, on my maternal side.
My “brick wall” with this gentleman is that I have no idea who he might be. My great-great-great grandmother, according to the records I have found, was Margaret McCabe. She was born about 1835 in Ireland to Patrick McCabe and Ann Reilly. I haven’t yet established where in Ireland they were from, but I suspect it might have been Co. Cavan. I believe I found the passenger list indicating the arrival of Margaret and two siblings, on 21 Aug 1851 (today is their “anniversary”!!!) The record indicates the three children were from Ireland and were “going to father”. There is no indication they were traveling with their mother, and if they were traveling with a relative, it was probably with one (or more) who had a different last name. Margaret’s traveling companions were her younger sister and brother, Catherine and James and their ages at the time correspond to the birth succession of the records I’ve found for Margaret’s known siblings.
Their father, Patrick, appears to have died not long after arriving in the U.S. I found two death records for Patrick McCabes in Newark in the early 1850s, but the information provided on death records at that time were scant, so I have no way of knowing whether either of these two were my Patrick McCabe. I do know he had passed away by July of 1860 based on the U.S. census record of that year.
By the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, Margaret was already married, and living with she and her husband Christopher Lynagh and child, (also named Margaret), were her mother, Ann and a younger sister, Ellen, who was born after the family’s arrival in the U.S. (in November of 1853). My great-great grandmother Margaret, was aged 4 at the time of this census, not much younger than her aunt, Ellen. This was probably not uncommon at the time, when women were having babies over a twenty to thirty year period, often well into their 40s.
I located a marriage record for Margaret McCabe and Christopher Lynagh who were married in St. Patrick’s in Newark on May 24, 1860, so they hadn’t been married long when the 1860 census was enumerated. This got me thinking, then, about their 4 year old daughter, Margaret.
I figured that either Margaret or Christopher had been married before. This was also very common – a spouse would die young and particularly if there was a child, the surviving spouse would remarry not long after. I had no idea, though, whose child Margaret was. I couldn’t find a marriage record indicating that either Margaret or Christopher had been married before but I did come across a birth record for a Margaret “Ledo” online which recorded her baptism at St. James Church in Newark, NJ. She was born Feb 18, 1856 and baptized the next day. Her mother was listed as Margaret M., her father as James “Ledo”. I put this on my list for further research for the next time I visited Seton Hall Archives.
At the Archives, I quickly found the actual baptism record in the parish register for St. James – it indicated that Margaret (the child) was born “illegitimate” to Margaret and a James whose last name is illegible (I do note that any transcriber of this record could possibly take the name as “Ledo”). The record itself did not even establish the infant Margaret with a last name – she’s listed simply as “Margaret”. The godmother was Anna McCabe. That answered the question, then, of whose child Margaret was, but added the question of who the mysterious James was. To this day, I still have no clue who Margaret’s father was. I tried obtaining a birth record from the State Archives but they couldn’t find anything. On all the census records I find for Margaret (up until her marriage to my great-great grandfather, Michael McCann) she is listed as Margaret Lynagh, so Christopher did give her his name (I doubt she was legally adopted) and on her marriage record she lists her parents as Christopher and Margaret, so I suppose in her eyes, Christopher was her father.
Below is a scanned image of the copy I printed from actual baptism record, from St. James Church Parish Register, Microfilm 1378069, Seton Hall Archives, Seton Hall Library, S. Orange, New Jersey.
Many years ago, before I’d begun researching my family history on such a serious basis, I’d bought one of those Family Tree books that you fill in. My uncle was able to help me with a lot, including providing the names of my 3x great-grandparents, Christopher and Margaret. He told me that my grandmother (his mother) could recall Christopher showing up at their house on occasion, to see how everyone was doing (she was born in 1915, he died in 1919). She always referred to Christopher as “that man”, as in “that man is here again” if she happened to go to the door. As for Margaret McCabe, she died in 1879 so my grandmother and her siblings never knew her. So despite not being Margaret’s father, Christopher still considered her family to be his family, remaining in contact even after his wife (Margaret’s birth mother) had died many years earlier, and after remarrying to a woman named Anna Connell, who also pre-deceased him. Christopher owned at least two burial plots in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and some of his first wife’s family and descendants were interred in these plots.
Strangely enough, Christopher Lynagh had a brother James. I continue to wonder, could his brother possibly have been the father of Margaret? In my years of research (and with the Lynaghs being one of the first families I started with), I’ve come across Lynagh spelled many different ways. In the 1850 census, when Christopher was still a child and living with his family in Orange, NJ, it was spelled Liner. In 1860, it was Sander. In 1870 it was Linse and in subsequent years, Lince and Lena. My guess is that the spelling was open to interpretation by the enumerator, so perhaps whoever was taking down the baptism information just tried to spell it as best they could. In any case, this is just supposition. I have no evidence that James was Margaret’s father, but it could be that Christopher perhaps felt obligated to Margaret and her family. James married Catherine Newman a little over a month after Margaret’s birth (his second marriage) and died fairly young in 1866. Although he had two sons, one by each wife, I have not found and descendants of either of them. It’s possible I’ll never find out more, even with the addition of DNA testing. I haven’t come across any strong matches to any Lynaghs anywhere, but it’s likely that some of those fairly strong matches that my kit, and the other kits I manage for family members, are descendants of my unknown great-great-great grandfather.
What the circumstances were of my great-great grandmother’s conception will always remain a mystery. Many of us tend to think illegitimate births were rare back in the “old days” but they were quite common. People had the same feelings then as they do now and many times there was a child born just a few months after a marriage. Perhaps she was involved with someone and thought they’d be married. Perhaps it was forced – rape was quite common back in those days also. And the shame that any predicament which brought about an unplanned pregnancy to an unmarried female was great. I imagine the four years that my great-great-great grandmother raised her daughter were probably not easy ones and perhaps a story was made up to ease the scrutiny – who knows? And whether or not Christopher Lynagh knew of the true circumstances, again I’ll never know. But in any case, I still consider him a part of my family.