The Donnelly Discovery

My Trip to Calvary Cemetery

Queens, New York

One of the things my grandfather used to always tell me about his family tree was that both of his grandparents were named William and Catherine. There was the German William & Catherine, and the Irish William & Catherine.

Recently, I visited the Donnelly Family Plot in Calvary Cemetery. Getting there was no easy feat. In fact, this was the cemetery that was next on my list to visit after getting the flat tire that started this blog.

To begin this story, I want to backtrack a few years ago to when I first started making inroads on the Donnelly branch of my family tree.

My great-great grandfather William J. Donnelly was born on July 25, 1881. I knew this because my grandmother had an original copy of his baptismal certificate from the Church of St. Teresa in Manhattan. Aside from asking members of your family to recite the family legends and lore, you should always go through old collections of documents because you never know what gems you will end up uncovering.

william-donnelly-baptism

What else did I know about him? At the time, I was only able to locate him in one census record, which was from 1910.

1910-census

From the record, you can see that William (at age 28) was living in the Bronx with his wife Catherine and their two young daughters Veronica (my great-grandmother) and Abigail (known in my family as Aunt Abby). William was listed as working as a mechanic and they are listed as being married for 3 years. This was the last census record I had for William though. As I found more information on my great-grandmother Veronica, Aunt Abby, and my great-great-grandmother Catherine, there was no sign of William. In fact, by 1920, Catherine is listed as widowed, left to raise two daughters by herself.

1920-census

I could not imagine what it must have been like for Catherine. Back then, women stayed at home and a big reason for that was motherhood. Catherine now had to do it all – raise her two daughters and financially support a household of three.

What happened to William though? For the longest time, I had no clue.

The only other document I was able to easily hunt down was his and Catherine’s marriage certificate.

marriage-certificate

mc-page-2

To the non-Irish, Donnelly may not sound like a common last name but as I like to frequently describe it, it might as well be the Irish version of Smith. There are so many Donnellys.

NYC-1899-Directory
The tail end of the Donnelly’s listed in the 1899 NYC Directory

There are 4 men named William J. Donnelly alone on this directory page. So, finding the correct Donnelly can be quite the task. Not to mention, I don’t think any of these Donnelly’s are mine as he would’ve only been 18 at the time. Plus, the Michael Donnelly that is listed as an engineer is his father and none of the Williams listed are at his address. But this just goes to demonstrate the difficulty in researching the Donnelly surname.

A breakthrough eventually came after years of trying to identify William’s death date. I even bought the wrong death certificate at one point. To understand my pain, see the below search results from ItalianGen used to whittle down the William Donnellys that died during the timeframe my great-great grandfather did.

Italian-Gen-Search

Since he was living in the Bronx at the time, I figured I could whittle it down further by searching only for the William Donnellys that died in the Bronx.
screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-11-06-14-pm

Donnelly-Bronx

BINGO! I thought I had my guy. In 1919, at 38 years old, he would have been born in 1881. I thought for sure this was my guy. The death certificate came in the mail, but it wasn’t him. I’ll have to get around to uploading the certificate for this William Donnelly to hopefully save someone else 15 bucks.

Anyways, my next option was to go back to the original 22 search results and see which Williams lined up near the 1881 birth year. Perhaps, he didn’t die in the Bronx, I thought.

Luckily, at some point, I didn’t have to do that because FamilySearch.org started including more details on the death certificates in their search results. See below.

familysearch-donnelly

This was my guy!

The only difference was that the birth year is 1883 instead of 1881. So, either his death certificate is incorrect or his baptismal certificate was off by two years (It was dated in 1923 – 8 years after his death – so it could be that the copy of the baptismal certificate was incorrectly transcribed).

Making this connection in addition to finding the birth and death dates of some of William’s siblings, I was finally able to locate him and the rest of his family in the 1900 census.

1900-donnelly

According to this census, Michael and Catherine Donnelly had been married for 35 years and had 9 children together, 5 (or 6) of which were still living. Uncle Daniel Gilmore (Catherine’s brother) was also living with them at this time. You should always remember to look for “boarders” with other family surnames to help identify if this is indeed your family, particularly for those with common surnames like Donnelly. Turns out Gilmore isn’t as prevalent as Donnelly.

As you can see here, William lived with his 3 older sisters, Elizabeth, Annie, and Louise. His birthday is also listed as July 1881. So, my guess it that he was born in 1881 instead of 1883.

Now, the death certificate…

death-certificate-william-donnelly

On May 25, 1915, William J. Donnelly, my great-great grandfather, passed away at his parents’ house in Manhattan from complications with pulmonary and laryngal tuberculosis. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery at the Donnelly Family Plot with about 15 other relatives that includes his parents, his siblings, and his niece Marjorie E. Calamia, and her husband James Thomas Calamia (the last two that were buried at this plot).

In fact, after speaking with the employee at Calvary Cemetery that helped me locate this grave, I discovered that Catherine Donnelly (William’s mother – not wife – both were named Catherine), was the original owner of the grave. According to the cemetery’s records, if I am recalling it correctly, there are 15 people buried there, many of whom were moved there from other graves. To use the employee’s words, “a lot of bodies were moved when this plot was first bought.”

donnelly-family-plotI hope to learn more about all of the people that are buried here. If you are related to me through the Donnellys, I would love to connect with you. Calvary Cemetery charges a substantial fee (over $100) to provide all the names and death dates of each person buried in family plots. So, again please support my endeavors. Share this with friends. Book a genealogy trip with me. All of my proceeds from this are going to be reinvested in preserving the memories of my ancestors and I hope one day in the future I can do a follow-up to this post including all of the names of the people buried here as well as hopefully giving each one of them a headstone.

All in time. Keep digging!

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The Burns Family Plot

My Trip to St. John’s Cemetery

Queens, New York

Next on my list of locations to visit in St. John’s was the Burns. One of my more difficult branches to research (mainly due to the commonality of the Burns surname), my Burns ancestors were one of my favorite branches to conquer. It started with, of course, interviewing my grandmother (who was born a Burns). My grandmother remembers all sorts of stories about her grandparents, and one of the most interesting characters, was her grandfather Henry Edward Burns (1881-1963), who went by Harry. He was your typical jolly, hard-working, jokester of an Irishman who allegedly had to give his wife his paycheck every payday out of fear of blowing it all at the bar.

For the longest time, I was unable to pinpoint his birth record. Born in 1881, there was a good chance he may not have had a birth record. However, I didn’t give up running searches and rather than running a search with his first name, I simply ran one for the year 1881 with just the last name Burns. This is what I came across.

henry-burns-search

May 9, 1881 was his birthday. Charles Burns was his father. There are two records though? One of which has a death date of the same day? Did my 2nd great grandfather have a twin? I couldn’t wait to tell my grandmother as I was sure this was a piece of information she had never heard before.

I said, “Grandma, did you know that your grandfather Harry Burns had a twin?”

She replied, “Yeah, he did have a twin. Actually, he used to make a joke about how he kicked his twin to death because he needed more room.”

Maybe not the best joke to make about the twin he never got to meet, but that just goes to demonstrate the good nature of the man. Even the most tragic of scenarios could be infused with a little bit of humor.

Here is their birth certificate:

henry-burns-birth-record

This opened the door to another generation and led to a number of other discoveries, including where my 3x great grandparents were buried. Charles Burns was not buried with his first wife, Mary McCadden. Instead, I came to learn that Mary had passed away on May 22, 1900 and was buried in a plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn presumably where her infant son was also buried.

Charles Burns remarried a couple of years later to Margaret Catherine Scally (1877-1939), and had two more children, Daniel Francis Burns, and Margaret C. Burns. All four of them are buried together in the plot seen below.

burns

Unfortunately, there are no names inscribed on this headstone – just the Burns surname signifying it is the Burns Family Plot. In that moment, I thought perhaps there used to be footstones marking each individual’s name. However, Margaret C. Burns (their daughter) had passed away in 1990 and Daniel F. Burns (their son) had passed away in 1982. According to my grandmother, Margaret and Daniel lived together their entire lives, never married, and never had kids.

Their father was first buried there in 1928 and their mother next in 1939. Why did they never get their names inscribed? Was it their wish for the stone to only say Burns? Why leave all of that space on the stone then? Did two earlier footstones exist? Who was responsible for their burials?

All questions I’d like to find out answers to. I can’t imagine they would have not wanted their names on their headstone. How would they be remembered? All it says is Burns.

Anyways, if it was indeed just due to the lack of follow through on the part of other family members, I want to make sure that I am one day able to get their names inscribed. In the meantime, they will be memorialized here.

Information found from Locate A Loved One that prompted this search:

Charles Burns

1855-1928

Section: 6 Row: L Plot: 85 Grave: 2

Margaret Scally Burns (Charles’ 2nd wife)

1877-1939

Section: 6 Row: L Plot: 85 Grave: 3

Daniel F. Burns (Charles’ youngest son)

1902-1982

Section: 6 Row: L Plot: 85 Grave: 3

Margaret C. Burns (Charles’ youngest daughter)

1906-1990

Section: 6 Row: L Plot: 85 Grave: 4

 

pop-burns-with-boys
Circa 1926-27: Harry Burns aka “Pop Burns” (right) with his children and half-brother Daniel Burns (left)           Courtesy of: My Grandmother

If you want to support my research and quest to make sure that all of my ancestors are properly remembered, please let me know. I started Flat Tire Genealogy to ensure that no one in my tree would be forgotten. So, anything you can do to help, especially if these people are in your tree too, would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

As always, keep digging.