Mystery Monday: Is this Lizzie Gaffney?


Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Gaffney
          (1884 – 1960)

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)


“My cousin poses,” Benita wrote under this photograph, taken in western Ireland in 1913.  Could this be Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” 
Gaffney? Compared with the photo below, there seems to be a strong  resemblance, but it is hard to say for sure.

 

There are a couple of  unidentified “mystery” photographs in my great-aunt Detty’s (Benita) scrapbook from her 1913 trip to Europe.  The above picture of the young woman on the horse and cart is one of them.
 
Could she be Mary Elizabeth Gaffney, Aunt Detty’s cousin once-removed? If so, this would  mean they were fellow travelers in Europe.
 
I never met Mary Elizabeth.  Still, I have a rather odd tie to and a soft spot for Cousin Lizzie, as the Gaffneys and McGinnises knew her, through one of those stories parents tell their children to get a point across.  In my case, my mother used to caution my sister and me not to pick up or carry our younger sisters around, lest we drop and injure them.  According to her, another child (a young neighbor or cousin) had  been playing with baby Lizzie Gaffney in their arms when they dropped her, injuring her hip. As a result, Lizzie never walked without a cane.  

Interestingly enough, a story from another side of the family attributes Lizzie’s hip injury to a fall from a high chair. But I never knew of that theory, and my mother’s admonition remained with me through the births of my three children.  I remember thinking about Lizzie’s unfortunate accident and took great care to keep other children from picking them up for fear the same fate could happen to them.   
 
Lizzie was the second of four children born to James and Alice (Carlow) Gaffney of Erie, Pennsylvania.  In addition to her disability, she had a childhood that few would envy.  An older brother, James Jr., was stillborn. Her mother Alice, long ill with tuberculosis, died in April 1891, a mere three months after giving birth to her youngest child, May.  Baby May would die that summer.  
 
With Alice’s death, James, an independent grocer and beer bottler with no relatives living nearby, was left alone to raise his two surviving children, Lizzie, then 7, and Alice, 3.  Wanting his daughters to have a mother, he remarried within the year, this time to a woman named Susanne Hurley.   
 
Sadly, tragedy struck again a mere four years later.  This time, James, who had been trying to cool off in his rocking chair one hot July night, drifted off to sleep and fell backwards off the porch, dying from a blow to the head.  
 
Whether Susanne could not afford to raise the children on her own after that or did not wish to raise another woman’s children, we will never know. What we do know is that although the two sisters were split up and sent to live with various relatives for the remainder of their childhood, they remained close throughout their lives.
The 1910 United States Census found Lizzie living with her paternal Gaffney cousins in Chicago.  These were Mary Jane (Gaffney) and Thomas McGinnis and their four children:  Benita, Eugene, John, and Alice McGinnis.  Lizzie, then 24 years old, was listed as a “roomer” and was not employed. 
Although there seem to be no travel records for Lizzie, this does not mean they are nonexistent. Considering that in 1913 she was 27 years old, she would have been a suitable, mature travel companion for the younger Benita, who had graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and wanted to visit Europe.  It also would have been a wonderful opportunity for both cousins to meet their Gaffney relatives in Dublin and County Roscommon. Furthermore, her traveling there with Benita (along with Catherine Cronican, Benita’s friend) would have given Mary Jane and Thomas peace of mind in knowing Benita would be safe and traveling in a group.  It would not surprise me at all if my great-grandparents helped buy Lizzie’s passage to Europe.  
Unfortunately, I do not know much more about Lizzie.  As far as I know, she never had a job, maybe because of physical limitations.  My second cousin Jane (McCormick) Olson (Benita’s daughter), remembered Lizzie as a lady with a ready laugh despite her disability and a frequent dinner guest in the McCormick household.
Like her younger sister Alice, Lizzie never married. Alice became a secretary and later worked for the federal government in Washington, D.C. until her death there in April, 1959.  Lizzie must have missed her sister deeply.  She survived her by only 11 months, dying in Chicago on March 16, 1960.  She is buried at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Chicago.

 

Mary Elizabeth Gaffney in fur collar coat in the
foreground, with her first cousin,  Mary Jane
(Gaffney) McGinnis and two other unidentified
cousins.  Possibly taken in Chicago, Illinois,
the 1920s.   Photo courtesy of Ginny Eakin.
Of course, after all this speculation, it could well be that the cousin in the picture at top is not Lizzie Gaffney at all but someone with the same family features.  But who was she, then?

So, dear readers, now I ask your help.  Take out your magnifying glasses and judge for yourself.  Is Lizzie in both these photographs, or do you see a difference?  If Benita’s cousin in the top picture is not Lizzie and you know this family, can you help identify her?
 
Don’t you just love a mystery?

 

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Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

 

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