Posted by: Bill Tracy | June 3, 2019

Eleven Sisters of a Lost Family

From this day forward,
for better or for worse…

 

My grandfather had 11 sisters. He was the only son. Those 11 sisters were my maternal great aunts. They are all long gone now, but their mark on history remains. Times change, but people don’t. This is the story of their times.

It begins, as most things do, with the mother; in this case, my mother. A couple years before she died we were discussing my father’s family. The Tracys, we agreed, were tribal, insular, probably even self-absorbed as a family. They had a broad and long reputation for arrogance. Despite evidence to the contrary, no one could be better or smarter than a Tracy. The extended Tracy family was the major focus of our lives. Weekends were spent socializing with Tracys. Vacations were in cohort with Tracys. Christmas was a celebration of Tracy holiday dominance. Mom’s family, the Cullinans, got very little play. We saw them in the few blank spaces of our social calendar. I grew up simply accepting this as the natural order. But my mother apparently had a different vision. I now believe she harbored a simmering, yet deep, resentment. I concluded this when our discussion of the Tracys waned, and she suddenly blurted out, “But what about MY family?”

TREE

Her family, for my purposes, starts with Catherine Cecelia Lafferty and Cornelius Cullinan in the late Nineteenth Century. Catherine was born in Pennsylvania to Irish immigrants Jane McMahon and Patrick Lafferty. Cornelius arrived in the states with his Irish immigrant parents Ellen Niehan and Michael Cullinan in 1868. Catherine and Cornelius marry in 1888 and immediately open up their Irish Catholic baby factory. Jennie is the firstborn in 1889, and they have more than a dozen children over the next 25 years. Given the poor infant mortality of the time, not all of them live. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my grandfather, growing up amidst 11 sisters.

[Disclaimer: The information here is the product of several years genealogical research. It comes from official documents — U.S. Census reports; birth, marriage and death certificates; military historical information; Social Security records; etc. Newspaper reports also factor into the research; published obituaries proved a great source of family connections. Finally, personal memory, family lore and family interviews contributed to the overall picture. Memory is imperfect in all sorts of ways, so there is the possibility of errors, yet I believe this to be at least 95% factually accurate.]

For the most part, this is a chronological account. The story of the great aunts covers one year shy of a century; their combined lives spanned 99 years. Jennie, the first, was born in 1889. The last to depart was Gertrude in 1988. The last of the 11 sisters born was only with us for three weeks. And so, as an exception to chronological birth order, the last shall be first…

Cecelia Cullinan [April 9, 1913 – April 29, 1913]

The Infant

The bells in the chapel never ring anymore

The clock in the steeple can’t tell time as before

But up on the hillside, stands a place heaven blest

The shrine of Saint Cecilia

 

Each day at eventide

When i seek haven from my daily care

You’ll find me by her side

It seems so peaceful there

 

I kneel in my solitude and silently pray

That heaven will protect you, dear, and there’ll come a day

The storm will be over and that we’ll meet again

At the shrine of Saint Cecilia

I believe the Andrews Sisters were the first to record “The Shrine of Saint Cecelia” in the 1940s.

I begin with Cecelia as she was the final child born to Catherine and Cornelius. I feel deep sorrow for the tragedy of parents who spent three weeks of April 1913 watching their beautiful baby die. At 3:25 PM on a Tuesday afternoon Cecelia took her final breath. The official record lists her causes of death as:

Primary: Indigestion

Secondary: Exhaustion

That tells me nothing I can relate to as a cause of death. However, it does suggest whatever was going on was beyond the scope of the rudimentary medical practices and knowledge of the time. I suspect today, such a child would live. It also amplifies my chilling vision of three weeks watching an infant try to feed, watching her gasp for breath, until she could finally no more. Three weeks of hoping against hope in an overcrowded little row house in South Philadelphia. The story of Saint Cecelia says in her martyrdom she was struck in the neck three times with a sword, and she then lived three days, suffering. Our Cecelia lived three weeks, suffering. Would that our Cecelia had lived, I’m sure her brother and 10 sisters would have cherished her. Perhaps she would have been the light of the world, yet she is lost to us. The heart of being family is to personally feel that WE have lost her even though it was more than 100 years ago, and none of us actually knew her. And I feel the loss of her.

This today is 2035 South 23rd Street, Philadelphia, PA. In 1910, all 11 sisters and their parents lived in this house. Cecelia died here 1913. Mother Catherine and Father Cornelius both died here a hundred years ago, 1919.

This today is 2035 South 23rd Street, Philadelphia, PA. In 1910, all 11 sisters and their parents lived in this house. Cecelia died here 1913. Mother Catherine and Father Cornelius both died here a hundred years ago, 1919.

 

Jennie J. Cullinan [June 26, 1889 – December 29, 1965]

The Firstborn

She was a Wednesday child, but unlike the nursery rhyme (“Monday’s Child”), there is no indication she was “full of woe.” She lived a good, apparently stable, long life. Her first husband died in 1934, after 24 years of marriage. She remarried the next year, and this husband outlived her by five years. She had no children. I wonder if being the oldest and taking care of 11 siblings may have influenced a decision not to have children; pure speculation of course. Her life seems to have been uneventful as lives go. Her first husband, Frederick Gunlock, from a German immigrant family in New York City, registered for the World War I draft but never went into the military. He spent his life working for a plate glass company in Philadelphia (PPG), both selling and doing fine cutting and machining on the glass itself. Her second husband, Edward McCauley, managed a grocery store. Family lore suggests he helped keep my mother and her immediate family alive with food during the Depression. In his fifties, he was well past military age when World War II came calling. Jennie kept a good home for her husbands and took part-time work, mostly in a department store, probably Gimbel Brother’s in Philadelphia. Her obituary invites the employees of Gimbel’s to her funeral.

When Jennie was born, her parents lived in the McAdoo, Pennsylvania area, near Hazleton. Her father, Cornelius, worked in the local coal mines as did most of the Irish immigrants in the area. While the 1890 U.S. Census data is lost, it’s likely he and wife Catherine are living in the home of her father, Patrick Lafferty. After arriving from Ireland, Patrick established himself in the business of dynamiting rock on behalf of the developing railroads. An accident blinded him so he opened a saloon/hotel, and his daughter, Catherine, was no doubt helping out in that business. The 1900 Census information shows that to be the case.

Jennie’s obituary seems to suggest what was most valued by her when she died in December, 1965. “…wife of Edward J. McCauley and sister of Sister M. Rosarita I.H.M., and aunt of Sister Mary Loreto I.H.M., and sister of the late Sister Mary Michael, O.P.” Curious that her surviving five sisters and brother are not mentioned.

We the living may consider it odd, but perhaps the dead do not. Jennie now shares a grave with both of her husbands at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, PA.

Snapshot from the 1910 U.S. Census. Catherine, Cornelius, one son and 10 daughters ranging in age from 20 to 1 live in the tiny South Philadelphia row house.

Snapshot from the 1910 U.S. Census. Catherine, Cornelius, one son and 10 daughters ranging in age from 20 to 1 live in the tiny South Philadelphia row house.

 

Helen aka “Nellie” Cullinan [December 26, 1890 – May 15, 1972]

Sister Storm Trooper

My sister, Kathy, says she was scared to death of this great aunt. Helen or “Nellie” was an old school teaching nun of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The 1910 Census shows her as a 20-year-old single woman living with her parents and 10 sisters and a brother at 2035 South 23rd Street in Philadelphia. She works as a “packer” in a grocery store. For a long time during my research, her trail ended here; she seemed to have vanished from the Earth. But then the 1920 Census popped up one day — and I find her living as Sister Rosarita in the convent of Saint Rose of Lima Church in Eddystone, Pennsylvania. She is a teacher in the parish school.

In 1920, Helen Cullinan is teaching in the school parish at this church in Eddystone, PA. She is Sister Mary Rosarita of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM).

In 1920, Helen Cullinan is teaching in the school parish at this church in Eddystone, PA. She is Sister Mary Rosarita of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM).

Family lore suggests she was the principal of West Catholic High School for Girls in the 1940s when my mother was a student there. Apparently, Sister Rosarita had decided my mother needed special attention — and there was trouble between them. She was never a favorite of my mother’s although she deeply respected her calling. Having gone through eight years of Catholic elementary school staffed by IHM nuns, the “storm trooper” appellation is wholly understandable to me. She was a revered nun and lived to be 82 years old. She is buried in the beautiful Immaculata Cemetery along with her sister nuns at Malvern, PA.

Catherine C. Cullinan [July 1, 1893 – April 21, 1979]

Aunt AKA

I call her Aunt AKA because she had so many aliases — also known as. She also married a man named John Smith, the mother of all AKAs! Her name was “Catherine,” but for some reason, depending on the year or the historical document, you will find her as Katherine, Kathryn, Catherine and other variations on the name. That makes genealogical research very trying. She is probably the one responsible for the misspelling of her mother’s name on her gravestone (“Katherine” instead of the correct Catherine). At turn of the century, she is eight years old and living in the Silver Brook area just south of McAdoo, Pennsylvania. She lives in the home of her grandfather, Patrick Lafferty, and I imagine her as a little girl trying to take over his hotel as a “helper.” Her life suggests she was a take-charge, dominant type person.

At age 17, she’s working as an “egg candler” in Philadelphia. The candler inspects eggs to determine viability. Sometime around 1903, her family moved from the Hazleton, Pennsylvania area to a little row house in South Philadelphia (2035 South 23rd Street). At this point, the house is packed with 10 girls, their brother and parents. Mother Catherine is still keeping the home together, and father Cornelius has given up the back-breaking job of coal mining for the comparatively easy work of a watchman in one of the oil refineries. This city living is a world away from coal country.

In 1918, Catherine marries John Patrick Smith, a pipe fitter from South Philadelphia. He doesn’t seem much interested in war as his 1917 military draft registration claims he is the sole support for his mother, father, sister and four brothers — and he’s missing the “2nd finger of right hand up to 1st joint.” They take up residence the next street over from her family (at 1941 South 22nd Street).

Daughter Catherine lives in this comfortable, little row house at 1941 S. 22nd Street, Philadelphia in 1920. This image was made in 2019.

Daughter Catherine lives in this comfortable, little row house at 1941 S. 22nd Street, Philadelphia in 1920. This image was made in 2019.

 

On January 27, 1919, Catherine is newly pregnant with daughter, Catherine Cecelia when her mother, Catherine Cecelia dies. Her mother is 51 years old, and cause of death is uterine cancer. She is buried on Thursday, January 30, 1919. Six days later, her father suddenly dies, age 55. After having 12 children, Catherine and Cornelius live to see only two of their grandchildren born. In a two-week period, young Catherine loses both her parents and their home where her brother and sisters live. Her younger siblings are dispersed to live with other family. Her sister, Theresa, age 18 moves in with Catherine and her husband, John. That atomic bomb of two deaths splits the nuclear family that had stood for 30 years. And the family of the 11 sisters is forever lost.

Catherine and John have four children, Catherine C., John Patrick Jr., Francis John, and Teresa D. Daughter Catherine is a 20-year-old office worker in Philadelphia in 1940. Nothing is certain after that; there is a record that could be her death in 2008 in Ocala, Florida but that is not certain. Son John Jr. is a 6’ 3” worker at Baldwin Locomotive when he registers for the draft in February, 1942. He passes the war in the Coast Guard, mostly mid-Atlantic coastal waters. He finishes up on the Delaware River protecting my grandmother who is a .45 caliber pistol carrying security guard at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He is last seen in 1950, living on Holly Road in Yeadon, PA with wife Mary Teresa Connor. Francis is a high school student in 1940, and after that there are no credible records for him. Finally, Teresa, in September 1951 she marries John William Bradley who had been a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. Teresa and John have one son, John William, and he may still be alive. Both Teresa and John are together in a final resting plate at Arlington National Cemetery. From her obituary:

“Teresa was born and raised in Philadelphia, where she began her more than 40 year career as a registered nurse. She also met her husband, Jack (a former WWII POW), there. They were married in 1951 and moved to Miami not long after. They enjoyed travelling, seeing much of the United States, as well as visiting South America and Europe.”

Despite exhaustive research, I can find no death information for John, Sr. Catherine dies April 21, 1979 in Springfield, Delaware County, PA. Her obituary reads: “…wife of the late John P. Smith, mother of Kathryn S. Donze, [daughter Catherine C?] Francis J. Smith and Teresa D. Bradley; also survived by three sisters five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.” Mysteriously absent is son John Jr. Also, daughter Catherine C. is now Kathryn S. More AKA from Aunt AKA. The quirks of genealogical research!

Florence C. Cullinan [September 17, 1894 – April 25, 1955]

The Favorite

Florence seems to have had some magic, in addition to her charm. My aunt Florence (my mother’s sister) was named for her, and she told me her aunt Florence was always the favorite among the great aunts. “When she spoke with you she made you feel like you were the only person in the whole world,” my aunt Florence says. Not all the great aunts were “charming,” let’s say, but everyone liked Florence. And she appears to have been a charitable person. In 1920, she is living with her husband, William George Love at 136 N. Wanamaker Street, Philadelphia, a modest, two-story row house. They had their three young children at the time, Charles, age 4, Catherine, age 2, and Helen, an infant. Since her parents had died the year before, she had taken in her brother, Cornelius, age 17 (my grandfather), and her sisters, Loretta, age 15 and Margaret, age 11. William was a “shipper” in the wholesale meat business so he probably wasn’t generating more than a subsistence income for all those people in the house.

Born in 1894 in the McAdoo, PA area, Florence is 10 years younger than husband George who was born in 1883, also up in coal country, Heckschersville, PA. In the 1900 Census, George is age 17 and working as a laborer in a coal breaker where his father is the boss. In the 1910 Census, the Love family has moved to Philadelphia, and George is working in a grocery store while his father is an “inspector” at a department store. The 1920s were prosperous for them, and in 1930, they own their nice, semi-detached house in Upper Darby at 130 N. Carol Boulevard. But the Depression does come, and George dies in 1938, age 55.

When 1940 comes along, Florence is in the same Upper Darby house. She has taken in a lodger to help keep afloat financially. Son Charles is a bank clerk and daughter Catherine is a telephone operator. The youngest daughter, Helen would now be age 20, but she doesn’t show up on the Census report, presumably at this point, she is in the convent and on her way to becoming Sister Mary Loreto of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Newspaper accounts about Sister Loreto over the next decades point to a deeply compassionate person caring for the poor, sick and needy. People in the family who knew her loved her very much. And that seems to be part of the magic that her mother, Florence embodied.

Florence with her husband, Daniel Murphy, March 1946 at the marriage of Jane Cullinan and William Tracy.

Florence with her husband, Daniel Murphy, March 1946 at the marriage of Jane Cullinan and William Tracy.

In March, 1946, my mother and father married, and Florence attends the wedding. Her escort is a new husband, Daniel Murphy. He was born in Heckschersville, PA, same place her first husband, George was born. Daniel is still living in Heckschersville in 1940. He’s a single, 40-year-old man living at his mother’s home and working as a coal truck driver. I have no idea how he and Florence got together. I do know people in the family liked him. My mother chose to have him walk her down the aisle at her wedding instead of her father.

Good things don’t last forever. Daniel dies a few years later, 1951, of pancreatic cancer. Florence stays with us another four years, dying, age 61 in 1955, lung cancer. Daughter Catherine (Betty) has no children and dies in 1990. Sister Loreto dies May 19, 1996. Son Charles leaves no children and dies in December, 2000 presumably in the same Upper Darby house where he had lived with his mother since the 1920s.

Agnes Cullinan [July 1896 – 1959]

Painfully Shy

My aunt Florence described Agnes as “painfully shy.” Given that, it seems she chose an apt profession. She spent her life in quiet prayer as a cloistered Dominican nun, Sister Mary Michael, OP. She is one of the two great aunts I ever remember meeting. She spent her adult life in a Dominican Monastery on Haddon Avenue in Camden, NJ. As a child in the 1950s I went along on family visits to see her. It was much like a prison visit with Sister sitting behind a barred window speaking mostly with my mother. I suppose the nuns only spoke with family. In the normal course of business, they had a “lazy susan” type of arrangement where a lay person would place a prayer request, then turn it so it would go to the inside area where the nuns were. The nuns would pick up the prayer requests and spend their time in perpetual prayer.

Agnes is a 12-year-old child in 1910, one of the many living with her family in that little row house at 2035 S. 23rd Street in South Philadelphia. She only ever shows up once again in formal documents. The 1930 Census shows her in the Monastery of the Perpetual Rosary in Syracuse, New York. A group of nuns had been sent to establish a new monastery there, and Agnes was among them. This is described in the publication Dominicana, August 1, 2013:

“To praise God, to love Him, and to beseech Him on behalf of others. For the Dominican nuns of the Dominican Monastery of the Perpetual Rosary in Syracuse, New York, this is an apt description. In a sense, they have become receptacles of prayer. In March 1925, twelve nuns from Camden, New Jersey, arrived in Syracuse to found a new monastery, and on March 25th, Mother Mary Louis Bertrand and the other sisters opened their doors, welcoming those from the surrounding area to join them for prayer and to bring their prayer intentions to the nuns. These nuns have made a point of continuing this practice by placing great emphasis on receiving the prayers of those near and far. Whether it is at the monastery turn, a revolvable opening in the cloister wall for an exchange of goods and messages, or over the phone, the nuns have been resolute that their monastery is at the service of the spiritual welfare of others.”

I think Agnes and her sister Dominicans might find this monument a bit ostentatious, but the people who cared about them cared deeply. This is now the final resting place of Agnes Cullinan, Sister Mary Michael.

I think Agnes and her sister Dominicans might find this monument a bit ostentatious, but the people who cared about them cared deeply. This is now the final resting place of Agnes Cullinan, Sister Mary Michael.

Sister Mary Michael lived her life of prayer until death in 1959 at age 63. She was buried at the monastery with her sister nuns. Unfortunately, the cruel world entered, and that monastery was closed in 2013. The nuns who had been buried there were moved to Calvary Cemetery in suburban Cherry Hill, NJ.

Rose Monica Cullinan [1899 – June 23, 1984]

Railroad Red

Rose was a fiery redhead. She liked having things her way, and she usually got what she wanted. Born up in Pennsylvania coal country, she’s about six years old when she finds herself surrounded by sisters and a brother in the little South Philadelphia row house where she grows up. In 1919 she marries a clerk working for the railroad, Frederick Ferdinand Foery. He registered for the World War I draft at age 22 and his occupation was chief clerk for Santa Fe Railway. He has a stellar career with the railroad, and when he retires in 1960 he is Santa Fe’s agent in Cincinnati, Ohio. I think Rose had my mother believing that her husband was president of the Santa Fe Railway.

On the far left is "Railroad" Fred Foery. The redhead peering out from between the two smiling women is "Railroad Red" Rose Foery (nee Cullinan). Note the intense, critical look so indicative of her personality.

On the far left is “Railroad” Fred Foery. The redhead peering out from between the two smiling women is “Railroad Red” Rose Foery (nee Cullinan). Note the intense, critical look so indicative of her personality.

 

The Foerys somehow escape the 1920 Census, so we don’t see them until 1930. At that time, they live in Philadelphia’s Lindley Court apartments, and Rose’s sister Gertrude lives with them. They again escape a Census (1940) and in 1942, Fred registers for the World War II military draft. It shows they are living at the Stratford Court Apartments in Landsdowne, PA. He is employed by Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railway at 1114 Liberty Trust Building, Philadelphia, PA. At some point, he transfers to Cincinnati, and we see them in the 1958 Cincinnati city directory, living at 1308 Mimosa Ave., and he is the general agent for Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railway.

Fred retires from the railway in 1960. Eventually, they settle in Somers Point, NJ, living a life of leisure. My aunt Florence tells me she visited once and Rose was upset that Fred was out playing golf in the snow with orange golf balls (probably at the Linwood Country Club). He died in 1980. Rose died in 1984. They had no children. Apparently they had managed to accumulate a sizable estate, and Rose left money to my mother and her other nieces and nephews.

Theresa V. Cullinan [March 17, 1901 – April, 1987]

The Rogue

There seems to be one in every family, that one person who marches to their own tune. Theresa seems to be the one in her family. She never marries. She works unusual jobs. And in a blue collar family, we find her on a luxury cruise ship going to Italy. Theresa is born on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1901, quite an honor in an Irish Catholic family. She’s 18 when her parents die in 1919, and she has no place to live. So she lives with her sister, Catherine. She takes a job as an elevator operator. In 1930 she still has not established her own residence; she’s living with her oldest sister, Jennie and working as a seamstress for the Marine Corp.

A few years later, Theresa has abandoned Philadelphia and moved to the suburbs, Springfield, Delaware County. There she is living in the home of attorney Walter Stewart and working as the housekeeper. Stewart is a widower with two teenage children, so I guess Theresa is keeping house and acting as a surrogate mother. Remuneration appears to be about $50 per month plus keep.

On June 19, 1938, Theresa is on the passenger list of the Italian ship SS Roma departing Naples, Italy for New York. Perhaps she made the trip in the company of her employer, Attorney Stewart. However, neither he nor his children appear to be among the passengers on the ship, so perhaps she went alone. A housekeeper from a Philadelphia working class family in the Great Depression takes a cruise from New York to Italy and back? The great aunts often leave me with more questions than answers!

The Italian luxury liner, SS Roma took Theresa V. Cullinan to Europe and back in 1938.

The Italian luxury liner, SS Roma took Theresa V. Cullinan to Europe and back in 1938.

 

In May, 1947, Theresa’s aunt Catherine (her father’s sister) dies in Philadelphia. The body is sent to Hazleton for a funeral at her brother Patrick’s house. A Hazleton newspaper reports:

“Miss Theresa Cullinan of Springfield, Pa., will arrive here today to attend the funeral of her aunt, Catherine Cullinan who will be buried tomorrow morning.”

The Springfield home suggests Theresa is still in the employ of attorney Walter Stewart. At this point, his children would be grown (in their twenties) so she would be keeping house for one man. She is a single 46-year-old woman at this point taking care of a 68-year-old man. Stranger relationships have evolved, I suppose. In January, 1959, Stewart dies.

I suspect the years between 1959 and 1987 may have been interesting ones for Theresa, but I know nothing of her activities. She died April, 1987 in Upper Darby, PA. She was probably living with her sister, Gertrude. The last official information about Theresa comes in an estate notice published in a Philadelphia paper in July 1987. It informs the world that her sister Gertrude is the executor of her estate — and managing it is attorney John D. Stewart, son of her former employer, Walter Stewart. (John was a World War II hero, Silver Star recipient. Perhaps his surrogate mother had some part in developing his character!)

Loretta Cullinan [1905 – February 3, 1931]

Tragedy

Loretta was 26 years-old on February 1, 1931 when she was run down by a taxi cab and killed in the streets of West Philadelphia. She left a husband, John Loughran, 29 and three young children: Loretta, 8; Sarah Marie “Sally,” 5; and John Jr. age 3. I don’t think her husband ever got over it. He took the children and moved in with his brother, Joseph and sister, Margaret. Together, they raised the children. John had been a truck driver in the oil refineries, but after this he only worked menial jobs. In Philadelphia’s Broadwood Hotel, he ran an elevator, provided bell services and such. He never remarried; his granddaughter, Patricia suggests he wanted to be true to his wife. Still living with his sister in 1956 he died of stomach cancer in a house three doors down from where he had lived with Loretta when she died. He was only 55.

This is the Spruce Street house in West Philadelphia where Loretta lived in 1931 when she died. It seems somehow fitting that it is so tidy and well maintained today. I think Loretta would be happy.

This is the Spruce Street house in West Philadelphia where Loretta lived in 1931 when she died. It seems somehow fitting that it is so tidy and well maintained today. I think Loretta would be happy.

Their oldest child, Loretta seems to have had a tumultuous life. By 1939, she is 17 and gives birth to her first child, William Murphy. Father is William John Murphy, nearly 20 years older than Loretta. At some point, she marries the father, records suggest it was 1943, but that may not be reliable. The 1940 Census shows them living together — in a house two blocks from the hospital where her mother, Loretta, had died nine years earlier. From the back windows of that house, you can actually see the hospital. In 1944, they have another child, John Thomas Murphy. One of Loretta’s daughters said Murphy sometimes beat Loretta, and he spent time in jail. The relationship seems to have been difficult, and they appear to be separated from the late forties until he died in 1958. Through most of the fifties, Loretta is living alone and doing whatever was necessary to hold her life together. Daughter Patricia says in 1954, Loretta was one of the first of the new Philadelphia School Crossing Guards. She was known and loved by everyone in her West Philadelphia neighborhood. She also took in laundry, doing work as a classic washerwoman; whatever it took to survive. Her male children had been sent to live in orphanages, but daughter Patricia stayed with her during this time.

Loretta House with husband "Pat." She was Loretta Cullinan's oldest child, age 8 when Loretta died. This picture is courtesy of her daughter, Maryann House. In this image, Loretta looks stunningly like Catholic Saint Therese.

Loretta House with husband “Pat.” She was Loretta Cullinan’s oldest child, age 8 when Loretta died. This picture is courtesy of her daughter, Maryann House. In this image, Loretta looks stunningly like Catholic Saint Therese.

Almost immediately after Murphy dies, Loretta marries Francis Patrick “Pat” House. In 1959, they give birth to Maryann House. The kids seem to adore Pat, and he appears to have been a good man and supportive of his family. Sadly, Pat only stays around until 1975 when he dies. Loretta House dies October 14, 1991 in Philadelphia.

Loretta’s daughter Sarah Marie “Sally” has a more stable life. In 1946, she marries Thomas Joseph Kennedy. They have six children, and Sally dies in 2011, age 84 after a full and rewarding life.

Finally, son John Thomas “Jack” hasn’t left much of a trail. Family suggests he was married to a woman named Alma. There is documentation that he served in World War II. There is a veteran burial card on file for him but no other indication of what he did in the war. He died, age 69 in 1997.

Our families said goodbye to Loretta on a snowy Saturday, February 7, 1931. I’m sure attendance was huge, both Cullinan and Loughran families were large. The tragedy was deeply felt. Both families were wounded, but they went on and survived her sudden, unexpected death. I see a huge crowd of people who loved her, bundled in warm coats, gathered graveside at Holy Cross Cemetery. It was 27 degrees and snowing that day. I wish we had had a warmer day to say goodbye.

Of all the great aunts, Loretta stole my heart.

Gertrude Cullinan [Nov. 26, 1906 – April 27, 1988]

Aunt Gertrude, Grand Dame

Gertrude was the only aunt I met and actually knew. In the 1950s I spent time at her house in Upper Darby, PA., probably staying overnight. Aunt Gertrude gave gifts to children — for no reason! Maybe it was because she had no children of her own.  She once gave me a log cabin that burned real incense in the chimney. Of all the gifts I received as a child, I’ve never forgotten that one. My sisters, Janet and Kathy spent time at her house; they tell me we also went there for weekend barbecues a few times.

In 1919, when both her parents suddenly died within a week of one another, Gertrude was only 13 years old. She went to live with her oldest sister, Jennie and her husband, Fred Gunlock. She finishes her education living there, and in 1930 she is living with her sister, Rose and husband Fred Foery. She’s 24 and working as a stenographer for a newspaper in Philadelphia.

Around that time, Courtland Dempster comes along. He’s a World War I veteran and a successful salesman of wholesale silk and rayon. He sells himself to Gertrude, and she happily marries him. A few years later they’re living in style on the fringe of the Philadelphia Main Line, in Haverford Township, PA. It’s walking distance to the Llanerch Country Club where the resident pro is world golf hall of famer, Denny Shute.

Apparently aunt Gertrude enjoyed living in style, and Courtland was a man who could make it happen. My aunt Florence told me Gertrude and a couple of her sisters (probably Rose and who knows!) would sometimes get dolled up in their best clothes, including furs, rent a limousine for the day and go shopping and dining at the big department stores in downtown Philadelphia. They had married well, chose not to burden themselves with children — and were waging war on childhood memories of being so poor in the overcrowded, tiny row house in South Philadelphia. Poverty can leave an indelible imprint. Sometimes you can buy your way out of it, but the stench never leaves your nose no matter how many limo rides you take.

The Irish Memorial in Philadelphia depicts Irish immigration from starvation in Ireland to hopeful arrival in the USA. This was the legacy of Gertrude and her family.

The Irish Memorial in Philadelphia depicts Irish immigration from starvation in Ireland to hopeful arrival in the USA. This was the legacy of Gertrude and her family.

Courtland Dempster dies unexpectedly on October 16, 1967. Interesting that his obit reads:

“…husband of Gertrude, brother-in-law of Sr. Mary Rosarita, I.H.M., uncle of Sr. Mary Loretta, I.H.M.

No mention of his family or Gertrude’s sisters. And the spelling of Sr. Loreto is the spelling of her sister’s name.

On April 27, 1988, Gertrude dies in Upper Darby, PA. The obituary merely says: “She is survived by several nieces and nephews.” And with her departure, the great aunts have vanished from the earth.

Margaret R. Cullinan [August 4, 1908 – September, 1967]

Mystery Margaret

Margaret is the youngest, the baby of the family (outside of Cecelia who lived only three weeks). Her life appears to be one of great stress. When her parents die in 1919 she is 11 years old, and she is probably traumatized by the events. Her mother dies after a long illness, that was not a surprise. But the very next week, wholly unexpected, her father dies. Margaret, a stunned child, is farmed out to live with her older sisters. A year later, she is living with her sister, Florence and husband William — and their three young children. Also, her brother, Cornelius and sister Loretta  live there. She’s one child among many children, almost a lost child. I don’t suppose she got much support for her emotional loss. As she becomes a teenager, she’s competing for parental attention and love from an older sister and her husband, people overwhelmed with their own three young children. Margaret looks like collateral damage in the breakup of the family.

After 10 years of the roaring twenties, things have changed dramatically. Her sister, Loretta is married and has three young children. Brother Cornelius is married, and he has three young children. Margaret also has a child of her own, Margaret Agnes Cullinan. Apparently in her teens she had gotten involved with a married man nearly twice her age, Philadelphia police officer John Wiegner. He is likely the father of Margaret’s child. In July, 1927, when Margaret was born, Wiegner was married. Either by divorce or death, Wiegner became unencumbered (except for three sons he already had), and he married Margaret and adopted their daughter in the early thirties. Margaret is an enigmatic figure so there is some speculation involved here. In 1930, she is single, working as a telephone operator and living with her brother, Cornelius and his family. Wiegner’s three sons are stashed over in Westmont, NJ with their uncle and aunt. Weigner himself is nowhere in sight, at least as far as official documents go.

Margaret shows up in the 1940 Census as an ordinary housewife. She and husband John Wiegner live at 5242 Larchwood Ave. in Philadelphia, PA. Young Margaret Agnes is now 12 years-old and completing sixth grade. Also in the house are the three sons of John by the previous wife. They are 16, 18 and 20. The oldest, Edward works as a “stock boy” in a grocery store. During the forties, the three sons all go to war, come home, marry and start their own families.

Birth Certificate for Margaret Cullinan, August 4, 1908. Have to wonder if police officer John Wiegner ever saw this.

Birth Certificate for Margaret Cullinan, August 4, 1908. Have to wonder if police officer John Wiegner ever saw this.

Wiegner must have retired from the Philadelphia Police. By 1950, he surely had at least 30 years service, and he and Margaret are living in Villas, NJ at the Jersey shore. November, 1951, John Wiegner dies, age 56. Statistically, retirement does not agree with law enforcement people, and a majority die within two years of retiring. Margaret is now 43 and single again. My aunt Florence’s memory of her aunt Margaret was that she didn’t get along with husband Wiegner. After he died, she says Margaret met a man she cared for (and who cared for her) and they lived happily ever after — or until September 1967 when Margaret dies, too young at age 59. I’ve never figured out who that man was.

Margaret never had any other children, only Margaret Agnes. That’s something else to wonder about, but Margaret Agnes seems to have had a good life — and she stayed around Cape May County, NJ, near her mother. She married Matthew John Gray after he came back from World War II. In 1950, they have three children, maybe more and live in Villas near mother Margaret. Matthew dies in August, 1978. Margaret Agnes dies in May 2004.

Next time I go through Villas, NJ, I’ll have a lot to think about.

So, Mom, in answer to your question, “What about my family?” this is what about your family. It’s hardly everything, but it’s a down payment. Thanks for asking!

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Sister Mary Loreto was Helen Love, the niece of Loretta Cullinan, who was killed by a motor vehicle at age 26. I believe Helen took the name Loreto as a memorial to her beloved aunt.

Sister Mary Loreto was Helen Love, the niece of Loretta Cullinan, who was killed by a motor vehicle at age 26. I believe Helen took the Religious name Loreto as a memorial to her beloved aunt Loretta.

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Posted by: Bill Tracy | May 27, 2019

Memorial Day 2019

Anthony Dixon, Lindenwold, NJ USA. A family grieves, and we do not forget our shared loss.

Anthony Dixon, Lindenwold, NJ USA. A family grieves, and we do not forget our shared loss.

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The youngest of five children, Anthony's mother, Jacquelyn Dixon keeps his memory alive.

Anthony was the youngest of five children, Anthony’s mother, Jacquelyn Dixon keeps his memory alive.

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