Category Archives: American Immigration

My St Patrick’s Day Mystery: The Missing Callaghan (Callahan) Sisters of County Mayo – Location Massachusetts

I have a more than a drop of Irish blood in my veins. As such, the run-up to St Patrick’s Day seems appropriate to write about one of my County Mayo brick walls. But this one isn’t so much tracking back as going forward.

My grandpa John Callaghan, born in 1895, came from Carrowbeg, (sometimes spelled Carabeg/Carrabeg in records), near Kilkelly. One of nine children born to Michael Callaghan and Mary Murphy, he was the last son to leave his birthplace and move to England. All the Callaghan boys settled in either Lancashire or Yorkshire, before the autumn of 1920. The latter county had family associations for a number of years prior to their eventual move, with either Michael or some of his sons coming over seasonally to help at harvest time. I will return to the boys and their parents another time.

But it is my grandpa’s three sisters I have “lost”. The girls all crossed the Atlantic.

Bridget, the eldest, went first. The family intended selling a cow to fund her passage. There’s a tale here as the brother tasked with taking the cow to market pocketed the money! And it appears in the end another family member paid the fare.

Bridget set sail from the Irish port of Queenstown (now known as Cobh) on board the White Star Line ship S.S. “Teutonic” on 23 September 1909, arriving in New York on 29 September. But her ultimate destination was 22 Winchester Street, Boston, Massachusetts to stay with her aunt Lizzie Callaghan. A diminutive 5’2”, she was described as fair complexioned with brown eyes and hair. So possibly taking after her mother’s side of the family in colouring. She described her occupation as a servant. And she displayed creativity with her age. Born in 1886 she claimed to be 19.

Ellis Island duo 1

Ellis Island  – Photos by Jane Roberts (July 2012)

Mary was next to make the journey. But this was several years later after the death of her parents. All her brothers had left Ireland too at this stage. Her prospects in the U.S.A were far better than remaining in rural Mayo. And she had family to go to, though possibly not her sister Bridget. But more of that later.

Initially Mary travelled to England to make her journey. Did she meet up with her brothers one last time before departure? Certainly the port she sailed from, Liverpool, was within easy reach of her Lancashire-based brothers.

She left the port of Liverpool on board the S.S. “Carmania” on 9 November 1920. The ship had returned to trans-Atlantic service in December 1918, after seeing action in the Great War. Mary left her sister Catherine, sometimes referred to as Kate, behind in Ireland.

Ellis Island duo 2

Ellis Island – Photos by Jane Roberts (July 2012)

Arriving in New York on 20 November 1920, the 27 year old domestic was also bound for Boston. This time to her aunt Bridget Hayes at 39 Border Street. The passenger list describes her as 5’3” with a fresh complexion, fair hair and blue eyes.

Interestingly Mary’s surname is recorded as “Callahan” on the lists, reflecting its pronunciation. It so annoyed my grandpa when the letter “g” was enunciated.

Finally it was the turn of Catherine. The youngest of the Callaghan siblings, she was the last to leave their Irish homeland. Her closest relative in Ireland was her aunt Mary Caulfield. She too lived in Carrowbeg. In 1911 the widowed Mary lived in a house built for her by her brother Michael, close by the Callaghan farm. Whether Catherine now lived with her aunt is unclear, as the Callaghan farm was still retained by the family.

Her sister, Mary, paid her passage from Liverpool to Boston, on board the S.S. “Ausonia”. By now Mary’s address was 2 South Cedar Place, Boston, MA. Catherine’s passenger list entry indicates her intention was not to remain in Boston. This was purely a visit, and she planned eventually to return home to Ireland. The timing, sailing on 9 December 1922 and docking on 20 December, suggests her stay was arranged to coincide with the festive season. Whatever the intention was, Catherine ended up settling in America permanently. She was of similar stature to her sisters, standing at 5’3”, with fresh comlexion, brown hair and blue eyes. I gather she too subsequently adopted the “Callahan” surname variant.

I would love to know what became of the three sisters. This was one of the mysteries I hoped genetic genealogy might solve. This is a wish shared by my mother, and one of the factors which swayed her into doing a test.

I know the family gradually lost touch. One of the sisters, possibly Bridget but this is unconfirmed, ended up marrying a French-Canadian and settled in Canada. This might explain why when Mary went to Boston she stayed with an aunt. I also understand this Canadian-settling sister adopted a boy who corresponded with one of my mum’s brothers. Sadly this brother died in 1955 in tragic circumstances and contact was lost.

I do have a postcard my grandpa addressed to a “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic]” (below). No date, or message and the postcard was never sent. It contains a picture of a church associated with the family in County Mayo. Is Mrs Lovell the married name of one of his sisters?

Grandpa’s Mystery Postcard

And I did have a brief ray of optimism with a very close Ancestry DNA match to my mum and my tests. No tree, but someone who appears descendant of one of the sisters. But unfortunately no response after the initial match confirmation. I’ve not given up hope though.

Maybe one day I will solve the mystery. Fingers crossed it is sooner rather than later.

Sources:

  • 1911 Census – The National Archives of Ireland
  • UK Outward Passenger Lists, New York Passenger Lists & Massachusetts Passenger and Crew Lists – Ancestry.co.uk