Thankful Thursday: The End of the Breadcrumb Trail

Thomas Charles Gaffney (1874 – 1937)
Cora Alice (Terrill) Gaffney (1879 – 1951)
Agnes Evelyn (Gaffney) Johnson (1902 – 1977)
Ernest F.W. Johnson (1900 – 1958)

Last of a four part series


Agnes Evelyn Gaffney

Unlike her parents Thomas and Cora (Terrill) Gaffney, Agnes Evelyn (Gaffney) Johnson seems to have enjoyed a loving and stable marriage with her husband Ernest but remained childless as far as the records show.

I  cannot find anyone by that her name in her mother’s family but suspect she was named after her father’s sister, Agnes Gaffney. The photographs we saw yesterday of Agnes and her parents on cousin Benita McGinnis‘ engagement day suggest they were close enough to gather together for celebrations and special occasions.  Add to this that before 1940, Agnes and Ernest moved into a house on Mill Street in Conneaut, Ohio, just two doors down from her paternal aunt, Frances (Gaffney) Cherry, and we can conclude that she got along well with her Gaffney relatives. 

The 1950s brought sadness to Agnes’ life as she began losing several members of her family.   Her mother Cora died in Monroe in 1951 at age 72, and several of the Gaffney aunts died in the years that followed.  Ernest Johnson died the day after Thanksgiving on November 28, 1958.  Agnes would have been 56 at the time, barely two years younger than her husband.

By then, many of the younger Gaffneys had already left Conneaut for bigger cities. With so many of them gone, it is no surprise that Agnes eventually left, too. Some of the Gaffney cousins had moved south to the warmer climes of Florida, and she might have wanted to move there to be near them in her old age.

The bread crumb trail of records is broken abruptly for nearly two decades between the time of Ernest’s passing and Agnes’ own death at age 75.  It would be nice to know what her life was like during that time.

The Social Security Death Index does give us a clue.  It indicates that she received her Social Security Number 1951 through the Railroad Board.  She had worked as an office clerk for a railroad company back in 1940 and most likely retired between the late 1950s or early 1960s before moving to Florida. 

Until this point (except for during her early childhood when she moved back and forth between several cities with her mother),  Agnes lived in Conneaut most of her life. The move to such a different and distant area for a small town girl was a major change for her, especially as a widow. If she had the affable Gaffney personality, though, she should have had no problems making new friends.

Agnes Evelyn (Gaffney) Johnson
– from the scrapbook of Benita (McGinnis)
McCormick, year unknown

The Social Security Death Index also notes that Agnes’ last residence was in Fort Lauderdale, the same city in which she died on September 4, 1977.  

Agnes’ body was returned to Conneaut, where she was buried next to her husband in Glenwood Cemetery.

People are not one-dimensional creatures, and everyone has a story.  Some people’s stories are harder to find than others. My mother once said she hoped she would not be remembered as “just another name on a family tree, hanging precariously from some obscure branch” of the family tree.  I think most of us would agree.  All of us deserve to be remembered for more than just our names.


The story of Tommy Gaffney started out as a scant trail of breadcrumbs as I tried to learn what was behind this practical joker and happy-g0-lucky man so beloved by his family. The more crumbs I found, the more they seemed to follow a trail of the twists and turns that all of us experience in our lives.  They led us to discover new people and revealed aspects of his life we might never have expected or imagined.

As we reach the end of this trail of bread crumbs of the life of the colorful Tommy that led us to learn more about him and discover his wife and daughter, I wish I could meet them, if only to say how glad and grateful I am to have learned about them.  

There might be more waiting around the bend to discover about the Gaffney family, but other ancestors patiently await their turn.  For now, we shall say farewell to this wonderful family until we return to visit another day.

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
                                                                          – Traditional Irish Blessing


In case you missed them:

Part Two:   What the Records Can and Can’t Tell Us
Part Three:  Wishful Wednesday:  Happy and Not So Happy Endings

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Wishful Wednesday: Happy and Not So Happy Endings

Thomas Charles Gaffney (1874 – 1937)
Cora Alice (Terrill) Gaffney (1879 – 1951)
Agnes Evelyn (Gaffney) Johnson (1902 – 1977)

Third of a four part series


I have copies of two photographs of my grand aunt and grand uncle, Benita (McGinnis) and Phillip C. McCormick on their engagement day in 1921. The pictures, taken in the back yard of their soon-to-be home, were in Aunt Detty’s scrapbook


Clockwise, from left to right:  Thomas Charles Gaffney, his daughter Agnes, his wife Cora, Benita McGinnis, Phillip McCormick, Alice McGinnis, unidentified girl,
Mary Jane (Gaffney) and Thomas McGinnis.  1435 Midway Plaisance, Chicago, Illinois, June 1921.

Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil are the handsome couple in the center of the photo in the back row.  Her scrapbook page identifies her parents, Thomas Eugene and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, seated in front, and Agnes Gaffney, second from the left. Agnes would be about 19 here. 

I also recognize my maternal grandmother, Alice McGinnis, second from the right; and my great-grand uncle Thomas “Tommy” Gaffney on the far left, next to his daughter.  I do not recognize the little girl next to my grandmother but surmise she could be a cousin.  I am also guessing that the woman with her hair piled high may be Cora (Terrill) Gaffney, Tommy’s wife.  I base this on the fact that they had been married two years earlier and on the affectionate way Agnes’ arms are draped around her and Tommy.

The next photo was taken in better focus than the first, making it easier to enlarge and see clearly the faces of the family on that happy day.  Little did any of them know that Benita and Phil’s marriage would last for 70 years.

Clockwise, from left to right:  Thomas Charles and Cora (Terrill) Gaffney, Phillip McCormick, Benita and Alice McGinnis; middle row:  Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis; front row, Agnes E. Gaffney and  unidentified girl.  1435 Midway Plaisance, Chicago, Illinois, June 1921.

If you compare the photos, you will notice that everyone is looking at the camera in the first one.  In the second photo, Tommy stands some distance from his wife.  This time he does not look at the camera but seems distracted.  Though some may deny that this could be a foreshadowing of things to come, one thing is clear: Unlike Benita and Phillip McCormick, Cora and Tom Gaffney were no longer together by the time the next census taker came to the door. 

These photos depict Agnes as a tall and slender beauty, her fashionably short bob and tilted head giving her a look of confidence that must have attracted many a young man.  She has her father’s face; maybe she also had his sense of humor.
About six years after this picture was taken, Agnes married Ernest F. W. Johnson of nearby Ashtabula, and they moved into the house next door to hers at 331 Sandusky in Conneaut.  By 1930, with the Great Depression in full swing, both were fortunate enough to have jobs, Ernest as a machinist and Agnes as an office clerk for a steam engine railroad.  (Had Tommy helped her find that job?) They had no children, but there was a third person living with them:  Cora Gaffney, now age 51.
The situation gets even more interesting here, albeit confusing. Cora’s marital status in the 1930 Census was “married.” Tommy, on the other hand, was living with his sisters again, this time in Cleveland.  His own marital status on the census sheet is hard to read, but it is not “married.”  The letter looks like an “S,” indicating “single,” but it is looped in such a way that it also could stand for “D,” as in “divorced.”  


Whichever he considered as his marital status, why did Cora say she was married? Was she still trying to escape the stigmas she had endured as the child of divorce, as an unwed mother some years later, and now as a divorced woman herself? I am inclined to think that “separated” might be the closest answer here, as it validates the status of both sides.  That status was not an option in the census, which might explain the difference in  Tommy and Cora’s interpretations.

Societal attitudes had begun to change somewhat in 1930s America, yet it still must have been a rough time to live a life that fell outside the norm. Even today, the dissolution of serious relationships, especially marriages, almost always inflicts painful wounds and deep scars. I cannot help but think that Cora, Tommy, and Agnes must have suffered their share of indignity and sorrow.

By 1935, Cora left her daughter’s home and moved back to Monroe, where decades earlier she had raised her sisters. This time she rented a room from a man about ten years her senior named Haltie Eaton.  Meanwhile, Tommy, who like his siblings was afflicted with a hardening of the arteries, died of a stroke in a Lakewood, Ohio, hospital, on June 2, 1937. He was 63 years old.  


In case you missed them:
Part One:     Mystery Monday:  More than Meets the Eye

Part Two:  What the Records Can and Can’t Tell Us
Part Four:   Thankful Thursday:  The End of the Breadcrumb Trail


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

What the Records Can and Can’t Tell Us

Thomas Charles Gaffney (1874 – 1937)
Cora Alice (Terrill) Gaffney (1879 – 1951)
Agnes Evelyn (Gaffney) Johnson (1902 – 1977)

Second of a four part series


When we examine the lives of our ancestors, we depend on records to give us the facts about them and shed some light on why things turned out the way they did. Unless we are lucky enough to find some narrative or know some story about a person, we can be left with more questions than answers as we seek to know him or her better. This is one reason it is so important to record and preserve stories about the people we love.

Thomas Charles Gaffney in a photo strip.
Conneaut, Ohio, circa 1910 – 1920.

When I first saw this photo strip of my great-grand uncle Thomas Charles Gaffney, I was intrigued.  It was in a scrapbook that belonged to my grand aunt, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.  Her jovial comment, “Madcap Lover!” next to her uncle’s pictures and the silly expressions on his face in the various poses suggested that this was a man with a story. Determined to learn at least some new detail about my great-grand uncle Thomas Gaffney, I have been combing and quite a few other tried and true genealogy sources, including local newspapers, for some small mention about our mystery man. 

You would think it fairly easy to find something beyond the small bread crumb census records that showed him living between Conneaut and Cleveland, Ohio.  After a few red herrings and false starts, persistence paid off.  (If you are able to view, you will be able to see some of the records mentioned here.) t turns out that there had been a big detail left out of the meager accounts about Tommy I had heard from my relatives.  
He had a daughter.

Sometime around 1900, Tommy, as everyone knew him, met Cora Alice Terrill of nearby Monroe   Township. In that year, 21-year-old Cora lived in a rented house where she looked after her two younger sisters, ages 17 and 15.  Though one might surmise that the sisters were orphans, that was not the case at all.  


In fact, their parents, Nancy (Goss) and Nathaniel Ellery Terrill, had divorced over a decade earlier.  Each of them had remarried and started new families, in 1891 and 1896, respectively.  Nathaniel, his new wife Mary and their two children lived on a farm in Monroe.  Nancy, her second husband Joseph Frick, and their two sons lived on a farm in Ashtabula.


One wonders whether Nancy (Goss) Terrill, now Nancy Frick, had much of a relationship with her daughters if she did not have them living at home in that era. In 1900, the United States Census asked women how many children they had given birth to and how many were surviving.  Nancy apparently told the census taker that she had a total of two children, both of whom were still living. Given that she and her husband, farmer Joseph E. Frick, were listed in the census with their sons Wilson and Walter, Nancy’s answer begs more awkward questions:  Why did she exclude her three daughters from the count, and how did that attitude affect them and Cora in particular?

And who was awarded custody of Cora and her sisters after the divorce? The records may give us clues to the who, the what, the when and the where, but they stop short there, ruthlessly leaving us to wonder about the hows and the whys behind the clues.  And because we care about these people and want to understand who they were, we keep seeking answers. 

We have no idea what Nancy and Nathaniel were like or why their marriage failed. I am unable to find the divorce papers but know that Cora was not more than 11 years old when the marriage ended; her youngest sister would have been no older than 5.  

Neither do we know how the parents viewed bringing their children with them into a new marriage.  Did they shuffle the children back and forth during that time until they reached the turbulent teen years? What were the circumstances behind the girls living on their own? Were Nancy and Nathaniel afraid their adolescent daughters would be too much for their stepparents to handle? Maybe evidence will turn up someday that will paint a rosier picture of this family.

Divorce takes a toll on all members of a family, even today.  In an era when divorce bore an added stigma for the separating spouses and their children, the Terrill sisters’ independent living situation – with or without family support – must have been challenging and emotionally difficult, to say the least. Considering Cora’s young and impressionable age and the heavy responsibility she shouldered, it is easy to imagine that she could have felt overwhelmed and uncertain of her future.  She probably was so busy being a breadwinner and mother to her sisters that she had precious little time for herself.

So when she met Tommy Gaffney, maybe she was flattered by his interest and attentions and charmed by his good looks and sense of humor. Maybe she saw in him a way out of her situation, or as a brief distraction from her burdens.  Maybe she was starved for love and was happy to find someone who cared about her.

And Tommy?  Photos of him and his relatives’ good-natured comments make him out to be a funny romantic but utterly charming man with a good heart.  When he met Cora, did he see a damsel in distress he could rescue? More simply, did the two of them genuinely fall in love?  These are questions that records can’t always answer.

There is one record, however, that tells us that Cora Terrill gave birth to a daughter, Agnes Evelyn Gaffney, on May 19, 1902, in Pierpont. The entry in the Ohio Births and Christenings Index of 1800 – 1962 listed Thomas A. Gaffney of Conneaut, Ohio, as the father.  

It also marked Agnes’ birth with the letter “I,” labeling her as an illegitimate child, the  sobering term in those days for a child born out of wedlock.

For the benefit of our younger audience who may be shaking their heads at this label right now, let us interrupt this narrative for the following 21st century editorial opinion:   No matter how or when they are born, babies do not break the law; and there is no such thing as an illegitimate child.  Every child is legitimate.  Period.  

Unfortunately, society a century (and even half a century) ago did not see it that way, and this label caused many innocent children to suffer social stigmas as a consequence of their parents’ choices or even circumstances beyond their control. Moreover, their mothers  could be thought of as less than respectable women. So Agnes E. Gaffney made her entrance into the world with two strikes already against her, especially in a small community where tongues wagged, stories were embellished, and reputations were all-important.

Life was hard for a single mother and her baby. City directory listings and census records of the time indicate that Cora raised Agnes by herself and that they lived in at least three different towns over several years.  It would be nice to know that Tommy accepted the child as his own and offered financial and paternal support during this time, but we cannot say for sure.  

As for family, it looks like Cora stayed in touch with both her parents during this time. A newspaper clipping of the time mentions  that “little Agnes Gaffney” visited some of the Fricks in Pierpont in 1904.  Other records and a later photograph we will see shortly allude to a congenial relationship with the Gaffneys, on Tommy’s side.  This would make sense, as Agnes’ given name  suggests she was named after her spinster aunt Agnes Gaffney, Tommy’s sister and a well respected lady in her own right.


Cora lost her mother and her sister Nora within two months during early 1906. After their deaths, she moved with Agnes to her hometown in Cumberland County, Tennessee, where her mother’s relatives lived. We find mother and daughter in the 1910 U.S. Census, living with relatives Albert and Lora Norrod. The still-single Cora was working as a cook by then.
By contrast, the Conneaut City Directory of the same year reveals Tommy still lived at home in Conneaut with his mother, Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney and sisters Elizabeth, Delia, and Margaret. It would seem from all intents and purposes that he and Cora had broken up.


Cora and Agnes eventually returned to Ohio, and the next two censuses (1920 and 1930) reveal that Cora and Tommy  married in 1919.  The 1920 U.S. Census is the only evidence that the the family of three finally was living together, in a rented home at 327 Sandusky Street in Conneaut.  By now, Agnes was 17 years old.  Things seemed to be looking up for the family.


Sadly, the marriage was not to last.

In case you missed it:

Part One:     Mystery Monday:  More than Meets the Eye
Part Three:  Wishful Wednesday:  Happy and Not So Happy Endings
Part Four:    Thankful Thursday:  The End of the Breadcrumb Trail

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Mystery Monday: More than Meets the Eye

Thomas Charles Gaffney (1874 – 1937)


First of a four part series

Thomas Charles Gaffney,
circa 1910 – 1920
As we conclude our study of the family of the ten children of Bridget (Quinn) and John Francis Gaffney, there seem to be more questions than answers about their son, Thomas.


I had planned to write a brief post about Tommy, as he was known.  Born on July 27, 1874, in  Conneaut, Ohio, he was said to be the family bachelor and lovable comedian, always up to harmless pranks and spoiled by his older brother and six sisters.
According to my grand-aunt Aunt Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, Tommy lived with his sisters in Conneaut and later in Cleveland.  For most of his 63 years, he worked for the New York, Saint Louis & Chicago (also known as the Nickel Plate) Railroad variously as a brakeman, switchman, and yard man.
Just the mention of Tommy at our family gatherings could elicit laughter. My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, Aunt Benita, who I called “Aunt Detty,” and her daughter, Jane (McCormick) Olson, used to tell funny stories about him, but those were so long ago that I have forgotten them. They are all gone now, and it is too late to ask them the many questions I have.  Aunt Detty probably knew him best.  My mother and Jane’s recollections would have been from stories they heard from relatives and their own childhood recollections, because their grand-uncle Tommy died before either of them turned 10 years old.
Aunt Detty had a couple of photographs of him in her family scrapbook.  The photo above is taken from a of a strip of five photos, in which Tommy appears in jaunty and playful poses.  Judging from his face and the club collar shirt and the hats he was wearing, it looks like the photos were taken between 1910 and 1920, when he would have been in his late 30s or early 40s.



The caption, in Aunt Detty’s hand, is written diagonally next to the photo strip.  It reads, “Mother’s youngest brother, Tommy Gaffney.  Madcap lover!”
These small details were about all I had to go on as I prepared to write about him. I wondered what more there was to say about this man who seemed to bring a smile to people’s faces.  He must have done more than just that in his six decades of living. About all I knew when I started was that he was a charming bachelor who had been loved by his parents, brothers, and sisters and that as a railroader, he seemed to have had fairly uneventful life.

Sure enough, as we find out in life, there is more to most people than meets the eye.  And so it was with Thomas Charles Gaffney, as we shall soon see.

In case you missed them:


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Sibling Saturday: The Gaffney Brothers

Edward Gaffney  (1871 – 1871)
John Patrick “Jack” Gaffney (1866 – 1911)
Elizabeth (Kane) Gaffney (Btw.1874-78 – 1930-40)
Nancy (Gaffney) Zoldak (1902 – 1990)

John Patrick Gaffney
If you have been following this blog for the past several weeks, you have met the six Gaffney sisters of Conneaut, Ohio:  Janie, Maggie, Lyle, Di, Frank, and Agnes.  They were known for their Irish wit, humor, and stories.  They also were favorite subjects around our family table.
But they had brothers, too – three of them: John Patrick, Thomas Charles, and Edward.  And today we’ll begin looking at them, starting with Edward and John.
Edward, born January 22, 1871, died the same year he was born.  He may have died either right after he was born or in the months afterward.  He is buried at Conneaut City Cemetery with his mother, Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney, the gravestone reading simply “Edward.” 


John Patrick Gaffney, as the eldest son, inherited the Gaffney House (1) from his late father, John Francis Gaffney.   The Biographical History of Northeastern Ohio published  this biography about him in 1893:


John Gaffney, proprietor of the Conneaut House, Conneaut, Ohio, was born in Ashtabula county, this State, July 11, 1866, son of John F. and Bridget Gaffney.

His parents came from the old country to America previous to their marriage.  The father was a traveling man for many years – traveling until the Conneaut House was built, after which he was its proprietor until the time of his death, February 28, 1892, at the age of sixty-six years.  He had been a resident of Conneaut since before the war.  

MrGaffney was a devout Catholic, as is also his wife.  The names of their children are as follows:  JanieMargaretElizabethDeliaJohnFrankieAgnes and Thomas.  All are at home and unmarried except Janie, who is the wife of Thomas E. McGinnis, a railroad engineer and a resident of Conneaut.  Mr. and Mrs. McGinnis have two children:  Benita and Eugene

Of John F. Gaffney’s brothers and sisters we record that one brother, James, resides in Erie, Pennsylvania; that Elizabeth is the wife of Patrick Cozens, of Conneaut; that Patrick, another brother, is deceased; and that Mary is the wife of Peter McGordy, Chicago.  MrsGaffney had a brother and sister who came to Conneaut, Terrence Quinn, who died here; and MrsEdward Tinney, still of this place.  She has two brothers, Thomas and John, farmers in Iowa. and one brother, Henry, in St. Louis.

John Gaffney’s first employment was that of yard clerk at the Nickel Plate, where he remained for two years.  After this he clerked in his uncle’s store in Erie some time.  Then he went on the road as a traveling salesman, being in the employ of S. Peterson & Co., a wholesale grocery and flour house of Chicago, and continued on the road until after the death of his father, since which time he has conducted the hotel.

The Conneaut House is situated on the west side of Mill street, south of the New York, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railroad, being conveniently located for railroad men, who are its chief patrons.  MrGaffney, having spent some years on the road, is acquainted with the wants of the traveling public, and he knows how to cater them in a courteous and pleasing manner.  Indeed, he is eminently fitted for the position he occupies.

He affiliates with the Democratic party, and is a member of the Catholic Church.  (1)

Sometime between 1893 and 1900, John Patrick Gaffney, also known as “Jack” Gaffney, left Conneaut for Chicago.  Whether or not he sold the family hotel, known variously as the “Gaffney House” and the “Conneaut House,” we do not know.
The United States 1900 Census in Chicago, Illinois, shows him living with his sister, Mary Jane, her husband, Thomas McGinnis, and their four children at 215 Monroe Avenue, in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.  By now, he was employed as a clerk for the Chicago City Hall and was known for his precision and his “most legible hand.” (2)
How Jack met Elizabeth Kane, a young schoolteacher from Cleveland, Ohio, I do not know, but I wonder whether his sisters had anything to do with it.  Agnes and Maggie Gaffney lived in Cleveland at the turn of the century, where they taught elementary school.  He might have met Elizabeth during his visits with his sisters there.
John Patrick Gaffney and daughter Nancy.
Chicago, Illinois, about 1903.
Jack and Elizabeth were married on September 9, 1902, in Chicago.  Their only daughter, Nancy, was born three years later, on November 2, 1905.   By 1910, they were renting a nice three bedroom, three story brick flat at at 747 East 65th Street, in Chicago’s seventh ward.   The young family seemed to enjoy a blissful life, and Jack must have felt blessed to have a beautiful young wife, a bright, cherubic daughter, and a good civil service job.
Sadly, the one thing Jack was not blessed with was good health.  For several years he was afflicted with heart disease, a condition that plagued his father and his siblings.
His premature death at age 43 on March 4, 1911, was reported the next day in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

JOHN B. GAFFNEY, for many years a clerk in the employ of the city, died at his residence, 747 East Sixty-fifth Street, of heart disease yesterday.  Gaffney was a clerk in the city collector’s office for over eight years.  He is survived by the widow and one daughter, 5 years old.

Elizabeth (Kane) Gaffney
Elizabeth and little Nancy buried Jack at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Chicago and moved to Cleveland, where they presumably could live near their extended family.  Elizabeth, who had not worked since she married Jack, resumed her previous job as a school teacher so she could support herself and her daughter. 
Nancy went on to become a teacher like her mother, graduating at age 21 from Ohio State University in 1927.  The two, who were very close, lived together and taught at various Cleveland public schools.  It is easy to imagine them comparing notes over dinner every evening, as they shared the stories of their days as teachers in the Cleveland public schools. 
The last time we find any historic mention of Elizabeth Gaffney is in the 1930 Census.  Either she remarried, or perhaps she died sometime during the next decade, because Nancy surfaces as a lodger with a family on Taylor Street, without her mother.  
And whatever happened to Nancy?  Well, she did live happily ever after, but her story will have to wait for another day.



(1)  The Gaffney House was also referred to as the Conneaut House or the Conneaut Hotel.

(2)  Transcribed from Biographical History of Northeastern Ohio; published in Chicago: Lewis Publ. Co., 1893.

(e)  Benita McCormick, personal scrapbook, San Mateo, California, about 1982.


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Fantastic Friday: Hotel LaRose Mystery Solved

A  month ago, I wrote a story here on Many Branches, One Tree about a mystery pencil sketch I had found of the Hotel LaRose in Santa Rosa, California.  The 9″ x 12″ sheet of white paper was protected by a thin sheet of onion paper and apparently had kept residence inside a century-old church hymnal that my cousin, Suzanne (Olson) Wieland, had given me earlier this year.


Hotel LaRose, Santa Rosa, California.
Ruth Robertson; pencil sketch, undated.
Once I determined that the hotel was in Santa Rosa, California and not Conneaut, Ohio, home of the original owner of the hymnal, my great-grand aunt Agnes Gaffney, I began to doubt that there was a connection between her and Ruth Robertson, the artist who signed the sketch.
I was unable to determine whether Ms. Robertson lived locally in Northern California or was still alive.  At one point, some of the staff of the Hotel LaRose tried to help me determine the age of the photograph, based on photos of their renovations through the years.  We guessed that the sketch, which depicted a number of window awnings, could have been made during or after a 1985 renovation in which awnings were added to the   historic hotel.


I mused that either the hotel had special meaning for Suzanne’s parents, the late Jane (McCormick) and Eldon “Ole” Olson (who had retired to Santa Rosa), or that Jane had received it as a gift and placed it in the hymnal for safekeeping.   Our curiosities piqued, my husband and I planned to drive north to Santa Rosa this summer to try to solve our questions.
The mystery of the Hotel LaRose sketch even caught the fancy of my regular readers, who have made it the third most popular post on this blog.
Well, folks, the mystery has been solved.
Suzanne contacted me yesterday by e-mail after reading the post.  “Ruth Robertson is my dad’s last surviving sister – cousin C’s mother, from Minnesota,” she wrote.  “She sketched the hotel when she visited once. There is no relation between the drawing and my grandmother (Benita McGinnis McCormick) or the hymnal…That illustration was in (there) to protect and flatten it.”  She had forgotten to remove the sketch when she gave me the hymnal.
It was delightful to receive this news.  I am thrilled to have answers and especially to know that Ruth Robertson, though not related to me, is my cousin’s paternal aunt – and that she is still alive.  I’m so grateful to Suzanne for solving the nagging questions about this lovely drawing and am happy to return it to her, so its rightful owner can treasure it.

Sometimes, the answer can be in our own backyard.

To read the original post about the Hotel LaRose sketch, please click here.


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Treasure Chest Thursday: The Walk Home

John Terrence Cherry  (1907 – 1956)

The third of four children born to James W. and Frances (Gaffney) Cherry, John Terrence Cherry seems to have been named after his maternal grandfather (John Gaffney) and maternal great-grandfather (Terrence Quinn).

John Terrence Cherry


He was born between 1906 and 1907 in Conneaut, Ohio, and from family accounts, was a handsome and charming man who inherited the creative gene. He became a graphic artist and watercolorist.  He also was an art professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he lived with his maiden aunts, Lyle, Delia, Agnes, and Margaret Gaffney. Toward the end of his life, he moved back home to Conneaut with his mother, Frances (Gaffney) Cherry, where he lived until his death in 1956 at age 49.
My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, remembered him with fondness.  He was a regular visitor to the Schiavon home in Chicago, Illinois, and their summer cottage at Big Blue Lake, Michigan.
From all accounts, everyone loved him, though he never married. My godmother, Angelina (Ciliberto) Schiavon, once told me a story of his wicked sense of humor. She and her husband, my Uncle Tom Schiavon, were visiting the Schiavon to the Cherry home in Conneaut.  John offered to paint a portrait of Angie and invited her to his studio in the attic.  
As he worked, he looked skeptically from Aunt Angie to the picture.  “You’re too sweet to paint,” he said.  “You need to look at little meaner!”  As Aunt Angie laughed, he gave her a cigarette (though she didn’t smoke).  “Pretend you just shot someone and take a drag on that cigarette,” he suggested.  My aunt did her best to oblige.
Although John didn’t own a gun, he painted one into the picture.  Aunt Angie thought he must not have been satisfied with the result, because she never got to keep the painting. 
I have only seen two of John Cherry’s watercolors, and neither is a portrait. One belonged to my second cousin and was a scene of the view from the Cherry home on Mill Street in Conneaut, done in blues and browns.


The Walk Home, Conneaut, Ohio
Watercolor, John Cherry, date unknown.
My mother gave me the other watercolor many years ago. Shown above, it measures about 16″ x 20″ and depicts a procession of sorts by the Nickel Plate Railroad (NKP) workers trudging home through the snowy woods on a mid-winter’s day.  Many of these workers probably rented rooms from John’s maternal grandparents, John Francis and Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney, who built and ran the large Gaffney House, also on Mill Street.  
I imagine that this picture was special to John not only because of his grandparents’ home but because his own father, James W. Cherry, was an NKP railroad engineer.  It is special to me because it soothes me with a lasting and treasured connection to a loving family, my family. It hangs in my living room, hinting of stories yet to be discovered and beckoning me to a place from my family’s past I have never known but dream of visiting some day.  
For this, John Cherry, I will always be grateful to you.
Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Wishful Wednesday: Frances (Gaffney) Cherry

Frances (Gaffney) Cherry  (1868 – 1953)

I wish I knew more about my great-grand aunt Frances (Gaffney) Cherry.

When I look at this picture of her, taken from a larger portrait with her five sisters, I see a dreamy young woman with faraway eyes and perfectly coiffed hair.  I can’t tell whether she is happy or sad.  She looks as though she is wishing she were somewhere else, yet something else about her expression – maybe her lightly pursed lips – says she will keep that yearning – to herself.

Whether or this is what she was really thinking, the fact is that she was a small town girl who remained in Conneaut, Ohio all her life.


Frances A. (Gaffney) Cherry
Frances was born in that northeastern railroad town during the “dog days” of summer, when the heat and humidity were at their worst. Her mother, Bridget Quinn, must have had a difficult childbirth, because the family was so worried about her health that no one thought to record Frances’ date of birth until some time much later.  For that reason, the family’s best guess was that this middle child (the sixth of ten children) entered the world on September 15, 1868.
Most of the censuses show that Frances “kept house.”  I think I remember my mother telling me that she was a good seamstress like her sisters.  The 1900 United States Census  indicates that she married James W. Cherry, a railroad engineer on the Nickel Plate line originally from Cumberland, West Virginia.  This would have been in about 1893, when she was 25 years old.  
While we don’t know how Frances and Jim met, we could venture a guess that it might have been courtesy of her parents’ boarding house.  John and Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney had built the Gaffney House, at 301 Mill Street in Conneaut, some years earlier.  Their principal boarders were the young men who worked the railroad and needed a place to stay.  Frances’ older sister, Mary Jane, had met her husband, Thomas McGinnis, when he came to rent a room a few years earlier, so it would not seem surprising if Frances and Jim met this way, too.
Kathleen (left) and
James Cherry, Junior,
approx. ages 2 and 7.
Portrait by Lou Naef
Studios, Conneaut.


The year after their marriage, Frances and Jim Cherry welcomed their first child, James, just before Thanksgiving.  Three more children followed:  Kathleen in 1897, John Terrence in 1907, and Thomas Charles in 1913.

James Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a railroad flagman.  He married Helen Crannell and moved to Florida. Kathleen married Herbert Nelson and moved to New Mexico.   John Cherry stayed fairly close to home, eventually moving to Cleveland to teach art at Case Western Reserve University.  Thomas, born with a form of tuberculosis that affected his lymph nodes, died in 1922 when he was only nine years old.


Not only did Frances live in the same town her entire life, but it appears that she may never moved from the street where she was born at all.  She started out at the family home on 301 Mill Street and seems to have moved to 397 Mill Street after her marriage to Jim.  Several of the census records from 1870 through 1940 show number changes on most of the Mill Street addresses, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the two family homes. 
Home believed to be that of James and Frances Cherry,
Conneaut, Ohio.  From the scrapbook of their niece,
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.
As far as I know, the only place she traveled outside of Conneaut wast was to visit some of her sisters (Maggie, Delia, Agnes, and Lyle), who shared a home in Cleveland, or to Big Blue Lake, Michigan, where my maternal grandparents, Alice (McGinnis) and Ralph Schiavon, had a beachside cottage.
Widowed in 1939, Frances lived for another 14 years, outliving all of her brothers and sisters.  It seems that it was only when she became too old and ill to care for herself that she finally left her beloved Mill Street home.  She didn’t go far – only four blocks away – to the Hakola Rest Home on Main Street.  She died there at age 84 of congestive heart failure on April 13, 1953 and was buried in the Conneaut City Cemetery, a block further way, alongside her husband and family.
Other than her important roles as a wife and mother, Frances seems to have kept a low profile.  I have searched for the slightest mention of her in countless newspapers and records, without success.
The Gaffney family had nicknames for most of its members, and Frances was no exception.  Her nickname, “Frank,” does not quite mesh with her genteel picture or my grand aunt Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook description of her as “ladylike Frances.”  Could she have been a tomboy when she was young?  Her dreamily mysterious face will never tell.  


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Workday Wednesday: Agnes Gaffney: Teacher and Model of Virtue

Agnes Catherine Gaffney (1872 – 1952)
Part Three of Three

Agnes Catherine Gaffney was one of four students in the graduating class of 1890 from Conneaut High School in 1890.  According to the 1940 United States Federal Census, she went on to complete three years of college, making her the highest educated member of her immediate family and the only one to have gone beyond high school.


Agnes Catherine Gaffney
From a group photo with her sisters at their home
in Cleveland, Ohio.  It was likely taken in the

She taught at various schools in Conneaut, Cleveland, and Ashtabula, including the Station Street School in Ashtabula and Collinwood High School in Cleveland.  

In those days as now, Agnes would have had to sign a contract upon her employment, agreeing to perform her duties faithfully and diligently. Her duties included not only teaching but also janitorial duties. She would have had to start the fire on winter mornings before her students arrived and sweep and scrub the floors and wipe down the desks and chalkboards at the end of the day.  

She also had to abide by a high standard of conduct in her personal and professional life. As a model of virtue to her pupils, she was expected to avoid anything that might give the slightest hint of scandal.  This meant that she could not be alone with a man unless he was her father or brother. Further, she could not marry during her teaching career.  She could not smoke, drink, or even dye her hair.  She was expected to be home by eight at night.  And home could not be just any place.  Her teachers’ pay would have been meager, making it difficult to afford her own home.  If she did not reside with her own family or in a teacherage – a dwelling next to or part of a one room schoolhouse, she would have rented a room from a respected local family.  As a result, she lived in several places during her career, seemingly according to where the jobs were. 
These rules were not unusual in nineteenth and early twentieth century America.  In fact,  to see a typical teacher’s contract and rules in 1905 for teachers in Ames, Iowa, another midwestern town, click here.

However, with so many regulations, it is understandable that many women did not teach for more than about five years.
Agnes, though, taught for most of her life and never married.  She retired sometime before 1940.  By then she was 67 and shared a home in Cleveland, Ohio, with her sisters Maggie, Di; and a nephew, John Cherry.  They occupied their days with reading, baking, and visiting friends and relatives; and they spent their summers with the extended family at the cottage of my maternal grandparents, Ralph and Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon at Big Blue Lake, Michigan.
As with several of her sisters, Agnes suffered from obesity and its consequences.  She developed arthritis in her later years and suffered further as she watched her close-knit family succumb to heart disease and various forms of cancer.  She, Maggie, and Di seem to have moved back to the family home at 397 Mill Street in Conneaut in the late 1940s, perhaps because of their failing health.  Frances (Gaffney) Cherry, who had been widowed some time before, still lived there, as did her son, John Cherry.  John Gaffney (another of the Gaffney siblings) had died before 1920, but his daughter, Nancy, was in her 40s by then and also lived in Conneaut.
Maggie, who had suffered from kidney and heart disease, died in 1949. The following year, Agnes was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  It must have seemed like her world was caving in when her sister Delia developed uterine cancer shortly afterward. Still, the sisters were as strong in spirit as they had been close their life long. Despite the gravity of their condition, they helped one another as best they could, together with their older sister Frances “Frank,” who was suffering from heart failure.  According to my mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, they never lost their sense of humor and love of life through it all.
In the spring of 1952, Agnes entered Conneaut’s Brown Memorial Hospital.  When she died there on April 4, 1952, her nephew, John Cherry, noted that she was only two days away from her 80th birthday.  

Delia and Frances would follow her within the next 12 months.  

Also in this series about Agnes Gaffney:

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Mystery Monday: Hotel LaRose

Agnes Catherine Gaffney (1872 – 1952)
Jane (McCormick) Olson (1927 – 2011)
Part Two of Three


Hotel LaRose, Santa Rosa, Califormia.
Pencil drawing by Ruth Robertson.  Date unknown.
In yesterday’s post, we looked at a book that belonged to my great-grand aunt, Agnes Catherine Gaffney. Agnes, blessed with a beautiful soprano voice, would have sung from this beautiful hymnal, Fischer’s Album of Sacred Solos for High Voice, at Catholic Masses, in her hometown of Conneaut, Ohio.  

This century-old book has made its way down four generations since Agnes used it in the mid-1890s. It came to me recently from my second cousin Suzanne Olson Wieland, who inherited it from her late mother, Jane (McCormick) Olson.

Inside was a long sheet of thin onion paper between the second and third pages, ostensibly protecting a 9″ x 12″ sheet of white paper with the pencil sketch shown above.  The drawing is not dated, and there is nothing on the reverse. It has two small pieces of scotch tape on the back bottom corners, as if it had been taped to a picture mat and framed.

The drawing depicts a three-story stone building, called the Hotel LaRose, flanked by two large evergreen trees and a tall palm tree in front.  There is no other writing except for the words “Restaurant & Lounge” on the front of the awning on the lower right hand corner.  

At first glance, I guessed it to be an early sketch by my late great-aunt, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, a well-known local artist. I wondered whether it had some significance to her, or to Aunt Agnes.  But I also wanted to know:  what was it doing in her hymnal? 
Aunt Agnes’ hymnal.


Then I put on my glasses – a must these days if I really want to see things as they are! – and looked at the sketch more closely. It turns out the sketch was not signed by Benita, but by Ruth Robertson, who as far as I know is not a relation. 

And there was another thing. Palm trees do not grow in Ohio. The weather is too cold for them. The Hotel LaRose had to be from somewhere else. But where?

I went online and searched for “Hotel LaRose.”  The first result revealed a Hotel La Rose in Santa Rosa, California, at the heart of its historic Railroad Square.  When I looked at the hotel’s website, I found a photograph that was nearly identical to Ruth Roberton’s pencil drawing.


The website went on to note that this lovely hotel was built in 1907, a year after the Great San Francisco Earthquake.  It is listed as a historic hotel with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was restored in 1985. 

An earlier photograph of the hotel, taken in the mid-20th century, shows that unlike the drawing, none of the windows had any awnings. This begs the question as to whether they were there in the early days or were added after the 1985 renovation.  The answer could help date the picture and even give us a clue about the artist herself.  Google searches did not reveal an artist named Ruth Robertson, much less anyone by that name who lived in Santa Rosa.


Jane Olson and her husband, Eldon “Ole,” retired to Santa Rosa in the mid-1980s.  Did they obtain the sketch while living there, maybe from Ruth Robertson herself?  Given their Santa Rosa residence, this seems like the most plausible explanation.


My guess is that there was no connection between the drawing of the Hotel LaRose to Agnes’ hymnal or even to Agnes herself, for that matter.  More likely, the large hymnal happened to be a safe place to store the drawing all these years.  
What meaning did it have for Jane?  She did not keep things frivolously unless they had some value or special significance.  Did she and Ole stay overnight at the Hotel LaRose?  Or was this a gift from a friend, a fellow retiree, or even Ruth Robertson?  

If you have any thoughts, let me know.  Otherwise, a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to the north bay might be in order.  I think I know a good place to stay.

Also in this series about Agnes Gaffney:


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully