Saturday, January 6, 2018

52 Ancestors - Start: Emma Anna (Murphy) (Reagan) Shaw

Whether you call her Emma or Annie or E. Anna - I call her great-great grandma Emma - she's my first ancestor for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks in 2018.

Ever since I began this blog on March 26, 2007, I've talked about one ancestor more than any others: my great-great grandma Emma Anna Murphy. After 25 years of research, it's fair to say she's not merely a brick wall, but a lifelong research project. One of two I now recognize as such.

I wish I had a photo of Emma, but the one that supposedly exists is not in my possession. She was part of my start in genealogy. I "met" Emma when I was a teenager and my father gave me the little checkbook register-like "Health Record" he and my mother filled out when I was a baby, up until the time I was about 1-year-old.

Health Record of Wendy L Callahan - 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - NewEnglandGenealogy.net


When I began my genealogy in earnest, I found that Emma was the only person on whom I couldn't make any progress. That seemed odd, given how "close" she was to me, generationally. As the years have gone on, I've gone from frustration to wondering if her story isn't as cut-and-dry as it first appears.

Initially, she looks like an easy enough ancestor to reckon with: born about 1863 in Nova Scotia, parents John Murphy and Mary Ann Frasher, first husband was a Reagan, and second husband was my great-great grandfather, Erastus Bartlett Shaw.

Only, once I started researching her, she didn't turn out to be so easy after all. I found nothing of her prior to her 1888 marriage - nothing in censuses or records. Gosh. With her marriage and death record, and the birth, marriage, and death record of her one child, she should have been easy enough to figure out, right? Ha. Wrong.

Emma's Timeline


Using a timeline as a tool has allowed me to see where I have questions. Working backwards chronologically, it starts off pretty straightforward, with the death of Emma's one and only (known) child, my great-grandfather:

February 28, 1970 - Death Record of Harrison Clifford Shaw lists his parents as Erastus B. Shaw and Annie Emma Murphy, with her place of birth as Nova Scotia

October 2, 1951 - First & Final Accounting of Estate of Emma A. Shaw at Plymouth County Probate Court. 

May 4, 1945 - Petition for Administration of Estate of Emma A. Shaw at Plymouth County Probate Court.

March 17, 1945 - Obituary of Emma A. Shaw in the Taunton Daily Gazette. In part, it stated: She was born in Portland, Me., the daughter of John P. and Mary A. (Frasher) Murphy. She spent most of her life in Middleboro.

March 14, 1945 - Death Record of Emma A. Shaw at Taunton State Hospital, age 84 and 1 month, giving a possible birthdate of February 14, 1861. Birthplace listed as Portland, Maine. Parents listed as John P. Murphy (birthplace, England) and Mary A. Frasher (birthplace, Scotland).

April 25, 1940 - U.S. Census lists her as Emma A. Shaw, age 78 (born about 1862), birthplace Maine, highest grade completed 0.

April 2, 1933 - Death Record of Erastus B. Shaw at Taunton State Hospital.

April 3, 1930 - U.S. Census lists her as Emma A. Shaw, age 67 (born about 1863), age at first marriage 16 (about 1879), birthplace Maine, parents born in Canada.

1928 & 1929 - Middleborough Directory, Emma A. Shaw is listed with her husband, Erastus.

February 16, 1920 - U.S. Census lists her as Emma A. Shaw, age 57 (born about 1863), birthplace Maine, birthplace of parents Canada.

October 7, 1910 - Middleborough Gazette article on page 1 about Emma charged with assault on Alfred Hennessey, a neighboring farmer on Plymouth Street.

May 13, 1910 - U.S. Census lists her as Annie E. Shaw, age 45 (born about 1865), 2nd marriage, 2 children born, 1 living, birthplace Massachusetts, parents birthplace Massachusetts. 

1905 & 1909 - Deeds in which Emma and Erastus are the grantors of land in Plymouth County.

June 9, 1900 - U.S. Census lists her as E. Anna Shaw, age 38 (born about 1862), 1 child born & living, birthplace Maine, father's birthplace England, mother's birthplace Scotland.

1897 & 1899 - Middleborough Directory, Mrs. E. B. Shaw has a variety store on Plymouth Street.

1890 & 1896 - Deeds in which Emma and Erastus are the grantees of land in Plymouth County.

May 9, 1889 - Birth Record of Harrison Clifford Shaw, son of Erastus B. Shaw and Emma A. Reagion. Her birthplace is given as Maine.

November 17, 1888 - Marriage Record of Emma A. Regan, maiden name Murphy, and Erastus Bartlett Shaw. Second marriage for them both. Emma's age is 25, birthplace Nova Scotia, parents Patrick and Mary.

August 1888 - Unless Harrison was premature, this is when he would have been conceived. I have no questions about his paternity. Shaw paternity is confirmed through DNA testing. This places Emma in Middleborough or at least the area at this time.

Circa 1877-1882 (possibly 1879) - Emma's first marriage? I'm giving myself a range of years here, but usually widen this range even more when searching for her first marriage.

Circa 1860-1865 (possibly February 14, 1861) - Emma's birth? Once again, I give myself a wide range of dates, because I don't take it for granted that the age listed on her death record is exact for calculating her date of birth.


Things to address


1. Two children born, one living. No record of another Shaw child has been found. I've tried to locate a Reagan birth to no avail at this time. This could simply be an error in the 1910 census, of course.

2. Place of birth. There is no birth record for an Emma or Anna Murphy born to parents John or Patrick and Mary Frasher (Frazier/Fraser) in Massachusetts. The City Clerk of Portland, Maine has no birth record, either. This leaves Nova Scotia and I've found one birth there that may or may not be Emma.

The birth found in Nova Scotia fits, but changes the dynamic of Emma's paternity.

3. First marriage. No record of a marriage of Emma by either the Murphy surname or the possible other surname found in Massachusetts. Maine has fewer online records, but I have not found it there, either. The same goes for Nova Scotia.

Since we don't have a first name for Mr. Reagan (Regan/Reagion), we don't have much to go on. However, if I could find a death record for him that lists an Emma as the wife, that might help.

4. Life before August 1888, in general. Where was Emma? Was she in Massachusetts, Maine or Nova Scotia? There is no entry for her in the 1880 U.S. or 1881 Canadian censuses. Was she born and possibly married in Nova Scotia, but then traveling to the U.S. after the 1880 census had taken place, yet before the 1881 census?

I have also never found a record of her in the 1870 U.S. Census. Many years ago, Barbara Poole found an 1871 Census entry in Nova Scotia that could very well be my Emma. However, if it is, what I've determined from that point changes things. It makes Patrick John/John Patrick and Mary her maternal grandparents, if she is the "right" Emma.

Where do I go from here?


1. I have DNA tests at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA, as well as results uploaded to GEDMatch and MyHeritage in hopes of finding someone who descends from the same Murphy family and, possibly, the family that I've theorized may be Emma's paternal family.

I've had my father tested, because he's "closer" to Emma, genetically, as her great-grandson, so I prioritize his matches over mine. My sister and a half-first cousin who is descended from my grandmother, but not my grandfather, have also tested. Having dad's niece allows me to narrow down my focus to their shared matches, thus "weeding out" dad's paternal matches.

Of course, because DNA recombination is random, this doesn't mean matches my father and cousin don't share aren't my father's maternal matches. So all of his matches bear scrutiny. But my cousin gives me a good basis for comparison and match sorting.

2. I need to continue seeking out descendants of the Murphy family, as well as the paternal family I believe she is connected to from Nova Scotia, in hopes of specifically testing them, if necessary.

3. Try a new angle on the family stories about Emma's store. My grandmother said her grandma Emma had a grocery store in Cambridge. Well, the only one I've ever found is in Middleborough. I've looked at directory listings for Cambridge, Boston, Dorchester, and other towns in the area and struck out at this point. 

If she did live up there and have a store, it was probably with her first husband. Maybe she had leftover inventory that allowed her to open the shop in Middleborough, once she married Erastus. There must be some record, though if Emma didn't own the actual property up in Cambridge/Boston/Dorchester, then there might not be much of anything. Still, it might be worth it for me to look at property records.

4. A research buddy looking to swap "problems" would be very welcome!



Copyright (c) 2018 Wendy L. Callahan

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