Sunday, August 26, 2007

A "working" mother in the truest sense of the word

I'm a week late, but I wanted to mention the birthdate of a woman that I know very little about, yet I admire very much: my great-great-grandmother Margaret (Foley) Cowhey.

One-hundred and fifty-two years ago, on August 19, 1855, a baby girl was born to Patrick & Margaret (Graham) Foley in Port Carbon, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Little Margaret Foley was, according to the hand-written Cowhey family tree that I received, the first child of Patrick and Margaret, but she had an older half-sister (Bridget T. Byrnes, daughter of her mother Margaret by an earlier husband).

I have had difficulty learning much about Margaret's childhood or her parents' lives, but I do know about Margaret's adulthood. It was remarkable. Not remarkable in the sort of way that would make news headlines, but amazing from the standpoint of her day to day life. Margaret went on to become the mother of ten children of her own. But before her own children were even born, she had gained four (possibly five) children by virtue of her marriage to her husband, William Cowhey.

After spending her childhood pretty much as an only child (her half-sister Bridget was born in 1843 and was twelve years her senior), Margaret lived her adulthood with a house full of children.

Here's a timeline showing what I have learned about her life:

  • 1855, August 19 - Baby Margaret born to Patrick & Margaret (Graham) Foley in Port Carbon, Pennsylvania

  • 1870 - Margaret, age 15, attended school during this year according to the U.S. Census; may have also worked as a domestic in the home of a provision store keeper in Pottsville (there are two entries for Margaret in this census)

  • 1878, February 23 - William & Margaret (Foley) Cowhey marry at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Pottsville, Pennsylvania - Margaret (only age 22 herself) gains four (possibly five) children through marriage: Annie, age 11; Margaret, age 9; William, age 6; John Joseph, age 3 (baby Richard is mentioned in the family tree, but I have found no records about him yet - he may have passed away as an infant)

  • October 14, 1878 - Birth of Mary Cowhey

  • About April 1880 - Birth of Ellen Cowhey

  • 1880 - Resided with her family in East Mannheim, Schuylkill County according to the 1880 U.S. Census

  • November 17, 1881 - Birth of Elizabeth Cowhey

  • March 24, 1883 - Birth of Thomas Patrick Cowhey

  • September 22, 1884 - Birth of Ambrose Paul Cowhey

  • July 1, 1886 - Birth of Clara Cowhey

  • August 21, 1887 - Birth of Charles Patrick Cowhey (later called Charles William Cowhey)

  • December 18, 1890 - Birth of Blanche Cowhey

  • January 7, 1891 - Birth of Lena Cowhey

  • October 7, 1891 - Death of baby Lena Cowhey

  • February 20, 1892 - Birth of Isabella Cowhey (called Bella)

  • November 14, 1892 - Death of husband William Cowhey in train accident at Connor's Crossing
  • After November 1892 - Death of baby Bella Cowhey
By the time Margaret was 37 years old (in 1892) she had raised or was raising at least fourteen children, had experienced the loss of two babies in their infanthood, lost her husband to a train accident, and now was on her own to support and raise her remaining seven young children.

Although I have found her brother-in-law Thomas Cowhey's pension files, I have never found an indication that Margaret or her husband William ever applied for pension, despite the fact that William qualified as a volunteer of the Civil War. Did Margaret not know about her option to file for pension? Or, instead, was she supported financially in other ways? I have never seen an indication that she married again after her husband's death. William's obituary indicated that he was a "prominent member" of the Gowen Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. Perhaps she found financial help from William's fellow veterans. Maybe she was supported by the grown children that she had helped to raise. I wonder... It must not have been an easy life, no matter what help Margaret received. [Correction: I finally did find William's Civil War pension and Margaret's widow's pension file.]

According to the handwritten Cowhey family tree that I received, Margaret, a resident of Mount Carbon, died in October 1913 at the young age of 58. She had lived a short but very full life. We, her descendants, are the benefits of the fruits of her labor. When I have a difficult day as a mother, I remember Margaret and the incredible challenges that she faced. Her life is truly an inspiration.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Knock, knock...

Two-hundred and seventeen years ago yesterday, on August 1, 1790, census-takers went door to door knocking on homes in the young United States of America and the first official U.S. Census of the United States was completed. If you're old enough, you may remember participating in one or more yourself. (The last U.S. Census was completed in the year 2000.)

The U.S. Census is a goldmine for family history researchers and it was one of the first places I started when I began looking for information about our family. At this time, the most recent census information available to researchers is the 1930 census, and I started there and went back each decade as I learned more about different branches of our family.

Each census year provides a little bit different information, including home addresses, family members' occupations, ages, birthplaces, and more.

Below is an image from the 1920 Census showing Charles & Agnes Cowhey and their young daughter Annie and Charles' sister and brother Blanche & Ambrose residing at 68 Main Street, Mount Carbon, Pennsylvania.


If you are interested in taking a look at original census records yourself, you can access them free via Ancestry.com at most local libraries. If you have a library card, you can access the census records from your home computer via most local library websites' connection to Heritage Quest online. (Unfortunately, Ancestry.com does not allow remote access for library users, and their subscription prices are pretty steep.) Some census records are also available online at the LDS Family Search website. Each site has a different search engine so sometimes you can find your family census records on one site when you can't find them on others.

Family Tree Magazine's website has some easy to use downloadable forms for the U.S. Census and other family history purposes. Print out a stack of these for each census year that you are taking a look at and it will make it easier to understand what you are reading. I hope you'll enjoy trying your hand at a little family history research yourself. Please let me know if you make any exciting discoveries!

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