1870’s – The Passing of The Old Guard

Before we trace the lives of the next generation of Keenans (those of the children of James Nicholas Keenan)  perhaps we should quickly update the stories of that Keenan generation that first emigrated to America

 Elizabeth (Keenan) Farrell

     Elizabeth  had died in 1853, the same year as her brother Matthew. She had left behind six surviving children. Her husband John died of hepatitis shortly thereafter in 1857.    

           An interesting fact was revealed in the 1880 U.S. Census which has helped shed some light on the Irish origins of John Farrell.  John’s eldest daughter, Catherine, married a carpenter named Patrick Burns in 1852 and they subsequently moved out to the Chicago area.  John Burns died in 1879 and in the 1880 Census we find that Catherine was being visited by a brother, Matthew Farrell, also a carpenter. Matthew was born in Ireland in 1826 – before John Farrell had emigrated to America.

    Matthew’s baptismal records from Ardagh/Moydow Parish in Longford reveal that his mother was named Bridget Denegan , and that her family was located in Clonterm townland, just outside of Longford town in Ballymacormick Parish. In the  nearby townland of Ferafad the family of Matthew Farrell and Bridget Gregg were farming a plot of about 15 acres. Their son John had been baptised in the Ballymacormick church in Oct of 1805. There are no records of a marrriage between John Farrell and Margaret Denegan, and there are no records of Margaret’s death, but we do know that John left his son behind in Ireland and came to the U.S., probably in 1828-29.

    It appears that his son Matthew left Ireland for New York in July of 1851 on the ship  “Enterprise”. We can only assume he met his father (who died in 1857) since he knew Catherine, his eldest surviving half-sister. Records on Matthew are few, but we do find a burial of a Matthew Farrell in Holy Cross cemetery in Brooklyn, in April of 1891.  

The Family of John Farrell
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                    John Farrell also had a probable cousin named Catherine. She was cited as a baptismal sponsor for his daughter Catherine in 1833. Around 1839 she married Hugh Brady, who also had also been a baptismal sponsor for John’s  son William in 1837. Together they had three daughters – Bridget, Ellen and Catherine. In Catherine Brady’s obituary in 1872 it was stated that she was born in Ardagh Parish, Longford in 1806, although we have been unable to find baptismal records verifying this. At any rate it seems that the Keenans and Farrells, both originating in Longford County in Ireland, had quite understandably sought each other out in the States.

     There is  an interesting sidebar to this story. As you might recall, Mary (McDermott) Keenan had a friend named Bridget Gilligan (Gelligan)  who came down to Brooklyn from Boston to witness Mary’s wedding to Matthew Keenan in December of 1831. Apparently Bridget remained in Brooklyn. In 1836 she married Francis Brady, and their first son Michael was baptized in St. James Cathedral in October of 1837. It turns out that Francis was the younger brother of Hugh Brady who had married Catherine Farrell. They were all  living together in Hugh’s house on Canton St. in the 11th Ward in 1850. Bridget and Francis then moved out to the 9th Ward around 1855 and eventually ended up living on Underhill Ave, not too far from where Matthew Keenan’s family was living.

      Of further interest to the Keenan family history, however,  is the story of John and Elizabeth’s second son, John H. Farrell. John was born in 1838, so he was only 19 when his father died, although he had already married Catherine O’Conner a few years earlier. He was working  as a porter in 1860, and he somehow parlayed that into establishing a successful funeral home by around 1870. In 1880  he was located at 274 Jay St., practically across the street from St. James Cathedral – a choice spot.  This business was later passed on to his son, Louis W. Farrell, who then moved it to 302 Jay St. on the next block.   

     After John’s wife Catherine died in 1881, he remarried to Amelia McLaughlin. Amelia was the daughter of Patrick McLaughlin and Margaret McLaughlin. Her mother Margaret was the sister of Hugh “Boss” McLaughlin, the Democratic Boss of Brooklyn. Amelia’s parents had moved to Rochester, NY from Brooklyn, but when Amelia moved back to Brooklyn, after the death of her first husband, she then married John H. Farrell. Later Amelia’s much younger brother, William McLaughlin, married Mary Farrell (the daughter of John H. Farrell), so that her step-daughter became her sister-in-law!

     When John died in March of 1903 his funeral was a grand event in downtown Brooklyn, as reported in The Brooklyn Eagle

    Because of the family connection, Farrell & Sons became the funeral home to go to whenever a Keenan family member died. Barbara Peters has compiled a list of between twenty five and thirty Keenan relatives who availed themselves of the Farrells’ services between 1872 and 1934, when they served as the undertakers of my great-grandfather John F. Keenan.

Owen Keenan

     Owen Keenan had wed Mary Farrell around 1837-38, and thereafter they lived on Tillary St. in downtown Brooklyn for the remainder of their lives. A cartman like the other Keenans, Owen was able to supported a large family and eventually buy a house (#260 Tillary) .

260 Tillary St


     In the 1865 Census he and Mary  reported having had twelve children, but we know of only ten, including two sets of twins. We know that three of his sons died young – Michael (b.1840) and Dennis (b.1841) had died by 1850, and Owen (b.1848) by 1855.

The Family of Owen Keenan
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     Owen gave up being a cartman when that profession became obsolete, and thereafter was listed as a laborer. He died in 1877 at the age of 65 yrs. His widow Mary survived him by another twelve years, dying on June 11, 1890.

        Owen’s eldest son, Edward, whose godparents were Matthew and Elizabeth Keenan, was a hatter by profession and lived with his parents in Brooklyn till he was almost forty. Then he met and married an Irish woman named Margaret Hamilton and moved to Mercer St. in New York City, where he worked in a hat factory. Unfortunately Edward died fairly young on Jan. 31, 1888 at the age of 49, and was followed by his wife three weeks later. They were buried together in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn.

     John J Keenan (b. 1840), the survivor of the first set of twins, started apprenticing as a plumber in his youth. He married an Irish girl, Bridget Catherine Darcey, in 1862. After serving as a private in the 195th Ohio Infantry for almost a year in 1865, he returned to Brooklyn and continued working in the plumbing trade. He and Bridget had four children and resided next to his parents on Tillary St. until about  1883, when he relocated a couple of blocks south on  Hudson St. where he had established his own plumbing shop.  His obituary in the Brooklyn Eagle in May of 1903 read in part as follows:

                                                    John J. Keenan

    John J. Keenan, for the past fifteen years an inspector of plumbing in the Building and Health departments, died yesterday at his home, 1 Sycamore Street,  after an illness of about two weeks. The news of his death was a shock to a wide circle of friends, particularly to the attaches  of the Buiding Department, with whom he had been associated since severing his connection as an official of the Health Department, about six years ago. He had always been regarded as a faithful and competant official, and through his kindly and unassuming manner, had been held in high esteem by his  associates…

     Deceased is survived by a widow and two children. The funeral will take place on Friday morning from St. Edward’s Church.

     Dennis and (Nicholas) Michael Keenan, the other set of twins, lived with their mother after the passing of their father in 1877. Dennis was a tin roofer and Michael a laborer. We don’t know the fate of Michael, but in 1908 Dennis was killed in an accident , resulting in a suit against the Nassau Electric Railroad Co. The particulars and the outcome, however, are not known.

     We also know nothing, at this point, of the fate of Owen Keenan’s three daughters. If they married we have not been able to find records of those events.

Patrick Keenan

     Patrick Keenan, the Keenan that seemed the closest to Matthew, also followed  his lead to a large extent. He originally purchased property in the 9th Ward  adjacent to Matthew’s, entered the same profession (cartman), and continued to reside no more than a few blocks away. When he moved to Pacific Ave in 1851 he remained there until his death. He and his wife Ann (Moran) had six children, five of whom made it to adulthood. Their second son Thomas had died early in childhood, and their next boy, Michael, succumbed to consumption in 1865, a couple of years before his cousin Sarah Ann. In 1870 Patrick’s  sons John and Edward Joseph were working as policeman, but by 1875 they had moved out of the household.

          Patrick Keenan lived into his late sixties, retiring from the carting business and becoming a Railroad Watchman in 1880. He  passed away on December 14th of 1884.

        Ann (Moran) Keenan lived on till nearly eighty, dying in April of  1897

The Family of Patrick Keenan and Ann Moran
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     Edward Joseph Keenan  had married Margaret Skelly in December of 1874. Together they would have five  children – two of whom survived into adulthood  –  John L. born  in 1878 and Florence, born in in 1883.  Edward spent his career as a police “roundsman” in the old neighborhood, living on Vanderbuilt Ave. and patrolling that area out of the Atlantic Ave. police station.

   In 1900 -1910 they  relocated to Ryerson St. in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, close to a number of their cousins (Annie Keenan’s children). Edward was still working as a police sergeant. But when  Margaret Skelly died on  July 21, 1910, Edward soon thereafter retired.

     Edward continued maintaining a home, living with two sisters-in-law, and the family of his daughter Florence who had  four children with her husband Hugo Henckel. On Sept 29 of 1923 Edward passed away at the age of 74 years.


In 1874 the youngest of Patrick’s children, Annie, had married James Heavy, a man nearly fifteen years older than she. James was a policeman as well, perhaps an acquaintance of her brothers. James and Annie set up housekeeping with her parents in 1875, but after the birth of their daughter Ann in June of 1876 they rented their own place at 820 Atlantic Ave., just a few blocks away. Unfortunately Ann died on Nov. 27, 1878 when her daughter was only two years old

     James J., Patrick’s  youngest son, apparently stuck close to home. He had helped his father drive a cart in the 1870’s and also became a watchman at the same time his father did in 1880. In that census, however, it was noted that he had a hip disease.

     James married Catherine Corrigan in January of 1885 at St. Joseph’s Church on Pacific St. Thereafter they resided close by on Washington Ave. near Bergen street.  James and Catherine had  three children – Anna Jane ( 1885-1965), Edward J. (1889-1939) and John, born in 1890, but who died before 1900.

     Catherine died of cancer in 1905 and James died in April of 1909 in Brooklyn Hospital, after an amputation of his right leg for a tubercular knee joint. 

James Keenan and Catherine Corrigan


Catherine Keenan

    Catherine Keenan and her husband Edward Harden had continued living at 761 Bergen St. after her brother Patrick had moved over to Pacific Ave in 1851. They were there, right across the street from Michael and Sarah Keenan when Sarah passed away in 1858. In May of 1859 their eldest daughter Ellen, now 18 yrs of age, wedded Alexander Allen at St. Joseph’s Church on Pacific Ave.

     Alexander Allen had emigrated from Ireland in 1852 with his parents, David (b. 1805) and Ann (b.1810), and they were living in Hoosick, a town  in upstate New York near the Vermont border. However, there was an Allen family living on  Bergen St. from 1850 through 1860, on the same block as the Hardens. Headed by John Allen (b. 1815), there was also a sister-in–law  Margaret (b. 1805) living with them. It is likely that these were relatives of David, because he briefly moved to Brooklyn by 1860, residing  just a  few blocks away on Pacific St. near Grand Ave. It was no doubt during this time that Alexander met and married Ellen Harden.

     The newlyweds set up housekeeping in the house on Bergen next to Ellen’s parents. Over the next two decades they had ten children, five of whom survived into adulthood.

     The second daughter of Catherine (Keenan) Harden, also named Catherine, was wed to Francis J. McBrien around 1866. Together they were to have eleven children , although only a handful survived into adulthood.

     The third daughter, Elizabeth, married Henry Metcalf around 1871. They had a son and daughter that survived, but neither was to marry. Elizabeth died at 31 yrs, in 1881.

     The Harden’s sole son, Edward, died at the age of 24, in 1876. He never married.

     Catherine Keenan herself died of consumption on Dec. 11, 1869 and was buried in Holy Cross cemetery. Her husband Edward remarried but had no more children. 

The Family of Edward Harden and Catherine Keenan
(Click image to enlarge)


    [A complete genealogy of the line of Catherine Keenan’s descendents may by viewed on Ancestry.com under the Allen-Carino Tree.]       

There is one relative of Matthew’s that I have not spoken of as of yet – the one that is perhaps is the most enigmatic –and that is Michael Keenan. Michael was the last to arrive, and the first to disappear, and because of that he deserves a chapter of his own.