We are all descended from thousands of people. However, we don’t get to know all of them. For the ones we do get to know, there are some that we actually get to spend time with and there are others that we get to know through stories. Here is the story of my great-grandparents Martin and Frances Burns through the lens of their great-grandson, Shane Martin Oxendine.
By: Shane M. Oxendine
Everyone in the family always had good things to say about Martin.
They said that he was smart and that he was the sweetest man that they had ever met.
A true gentleman.
I’m proud to have his name as my middle name because it drives me to be a kind-hearted person just like he was.
Even though I never met him, I’m thankful for him and the picture that people painted of him. I honestly believe that he was a great man and I admire the way that he treated the people that I love today.
Nanny was also such a great person. She loved me very much and she always made sure that I knew it. There was never a day around her where I didn’t feel loved. I remember that she would always say that I reminded her of her husband. She always said that I was lucky to have some of his attributes.
Nanny also always made sure that I had nice stuff. I remember that she would always buy me new clothes.
SHE ALSO ALWAYS MADE SURE I HAD A CLEAN PAIR OF SOCKS TO WEAR. She would ask me almost every day if I needed socks because she knew it was important to me. She also said she didn’t want me to have “stinky feet” and that would always make us laugh.
I loved her so much.
She was always a sweet, beautiful person to me. She never once got mad at me or treated me badly. All she did was love me. She is a big reason why I take my family seriously. She showed me how to love my family without me even knowing it back then.
She also had a laugh that was really funny. I had to get a portrait of an angel tattooed on me with her name above it simply because she was an angel when she was alive and when she passed.
I’ll never forget her.
I’ll always love her and I’ll always miss her.
I’ve never met anyone like her and I probably never will again. I know that her and Martin are now together up in Heaven, and that’s what she wanted in the last of her time.
It’s depressing but she made that very clear. She loved him more than life itself.
I admire her for everything that she was. She was such a great person.
I promised you that I would take you to see them and one day soon we will.
My great-grandfather Martin John Burns was a very special person as was my great-grandmother, Frances Burns, who was affectionately known as “Nanny” by all of her great-grandchildren. For this post, I wanted to introduce a different approach than I have taken from previous posts. What I am going to do for my great-grandparents is publish works from multiple generations. We should all take time now to write down what we know about our loved ones. We hear it way too often – I wish I had spent more time speaking, listening, spending time with, documenting what my grandparents and parents told me growing up. These are the stories and memories of Martin and Frances Burns – first starting with their only child – my grandmother – Frances Achnitz.
By: Frances Achnitz
I would like to tell you about my parents, Martin John Burns and Frances Teresa Burns. They were probably the best parents a girl could have. My Father, also known as Marty Burns, was born Martin John Burns on October 30, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. My Mother, whose birth name was actually Francisca Teresa Fariñas, was born on August 16, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York.
My Father was the second Son and fourth child born to Lillian and Henry Burns also of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. My Father’s parents were born in the United States. My Grandfather Henry was born to Irish immigrant parents and my Grandmother Lillian was born to German immigrant parents. My Father was a beautiful person inside and out!
He was, in my opinion, a brilliant man with a very creative gift. Although he was born in Brooklyn, he spent most of his childhood and teenage years living in Queens Village. I remember him telling me about a dog that he had found when he was about 15 years old. He found the dog crying and buried under a pile of rags in the street. He brought him home and he named him, appropriately “Rags”. He loved that dog and always spoke of him so affectionately. He was a very hard worker and always gave his paychecks to his Mother to help with the large family that included six children. He was a very devoted Son and Brother. My Grandmother Lillian, would send my Father to meet his Dad every Friday on payday, at Abraham and Straus,where his Dad worked as a Master Carpenter, to make sure that his Dad would come straight home and not go visit the neighborhood bar. My Father would always say “How are you Pop? I just thought I would meet you and keep you company on the way home,” and my Grandfather loved it. My Father was the responsible one who everyone turned to when they needed help.
When World War II began, he enlisted into the Army Air Force. He wanted to become a pilot but instead became a flight instructor. He was a very smart man and the Air Force decided that he needed to be an instructor. He was disappointed, but true to who he was, he did what was asked of him.
My Mother was the youngest child of Rosalia Fariñas and Juan Fariñas. My Mother’s parents were both born in Spain and met and married in the US. My Mother had two older sisters, Josephina, and Louisa. The sisters were very close and remained close throughout their lives. My Grandmother, Rosalia, passed away at the young age of 44 leaving her husband and daughters devastated. My Mother had to leave school to stay at home to take care of her. The older sisters continued with their schooling. My Mother, by age 12 could run a household. She cooked, cleaned, did laundry and took charge of the family. My Mother was a free spirit with a devilish side to her. She also had an awesome sense of humor as did her sisters. She loved to dance and dancing was probably the most important thing to her while she was young. I am not sure, but I think she met my Father at a dance. During the war, she and her sisters volunteered towards the war efforts.
My Mother and Father met sometime in 1943 and immediately fell in love. They were married on December 18, 1943 in Laredo, Texas, where my Father was stationed at the time. My Mother’s Father was mad at her for marrying my Father because my Father was Irish. My Grandfather Juan was convinced that anyone who was Irish must be a drinker. Oddly enough, my Father never drank! He hated alcohol. Later on, my Grandfather grew to love my Father like he was his own Son.
I was born August 16, 1944 on my Mother’s Birthday. So, I was named after my Mother and I was their pride and joy. My Father always told my Mother that he gave her the best Birthday present ever!
After the war, my Father decided to go back to school. He went to and graduated with honors from Pratt Institute in the field of Architecture. Some of his work was actually on display at the school’s Art Gallery for many years. After graduating, he got a job working as an apprentice Architect for a firm in New York City. He was designing shopping centers in upstate New York. His dream was diminished though when he found out that the firm was selling his designs without giving him credit for any of them.
He left that company and then went on to look for more work. I can remember him going out every day with his portfolio and spending days, weeks and months looking for work. Having a family and needing a job, he finally took a job at the New York Furniture Exchange in Manhattan and ended up working as a furniture buyer for the rest of his life. He didn’t complain. He just always did his job and always excelled at what he did.
He loved my Mother with all his heart. He loved me unconditionally and I always knew I would be forever loved, protected and treated like his princess. My Mother remained a devoted and meticulous housewife. She too, loved my Father with all that she was and was a wonderful loving Mother to me. I was an only child and my parents did everything for me that they could. I do have to tell you that although they would do whatever they could for me, I was never spoiled. My parents would not put up with a spoiled child. I learned many things from my parents and I thank God that I was their child.
I had a very happy family! There was always laughter in our home. We lived just around the corner from my Mother’s sister Josephine, her husband Louis, my cousin Rosalie and my Grandfather Juan. We spent a lot of time there and we always had fun and laughter. Our family was very close. My Mother was very overprotective of me and wouldn’t let me do a lot of things that some of the other kids could do, but then my Father would intervene and eventually she would give in.
I remember one birthday in particular when my Mother decided that I didn’t have to have a birthday party because she said I was getting “too old” for parties (I was eight). The real reason was some of the neighborhood kids were getting sick and she didn’t want me to get sick. So, she decided – no party. The day of my Birthday, my Father felt so bad about my not having a celebration that he decided to go the neighbor’s house where he invited all my friends. We didn’t have a cake. So, he found oreo cookies in the pantry and made me a cookie cake. I was so happy and I still remember that birthday.
Our Christmas’ were also the best! On Christmas Eve, during the daytime, my Father would take me to Canal Street in Manhattan and buy a bundle of trees from the trucks coming in from upstate. He would tie the trees to the car and we would go home and give the extra trees to my Aunt and to a neighbor. We would then decorate the enormous tree, make cookies and cocoa, set out a plate for Santa and then it was off to bed. Around Midnight, my parents would wake me up and say “Santa was here, come and see”. That is when we would open our gifts and then on Christmas Day, it was a feast.
My Father taught me how to drive when I was fourteen years old. My Mother wouldn’t let me have a car until I was 18 though. So, as soon as I was old enough, my Father bought me my first car. It was a 1956 green Dodge and I loved it. After my marriage, my parents continued to always be there for me and my family. My husband loved my Father like his own Father and maybe even more. My children had the best Grandparents ever.
On December 10, 1976, my precious Father, passed away from a heart attack and left us way too soon. He was only 58 years old. It was devastating for all of us, but for my Mother, her world was changed forever. My Mother lived for almost 34 years without him. She never re-married and never even considered doing so. She missed him every day of her life, but true to her nature and personality, she continued on. She was still always a bit devilish and always a force to be reckoned with. She always maintained her sense of humor though.
Then, she became a Great-Grandmother and she loved it more than life itself. She became “Nanny” and the Grandchildren loved her and she always made them laugh and smile. When my husband passed away, she knew, first hand, what I was going through. We lost her only five months later.
She left us on July 25, 2010, three weeks before her 90th Birthday. I found peace in knowing that she and my loving Father were together again and I know they are still smiling and that they are now looking after my husband, Bill and they are all with me in my heart and in my spirit. Oh, how I miss them.
My parents, Marty and Fran, were and still are an inspiration to me and to anyone who knew them. I am so proud to have called them Mother and Father. I hope that I have passed on some of their loving ways, their love of life, their principles, their laughter and their joy to my children and Grandchildren.
For many years, my family knew very little of its Burns roots. The furthest we could go back was to my great-great grandfather Henry Edward Burns (the son of Charles Burns), and his musings that we were a “little Irish, a little German, a little French Canadian, and even some American Indian.”
Turns out we are definitely Irish, we are definitely German, and I’m pretty sure we are French Canadian too. The Native American part I think was just thrown in for fun. Nevertheless, it was a start.
After unearthing the birth certificate of my great-great grandfather last year, I was finally able to move back another generation and either prove or disprove the stories that Henry Burns had told my grandmother when she was a child. What my grandmother could recall is that Henry Burns went by the nickname Harry and his father had immigrated from Ireland to Canada and finally to New York. She also recalled that he had a sister named Teresa.
Below is a 1900 census record from Brooklyn that I found that HAD to be my ancestors. There was a Harry, there was a Teresa, and there was a Charles and a George (which were names that were constantly circulated in the Burns family over the generations). Not to mention, Harry and George were both listed as Cabinet Makers. Not only was my great-grandfather a carpenter, but Henry Burns was also a carpenter. This was definitely my family. As you can see, there was also “a little bit of Irish, and even a little bit of French Canadian” shown in this census record as well.
Charles Burns (my 3x great grandfather) was listed as widowed though in 1900. At the time, I wondered what had happened to his wife. When exactly did she pass away? Where was Mary MacCadden Burns buried?
The next couple of records that I found had shed some light on these questions and gave me a better look at the makeup of the family of Charles and Mary Burns.
This New York State census record from 1892 shows the entire family in Brooklyn again (this time with a few more children). You can see Charles and Mary Burns with their 6 children (Mary, Sophie, Charles Jr, Harry, George, and Teresa). The next record I found though gave an even more clear picture of the family.
This 1880 census record from Brooklyn shows Charles Burns (at age 24) with his wife Mary (at age 34) and their two children Sophie (age 3) and Charles Jr (10 months). Mary’s mother Margaret McCadden (my 4x great grandmother) is also listed as living with them in addition to Maggie and Mary Sweeney (Charles’ stepdaughters). So, going from 1880 to 1892, you see a bit of discrepancies. First off, you discover that Mary Burns had at least two daughters from a previous marriage. And secondly, you see a rather large difference in age – Mary is 10 years older than Charles in 1880 whereas she is listed as only being 3 years older than Charles in 1892. We get a better sense of her true age later, but still Mary had an entire life before Charles came into it. I’d be interested to learn the circumstances of their meeting and hope to one day uncover a marriage certificate.
After completing a little bit more digging though, I was able to obtain the death certificate of Mary Burns.
Mary Burns passed away on May 22, 1900 from Bright’s disease and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Her father is listed as Patrick McCadden and her mother as Margaret McCadden, both of whom were born in Ireland. As you will see, her true age will remain a mystery. However, I think it is more than safe to say that she left her family still too young.
On a nice overcast day in November of last year, I decided to make the journey into Brooklyn to Holy Cross Cemetery. In fact, Mary Burns was the last of my ancestors (out of the ones where I knew where they were buried) that I had yet to visit.
Unlike my experience at Calvary Cemetery, the employees at Holy Cross were incredibly generous in providing information about where she was buried. For sure, I thought that she would be buried with my great-great grandfather’s twin (the one that he “kicked to death”). However, it turned out that she was by herself. The employee confirmed that and had no record of another infant that died in the year 1881 by the last name Burns.
Ironically though, a headstone opposite the headstone of Mary Burns caught my eye. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
I have to do more research into this, but I find the fact that there are Sweeneys buried so closely to be a sign that perhaps Charles Burns wanted her to be as close as possible to her first husband and any children that she may have had with him. Or maybe that was her request? Who knows? Hopefully, one day I am able to shed some more light on that.
Finding a birth record for Mary MacCadden would be nice too. That way we can actually figure out if she was 47 or 53 (as indicated on her headstone). Either way it was awesome to find my 3x great grandmother, Mary T. Burns.
If you know anything about the MacCadden family or the Burns, please leave me a comment.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.