Tag Archives: Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey

Blacksmiths: The heart of the Irish community

Letter B: Second of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, and fourth in a series about the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.

Through clues from my Dempsey cousins and a bit of research, I learned that our Irish great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey — a blacksmith who lived in Baltimore, Maryland during and after the U.S. Civil War — came from County Wexford, where blacksmiths played a prominent role in the 1798 Irish Rebellion/ Éirí Amach.

December 2015: Traditional blacksmith’s tools at the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum in Madison County, N.Y. In the days before motorized vehicles, the shops of blacksmiths like our ancestor William Patrick Dempsey were important gathering places, and the blacksmith was highly respected by the community he served. Photo by Molly Charboneau

But what about the everyday life of an Irish blacksmith? I wondered. What might that tell us about our ancestor’s experience?

So back I went on the research trail, and was delighted to discover a wonderful book by author Eamon Doyle titled Tales of the Anvil – The Forges and Blacksmiths of Wexford (2008).

Author Doyle has painstakingly amassed a wealth of historical detail on blacksmiths from his home county — using sources from 1798 tradition through 20th century records — and describes how, centuries ago, using fire to turn metal into useful implements led to a belief that smiths possessed supernatural powers.

Though this view waned in modern times, Ireland’s blacksmiths in particular remained highly regarded in both city and town because their work — from rimming cart wheels and shoeing horses to fashioning tools and household implements — was so essential to the day-to-day flow of the economy.

Their role put blacksmiths at the heart of the communities they served, explains Doyle:

The forge and the blacksmith shop became one of the few fixed establishments in every parish and remained so through all the changes in Irish society, in peace, war, oppression and hardship. It was a place at which people gathered when danger threatened and where one could look for information when rumour stalked the land. The forge became a familiar and beloved part of life in every area, long before churches, parish halls and school buildings became established in the mid-nineteenth century. Along with the importance of the forge in local communities came a respect for the blacksmith himself.

Baltimore City blacksmith

I wonder if it was any different for our “William the blacksmith” as he plied his trade in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. from the mid to late 1800s? He had emigrated from Ireland years before — but if he learned ironwork from his father back home, he would likely have  carried its traditions with him.

William’s obituary says he was “a well-known blacksmith” — and probably also highly respected in a city where travel was mainly by horse and horse-drawn vehicle during his working life. So it’s easy to envision Irish ex pats gathering around his forge to share news, swap stories and talk politics.

In short, much food for thought as we Dempsey cousins continue tracking the lives of our mutual ancestors — William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.

Ireland’s forges and blacksmiths

One last word on Tales of the Anvil. In addition to providing a wonderful narrative history of County Wexford’s blacksmiths, Doyle includes photos and a county-wide map of many active and closed forges.

He has also compiled a list of blacksmiths from a variety of sources, and on the list are Willie Dempsey of Blackwater and Michael Dempsey of Ballinastraw  — linking our Dempsey surname to the trade.

Of course, much more research is needed to connect our great, great grandfather “William the blacksmith” to his roots and birth location in County Wexford — let alone to definitively link him to blacksmiths back home.

Nevertheless, Doyle deserves our gratitude for providing valuable background information and context for us Dempsey cousins as we move forward with our family history search.

Coming on April 5: Our Dempsey cousins team makes some discoveries. Right after the next April 4 post: Elizabeths in my family tree. Hope to see you then!

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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County Wexford and the Vikings

Second in a series on the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.

Not long after Dempsey descendants Barb, John and I agreed to form a cousins team — to research our mutual gggrandparents William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey — John generously shared a document that was totally new to me.

By: Skellig2008
County Wexford, Ireland. News that my gggrandfather William Patrick Dempsey hailed from County Wexford — from an obituary shared by a Dempsey cousin — raises the possibility of Viking heritage. Photo by: Skellig2008

From the 3 May 1900 issue of the Baltimore Sun, it was a small, one-column obituary of our great, great grandfather William Dempsey.

Just eighteen brief newspaper lines (transcribed below) summed up our ancestor’s life — but what a masterpiece it was and what a lasting gift to his descendants.


Mr. William Dempsey, a well-known blacksmith died yesterday at his home, 1602 East Chase street, of paralysis. He was born in County Wexford, Ireland, 62 years ago and came to this country when about 12 years of age. For several years he resided in Troy, N.Y., and then moved to Harford county, Maryland and afterward to Cecil county. For many years he had resided in this city [Baltimore, Md.]. He is survived by 10 children — Mrs. Thomas Byrnes, Mrs. Charles Conway, Mrs. Clinton Webb, Mrs. Ernest Kratz, Mrs. Frank Owens [sic.] and John, James, William, Peter and Lieut. Thomas F. Dempsey, of the Northern police district; 32 grandchilden and 5 great-grandchildren. He was a member of St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

The anonymous writer (who seems to have interviewed a detail-oriented informant) names William’s surviving children, totals up his grand and great-grand children, and lists several places where our ancestor once lived — laying out a virtual road map for us Dempsey cousins to follow as we reconstruct William’s travels from his arrival in North America to his final home in Baltimore City.

But what really jumped out at me was the news that William Dempsey was “born in County Wexford, Ireland” — for this was the first time I learned my great, great grandfather’s county of origin. A breakthrough indeed! And all thanks to our Dempsey cousins collaboration.

Vikings in the vicinity

Looking up County Wexford to get some background information led me to the next revelation — we Dempsey descendants might have Viking heritage!

The Irish Times Irish Ancestors web page for County Wexford — listing Dempsey among the county’s common surnames — contains this brief history, which echoes similar versions I have found elsewhere:

The county takes its name from the principal town, which was founded by the Norsemen in the tenth century as “Waesfjord”.  A similar reference to Wexford Harbour, the large sheltered lagoon which is the reason for the town’s existence, is found in the Irish name. [Waesfjord translates as “inlet of the mud flats.”]

The Vikings made incursions into the Wexford area in the eighth and ninth centuries, but by the tenth century had abandoned their usual return trip to Scandinavia. Instead, they settled down in coastal Ireland and over the centuries mixed in with the general population.

So, possible Viking heritage! And all thanks to a clue in our great, great grandfather William Dempsey’s obituary.

Certifiably Viking

I found this prospect very exciting and perhaps went a bit overboard as I shared the news with family, friends and co-workers — and rushed out to buy a faux fur throw for my couch.

“Well, that would certainly explain your personality!” one of my friends quipped dryly.

But then I went to an Irish heritage workshop at a genealogy conference and discovered that the prospect of Viking heritage — though new to me — is old hat to long-time Irish family history researchers.

In fact, at the DNA table, one guy even boasted that so many people with his surname had tested positive for Viking DNA that, “My surname is certified Viking.”

Whereas I was merely behaving like a certifiable Viking — with no real proof. At least not yet.

So — after dressing as a Viking for Halloween and throwing a Viking-themed trim-a-tree party for the holidays — I finally calmed down, curled up under my new throw, and resumed research on the broad sweep of more recent history in County Wexford.

And that’s when I learned about the blacksmiths and the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Shamrocks and shared heritage

First in a series on the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.

For St. Patrick’s Day last year I wrote the first of three posts about my Irish ancestors William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey and their lives in Baltimore, Md., during the U.S. Civil War — never imagining that it would lead to new discoveries, never mind new-found cousins.

So I was pleasantly surprised to open my inbox in October 2015 and find an email that began:

Your gggparents are also my gggparents, William and Katherine Dempsey of Baltimore. I and two other cousins are interested in any info or documents you have found regarding their home in Ireland, their emigration and Canadian life.

Shamrocks at the Irish Hunger Memorial in New York, N.Y. (2015) A blog series about my Irish ancestors, written for St. Patrick's Day 2015, has fortuitously led to online collaboration with other descendants of William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey -- third cousins who are also researching the family.  Photo by Molly Charboneau
Shamrocks at the Irish Hunger Memorial in New York, N.Y. (2015) A blog series about my Irish ancestors, written for St. Patrick’s Day 2015, has fortuitously led to online collaboration with other descendants of William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey — third cousins who are also researching the family. Photo by Molly Charboneau

New Dempsey cousins? How exciting!

The email was from  Barb, who is a descendent of James Joseph Dempsey — a son of William and Katherine and an older brother of my great grandmother Elizabeth (Dempsey) Owen.

And it gets better. Soon after I heard from Barb, a second email arrived from John, who is descended from Catherine (Dempsey) Kratz — youngest daughter of William and Katherine and a sister of my great grandmother Elizabeth (Dempsey) Owen.

Cousin collaboration

This was exciting, indeed! Every genealogist longs to find other family members who share their passion for family history research. Now — out of the blue — here were two cousins doing research similar to my own on our mutual Dempsey ancestors.

How much more could we find if we worked together? Probably more than if we each continued on alone.

So I proposed to Barb and John that we set up a listserv (where we could discuss research strategies and findings without cluttering up our inboxes) along with some shared folders (where we could place documents, photos, obituaries, timelines and the like for group members to see). They readily agreed.

In emails, John summed up our mutual enthusiasm for cousin collaboration:

It would be fun to share information and see if we can figure out the mystery of William’s early life in North America…If you can figure out a good way to have multiple contributor communication that works better than email that would be great. The Dempsey clan is growing by the day:)

Thus began the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team. After much technical back and forth among Barb, John and I to be sure all of our online components worked, we opened for business in October 2015 and began adding other interested Dempsey cousins.

To date we are up to seven Dempsey cousins — descended from different children of our mutual gggrandparents William and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey — and have already made some interesting discoveries together.

More on those in the next post.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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First Blogiversary: A one-gun salute

Today is the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy — the family history blog that I launched on 24 April 2014 to begin sharing the stories of my ancestors and the roads I traveled to find them.

August 2014: Union artillery reenactors. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of Molly's Canopy -- 24 April 2015. Photo: Molly Charboneau
August 2014: Union artillery reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of my family history blog Molly’s Canopy. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In weekly posts for the past year, I have primarily chronicled the Civil War experience of my paternal great, great, grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery.

So it seems fitting to celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy with a one-gun salute by Union artillery reenactors.

This blog came to life amid the boom of cannon at my first Civil War reenactment — the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Saunders Field where my ancestor fought.

And out of that illuminating cloud of gun smoke marched ancestors who have waited patiently for years in my research files — advancing, at last, to tell their stories.

First came my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull who — despite war-related illness — was on duty for key battles of the U.S. Civil War during the 1864 Overland and Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

Soon, others joined him. Arthur’s wife, my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, their children and extended family. His 6th N.Y.H.A. commanding officer Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching and fellow artillerists Capt. John Gedney, Sgt. William Thistleton and Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds — whose writings helped animate Arthur’s wartime experience.

Then my late dad Norm Charboneau, a WWII Navy veteran, who traveled with me on many genealogy research trips and helped me discover Arthur’s story — along with numerous valuable clues about our other mutual ancestors.

Next was my Uncle Fred, dad’s youngest brother, whose letters home from his WW II Army assignment give insights into their family life — and Aunt Gig who gave his letters to Dad.

And most recently, my paternal Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and family during their years in Civil War Baltimore, Md.

For the past year this blog has taken me on an incredible, almost magical, journey back through time — as I connected my ancestors to the places and circumstances in which they lived,  the great historic events that shaped their lives, and their unique position in the evolution of my family.

Writing my ancestors’ stories also reconnected me in ways I would not have imagined with my decades of genealogy research. The process helped me identify and evaluate unexamined details in my family history files — and pointed me toward new avenues of research and discovery.

Today, as I celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy and the beloved ancestors who made it possible, I am so grateful that I went looking  for them all those years ago. They have taught me a lot during the past year — and the journey is far from over.

Tomorrow begins year two, during which new ancestors will make themselves known. My heartfelt thanks to readers of Molly’s Canopy who have hung in with me this past year. And a warm welcome to new readers — I hope you will subscribe and join me on the journey.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Mourning President Lincoln

My great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was convalescing in the U.S. General Hospital at Fortress Monroe — 150 years ago this week — when he learned of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. This news could not have been good for his recovery from functional heart disease.

Mourning badge for U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1865). Throngs of mourners lined the route of Lincoln’s funeral train to bid farewell to a president who had seen them through the U.S. Civil War — only to be brutally struck down just as the serious work of post-war Reconstruction was to begin. Artifact and image: Library of Congress

One can only imagine the shock and dismay that traveled through the hospital wards and along the battlefronts as Union soldiers and sailors learned of the 15 April 1865 death of their beloved president.

They had fought for him, most had voted for him, and many affectionately called him “Father Abraham” and “Old Abe.”  Now without warning, he was gone — shot by a pro-slavery assassin.

Just days before on 9 April 1865 — after Union forces surrounded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia — Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to U.S. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

The surrender of Confederate troops spanned three days — first cavalry, then artillery and finally infantry exchanging their weapons for a pass to return home to civilian life.

On 12 April 1865 — four years after the shelling of Fort Sumter by the secessionists — the Confederate infantry stacked their weapons at Appomattox.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated two days later.

July 2011: Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Md. News of Lincoln's assassination traveled on telegraph lines along this road between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md., where some of those telegraph poles still stand among the trees. Photo by Molly Charboneau
July 2011: Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Md. News of Lincoln’s assassination traveled on telegraph lines along this road between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md. Remnants of the telegraph poles still stand among the trees. Photo by Molly Charboneau

In a 27 April letter, British antislavery author and actress Fanny Kemble captured the widespread grief and anger shared by so many worldwide on learning the circumstances of Lincoln’s death.

I cannot write I feel too incoherently all the horror & misery of this abominable crime — it is a southern deedit represents the spirit of slaveholding.

Sentiment among Union Army ranks ranged from tears to anger to vows of vengeance — sentiments my ancestor Arthur Bull no doubt experienced among his fellow convalescents during his hospital stay.

And I have to wonder: What was the reaction in Baltimore — where my Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey  lived in 1865 — when they and other residents learned that assassin John Wilkes Booth was from Maryland?

Bidding farewell

After Lincoln’s death, cannons boomed for a day and a night — every half hour — in his honor. A funeral train swathed in black crepe bore him home from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Missouri, as throngs of mourners lined the route.

Wearing black ribbons and mourning badges, they stood by the tracks to bid farewell to a president who had seen them through the U.S. Civil War — only to be brutally struck down just as the serious work of post-war Reconstruction was to begin.

The loss was still keenly felt more than a decade later when preeminent African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke these eloquent words in his Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln.

…while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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