Monday, February 6, 2012

Could I have Emma Anna Murphy's family, at last?

Last night I was working on some of my recent brick wall ancestors (I'm pretty sure the Italian ones will have to wait for an actual visit to Italy).  As the new and improved Family Search site continues to evolve, it leads me to new discoveries fairly often.  It is one of the sites I check periodically to see if maybe, just maybe, there is something new about an ancestor about whom I know nothing or very little.

Regular readers may recall the saga of my great-great grandmother, Emma Anna Murphy (first husband, Mr. Reagan, second husband, Erastus Bartlett Shaw).  To make a long story short, everything we have about Emma begins in 1888, when she married my great-great grandfather, Erastus, and ends in 1945, when she died. 

Censuses and records switch back and forth on whether she was born in Nova Scotia, Canada or Maine.  I've been convinced from the start that she was born in Nova Scotia for a few reasons.

First of all, had she been born in Maine, she would appear in some U.S. census before 1900 (either 1870 or 1880).

Second, the very earliest record we have on her is her marriage certificate in Middleborough, Massachusetts in 1888.  She would have given the information personally, and her place of birth is listed as Nova Scotia.  On the other records where her place of birth is listed (censuses from 1900 to 1930, her son Harrison's birth and death certificates, and her very own death certificate), Emma may not necessarily have given the information.

Geneablogger Barbara Poole very kindly pointed me to an 1871 Canadian census entry, which showed an Emma Murphy, age 10 (the correct age to be my great-great grandmother) living in Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia, with the Flavin family.

After that, I asked myself why my grandmother and great-uncle remembered Emma as they did: a woman who told stories about coming from a wealthy shipping family.  Was she exaggerating?  Was she trying to make herself seem better than she was to impress people?  Had she been orphaned at an early age and made up these stories to give herself an exciting "family history" (heck, just to give herself a family)?

This last one was my theory for quite a few years.  It seemed to fit.  Since the province-wide keeping of Nova Scotia vital records begins just after Emma was born (she was born in 1861 and civil record-keeping began in 1864), I couldn't find a birth record for her.  I wasn't sure that Manchester or Guysborough were where she was born, so I wasn't quite ready to scour every single church in the area, seeking a baptismal record - not just yet.

Her father has an incredibly common name: Patrick John (or John Patrick) Murphy.  There's a needle-in-a-haystack scenario right there.

It was the mother in whom I had vested any other research hopes: Mary Frasher/Frasier/Frazier.

Last night I searched Family Search for a "Mary Frasher" and, to my shock, came up with a record for a Margaret Murphy, born about 1842 in Nova Scotia, and died 21 December 1890 in Boston, Massachusetts.  I looked at the death register on American Ancestors to confirm it: Margaret Murphy, born in Nova Scotia, daughter of Patrick Murphy and Mary Frazier, wife of William Murphy.

This seemed like a good possibility for an elder sister to Emma, since no siblings appeared in the 1871 census.  However I knew I couldn't get too excited, just because their parents share the same name.

I went back to the 1871 Canadian census (indexes for which are now on Family Search) and searched for Margaret Murphy.

There she was, in the *exact* same place as my Emma: Manchester, Guysborough (even down to the same district, 202) in Nova Scotia.  Also, Patrick was listed as born in Ireland, while Mary was listed as born in Nova Scotia... but of Scotch descent.  This also fits everything our family has been trying to piece together.

Margaret's parents, Patrick and Mary, were ages 70 and 58 respectively.

First of all, it clicked in my head that I'd been guesstimating Emma's parents as too young, by 20 to 30 years.  I thought parents of a child born in 1861, would have been born between 1830 and 1840 themselves.  Then I guessed that they would a have been married between 1850 and 1860.

It made sense that, if these were Emma's parents, they would have "given" her to another family.  What 60-year-old father and 48-year-old mother want an infant?  Emma was probably a huge surprise to them in 1861.

I have no proof yet that there is a connection, but I'm sure you can imagine what I will spend my day doing: researching Margaret's children (if any) through her marriage to William H. Murphy.

And I will try to locate death records for Patrick and Mary Murphy, though such records may not tell me much.  So my focus is more on the life of Margaret (Murphy) Murphy and church records from the area.

Is my theory sound?  Could this family fit?  How many families were there with a husband named Patrick Murphy and a wife named Mary Frazier from Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia?

And why am I asking rhetorical questions, instead of drawing a chart at this very moment so I can start doing more research and taking more notes?

Copyright (c) 2011 Wendy L. Callahan


  1. Fascinating story with so many more questions! And, yes, start drawing out the chart with several variant ideas! Sometimes maps and collateral lines plus charts of "known" info are the only ways I've found one of my direct ancestors. Thanks for sharing your great post!

  2. Have you ever had a chance to look at Guysborough Sketches and Essays (Original edition (1950) or Revised Edition (2009) by A. C. Jost)? It is a great resource to learn about the area and does have some genealogies. There are some Frasers mentioned on p. 361-362 of the revised edition but none that seem to fit for your Mary Fraser. None of the Murphys seem to fit your Murphy.

    Anyway, in case you don't already know about it, I wanted to share this admittedly secondary source if you want to learn more about the history of Guysborough.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Celia! The chart is quite dense with information since yesterday's work. ;)

    I don't have a copy of that book, Elizabeth. Thank you so much for taking a look at it! Since Patrick Murphy does not appear in Guysborough in the 1851 census, I believe he and Mary came from another part of Nova Scotia. I think Patrick Murphy is the one who died in Guysborough on 24 Sept. 1873 (son of Lawrence), though I cannot be certain about that.

    They do appear in the 1861 census in Guysborough, district 03 (listed as Patrick Murphey), with a family of 2 males (Patrick and a son or other relative/boarder?) and 2 females (Mary and Margaret).

    The search goes on, and while there is no information about the family in "Sketches & Essays", I will keep an eye out for it. Thank you. :)

  4. What a great discovery! I will be following your progress, as it has many similarities to my brick wall adventure!