Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Solving another family story

"Delia's mother was holding her by the train tracks when a train came along, caught her mother's skirts, and dragged her to her death.  As she was being swept away, she managed to throw the baby at a crowd on the platform, and a man safely caught the baby."  This story was told to us for years, with slight variations.  I always wondered how I could find a record of it.

Delia Joyce married Patrick ODonnell around 1887.  They are buried together at Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey.  Her dates are listed as 1862-1929 on her gravestone.  She first appears with Patrick in the 1900 census in Bayonne, Hudson County, New Jersey, born in New York to Irish parents.  There are not many Joyce families in New York in the 1870 and 1880 census, but several had a girl named Delia, making it impossible to decide which was the correct family.

I had the opportunity to show some old photos to an older relative.  I had this photograph of a woman suspected to be Delia Joyce ODonnell.

The older relative confirmed that the woman in the center was Delia.  "She was the baby that her mother threw as she was being dragged by the train."  And she was able to recall the location:  Pawling.  Delia was not looking at the camera because she was blind.

Armed with a location, I found the Joyce family living in Pawling, Dutchess County, New York in the 1870 census.

1870 census for Pawling, Dutchess County, New York
The eight year old Adelia was Delia, the "baby" thrown by her mother to escape death.  The problem with this finding is that Delia could not have been a baby when her mother died because there are two more children born after Delia.  By Irish luck, Delia's mother died during the census year, so she turns up in the mortality schedule for us to easily find 140 years later.

1870 US Mortality Schedule, 1870 New York
The first number, 21, matches the families.  Mary Joyce, age 35, of Ireland, died in May of 1870, "Run over by cars Railroad."  This confirms that I have the correct family.  The remaining issue is that Delia was not a baby when her mother died, so either the story should have been "Mother throws small child to safety" or the rescued baby was not Delia, but rather a younger sibling, perhaps John or James.

Able to make the match to Dutchess County, I found a descendant of Patrick Joyce by his second wife.  Patrick remarried and had more children.  They too had heard the same baby and train story.


  1. I hope you are able to find a newspaper article confirming this story - very interesting.