Meeting Maggie Donahue

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks
Week Four: What relative would you like most to meet?

Dear Aunt Maggie,

I am your great, great niece, Mary, writing to you from the future to tell you I’d really like to meet you. I am the daughter of your great niece, Marguerite Donahue Maloney, whose siblings all called her Maggie, too. She was born in 1929, so you missed ever knowing her by a year when you died in 1928. But you knew her Dad, John, your oldest and first nephew, who was your brother James’ oldest son.

I’ve only met you through family lore and the barest of documentation about your life. Here is my dad’s entry on our family tree regarding your family: 
Farm where the James Donahue family was raised
Mary Ryan came from Tipperary, Ireland with her husband, Thomas, and her daughter Margaret “Maggie” Mary in 1853 to Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York, from Ireland in 1853, possibly coming through Montreal, QP, Canada. Her son James was born in New York in October 1855. Mary and Thomas had been married in Emly, Tipperary, Ireland in 1850. Thomas passed away in 1856 in Plattsburgh, New York. In 1859, Mary took her children, James and Margaret, to Hudson, Wisconsin. From Hudson, she took the children to her brother's farm in Erin Prairie, Wisconsin. Mary 's family lived with James Ryan until he passed away. Her children, James and Margaret Donahue, inherited the farm of 120 acres. Later James and his wife, Ellen, bought a 40-acre farm adjoining the previously occupied James Ryan farm. This is where they raised their seven children.

James Ryan served in the Civil War as a private in Company A, 44th Wisconsin Infantry. He enlisted at Hudson, Wisconsin September 3, 1864 and mustered out July 2, 1865, with an honorable discharge at Nashville, Tennessee. His captain was the brave Captain Brown. He died August 26, 1886.*

Your family began with your parents’ marriage in Emly, Tipperary, Ireland on February 1, 1850. Although it was five years post the 1845 potato famine, the ravages of it were still being felt. The diseased potato crop that the Irish were dependent on, especially in that part of the country, caused sickness and mass starvation.

Even though the famine was over by 1853 many Irish tenant farmers lived in poverty, often unable to put food on the table because of the high rents on their small plots of land. Perhaps your parents found themselves in that position and decided to leave. After all, your birth had changed their status from merely a couple to a family.

It’s likely they left from a port in Liverpool, England if they came to Canada in 1853. My assumption is based on Irish Emigration and Immigration to North America, an article by David S. Ouimette and David E. Rencher which said: “The journey by ship across the Atlantic may have taken a number of irregular paths. People leaving the eastern coast of Ireland (ports of Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk, Waterford, and Belfast) often found it better to take passage to Liverpool, England where there were more vessels heading for North America. Whatever route was used, the ship passage would take anywhere from a month and a half to three months, depending on weather conditions and destination.” **

Maggie, I long to know the details of your migration. Did you hear any stories about it growing up? You were certainly too young to remember it yourself. If you lived in Tipperary, you and your parents would have had to travel to a port city. Dublin probably would have been the closest one. But how did you get there? The Ouimette and Rencher article mentioned, “Ireland's elaborate canal system may have been the vehicle for an ancestor’s migration [to a port city]. There were also stage lines and later railways connecting all the major cities. Ultimately, many would have walked.” Even though your parents were young in 1853—your mother, 33, and your father, 28—the toll that the poverty and a poor diet would have taken on their bodies makes walking seem like an impossibility. But I think having an infant with them would take it beyond impossibility.

The source where Dad got his information about your family came from History of the St. Croix Valley, Volume II by Augustus B. Easton, which was published in 1907. The source for Easton’s information was likely from community or family members in Erin Prairie, where you eventually settled. I know undocumented proof is not necessarily inaccurate, but it also may not be fully accurate. The clues Easton’s information offers has left me with more questions than answers. That’s why I’d like to meet you, Maggie. I want to know if you can answer the questions I have about you and your family.
Maggie's parents' marriage record
I found a marriage record in Emly, Ireland showing a Thomas Donohue and Catherine Ryan were married there on February 1, 1850. Your father’s name on our family tree has always been listed as Thomas O’Donogohue, so his name was off in that record. Your mother’s, too, but it’s possible her given name was Catherine Mary and that she went by her middle name. That was a common practice in many families, including my own mother’s. She was always called by her middle name, as were five of her other seven siblings. There was no other marriage recorded in Emly that day. I’m guessing Family Bibles and oral histories may have been the sources that Easton used to recount this information about your family.

In October 1855, when you’re only two-years old and still in New York, your brother, James, is born. I can’t find a birth record for him. A year later, your father dies. I can’t find his death certificate or a cause of death, and I can’t locate him in any cemetery in and around Plattsburgh.

In 1859, you, your brother and mother leave New York and travel to Hudson, Wisconsin, where you will live with your Uncle James Ryan—your mother’s brother. Was it always your parents plan to go to Wisconsin? Then why were they still in New York in 1855? And why did your mother stay there for three years after your father died? I have no good guesses about any of this. But I think when you left New York, you may have travelled west by train. The ironic thing about that, if you did, is that the rails you rolled into Wisconsin on were probably built by others from your homeland, who immigrated to America before you.

In 1860, I find you are indeed living with your 33-year old Uncle James, who is a Laborer and with an estate worth $65.00. Your mother, Mary, is now 40 and may be thinking just how far she is from Tipperary. She’s experienced a lot of loss in life. Her homeland and husband are two I know about. Did she share more with you?

You and your brother, James, are both in school, at ages seven and five. But, wait. Something jumps out at me from this 1860 census. It reports you and James were both born in New York. Every other census I ever find you in after that shows your birthplace as New York. I don’t find it unusual. A mistake? Maybe. A lie? It could be. It may have made an easier path to American citizenship for you.

I can’t locate the 1870 Federal census for you, but I find an 1875 Wisconsin farm census showing your Uncle James Ryan as head of household. Individual names of household members are not enumerated, but the census shows the household is made up of 2 males and 2 females. I conclude it’s you, your mother, brother and uncle, all still living together.

Sometime between 1860 and 1875 your uncle bought a farm, but I can’t find land records that pinpoint it more closely. It may have been after he served in the Civil War. Soldiers were given pensions and that may have been a source of income that helped him purchase his farm.

In 1880 you are individually enumerated in the census along with the rest of your family. At 26, you are teaching school. I wonder when you began. Did you teach in a one-room school? Did you go to the two-year Normal School in River Falls to become certified as a teacher? Your brother, James, at 24, is listed as head of household. Was your Uncle James in failing health or, suffering from a war injury? Your mother is now 60. This would be the last time I find you for 33 years.

The 1890 Federal census was lost in a fire. In 1900, I find James is married to Nell Clennan. They seven children. But neither you, your mother or uncle are anywhere to be found. I check St. Patrick’s Church cemetery records and find your Uncle James died in 1886 at age 59. Your mother died at 74, in 1894.
Maggie Donahue and James Gallagher
It’s not until 1913 that this newspaper article, written by Van Meter in the New Richmond News, reveals where you’ve been:

Miss Margaret Donahue left Thursday evening [February 13] for Crookston, Minnesota where she was married Monday at 7 a.m. to James E. Gallagher. The news of their intention was kept perfectly “mum” by Miss Donahue, not even her very best friends had an inkling that an affair of this kind was in progress and when the news was broken it created a big surprise.

The bride has made her home here for the greater portion of her life and owns a farm here, also has one at Swift County, Minnesota, where she taught school several years while looking after same.

The groom is now a prominent citizen of New Richmond, Wisconsin, and a retired farmer and reputed to be very well-to-do. The day of their marriage was rightly Cupid’s day and the little love god fairly rioted in the triumph—that he had scored and exalted over their friends. The race of time was carefully gone over and now the grandstand is filled with a cheering multitude, who extend best wishes to the happy couple. They left the same evening and various other points west on their honeymoon trip and upon their return will reside at New Richmond.

Maggie was a former school-marm, petite, a perfectionist, witty and jolly. A little lady crowding 60 as she marched to the altar in a small Catholic Church in Crookston, Minnesota, where she taught many years.

Oh, I am still so full of questions for you, Aunt Maggie. I understand that both you and your brother inherited your Uncle James’ farm. And then you bought your own that you worked while teaching in Crookston? What kind of farm was it—dairy, crops? I’m unable to locate land records for that, as well. Were the records in your name, or did they have to be in a man’s name?

What caused you to leave Erin Prairie to teach in Swift County? Did you have another love interest there? Or, did you intentionally wait until you were 60 to marry, because of your love for teaching, a profession that fired women when they married?

Were you ever required to sign a teacher’s contract, containing these rules, like this one from 1913:

1.     Don’t get married.

2.     Don’t keep company with men.

3.     Be home between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., unless attending a school function.

4.     Don’t loiter downtown in ice cream stores.

5.     Don’t leave town at nay tie without permission of the chairman of the board of trustees.

6.     Don’t smoke cigarettes.

7.     Don’t drink beer, wine or whiskey.

8.     Don’t ride in a carriage or auto with any man except a brother or father.

9.     Don’t dress in bright colors.

10. Don’t dye your hair.

11. Wear at least two petticoats.

12. Don’t wear dresses anymore than two inches above the ankles.

13. Keep the schoolroom clean and sweep classrooms daily. Scrub classroom floors at least once a week with hot water and soap. Clean blackboards once a day and start a fire at 7:00 a.m. so the schoolroom will by warm when the children arrive at 8:00 a.m.

14. Don’t use face powder, mascara or paint your lips.

15. Receive $35 per month for eight months.***

You were married to James Gallagher for 15 years, before dying at the age of 75 in 1928. James was two years your senior and died at 81 in 1930. Sadly, your brother, James, had died in 1923 at the age of 67, leaving you the lone survivor of your family of origin.

My Great Aunt Nellie Maloney Donahue, who married your nephew Walter Donahue, and knew you and James—both your brother and your husband—wrote this for our family tree: Jim Gallagher was called by the townsfolks of New Richmond the "rich ole Codger.”  He became richer when Maggie died and he inherited her two farms.  He was of stocky build and wore a beard an goatee.  The French phrase saying goes: He was "Over Zee Hill". He had been married once before and widowed. He had seven children from his first marriage.

Well, my dear great, great aunt, I have to tell you that the family is still mad about James getting your two farms. Since I know it’s unlikely we’ll meet on this plain, I will be patiently waiting to meet you on the next one.

With all my love and curiosity,


*   History of the St. Croix Valley, Volume II by Augustus B. Easton. Page 763-764
** The BYU Family Historian, Vol. 6 (Fall 2007) p. 20-30
*** Remembering Rural Schools of St. Croix County. (1991). River Falls, Wis.: The Committee, p.170.


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