Thursday, July 5, 2012

John Willy Gagen (1863-1938)

John William Gagan has been my toughest research topic yet - primarily because there are no family stories about him - save two -- (1) "he lived somewhere else" and (2)  his daughter (my great grandmother - Mary Ellen Gagan Hughes) confronting him on the porch of a home, pushing him down a flight of stairs - breaking a bottle in his pocket. My grandmother witnessed this from a window on the first floor of the home.

I think this photo is John, his daughter Mary Ellen and his grand daughter - my grandmother (Anne).

Anyone would want to know more about this story -- right? Does this look like a happy mother?  And does he look like someone with quite a story to tell? To me, he does.

My first solid clue of John came from the 1900 U.S. Census, where I find him living with Mary Nolan  and his daughter's Mary Ellen (11) and Anna (5) and his son Stephen (3).   This entry documents the family living on Church Street in Greenwich, and also provides many key clues:
  • notes 1888 as the year John and Mary married,
  • lists John's immigration year of 1865
  • gives John's place of birth as England in 1863
  • lists both John's parents of being Irish. 
Marriage:  as we know that Mary was in White Plains in 1880 - I am seeking a marriage certificate from White Plains and have contacted a Catholic Church in White Plains seeking any evidence of a marriage ceremony. 

I next decided to find out more about John's journey to America - in or around 1865.  While many immigrants to the US came through New York - not all did.  I know however that many many came thru New York, so I started there. 

I find a three year old John Gagan (age 3: born 1863 - Male) arriving in New York City on December 4, 1865 on the passenger ship Manhattan.   This ship departed Liverpool three months earlier.  John is listed with a Ree Gagan (age 8; born 1858- Male): William Gagan (age 6; born 1860 - Male) and "Simy" Gagan, (age 4; born 1862-Male).  The name of the male adult listed above them is nearly unreadable; someone has transcribed it as "Ree Canefdiell" Male age 22.  The adult just below them is Michael Sealy (41).
  • What kind of  male name is Ree? Is it really Rea?  Could it be Die? 
  • What is really the last name of the adult listed above the children?  Canfield?
  • Could the children have traveled alone - without an adult?
I abandoned this path - -and started looking for Gagan's in the area of White Plains around 1880.  My theory as that if John had been in the US since 1865 - he and his family may have settled near where I know Mary lived - and that eventually they met and married.

I find a Gagen family in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1870, with a John W. born in 1863 in  Connecticut .  This birth year matches the Manhattan ship manifest.  This family has a father William (born 1834 in Ireland) and a mother Bridget (born 1832 in Ireland) and six boys:
  • Thomas born 1858 in Connecticut
  • John W born 1863 in Connecticut  -- does not match other reports of John's birth in England
  • James born 1866 in  Connecticut
  • Henry born 1868 in  Connecticut
  • Jospeh born 1868 in  Connecticut
  • Andrew born 1869 in  Connecticut
I find the same family in 1880 -- also in Greenwich - with one a daughter, Mary F - and missing a few boys (Joseph (12) and Andrew (10) are missing. This census entry gives Johns' birth year of 1863 and his birth place of England.    This entry also changes the birth years of Bridget and William - having them both be 48 (born in 1832) and Bridget is no longer two years older than her husband. 
  • Thomas born in 1857 in England:   working in a mill
  • John W born in 1863 - in England:  working in a mill
  • James born 1865 - in New York: in school
  • Henry born in 1868 - in New York
  • Stephen born in 1873 - in Connecticut
  • Mary F born in 1877 - in Connecticut
1900 and 1910 As I've detailed on Mary Nolan's page - John marries Mary Nolan, oldest daughter of Ann(e) Hoey and the family lives in Greenwich in 1900 and Rye, New York in 1910.

In 1920, I find a John W living in Port Chester, on North Main Street, as a lodger in a home with Daniel and Christina Kohler originally from Germany.  John's lists his marital status as "single", his place of birth as England, and his immigration date / arrival year as 1865.

In 1930, I find John W living with the Charles and Mary F Mcaloon, as a lodge. John again is listed as single, as being born in England, and with an arrival in the US year of 1865.   The Mcaloon's have two boys - William and Charles.
  • To confirm a hunch that Mary F was John's sister - and possibly tie in the likelyhood that this John is "our" John - I researched her further.  I feel fairly confident of this hypothesis because I found Mary F Mcaloon n the 1910 US Census with her husband, Charles, and her father William Gagan, in Greenwich on Glenville Road.  Also living with them are her sons, William and Charles. 
Finally, I pursued John's birth a bit further.  His son, Stephen A. Gagan's World War I draft card lists Johns' place of birth as Manchester, England.    I can't find any record of a John Gagan being born in England  that year with parents William and Bridget.   I do find a few John Gaughan's with parents of different names  - but they are all still residing in England well after John's arrival dates in the US.

So to summarize - I think we are most certain of :
  1. John's arrival year and year of birth - as these are consistent throughout his reporting;
  2. I think the William Gagen family is likely's his family for three key reasons:
  • John's middle name was William (his father's name)
  • William Gagen's arrival date / immigration year is also 1865
  • Mary F appears in the 1880 census with John and then again as perhaps his final landlord


  1. That IS quite a task you have before you, to find John. Best wishes with your project. Hopefully you will find some resources in White Plains!

    And yes, that picture is interesting. Whose hat is that she is wearing, by the way? Could it be his? She has such an enigmatic expression on her face...

  2. Jacqi
    I would give a great deal to ask those questions! The hat is not quite "hers" is it - I had never caught that.

    Thanks for reading - and yes, I am very hopeful about White Plains having some clues for me. I have some plans for cemetery trips in the fall as well - so I may get more details then!