Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mary Dempsey O'Connell: Irish Rebellion Immigrant (52 Ancestors #3)

I have not done a great deal of in depth research on Mary. She had proved to be a bit of a brick wall, as many women ancestors can be. I have chosen her as one of my 52 Ancestors because I have had difficulty finding more than census and city directory records for her. I hope that in writing what I know I may start to discover new bits to add to her life.

Pastoral Irish Cottages c.1820
Mary Dempsey was born about 1815 in Ireland. Her parents are as yet UNK. Nothing is known of her early life in Ireland. It can be presumed that it was hard, the population at that time was soaring and the work was leaving Ireland for more industrialized England. Workhouses were being erected to house the destitute. Life was becoming extremely difficult for native Irish men and women. Their traditional way of life was being threatened. Families were being split apart as the government tried to gain control of it's vast unemployed population. I don't imagine the prospects were encouraging for a young woman in such a depressed country at this time in history.

 Mary married James O'Connell, who was at least 10, possibly 12, years her seniorabout 1838, and their first of twelve children was born in or about 1839. The Irish Rebellion was heating up and I imagine it was a time of much unrest as tradition was being pushed out by modernization and the English were imposing their ideas upon the Irish. Mary gave birth to her second child in or about 1841. By the time their third child was born, about 1842, I imagine things were looking worrisome for the new, rapidly growing family. [The alternate possibility I have considered is that Mary may have married James closer to 1843, that James was a widower and the first three children were not Mary's natural children.]

At some point between 1842 and 1844 Mary and James decide to emigrate to America.

Cutaway of ship
The trip would have taken between 6 and 14 weeks depending on time of year and weather conditions. They most likely would have travelled below decks in steerage, crammed with others who dreamed of a new life in America.. Mary quite possibly was pregnant during the voyage, and caring for 2 infants and a toddler. Conditions must have been dire at home for a young family with small children to gamble an ocean voyage to an unknown land.

Arriving in America
Upon arriving in their new country, the family lived for a time in Kings Co, New York, where Mary gave birth to four more children. New York in 1850 was most likely not a very hospitable place. The Irish immigrants were less than welcomed when they arrived. I imagine Mary, James and their young children had a tough time of it those first few years.

By 1850 Mary and James had settled in Poughkeepsie, New York. The family had grown to seven children under the age of 10. James is recorded as a cabinetmaker, Mary is recorded as unable to read or write. The neighbors in their new community were a mixture of Irish and English.

In 1860 the family has grown by another four children. James is now listed as a laborer. They do not own any real estate yet, but the value of their personal estate is equal to or greater than the neighbors. Things are going well in their new homeland. Mary is a very busy homemaker with 12 members of the household to care for, ten children and two adults. It appears that the first born son, Patrick, has left the family home.

1861. America is at war. With itself. Three of Mary's sons are old enough to fight. (To date I have found records for only one son, Hugh, who fought and survived. Hugh lived with his mother until the day she died.) If my alternate theory is correct then only Hugh would be Mary's natural son, the other two boys would be step sons. I can find no record of the first two boys after 1860.

Frame House c. 1870
1870 finds the family still in Poughkeepsie, NY. Their twelfth and final child (my paternal great grandmother) appears for the first time. James is a home owner and a U.S. citizen with voting rights. (I have not found the documents to prove this yet, but it is recorded in the census as such) Two more children have moved out of the family home. Their neighbors are Irish, English and New Yorkers. Their home is valued higher than their neighbors.

The 1875 New York census lets us glimpse at what Mary and James had accomplished since setting out from all that was ancestral and familiar, to forge a better life for their children. They are home and land owners, well, James is anyway. Their home is valued at or above the neighboring homes. The neighborhood has changed to include German immigrants and many native New Yorkers.

By 1880 Mary is widowed. She is living still in her beloved home in Poughkeepsie, NY with six of her grown children. But the story does not end there.

Mary has one final adventure ahead of her.

Sometime prior to 1888 Mary, along with two sons and three daughters, decided to leave her family home, her friends and many of her children behind in New York, and move to St Paul, Minnesota. I wish I knew why. I can find no evidence of the reason for such a long distance move so late in her life. All of her children were single. Perhaps something happened at home or perhaps one of the sons secured work.

Minnesota Street Car c.1890
The last records I can find for Mary are both in 1895. The 1895 City Directory listing and the 1895 Minnesota Territorial Census. She does not appear anywhere after this date. I have found no record of her death. no burial listing. Mary left the world as she came into it, mysteriously, quietly, unknown.

But she lived a most adventurous life. 

Mary was a strong resilient Irishwoman who left a land of poverty for the promise of a better life.

And succeeded.

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