I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Barbara Peters whose early documentation of the Keenan Family tree laid the groundwork for my further explorations into the minutiae of our mutual family history, as well as inspiring me to pursue a similar documentation of the Fay Family.
Barbara is in my mind the consummate genealogist. She has been at it for well over two decades, and is tremendously knowledgeable about existing sources, and is amazingly facile at negotiating the intricacies of data mining on the internet. Barbara maintains a high standard of documented corroboration for any potential family link. By the same token, she has been very non-judgmental of the many mistakes and presumptions I have made as a beginner in this field. Her documentation of our Keenan Family tree on Ancestry.com is both thorough and extensive. It can be found under the title “Sarah [–?–] Keenan Family Tree”.
Every genealogist looks for the “stories” in his or her family history –incidents of humor or drama or poignancy that can transform an ancestor from just a name and a date into a glimpse of the real person that they were. One such account that engaged Barbara’s passionate pursuit was the tragic story of Josephine Keenan – the adopted (?) daughter of Matthew T.J. Keenan, the glass cutter that moved to Boston from Brooklyn (see the chapter “The McDermotts After the Civil War”). Recently Barbara was trying to find the original birth records for Josephine among the online records of the New England Historic Genealogic Society (NEHGS).
What she found there was startling, to say the least – although it did not pertain to Josephine.
We had never been able to find the baptismal records for Matthew Keenan’s daughter Sarah Anne, who was born around 1840, because St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn was missing records for that time period. In December of 2018 I received an excited e-mail from Barbara saying that while researching Josephine she had come across Sarah’s baptismal records. Apparently she had been baptized in St. Mary’s Church in Lynn, Massachusetts on Sept. 21, 1840! Furthermore it turns out that Patrick Keenan had married his wife Ann Moran in Lynn as well. And Owen and Mary Keenan were there too – their set of twins were baptized there in May. This was incredibly exciting and yet even more puzzling. We knew they were all living in Brooklyn at the time. Had they all gone up to Lynn to “summer” with friends or relatives? While I was desperately trying to construct a likely scenario to fit these new facts, Barbara was doing more research.
A day or so later I received an e-mail from her :
Tue 12/11/2018, 11:58 AM
My working theory:
What if the St. Mary’s (Lynn) book is really the missing book [1838-1841] from St. James (Brooklyn)? Certainly all of the missing years are in the St. Mary’s book, with another year that is also in St. James. I’m wondering if there were two books for a bit. I found a mention at the end of the St. Mary’s book about a “new book”. How could this have happened?
According to “Priests and Parishes of the Diocese of Brooklyn 1820-1990, Vol. I”, Rev. John A. Walsh was assigned to St. James 1829-1841. He was at the Trappist Monastery, Mt. Melleray, Ireland, 1841-1843, then returned and was assigned to St. Paul, Harlem where he died on 8/8/1852.
Rev Charles Smith served in New York City from 1827-1830, Albany from 1830-1842, St. James Pro-Cathedral from 1842-1847, Boston Diocese from 1847-1851. He died on January 4, 1851.
According to the History of Lynn Massachusetts, Rev. Charles Smith was at St. Mary’s from 1849-1851.
What if Rev. Charles Smith accidentally packed a sacramental registry with his other books and possessions when he moved from Brooklyn to Boston? It might have gotten mixed up with other books for St. Mary’s. After he died, there would be no one to know.
I have to do more investigation. I’ve already contacted the Brooklyn Archdiocese, they gave me the information about Rev. John Walsh. Brooklyn Archives responded with the answer within hours! I found the book they referenced online and looked up Charles Smith.
I wrote to the Boston Archdiocese archives to ask if there was a Rev. John Walsh assigned as pastor to St. Mary’s (Lynn) from 1838-1841 to find out if there are 2 Rev. John Walshes or not. I got an automatic reply that said they have only 2 people working so it may take a while for a reply to come. Oh, well.
I’m going to study the “St. Mary’s” book and see if I can find any clues in it. As you know, when I had access to the St. James books, I wrote down all Keenans, Farrells and McDermotts. I’ve found other Keenans in that St. James’ book that are also in St. Mary’s.
This would at least have kept everyone in Brooklyn and explain how the book is missing from St. James.
Before I had even a chance to digest what Barbara was proposing I received the following e-mail:
Tue 12/11/2018, 5:15 PM
I actually may have been right! I think I have solved a 170 year old mystery! The Boston archdiocese doesn’t have a record of a Rev. John Walsh for the time period that the “St. Mary’s (Lynn) books cover.
I am absolutely positive now that I am correct. I found this in the Brooklyn Priests book that I mentioned earlier. This says that Rev Philip Gilkick was at St. James from 1838-1839.
Gilkick, Philip, –––– , c. 1800 ( –––– c. 1827) 1860 N Carolina Missions; S James Pro-Cath 38-39; Upstate NY-44; NJ
I am looking at baptism records [in the Lynn transcripts] where the celebrant was P. Gilkick. the date? June 17, 1838.
I am beyond excited!!
In the space of three days time Barbara had not only solved a 170 year old mystery, but corroborated it through unassailable documentation. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The Catholic Church, which up till now has considered their sacramental records as strictly private, has at last begun to allow digitalization and publication of historic records. In the New York area Brooklyn remains the final holdout (with the exception of St. Paul’s). The current procedure allows you only to write to the individual Parish church, submit a request for records based on what genealogical information you have, pay a fee, and hope that a Parish assistant may eventually find some time to look at their registries. They understandably are not really in the genealogy business.
Barbara Peters and I have differing takes on the exact relationships of the early Keenans in Brooklyn, which are necessarily based largely on the baptismal sponsors of their children. Some of these differences may be cleared up when there is full documentation available for all Catholic Church sacramental records. I look forward to that day.
I have also established a Fay Family Tree on Ancestry.com which will become public in short order.
Thanks go out also to my son Dane for his masterful photoshopping of the photo of Matthew Keenan’s house at #58 Underhill Ave, as well as his insistence and assistance in setting up this website.
Thanks, too, to my son Conor for introducing me to Brooklyn, his home and the home of our ancestors, and accompanying me on my many visits to Holy Cross Cemetery and the various sites where our forebearers, both Keenan and Fay, had at one time left their footprints.
And last, but by no means least, my love and appreciation to my companion Phyllis, for her unremitting support while enduring endless tales of family intricacies, and thousands of hours of neglect as I disappeared down the rabbit hole of genealogy.