Anna:   Finding my Great Grandmother

by Cathy Corcoran

 

One day, when I was in the third grade, we were studying the Bible in school.

Sister Saint Whilemenha was sitting at her big wooden desk at the front of the room, reading us a long list of "begats."

Abraham begat Isaac. Isaac begat Jacob.  So and so begat so and so. 

After several minutes of this, I raised my hand and asked her why they never begat any girl children in the Bible. 

"Oh they had girl children," Sister said, "They just weren't important enough to write their names down."

 

Over in the corner, Danny O'Brien snickered.  "Girls aren't important," he sneered. 

I sat down in my chair with a thud, thinking of all those baby girls, all those mothers, all those grandmothers, not recorded, not remembered, as though they had never existed at all. 

"Girls aren't important!" Danny taunted, and my face burned. 

I hated Danny O'Brien.

 

I thought of Danny one day recently when I was working on my family tree.

I knew my ancestors had come from Ireland, but I never knew when they came or what part of Ireland they had come from.  When I asked my mother and my aunts, they didn't know either, so a few weeks ago, I visited the archives at Boston City Hall. 

I thought I'd look for an hour or so and see what I could find. 

 

I poured over the dusty books in the archives, and found my mother's birth certificate and her parent's marriage certificate.  As I traced the faded handwritten names with my finger - James and Catherine Moran - a shiver ran down my spine.  Before I knew it, the archives were closing for the day and I had a long list of names to invstigate. 

 

I went to the National Archives in Waltham and the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.  I became a detective, an expert on soundex codes, microfilm machines, birth indexes and death certificates. Within a few weeks, I had traced part of the family - the Nashes - all the way back to 1863 when they left Tipperary and arrived in New York.

 

But when I told the family what I'd found, I discovered there was a vague rumor that my mother's father was adopted.  My family tree was at a dead end unless I could find James’ real birth parents.  I was determined to find the truth.

 

At the library, I poured over the 1880 census records and gasped when I saw the entry for the Morans. 

The four year-old James Moran was listed as "Michael James," a nephew.  His sister Mary was a "niece." 

That meant the old family rumors were true!  The children were adopted, but not from an orphanage, not from strangers.  They were a niece and nephew. 

I should be able to find their parents!

 

But back at City Hall, I still couldn’t find a birth certificate for Michael James. 

I knew he was born on January 3, 1876, but since he was adopted  I didn't know his last name at birth. 

The entries were all handwritten in ramdom order.  No alphabetizing, no chronological order. 

There were nearly 11,000 babies born in Boston in 1876.

"You'll have to go through each entry individually," the woman at the archives said, but it was clear that even she considered this a daunting task.

The search could take days! I might misread someone's handwriting.  I might miss the entry altogether!

 

I sighed as I opened the dusty book, and flipped through the pages.

I looked idly at the names on page 525, then noticed entry number 10,881.

"January 3, Michael James." it said. 

"Here's a Michael James born on January 3," I said to the woman.

"Maybe that's the one," she laughed. 

I laughed too as I read slowly across the page.  "Father's name, Michael Naughtin," it said.   

"Mother's maiden name, Anna Moran." 

Anna Moran!  The name practically leaped off the page.

 

My hands shook as I gripped the book. By the end of the day, I knew the story. 

Michael James was born on January 3, 1876 to Anna Moran Naughtin and Michael Naughtin. 

Anna died of hepatitis in December of that year at the age of 28.  Her brother took her children in, and raised them as his own naming them James and Mary Moran.  I could find no further record of the children's father. He seems to have disappeared after the death of his young wife. 

 

As I left the archives and headed for home, I walked slowly.  My heart was heavy, as though there had been a death in the family.  And of course, there had been a death in the family.  The fact that it happened more than a hundred years ago makes it no less sad to me today. 

 

Anna haunts me. 

She lived, she bore two children, she died young.

But like so many women before her, she was forgotten, lost to history.

We never knew she existed.

 

What are the odds that I would open the book to that page and see that record?  Eleven thousand to one? 

A million to one?   It was spooky. 

 

"Anna wanted herself known," the woman at the archives said. "That's how you found that record."

I believe that's true. 

 

So here's what I know:

Anna Moran was born in Ireland in 1848, and died in Boston in 1876. 

She left behind a two-year-old daughter and a baby son, not yet a year old. 

That baby boy grew up to be a father to nine children. One of those children was my mother, Mary Moran. 

Anna Moran was my great grandmother. 

 

May she rest in peace. 

 

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