Category Archives: Gormley

1993: Dempsey-Owen neighborhoods & a Baltimore mystery solved

Fifth and last in the March 2017 series about my Irish (Dempsey) and Welsh (Owen) ancestors in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland.

Despite a dwindling parish, Baltimore’s stately St. Martin Church was still open when I traveled there with a friend in 1993. A high mass of requiem had been celebrated there for some of my ancestors, so I was pleased to finally visit the church and review their records.

January 1993: Webster Lane, Baltimore, Maryland. My Irish great, great grandparents Katherine (Gormley) and William Patrick Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived with their family at 2 Webster Alley (renamed Webster Lane) from 1870 to 1886. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In the chancery, Sister Eleanor showed me church registers that confirmed the death and funeral dates for my great grandmother Elizabeth (Dempsey) Owen in 1922 and my great-great grandmother Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey in 1923.

When I asked the sister why their cause-of-death columns were blank, and she studied the registers for a moment.

“That depended on how thorough the record keeper was,” she replied. “Some filled in the column, some didn’t.”

Alas, there was no parish record for my great-great grandfather William P. Demspey, the blacksmith.

Church tour and the monsignor

After I finished making notes, the nun led us into the church.

Surveying the vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and elevated altar, I could easily imagine the packed Sunday services my Welsh-Irish ancestors attended — their pew likely crowded with family worshiping together.

On our way out, Sister Eleanor pointed to a bronze portrait on the wall. “Well, there he is,” she announced.

“Who?” I asked.

“Monsignor O’Donovan,” she replied. “He’s the pastor who left the information off your ancestors’ records.”

We all laughed, and I was reminded of my dad’s sense of humor –a legacy from my grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau.

Stops at family homes

My Baltimore trip wrapped up with stops at the onetime homes of my Dempsey and Owen ancestors. Some we couldn’t find because street addresses and routes had changed. Elizabeth’s last home, where her wake was held, had been torn down for a new highway.

January 1993: 1954 W. Fayette Street in Baltimore, Maryland. My great-great grandmother Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey’s last residence and likely site of a huge family reunion shortly before she died. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Yet we found the two locations I most wanted to see.

  • 1954 W. Fayette Street. Described in Katherine’s obituary as her last residence, this may have been where a huge Dempsey family reunion was held shortly before she died.
  • Webster Alley (renamed Webster Lane). Where Katherine, William and their children lived from 1870–1889 and the likely location of his blacksmith shop.

The Webster Alley house no longer stands, replaced by newer dwellings. Katherine’s last residence was modernized with a stone facade and awnings.

But both were situated where I expected, in solid, working-class neighborhoods that once housed a tremendous influx of Irish, Welsh and other immigrants — and later welcomed a northward migration of African Americans seeking a better life.

Baltimore mystery solved

Which brings me back to the mystery of the 1963 Dempsey-Owen stone. When I returned from Baltimore, I called my dad to tell him about it.

“Do you know why there was no stone for so long?” I asked.

“Oh, sure,” Dad replied. “The family was arguing for years over who would pay for it.”

He said most of the Dempseys and Owens were supporting big families and couldn’t afford to buy the costly monument. Yet they clearly wanted a memorial for their departed loved ones — why else discuss it over and over?

Finally, almost sixty years after the first burial, one of grandmother’s sisters resolved the family dilemma. Charlotte (Owen) Wilson — then 70, married and childless — stepped up in 1963 and purchased the Dempsey-Owen stone.

Discovering Aunt Charlotte’s generosity and love of family was the perfect ending to my Baltimore genealogy road trip.

Up Next: Please join me daily in April for the 2017 A to Z Blogging Challenge. My theme this year is “Whispering Chimneys:  An Altamont childhood”…where my genealogy journey began.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey of Galway

Letter K: Eleventh of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey, my Irish great, great grandmother, came to mind recently as I watched a documentary about Ireland’s historic 1916 Easter Rising against British rule — which celebrates its centennial this month.

Egg and fowl market, Galway, Ireland. The chatting women shown here remind me of my great, great grandmother Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey, who emigrated from Galway, according to her obituary, and never lost her love of Ireland, poetry and huge family gatherings. By: National Library of Ireland on The Commons

I perked up when the narrator mentioned that Galway and Wexford were among the few locations, besides Dublin, with strong simultaneous risings for Ireland’s independence.

Why? Because my ancestor Katherine hailed from County Galway and her husband William Patrick Dempsey was from County Wexford.

Poetry and pride from Galway

Geographical areas often develop and pass down traditions through their populations — social legacies that persist long after the original inhabitants are gone.

If this excerpt from Katherine’s Jan. 1923 obituary is any indication  — written after her death (at age 94, says the obit) in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. — her native Galway appears to have been one of those places that engendered a proud sense of Irish culture and heritage.

In spite of her age, Mrs. Dempsey was extremely active and took a great joy in life. A native of Galway, Ireland, she never forgot the old land. She knew the history of Ireland as few people in this city knew it and she spoke and wrote Gaelic [sic.]. She used to take up Gaelic [sic.] poems and translate them without the least effort to her children and grandchildren. She was immensely fond of poetry, and she could quote passages from hundreds of poems.

At the time of her death, says the obituary, Katherine had 82 surviving direct descendants: six children (four sons and two daughters), 42 grandchildren and 34 great grandchildren — and a family gathering would fill the house.

Ten of her grandsons saw service in the World War, several of them officers. Her record in that respect is probably unique. When Mrs. Dempsey, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren held a reunion, an ordinary house was packed and jammed. She had one of these reunions a short time before her death, at which most of the members of the family were present.

A formidable widow

If her age in the obituary is accurate, my great, great grandmother Katherine (Gormely) Dempsey lived more than two decades after the death of her husband William Patrick Dempsey in 1900. She  must have been a formidable widow to successfully nurture a sense of cohesion and interconnection among several generations of the huge Dempsey family.

Several cousins in our Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team say William Patrick was a big man and we get our stature from his side, since many of us are taller than average.

But I suspect that Katherine’s side contributed mightily to our story-telling abilities, our drive  to learn more about our Dempsey ancestors, and our desire to collaborate and create a virtual family reunion like the one that filled her house to bursting all those years ago.

Up next: Library research leads. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Elizabeths in my family tree

Letter E: Fifth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Among my ancestors, there are many duplicate given names. But Elizabeth is one of the most common — as a first or middle name — on both sides of my family tree.

My maternal grandmother’s handkerchief with the letter E. Elizabeth was a common first or middle name among my female ancestors. Photo by Molly Charboneau

My paternal great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — wife of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull — apparently went by Elizabeth because there were so many Marys in her family. Here and there, it shows up as her first name on records.

My maternal grandmother Elizabeth Christina (Stoutner) Laurence was called Lizbeth by my grandfather, who knew her from childhood. But when she learned, and later taught, Early American Tole Painting, she always signed her work Liz.

She appears to have been named after her German-born grandmothers — her mom’s mother Eva Elizabeth (Edel) Mimm (who went by Elizabeth) and her dad’s mother Christina (Albeitz) Stoutner.

Then there was my Irish great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey, born in 1865 in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. — a twin and part of the large household of my Irish-born great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.

There are some other Elizabeths, Lizzies and Mary Elizabeths among my side line ancestors, too — clearly a popular name on many branches of my family tree.

Have you looked for patterns in your ancestors’ given names? They might hold clues about the next generation back.

Up next: Fort Monroe in Virginia, where my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull — husband of one of my Elizabeths, Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — was hospitalized during the U.S. Civil War.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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