The Problem of Michael Keenan

     It was Michael Keenan who in 1850 brought his mother, Sarah Keenan, to America to be reunited with her children – Matthew and Elizabeth. We don’t know what their circumstances were in Longford when they left, but Ireland was in the midst of the Famine years, and there were thousands of refugees streaming into New York from their ravaged homeland. It is certainly safe to assume that Sarah’s husband had died before her departure for the States, or he no doubt would have accompanied her.

     It is difficult to determine the particulars on Michael, as I have pointed out before. He gave his age as 33 years (born 1817) on the ship manifest and in the 1850 Census while at Patrick’s residence. This would have made him around the same age as Patrick, whose birth year was given variously as 1817 through 1822 in the census data. Five years later, in the 1855 Census, Michael (or more likely an informant) claimed he was 30 years old (born 1825). Then in the 1860 Census, two years after Sarah Keenan’s death,  there was a Michael Keenan living once again with Patrick who claimed to be 47 years (born 1813). What are we to make of such a wide discrepancy in birth dates? It certainly makes subsequent identification efforts more difficult.

     Michael variously professed to be a carpenter, mason, or laborer. Like many, he probably  took whatever work he managed to find.

     After 1860 he became increasingly hard to track. The influx of Irish into Brooklyn brought a slew of Michael Keenans into the Ninth ward. There are no Census entries after 1860 that are definitively our Michael.

     If Michael stayed with Patrick after 1860, then of course he would not have shown up in a Directory – which just listed the heads of households. But we know he was no longer living with Patrick during the 1865 Census and it is likely his stay at Patrick’s was only a temporary arrangement.

     The only likely reference I have found of the two of them  together was a list printed in the Brooklyn Eagle, November 14, 1862, of donors to a Widow and  Orphans fund.

     There is, however,  another source for genealogical data during  this particular time – the Civil War Draft registries. As I explained before, in 1863 the US government required all eligible men to be registered for the draft as of June of 1863. The law stipulated that the enrollment boards were to be headed by a district provost marshal and also include a surgeon and a commissioner. Each enrollment board employed clerks, deputies, and special agents as needed. The enrollment boards divided themselves into sub-districts along ward (in cities) and township (in rural areas) lines. In each sub-district a census was conducted by an enrollment officer to document every man eligible for the draft in his sub-district.

      There were basically two categories of registrees. Category I was composed of all able bodied between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, and all unmarried men between thirty-five and forty-five. Class II was composed of all married men between thirty-five and forty-five. A consolidated list was compiled for each Congressional district, broken down alphabetically by the first letter of the last name, and giving the subjects name, address, occupation and place of birth.

    If  Michael Keenan was born in 1817, as he originally claimed, he could have been on the cusp of qualifying for the draft in 1863, at 45 years of age and unmarried. But after examining  the Draft registration lists we fail to find him listed.

    In the Class II  (married) listing for the 9th Ward , Brooklyn we find the following:

     Michael Keenan , Underhill Ave near Butler, Age 40 (b. 1823) Laborer, Ireland

     Patrick Keenan, 765 Pacific St., age 44 (b. 1819), Cartman , born in Ireland

     Michael Kenan, Grand Ave. near Bergen St., age 44 (b. 1819),  Laborer, Ireland

     Matthew Kenan, Grand Ave. near Bergen St, age 40 (born 1823), Carpenter, Ireland

    The first Michael Keenan I believe I have identified. He also had emigrated in 1850, married a women named Mary, and later had two sons Patrick (b.1865) and James (b. 1866). But data given in the 1900 Census suggests that he was married before emigrating.

     The Patrick Keenan that was listed we know well of course.

     Although Kenan is a legitimate Irish name, it is also a common variant for Keenan, depending on the spelling skills of the recorder. The 1863-64  Street Directory has a Michael Keenan, carpenter, living at “Grand Ave. n. Bergen”, but it also shows a Michael Keenan, laborer, living in “h(ouse) r(ear) Grand Ave n. Bergen”. Either the Street Directory or the Draft Registry got a first name wrong –  most likely the Draft Registry –  because the 1860 Census for the 9th Ward  confirms two Michael Keenans living virtually next to each other. Both were married, one to Ann and one to Bridgit, both age 40 years (age 43 in 1863). So these two are definitely not our Michael.

     Interestingly, there is one more Michael Keenan listed in the Ninth Ward Draft Registry. We find the following entries, listed together:

     James M. Kenan, Pacific h. n. Grand Ave., age 30 (born 1833), in  Armory, unmarried, Ireland

     Michael Kenan, Pacific h. n. Grand Ave, age 22, (born 1841) no occupation, Ireland

    The Armory referred to is most likely the 13th Regiment Armory that was built on Henry and Cranberry St. in 1858.

The Brooklyn Armory – Civil War


       It is possible that these two Keenans, listed at the same address were brothers. A list of Draftees for the 9th Ward, Brooklyn, printed in the New York Times on Sept 2, 1863, listed  “Keenan, M. Pacific near Grand-av.” as one of the draftees selected.

       Annie Keenan, wife of our James Nicholas Keenan, however, was also living on Pacific St. at the corner of Grand. Were these two new relatives of James, arrived from Ireland? We can only speculate, but to further deepen the mystery, we found included in the packet of Civil War letters from James Nicholas that his wife Annie treasured and passed down to her children, a notice from the Provost Marchall’s Office, dated September 7th, 1863, for  Michael Kenan, informing him that he had been drafted, and was to report to 26 Grand St, or be deemed a deserter. Handwritten on the document was a reminder to “Bring this Notice”(Obviously he didn’t). Strangely it was addressed to Pacific St. near 3rd Ave.  This address was about seven blocks away from where James and Annie lived.

       The Draft law required that when an enrolled person was selected for the draft, “ the persons so drawn shall be notified of the same within ten days thereafter, by a written or printed notice, to be served personally, or by leaving a copy at their last place of residence, requiring them to appear at a designated rendezvous to report for duty.”

    It is hard to imagine how and why this notice came to be with the Keenan papers, and why it was kept. Surely it had some importance. If it was a draft notice for “our” Michael Keenan, perhaps it meant he had most recently been staying with Annie and her kids.

     With no definitive address for our Michael in the Draft Registry lists all we have are Directory listings to try to trace where he might have ended up. There was a Michael Keenan (laborer) listed on Bergen at the corner of Grand in the 1864-65 Directory, and again on Bergen near Underhill two years later.

     Another Michael Keenan showed up on Warren St. near Underhill (two blocks south of Bergen) in  1864-65 and relocated along Warren St. over  the next three years. But , again, without any ages listed we have no way of identifying if any of these were our relative.

     By the time the 1870 Census rolled around  our Michael Keenan had disappeared for good.