Following the Trail of the Oldest Living Irishwoman

I happened to spot this article today in Irish Central:

It's not as if I don't have plenty of work to do, but how could I resist the urge to peek into her past? The article provided plenty of details -- her name is Margaret (McNamara) Kelly, she was born in 1902 in Scarriff, Co. Clare, Ireland, and supposedly came to America in 1918. She then married in 1925 to an Englishman named Frederick Kelly. And incidentally, she had a sister named Nellie. Plenty to get started with.

I jumped on the Ellis Island site, and though I could find several Margaret McNamara's of an appropriate age from Scarriff, none came in 1918 as she said. The one that looked to be the best fit came in 1922, so four years off. Could it be her? I decided to check for Margaret in the 1930 census (on, and sure enough, I found her with her husband Frederick Kelly, whom the record indicated she had married in 1925. That same document also noted that she had arrived in America in 1922, so the one I had spotted earlier actually was her.


The rest of the record reveals that her mother -- back in Co. Clare -- was named Ellen, and that Margaret was going to her sister, Mrs. John Desmond. A scribbled remark notes that John Desmond was with the Medical Division (apparently of Ellis Island).

Searching the 1920 census for a Mrs. John Desmond, I found Nellie Desmond, born in Ireland circa 1897. Her entry indicated that she had come to New York in 1915, so obviously she had married sometime between 1915 and 1920. I hopped over to one of my favorite search aids, (in this case to New York City marriage indexes), and quickly pulled up John Desmond's 1917 marriage to -- yes, Nellie McNamara. So this was indeed Margaret's sister. While I was there, I also looked up Margaret's 1925 marriage and found that she tied the knot in Manhattan on 7 September 1925.

Returning to the Ellis Island site, I easily found Ellen (those with Irish roots know that Nellie is a popular nickname for Ellen) McNamara arriving in 1915. Her record gave her father's name as Thomas and said that she was being received in New York by her sister, Bridget, who worked at Ellis Island. In fact, Nellie/Ellen's final destination was given as Ellis Island -- something I've never seen in years of working with these records. Both Margaret's and Nellie's arrival records also mentioned that their parents lived in a place that was hard to make out, but looked something like Clonisker. A little googling suggested this was Clonusker.

Armed with all these fresh details -- parents named Thomas and Ellen, sisters named Nellie/Ellen and Bridget, and a place of origin called Clonusker, Scarriff, I was able to find the whole family -- including now 108-year-old Margaret -- in the 1911 census that the Irish government recently put online (thank you, Irish Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sport!).

This search was an impulsive one triggered by a chance reading of an article, but thanks to the wonderful proliferation of online genealogical records, I was able to find Margaret residing in New York in the 1930 census, getting married in 1925, arriving at Ellis Island in 1922, and living with her family in Ireland in 1911 -- and along the way, I picked up some tidbits about her siblings that revealed the family's personal history with Ellis Island. All of this in about half an hour. Bless the Internet and all those who choose to upload records and indexes! And Margaret, I'll be raising a pint to you this evening!