Monday, September 16, 2013

A Lone Daughter’s Burial

If Margaret Sweeney wasn’t buried with her mother—Mary Kelly—and if she wasn’t married and buried with a husband, where was she buried?

It wasn’t easy answering that question. For one thing, there was no record of any deaths or record of any Sweeney burials at all with the given name Margaret—at least not in Fort Wayne’s Catholic Cemetery. While I found it hard to imagine an Irish immigrant of that era forsaking her faith and being buried outside the blessed grounds of her church's domain, I did look in the Lindenwood Cemetery for a Margaret Sweeney, too, but with no success.

Of course, I still wasn’t sure whether Sweeney was Margaret’s maiden name or a married name. Looking for marriage records through online resources proved fruitless, though, so I continued pushing through with the Sweeney surname.

Thankfully, it occurred to me that, just as Kelly had an alternate spelling of Kelley, perhaps the same could be said for a surname like Sweeney.

That was a hunch that paid off well. The Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center databases revealed there was a Margaret Sweeny who died in Fort Wayne in 1949, and was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in section O, lot number 268.

Whether that was our Margaret would be hard to tell. The online newspaper archives I subscribe to do not include dates as recent as 1949 in their collections for Fort Wayne, so pulling up this Margaret’s August fifth obituary (under the spelling Sweeney, incidentally) was out of the question. While it is true that I could pay a modest fee and request a copy from the volunteers at the Genealogy Center, the wait for an answer could take up to six weeks. I could be on an entirely different series of posts by then.

Besides, in this age of instant digital access, who can bear such a wait?! I had to find another way to figure out the likelihood that this was our Margaret.

The database for the Catholic Cemetery included this Margaret’s precise age at death. One thought was to verify whether the dates of birth matched. After all, I already knew from the 1900 census that someone in the family had declared Margaret's birth to be in January, 1869. Using the free birth date calculator from’s “official” research firm, ProGenealogists, I plugged in the age from the burial record—seventy nine years, eleven months and one day—and presto, the result: a birthday of September 3, 1869.

Hmmm. Well, at least we’re talking the same year.

Not to be defeated at this first juncture, I persevered. Surely there would be some online way to figure this out.

Who else could be buried in the plot with this Margaret? Could I rule her out as a family candidate through a guilt-by-association exercise? Or find some likely suspects to link her to the family names I’ve already uncovered?

As I mentioned yesterday, while I’m grateful that the Catholic Cemetery records are now included in the free databases available online thanks to the Genealogy Center, they are searchable only by name, not by lot number. The most obvious work-around was to start my guesswork with the extended family’s surnames and hope for the best.

I already knew there were no other Kelly family members buried in section O, lot 268, and apparently, neither were there any Sweeneys. Finding Margaret’s own record misspelled as Sweeny produced a short list in which she was the only member buried in this lot.

My only recourse in this hunt—short a discovery of a subsequent married name—was to revert to Margaret’s mother’s maiden name. That, as you’ve already discerned, came with its own spelling challenges. Our first introduction to the name, besides Mary’s marriage record under Donahy, was in the 1900 census, where two “boarders” were included in the Kelly household with the name Danahay. I’ve found other records spelling the name as Danehy and Denahy.

In this search for who else might be buried in Margaret’s burial plot, it turned out there was one other name: not a Sweeney, not a Kelly, but a Danehy.

Whoever this Margaret was who died in 1949, unless there was an extremely unlikely coincidence, she was somehow related to the Danehy family of Fort Wayne.

Margaret’s plot-mate was a man by the name of Philip Danehy, born in Fort Wayne in 1880. Over a decade removed from Margaret’s date of birth in 1869, this disparity suggested a more distant relationship. There were no other Danehy family members listed for this plot, nor could I find any under the other spelling variations.

Resorting to the tedious hunt-and-peck method I had toyed with over the weekend, I did manage to flush out another burial record for this plot—that of a woman named Edna M. Danehy Lynch. This Danehy relative was even further removed in age from Margaret, having been born in 1889.

With two Danehys buried in the same family lot as the mystery Margaret, I feel somewhat confident that this Margaret Sweeney was indeed Mary Kelly’s daughter. While I’d still like some more substantial verification—an obituary, for instance—I think we can consider it a high likelihood that we have found our Margaret.

I can’t help wonder, though, what family dynamics or circumstances played out in such a way as to result in Margaret being buried in a lot with those who appeared to be distant relatives of her mother. What went into the mix to result in Mary—a Danehy—being buried with the Sweeneys, while her daughter—a Sweeney—being buried with the Danehys?

I don’t suppose I’ll ever fully know how these events played out. But, at least in the case of the Sweeneys, I did discover a few more details to help connect the cast of characters in that cemetery plot.


  1. Cousins? Someone someday is going to appreciate all this research:)

    1. Sure hope so!

      And I wondered about the cousin angle, too. Good point, Far Side!

  2. Imagine, this was in the day of the 3-R' bad they didn't include an "S" (for Spelling!)

    Ugh... all these variations of spelling on rather common names!!

    1. Makes me very grateful for search engines that program all the variations into their service! Offering up all the reasonable variations sure helps in a situation like this.

  3. Could be due to plot availability & cost.

    1. That is a real possibility, Wendy--especially in those times when single women often were financially handicapped in options for earning their own way. The money may just have not been there for this final expense.

  4. Very interesting. The plot thickens...

  5. Look up Johanna sweeney in find a grave. :) there is an obit...

    1. Ah, you beat me to it, Iggy! I just scheduled that one for an upcoming post. Yes! so glad to find that there...answers a lot! :D

  6. I meant to comment earlier about the subject of "boarders." Just an observation: usually in a census the people in the household are listed according to their relationship to the head of household. If someone was let's say the wife's cousin or nephew, he would technically be "nothing" to the HH. So "boarder" was a likely designation.

    1. Thanks for mentioning that, Wendy. Totally makes sense. Something to keep in mind!


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