The Brief Life of Hannah Roane – An Irish Mill Girl

This month is the 150th anniversary of the death of my Irish immigrant aunt, Hannah Roane (February 6, 1866), a Lowell mill girl. Never having married or had children of her own, the last vestige of Hannah’s existence disappeared 50 years later, in 1919, when her sister-in-law, Mary died. Mary was my ancestor, and the last person who might have recalled Hannah’s face, her voice, or a quirk that made her unique.  While the essence of long dead relatives (with rare exception) remain mysterious, it is often possible to learn much about the lives they led, as is the case with aunt Hannah.

Born around the year 1828 in County Galway, Ireland, Hannah was a few years older than her two brothers, John and Patrick, who also came to the world-famous, textile manufacturing city. Their family suffered the nightmare of the “Great Hunger” (1845-1849), the years of nationwide starvation and disease that took a million lives, and sent another million Irish out into the world in a desperate longing for a better life.

At this time in rural Ireland’s history, one son would take over his parents’ land and cottage. The anointed one (and his wife and children) would work the land and care for the elders. Perhaps, one lucky daughter would have a dowry enough to make a decent marriage (to another family’s heir). All the other sons and daughters of typically large, Roman Catholic families were out of luck. If they didn’t opt to become a priest or a nun, they faced a monotonous, solitary, laboring life.

Perhaps, it’s not so surprising then, that young, unmarried, Irish women came in such great numbers to America. In contrast with women of southern European cultures, Irish women were traditionally independent, capable and the money managers of the family. Many women made the voyage to America alone, and earned passage money for family members left in Ireland. Earning that money was no piece of cake.

Hannah Roane was on the vanguard of the Irish immigrants who replaced the Yankee female textile workers (the first American women to work outside the home), whose numbers peaked in the 1870s. For fourteen hours a day, six days a week, men, women and children labored amid the intense, ceaseless noise of machinery and inhaling air-filled with cotton or wool fibers. [Woman at Loom – American Textile Institute]Girl at factory loom, 19th century.

There were strikes in the 1830s over terrible working conditions, and, in 1845, workers agitated for a 10-hour work day, – a fight they lost. After that factory work became much less popular with native-born women. Then (as now), immigrants arrived to take the difficult, low-status, and low-paying jobs abandoned by those who had other options.

Mill Girls, 1870s

Mill Girls, 1870s

There were ten large mill complexes in Lowell, among them, the Massachusetts, Merrimack, Appleton, Hamilton and Boott mills; I don’t know which one employed my aunt. In a state census for 1855, Hannah was a resident in a boarding house with 30 other women, most of whom were New England born. As an Irish immigrant, Hannah would have begun her career working the least desirable, lower-paying jobs in the carding and spinning rooms. There is evidence that Hannah advanced in her career, however; in 1858, she opened an account with the Lowell Institution for Savings and listed her occupation as weaver, which was a skilled and better paying position.

I like to think that Hannah was among the Irish “mill girls” who spent some of their hard-earned on themselves and were considered good dressers compared to their Yankee counterparts.

Ten years after I first found Hannah in Lowell, her single working life-style had altered. The 1865 census lists 35-year-old Hannah in the household of her brother, John Roane, who ran a grocery business to support his wife, two sons and an infant girl. Hannah was enumerated as an operative (mill worker), but her death, just months after this census, makes it likely that she was, in fact, too sick to work. She died of tuberculosis.

For all her independence, courage, and endurance required to toil in the mills, the only blessing Hannah may have had in her brief sojourn on Earth, was to have been cared for, and to have died among family.

It is good to know Hannah had loved ones near in the end, and I would love to salute her memory and leave it at that, but for one sneaking suspicion, – I think that Hannah was “patient zero” for the contagion that nearly wiped out the family in Lowell.

Three years after Hannah’s passing, John Roane succumbed to an illness evidence suggests, almost certainly, was tuberculosis. Of John’s three children who lived into adulthood, two died of tuberculosis. What’s more, a few years after John died, the widow Mary, remarried and gave birth to two more sons, who both died of tuberculosis. 

Hannah certainly left lasting memories of love and laughter in the hearts of her brother’s family, but she may also have left them a tragic legacy.

 

Notes | Sources | Resources

Images: University of Massachusetts Lowell; http://library.uml.edu/clh/All/mgi06.htm; http://library.uml.edu/clh/All/mgi01.htm

Erin’s Daughters in America; Hasia R. Diner, 1983.

Mill Girls of Lowell; Jeff Levinson, Editor, 2007.

Living on the Boott – Historical Archaeology at the Boott Mills Boardinghouses, Lowell, Massachusetts; Stephen A. Mrozowski, Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary C. Beaudry, 1996.

Women at Work – The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860. Thomas Dutton, 1979.

Living in the Shadow of Death – Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History; Sheila M. Rothman, 1994.

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The Boy Tenor of New England

I wrote the following profile of my grandfather, James P. H. Roane (1895-1960), as a contributor to WikiTree and, I decided to share it (slightly edited) in honor of the 120th anniversary of his birth.

James PH Roane circa 1911James Patrick Henry Roane was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on August 8, 1895, the fifth child, and fourth son of John F. & Mary J. (Donahue) Roane. His mother died as the year 1900 ended, and his father never remarried, leaving James and five siblings to grow up motherless.

His sister Mollie, the firstborn and only girl at 10 years, raised her brothers and kept house for her father. At least one year, 1902,  when school let out, James and his brothers were sent to Baker Farm in Tyngsboro, apparently, a summer camp where boys could experience the natural world, fresh air and clean water (not found in the factory city of Lowell).

Young James played school sports and made his mark as quarterback for the Lowell High football team, following in the footsteps of his older brothers, who were also noted athletes. The amusing nickname, “Roundy Roane” was applied to various brothers, including James, and probably was descriptive of the short, muscular frame which ran in the family.

All the Roane men had excellent voices; their names turn up regularly in newspaper accounts of church choirs, and featured singers at public entertainments and private events. James, however, was the only one to have gone professional. As a teenager, he was a member of a touring company (perhaps, on a vaudeville circuit) and billed as, “the Boy Tenor of New England.” (The photo below may have been taken for publicity purposes.)James PH Roane circa 1907

James also performed close to home, as The Lowell Sun noted on May, 2, 1912:

…riding the crest of a popular wave, scored a tremendous hit in minstrelsy at Associate Hall. Patrons thought the program was the best ever presented by this talented group. Interlocutor was Charlie McKenzie, with Tom Salmon, Ed [?]andley, Joe Clarke and James Roane as end men.

In the 1920s and 1930s, James lent his voice to local broadcasts, which included vocal performances, according to his son. James, Sr. He was also an announcer for sporting events, however, cryptic newspaper comments suggest his style wasn’t popular with all listeners.

James had enlisted in the US Army by 1915 and served until 1919. Returning to civilian life, he was employed as a stock clerk at a machine shop and grew close to another Lowell High alum, Edna Mae Keirstead, a bookkeeper at Union National Bank.

Edna’s parents were Canadian immigrants, and she wasn’t Irish or Catholic, but the young couple shared a common vision. They married in the family’s parish at St. Margaret’s church on May 31, 1921, and left promptly for Lakewood, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland). James had arranged a sales job with the May Company, and Edna got position with the Union Trust Company. The newlyweds’ initial plan didn’t last long, as they returned to Lowell that same year, likely precipitated by the death of Edna’s father in August.

After settling back in Lowell, James thought about becoming an attorney, and earned a degree from Suffolk Law School in 1923, – the year his first child was born, a daughter, Edna Mary Roane. Whether the outlook for earnings from a law practice looked poor, or whether he decided law didn’t suit him, James studied medicine at Harvard University, and in 1924, the year his son and namesake was born, his credentials won him a teaching position in Lowell public schools. His passion for physical education and sports sustained him in a 30-year career, from phys ed instructor at Charles Morey School, to Athletic Director for the Lowell Public Schools at his retirement in 1952.

In the family sphere, James shared his delight in travel, culminating in an episode his daughter described by his daughter more than 60 years later, as their “famous trip” to Texas by automobile.

James also took the wife and kids, every summer for a week or two (some years longer) to New Hampshire at Lake Winnipesaukee, where they swam, fished, played, and socialized, with the scent of pine wafting through the air. Lake.Winnipesauke.c1928 His daughter never forgot those lovely, happy summers.(Above c. 1929: James, Sr. Edna, James Jr., and Edna Mary Roane at Lake Winnipesaukee, NH )

Back home in Lowell, James was member of fraternal organizations that included the Elks. He led or worked on committees that supported a variety of organizational and community undertakings, through which he built life-long friendships.

To his grandchildren lucky enough to have been born before his passing at age 64, in the spring of 1960, James Roane, Sr, was “Baba.”  He left us with memories of his warmth, his sense of fun, and his love.

Why did O’Flaherty plant boiled potatoes?

I was excited when I acquired a copy of the Ayer’s American Almanac. Not only was it published in Lowell, Massachusetts, the ancestral city of my Roane clan, it’s the 1859 edition, – the year my Irish immigrant couple, John P. and Mary (Hurney) Roane were married. I liked to imagined the little booklet sitting on a shelf in their home on the comer of Gorham of Summer streets.

The purpose of the magazine, “For the health of All Nations,” was trumpeted by an angel on the cover.  Its enterprising publisher,  “Dr. James C. Ayer, Practical and Analytical Chemist,” had equal interest in promoting his financial health. Lengthy  articles describe the powers of Ayer’s Compound Concentrated Extract of Sarsaparilla, Ayer’s Cathartic Pills, and Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, to ease everyday complaints, and to cure virtually everything from deafness, partial blindness, fits, paralysis and tumors –  to gout and syphilis.

Cover of Ayer's American Almanac 1859

The booklet measures 4 5/8 by 7 inches.

Despite the relentless advertising, the almanac had practical utility. The annual calendar incorporated the Christian observances of Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Trinity and Advent. It listed anniversaries of national significance,  such as “Franklin born, 1706” and “Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811.” And it wouldn’t be an almanac without the weather. Predictions of wind, rain, snow and temperature would have interested city dwellers and rural folk, just as we check the daily forecast. The almanac also offered amusement. Each calendar page had extra space at the bottom. Some months filled it with run-over text. Other months featured aphorisms, witticisms, doggerel – and jokes.

In my mind’s eye, I’d  picture John in the parlor reading aloud to Mary (who was illiterate), or to a small group of Sunday visitors enjoying a break in the work week.  I’d imagine hearing their laughter and cups clinking (whether filled with tea or something stronger, I can’t say).

Then after I read the booklet through, I wondered if I was wrong about the laughter. What would any native of Ireland think and feel about the following?

            “How much did yees ask for thim buttons?” inquired an Irish customer.

            “Fifteen cents.” 

            “I’ll give ye thirty-siven.”

            “I didn’t say fifty ─ I said fifteen,” replied the honest dealer.

            “Bedad, an’ I’ll give you tin cints, thin.”

 

            “Why in the world do you plant boiled potatoes, Mr. O”Flaherty?”

            “Shure, yer honor, I’m goin’ to thry the ixpirimint of raising them already biled for my own aiting.”

 

            “Did yoar fall hurt you?” said Pat to his friend who fell with his hed from a high ladder.

             “No, Patrick, shure, it was hitting the ground that hurthed me.”

 

            The Irishman’s plan for casting cannon was, ─First take a hole, and then pour the iron around it. 

Today, this seems benign humor,  some gentle ribbing, – and no harm done. Certainly no reason to be upset, right? Now consider these other bits of fun from 1859:

            “Say, Pomp, you nigger, where you get dat new hat?”

            “Why at de shop, ob course.”

            “What is de price of such an article as dat?”

            “I don’t know, nigger, I don’t know; de shopkeeper wasn’t dar!”

 

            Sambo says, “Why am my belubed Dinah like de cloth dey make in Lowell? Cos she’s an unbleached she─ting.”

In both the Irish and the Black ‘jokes,’ ethnic speech patterns signal the low intelligence and low character of the subjects. Instantly recognized stereotypes provide the readers of the dominant culture with a good laugh. If the source of the humor is the same, – why is it only the last  two retain shock value?

In part, the ethnic slurs pop; but the rest of it is recognition that African Americans still do not enjoy the full-fledged membership privileges that Irish Americans have in modern society.

After the Civil War, things began to turn around for the Irish in America. They fought for the Union with distinction, and earned the gratitude of the nation. Gradually,  “real” Americans (white natives) became more accepting, and government jobs, – fire, police, public works, and other essential services were opened up to the Irish.

In 1888, John and Mary’s son joined the US Post Office and carried letters for 40 years. This modest post, paid John F. Roane enough to purchase a house and to raise a large, family. The Lowell newspapers over decades, reported the exploits of Roane grandsons – in  sports, the arts, the military, politics, and respectable Lowell society.

Yet  barely 20 years before his son got that post office job, John P. Roane died – and Lowell newspapers didn’t carry a word of his passing. Though a Lowell resident for 18 years,  an American citizen,  property owner and businessman,  the Irish native’s life went unremarked.

So we come back to Ayer’s American Almanac.  What do  its “jokes’ reveal about that period  – and about our own times?

I still wonder whether John Roane was angered by the characterization of the Irish in America or if being raised under English oppressors had inured him to insult.

I wonder, too, whether he felt sympathy for that other marginalized people – or whether he  laughed.

Notes:

1. The Old Farmers Almanac is still around and on the web – http://www.farmersalmanac.com

2.  There is a little bit about J. C. Ayer at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cook_Ayer

One Band of Brothers

November is the appropriate month to let you see the full image of this blog’s current header  featuring my great grandfather and four of his five sons in uniform in 1918.

Five men in uniforms stand in front of  a large tent at Camp Devens, Massachusetts in 1918.

Click for full size

They are at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, better known as Fort Devens, but originally a temporary spot for quick training military troops from New England. The likely scenario is that the boys were awaiting, or had received orders to ship out to their respective duty stations.

Their widowed father, John F. Roane, Sr., made the journey from Lowell to say goodbye and every man looking toward the camera was acutely aware that war meant this might be the last photograph they would ever take together.

I read warmth and pride on the face of my great-grandfather, who is dressed in his US Post Office uniform. The three army enlistees look appropriately serious, but, under the seaman’s cap, John Francis Roane, Jr. looks kind of excited to me.

When John registered in the 1917 draft, he was a single man employed as an ice cream tester, which sounds like a dream job to me, but John may have wanted work with a bit more weight. He certainly found it, as he served on a submarine chaser out of Newport, Rhode Island.

John’s twin brother, Francis Roane, (on the other side of John, Sr.) had more reason to look serious look. His year-old son died of meningitits in 1916, and he was  supporting a wife and infant daughter as a machinist in the US Cartridge factory at draft time. The army sent him overseas.

In 1921, Frank went back to Europe with a group of American Legionnaires who were feted by the king of Belgium. Frank famously struck up a conversation with the monarch himself (Albert I),  who remarked he liked Frank very much. The incident became legend of “the Peach,” as he became known in Lowell. There is plenty of evidence that Frank Roane shook off his early tragedy and knew how to have a good time.

Paul Roane is the short fellow on the end in the cloth cap and was the eldest of this generation of Roane men. When he registered for the draft, he was unmarried, and a secretary at the offices of the Harvard Brewery.  I know little about his service, but that he was proud of it, as he had been elected commander of American Legion Post 87.

James P.H. Roane, Sr . is the tall man on the left in this shot and my grandfather. I have not delved into his service record yet. He was  single and out on the road as a representative of the Loyal Order of Moose, and in registered for the draft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Though, like his older brothers, he was  a member of the American Legion, I suspect his military experience wasn’t  satisfying.

I recall my dad, James P.H. Roane, Jr., telling me that his father advised him to enlist in 1942, the year he graduated high school, rather than wait to be drafted, because he would have  no power to choose the job he’s do. Consequently, my  father enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force, and was a flight instructor stateside for the duration.

We must not forget the service of women. My dad’s sister was a WAVE, which stood for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, but the branch was officially, the US Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), and I’m delighted to report she recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

An Orphans’ Story Gets a Happy Ending

I knew my  Granduncle Paul and his wife Lena (Dawson) Roane had an adopted daughter from the tree my “Uncle’ Paul’ sent me with all he knew of Roane family history. As it turns out, Paul and Lena Roane  made a home for two girls, who were hardly  strangers, – they were Lena’s nieces.

In 1919, Lena’s sister, Loretta, married Frank L. Vesey, a veteran of the Great War (WWI), lately returned from France.[1] -Frank moved in with the in-laws[2] on Claire Street, and 10 months after the wedding, they added a daughter, Mary Dorothy, to  the Dawson household. Little Loretta came along in 16 months and, not quite 18 months later, there was Francis Leo, Junior. Seven days after the boy’s birth, the mother of three was dead.[3] The Lowell Sun of April 30, 1923 reported:

Mrs. Loretta (Dawson) Vesey died yesterday at her home, 39 Claire street, following a short illness after the birth of a baby boy. Her age was 25 years. She was born in this city, the daughter of John and Mary J. (Deignan) Dawson, and was a most estimable young woman. She was an attendant of St. Patrick’s church, and a member of the Married Ladies sodality connected with the church. She leaves her husband, Frank L. Vesey; three children, Dorothy, Loretta and Francis Vesey; her parents, two brothers Thomas and Joseph, and one sister, Lena.

The  father, Frank Vesey, probably thought he had overcome the worst things life would throw at him. He’d known the loss of infant siblings, and his own mother’s death[4] when he was eight.  He’d only stuck out four years of grade school and may have suffered from dyslexia.[5]and then he experienced the horrors of a world war. When Loretta was taken from him, he was not yet 30, and completely unprepared to raise three little ones, that included a week-old baby.

Aunt Lena, no doubt, had a hand in caring for her nieces  from their infancy, and surely loved them as her own, but Lena was a 25-year-old working woman, an operator with the telephone company, whose income would have contributed to the support of the extended family.  Her father, John Dawson was 65, a laborer with the sewer department, who’d had health problems.[6] Lena’s mother, Mary, died the next year, – literally, of a broken heart.[7]

but what happened in that house after Loretta’s death?

Did the grief-stricken Frank immediately pack off the children to the orphanage? Was the family forced to make the decision  after grandmother Mary Dawson’s died? Was the parish priest involved in the process? At any rate, two of the Vesey children were inmates of St. Peter’s Orphanage on Stevens Street in 1930, while their big sister, Mary D. Vesey, was living in the Dawson house on Clare street with  Lena and Paul Roane.

By 1935, Paul and Lena were in a house on Washington Parkway they owned, according  to the 1940 census.  The couple  had created  a home for  now-grown nieces, Dorothy, 19, and 18-year-old Loretta who had taken the Roane name. While I was delighted to discover the sisters reunited, the image of the 1930 census sheet  filled in by Sister Mary Winifred’s neat hand haunted me. What had become of that little boy, Francis L. Vesey? Last weekend, I found out.

This excerpt from the 1930 US census shows the Vesey children, Loretta, 8 years, and Francis, 6 years, inmates of St. Peter's Orphanage.

A descendant of Frank’s brother, James Vesey, discovered my online tree and was surprised to learn Frank had two older daughters, Mary Dorothy and Loretta. But what she knew that I didn’t, was Frank Vesey married again, the widow, Alice Kane. In 1940, Frank and Alice are right there in Lowell with the three children they had together, Joseph, Pauline and William, the children from Alice’s first marriage, Robert, Helen and Dorothy Kane, and 16-year-old Francis Vesey, the son Frank lost for a time. I was greatly relieved to see  the motherless boy, at last, in the bosom of family.


[1]  Francis Leo Vesey, Sr. was awarded a Purple Heart; he served as army private in a machine gun battalion.

[2] The 1920 US census shows the parents, John and Mary Dawson, Lena (AKA Elizabeth M. Dawson), Loretta V. and Frank L. Vesey enumerated at the family home on Claire Street.

[3]  The cause of death for Loretta Veronica (Dawson) Vesey  was “Septic Pneumonia (Puerperal Septicemia),” common after anesthesia due to lesions in the trachea, which suggests she may have delivered in a hospital, though she died at  her parents’ home.  [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerperal_sepsis%5D

[4]  Catherine Vesey gave birth 13 times in 17 years of marriage, she died of eclampsia, the last child stillborn and buried with her. (Downton Abbey character, Lady Sybil Branson, died from eclampsia, though her baby survived.)

[5]  Frank Vesey’s WWI and WWII registration cards show he had terrible handwriting and in 1942 he reversed the last two digits of his birth year, writing “1849,” rather than 1894.

[6] The Lowell Sun reported that John Dawson had a “slight operation” at Lowell Hospital in 1915.

[7]  Mary (Deignan) Dawson died on October 1, 1924 of “Mitral insufficiency,” a heart valve malfunction that modern medicine calls Mitral regurgitation (MR).

When Quitting Solved a Mystery

My father taught us that Irish Americans should be proud and sing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” every St. Patrick‘s Day. Because  the genealogy bug me didn’t bite until long after his death, I hardly knew more than that about my Roane roots. For help, I wrote the only elder Roane I knew, “Uncle Paul,” who was, unbeknownst to me, my dad’s cousin. Paul Roane, Senior graciously provided all the names and dates he knew. He even created hand-ruled trees. So I learned the founder of my paternal line in Lowell, Massachusetts was John P. Roane, who  died on November 28, 1869 when he was 38 years old.

Armed with sketchy facts in living memory, I dove in and harried city clerks and librarians in places far and wide. I fleshed out the Lowell families. I contacted and reconnected with “lost” cousins.  However, I was confused by my inability to document that precise date of John P. Roane’s death.

I pictured my ancestors as typical specimens of the 19th-century poor and struggling who were drawn to the world-famous mill city. In 2003 I made a pilgrimage to the consecrated ground of St. Patrick’s Cemetery that held so many weary Irish bones. I prepared myself for the possibility there was no Roane marker to see, knowing stones were (and are) expensive, but after making inquiries, an administrator marked a map, handed it across the counter, and waved me cheerily out the door.

Two minutes later, I stood flabbergasted. An embarrassingly immodest granite monument rose up from the Roane family plot (photo below). Okay, I’ll push  aesthetics aside; the discovery must be assessed within its historical context. During the Victorian era, ostentatious displays told beholders you were successful. Though my Roanes always lived in working-class dwellings (some still stand), – in death, they communicate a powerful desire to be remembered as people of substance and importance. But I digress.

Photo of the Roane monument at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Lowell, MA

Roane Monument at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Lowell, MA

Beneath a crown with a cross thrust through it, carved into the polished stone, you can read:

JOHN P. ROANE

DIED NOV. 28, 1869

AGED 38 YRS.

ERECTED BY

MARY O’NEIL

DIED MARCH 24, 1919

AGED 83 YRS.

Here was the reason John P. Roane was not forgotten, but he wasn’t buried here. This plot was purchased in 1894, 25 years after his death. Frustration flooded over me. I’d searched in Lowell, other towns and cities, in state repositories and online databases with no result.  I still had no death record, no funeral notice, no obituary. I burned to know exactly where he came from, what happened to him, and why. But that day I couldn’t think of a place I hadn’t already looked. John P. Roane’s end and origins were lost to history and it was time for me to move on.

I shifted my research focus to John’s widow, Mary Hurney. She moved on with her life by marrying a Civil War veteran named Patrick O’Neil in 1873. The remarkable Mary out-lived him, too. (In fact, Mary out-lived all but one of nine children and every one of her 13 siblings).

Head shot of Mary (Hurney) Roane O'Neil (1836-1919) from a group photograph taken in Lowell's Marion Studio around 1913.

Mary (Hurney) Roane O’Neil.

Patrick O’Neil suffered a myriad of debilities arising from his military service. Doctors declared him unable to work and he collected disability payments in his last years. After he died in 1896, Mary applied for her widow’s benefit.

The federal government used fill-in forms for these applications, so when I ripped into the NARA* file, I was surprised to find pages of handwritten testimony. Like any claimant, Mary had to prove that a US soldier was dead and that she had been his wife. Mary produced death records for Patrick O’Neil, his two former wives, and a marriage certificate. Legal difficulties arose because Mary had no death record for first husband, John Roane.  She needed sworn witnesses to the facts surrounding John Roane’s death. Then WHAM! it felt like a lightning strike** when I recognized the surnames, JONES and HILLARY. I read…

I was a cousin of the John Roane who was the first husband of the above named Mary O’Neil and went to Ireland with him…

Bits of information I’d collected over years, but could never tie in, began falling into place…. Witnesses at baptisms were often relatives…  There was no death record, because John did not die here.

…That before leaving Lowell he was in ill health and the physicians recommended a sea voyage and… that he did not meet with the health that he thought he would derive from the change and constantly grew worse…

Tuberculosis (TB), also known as consumption, or phthisis, was the scourge of the Roane family and remains a potent killer. Before Robert Koch discovered its cause in 1882, treatments included the ‘work cure’ (eating basic food and performing manual labor in the outdoors). And if you had money enough, you might take the ‘travel cure’ to experience a restorative change in climate.

I can’t know that John Roane had TB, but he was treated for an ailment like it. Though a grocery store owner since 1859, at the birth of daughter Sarah in 1868, John gave his occupation as mason ( hard labor). Then the cousins’ testimony that  they accompanied him to Ireland in the of spring 1869 fits the pattern of TB ‘cures’ of the time.

These facts we know because we were intimate with him and with him constantly until he breathed his last…and was buried in Colmanstown, Galway Co. Ireland.

Lastly, a cousin told me Aunt Mollie said the Roanes came from Athenry…  When I searched online for  Colemanstown, it turned out to be a tiny settlement. The nearest town to it is Athenry.

And so a genealogy mystery was solved in a way that reminds me of a stargazing trick. If you stare straight at some celestial objects, you cannot see them at all.  However, when you avert your vision, that is, look slightly side-wise, – they magically pop into view.

——-

*This cemetery was referred to as the “Cath yard” by Yankee record keepers.

**National Archives and Records Administration

***Lightning did strike Patrick O’Neil, – but that’s a story for another day.