Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Enigmatic Mary O'Malley--My Grandmother


In 2012 Mocavo ran a contest in honor of Mother's Day.  Each applicant was to write, in 1000 words or less, about a woman who had played an important role in his life.  I had written an article about my grandmother about a year earlier for a local genealogy society newsletter.  It was considerably longer than 1000 words, so I spent some time modifying it.

I submitted it and promptly forgot about it until I received a notice from Mocavo  a couple weeks later that I was one of five finalists.  The five stories were placed on the Mocavo web site and the winner was to be selected based on votes by viewers and friends over about a weeks time.  Voters could vote once per day.  

Surprisingly, to me, I jumped out to a lead which lasted a couple days.  Realizing I could win the contest, I got active and started recruiting friends and family to vote for me.  The winner was to receive a trip to Boston and a consultation with Mocavo's new Chief Genealogist, Michael Leclerc.

I ended up winning the contest, thanks to a lot of help from friends and fellow genealogists here in San Diego.  Following is the story I submitted.

Mary O'Malley Dean

When we had thunder and lightning I always knew I could find my grandmother sitting on the front porch.  In fact, at the age of 5 or 6 I recall her calming my fears of thunder and lightning by having me join her on the porch while assuring me there was nothing to fear, rather this act of nature was something to watch and enjoy.  Over the ensuing years I spend many a stormy evening on the porch enjoying nature’s show and chatting with my grandmother.

In my grade school years, when I wanted to have a little money to buy something special, I could always count on grandma; but I always had to earn it by doing chores.  In later years when she couldn’t attend mass on a regular basis because of failing health, she would always give me money to put in the collection and a quarter for me to buy an ice cream or malt—a subtle bribe to attend church on Sundays.  This work ethic and religious faith she encouraged have served me well over the years.

Mary O’Malley Dean was my maternal grandmother and probably the most influential person in my life, not just for calming my fears of nature; but for the stability and guidance she provided for my siblings and me throughout our young lives.  Mary was also a lady somewhat ahead of her time.  She and my grandfather lived in Las Animas, a small town in southeastern Colorado. The community had one or two family doctors and a small hospital.  Despite the fact they were people of only modest means, each of her four children was born in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, which was 200 miles away.  Why she made this trip eluded me until I started researching my family long after she passed away. 

When I later developed an interest in family history, one of the most interesting tasks I undertook was to piece together grandma’s early life.  About all I knew at the time was that her maiden name was O’Malley and she met my grandfather in Denver. 

Apparently, Mary and Lee’s father, Walter O’Malley, abandoned the family and ultimately the two were raised by their father’s sister. Initially, I didn’t know her aunt’s identity, so I dug back through piles of family papers and found was an obituary for Sara Jane McCabe.  The obituary revealed that Sarah and her family had moved from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Mason County, Illinois when she was 18.  I then pieced this together with the court records establishing guardianship for Mary and Lee by Sarah McCabe.  I learned from an uncle that my grandmother left the McCabe’s and went to Denver; got a job and later sent for her brother, Lee, when she had saved sufficient money. 

One of the more pressing questions that came to my mind was: Why would Mary and Lee’s mother let them be raised by her sister-in-law?  Why didn’t she raise them? 

In gathering additional information about my grandmother’s mother, I obtained Mary’s birth record from the Sate of Illinois.  It revealed that her mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Earhart.  Further research in Illinois records revealed that Elizabeth died in 1892, when Mary and Lee were 6 and 4, respectively.  This answered my question as to why the children weren’t raised by their mother

I was able to get the marriage record for Elizabeth’s mother and to learn that her first husband died and she remarried John Gilmore.  That name Gilmore proved to be very important to my research.   I knew that grandma owned some land in Illinois and speculated that it had been inherited in the 1930s—but from whom?

As luck would have it, in rereading one of the letters in the boxes of papers my mother had saved, I ran across a letter sent by Sarah McCabe in July 1933 to my grandmother saying that “Ma Gilmore” had passed away and that her land now belonged to Lee and her.   Had I not tracked down the fact she had remarried, I would never have been able to establish that “Ma Gilmore” was Mary and Lee’s maternal grandmother.

Why had Mary gone to Denver when she left the McCabes and when did she go?  I was able to confirm that she moved to Denver as I found her as a “boarder” in an apartment building there in the 1910 census.  In my mother’s papers I found several Denver newspaper articles about members of the Hyland family and I recall my grandmother talking about the Hylands.  So I began tracing the Hylands and, around the same time, was trying to learn more about Mary’s father’s siblings.  In addition to his sister, Sara Jane McCabe, who raised Mary and Lee; Walter had six other siblings.  I then speculated that perhaps one of his sisters married a Hyland.  Further research revealed that Thomas Hyland had married Mary O’Malley, my grandmother’s aunt.   I then checked the Colorado census and confirmed that Thomas and Mary were living in Denver in 1910. 
So it wasn’t by chance that grandma moved to Denver when she left Mason County, Illinois.  She had an aunt there who preceded her in moving from Mason County.  It is also very likely that she stayed with the Hylands each of the four times she went to Denver to have a baby. 

Bottom line—I now know a lot more about the wonderful lady that had such a positive impact on my life. No longer is she such an enigma for me. Like many of our ancestors, hers was not an easy life, but she persevered and had a successful and full life.  I think she would be surprised and pleased at how much I now know about her early years and her ancestry.

I had a great trip back to Boston and was really pleasantly surprised that Michael spent almost the full day with me at the New England Historic Genealogical Society's library.  In January he had moved from being the head Genealogist there to the same position with Mocavo.  Following is a photo of Michael and I.

Michael LeClerc and I--NEHGS Library 2012