Sunday, April 23, 2017

What Were the Chances? A Tale of DNA

About two and a half years ago, I took an AncestryDNA autosomal DNA test, and linked the results to an Ancestry member tree. I looked over my matches now and then, but practically all of them were in fourth cousin range and beyond, most of them had no tree or only a private one, and few of the ones who did have public trees had any apparent connections to mine. There were a couple of matches around second cousin range and a bare handful at third, but I hadn't gotten around to investigating them further.

Then, a few weeks ago, two new matches, both female, popped up at the very top of my match list – still in 2nd-cousin territory (I have no full first cousins), but the highest yet. The top match (500 cM) was administered by the second match (299 cM), so they looked pretty much like a mother and daughter. And based on one of our shared matches (one of the few which I had been able to identify from their posted tree), the match had to be through my paternal grandfather. Trouble was, the surname was completely unknown to me, and the tree attached to the top match was private.

Even taking into account the possibility of an outlier at the extremes of observed shared DNA ranges, 500 cM is almost certainly in the class that includes first cousins once removed, half-first cousins, great-great-aunts, and half-great-aunts, with a second cousin just barely possible. Anyone at the great-aunt level or older would have been deceased long before atDNA testing began. And, since I have no full first cousins and my grandfather had no siblings who lived to adulthood, I have no (full) first cousins once removed or second cousins on his side.

That leaves half-first cousins. Well, that had potential; before his fifth and final marriage to my grandmother, my grandfather fathered five other children (that I know of) with four different mothers, all before the turn of the 20th century. Thus I had four half-uncles and a half-aunt who could in theory have given me half-first cousins. However, the reality is a bit more restricted in scope:
  • Half-aunt Hazel – four sons with children; one daughter, unmarried and childless
  • Half-uncle Kenneth – married twice, no children
  • Half-uncle Leonard – one adopted son, no biological children
  • Half-uncle Chester – no record after birth registration, assumed died as child
  • Half-uncle Vinal – died as an infant
In other words, my only known female half-first cousin had no children, male or female – and she died in 1995 and was thus certainly not my 500 cM match! Which left, well, no leads at all.


What about half-uncle Chester?

A couple of years ago, I posted some speculations here, entitled Whatever Happened to Chester L. Kirk?, in a 52 Ancestors post. Chester L., the son of my grandfather Chester F. Kirk and Nellie Crosman (who, as it happens, was not one of Chester's five wives), apparently dropped off the face of the earth after his birth was registered. No death record, no census records, no marriage record... he just disappeared. It seemed likely he had died as a child and the record was lost or misfiled.

Research into Nellie's subsequent whereabouts eventually found her in Gloucester, Massachusetts, married to a William Mitchell, with a son Linwood Arthur Mitchell, but no sign of Chester L. However, certain interesting coincidences led me to conjecture that Linwood might actually be Chester, informally adopted and renamed, with a delayed birth certificate naming William Mitchell as his father, and stating a birth date exactly two years (to the day!) after Chester's actual birth.

But, as I said in that post, "Of course, I can't prove (lacking DNA evidence) that any of this is more than just speculation."

What were the chances?

No, there had to be some other explanation. Probably the shared DNA amounts were misleading for some reason (some kind of double-cousin relationship? IBS?) and it really was one of the descendants of my half-aunt Hazel. For that matter, it was hardly out of the question that grandpa could have had additional off-spring that just never came to light before. So I never gave Uncle Chester any serious thought, and with no other apparent possibilities, I started researching Hazel's grandchildren to see if one of them had married into the surname of my new matches.

Two days later, I received an email from a young women who was doing some genealogical research for her grandmother and mother. A couple of months before, she had stumbled across this blog, with its two-year-old post idly speculating about the fate of one Chester L. Kirk. It made for eerie reading, she said, because her family lore held a rumor that her great-grandfather wasn't the biological son of his nominal father.

Her great-grandfather was named Linwood Arthur Mitchell.

Her grandmother – Linwood's daughter – and her mother had just received their DNA test matches.

To a half-first cousin, and a half-first cousin once removed, respectively.

To me.

What were the chances?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chasing Daniel Murphy, Part 3: Back to the Island

So far, in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we've found a Daniel Murphy in Newburyport, Mass., born in Prince Edward Island ostensibly around 1843 to Michael Murphy and Martha Morrison, marrying Anastasia Welch (his second marriage). He may or may not be the same Daniel Murphy supposedly born about 1851, brother to Elizabeth (Murphy) Mason of Newburyport and likely father to Pius Peter Murphy of Newburyport and Annie (Murphy) Shennett of Amesbury. Pius's purported mother Johanna Collins is the most specific lead we have. (He and Annie also reported mother's name as Mary and Margaret, but without a maiden name.) Since both were born in P.E.I., that seemed like the next destination to tackle.

Although the records are incomplete, especially in the first half of the 19th century, the baptismal index on the P.E.I. Archives website lets you search by child's name and/or both parents. Images of the index cards are available on FamilySearch. (They're indexed there now, too, but they used to be browse-only, and in some ways the P.E.I. website search is superior, e.g., allowing a wildcard with only a single letter.) So this seemed to be a good place to start.

To begin with, I found no baptisms recorded in the right time frame (in the ballpark of late 1860s/early 1870s) for children born to a Daniel Murphy and either a Mary or a Margaret.1 This in itself isn't definitive, but, crucially, I did find the 1865 baptism in Charlottetown of Pius Murphy, son of Daniel Murphy and Johanna Collins2 – the exact names reported by Pius at his second marriage. The year is quite a bit off from the 1869-70 derived from that marriage record and the 1910 census – though certainly no more of a discrepancy than I've found for my Murphys in general – but is a good match for the 1864 implied in his first marriage record. Given that Johanna isn't nearly as common a name as Mary or Margaret (or Collins as compared to, say, Murphy), it seems extremely likely that this the right Daniel, Johanna, and Pius. (For that matter, out of seven Pius Murphys, only one had a father named Daniel.)

Baptism of Pius Murphy, 1865, St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Looking for other Murphy children under possible combinations and variants of Daniel Murphy and Johanna Collins led to the following results:3

James D1863Daniel MurphyJudith Collins
Pius1865Daniel MurphyJohanna Collins
Ann1867Daniel MurphyJohanna Connors [sic]
John1869Daniel MurphyJudy Collins
Margaret Helen1871Donald MurphyJoanna Collings [sic]

Given the clockwork two-year spacing of the births, the fact that all but one of the baptisms took place at St. Dunstan's in Charlottetown, and, again, the relative uncommonality of Johanna or Judith, I was pretty certain these were all the same couple, even the one for Donald Murphy. Note that this accounts for not only Pius, but also "Annie" Shennett, who must be Ann, born in 1867. (Annie/Margaret Shennett was, according to the 1910-1920 censuses, born in 1872 or 73, but remember what I said in Part 1 about taking Murphy ages with a barrel of salt.)

Marriage registrations in P.E.I. seem to be even sketchier than baptisms, but I nevertheless tried that next. I couldn't find anything for Daniel Murphy and Johanna (or Judith) Collins, but, interestingly, I did turn one up for a Daniel Murphy and Johanna Malone.4

Marriage of Daniel Murphy and Johanna Malone, 1862
Now, although Johanna is listed here as a "Spinster", the baptismal records of Daniel and Johanna's children indisputably point to a maiden name of Collins, and there are no children in the baptismal index for a Johanna (or Judith) Malone with a Daniel (or Donald) Murphy. This marriage in 1862 also fits very well with the birth of the first child in 1863.

Add in the name of one of the witnesses to Daniel and Johanna's marriage – Martin Collins – and it seems likely that Johanna/Judith was originally a Collins, and previously married to a Malone. And, in fact, another search in the marriage registers turned up an 1854 marriage between a Michael Malone and a Judith Collins;5 baptismal records for their three children (the last born in 1859) give her name as Julia Collins, Judith Collins, and Judith Collings.6 So it seems almost certain that the "spinster" Johanna Malone who married Daniel was actually the widow of Michael Malone.

Unfortunately there are no extant 1871 census records for P.E.I., so the first time I could possibly pick them up was the 1881 census – assuming they hadn't left the Island by then. I was in luck: I found Daniel in Lot 30... without Johanna (he's marked as a widower in the column to the right of his occupation), but clearly identifiable as the right Daniel by the first four children: James, Pius, Ann, and John, at just the expected ages.7 It would appear that Margaret Helen, who should be 10, must have died young. In addition, there are two more children for whom I can find no baptismal records, a 6-year-old boy with a very odd name that appears to be "Melahannon,"8 and 3-year-old Peter Leo.

1881 Canada census, Prince Edward Island, Queens County, Lot 30, dwelling 204, family 204, Daniel Murphy household
Evidently, Johanna died sometime between 1878 and 1881, perhaps at Peter Leo's birth. Death records can be even harder to find on P.E.I. than the other "vitals," so I haven't yet tried very hard to look for one for her.

So, we still have the question of whether this Daniel Murphy, birth reported in later years as 1844 or 1851, is the same one who was supposedly born in 1843, married Anastasia Welch in 1885, and gave his parents as Michael Murphy and Martha Morrison. There are no earlier fully nominal censuses, so there's nothing to be found there, but I believe there is a clue in this 1881 census: Daniel gives his age as 45, indicating that he was born in 1835-36, not 1843-44. How does this help?

Well, there are only three baptimal records in the index for children of Michael Murphy and Magdelen/Matilda Morison, all baptised at St. George's Parish, St. George's: James, born 1842; Patrick, born 1838; and Donald, born 1836.9

Baptism of Donald Murphy, 1836, St. George's Parish, Prince Edward Island
I don't think the name presents too much of a discrepancy; Donald or Donal isn't far from Daniel, and the McDonald/McDonnell surname has been known to morph into McDaniel. And the fact that the father of Margaret Helen is given as Donald (while her siblngs' records all say Daniel) lends credence to the hypothesis.

The rest of the timeline fits, too; a widower in 1881, he could have migrated with at least Pius and Ann by 1885, when he married again. (James is tentatively traced to Nova Scotia; John may be one of the multitude of John Murphys found in Newburyport/Amesbury at that time; and as for "Melahannon" and Peter Leo, I haven't a clue. They may have been left with James or another relative. A "Leo Peter" Murphy in Newburyport is not this Peter Leo.) Pius married for the first time in 1887, Ann in 1890.

The bottom line is that I no longer believe Daniel is a younger child whose baptism is not recorded; I believe he is actually the known Donald Murphy, born to Michael Murphy and Magdelen/Matilda/Martha Morison in 1836, about who no further information has been found under that name. This would make him my second great-granduncle.

  1. "PARO Collections," database, Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island ( : accessed 25 Oct 2015), searches for baptisms, father Daniel Murphy and mother Mary, and father Daniel Murphy and mother Margaret.
  2. "Prince Edward Island Baptism Card Index, 1721-1885," database and digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 25 Apr 2014); Murphy-McDonald > image 200 of 5450, baptism of Pius Murphy, 23 Mar 1865; citing record book no. 3, p. 144, St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
  3. "PARO Collections," database (accessed 22 Sep 2016), searches for baptisms, father Daniel Murphy, no mother's name; mother J* Coll*, no father's name; and both father's and mother's names.
  4. "Prince Edward Island Marriage Registers, 1832-1888," database and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 25 Oct 2015); Marriages 1861-1863 > image 18 of 83, marriage of Daniel Murphy and Johanna Malone, 1862.
  5. Ibid. (accessed 30 Apr 2014); Marriages 1852-1857 > image 223 of 346, p. 430, marriage of Michael Malone and Judith Collins, 1854,
  6. "PARO Collections," database (accessed 23 Sep 2016), searches for baptisms, father Michael Malone, mother J* Coll*.
  7. 1881 census of Canada, Prince Edward Island, district 2, sub-district H, Queens County, Township 30, p. 51, dwelling 204 (202 crossed out), family 204 (203 crossed out), Daniel Murphy household; RG 31; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 24 Apr 2014).  I excised from the image a long section of columns that just declared they were all born on P.E.I., Catholic, and of Irish extraction.
  8. I'm almost certain that "Melahannon" must be a census enumerator-garbled rendering of something else entirely. If this child were a little older, I'd almost think the enumerator somehow conjured it from "Margaret Helen" and assumed it was a boy. But the other ages are so close I find it hard to believe Daniel could have been so far off on this child's age. 
  9. "Prince Edward Island Baptism Card Index, 1721-1885," database and digital images (accessed 29 Feb 2012); Maby-Murphy > image 5096 of 5454, baptism of Donald Murphy, 30 Apr 1836; citing record book no. 1, p. 4, St. Georges Parish, St. Geo[unreadable], Prince Edward Island.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Chasing Daniel Murphy, Part 2: Peter and Pius and Annie

In Part 1, we got as far as linking a Daniel Murphy in Newburyport to his sister, Elizabeth Mason, and Elizabeth's daughter, Mary Jane, to a cousin, Peter Murphy. The logical next step was to find out more about Peter.

Fortunately, Newburyport, Mass., has a complete series of city directories available on, which are crucial to filling in that frustrating 20-year gap between the 1880 and 1900 censuses which is precisely where my Murphys were most active in Newburyport. I've gone so far as to extract all entries over nearly a century for Murphys, and any known allied lines, into a spreadsheet, where sorting variously by name or by address can reveal previously-unrecognized connections.

There seemed to be only two entries for Peter Murphy: in 1902, a painter living at 1 Centre Street, and in 1910, a Peter P Murphy, "countercutter", at 27 Oakland Street – exactly where Mary Jane Mason was residing with Peter and Celia Murphy in the 1910 census. Things got even more interesting when I sorted by address. First, I discovered that the 1910 directory also listed at 27 Oakland a Pius P Murphy, also a countercutter. Furthermore, Pius P was also at 27 Oakland in 1908 (as a carriage painter) and 1912 (countercutter) – and so was Daniel Murphy (no occupation given).1 Listings for a Pius Murphy (no middle initial) also appeared 1889 and 1891 (painter, 151 Merrimac St.) and 1904 and 1906 (shoemaker, 32 Ocean St.).2 Was there just one man, Pius Peter Murphy, who used his first and middle names interchangeably? Further investigation of Pius/Peter was in order.

It didn't take much digging to find a 1902 marriage in Newburyport between "Pyus" Murphy, 33, painter, and Celia McKinnon, 35, both born P.E. Island.3 His implied birth year of 1869 matches up with "Peter" Murphy's 1870 in the 1910 census (hers is off by a few years) and the census marriage data (his 2nd, her 1st, married 7 years) also matches, making it virtually certain that Pius = Peter.

Marriage of "Pyus" Murphy and Celia McKinnon, 1902, Newburyport, Mass.
Even more important, Pius's parents are given as Daniel Murphy and Johanna Collins. (With the caveat here that at his first marriage, to Mary Ann Hughes, he gave his mother's name as Mary, with no maiden name.4)

At this point I need to backtrack just a bit. In addition to the record of Daniel's marriage to Anastasia, the 1900 census record, and a couple of identifiable city directory entries, I had found one other Daniel Murphy record in the Newburyport area – a death record in Amesbury5 – but whether it was for "my" Daniel seemed questionable.

Death certificate for Daniel Murphy, 1915, Amesbury, Mass.
To begin with, I hadn't found anything else connecting Daniel to Amesbury. Next, the birth year of 1844 correlates with his age at marriage to Anastasia, but not to his given birth year on the 1900 census (though it should be noted we haved yet actually proved those two Daniels are the same); but in any case the date of birth is highly suspect, as it appears he expired on his birthday, conveniently requiring no intricate date calculations to produce an age of exactly 71 years, 0 months, and 0 days. Not impossible, of course, but I'll take this one with a long ton of salt. Third, it says he was born in Ireland and his father was also named Daniel (mother unknown). And yet...

Look at that informant. Pius Murphy. And the only Pius Murphy in the whole Newburyport area was, as far as I could tell, the one who bids fair to be "my" Daniel's son.

Granted, you would think he would have known more about his father's age, birthplace, and parents, but we already know the Murphys play fast and loose with birth dates, and Pius wouldn't be the first informant, upon being asked for "name of father," to give his own father's name instead of his father's father's name. In fact, it's entirely possible he never knew his grandparents – they may have died before Pius was born, or shortly after. As for the birth in "Ireland," a statement that "he came from the Island" (a common way for P.E. Islanders to refer to their home) could easily have been misinterpeted as Ireland.

Assuming that the other discrepancies can be plausibly explained, there's still the question of what the heck he was doing in Amesbury. While Pius apparently had lived in Amesbury for a while before 1900 (he married and had several children there with his first wife), he appeared to be solidly located in Newburyport after the turn of the century up to 1912, and a Haverhill directory entry gives me reason to believe he was living there by 1915. So just who was living at 105 Congress Street in Amesbury? Was Daniel just a boarder there, or was there a closer relationship?

This is an easy task if a city's directories have a "reverse lookup" section (listing occupants by street address). The Newburyport-Amesbury directories, alas, do not, but you can find a surprising amount of information using a keyword search in Ancestry's city directories database. Leaving the names blank, I entered Lived In = Amesbury, Essex, Massachusetts, Any Event Date = 1915 +/– 5 years, and Keyword = "105 Congress" (with the quotation marks). At the top of the results were entries for Henry J Shennett for 1912, 1914, and 1916, and a little further down for 1910 and 1919.6 (The results are nominally for Newburyport, but they prove to be in the Amesbury section of the joint directory.) This was a name I had not encountered previously. 

Next I looked for census records for Henry Shennett, finding him at 105 Congress in both 19107 and 19208, with a wife named Annie M in 1910 and Margaret N in 1920. But the real find was an 1890 marriage record for Henry Shennett and Annie Murphy.9 Annie was born in Prince Edward Island, and her father's name was Daniel. So I don't think it's a coincidence that Daniel Murphy was living with Henry and Annie when he died, and this strongly implies that she was Pius's sister. She gave her mother's name as Margaret (no surname), not Johanna Collins, but remember even Pius said his mother was Mary (no surname) at his first marriage. This could be a another case of someone using both a first and middle name interchangeably. (The M in Annie M could be for Margaret, accounting for Henry's wife's name in 1920. Or it could be for Murphy.) But each gave Daniel Murphy as their father's name, and a brother-sister relationship would certainly explain why Pius was the informant for Daniel's death at this particular Amesbury address, when Pius was probably living in Haverhill.

Marriage of Henry Shennett and Annie Murphy, 1890, Portsmouth, N.H.

At this point, it seems time for a (virtual) trip to P.E.I. Stay tuned.

  1. The Newburyport and Amesbury Directory [varying subtitles], for 1910, p. 178, entries for Peter P and Pius P Murphy; 1908, p. 164, 1912, pp. 170-171, entries for Pius P and Daniel Murphy; also similar entries for Peter and Pius Murphy in 1889, 1891, 1902, 1904, and 1906; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 Feb 2014). The only Daniel listed in Newburyport in 1910 is a Daniel J Murphy, who also appears for a number of years before and after that, and is definitely not "my" Daniel.
  2. It may be only a coincidence that Mrs. Anastasia Murphy boarded at 32 Ocean St. in 1912.Then again, it may not.
  3. New England Historic Genealogical Society, "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910," database and digital images, American Ancestors ( : accessed 25 Oct 2015); Newburyport, vol. 524, p. 551, marriage of "Pyus" Murphy and Celia McKinnon, 1902. 
  4. Ibid., Amesbury, vol. 379, p. 210, marriage of Pius Murphy and Mary Ann Hughes, 1887.
  5. New England Historic Genealogical Society, "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1911-1915," database and digital images, American Ancestors ( : accessed 11 Sep 2016); Amesbury, vol. 1915/2 Death, p. 16, death of Daniel Murphy, 1915. To the best of my knowledge, the "Daniel D. Murphy, M.D." who signed the death certificate is no relation to my Murphy clan. He was a physician in Amesbury for a good many years.
  6. The Newburyport and Amesbury Directory [varying subtitles], for 1914, p. 373, 1916, p. 392, entries for Henry J Shennett, 105 Congress, Amesbury; and similar entries in 1910, 1912, and 1919; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 23 Sep 2016).
  7. 1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Massachusetts, Essex County, Amesbury, enumeration district (ED) 260, sheet 17-B, p. 2235 (penned), dwelling 184, family 213, Henry J. "Schenett" household; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 Sep 2016).
  8. 1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Massachusetts, Essex County, Amesbury, enumeration district (ED) 4, sheet 9-B, dwelling 199, family 235, Henry J. Shennett household; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 Sep 2016).
  9. "New Hampshire, Marriage and Divorce Records, 1659-1947," database and images, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 Sep 2016); marriage of Henry Shennett and Annie Murphy, 1890, Portsmouth, N.H.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Chasing Daniel Murphy, Part 1

A couple of years ago, for the 52 Ancestors challenge, I wrote about my third-great-grandpa Michael Murphy of Prince Edward Island, and noted the existence of four tentative offspring – three women and one man, natives of Prince Edward Island, who dwelled in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and who seemed to be connected to each other and to Michael and Magdelen (Morison) Murphy. I later posted the three-part tale (starting here) of one of them, the thrice-married "Mysterious Mary" who was either my third great aunt ... or a total stranger.

Lately I've been looking at the other three "possibles" in an attempt to firm up the connections among them, in particular, Daniel Murphy. I figured at least with him, I didn't have to worry about his surname changing if he married! But his records are so spotty – and there are so many other Daniel Murphys in Newburyport – that it's hard to track him.

So, why did I think this particular Daniel Murphy in Newburyport might be one of "my" Murphys in the first place? It began with a marriage registration. In 1885, Daniel Murphy, 42, married Anastasia Welch, 40; his second marriage, her first. Both were born in Prince Edward Island, and Daniel said his parents were Michael Murphy and "Martha" Morrison.1 (As I explained in part 3 of "Mysterious Mary," the Murphy children variously name their mother as Magdelen, Martha, Matilda, or Margaret, but the last name is always Morrison.) The given age of 42 would mean he was born in 1843, which is plausible for a child of Michael and Magdelen (the youngest known child was born in 1842), though there's no telling how reliable this is.2

Marriage of Daniel Murphy and Anastasia Welch, 1885, Newburyport, Mass.
The catch here is that there seem to be no further records of this couple, as a couple. Given Anastasia's age, it's not surprising that there are no children found in the Newburyport birth registers, and of course it would be 15 years before there was a chance of finding them in the census... but they weren't in the 1900 census, either. At least, I can't find any sign of Anastasia; however, I did find this census record for a Daniel Murphy, in the household of his sister, Elizabeth Mason, at 6 Elbow Lane.3

1900 U.S. census, Essex County, Mass., Newburyport, Elizabeth Mason household
Now there are some possible problems with this being the same Daniel who married Anastasia Welch. First, his birth date is given as Aug 1851, a full eight years later than implied in the marriage record. (However, see footnote 2.) Second, he's purportedly a widower. But... while Anastasia can't be found in either this census or in 1910, a "Mrs. Anastasia Murphy" is listed in every Newburyport city directory from 1904 to 1914, no occupation but also not listed as a widow.4 Furthermore, a 1915 death certificate for Anastasia (Welch) Murphy seems to match up pretty nicely with the Anastasia who married Daniel – born in P.E.I., birth year off by only three years (in Murphy terms, that's virtually identical), residence Newburyport, married.5, 6

Death certificate, Anastasia (Welch) Murphy, 1915, Danvers, Mass.
So it appears that Daniel and Anastasia may have been separated, but not divorced. Of course, Daniel did say it was his second marriage, which presumably meant his first wife had died (these folks were all Roman Catholics and unlikely to be divorced), so technically he was a widower, albeit a remarried one.

If Mary was "mysterious," Daniel might best be described as "elusive." I couldn't find any candidate for "my" Daniel in the 1910 census. Elizabeth Mason died in 1906, so clearly he wasn't with her; so I tried checking her daughter Mary Jane (seen as "Jane" in 1900) and her son John T., who was already married with his own household by 1900. No Daniel with either one – but Mary Jane Mason did provide another potential lead: in 1910, she was living at 27 Oakland Street in the household of Peter Murphy, listed as his cousin.7 And Peter, like Mary Jane, was born in English Canada, which includes Prince Edward Island. If Peter Murphy was her cousin, there's a good chance his father was her mother's brother – and thus either Daniel's brother, or Daniel himself.

1910 U.S. census, Essex County, Mass., Newburyport, Peter Murphy householdSo
So next time, it's onward to check out this Peter Murphy.

  1. New England Historic Genealogical Society, "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910," database and digital images, American Ancestors ( : accessed 25 Oct 2015); Newburyport, vol. 361, p. 323, marriage of Daniel Murphy and Anastasia Welch, 1885.
  2. You have to take any stated ages/birthdates for this entire family – beyond their actual birth or baptismal records – with a whole barrel of salt. I'm convinced that the Newburyport Murphys either didn't know, or didn't care, just when they were born, and when asked for an age for an official document just pulled any semi-plausible number out of their hat. Accepting this cavalier approach to ages is key to sorting out the Murphys: you just have to rely on other bits of evidence to identify them.
  3. 1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Massachusetts, Essex County, Newburyport, enumeration district (ED) 419, sheet 2-A, p. 87 [stamped], dwelling 16, family 21, Elizabeth Mason household; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 Feb 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623.
  4. The Newburyport and Amesbury Directory [varying subtitles], for 1904-05, p. 155, 1906-07, p. 163, 1908-09, p. 163, 1910-11, p. 177, 1912-13, p. 170, 1914-15, p. 167, entries for Mrs. Anastasia Murphy; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 Feb 2014). 
  5. New England Historic Genealogical Society, "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1911-1915," database and digital images, American Ancestors ( : accessed 21 Sep 2016); Danvers, vol. 1915/17 Death, p. 226, death of Anastasia (Welch) Murphy, 1915.
  6. True, the parents' names listed are completely different from those in her marriage record, but I haven't found either set of parents in P.E.I. records, so I suspect they were both pulled out of the same hat where the Murphys got their ages.
  7. 1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Massachusetts, Essex County, Newburyport, enumeration district (ED) 438, sheet 3-A, p. 2145 (penned), dwelling 47, family 52, Peter Murphy household; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 11 Sep 2016).

Monday, August 15, 2016

From Down East Maine to Panama: Capt. Gardner Emerton Sukeforth

SS Ancon in the Culebra Cut
Today's Genealogy Blogging Beat post, noting the anniversary of the official opening of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914, inspired me to write this profile of a relative who played an important – though largely unheralded – role in that opening: as captain of the SS Ancon, the steamer that made that historic passage.

Gardner Emerton Sukeforth was born 22 July 1849 in Washington, Waldo County (now Washington, Knox County), Maine, the seventh and last child of William Sukeforth and Ruth Emerton. Before his seventh birthday, his father had died and his mother had remarried, to Isaiah Pert, a sailor some 17 years her junior, and in 1860 Gardiner and three of his brothers were living with the Perts and their two-year-old half-brother in Sedgwick, Hancock County, Maine.

Gardner is nowhere to be found in the 1870 census, but according to a 2013 article1 in Discover Maine magazine by Charles Francis, he
... left home while still a teenager2 to live in the Penobscot Bay town of South Penobscot. His early years were spent working on a variety of ... fishing vessels and coastal schooners....
About 1872, Gardner and his older brother George were both living in Portland, Maine (though not at the same address), and working as coopers, a trade George no doubt learned from their father and passed along to his brother. George remained in Portland and married in 1874, while Gardner is found briefly coopering in Cambridge, Mass., then disappears until about 1880, when he was enumerated in Liberty, Maine, with his now-widowed mother, brother John, and half-brother Melvin.

He also shows up in the 1881 Portland directory at his brother's address, and may have used that as a home base for his sailing voyages, as he listed Portland as his residence when, on 7 February 1884, he married Clara L. Sargent in Lynn, Massachusetts. Although Clara and her parents, Thomas C. and Louise (Tribou) Sargent, had been residents of Lynn since about 1863, Clara had been born in Surry, Hancock County, Maine (not too far from Sedgwick or Penobscot), and the Sargents had lived there until at least 1860. Perhaps Gardner met the Sargent family before they removed to Lynn (though Clara would have been only a child), or later when they possibly returned to visit relatives.

The couple moved in with Clara's parents3 and remained in Lynn through about 1890, presumably sailing – then steaming – out of Boston-area ports. During this time they had two daughters, Annie in 1887 and Marion in 1889.

Then, in 1891, the Lynn directory says Thomas Sargent has "removed to New York city," and there is no listing for Gardner, but neither appears in New York – or anywhere else that I could find – until they both turn up at the same address in Brooklyn in 1894. I believe the explanation for that roughly four-year disappearance may be found in Francis's Discover Maine article:4
With the decline of the golden age of sail, Sukeforth switched to steamships.... [His] apprenticeship with steam came with the Red D Line.... For some five years beginning in 1886 [he] served on Red D ships operating between New York and South America. Then he moved to the West Coast, working the San Francisco to Japan Red D run. In 1896 he went to work for the Panama Railroad Steamship Company.
Though some of the details seem a little off – would he have been working a New York to South America run while living in Lynn? – this account has him moving to the west coast around 1891, exactly when he disappeared from Lynn. The fact that there are no San Francisco city directories on Ancestry between the 1891 and 1896 editions might explain my failure to find him there. (His appearance in Brooklyn in 1894 may mean that was when he worked the New York-South America run.)

His new employer, the Panama Railroad Steamship Company, was in effect owned by the U.S. government, which bought up most of the company's stock in 1897. The company's flagship, the SS Ancon, was in fact owned by the United States War Department and only leased to the company. And of course, the U.S. government was in charge of the construction and operation of the Panama Canal, along with everything else in the Canal Zone.

Capt. Gardner E. Sukeforth
By the time the Canal was finally ready to open in 1914, Gardner Sukeforth was the most senior captain in the company, and was selected to command the Ancon for its historic passage. As the largest vessel to pass through the canal until then,5 the Ancon would be tricky to navigate through the lakes along the canal, and there were no pilots specifically trained for the task. Although pilot John Constantine was technically in charge of the Ancon for the trip, the successful passage, in a record time of 9 hours and 27 minutes (they were planning for an 11-hour passage), was made under Capt. Sukeforth's direct supervision and command, using the canal blueprints and charts of the lakes as a guide – he himself had not previously made the passage. For a man who grew up sailing schooners along the rocky Maine coasts, it was probably a walk in the park.

Gardner Sukeforth continued to captain various ships for the Panama Railroad Steamship Company until his death from Bright's disease on 19 May 1920 in Dayton, Ohio, where the Sukeforths had lived since about 1917. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.

Gardner Sukeforth is my first cousin three times removed; our common ancestor is Robert Sukeforth.

  1. Charles Francis, "Gardner Sukeforth Opens The Panama Canal," Discover Maine, 2013, vol. 10, issue 5, pp. 81-83; digital images, ( : accessed 6 Dec 2014).
  2. His leaving home may have had more to do with family turmoil than anything else; it appears that after a stint in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, Isaiah must have divorced Ruth, as he married again in 1868 and in 1870 was living with his new wife in Sedgwick, next door to Ruth's son Andrew. Ruth, meanwhile, had moved to Liberty, where she was enumerated under the name Ruth Sukeforth, along with her sons John (Sukeforth) and Clarence Melvin (Pert), and next door to her oldest daughter Martha and her family.
  3. Gardner and Clara continued to live with her parents throughout their lives. No doubt his career as a steamship pilot and captain took him away from home enough to make it more practical for Clara and their children to live with her parents instead of keeping a separate household. 
  4. Francis, "Gardner Sukeforth Opens The Panama Canal."
  5. The Ancon's sister ship, the SS Cristobal, made the first unofficial passage on August 3rd.