As a single woman, I find myself drawn to the stories of the single women who populate my family tree. We see those conspicuous spots where the branch just stops. Sometimes these nubs result from the early deaths of infants or children, but often they are the result of men and women who (gasp) never married nor had children.
Many of these men and women lived long meaningful lives, but with no descendants to keep their stories alive, they’ve been forgotten over the years. It is no wonder – I read somewhere the best people can hope for is to be remembered for 80 years after death.
In this series I am going to introduce you to some women I have come across in my family history research. They are daughters, sisters, aunts and great-aunts who deserve a little bit of attention.
I am straying a bit from my basic family tree for my first selection, Catherine Theresa Foley born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 17, 1884.
My great-grandmother was Mary Foley before she married and said she and Catherine Foley were “shirttail cousins”. Catherine’s nubby branch would only appear on the most comprehensive of my family trees, but I often heard references to Catherine and her family by my grandma and her sisters.
A more technical explanation of the shirt-tail cousin relationship follows – it’s a bit convoluted and boring. Personally, I like “shirt-tail cousins” better! Catherine’s parents were John Foley and Mary Casey, both born in Macroom, County Cork. My Foley great-great-grandparents (Patrick and Mary) were also born in that area of Cork, and once they immigrated to the United States, they lived in Fisherville, New Hampshire. So did Catherine’s parents. From what I can surmise, John Foley and Patrick Foley were first cousins.
Mary Foley married Thomas McMahon and the family farmed in Clontarf, Minnesota until 1924 when they moved to Minneapolis. My grandma’s sister Rose McMahon (known as Dodo to her family) worked for Catherine Foley in Minneapolis in the 1930s.
According to census and city directories, Dodo worked as a “housekeeper” at the Foley house, located at 1329 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis. Catherine’s father was a County Sheriff who had done quite well for himself.
The idea of Dodo as a “housekeeper” always made me chuckle. She didn’t seem the housekeeper type to me. Grandma said she spent most of her time lounging under trees, napping and eating apples, rather than doing her chores on the farm. I wondered how much work got done for Catherine Foley!
Although growing up I heard her name quite a bit, I know very little about Catherine. She was a musician. She gave private piano lessons and played the organ at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Minneapolis.
Catherine seemed to have excellent taste (or at least similar to me!) My favorite table-cloth is a woven Jacquard floral – red and piney green, which came to me from Catherine’s house via Dodo. I also have a wooden box with enamel decorated flowers on top that was Catherine’s. It is very fancy, lined in a padded pink satin. I wonder what treasures she used to keep in the box?
I enjoy those items, but perhaps Catherine Foley’s most important legacy to my family was her house at 1329 East 22nd Street, or simply, 1329. When Catherine died in 1937, Dodo and my grandma bought the house from Catherine’s brother. It became Grand Central Station for the McMahon family. Everything happened at 1329 – from ping-pong matches at the kitchen table to my grandparent’s wedding reception. Many memories were made at 1329.
A few months ago I sent for Catherine’s death certificate. I was curious. Catherine died on September 30. 1937. Cause of death was a coronary thrombosis. She had an enlarged heart as a result of 11-years with endocarditis. She was just 53-years-old. I suspect she kept Dodo around as much for her company as her housekeeping skills. I can just hear Dodo laughing in this photo!
I wonder if there are any Foleys out there – descendants of John Foley and Mary Casey? It would be cool to hear from you……
April 26, 2015 at 11:13 am
Great post Annie. Strong, independent and single women were a part of most Irish American families…nuns and teachers and working women and favorite aunts and pianists.
April 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm
Indeed, and they still are! 🙂