Monday, September 24, 2012

Mystery Monday - Mabel Frances Downey - Part 1

Whenever I'm researching an individual, I try to lay his or her entry foundation with census records.  Doing so, I not only get some idea of birth/death dates and locations, but I can also connect the person to other family members who may not otherwise pop up in my research.

About a year and a half ago, I was "tracking" John W. Mullett in the U.S. Census records and stumbled across an unknown individual with a familiar surname living with him.  John was the second husband of my third great-grandmother, Mary Ann Keegan (spelling debatable).  Mary Ann had one living child with her first husband, Mary E. Showler (sometimes Scholes or Scholer).  Mary E. Showler, my second great-grandmother, was born on March 4, 1858, in Manchester, England according to most records.  On September 21, 1874, she married John Francis Downey, who was born about 1854 in Saint John, New Brunswick.  As far as I was concerned, they had five children together in Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts, before John F. Downey died in 1885.  Mary E. Showler eventually remarried George Tootill, who was born about 1856 in Suffield, Connecticut.  They had two surviving children together before Mary died on March 15, 1914 in Springfield.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census record (below), John Mullett was living on Franklin Street in Springfield with his and Mary Ann's daughter, Ellen Mullett.  I already knew about Ellen.  With them, however, the census also lists a "Mable F. Downey."  Since John Mullett's step-daughter, Mary E. Showler, married a man with the surname Downey, this immediately caught my attention.
Mable [sic] F. Downey is listed as being John Mullett's niece in the census.  I knew this was unlikely by today's definition of niece because she appeared to be related to his late wife's first husband, and the census states she was born in January 1879.  While still possible, the age gap bordered on large for an uncle and niece.  So I assumed the term "niece" was used broadly while keeping the possibility open that John Mullett could be related to some Downeys.

Furthermore, this record lists Mabel's father's place of birth as English Canada (of which New Brunswick is a part), and her mother's birthplace as England.  There is only one couple matching these birthplace descriptions in my family tree who could be Mabel Downey's parents, John Francis Downey and Mary E. Showler.  However, this is not nearly proof enough that Mabel was their daughter, especially since I had been able to find so many other records of Mary's children.  Why would all traces of just one child be missing?

A quick search on both and came up with nothing for this mysterious Mabel.  I then went to the Springfield City Directory for 1900 for clues.  I found John Mullett, the career shoemaker, living at 116 Franklin with his daughter, Ellen A. Mullett.  There was no one named Mabel Downey in the directory, and none of the Springfield Downeys by any given name lived on Franklin Street.  There was one Mabel F. Downing listed as boarding at 32 York, so I made a note of that in my research log, scanned the other Downings for anyone living near the Mulletts or this Mabel F. Downing, and, after finding none, called it a day.

My father has separately been researching our family history for over a decade now, so he has more knowledge about individuals and families than I do.  He personally knew his grandmother, a daughter of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey, as well as other older relatives I never had the chance to meet. Yet when I asked him about mystery Mabel, he only knew as much as I did from that one census record.  He had never heard of her, thus begging the question, who is Mabel F. Downey?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a new lead that enabled me to answer that question and add an entire branch to my family tree.  For the sake of not writing a book instead of a post, I'll conclude next Monday with my findings.

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