Finding John McDermott

     Our first awareness of John McDermott came to light in the Baptismal records of James McDermott’s daughter Catherine on January 2 of 1827. John was listed as a sponsor of the baptism. This honor and responsibility was always reserved for family members or very close friends. However on this evidence alone, we are not able to establish the exact relationship between James McDermott and John. He might have been an uncle, a brother, a nephew, or a cousin.

     When we check the early Boston Directories we find a “John McDurmant” living at 194 Hanover St. in the North End in both the 1825 and 1826 editions. In 1828  “John McDomott” had moved to a house, in the rear, on Sea St. (now Broad St.) down towards South Boston. In 1829 John was found living on A Street in South Boston – the very street where  “James McDomott” lived.

     When James moved his family to Brooklyn around 1831 the name John McDermott also disappeared from the Boston Directories for over a decade. We don’t know if he went with James to New York, or simply moved out of Boston. His name does not appear in any of the Brooklyn Directories of that era. If he was living with James, of course, it would not.

    From 1843 onward (after James returned to Boston) one or several John McDermotts started  appearing consistently in the Boston Directories, but there is no way to link a particular one directly with our family. These were the years of the Great Famine and the Irish were pouring into New York and Boston, with any number of McDermotts among them.

     One source for  identifying details of an individual, as we saw earlier in the case of James McDermott, is to be found in the Records of Naturalization. We know that the John McDermott we are looking for was in Boston by May 20th of 1825 (the cut-off date for being included in the Street Directory) and was necessarily from Longford.  Fortunately Massachusetts has preserved extensive naturalization records, and in those records there is found only one John McDermott that could fit those particulars.

     On November 21st of 1851 a John McDermott was granted Citizenship by the U.S. District Court in Boston. He stated that he was born on May 20, 1808, and arrived in Boston in May of 1825 as a minor under the age of eighteen years old. He also stated that he was born in “Lagin in the County Longford”. Of course there is no Lagin in Longford, but there is a Leagan (identical pronunciation) and it is found just over  three miles distance from the town of Abbeyshrule, where the Maliffs were from.

     If this was not our relative it would have to be a very remarkable coincidence – but  of course there is no way to absolutely determine that without some direct linkage. When we check the 1850 Federal Census for Boston we find two John McDermotts profiled that were born in 1808. One, a John McDurmont,  laborer, was married to Mary Hoolahan and had a son, John Jr. who was a year old. Through cross referencing with the Directories, we find that he was living on Mt. Vernon Ave in the Sixth Ward , north of the Boston Commons. The other, a John McDurman was a tailor living with two other tailors . The Street Directories for 1850 and 1851 list another five John McDermotts, mostly laborers. But again, there is no way to directly link any of these with the John that we are interested in. I could find no subsequent records of the John McDermott  married to Mary Hoolihan, though he presents the most likely candidate for being our relative.

     A typical way of identifying a Naturalized citizen is to see who the two witnesses were at the Court hearing. For instance, as we saw with Thomas Maliff –  his witnesses were James McDermott and his father Michael Maley (Maliff), thus establishing a positive identifiable familial link. When we check the witnesses for the John McDermott from Leagan, however, we see that they are Thomas Rowean and Thomas Hughes – neither a Maliff or a McDermott as we might normally expect. We do know who Thomas Rowean was – his name is listed on the Title Page of the Record of Naturalization as an Agent (of naturalization) located at 139 Federal St., Boston.  But who was Thomas Hughes?

    As you might recall John Maliff, the son of Michael, and a nephew of Ann McDermott, had married Rose Hughes in February of 1851. One of Rose’s brothers was named Thomas Hughes and in fact in 1852 he and John Maliff bought the other half of the duplex that the Hughes family owned on Wheeler’s Court in the 9th Ward, not too far from South Boston. But there were a number of Thomas Hughes in Boston at the time. How can we be sure this one was John Maliff’s brother-in-law?

     “Coincidentally” it turns out that John Maliff received his citizenship papers just two weeks earlier than John McDermott, on Nov. 6, 1851. His witnesses were his brother-in-laws John and Thomas Hughes. A quick comparison of the signatures of Thomas Hughes found on the two separate Naturalization documents leaves no doubt that they were  the same person, thus linking this John McDermott to the rest of the family.

   Why Thomas Hughes appeared as a witness, rather than someone with closer ties, is not immediately clear. He could have known John McDermott (they were the same age) through John Maliff, or simply been asked to help out by a family member because everyone else was unavailable.

    One other concern in verifying that this 1851 John McDermott was indeed the earlier relative is whether he arrived in time to appear in the 1825 Directory. Fortunately I was able to find what appeared to be his immigration record. On May 7, 1825 the ship Amythest out of Boston returned from Liverpool with about 47 passengers. Among them we find a John McDermot, age 17, a laborer, from Ireland. This arrival date would have given John time to find lodging on Hanover St. and still be included in the Directory. His name, age and arrival all precisely coincide with the specifics given by our John McDermott from 1851. If there was  any doubt that this placed him in our family, one needs only to read further down on the Amythest’s passenger list. There we find one Nancy Maley, age 56 (born 1769). Nancy is without doubt Ann (Maliff) McDermott’s mother. Maley  is of course the same spelling of the family name that her son Michael used. And it also serves nicely to fill in the missing link in the 1830 Census of James McDermott’s family. In that document there is listed one female between 60 and 70 years of age. Nancy would have been 61 – and living with her daughter’s family.

      It seems  likely that John McDermott, whether a nephew or a younger brother of James McDermott, was sent to escort Ann McDermott’s mother over to the States. And this could also explain why John Maliff  later extended his hand to help with the Naturalization hearing of the man who had brought his grandmother across the waters.

     Unfortunately we don’t really know the fate of either Nancy (Maley) Maliff or John McDermott. I can find no death records for Nancy in Boston or Brooklyn after 1830, and she wasn’t listed in James McDermott’s 1840 Census from Brooklyn.

    There were numerous John McDermotts living in Boston after 1851 – many more in the Directories than in subsequent Census records. But because Directories don’t give any personal information, such as age or family members, it can be extremely difficult to distinguish one person from another. Often one has to start  from another document and work backwards.

    If our John McDermott stayed in Boston after 1851, there are only a few extant records that might fit his profile.

    There was a John McDermott, born in 1807, listed living in  Canton, Ma. in the  Census of 1865. The only possibility of a family connection with him, however, is that Richard Maliff was by then living in Easton, Ma., a nearby town.

    There was also a death record of a John McDermott, born 1808, who died in Boston City Hospital on April 23, 1872 after an accident. But by comparing Directory listings before and after that date, it can be extrapolated that this unfortunate man was probably a laborer who had been living on Endicott St. and then East St.  in the years leading up to his death. ( See John McDermott – Directory )

     There was also a Boston death record of a John McDermott (b. 1808) on Dec 31, 1886. He was living on Foster St., Boston and was buried in Waltham. His parents were listed as James and Ann. In 1886 there were three Foster Streets – one in the North End of Boston proper, one near Fields Corner, Dorchester and one in Brighton. The only John McDermott that showed up in the 1885 Directory with a Foster St. address was a John Mcdermott boarding with Thomas McDermott on Foster St. in Brighton. While this might appear as a hopeful match, especially with its proximity to Waltham, after a long and detailed search , it appears that this John was a relative of the family of Malachi McDermott of Woburn, who emmigrated from Leitram Ireland in 1851. (See The 1886 Death of John McDermott). And then he once again appeared in the 1887 Directory, boarding with Bridget McDermott (widow) in Allston – thus confirming that he could not be the man that died in 1886.

     I can find no further information on the John McDermott that died in 1886. There is a hint that he might be “our” John McDermott in that his parents were listed as James and Ann. We don’t know who provided this information – but could they have mistakenly been referring to our James and Ann McDermott as his parents?  We don’t know. Born in 1808, John could not have been a child of our James and Ann. However, if he was a cousin, his parents might very well have been a James and Ann McDermott.

     Of more importance is that John McDermott, together with John Maliff,  have given us a specific locale in Ireland with which to start the search for our ancestral homeplace. The Maliffs were from Abbeyshrule and John, if not James McDermott, was from Legan, about three miles away.  We also had found out previously that James’s compatriot Alex Clark was from Ballymahon, which is a mere six miles west of Abbeyshrule. Alex’s wife, Honora Fox, came from a family that was concentrated around in Legan as well.

     Last but not least, we know that the Keenans were from Longford as well  – perhaps it is time to journey back over the Atlantic and visit the place where this all began.