Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sentimental Sunday: Sharing From Another Memory-Keeper

I describe my historical research work as attempts to add knowledge to a foundation on which others may have laid or added to before. Mary Carr Dineen was one such previous foundation-layer or memory-keeper. Born in 1900, she was much loved by her family who mourned her passing in 1983. I never knew her, but became friends with her granddaughter some twenty years after Mary's death after having moved to the area where Mary's ancestors and descendants live.

As I noted in my profile, I bloomed where I was planted. Soon after arriving to the area, I joined the local county genealogy society (now defunct) and began editing the society's newsletter. I wrote a story about how I was helping my friend with her family history research in the November 2005 edition of the Cattaraugus Genealogy News. It started with my friend telling me about her grandmother and where the family was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery of Ellicottville, New York. I went on from there and continued to do research off and on over the years. My friend was always very much interested. She later shared with me some of Mary's old photographs and other memorabilia. Her uncle Dick had shared them with her as he lived in his mother's house after her passing. Judging from the stuff she kept, Mary was a memory-keeper and had many old interesting photos and other items passed down to her from earlier family members as well.

I continue to be fascinated with local history. Research is a great way to pass the time during the cold winter days in this Northern country. I eventually became involved with the Ellicottville Historical Society. With my friend's permission, I was able to share some items Mary kept as they were part of that town's history. I think Mary would have been pleased to find that the history she carefully saved and laid aside still means something to others years later. So from a closed dark box, we can now bring to light and illuminate pieces of local history to share with others.

RPPC from the Mary Carr Dineen collection.
 This Real Photo Post Card (RPPC) was postmarked Ellicottville, NY July 27, 1915 and sent to Miss Mary Carr of Franklinville, NY. Young Mary, whose ancestors originally came to the area from Ireland, would turn fifteen in November of that year. She would later go on to marry a man by the name of Thomas Ralph Dineen, also of Irish descent. Their marriage took place at the Catholic Church in Ellicottville, NY. Thomas R. was the son of Thomas L. Dineen and his wife Mary (Ida) Simmons.

Back of RPPC. 

The author of the post card was Gertrude "Gert" McKernan. We can find her listed at the age of 12 in the 1915 NY state census on Main Street in Ellicottville. She was living with her parents Thomas and Mary McKernan and her older siblings Anna, William E, and Leo J. Thomas and Leo were listed as farmers. William was listed as a printer apprentice. According to this census, her mother and sister did housework while Gertrude attended school.

Gert writes: "Hello Mary! What do you think of this? This is where I live down here, Mother, Marion and Genevieve Koopman of Buffalo and myself. Do you know me? The one on the left with the big tie. Gert." In the upper margin she also writes: "Guess what color the house is? Write to me sometime. The X is over me Ha Ha"

If you look closely on the front of the post card, you can see an X marked above the girl pictured on the left. The writing is in blue ink as is the X and the words "Main St" in the bottom left corner on the front. The notation "Thos. McKernan, Ellicottville, NY" is in white and part of the original print on the post card.

Just five years earlier, during the 1910 federal census, the Thomas McKernan family lived in the Devereaux area in the town of Franklinville. The census indicates that the mother Mary was the mother of eleven children with eleven living. Gertrude is the youngest of seven children enumerated in the household. Her sister Annie is a teacher of public school, while her father and older brothers Edward and George are dairy farmers.

We can deduce from these records and the post card a likely scenario of Gert and Mary being childhood friends together in Franklinville before Gert and her family relocated to nearby Ellicottville around 1915. Indeed, a 1907 school souvenir saved by Mary shows that some of her school chums were Gert's older siblings, Leo, William and George.

From the Mary Carr Dineen collection. 1907 School Souvenir.  
It is assumed that this is a photo
of the teacher, listed on the inside
as Ivah B. Kelley

But just like all families in communities with connections to this person and that one, Mary later winds up with other ties to the McKernan family. Another photograph found among her possessions is quite old, a tintype, carefully labelled by Mary to say "Jim McKernan (on the right), Harry's grandfather."

Tintype from the Mary Carr Dineen collection.
Jim McKernan on the right, other gentleman unknown.

I mentioned before that Mary's husband was Thomas Ralph Dineen. We have to dig through his family history to find the connection: Thomas' mother was Mary Ida Simmons. According to family information, she was born in February 1860 to Samuel W. Simmons and Anna Murphy. They were married in Ellicottville in December of 1853. Other children included a son Samuel, a daughter Harriett, and daughters Ann, born on March 23, 1855, and Hannah on December 3, 1858, both in Great Valley, Cattaraugus County, New York. A son Thomas, born in 1852, appears to have been from a previous marriage of Anna's. The daughter Ann went on to marry Perry Henry. Hannah went on to marry Michael W. McKernan.

Hannah, the wife of M. W. McKernan, died in June 1929. Her obituary was listed in the Ellicottville Post on June 19, 1929. It names her children as Hugh, Samuel, Harry, Roy and a daughter, Mrs. Anna Duhan. Here we discover who Harry McKernan is, a cousin of Mary's husband, Thomas Ralph Dineen.

A biography from the Historical Gazetteer and Biographical Memorial of Cattaraugus County (Adams, 1893) listed the following on page 660 in the History of the Town of Franklinville:


Thomas McKERNAN, son of Thomas, was born in County Caven, Ireland, in 1823, and came with his son Hugh to Scottsville, N. Y., in 1848, where he was engaged in manufacturing barrel hoops. His wife, Ann PHILLIPS, whom he had married in Ireland, came to join her husband in 1849, bringing with her their children, James and Mary. After residing in Scottsville, Holley, and Eagle for brief periods the family moved to Ellicottville in 1866 and settled on a farm, where he died Oct. 18, 1879. His wife died Nov. 5, 1880. Children: a daughter who died in infancy, Hugh, Joseph, Frank, Thomas, John, Michael, and James. James McKERNAN was born Nov. 12, 1846, and Oct. 6, 1867 married Susan M., daughter of S. R. and Prudence WILLIAMS. Children: William, Joseph, John, Thomas, Catherine, Simeon, Helen, James, and Josephine.

The tintype would have been taken sometime in the 1870s or 1880s. The time period makes sense for it to be Jim (or James) McKernan judging from his age ascertained from this biographical entry. Jim would not have been Harry's grandfather though, he was Harry's uncle and brother to Michael who married Hannah Simmons. Harry's grandfather (Thomas McKernan born in 1823) would have been a much older man at that time.

There is more that could be researched and recorded regarding this family and probably even more research already out there, but I will leave that to others to add. I thank my good friend and in turn her grandmother Mary for being a memory-keeper. I have taken the things she left, combined them with a little records research, and illuminated some family and community connections to share with others. If the time is right, I hope that others out there will look and see what they might have in attics, cellars and boxes and likewise do the same. Someone down the road will be glad you did


  1. The McKernans that you this article are my ancestors. I recently travelled to Elliotcottville to see the church, graveyard and to find the location of the farmhouse that was once located on Bryant Hill Rd @ Crane Hill with no avail. Maybe you have more info,James McKernan was my 2GGF

  2. I am delighted to find your comment awaiting moderation on my blogger page, only sorry I did not see it sooner. (Usually I am sent an automated notice about an awaiting comment but did not with this one). Do you know what time period the McKernans would have lived on Bryant Hill in that farmhouse?