When my family began to piece together the quilt of great-grandmother Bridget McCaffery Moran’s life, we had these facts: Bridget McCaffery emigrated from Ireland. She married widower Anthony Moran. She raised two stepchildren and three sons in the small town of Melrose, Iowa.
We had no facts about her McCaffery family and no photograph. We didn’t know where in Ireland she was born or when and where she and Anthony married.
A cousin located the photograph. John O’Brien, a Melrose Iowa genealogist, found the obituary.
“Mrs. Anthony Moran died Friday morning at 1 o’clock after a few weeks illness at the home of her son, Dr. T.A. Moran on Second St.
Bridget McCaffery was born in Mayo County, Ireland in 1846. At the age of 14 she emigrated to America with a brother and settled in Schuylkill, Pa. In 1867 she was united in marriage with Anthony Moran. They came to Monroe county and resided here for one year, returning to Youngstown, Ohio where they remained for five years, afterwards coming to Melrose in 1873 which was their permanent home.” From Albia [Iowa] Republican December 21, 1916.
Here was my plan for finding Bridget’s brother. The 1870 census lists only a few young McCaffery men residing in the mining area of Schuylkill Pa. I would find Bridget on a passenger list and then find her brother on the same ship. Once I knew his first name, I could find him in the census.
In the fall of 2013 the St. Louis Cardinals won the National League pennant and then lost the World Series while I searched ships’ passenger lists. No teenage Bridget McCaffery. No brother.
Federal census records between 1870 and 1910 contributed these pieces.
1. Bridget and Anthony reside in Schuylkill Pennsylvania in 1870 (discrepancy with obituary ). Besides the stepchildren and the new baby named Joseph, there is a 2-year-old daughter named Lela. She is not listed in their 1880 household.
2. Up to and including the 1900 census, Bridget can neither read nor write. In 1910 Bridget reports that she can read but not write. If the census reports are correct, then Bridget learned to read when she was over 50 years old.
3. In the 1900 census Bridget reports arriving in USA 35 years before, which would put her arrival date around 1865 and her age about 18. In the 1910 census she reports an arrival date of 1865. This is five years later than obituary data suggests.
4. And speaking of age, Bridget is listed as 23 in 1870, 30 in 1880, 54 in 1900 and 61 in 1910. Go figure.
The 1915 Iowa Census was taken the year before Bridget died. In this census she is a widow whose home is valued at $800. She can read but not write. She reports living in the USA for 50 years and in Iowa for 40 years.
Beyond the census, we have family stories from her son (my grandfather) that the family lived a hardscrabble life in a house on the wrong side of the tracks.
She must have been loved because one son from California and her stepdaughter from some distance away came to be at her bedside when she died. Even though her husband had died several years before, nephews from her husband’s family came for her funeral.
The woman who learned to read late in life would be proud of her legacy. Her son Thomas became the town physician and devoted his life to the care of its residents. Twenty of her great-grandchildren have college degrees and the majority earned advanced degrees — Masters, PhD, and Law. Recently the great-great granddaughter who bears her name was awarded a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Still missing from the quilt of Bridget’s life are McCaffery family history and connections. We’ll keep looking.