Church Record Sunday: Sacred Solos for High Voice

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

Agnes Catherine Gaffney
Not long ago, my second cousin gave me a lovely songbook that had belonged to her late mother, Benita Jane (McCormick) Olson and before her, our mutual great grand aunt, Agnes Gaffney.
Titled Fischer’s Album of Sacred Solos for High Voice, it evidently was given to Agnes by her older sister, Lyle (Elizabeth) Gaffney, in 1895. Agnes would have been 23 at the time.  Perhaps that is her approximate age in the photo at right, part of a larger group portrait taken with her five sisters, Janie, Lyle, Maggie, Di, and Frances.

The book was published by J. Fischer & Bro., an American music publishing company established by brothers Joseph and Ignaz Fischer in 1864.  Originally based in Toledo, Ohio, the brothers moved the company to New York City eleven years later.  The company appears to have published mainly sacred and secular music for choral groups, with organ or piano accompaniment.

Aunt Agnes’ hymnal of solos for high voice.


Agnes’ book is quite large, measuring about 10″ x 14″.  Its 116 pages, beautifully edged in red, contain sacred music from some of the great composers, including Gounod, St. Saens, and Verdi.  It remains in good condition, though the corners have become dogeared and the cover has begun to fray.


Inside the book is a dedication to Agnes from her sister, Elizabeth, whose nickname was Lyle:

Agnes Katharine Gaffney
From Elizabeth
Fond du Lac, Wisc.
October 23, ’95


The first page, inside, is dedicated to Agnes by her sister Lyle.


This page shows the publication date of 1894, in
New York and Toledo, Ohio, by J. Fischer & Bro.

Born in Conneaut, Ohio, on April 6, 1872, Agnes Catherine Gaffney was the youngest surviving child in the family of of ten Gaffney children. She was said to be “as sweet as the day was long,” and her niece, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, wrote that she had the “voice of an angel.”  Her grand-niece (my mother), Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, also admired her beautiful singing voice, understandably so given that she could not carry a tune herself.
Vintage postcard of Saint Mary’s Church and School,
Conneaut, Ohio

Singing in her church choir was one of the things Agnes would have been encouraged to do as an educator and influential member of her community.  I can picture her, primly dressed, opening her book during Sunday Mass at Saint Mary’s Parish, which was right down the street from the Gaffney House. I can imagine her stepping forward for her solo, looking demurely down at her book and glancing up towards her family as she sang the Ave Maria in her soprano voice with all her heart.  Maybe her dulcet voice was partly the reason this hymn was a Gaffney/McGinnis family favorite.

Also in this series about Agnes Gaffney:  

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Family Recipe Friday: Aunt Di’s Millionaire Steak

Delia “Di” Gaffney
     (1864 – 1952)

Delia “Di” or “Deal” Gaffney.  This is part of 
a group portrait of the six Gaffney sisters.  
There seems to be an impish expression behind 
those innocent eyes, as if Di  had to stop whatever
 mischief she was up to to pose for this portrait.
Of the six Gaffney sisters of Conneaut, Ohio, Delia was the joker. There were several explanations for this.  
One story went that when Delia was a toddler, one of her sisters (no one would say who) was carrying her around in the field when she stumbled into a ditch and fell, dropping the baby. Delia’s back was injured, causing her to walk with a limp all her life.
The other story was that she was deaf in one ear, a possible result of childhood scarlet fever.
Due to one or both of these incidents, Delia, variously nicknamed “Di” and “Deal,” turned to humor as a way of deflecting attention from her physical challenges.   She loved playing practical jokes on her family and many of the townspeople of Conneaut. She told colorful stories and had a wicked sense of humor that kept people wondering what she would be up to next.  
Di was born at home in Conneaut on June 23, 1864.  She used to say she was born “during the dog days of summer.” She attended Conneaut High School as far as her freshman year.

For reasons unknown, she seems to be the only one of the sisters who never held a job outside home throughout her life.  One would think that as a single woman, she would have had to support herself.  She, did, however, contribute a significant amount to the household by cooking and cleaning while her sisters worked. She also looked after their mother, Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney, when Bridget became too old to care for herself.  

She followed the same pattern her sisters had, living first in Conneaut and then moving to Cleveland, where all the sisters bought a house on Rocky River Drive.

In October 1952, Di was diagnosed with uterine cancer.  It progressed rather quickly over the next month, and she entered Longview Hospital in Kingsville, Ohio, in mid-November.  She died there, two days after Thanksgiving.  She was 88 years old.

This cookbook, given to my great aunt Detty in
1921, made its way to my mother, Joan (Schiavon)
Huesca and then to me.  It is now in the possession
of my cousin, Suzanne, Benita’s granddaughter.


Di left behind a small memento for us to remember her.  It was a cookbook published by a women’s group from the Congregational Church of Conneaut. Aptly called Congregational Church Recipes, the hardcover book, published in 1917, measured about 6″ x 9″ inches and contained about 100 pages.  The aged-gray cover is simple with black writing. The inside first page has two inscriptions, both dedicated simply:


August 25, 1917
Deal –
With love and kisses
From Mary. 
I would love to know who “Mary” was.  She might have been Di’s eldest sister, Mary Jane Gaffney, or she could have been a friend.  
In 1921, Di gave the book to her niece, Benita “Detty” (McGinnis), as a wedding gift for her marriage to Phillip C. McCormick.  Her own dedication is as simple as the one made to her a mere four years earlier.  
To My dear

The cookbook itself contains advertisements from local businesses and recipes compiled by the women’s club of the church.  The recipes are simple and encourage thriftiness; some of the cakes are “eggless, sugarless, and butterless.”  Delia herself handwrote some of her favorite recipes on the back pages of the book, including the one below for “Millionaire Steak.” 
Wait – Millionaire Steak in a cookbook that encouraged thriftiness?  Maybe it is not so odd.  After all, as a Chicago millionaire once said to one of my ancestors, how do you think the rich get that way?

Millionaire Steak

1 ½ – 2 ½ lbs. sirloin steak, cut thick
1 cup carrots
1 cup celery
1 cup peas
1 can mushrooms
3 tbsp. butter
1 lg. tbsp. ketchup
3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Cook carrots, celery, peas, mushrooms, butter, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce together in a sauce pan for 20 minutes.  Pour vegetables and sauce over meat and bake in oven for ½ hour.  Serves 6.

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Workday Wednesday: A Woman of Independent Means

Elizabeth “Lyle” Gaffney

     (1862 – 1934)

Elizabeth “Lyle” Gaffney


This picture of Elizabeth “Lyle” Gaffney is part of a group photograph of the six Gaffney sisters of Conneaut, Ohio. Born on May 16, 1862, Lyle was the second of the ten children of John and Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney.
She was the daughter of hard-w0rking Irish immigrants who risked everything to come to America some years before. They had overcome their share of obstacles to establish themselves on the Ohio frontier, own a home, start a business, and support a large family. The children in turn, grew up helping their parents with the daily chores of running a large boarding house.  


Like her sisters, Lyle learned to sew at the feet of her mother, Bridget.  Early in life, she discovered she had a talent for designing and making hats. Her designs were so popular in Conneaut that she opened her own millinery shop. This was quite an accomplishment for a spinster, as an unmarried woman was called in those days.
Most women married and had children during this time, and having a job or a career was typically not viewed as an appropriate thing for a woman to do.  There were, however, some exceptions.  
Millinery work was a respected field for women, and 19th century society placed no obstacles on it as a career.  The primary clients of a millinery shop were women, after all.   A milliner was expected to know the latest fashions; often many shop owners traveled to New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and even Europe to stay abreast of the newest styles, colors, and fabrics.
Milliners were in effect entrepreneurs, and they were constantly on the lookout for inventory that would keep their customers well dressed and happy.  Their merchandise consisted of not only fine hats and bonnets but also accessories, such as handbags, gloves, fabric, small gifts, and jewelry. Many shops even carried selections of clothing.  Lyle’s dressmaking sisters, Mary Jane and Margaret Gaffney, may have even consigned their designs to her store.  With so many possibilities, it makes sense that the word “millinery” is derived from the Latin “mille,” or one thousand.
As with many trades, milliners learned their craft by apprenticing.  When Lyle was about 18, she went to live with Hubert and Genevra Hotchkis at 98 Main Street in Conneaut Village, just across the river from her own family home.  Hubert, 44, was a drugstore clerk, while Genevra, 33, was a clerk and a milliner.  The 1880 United States Federal Census indicates that they had no children of their own, but it does show that they had a young male farmworker, a male boarder, and five other young female apprentices besides Lyle living with them at the time.  Like Lyle, the young women were listed as servants.
Two of the apprentices happened to be Lyle’s maternal cousins, 20-year-old Annie Quinn and 17-year-old Mary Tinney. 

Lyle is listed on this census as Eliza, short of course for her given name, Elizabeth.
She seems to have done fairly well for herself, even moving out of the immediate area for t time.  There is an Elizabeth Gaffney, age 35,  listed in the 1900 Federal Census, living in the town of Westfield in New York State.  Westfield is about 60 miles northeast of Conneaut, so it is not too far out of the way to be implausible that this could be our Lyle.
The census goes on to note that Elizabeth Gaffney was born in Ohio and her parents are from Ireland.  She works as a milliner and is the head of a two-person household.  The other person living in the house is an 18-year-old woman named Jessie Maginnis, also from Ohio.  The only question mark is why Jessie is said to be Elizabeth’s sister, as there were no Gaffney sisters by that name.
Knowing the extended family tree, we find that there is a possible explanation. Lyle’s older sister, Mary Jane, married someone by the name of McGinnis – Thomas Eugene McGinnis, specifically. Thomas had a niece named Jessie McGinnis who was born in the same year as the Jessie Maginnis in the census and also was from Ohio.  If these two are who I believe them to be, then could Lyle have been apprenticing Jessie, her young niece-by-marriage?  Would it have been easier to refer to her as a sister when talking to the census taker than to explain the complicated relation?  I wonder.
It is hard to know how long Lyle lived in Westfield, as we do not have any information for the 20 year period between 1880 and 1900, census or otherwise.


Lyle eventually returned to Ohio, this time to Cleveland.  In 1910, at 45 years old, she and her cousin Mary Tinney rented rooms from William Hupertz, a tailor. Family lore says that she opened her own millinery shop sometime afterwards.  She became well known in the area for her elegant hats and counted a number of distinguished clients, among them Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher), who wore her hats; and the Henry Ford family, for whose children she designed baby bonnets. 


Elizabeth Gaffney, also known as Lyle, in center.
Is she surrounded by other milliners, or some of
her fun-loving customers?
Lyle moved to Chicago in the late 1920s, to help her sister, Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, who had been widowed in 1927.  Her spunk and sense of humor did wonders for my great-grandmother, who was quite distraught at the loss of her husband, Thomas.  During that period, Marshall Field Department Store hired Lyle as its chief milliner.
In about 1930, my mother, Joan Schiavon, came to live with her maternal grandmother Mary Jane, during the Great Depression. Mary Jane and Lyle spoiled my mother, making her beautiful bonnets and dresses.  Together they even made her an elaborate ermine fur coat.  From family reports, the coat was unusual, to say the least, in the middle of the austere Depression.

Like many in the Gaffney family, Lyle suffered from heart disease. In failing health, she retired and returned to the family home in Cleveland, Ohio, with her sisters, Agnes and Delia. Her condition worsened, and she died on October 3, 1934, at the family home on 17813 Woodbury Avenue in Cleveland, ohio, of angina, or coronary heart disease.  
Lyle made a big impression on my mother, who was 6  years old when her great-aunt died.  She regarded Lyle as her favorite aunt and adored her such that she gave me my middle name, Elizabeth, after her.  Based on the love my mother had for this sweet lady, I’m glad she did.
Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully



Sibling Saturday: Margaret Ann Gaffney

Margaret Ann “Maggie” Gaffney

     (1860 – 1949)

Margaret Ann “Maggie” Gaffney

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been somewhat frustrated in my inability to uncover more about my great-grandmother’s five sisters, the Gaffneys of Conneaut, Ohio.

Two things I do know about these loving and much beloved sisters is that they were high spirited and fiercely independent, something that few official records could reveal.

Take Margaret “Maggie” Gaffney.  Barely two years younger than her sister Mary Jane, Maggie decided to follow in her path and become a dressmaker. They and all the Gaffney girls had learned to sew at their mother’s feet.  Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney, their mother, probably had learned in the same way from her own mother back in Ireland, as was the custom of the day.

Maggie was born April 15, 1860, in Conneaut, only three days after the start of the Civil War.  Her birth must have been a happy moment for her parents, who like most people were just learning the details of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and wondering what the coming months would bring.  We first meet her as a two-month-old infant in the 1860 Census.  It is mid-June and she is living with her parents and two year old sister Mary Jane.  It seems she was named for her maternal grandmother, Margaret (Kelly) Quinn and her maternal aunt, Ann (Quinn) Tinney, also Conneaut residents.

In the summer of 1880, Maggie and her sister Elizabeth “Lyle” were living away from home, presumably as young apprentices in the needle arts. Maggie was 20 years old.  She lived in the home of local merchant James Judson, his wife, Lucy, and their two young children.  She worked for them as a servant, but she was probably apprenticing as a dressmaker at this point, if not for the Judsons, for someone else.  The Judson home, at 134 State Street, was only nine blocks from the Gaffney House at 401 Mill Street in Conneaut.  Lyle, 18,  also was living a few blocks from home, apprenticing as a milliner.

Maggie never married.  She seems to have lived a fairly quiet life, devoted to her family, and she returned home when her apprenticeship concluded. Most of the other children, however, gradually left home. Two of them left to marry and start families, and the others moved to Cleveland, about 80 minutes away.

Maggie’s father, John Gaffney, died in 1892 of dropsy of the heart (or heart failure as we know it today).  From then on, she was the sole breadwinner of the household, living at the Mill Street house with her mother Bridget and younger sister, Delia.

Sometime after her mother’s death of chronic bronchitis in 1914, Maggie and Delia moved to Cleveland, to live with their sisters Lyle and Agnes. Maggie moved back home to Conneaut just before she died jon February 26, 1949, just two months before her 89th birthday, of cardiac decompression and kidney disease.

Maggie’s sweet face, with its expressive eyes and lips pursed into a quiet, confident smile, gives one the impression that she was a calm, understanding, and caring young lady.  She also has a slightly inquisitive look about her.  With these qualities, she must have been a good listener to whom people might have told many a story or asked for advice.

Her niece, who was my great-aunt Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, seemed to think so.  She described her Aunt Maggie in her scrapbook as “the wise, the tactful, the wonderful friend!”


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Tuesday’s Tip: Share Those Stories!


For as many stories as my relatives told about “the (Gaffney) Aunts” of Conneaut, Ohio, it seemed that I could find only a fraction of information about them in books and historic resources.


The Gaffney Sisters:  Clockwise, beginning from the back row, left:  Elizabeth,
Delia, Margaret, Agnes, and Mary Jane.  Taken in the back yard of the “Aunts'”
home on Rocky River Drive, Cleveland, Ohio, 1932.  

The information available to me about my great-grandmother, Mary Jane, was more plentiful, mostly because it came directly from her children and grandchildren and was repeated often. But absent a few mentions in the federal censuses and scant other resources, I know little about the other sisters:  Margaret, Elizabeth, Frances, Delia, and Agnes Gaffney.

Maybe even sadder is that I have forgotten some of those stories I heard long ago.  I should have written them down sooner.

Stories are like languages.  You have to practice them over and over again to keep them strong and vibrant and alive.  If you don’t share them, the stories fade away into the recesses of your memory, depriving others of their richness and legacy. The details fade with the years until no one remembers what happened or why or to whom.

And eventually, like some unused language, they die out quietly.

Stories are especially important to remember people who may not have had children. They ensure that their memories will live on through their extended families, whether they may have been nieces and nephews or cousins who loved them and were loved by them.

Someone dear to me once said they saw no reason for keeping sentimental memorabilia because they had no children to whom they could give these things.  They could not imagine that anyone would care about them after they died.  For this reason, the person decided to spare anyone the trouble of disposing of their memories – letters, photographs, and other hallmarks of their life – by shredding all those things.

This broke my heart.

To the contrary, I believe that with very few exceptions in this life, whether today or in the future, we all will matter to someone.

Admittedly, the rush of seeing how far back we can trace our family trees is a big motivator for this “genealogy thing” that we enjoy.  But isn’t the greater reason for many of us to learn more about the people behind the names and the dates? Don’t we want to know why they made the choices that formed their lives, and how those choices affected our own experiences and identities? Don’t we want to know if they are like us, in some way?

For the most part, raw data cannot answer those questions. That is where the stories come in and are so important to help us understand our personal and even wider histories.

I have combed countless sources to learn more about my great-aunts, the Gaffney Sisters. In the coming days, you will learn more about some and less about others. If only they were here to tell their own stories or to chime in, “how right you were” or even “I wasn’t that way at all.”  Instead, all I can do is share what I do have about them from my perspective and hope it does them justice.

I remember my mother and my great-aunt telling me how full of fire and drive and passion these five women were.  All but one of them spinsters, they doted on their nieces and nephews with hugs and kisses and more than a few mouth-watering cakes and cookies. They were all very close and enjoyed nothing more than a good Irish story and a hearty laugh.

One of them (I don’t remember who) was “swapped out” from her infant basket for an Native American baby for a short while by its playful mother while my great-grandmother, Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney was hanging her laundry on the clothesline. I even know (all too well) that the sisters had what the family called the “Gaffney legs” – wide calves and flat feet, likely due to their happily well-fed forms. These infamous legs would become the dreaded standard comparison for many a female Gaffney descendant.

Maybe I’m just being sentimental, but knowing these few things just doesn’t seem like enough.

I wish I knew and remembered more about these delightful women than just a couple of paragraphs on a page.  I am grateful for this, as there are many more people about whom I know nothing beyond their name, sometimes a partial one at that.

It is hard to imagine that any of them ever wanted to be forgotten.  They meant something to someone in their day, and they mean something to me and surely to others now.  I owe who I am to them, in some unknown way.  How I wish they could have known that they mattered to people who had not even been born yet.

I cannot stress this enough.  There is a purpose for every life on this planet, whether or not it is apparent today.  Every person has a story, and every life deserves to be honored and remembered. Someone really will care and want  need to know the whos and hows and whys of our lives.

No matter how much or how little you may know about the people who were near and dear to you, don’t waste another minute.  Keep those memories alive.  Write them down, in a letter, on a blog, or in a scrapbook. Record them digitally.   Recount them at the dinner table. Tell them to your young captive audience while you’re driving in the car.  And then tell them again. And again.

Share those stories!

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully 


Sibling Saturday: The Gaffney Sisters of Conneaut, Ohio

Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis
     (1858 – 1940)
Margaret “Maggie” Gaffney

     (1860 – 1949)

Elizabeth “Lyle” Gaffney

     (1862 – 1934)

Delia “Di” Gaffney
     (1864 – 1952)
Frances “Frank” (Gaffney) Cherry
     (1870 – 1953)
Agnes Gaffney
     (1872 – 1952)
Clara Gaffney
     (1877 – 1877) (died in infancy)


Scrapbook page shows (at left) a group photograph Cabinet Card of the
Gaffney sisters, taken by Lou Naef Studios, Conneaut, Ohio; center top,
photograph of  Thomas “Tommy” Gaffney; at right, Cabinet Card
photograph of John “Jack” Gaffney,  by Robinson & Roe Studios,
71 & 79 Clark Street, Chicago and New York.

In the scrapbook of her life, my great aunt, Benita “Detty” (McGinnis) McCormick, paid homage to her mother, Mary Jane McGinnis and Mary Jane’s five sisters and two brothers Thomas and John. This week, we’ll take a brief look at her mother’s younger sisters, Elizabeth, Margaret, Frances, Delia, and Agnes Gaffney.  

Not included in these descriptions were two babies, Edward and Clara Gaffney, both of whom died in infancy.  According to my mother’s recollections, they were always fondly included by their brothers and sisters in conversations about their family.

Aunt Detty begins her description, above, of her mother and “the aunts,” as they were collectively known to the family:

Where is this world could a girl have found six such wonderful women to watch over and guide her as my mother (Bottom Left in photo) and her five delightful sisters – two dressmakers, one milliner, a school-teacher, one lady, one clown and all of these marvelous cooks!

Elizabeth Gaffney (Aunt Lyle)

The milliner and woman 
          of the world.

Aunt Margaret

Maggie, the wise, the tactful, the wonderful friend!



Ladylike Frances

Aunt Frank Cherry


Aunt Delia

“Di” of cookie fame.  The practical joker of the town.

Agnes, the Lamb.  

With a beautiful soprano voice and a keen mind.  One of Ohio’s leading teachers of Americanization and music in the Cleveland public schools.

Mary Jane McGinnis



Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Thankful Thursday: A Daughter Remembers


Thomas Eugene McGinnis
     (1855 – 1927)
Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis

     (1858 – 1940)

Benita Elizabeth (McGinnis) McCormick
     (1889 – 1984)

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, or “Aunt Detty,” as she was known to our family, kept a scrapbook of her life and memories.  She began it in the early 1970s and added to it from time to time over the years.  On this page, one of the earliest from her album, she attached a photograph of her parents, Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis.  They were known to all simply as Tom and Janie.

Scrapbook page from Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s album, written by her at age 82 in 1972, San Mateo, California 

Aunt Detty writes here of her father, Tom:

My father was one of the aforesaid young men working for the N.P.R.R. [Nickel Plate Railroad] in the early days of that road. The story was that as he passed the open dining room window of the Gaffney House to register for a room, he looked up, saw mother and fell madly in love.  When he registered my Aunt Margaret who was at the desk, observed, “You are carrying the biggest lunch pail I have ever seen in my life.”

“It is?” laughed my father, “I guess it’s true.  But I’ve just seen the girl I want to fill it for me – she’s at the window at the back of the hour ironing!”

By the healthy look of the bridegroom in this picture, it would appear that somebody kept his lunchpail pretty well packed. Wouldn’t you say?  Of course, in a family boasting four daughters, somebody was usually busy filling lunchpails for hunger men in the sunny old kitchen those days.

The only illness I can recall in my father’s life was his last.  He was an unusually athletic, healthy man, with the most happy and genial disposition I have ever known and just about the most popular.  I loved him very much and often feel him near me.  A good father is a great blessing.

On the same page, she also remembers her mother, Janie:

My mother was a clever fashion designer, never using a pattern – simply held a paper up to her subject and cut to suit the figure before her.

She made the dress she is wearing in this photo.  It was from satin and beautifully draped, as you may see.  Her hat was made by her sister Elizabeth (Aunt Lyle to us children), who was as clever with hats as my mother was with gowns.

The parasol my mother is carrying was brown silk with a golden brown bone handle.  I recall admiring it.  Sometimes she would let me hold it.  I remember hazily that many years later I glimpsed it wrapped in tissue in an old trunk in our attic.  But it was then beginning to split, as taffeta will in time.

My mother was aged 26 when this picture was taken.  Which makes her birthday in 1858 (December 2).  She died in 1940, at the age of 82 years old (my present age in 1972).  
Some women become morose in old age, but my mother was alert, interested in people and events to the very last – As I write I keep saying, “Thank you, God, for having given us such wonderful parents!”

Aunt Detty notes that her parents’ portrait was of “the newlyweds in Cl. O (Cleveland, Ohio), where they spent their honeymoon.”

However, after comparing the above photo with the engagement portraits they had made before, Tom looks a bit older and considerably stockier than he appeared in his original photograph, no matter how well Janie may have packed his lunch pail.

Janie McGinnis (the former Mary Jane Gaffney) also appears a bit older here.  Was this taken in 1884 or sometime later, perhaps during a later trip to Cleveland?  Although the cabinet card style photograph shows that they were in Cleveland wearing their wedding clothes, I would love to know why and when they were there.  Did they return to Cleveland after honeymooning there, maybe for an anniversary or other special occasion?

If only their pictures could tell us!

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Wedding Wednesday: Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis


Thomas Eugene McGinnis
     (1855 – 1927)
Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis

     (1858 – 1940)

The photograph below comes from a page from the scrapbook of my great-aunt, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, in honor of her parents, Thomas McGinnis and Mary Jane Gaffney.   They were married on May 19, 1884, in Conneaut, Ohio.  According to Benita, this photograph was taken on their honeymoon in Cleveland, Ohio.

Thomas Eugene and Mary Jane (Gaffney)
McGinnis, Cleveland, Ohio.  Could this photograph
have been taken sometime after their 1884 marriage?


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully
Are you a member of the Gaffney, McGinnis, or McCormick, families? Share your memories and comments below.


Sentimental Sunday: A Token of Their Love

Thomas Eugene McGinnis
     (1855 – 1927)
Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis

     (1858 – 1940)

Face of Mary Jane McGinnis’ love
token. What did the “M” stand for?
Reverse side of love token shows it is a
Seated Liberty quarter dated 1854.

Good things come in small packages.

Some years ago, my second cousin, Benita Jane (McCormick) Olson, gave me a small brooch that had belonged to my great-grandmother, Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis.  The brooch had been made from an old coin that was planed on one side, where someone had etched the letter “M” and bordered it with an embellishment of double linked curves.  On the reverse, they had soldered a hinge, through which they had threaded a gold nail that tucked under a C-shaped catch.

Benita Jane (McCormick) Olson
Circa 1960

My late cousin, who I knew as Jane and was named for her mother and grandmotherBenita McGinnis and Mary Jane Gaffney – had received the brooch from her mother.  All she knew about it was that it had belonged to her grandmother.

Neither of us had ever seen anything like it before, and our questions were many.  Who made it, and why? Did the “M” stand for Mary Jane’s name? Did  it stand for “Mother”? Had it been a gift from one of her four children?  Or did it stand for her married name, McGinnis, and did it come from her husband, Tom?  

As it turns out, the brooches such as this one were quite popular in the 1800s.  They were called “love tokens.”

Although love tokens can take many forms and date back to Roman times, the practice of engraving a symbol of one’s love began in Wales in the 15th century, when young men carved intricate designs on spoons as tokens of their love and affection for their intended.  

The tradition expanded to include coins in 17th century England and reached the height of their popularity in the United States during the Civil War.  Sailors also made them for their sweethearts as a promise of their return. Until the early 20th century, all were made by hand.  The practice continued through World War I, when soldiers made them for their mothers and girlfriends, sometimes by hand, but mostly with machinery.

Love tokens were often substituted for engagement rings, understandably so as a young lady would likely wear the brooch near her heart.  The coins either had holes punched through the top to wear on a chain, or they had hinges attached with thin bent nails to wear as a brooch. Typically, they bore the initial of the beloved, but they also could be quite ornate.  Some love tokens were engraved with names, messages or symbols and other embellishments.  

Most love tokens were made from Seated Liberty dimes or nickels.  The dimes, in particular, were the easiest to plane and engrave because of the softness of the silver.  The dimes and nickels were the most popular denominations to use, as they were less costly than quarters and dollars.  Still, these factors could not diminish the love shared by the giver and the recipient of such a heartfelt gift.

Mary Jane Gaffney
Engagement portrait, about 1885
Conneaut, Ohio

So who gave our Mary Jane her love token, and why?  The more expensive denomination of the Seated Liberty quarter suggests that it might have been more affordable for a young man to give his beloved than as a gift from a boy or girl for their mother.  The year under the hinge is 1854; could that be of any significance?  It would be less likely for one of the children to possess a coin from that date. 

Could 1854 have alluded to Thomas McGinnis’ year of birth?  I have been unable to find his birth certificate. His death certificate notes he was born in 1855.  Various census records put his birth between 1855 and 1858, so it is hard to tell for sure.  Then again, maybe the date held no particular significance at all.

Thomas McGinnis,
Engagement portrait, about 1855
Conneaut, Ohio

Thomas had run away to sea as a boy, so he could have learned how to carve love tokens as a sailor.  If in fact he was the giver, as I suspect, the “M” could have stood for Mary Jane.  The romantic in me thinks it also could have stood for McGinnis, which would become Mary Jane’s new last name – and in a single initial would have signified both of them coming together as one.  So maybe it was a symbol of their engagement.

I treasure this lovely and very sentimental brooch.  It is something both of my great-grandparents touched lovingly.  I marvel that something so small has endured through four generations – from Mary Jane to her daughter, Benita, to her granddaughter, Jane, and now to me. It symbolizes so much love between husband and wife, mother and child, and beyond.  I am very grateful to Jane for her special gift, and I look forward to passing it on to my own daughter, Erin, one day.

I wear Mary Jane’s brooch on special occasions, Mother’s Day being one of them.  I will wear it today, in honor of her marriage to Thomas on this day, May 19th, some 128 years ago.  I also will wear it tomorrow to remember my dear cousin Jane Olson, on her birthday.

As small packages go, this is the best kind: the gift that keeps on giving.


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Those Places Thursday: Gaffney House, Conneaut, Ohio

John Patrick “Jeff” Gaffney
    (1826 – 1892)
Bridget “Bridey” (Quinn) Gaffney
     (1843 – 1914)
Thomas Eugene McGinnis
     (1855 – 1927)
Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis
     (1858 – 1940)
Benita Elizabeth (McGinnis) McCormick
     (1889 – 1984)

Page from Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook


When my great-aunt, Benita “Detty” McCormick reached the “young” age of 92, she created a scrapbook of her life.  She devoted the first pages of her scrapbook to her parents and grandparents, Thomas Eugene and Mary Jane McGinnis; and John Patrick and Bridget Gaffney.


One of those pages contained a photograph (below) of the Gaffney House in Conneaut, Ashtabula County, Ohio.  Located at 58 Mill Street, it was also known to some as the “Conneaut House.” The house belonged to Mary Jane’s own parents, John Francis “Jeff” and Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney.


John and Bridget were Irish potato famine immigrants to America.  Both were from County Roscommon– he from Drumbrick and she from Boyle.  Did they know each other before crossing the Atlantic? It’s hard to say, but the towns are about five miles apart, so it is possible.  It appears, though, that they married in America.


John and Bridget lived for a time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Mary Jane, their eldest child, was born and baptized in 1858.  They arrived in Conneaut sometime between 1858 and the spring of 1860, when their second daughter, Margaret, was born.


The United States 1860 Census indicates that John was a “peddler” who owned property in Conneaut valued at $300. The equivalent today would be over $8,000, an impressive amount of money for that era.  Aunt Detty believed he had been a traveling linen salesman, but it seems plausible that he would have sold other textiles as well, such as cotton.  The demand for cotton was far greater than for linen at this time, due to shortages of flax (needed to make linen) and the rising popularity of cotton as a less expensive and more versatile material.  The demand increased dramatically with the advent of the Civil War and the need for cotton to make soldier’s uniforms and medical supplies.  These factors must have contributed a decent income to the Gaffney family and made it possible for John and Bridget to afford such a large home as the Gaffney House.


The house apparently was big enough to house John and Bridget’s growing family – they would have 10 children in all – plus additional rooms to rent to the young men who worked on the nearby Nickel Plate Railroad.


The entry in my Aunt Detty’s scrapbook (shown above), describes the Gaffney House:


The Gaffney House, famous Conneaut, Ohio landmark patronized especially by Nickle (sic) Plate railroad men.  About 1880 the hotel was the home of more than 30 unmarried young men under the age of 27 years. + The cross on the addition indicates the window to the “Priest’s Room” built by my grandfather John Francis Gaffney to accommodate the circuit priest who came when he could to minister to the growing Irish-American population.

John and Bridget had no idea that one of those young men would become more than just a “renter” to them in the years to come.



Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully