1985 celebrating Mom’s first Christmas at Cedar Lane Rehabilitation Center in Waterbury CT.  At the time, we were still optimistic her therapists could wean her from that machine.  Instead, she spent 4 years, 3 months and 2 days attached to a respirator. 

I vividly remember my mother’s dreadful, raucous cough that seemed to walk into a room before her.  That was part of who she was in my mind, not an ominous sign of Emphysema lurking in her lungs.  I still see Mom sitting at the kitchen table, chin cradled in one hand, a cup of black coffee or glass of Pepsi  in the other.  That plain, creaky kitchen table was where we talked about everything and mom dispensed her shrewd advice that was almost never well received by my teenage self.  

I’ve written about oodles of relatives going back hundreds of years, but not my own mother. I glossed right over her.  So much was left unsaid when she was dying. I never said goodbye or told her how I felt because I was clueless. I have to admit I wasn’t a very good daughter when she needed me most.  Back in the 80’s there was no skype, facetime, email, texting nor any digital form of communication.  Mom’s tracheotomy prevented her from talking on the phone. Months turned into years in the hospital which atrophied her muscles and made letter writing difficult and so she basically lived for our visits.  Visiting was hard, time consuming and emotionally draining. Every trip ended with us leaving and her staying, knowing after the first year or so, that she wasn’t coming home, she would never sit at the kitchen table again, laugh or talk, cook one of her amazing dinners or even smell the lilacs she loved so much.  Over time weekly visits turned into monthly and then every few months until she was gone.

Tom, Bob, jack and Peggy

But enough of that wishy washy stuff. I should be telling you about her roots. It seems impossible to sum up my mother’s life in a neat little blog post, but I will try to give you a glimpse of the impact her truncated life made.

Sherry, Peg and Don

My mother, Margaret Anne Hennessy, who everyone called Peg or Peggy, was the fourth child born to Thomas Francis Hennessy and Margaret Florence (Cox) Hennessy.  Older brothers Thomas, Robert and John (Jack) were 4, 2 and 1 years of age when Peg was born.

Eight years later, the twins, Donald  & Sherry  came along.   In 1940 the family resided at 56 Northfield Rd. New Rochelle, NY.

In 1954, her father, Thomas Hennessy passed away due to  heart disease, although when she got older my mother suspected her father’s heart condition was caused or exacerbated by smoking.  Just about everyone smoked back then and, for the most part, people were oblivious to the health consequences.  My mother started smoking when she was 15 years old.

Sherry Hennessy and Margaret Cox Hennessy about 1980. That’s our kitchen table with the Grand union bicentennial dishes from 1976.

Peggy’s mother and my grandma, Margaret (Cox) Hennessy, nicknamed Flo, was hospitalized in 1956. In the 2 previous years, Flo had lost her husband, mother and sister, leaving the burden of caring for her family completely on Flo’s shoulders.  It was a burden she was not equipped to handle.  I don’t know the diagnosis that led to her hospital admission, but it was something akin to a nervous breakdown. Flo remained in the hospital for the next 25 years until her death in 1981.

Peg, along with her brother Jack, went to work and took responsibility for raising their younger siblings, Sherry and Don. Their brother Tom had left home years earlier and had started his own family, while Robert had joined the military and was serving in the Philippines.

Stan, Scott, Peggy in 1963
Peggy married Stan Syska on October 20, 1962.  My brother Scott was born in 1963, my sister, Suzy, in 1965 and I came along 13 months after that.  Years later, I came to understand how chaotic a time that was for Mom, when my own twins were born and I found myself with 4 children under the age of 5.  I wished my mother could have been there although I’m sure we would have bickered over something important like diaper duty or pacifier protocol.

Life wasn’t easy for my parents.  They worked hard always struggling to make ends meet.  Dad was a self employed carpenter.  Mom dreamed of going to college and becoming a writer.  Instead she worked nights as a nurse’s aid, slept during the day and took care of us in the afternoons and evenings.

Stan Syska, Tom Hennessy & Peggy (Hennessy) Syska- with cigarettes in hand

I don’t know exactly when Mom was diagnosed with Emphysema, but she told us kids in 1981 when she began oxygen therapy at home.  We had this little machine in the corner of the living room that converted the air to 98% oxygen which meant mom could get the oxygen she needed with many less breaths.  This was necessary because emphysema destroys the air sacs in a person’s lungs and that puts a large strain on the heart as well.  Eventually, oxygen and medications weren’t enough. Mom went into cardiac arrest and was put on a respirator. I would need a much longer forum to tell you about the course of her disease, how it affected all our lives and the decisions my sister, brother and I had to make. 


One thing I learned in my research though is that the typical onset of Emphysema symptoms occurs when a person is in their 60’s or 70’s even for smokers. I suspect my mother may have had a genetic condition called AAT deficiency (see picture on  right) which causes early onset empysema.  Today you can be tested to see if you have this deficiency or are a carrier of the gene. 

In 1985 after going on a respirator and spending several months in the hospital, Mom was transferred to Cedar Lane Rehabilitation Center in Waterbury, CT where she would spend the rest of her life.  We did our best to make it seem normal, but there is nothing normal about a 49 year old woman being confined to a hospital and attached to a machine.

On April 25, 1989, my brother and his wife had their first child, Kevin. When Kevin was almost two months old, they brought him to Cedar Lane where Mom was delighted to cradle him in her arms. All the nurses came in the room and Peggy got to proudly show off her grandson. I wish I could have been there to see her face.  And then my mother knew it was time to go.  Peg simply stopped eating or drinking and, with a do not resuscitate order, it was only a matter of time until she passed away on July 27, 1989.

As one of her many legacies, my mother had promised each of her children she would give us $100 if we didn’t start smoking cigarettes by the time we were 21.  None of us have ever smoked, defying the odds that say children of parents who smoke  are twice as likely to take up the habit themselves. I never got my cold hard cash but my mother had already given me everything: life, love, air.  


Mom was in the midst of  ‘quitting smoking’ for most of my childhood. She tried everything from hiding her cigarettes, to hypnosis, to joining smokenders, but the addiction was too strong.  She finally quit for good when she started oxygen therapy, but it was too late. Emphysema is a progressive, terminal disease that destroys the lung’s air sacs.  

Mom started smoking in 1950 at just 15 years old.  It’s hard
to imagine a time when people didn’t know smoking was harmful. 
To help illustrate what that era was like, I found some  cigarette advertisements with celebrities like Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Lucy & Desi Arnaz and Babe Ruth.  There were many more. Even Fred and Barney Flinstone appeared in cigarette ads in 1960-61.

Other ads made outlandish claims such as “more doctors smoke Camel” or cigarettes make you thin.  One of the most bizarre is the “Winston, when you’re smoking for two” ad that claims low birth weight is a win-win: easy labor, slim baby and full flavor. 

 Cancer by the Carton

1952 article published in Readers Digest that demonstrated to the public the connection between
smoking and lung cancer.  This was based on 30 years of research at the time

Tobacco companies fired back with the statement below and intense ad campaigns touting low tar and low nicotine cigar
ettes with filters.  While the number of smokers in the US continues to decline, we have exported the problem.

Today there are 1 billion smokers globally with 80% of smokers living in low and middle income countries according to the World Health Organization.

Update:  According to the CDC, cigarette smoking in the US is at an all time low of 15.7% of high school students and 17.8% of adults.  However, smoking is shockingly high in Asian countries.  According to the World Health Organization, in 2015 76% of the Indonesian population 15 and older were smokers.  Other alarming statistics reported by WHO indicate large portions of the populations of
many countries are lighting up including  70% in Jordan, 60% in Sierra Leone, 59% in Russia, 53
% in both Cuba & Greece, 50% in Egypt, 49% in the Ukraine, 47% in China and Vietnam, 43% in Congo, Malaysia, Phillipines & Serbia.  

The WHO report of all countries can be accessed from this link

Multinational tobacco companies continue to market, sell and profit from a product that is known to cause a host of serious, debilitating diseases that lead to horrid, premature death.  According to an ICIJ report,   “The industry’s product is the world’s single-largest preventable cause of death. Between 2005 and 2030, tobacco-related illnesses will claim as many as 176 million lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.”  

Access the ICIJ report here:



Grandma Winnie’s Ancestry  –  Winifred (Cooney) Cox (1868-1956)

Grandma Winnie’s Ancestry – Winifred (Cooney) Cox (1868-1956)

Winifred Josephine Cooney (my great grandmother) was born on April 11, 1868 in Galway, Ireland and was baptized in Kilkishen, Clare, Ireland.  Winifred was the first child born to Thomas Cooney (1847- ) and Mary Ryan Cooney (1841-abt. 1895).  
She had 4 sisters and three brothers:  Anne  (1869), John (1870), Bridget (1871), Pat (1873), Daniel (1877), Mary (1879), Margaret, ‘Maggie’ (1882), and Thomas (1886).  Most of her siblings were born in Kilkishen or Ballinabrone, Co. Clare which is where the family lived while Thomas worked as a farmer.  

Winifred emigrated to America about 1891,according to family, on the same ship as her future husband, John Cox. Shewas just 23 years old at the time.  John and Winnie married in 1899 in Massachusetts, settling first in Manhattan, then moving to New Rochelle, NY.  Winifred’s sister, Maggie Cooney followed her to America in 1899 and lived with John & Winnie until her marriage to Michael Sullivan after 1905. 

Winifred Cooney’s marriage record provides the names of her parents as Thomas & Mary Ryan

Thomas & Mary Cooney 

Thomas Cooney & Mary Ryan wed in Limerick Ireland on May 26, 1867.  The city of Limerick is on the southern border of Clare Co. and Limberick Co. According to Census records, Thomas was a widower by 1900.  Records show the family living in East Clare and then Killuran in 1900 and 1910.  

Thomas was born in 1847, the son of Patrick Cooney possibly in Scariff, Clare Co.  His mother’s name is unknown.  No further information is known about Thomas’ family or parents.

Mary (Ryan) Cooney (1841- bef. 1900) 

Mary Ryan was baptized on July 11,1841 in Ballinakill, Galway Co., Ireland.  Her parents were John Ryan and Mary (Salman) Ryan.  Her sponsors (godparents) were John Keegan and Ellen Salman.

Galway County is north of Clare Co. on the West coast of Ireland. 
I have not been able to find any town named Ballinakill that exists today. There are several civil parishes with similar names and there is Ballinakill Harbor located near the city of Letterfrak.  

Three former civil parishes are named Ballynakill in Galway Co.:
Ballynakill (Ballynahinch) (Galway)
Ballynakill (Killian) (Galway)
Ballynakill (Leitrim) (Galway)
However, Mary’s baptism from the Roman Catholic Church Record, states,  “Registry book of the baptisms for the United parishes of Ballinakill, Ballyroan, Abyleix & Knockgordegur.”  This may be referring to a Catholic parish, not a civil parish.  

At this point, I can not confirm the exact location of Mary’s baptism, except that it was in Galway Co., Ireland.  

I have not been able to locate any further information on Mary Ryan’s parents or family. Irish census records for the 1800’s are very sparse, making it difficult to find ancestors.  You can learn more about this in the prior post:

I attempted to trace Winifred’s sister, Maggie Cooney who was born to Thomas & Mary (Ryan) Cooney in Ireland in 1882 and emigrated to the US in about 1899.  I hoped if I found Maggie Cooney’s family, I would be able to learn more information about their parents and ancestors.  

Maggie Cooney is listed on the federal census of 1900 and NYS census of 1905 as living with Winifred and John Cox.


The next census record, I located for the Cox family (1915) indicates Maggie is no longer residing with sister and brother in law. According to family, Maggie married Michael Sullivan and resided in or near the Fordham neighborhood of Bronx, NY.  Several Michael & Mary Sullivan can be found on census records residing in that area, but I have not been able to identify which if any of these pertain to Winifred Cooney’s sister. 



Snagging slippery Irish Ancestors

Snagging slippery Irish Ancestors

Chances are you have sensed my frustration with those pesky Irish relatives who have so little imagination when choosing names and then arbitrarily change birthdates, if they bother to record births at all, thwarting any attempt to pin them down to a family tree.  Well, I’m going to share some of the bizarre circumstances that explain why locating our Irish ancestors is particularly difficult.

Sure I have discovered quite a bit of family history and unearthed some amazing documents, but there have been many bumps along the way, not just with those gaelic folks either. The basic approach to genealogy is to work backwards in time, but it ends up being more like a jigsaw puzzle than a straight path. The discovery of each new detail has the potential to lead you to your pot of ancestral gold, or down a long, arduous dead end or even to the realization that last few tree branches you painstakenly developed are blarney because you have once again latched onto someone else’s relative! Not that I’ve done that –  well, at least I haven’t crashed anyone’s family dinner, yet.   

I am simultaneously impressed with the amount of information available on the internet and annoyed with those silly microfilms which can only be viewed in person. Many of the records held by the Catholic Church in Ireland- which it turns out are quite important- are on microfilm. These records represent brick walls, at least for now, so I can’t help wondering why the genealogy elves haven’t gotten them online yet.  I mean what do those elves do all day anyway?   Ofcourse if anyone happens to be in Dublin or Salt Lake City, feel free to swing on by and peruse those records.  I have citations and Roll numbers blah, blah, blah.  Yeah, I know, the last thing you want to do is spend your vacation stuck in a records room!

So why are those Church records so important?  Unfortunately, the vast majority of Ireland’s Census records from the 19th century were either destroyed by fire or bureaucratic incompetence. Yup, on the bright side, this means me and the elves are completely off the hook!  
There are zero Irish Census records from 1860 to 1900.  They were destroyed intentionally by the government who apparently did not think they were necessary. 

Ok, but we still have the first half of the century, right?  Nah, that’s pretty much gone too.  Back in 1922, a fire in the Public Record Office of Ireland destroyed most of the census records from the years 1821 to 1851, as well as many other documents and records.  That only leaves 1801 and 1811 intact.

Over 80 years of records wiped out, forget the bumps, that’s a massive crater!  And it just happens to be the era when so many Irish came to America and thus, would have been a key link to their ancestry.

Currently,  I am trying to trace the Irish ancestry of my great grandmother, Winifred, who immigrated about 1890.   I do know the names of her parents, Thomas & Mary Cooney and I found the record of their 1867 marriage in Limerick. That record tells me Mary was born in 1841 and her father was John Ryan. Great, now all I have to do is find John Ryan, father of Mary, who lived in Ireland in 1841.  How hard could that be?  
Lets just say I am dreaming about Census forms!  Those vanishing records would have so much info -dates & places of birth, relationships, residences, occupations, maybe even parents place of birth- and, by process of elimination, I would have a good chance of finding the right family. Sometimes you get lucky and find a married couple actually living with or next to their in-laws on the census. But no such luck for me as the first available census is 30 years before Mary was born.  If John Ryan was alive, he would most likely be a wee lad and the census would not contain any details to identify him as Mary’s father.

I am not giving up, though, and so I turn next to birth, baptism, marriage and death records, which each contain limited information, but combined could lead to the missing pieces of our puzzle.  Now, I swear there must a gaggle of leprechauns ROFL, because Ireland didn’t officially record any of that rubbish until the year 1864, when the Irish civil registration of births, marriage and deaths began.
Prior to this, records were only kept by individual churches, but parish records did not follow a uniform practice regarding what information was captured, how the records were stored or maintained, thus there are holes and problems with the limited records that do exist.   

So the Catholic Church should have records of the Ryan family right? Well, maybe.  Although Ireland is predominantly catholic, there was discrimination against the Catholics that led to a law, in effect from 1703 to 1829, prohibiting Catholic churches from keeping any registers which means what records they do have didn’t begin until 1830 or later.   Also, records of some Catholics may be found in the Church of Ireland for a number of reasons including the requirement that any marriage between a Catholic and Protestant be held in the Church of Ireland. 

Just to keep things interesting, for those sparse records that turn up, deciphering locations within Ireland is challenging.  Ireland has enough layers of ever changing jurisdictional divisions to make your head spin. And, of course, if those lads liked a name, they used it for multiple locations.

An address is typically written as Townland, Barony, County, but may contain the parish in addition or instead of one of the other areas. County Kilkenny, for example, is  800 sq. miles, smaller than the state of Rhode Island, yet, in 1802 it had 9 Baronies and 800 townlands. Today there are 12 Baronies, 137 parishes and some 1600 Townlands.

After all of this, I was about to throw in the towel, when I found the baptism of Mary Ryan in 1841.  All the pieces fit so she could be Winifred (Cooney) Cox’s mother – my great great grandmother.  Now these records have been referenced and indexed by people smarter than me, but every once I think the elves get involved and run amok with the details so I like to double check. This record indicates it was in Ballinakill Co. Galway, but the first page of the record book states, “Registry book of the baptisms for the United parishes of Ballinakill, Ballyroan, Abyleix & Knockgordegur…”  I think. As you probably guessed, there are or were multiple parishes named Ballynakill in Ireland in multiple counties- Galway, Clare, Kilkenny, Laois… so I guess there’s more work to do.  

Now, if I hadn’t found this record, I probably would have gone off to do something trivial like make dinner, but those sneaky elves sent this baptism my way just to keep me hooked.  

Stay tuned for more information about Winifred Cooney Cox in the next blog post. 

Locations within Ireland

Ireland is divided into four provinces -the original kingdoms that predate the 12th century Norman invasion- which are culturally and historically significant, but have no governmental authority. Our ancestors are mostly from the provinces of Munster and Connaught which is in the Western part of the country and what is today, The Republic of Ireland. 
The principal governing layer in Ireland is the 32 Counties.  In most cases these are written as Co. Clare or Kilkenny Co., but not always and since there are cities and other locales with the same names as the counties it can be difficult to discern which is referenced.  
The counties were divided into baronies then into civil parishes and finally townlands. Baronies no longer have much purpose, but are still used for land registration and addresses.  Some baronies cross county lines.  Civil Parishes are not the sames as church parishes although in some cases they were aligned with the church of Ireland but not necessarily Catholic Church.  The 19th century saw countless changes, consolidation and restructuring of baronies and townlands throughout Ireland.  There are also Poor union law districts which are used for things such as probate records. 

Thomas Hennessy on the S.S. Republic

Thomas Hennessy on the S.S. Republic

It’s been a while since I posted on the blog.  Sorry, but I don’t have much in the way of new information.  I did find out why it’s been so hard to trace the Irish family roots. I’ll explain more in my next post – stay tuned.

I also found the document below that shows Thomas Hennessy (1899-1954) working as a deck boy on the S.S. Republic the summer of 1925, which I thought was pretty cool.

At first, I wasn’t sure it was the same Thomas Hennessy, but on the right it lists name and address of his next of Kin, in his case – “Fa -Patrick J.  Premium Pt. New Rochelle, NY.”   His age on the ship is listed as 26 which would have been correct and he is identified as being 5′ 8″ tall with fair complexion, brown hair and brown eyes (although his draft card lists his eye color as blue).  His monthly rate (of pay) was $35. The ship arrived in New York on Sept. 7, 1925.

According to a memoriam published in a Fordham a newspaper, he received his undergraduate degree in 1922 and his law degree in 1925.   Thus this would have been the summer after he graduated.

Thomas F. Hennessy Draft Registration Card (1918)

see more about Thomas Hennessy and family at:
The Gritty details….

The Gritty details….

I had my own internal debate concerning whether or not to post this less than idyllic information that I had stumbled upon.  I didn’t go trolling through criminal records and newspapers looking to uncover shocking family scandals- actually the idea never occurred to me.  I was in pursuit of ordinary details, just looking through some old newspapers hoping to find my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s obituaries when I saw these other articles concerning the Syska family. Genealogists caution, while newspapers can contain important information, they are not primary sources, but the historian in me finds them fascinating as they represent a snapshot in time.  They depict a true slice of life.  I guess it would be nice if all my ancestors were pillars of society, but wouldn’t it be boring?

The first article is about my father’s arrest for robbery as a 23 y.o. Mount Vernon Cabby.  I hope you don’t mind, but I want to share a little about my dad to put this into context.   He was not convicted, but the article says he had a history of arrests for robbery and passing bad checks.  Honestly, I was horrified when I found this.  But my father was not raised in split level home with a white picket fence and roast beef on the dinner table every night.  He is the oldest of 8 children from a very poor family. His mother passed away when he was seventeen and his youngest brother was only two, while his  father worked sporadically and was described as erratic and heavy handed.    My dad didn’t like to talk about his childhood, but I know it was not uncommon for him to go hungry and that he dropped out of school quite young- probably in sixth grade- in order to start working and earning money.

As a father, I never doubted he loved his family.  He coached our softball team, helped me build a fab log cabin in 3rd grade and decorated castle birthday cakes.  We called him daddy long legs, although daddy long arms might have been more appropriate because I watched him, time and again, reach his arm through the terrace bars down the block to buy marshmallows for roasting on the bbq.  My parents separated many times over the years. Dad was never happy about it.  When Mom was hospitalized on a respirator, due to emphysema, she refused to let Dad come to visit, so he sent her flowers…. again and again and again.  She never relented, but she had been through so much herself, and it was not in her nature to back down from a fight.

Stan & Margaret (Hennessy) Syska – 1963

Dad worked long hours as a carpenter rarely missing a day.  He never made a lot of money, in part, because he had trouble pressuring people to pay, arriving  home once with a Shihtzu and another time with a slightly used color tv instead of money.  Mom was clearly distressed, but we kept them both and named the former, Munchkin.  Dad could not take a job that required him to punch a time clock and, thus, he had no benefits or stability.  He also had a drinking problem, to be sure, disappearing at times for months even years.  When he was in his 70’s, recovering from a fractured hip, I got a call that he had busted loose from the rehab facility.  He came back some 10 hours later, baffled by all the ‘hullabaloo’, never admitting where he had gone.  I suspect he paid a visit to his friends at the local Bodega. Officials at the facility were doubly concerned because he was in a wheelchair at the time, though I doubt he had trouble finding an accomplice to help him escape. He was in Yonkers, afterall, where he spent the bulk of his life.  Upon his discharge, we moved him into senior housing in a not so great part of Yonkers, but our initial concerns for his safety were assuaged by the realization that he literally knew EVERYONE in a ten block radius.

Sure my father had a checkered past and made some mistakes.   I wish he had an easier life, but I am grateful he was my father, warts and all.   As you read the articles and information about our family, keep in mind they are just snapshots, not the full story.

Add caption

16 y.o. Douglas Syska and 22 y.o. Merlin Scofield (his mother’s brother) arrested for malicious mischief in 1946, a year after Beatrice (Scofield) Syska passed away.

William F. Syska Jr.  involved in a fight in 1918 and declaring bankruptcy in 1945

Based on a true Story involving the child of Gladys Syska – daughter of William & Lizzie Syska.

Walter’s Hope (Google eBook)

Front Cover
Xulon Press, 2010 – Religion – 250 pages
Was this the end for Walter-death at the hands of His mother? His mother’s suffocating hand covers six year old Walter’s face as she attempts to throw him overboard. Lured with a promise of fun on the lake, now Walter is locked in a death struggle with the very one who brought him life. Is this the end? Was Walter created simply to die at six years of age?What clues would be found to his early years in that abandoned chest in the basement in Evergreen, Illinois? 

Westchester County Newspaper articles regarding Thomas and Patrick Hennessy and Family

Westchester County Newspaper articles regarding Thomas and Patrick Hennessy and Family

 Click on the image to see it larger.   
Images can also be viewed under Documents- Newspaper articles on the right hand side of blog.

Aug. 11, 1921-  County Veterans win College Scholarships – Thomas F. Hennessy at 101 Huguenot St. New Rochelle
Thursday Sept. 17, 1935  –  Democratic Party Delegates Named
Wednesday Octobe 4, 1939- Elected 2nd Vice Chairman of Westchester Democratic Committee
August 1951-  Desperately need 5 or 6 rooms

August 26, 1905- The Coachman of Premium Point will hold 7th annual picnic.  Officers include:  Patrick Hennessy as Sargeants-at-arms.

December 30, 1905-  Obituary for Mary Hennessy who passed away on Dec. 22, 1905 of Meningitis.  Funeral was held on Christmas Day at Church of Blessed Sacrament.  She leaves husband and four children.

June 1914-  The Wedding of Patrick Hennessy and Annie Hussey at St. Patrick’s Church in Larchmont.  Spending Honeymoon in Atlantic City.

Sept. 1923 – Patrick Hennessy, chauffeur in New Rochelle, called for Jury duty in Murder Trial but excused due to an aversion to capital punishment.

Mary Hennessy Obituary – December 22, 1905

Mary Hennessy Obituary – December 22, 1905

Mary Hennessy, wife of Patrick Hennessy, coachman for John G. Agar, died at her home on Premium Point last Friday afternoon, death being due to meningitis. She was born in Ireland and at the time of her death was in the 33rd year of her life. She had resided here a little over a year. Funeral services where held on Christmas Day from the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. The remains were interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.. She leaves a husband and four children

Blessed Sacrament Church
15 Shea Pl. New Rochelle
Founded 1848
Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
95 Kings Hwy  New Rochelle

Mary (Archer) Hennessy-  Wife of Patrick Hennessy – Mother of Joseph, Thomas, Henry & John

Mary (Archer) Hennessy- Wife of Patrick Hennessy – Mother of Joseph, Thomas, Henry & John

Mary (Archer) Hennessy (abt. 1869- abt 1907) is my great grandmother.  She married Patrick Joseph Hennessy (1874- ) sometime before 1898.  While I have not been able to confirm the year of their marriage nor the year of Mary’s birth or death, I have confirmed that she was Patrick’s wife and the mother of his first four children.

Patrick and Mary lived first in Brooklyn, NY and then in New Rochelle, NY.  Patrick worked as a Coachman or Chauffeur.  They had four sons:  Joseph Hennessy (1898 – ), Thomas Hennessy (1899-1954), Henry Hennessy (1901 – ) and John (Jack) Hennessy (1906-  ).  Mary died sometime between the birth of John in 1906 and 1910 when Patrick Hennessy is listed as a Widow on Census records.

Premium Point, New Rochelle –  
Northern shore of Long Island Sound 
I have located only one census record in which Mary Hennessy appears – the 1905 NY census that has her residing in  Premium Point, New Rochelle, NY with her husband Patrick and three sons at the time – Joseph, Thomas and Henry.  Based on the location, names and ages of the children, approximate ages of Mary and Patrick, as well as Patrick’s occupation and country of origin, I am certain this is the correct Census record for Mary and Patrick.  However, not all the details are accurate.   Patrick’s age is given as 29, but he would have been 31 (1874); plus the census has him immigrating to the US in 1890 when, in fact, it was January 11, 1894 according to his naturalization record.  Mary is listed as born in Ireland and coming to America in 1890, same as Patrick. Mary’s age on the census is difficult to read, but appears to be either 31 (1874) or 36 (1868).  I believe 36 would have been her correct age.

  • The 1905 NYS census relied on information provided verbally by any family member or a neighbor. It was not uncommon to assume a wife’s information was the same as her husbands. Age information of adults was often an approximation or even a guess.

Its certainly possible Mary and Patrick were married in Ireland and came to the United States together or happened to arrive the same year, but I have not found any record to prove or disprove this.  All of their children were born in the US, with the oldest born 4 years after Patrick arrived.

The only other definitive record I found belonging to Mary, is the birth record of Henry in Pittsfield, MA in 1902.  Although Henry was born in Massachusetts, the record lists Patrick and Mary’s address as Brooklyn, NY at the time which appears consistent with other records as both Joseph and Thomas were born in Brooklyn.   Henry’s birth record also indicates Patrick’s occupation as a Coachman, identifies Mary’s maiden name as Archer and her middle initial as possibly J and states both Patrick and Mary were born in Ireland.

I have been unable to find any other information that I believe conclusively identifies Mary. Presumably, Mary is buried somewhere in Westchester county as is Patrick Hennessy, but I have not been able to find either of their graves.  Patrick remarried and remained in the Premium point neighborhood of New Rochelle with his second family at least until 1940 as documented by the Census of that year.  Keep in mind, that all of the names I am searching- Mary, Archer & Hennessy- are incredibly common, particularly for immigrants coming from Ireland or England during that time period.  There are hundreds of records of both Mary Archer and Mary Hennessy as well as Patrick Hennessy.  I have concluded that the vast majority of these records are not related to our family.

 All of this brings me to a tale of the one and only lead I have into the roots of Mary (Archer) Hennessy….


On October 1, 1875,  Sarah (Andrew) Galloway Archer (1831-1912) arrived in New York Port with three of her children,  Hugh, Matilda and Mary.   They had come aboard a ship called, “The State of Virginia,” sailing from Glasgow, Scotland.   The New York port was just a stop along the way to their destination of Philadelphia where they joined the rest of their family, including  Richard Archer Sr. (1830- aft 1895) and Richard Archer Jr.  The two Richards had come to America in 1872.

 15 years earlier, Sarah Andrew Galloway and Richard Archer were married on September 5, 1860 in Ballymena, Ireland according to Ireland’s Civil Marriage records.   Sarah was the daughter of James Andrew and the widow of David Galloway.  She had three children from her first marriage – Jane, Hugh and Matilda- when she married Richard.  The oldest, Jane Galloway (1855-1897) married in 1872 and remained in Ireland when the rest of the family emigrated to America in 1875.

Sarah had two more known children with Richard.  Her son, Richard Jr. was born in 1862 and Mary was born in November of 1867.  The family moved to Dundee, Scotland sometime prior to Mary’s birth.  They are documented in Dundee on the 1871 Scottish census record which gives ages as follows:  Sarah Archer 35,  Jane Galloway 16, Hugh Galloway 13, Matilda Galloway 10, Richard Archer 9, Mary Archer 3. These ages make more sense since Hugh and Matilda were from Sarah’s first marriage and are older than Richard. Once in the USA, Hugh primarily assumed the Archer surname, while Matilda may have continued to use Galloway until her marriage.

  • Unfortunately, I can’t share this census as the Scottish government has released information but not the original census images.  The record is detailed, though, as it gives full names and ages, as reported by the family, of all persons in the home on that day as well as their place of birth.

Bridge to Dundee Scotland
 According to the Scottish census and civil birth records, Mary was born in the city of Dundee,  Forfarshire/Angus County, Scotland on Nov. 5, 1867.  Both her parents and siblings were born in Ireland so it is likely that Mary considered her nationality to be Irish.  Even, the ship passenger list above indicates her place of birth as Ireland along with the rest of her family.  
The Archer family settled in Philadelphia, residing at 535 Charter St. in 1880.  Richard Sr. was working as a carpetweaver as were his sons Hugh (22) and Richard Jr. (18).  Matilda was 20 years old and worked in a woolen mill while Mary was 11 and attended school. 
2676 Martha St. Philadelphia PA- built in 1875

According to Philadelphia city directory for Richard Archer Sr., the family resided at 535 Charter St. Philadelphia until 1890 when they moved to 2136 Charter St.  In 1894 and 1895 Richard and Sarah were residing at 2676 Martha St. Philadelphia.   That is the last record for Richard Archer Sr.  He died between 1895 and 1900 when Sarah is documented as being a widow on the Census.  

In 1900 Sarah was residing with her son, Richard Jr., his wife Maggie and his 4 yr. old son Richard,
at 2676 E. Lehigh Ln Philadelphia.  Sarah was 68 years old, widowed and the mother of 9 children, 4 of which were still living.  Her oldest daughter Jane passed away in 1897.  The other children we know about- Hugh, Matilda, Richard and Mary – were all living in 1900.  There must have been another 4 children that died prematurely.  
In 1910 Sarah was living at 3243 Joyce St. Philadelphia in the family home of her daughter and son-in-law, Matilda and Charles Seiler.  At this time,census records state only 3 of Sarah’s children were still living which is consistent with her daughter Mary (Archer) Hennessy having passed away prior to 1910.    Regarding Sarah’s other childrenMatilda and Richard both died after the 1920 census, but Hugh’s date of death is unknown.  
Sarah Archer passed away on Sept. 27, 1912 in Philadelphia at the age of 81.  She had survived the death of two husbands and six of her nine children, resided in three countries and on two continents, traveled across the atlantic and as a mother, grandmother and  great grandmother had grown a new branch of her family in America.   Her Death certificate confirms her age as 81, that she was widow, born in Ireland, the daughter of James Andrew and buried on Sept. 30, 1912 in Philadelphia, PA although the name of cemetery is unknown.  Richard Archer’s place of burial is also unknown.

Richard probably had a brother, George Archer (1834-1905) who also emigrated to the US and settled in Philadelphia with his wife Mary (McKnight) Archer.  George is buried with his wife at  Greenmount 
Cemetery, 4301 North Front Street Philadelphia PA.   It is possible that Richard & Sarah Archer are buried there as well. 


Mary’s siblings:

Richard and Margaret (unknown) Archer had at least 1 son, Richard Archer Jr. (b.1890) who  potentially could have been first cousin of Hennessy boys (Joseph, Thomas, Henry & John)

  • Richard Archer Jr. had four children – possible 2nd cousins 
    • Clare (Archer) Williard (b. 1918 -2000) 
    • Private (b.1920)
    • Private (b.1921)
    • Mary (Archer) Gubicza (b.1922 -2009) 
      • Private – 4 children living
      • Michael Gubicza (1958-2009)
  • Hugh Galloway Archer –  unknown if married or had children
  • Matilda (Galloway) Seiler and had 5 children who also could be potential first cousins.
    • Elwood Seiler (1886-1921 )
      • Private (1913-) 
      • Private (1919-)
    • Lilly May (Seiler) Dunn (1888- 1936)
      • Florenc M. Dunn (1911 -1992)
      • Cecil W. Dunn (1914-1971)
      • Alexander R. Dunn (1919 -1990)
      • Grace Dunn (1926-1997)
      • Howard Dunn (1929-2006)
    • Florence (Seiler) Doran Pewters (1891 -1973)
      • Lilly May (Doran) (1909-
        • Private – 6 children living born from 1927 – 1938
    • Private (1898-
    • George Seiler (1901- 1969)

George and Mary Archer had 7 children – William, Annie, Margaret, Sarah, Mary Elizabeth, Thomas & Martha – who may have been Mary (Archer) Hennessy’s first cousins. 

Life of Henry Hennessy, brother of Thomas F. Hennessy, at Craig Colony

Life of Henry Hennessy, brother of Thomas F. Hennessy, at Craig Colony

Henry Hennessy spent a significant part, if not all, of his adult life at Craig Colony for Epileptics in upstate New York.  Craig Colony was modeled after an idyllic vision of  a safe, productive environment where epileptics could live their lives in peace with proper medical care.  The reality was not so idyllic and the premise that epileptics needed to be segregated because they were either contagious, dangerous to society, or ‘not right in the head,’ could not have been more erroneous.

Henry Hennessy is my great uncle, my grandfather’s brother.  Few, if any, will be searching for him on ancestry websites as he has no direct descendants.  He wasn’t allowed to marry or fraternize with females at Craig Colony.   Despite attempts to simulate a home environment for colonists, as they were called, Craig Colony was an institution specifically designed to keep male and female patients from interacting, with the sexes entirely separated by a rocky ravine.  Epilepsy was understood to be a brain disorder by the late 19th century, but there was no effective seizure medication and epileptics faced severe discrimination making it almost impossible to live a normal life.  Prior to the establishment of Craig Colony, many were committed to insane asylums.

Henry J. Hennessy was born on January 21, 1901 in Pittsfield Massachusetts, the third son of Patrick Joseph Hennessy and Mary J. (Archer) Hennessy.    Patrick and Mary were living in Brooklyn in 1901 as documented on Henry’s birth record, their reason for being in Massachusetts at the time is unknown.  The birth record includes Patrick and Mary’s full names and Patrick’s occupation  as a coachmen, as well as Henry’s date of birth.

Henry had two older brothers, Joseph Hennessy, born in 1898 and Thomas Francis Hennessy (my grandfather) born in 1899.  Joseph and Thomas were born in NYC and Patrick’s naturalization record indicates he was living in NYC in 1905, as well.  Patrick and Mary had a fourth son, John (Jack) Hennessy in 1906.  Mary died sometime between 1906 and 1910.   The 1910 census indicates that Patrick is a widow living with 3 of his sons in New Rochelle.  Patrick remarried in approximately 1914.  Henry Hennessy is included on the 1915 NY State census as living with his family in New Rochelle, consisting of his father, stepmother, Annie, his brothers Thomas and John and his infant half brother, James.

Groveland, NY – location of Craig Colony

By 1920, Henry was a patient at the Craig Colony for Epileptics in Groveland, NY.  His admission date is unknown, but must have been between 1915 and 1920.  The 1920 Census indicates that 7th grade was the highest grade Henry completed in school which would have been about the time of the 1915 when he was 13 years old.   There is no way to know when Henry first developed epileptic seizures, but it seems likely  he sought treatment for new or worsening symptoms around 1915 which eventually led to his placement at Craig Colony.    Henry was a patient at the Colony until at least 1940, which is the last census record available.

Craig Colony admitted it’s first patient in 1896.  It was modeled after a colony in Germany and was originally designed to house 200 epileptic patients with the intent to specifically exclude the insane.   Overcrowding quickly became a major problem at the colony with over 1400 colonists in residence in 1911 and over 2700 at it’s peak in 1939.   The colony had a working farm, craft shops, school and hospital with colonists employed in various trades, the intent being the colony would be self-supporting.  The doctors and administrators thought of the colony as the most humane treatment of epileptics at the time who they still considered to be mentally ill.  In one annual report, administrators wrote, Not all epileptics are unusually irritable, or so much lacking in self-control, nor are all inclined to complain.

Excerpts of a speech given by a physician in Chicago about 1907 regarding the problems of Epileptic patients and the best way to care for them.  

  • “If the adult [epileptic] be a man… he is very apt to be dangerous, as you know, and a source of danger to the rest of the family….  An epileptic may get a job between his attacks, but after his first attack, as a rule, his job is gone. No business man wants an epileptic around his premises.
  • “Those of you who have been in the home where the mother is epileptic know what a sad and pathetic sight it is.  The children are neglected.  The whole home is one of the most sad and depressing scenes into which an individual can go.”
  • Regarding epileptic child:  “Nobody wants him.  He is excluded from public schools and, very properly.  It is not fair to the rest of the children… that they should be exposed to seeing the contortions and writhings of an epileptic child….He is very apt to be the butt of scorn and ridicule of his playmates. ‘
  • “The best way and, the best remedy for this condition is … segregation of all epileptics into a community by themselves… epileptic colony or village.”
Even for those epileptics not institutionalized, marriage was difficult.  Laws prohibiting epileptics from marrying were passed in 18 states from 1895 to 1939.  The law forbidding marriage among epileptics in the United Kingdom was only repealed in 1970.  Principles of eugenics flourished leading to laws requiring sterilization of epileptics as well.   

Craig Colony accomplished the same goal as sterilization without surgery.  A medical director wrote in his report, “One great value of segregating epileptics in an institution like Craig Colony is that it cuts off, to a certain extent, an epileptic progeny, for the disease is handed down from parent to child in 16 percent of all cases.  
The Colony closed in 1968.  It is unknown if Henry Hennessy died while a patient at Craig or if he was discharged or transferred to another institution.  Many ‘colonists’ lost connection with their families after being placed in the Colony.