Saturday, February 15, 2014

An adoption mystery solved!

As I mentioned the other day, I've been going through the descendants of Sam Joseph and Pauline Rosen, trying to flesh out their descendant tree. I turned my attention to their youngest daughter, Helena Patricia Joseph, also known as Pat. She married John "Jack" Walsh in 1922 in Anaconda, Montana, and had no children of their own. My grandpa told me they adopted a daughter named Mary Ellen, and she was their only child. I found confirmation of this (not that I doubted my grandpa! His memory is far too sharp and accurate to doubt) in a newspaper article detailing Mary Ellen's marriage to William Palmer in 1959. But being the nosy genealogist I am, I wanted to know more about Mary Ellen's birth family, see if I couldn't find out more about where, or maybe even who, she came from. I called my grandpa and asked if he knew anything about her birth parents, and he said he thought she was actually the daughter of Jack's sister. Doesn't sound impossible, right? Here's what I found in the paper trail.

My first stop was the 1940 census. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I haven't yet pulled the census records for many of my relatives in 1940 yet. Given how crazy everyone was over the census when it was released in 2012, and the breakthrough that started with my Wagner cousin's recent find in the 1940 census, you'd think I'd have jumped on the bandwagon before now, right? In my defense, I was working my way through The Project at the time, and then started my German genealogy class. But I'm starting to come around now!

Anyways, like I was saying. I found Pat and John Walsh in the 1940 census pretty quickly. Interestingly, it showed Pat and John, and another resident - a niece, born in California, named Mary Ellen Franey, age 3!

The age, first and middle names, and relationship all fit! The only thing that threw me off was the surname - I didn't have any records of any Franeys. Being the obsessive-compulsive genealogist that I am, had actually researched the Walsh family quite a bit, at least for a couple generations. William Walsh was born in County Donegal, Ireland, his wife Jessie Burke was from County Tipperary, Ireland, and had apparently met in Montana, as they married there in 1888. John was one of their nine children, two of whom died in youth, that I haven't found names or further information on. Of the other six surviving children, I had the names of the spouses of daughters Annie and Ora, and son Paul, with no Franeys among them. I didn't have any spouses listed for sons James and William, or for daughter Agnes. Agnes seemed the likeliest candidate, but I wanted to try to find marriage records for all three of them, just in case. I tried searching Montana marriage records at FamilySearch (still my favorite database), but came up empty-handed on all three.

I turned next to Newspaper Archive, which I can access for free through my local public library, and searched Montana newspapers for articles with Walsh and Franey. I got several hits, and quickly pulled up the articles. They turned out to be obituaries for both James and William, who, I learned, had both died without marrying, James in 1936 and William in 1938. That was two strikes, leaving me only one more shot - Agnes. Both obituaries listed surviving relatives (mostly siblings, as both parents had died in the 1920s), and both named a Mrs. Austin Franey of Oakland, Calif. as a sister. "Now we're getting somewhere!" I thought.

I pulled up the 1940 census, and searched for Austin Franey in California, and right away, I knew I had the family I was looking for.

Here was Austin Franey of Oakland, Calif., with a wife named Agnes, and two daughters, with Agnes being the right age and born in Montana. I was almost absolutely sure I had the right family. The pieces fit together so well. But I wanted more proof, so I tried finding a marriage record for Austin and Agnes. I couldn't find one in California, which kind of surprised me. I figured, with their oldest child being born in California, that they would have married there. But given that their second child Jessie-Ann was born in Colorado, I went looking there as well, and that's where I found this: 

So there you have it. Agnes Walsh, daughter of William and Jessie Walsh, was the mother of Mary Ellen Franey, who was adopted by John and Pat Walsh. I don't know when the adoption took place officially, or if it was ever even done officially. But it was really something to see how quickly and neatly the pieces all fit together. 

One final thing stood out to me that may just be coincidental, but the timing was very interesting. When Agnes' brother William Walsh died in 1938, he was apparently living with Agnes' family in Oakland, or was at least in their home when he died. Agnes accompanied the body up to Anaconda, Montana for burial. Mary Ellen would have been about a year old at the time. Part of me wonders if that's when the adoption took place, or at least when she began to live with John and Pat. 

I'm still not entirely sure why Austin and Agnes gave their daughter Mary Ellen to her aunt and uncle to raise. Being just a few weeks away from having my third child, the idea of parting with that child, and giving him to a sibling to raise as their own is just unthinkable. There may have been difficulties they had to deal with that would have made raising Mary Ellen harder or impossible, or they may have just seen John and Pat with no children of their own and made the biggest sacrifice a parent could make. Either way, I'm happy with, and humbled by, what I found. 

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