Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Genealogy Brick Wall Crumbled

Brick wall down!  The parents of Mary Neil, my 3rd great grandmother, have been discovered.

Five generations of my father's family tree.
The focus of this discussion is Mary Neil (1830-1898), a great great grandmother of my father.

Mary Neil married Calvin Cook in 1847.  Like most of the marriages recorded in Morris County, New Jersey in this time period, the names of parents were not included.

New Jersey County Marriage collection at FamilySearch.org.  Free index and free images.

In other records, Mary was born in New Jersey around the year 1830.  As time went on, some of her children recorded her name as O'Neill on their documents and gave her birthplace as Ireland.

In the 1870s, the family relocated to Jersey City in Hudson County.  Calvin died in Jersey City in 1889.  I found his death certificate with no difficulty in the Archives in Trenton; however, I could not locate his final resting place "at Dover" until someone kindly posted on FindAGrave the stone for Calvin and Mary's son, William Cook, who died in 1871.  The family plot is located at Locust Hill Cemetery in Dover, Morris County.  This was discovered over two years ago.

Mary's final passage is recorded on the same stone as her husband, Calvin.  She died August 9, 1898.

Great!  I had Mary's date of death.  But I still could not find a death certificate or obituary for her.

Time passed.  Recently I was at the Morristown and Morris Township Library and checked the Morris County newspapers again.  The few papers for the area for 1898 were published weekly, so I did not have too much to sift through.  This time, an obituary in the paper "The Iron Era" from Dover caught my attention.  Mary A Keating died on August 9, 1898 and was buried at Locust Hill Cemetery-- just like my Mary.  She was the wife of Nicholas Keating and lived in Rockaway.  No other family members were mentioned.

Could Mary Keating be Mary Neil, widow of Calvin Cook?

Digitized newspaper collection at the Morristown and Morris Township Library.  Free on-site usage.
At home, I checked the online index of New Jersey marriages at FamilySearch.  Calvin Cook died in 1889, so if Mary remarried, the date would be in the 1890s.  And there it was.  Mary remarried in 1892 (this is the correct year) in Jersey City to Nicholas Keating.

FamilySearch.org.  New Jersey Marriages.
This is a free index.  The images are not online.  They are at the Archives in Trenton.

This marriage record was my best chance of finding out the names of Mary Neil's parents, as the record was created during Mary's life.

I looked through the index at FamilySearch for Mary's death certificate, but found no matching entry.  Both Mary and Nicholas died in 1898 and their estates were probated through the Surrogate's Office of Morris County.

This is a free service to search probated estates in Morris County, New Jersey.
The actual files are in the court house.  [The other twenty New Jersey counties are online at FamilySearch.org.]

At the Archives in Trenton, I found Mary's marriage record to Nicholas Keating.  Her parents were listed as Charles O'Neill and Catharine Brougham, both of Ireland.  (This explains the source of the names for two of Mary's children.)

Witnesses were Margaret Tower, Mary's daughter; and Harry Tower, Mary's son-in-law.

I found a death certificate for Mary Keating.  No day of death is on the certificate; only the month and year- August 1898.  Maybe this is why it missed the index?  I looked at the microfilm roll of deaths from 1 July 1898 through 30 June 1899, Morris County, surname K.  This same method did not produce a death certificate for Nicholas Keating, who died 21 December 1898 according to his estate papers.

Whoever provided the information for Mary's death certificate only knew that her mother was "Katie."  This is why it is best to try to obtain a record created during the person's life.  (Cause of death was "cerebral haemorrage," probably a stroke.)

I went through the census to find Nicholas Keating.  In the 1860 federal census in Rockaway, Nicholas and his first wife, Catherine Shaw (1825-1891), were living next door to Mary Neil and her first husband, Calvin Cook.  32 years later, both of their spouses would be dead and Nicholas and Mary would marry each other.  For the record, Catherine Shaw was not merely a neighbor.  She was a first cousin of Calvin's father; the common ancestors were Conrad Hopler (1730-1815) and Elizabeth DeMouth (1735-1812).

In the 1895 New Jersey state census, Mary and Nicholas were residing together in Rockaway.  Had I not made the connection with the obituary, this piece of the puzzle could have provided a big clue.  I do not know how the three people named Nix tie into this yet, but look at the last person in the household, a child, Francis A Peck.  He is a grandson of Mary.  His parents were Calvin Peck (1848-1923) and Catherine Cook (1854-1885).  Francis was born on the 28th of April in 1885 in Jersey City.  Three weeks later, on the 17th of May, his mother, Catherine, died.

Mary's estate papers clearly list her surviving children and her grandson.  But estates are organized by the surname of the deceased, not by those who inherit.

Mary also left money to Louisa Lee "of Dover, N[ew] J[ersey], niece of my deceased husband Calvin Cook."  I don't know why Louisa received this special treatment.  Louisa's mother was Anna Cook, a sister of Calvin; her father was Jesse Lee.

Next I need to research Charles O'Neill and Catharine Brougham.  I'm not convinced that they were Irish.


  1. Hi Jody, I have an Isabel Nix (1834-1901) who was married to Samuel S Shaw (1830-1901). Samuel was the son of one of Catherine Shaw's brothers (i.e. Joseph) - maybe these Nix's are related to that Isabel as I've not researched her.

    1. That would make sense. Extended family. Probably double or triple extended family.

  2. Awesome! Fascinating view into the past. Great detective work, Jody!