The Fays In Jersey City

     The bulk of the Fay family immigrants were now in close proximity and they were to remain like that till their last days. Their primary location was on and around Kearney Ave. and Ege Ave. between Ocean Ave and Westside Ave. This area was within easy walking distance of St. Patrick’s Church, which was a center of the Irish community’s activities.

Ege Ave. – 1954


     Father Patrick Hennessey, St. Patrick Parish’s first pastor, had a vision of building a magnificent church on a hill, something that would help to lift up the hard-scrabble lives of his parishioners, and serve as a source of pride, as well as a place of temporal solace and spiritual inspiration.  A gift of land by one of the few relatively well-off Catholics of the parish, Hugh McKay, enabled Father Hennessey to lay the cornerstone for his church on a commanding spot at the corner of Bramhall Avenue and Grand Street, dubbed by a chronicle of that day “the crest of Bergen Hill.”  A renowned architect, Patrick Kiely, was brought in from New York to design the church and supervise it’s construction. The blue flintstone for the gothic structure came from the nearby Pennsylvania railroad cut. But with few families of any means to support it, St. Patrick Parish began it’s life under the weight of a substantial mortgage of  $300,000, that would frustrate Father Hennessey’s later ambitions for his parish and consequently darken his last days.

     Most families in the parish could contribute only pennies towards the building costs. But many of the men, most of them day laborers and unskilled workmen, also contributed their raw labor, giving of what they could to help with the project. The chapel, which adjoined the main church at its northeast corner, opened for Mass in 1872, but five more years were to pass before the main church with its 225 foot spire, was completed. It was dedicated at a Solemn Pontifical Mass on August 19, 1877. Of course no buses, trolleys or taxis served the city in those days, and few Catholic families could afford a horse carriage, or even a horse. For most, the trek to church was a long one, ordinarily by foot over rough streets, dirt roads or even cow paths.

St. Patricks Cathedral


Thomas Fay  (1838 – 1920)

          When Thomas followed his brother Michael to Jersey City he was 32 years old. He had just been the best man at his younger brother Lawrence’s wedding in Brooklyn and he too was ready to start a family. We don’t know how he met Annie Ledwith, or when exactly they married, but they had their first daughter Elizabeth (named after Thomas’ s mother ) in 1871. In the 1900 Census Annie claimed she was born in January of 1843 and had emigrated in 1865.

     In searching for Anne’s Irish roots we find  an Anne Ledwith, daughter of Edward Ledwith and Catherine Caufield, who was born on January 25 of 1843 in Tubberclaire Parish in Westmeath. Tubberclaire was only about 10 miles southwest of Rathcogue, where the Fays grew up. Could Annie have known Thomas in Ireland (she would have been about 15-16 years old when he left)?  That  is certainly a possibility , but it is just as likely the match was made in Ireland or they met later in the U.S. We have seen numerous examples of immigrants seeking out their fellow Countymen once they arrived in the new world. Annie claimed to have come over in 1866, but the 1869 parish records from Ireland have an Ann Ledwith (if it is indeed the same one) appearing as a witness at the marriage of her sister Ellen (born 1849) to Bernard Muldarry in Milltown, Westmeath, right next to Moyvore.

     In any event Thomas and Anne settled into a life in Jersey City. Thomas found work initially as a rubber worker (1873) and thereafter as a laborer, though often rising to foreman status. According to the 1900 Census they had ten children, eight of whom survived. I have been able to trace only eight in total, six of whom survived to 1900.

              The Second Generation

        Preserving the Irish Family naming pattern, Thomas and Ann named their first three children after their parents – Elizabeth, William and Catherine. I suspect that they lost another male child in the early years named Edward (after Anne’s father). Catherine and their next daughter Margaret both died as infants. Ann and Thomas J., named after their parents, both survived, as did the last two – Lawrence and Marie. Although all of the six surviving children married, none were very prolific. Elizabeth (Hagan), Lawrence, and Marie (Reilly) all had only a single surviving child. Ann (Rolph) had none.

The Family of Thomas Fay and Anne Ledwith
(Click on image to enlarge)


        William, the oldest son, married Auguste (Gussie) Olsen, a Danish immigrant, in 1890. They had three children, Annie,  Thomas F. and William D. Unfortunately William Sr. died in 1910 and, with the exception of his daughter Annie, his widow and children seemed to have disappeared from all further records after the 1920 Census. Auguste and Thomas Francis however are buried in Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City.

The Family of William Fay and Auguste Olsen
(Click on image to enlarge)


       Annie, born in 1893 married William Schmidt, a foreman in a grocery company, and together they had three children – William (1914), Pearl (1916) and Fred (1918). In 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression they were living with Lawrence Fay’s family, William having lost his job like so many others. However by 1940 he was back working in a grocery warehouse, living just with Annie, their kids all having meanwhile moved out and on.

       The majority of Thomas Fay’s descendants that we know of came through the line of his son Thomas Jr., who had two boys – William J. (born 1910) and George J. (b. 1912). George married Anna Marie Reuter and had four sons, Evan,  John, Joseph D. and Michael. George died in 1980 and his widow in 2010.

           William J. had two sons  -William G. (born 1943) and George R (born 1948).  George had four children and William G. had five kids. Two of his boys are currently policeman – Joseph J. in the Guttenberg Police Dept., and Patrick in the Jersey City Police Dept.

The Family of Thomas Fay and Mary Keyser
(Click on image to enlarge)


                                                  The Patriarch

Thomas Fay (1840-1891)


Peter Fay  (1852 – 1920)

      Peter, as you might recall, was the last Fay brother to arrive in Jersey City. When he moved over from Brooklyn around 1878 he, like his brother Thomas before him, initially lived with Michael’s family. He soon found work in Jersey City as a laborer. Five years later he was wed to Elizabeth McCabe (born around 1856) who had also emigrated from Ireland around the same time that Peter did. Elizabeth was most likely from County Offaly, just south of Westmeath.

         Except for a short stint at working as a bartender in 1883, Peter worked as a laborer all his life, sometimes for the oil works (1910) or the railroad (1920). Although he and Elizabeth never had any children, they were usually living in close proximity to Michael and Thomas and their families. Thomas and Peter joined the same fraternal organization – the Foresters of America – little known today, but apparently widespread at the end of the 1800’s. An 1896  New Jersey Journal article reported they were both on the Reception Committee for the Eighth Annual Forrester’s Picnic at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen. Another article from 1908 reported that Thomas and his wife attended the Silver wedding Aniversary of  Peter and Elizabeth Fay at their house on Kearney Ave. “Music was enjoyed, and supper served, the host and hostess receiving many handsome gifts.”

       Peter died on Feb. 16th, 1920, but Elizabeth was to outlive him by another 25 years, dying in November of 1945 at the age of 89 years. They are buried together in Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City. Also buried in their grave site were Auguste Olsen who married their nephew William Fay (brother Thomas’s son), her son Thomas Francis, and someone named Anna Ward .

   Margaret Fay   (1839- 1917)

        Margaret Fay was living in Brooklyn, as far as we know, until she married Christopher Hedavan, after which the couple joined her siblings in Jersey City.

       There are not a lot of records concerning Chris Hedavan.  The information from the 1870 Census for New York City had him living on 1st Ave., born in 1840 and working as a laborer. When and how he he met Margaret Fay would have been pure speculation, were it not for the fact that we were able to trace his family origins in Ireland

           Hedavan is an unusual Irish name, and one with dozens of spelling and pronunciation variants. Christopher’s  U.S. records alone gave the following forms : Hedavan, Hedevan, Hedivan and Headavan, and Irish variants include Heduwin, Heduin, Haduvan, Hedwin and so on ad infinitum.  What is notable, however,  is that there were a fair number of this family found in the Westmeath area from where the Fays originated.  Indeed the only Irish baptismal record existing  for a Christopher Heduan (although the first name is given as Kit – a diminutive of Christopher)  occurred on Dec. 28, 1839, in Moyvore parish where the Fays were from.  He was the son of Thomas Heduan and Catherine Carroll, married in neighboring Milltown Parish in 1837.  According to church records Catherine Carroll was born in 1809 in Milltown and Thomas as well, in 1793.  Thomas was the son of James and Ann Heduan, who were also parents to Richard (b. 1796), James (b.1799), and John (b. 1802).  John, as it turned out, would emigrate to Brooklyn as well.

The Heduans of Ballacurra
(Click on image to enlarge)


         Thomas and Catherine Heduan lived in Moyvore Parish after their wedding in 1837. The 1834 Tithe Applotments show both Thomas and his brother James living in Ballyhara (also called Ballacurra). They had four children that we know of – Elizabeth born in 1838,  Chris born in 1839,  Michael born in 1847 and Mary in 1855.  Griffith’s Valuation shows that the  Heduans (Hedwins) were still working on the Digby estate in Ballacurra in 1854.  Also listed there were a Margaret Heduan and a James Carroll. We know that Margaret was the widow of James Heduan – and was a sister to William Fay of Rathcogue – making Chris and Margaret already related by marriage.

        Margaret  Fay had emigrated to Brooklyn around 1856 at the age of 18 years, Chris probably at least a decade later.  However, both being born in 1839 they undoubtedly knew each other in school.  And so, just like a couple of her brothers, Margaret was able to find  a spouse in America that came from near her own home.

        Chris Hedavan found work as a laborer for the most part, although in the 1887 and the 1896 Street Directories he is listed as a boatman, or a seaman. The couple always lived nearby Margaret’s brothers, sometimes even sharing the same address. They never had any children of their own, and when Christopher died in 1905.  Margaret subsequently moved in with her brother Peter. Later she moved over to Brooklyn, staying with her nephew William Fay, the son of her brother Michael. It is likely that she was invited there by William’s mother, Rose, who was also living with him. Margaret died on July 17, 1917 at the age of 78 years. She was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn, in the same plot as her husband Christopher, and his uncle John, who had died earlier,  in 1880.


Michael Fay (1836-1900)

        When my great great grandfather, Michael Fay, moved to Jersey City around 1870 he and his wife Rose had two surviving children, William (Joseph) and Rosie, having already lost two children to disease in Brooklyn. In July of 1872 they had another child, a son whom they named Michael, after his father. However three years later they lost their daughter Rose.

       Michael Fay had been working primarily as a laborer since coming to the U.S. He had tried his hand in the liquor business after he first moved to Jersey City, but that wasn’t hugely successful. In 1883 he was living at 43 Kearney Ave. in the same building as Patrick Currie, a boiler maker for Standard Oil, whose subsidiary, National Storage Co., maintained storage and processing facilities along the Jersey City shoreline due south of  Kearney Ave. Michael had just secured a job as a nightwatchman for National Storage –  possibly through Patrick Currie. On the night of May 24, 1883 during a powerful storm, lightning struck a couple of the oil tanks, rupturing them and setting the oil on fire, resulting in the death of two men. The Jersey Journal covered the inquest.


Patrick Currie went on to testify that when the oil yard had cooled down he returned to where he had last seen his son, but lamented that the boy had been lost, that when the tank exploded they had run in different directions, his son and the elder Herbert making for the breakwater, hoping to jump on the pile driver or oil car. He further testified that he believed that the No. 7 oil tank would never have exploded if it had been equipped with automatic doors or gas escapes on the roof.


Michael continued to hold this job at National Storage for the next seventeen years. In January of 1893 tragedy entered his life one more time. Michael Jr. who was then only twenty years old contracted pneumonia and died. Michael and Rose had now lost four of their five children, a crushing loss, even in the those days before modern medicine came to work its wonders. William Joseph  had  moved out of the household sometime after 1885, and Rose and Michael lived alone until Michael finally passed away on March 21, 1900 at the age of 64 years of age.  He is buried in Holy Name Cemetery,  Jersey City, together with his wife Rose and his son Michael.