Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's going on with the Murphys?

I've started looking into the Murphy family recently. I'd always more or less avoided them, since I had scant information on their names and relationships and, well, because their name was Murphy. I'm don't have those mad skillz yet. But earlier this week (yes, when I still had finals to write - don't judge!), I thought I'd do some searching.

Two Murphy boys - John and Thomas - lived with the Mulvaneys in 1905 and 1910, listed as their nephews. Betty and John told me that they were the children of one of Julia's sisters, but they didn't know which sister.

Some time ago, I found a Brooklyn Eagle notice of the "Verona Coterie," which a Mary Toner and a Thomas Murphy attended together in 1877:


Last evening the Verona Coterie held another
of their select reunions at the residence of
their President, Mr. William Gregg, corner of Van
Brunt and Verona streets. It was in every respect
an enjoyable affair, and, reflected 'great
credit upon the management. Among those present,
were Mr. John Curran, Mr. Thomas Sheridan
Mr. Michael Coffey, Mr. Thomas Converry and Miss
Mary Hayes, Mr. James Bond and .Miss Mary Idston,
Mr. James Ennls and Miss Bella Sweeney, Mr.
John McAuliffe and Miss Elizabeth Curran, Mr.
Thomas Murphy and Miss Mary Toner, Mr. Frank
Woods and Miss Jenny Briordy, Mr. James Downey
and wife. Captain Harris and Wife and Mr. James
Roche and lady. The officers of the Association
are; President, Mr. William Gregg; Vice President,
Mr. John Devoy; Recording Secretary, Mr.. James
Bona.; Treasurer, Mr. Thomas Converry.

Combined with the fact that I already knew the destinies of all of Julia's other sisters (except for the perhaps apocryphal Judith), I became increasingly convinced of the possibility that Thomas and John's mother was Julia's sister Mary Ann and that their father was Thomas Murphy.

Good, uncommon, easy to find names, those. Mary and Thomas Murphy! Argh.

But I thought I'd try. First I looked for a Mary (Ann) and Thomas Murphy in the 1892 NYS Census. I'd looked briefly in 1900 before, with no luck, but I hadn't tried systematically searching. In 1892, the most promising result was the one I posted last week. The family was Thomas and Mary A. Murphy, and their children Kate, Any, and John.

I took that information and looked for the family again in the 1900 Census. Looking for Mary (Ann) and Thomas Murphy had no results, until I started looking for their kids, putting in only one of their parents names at a time. I finally got a hit when looking for Thomas Murphy, with mother Mary. It seemed Thomas Murphy Sr. had died in the previous 8 years.

The family is Mary, a widow, aged 45, born in March of 1855 (Mary Ann Toner was actually born 3 March 1852); Catherine, 19, born in April of 1881; Annie, 13, born in September 1887; John, 11, born in April 1889; and, this time, Thomas, 6, born in March of 1894. Mary has given birth to either 4 or 5 other children who are no longer living; the column "mother of how many children" has either an 8 or a 9 in it. No one in the family appears to be employed. This is incorrect, as we'll soon see. The family lives at 306 Van Brunt St.

Yes, that's right. Just a block from the Mulvaneys at 270 Van Brunt! (I'm having a difficult time embedding a Google map, but if you try
this link, you'll see just how close the two really are.)

After finding the address of the Mulvaneys, I searched through the Brooklyn Eagle at the Fulton History website. I was hoping to find a death notice for Thomas, and maybe one for Mary as well, but I found something else entirely. Well, not quite something else entirely. I still found death notices, but they belonged to other people! Thomas Murphy at 306 Van Brunt Street was an undertaker! (Some of those news items about deaths and funerals were quite interesting. I'd like to feature some of them here, soon, but the specifics of those cases aren't particularly relevant to finding out about the Murphys.)

What I did next was to search the NYTimes archive for "306 Van Brunt" and I found Thomas Murphy, in the 1 June 1898 death notices. His death had been reported 31 May (that's my birthday!) and he'd died 28 May.

Then I Googled for "306 Van Brunt" and "undertaker," hoping I'd find some information about the business or about Thomas Murphy. After all, part of the reason I'd thought it credible that these Murphys were our Murphys was that in the original 1892 NYS Census, Thomas Murphy had been listed as a coachman, and Mary Ann's brother William had been a "stableman" when he died and had, some years earlier, been involved in an accident while driving a coach that was "the property of Mr. Murphy of South Brooklyn." I was hoping to find a reference to the undertaker "who used to be a coachman" or some such, though I knew it was unlikely.

What I found was not at all what I'd expected. The 1899 edition of Trow's Business Directory for Brooklyn lists an undertaker at 306 Van Brunt Street, sure, but it's not Thomas. Thomas has been dead for a year. Mary is the undertaker.

How cool is that? I did a little googling, and found that, while female undertakers weren't common in the 19th century, it was one of few of the professions that didn't actively exclude women.

And wait a sec. . .

Hadn't I already written off the possibility of female undertakers somewhere?

On William Toner's death certificate, my first impulse had been that the undertaker listed as "Mrs. Thomas Murphy," but I had written that off as being improbable. It appears I was wrong.

And when I went back to check, I realized that the "Mrs. Thomas Murphy" who was the undertaker when he died gave an address of 306 Van Brunt Street! In addition, I found reference to the idea that, at least early on, female undertakers were only allowed to handle the bodies of women and children. I don't know whether that was still applicable around the turn of the century, but the fact is that William Toner wasn't a woman or a child. He was a grown man. How could Mrs. Thomas Murphy be in charge of the body . . . unless they were related? I've been assuming all along that they were, but I think this is further evidence.

Sometime between this 1900 US Census and the 1905 NYS Census, the Murphy boys went to live with their Aunt Julia and Uncle Patrick Mulvaney. I don't know whether Mary died - I haven't found any evidence that she did, but I also haven't looked very hard. Mary Murphys are a dime a dozen, and several dozen of them died between 1900 and 1905, and many more dozen of them appeared in the Eagle in that time period. It's possible, of course, that the Murphys went to live with the Mulvaneys for some reason other than the death of their mother.

I still have to find out what happened to Mary Ann, and hopefully what happened to the Murphy children as they grew up. But this is a pretty good start, with my only bone of contention being the pesky change from coachman to undertaker during the mid-1890s.

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