Ellen Heffernan is my great great grandmother.  That much I know for sure.  But beyond that, I cannot figure out a single thing about her life in Ireland, including her parents, siblings, and where in Ireland she was born. 

It has been a frustrating bunch of years trying to write her life story.   I tire of using the phrase Brick Wall.  Quite frankly, she is not a brick, nor a wall.  She is my Direct Ancestor, whom I share her name. 

So thus, I am sharing my research to date, and asking for suggestions and ideas for what I have missed and where I go next.  I am thinking that I am too close to her story and am missing a clue.

  1. Her death certificate says she was born May, 1829 in Ireland.  No parents were listed.  Figures.
  2. Her obituary says she came to the US at the age of 14 with her parents, but they failed to name her parents (grrrrr).  This puts her immigration around 1843.  An Immigration Record has not been found because it was a few years before the great migration, and records are sparse.  Also, there are many Ellen Heffernan’s coming to the US in the 1840’s.  Who knew……..
  3. Now I know her parents came to America with her.  But where they are is a mystery as well.
  4. Ellen married John O’Connor sometime around 1851 and they lived in Seymour, Connecticut. 
  5. I cannot for the life of me find Ellen in the 1850 census.  I found John in Chicopee, Massachusetts as a single man with his sister and 4 brothers, but Ellen does not appear to be living in that area.
  6. No marriage record has been found.  I went thru the Chicopee town records by hand, and the Catholic Church records in Connecticut, but nothing.
  7. Her first born baby was a girl named Bridget born in Seymour Connecticut and baptized at St. Mary’s Derby, CT.  Ellen and John clearly followed the traditional naming patterns of the Irish, so I am 100% confident that this is her mother’s name.  However, her father’s name is unclear.  Their first born son was David, and that is John’s father.  Second born son was named John, which usually the 3rd born son is named after the baby’s father, and 2nd born after the Mother’s father.  So was baby John named after the father, or Ellen’s father, or both?  Or was there a baby that died at birth?   Based on the fact that she had a baby almost every year, there is a window where another son could have been born.
  8. There was another Heffernan living in Seymour, Connecticut.  His name was Patrick Heffernan and I did find his marriage record in 1855 at the approximate age of 37.  Ellen is not a witness to the marriage.  She does not appear to be a sponsor to any of Patrick’s children.  However, there is a Patrick Halloren as a witness to baby John.  Was this a misspelling for Heffernan?  Patrick’s marriage record at the Derby Courthouse says he was born in Limerick.  I doubt this was his first marriage but I cannot connect the dots to another one.
  9. There is an Ann Heffernan living as a servant in Seymour, Connecticut in the 1850 census.  At first, I thought this was Ellen, thinking the census taker misunderstood her when she spoke her name.  That is until I found the marriage of Ann Heffernan and James Plunkett in 1851.  Is Ann a sister?  Ann goes missing along with her husband and son after the 1860 census.
  10. Ellen spent up to 40 years in the Connecticut Valley Hospital from 1873 to her death in 1916.  Now you see why I am obsessed with figuring out her life??   Diagnosis was melancholy from having too many babies (at least 12 that I know of).  The hospital exists today and they sent me her medical records from 1873 – 1886, but no clues help define her past other than her condition was hereditary.  Gee thanks, that’s helpful.
  11. Baby Bridget’s sponsors were Michael Heffernan and Mary Gannon.  I am confident these are siblings.  Mary Gannon has been elusive to find.  As for Michael, would you believe there were 2 Michael Heffernan’s that died in Derby CT.  One in 1899 and the other in 1900.  The first died as a pauper in a poor house, having lost his wife, child and house, and father was listed as Michael Heffernan on the D/C.  The 2nd died as a widow, before the 1900 census was taken, but father was listed as James Heffernan, and James is buried in the same cemetery as his son.  I tend to think her brother was the first one that died as a pauper.  His obit says he had a sister Bridget Heffernan who lived in New Haven.  Ellen wasn’t listed, but then Ellen had been in the hospital for over 20 years at this point.  Were they embarrassed to name her, or had they forgotten about her?  God I hate this journey at this point.
  12. James Heffernan, father of Michael Heffernan, has the parish of Glenroe County Limerick on his headstone.  But guess what?  Church records for Glenroe don’t start until 1850.  I even visited the church on my trip to Ireland in 2012, but there wasn’t a single Heffernan Headstone at the Glenroe cemetery.  I still wonder about Glenroe, because it is all of 15 miles from where John O’Connor was born.
  13. Ellen’s last baby was born in 1874, the year after she was admitted to the hospital for the first time and then sent home 2 months later.  Margaret O’Connor was raised by her sisters (including my great grandmother) since her mother was in the hospital for her entire childhood.  I have a picture of Margaret and now have a very clear understanding of where my blue gray eyes with the dark rim around the iris came from.  I have the eyes of either a Heffernan or O’Connor.
  14. The Heffernan name is misspelled in so many ways – Hefron, Hefen, Hefferen, etc.  Online searching is a nightmare
  15. No Land Records or a Will were found at the courthouse.
  16. Ellen is buried at the Catholic Cemetery in Seymour, but no headstone or location of burial plot was found.  No burial card, nothing.  The cemetery caretaker told me that the Irish were discriminated against at that time, and even the priest wasn’t interested in keeping proper records.  Sigh.
  17. I have a subscription to Find My Past.  They have a large database of Irish birth records in Limerick.  In looking for any Ellen Heffernan’s born to a mother named Bridget around May, 1829, there are a couple of options.  But none of the father’s listed were either John, Michael or James.  Another lovely needle in a haystack.

In conclusion, I still think my biggest clues are as follows:
  • She was born in the month of May
  • Her mother was named Bridget
  • Possible siblings include Bridget, Ann, Mary, Patrick and Michael
  • Patrick Heffernan says he was from County Limerick

My plan is to go back thru the Connecticut Catholic Church records one more time next year, and look at every entry from 1850 thru 1880 in 3 local churches.  I will look at misspelled names, sponsors of every baby born, and witnesses at every marriage to see if Ellen’s name is listed.

Beyond that, I am out of ideas.  But I cannot quit and will never stop thinking about her.  So offer up any ideas and suggestions on where you think I have missed a clue. 

I have prizes, awards, and a lifetime of accolades for the person the can help me figure this out.

Ireland Reaching Out

Our Chicago client (and friend) Marsha was chosen as part of the Ireland Reaching Out project and featured in the Tar Abhaile video as they traced her roots back to Ireland. We helped her research her Irish relatives in Chicago and now you get to see what she learned on her journey back to County Limerick. This is a fun video and I love how it is spoken in Gaelic. And of course there are great views of Chicago to begin the Journey. Enjoy

Daughters of the American Revolution DAR Application Process

My first experience with the Daughters of the American Revolution was at the very beginning of my family research.  As a matter of fact, the DAR was there to help me solve the very first mystery that drove me crazy for weeks about my great-great grandmother Eliza. 

I had no idea that Eliza even existed.  She died at the young age of 24 in 1872 in Rosamond, Illinois (population 205), and before vital records were required by the state.  It wasn’t until I found a tattered letter in the bottom of my mother’s files where I read the story of the early death of Eliza.  The letter also mentioned the cemetery where she was buried, but that was 132 years ago and a lot of time to erode the etchings on the oversized headstone.

When I called the county’s chamber of commerce, they gave me the name of a local man who was the caretaker of this small but mythical cemetery.  Upon returning my phone call, he first shuffled some papers and immediately confirmed that he did have a record of Eliza being buried at the Rosamond Cemetery in 1872.  In fact, he explained to me how the DAR spent time in 1962 recording every headstone in the cemetery and it was the only record he had with an index of older graves.  1962 may sound like yesterday, but every year that goes by is another year for the outside elements to wear away the script on the headstone.  And 50 years later, her marker is barely legible.

What the DAR did to record a 90 year old headstone is monumental to my family research today. 

The Daughters of the America Revolution is a truly amazing organization with dedicated volunteers and a commitment to preserving our American History, including mine.  And best of all, our family was lucky enough to have a Patriot that fought in the American Revolution.  I was able to document this Patriot, apply to the DAR, and successfully be accepted as a member within a month of my first contact.

Based on what I have learned about the process of applying to become a member of the DAR, here are some tips I can offer up for a successful outcome.

  • Visit the national Daughters of the American Revolution website to verify if your Patriot has already been documented.  If your Patriot is listed in the index, you can then buy the lineage report that details how far down the line the society has proven records.  This will tell you which ancestor in your line that you need to start documenting.
  •  Determine which local chapter you are interested in applying through.  Each chapter’s rules for applying are different.  I filed my application in Chicago and it was a very easy process where I was able to send all the documents via email.  I didn’t even have to print anything out.  The historian filled out the application for me and federal expressed it to me for my signature.  I was approved in all of 4 weeks.  However, I also have worked on a membership for a client in a very small town in Mississippi.  This local MS chapter didn’t have a budget for paper, so I had to mail 2 copies of every document.  We were approved in less than 2 months.
  •  Do your legwork up front before applying.  Gather all your documents for each generation and make sure you have them scanned into your computer in file folders.  I strongly recommend you save and send every census record for each ancestor too.  These may or may not be needed, but I have learned over time that it is better to include everything, otherwise there can be delays due to additional documents needed.
  •  Each generation that requires documents needs to show clear proof of a connection to their parents. 
  •  Government Vital Records (Birth, Marriage and Death certificates) are required for each generation.  Once you get far enough back where vitals were not mandated by the state, then records with clear proof of a family connection to the prior generation need to be found.  This can be in the form of Wills, Land Records, Newspaper Obituaries, Pension Records, and Bible Records (as long as you have the original bible in your possession).
  •  Effective January 1, 2014, the DAR will accept Y-DNA as a supplemental tool of lineage.

Be patient and don’t get frustrated.  Delays are inevitable as you need to completely satisfy the society that you are tracing the correct lineage.  But the reward is worth the wait, and your descendants will thank you for your hard work in passing down this bit of family history.