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Challenging Research

The prompt is Challenge

One of the most challenging couples to research has been my paternal 2nd great grandparents, Thomas Holleran and Margaret Ann Reilly. No record found to date contains direct evidence of the Irish county where Thomas and Margaret were born.

The marriage record of Thomas and Margaret (see last week’s post “First”) does not contain the names of their parents. There is no death certificate for Thomas, who died 2 August 1863, in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey. It took several years of digging to find his burial record in St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. Margaret’s 1882 death certificate does not contain the names of her parents. Without the names of parents, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to search for their baptismal records in Ireland.

In early 2015, I submitted that research puzzle to a contest, where a professional genealogist would choose the interesting puzzles to help solve. My project was selected, along with several others. The resulting report baffling. I was left wondering if the provider had read my detailed submission. It became clear that I was on my own to solve the puzzle of Thomas and Margaret.

Here’s what I have found –

On 4 January 1899, my great grand aunt, Elizabeth Holleran, married Peter Gilmore at Saint Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in Kearny, Hudson County, New Jersey. Elizabeth was the youngest child of Thomas Holleran and Margaret Ann Reilly. Peter’s parents were John Gilmore and Mary Britt. In the margin of the church register is a note:

Dispensation in consang. 3o grad linea collat.

Peter Gilmore was born in Oldham, Lancashire, England, to Irish-born parents. The details found in the English census records helped me track the family to Kilcommon, County Mayo.

Thank you, Fr James Mooney!

That little note told me SO much. It meant that Elizabeth Holleran and Peter Gilmore were related – possibly 1st cousins. And it indicated that Elizabeth and Peter knew enough about their respective families, many years after all 4 parents were deceased, to ask for the dispensation to marry. AND, I was then able to trace Peter’s family to Kilcommon in County Mayo. That margin note tells me that my 2nd greats are very likely from the same area in County Mayo and was pure gold, since I have found no records for Thomas and Margaret in Ireland.

I then found a Probate File for Thomas Holleran which gave me links to other branches of the family tree. In that file, I learned that about 1855, the couple of Denis Reilly and Margaret Holleran left Jersey City to settle in Wisconsin. Before leaving, they transferred the mortgage for their property at 315 Railroad Avenue, Jersey City, to Thomas Holleran and Margaret Reilly. They had acquired the property on 1 December 1849, at that time in the Township of Van Vorst, shortly after their arrival from Ireland.

I think it likely that Thomas Holleran and Margaret Holleran were brother and sister and that Denis Reilly and Margaret Reilly were brother and sister. There is anecdotal evidence that Denis Reilly came from County Mayo.

Further evidence of a relationship between the two couples came from the records of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. Plot 82 South B, where Thomas Holleran is buried, was purchased by Denis Reilly on 16 May 1850, at the death of his daughter Mary. The original cemetery record also mentions that Denis lived on Railroad Avenue. Buried in the same plot are Margaret (14 February 1855) and David Reilly (10 March 1855), children of Denis and Margaret. Other family burials in that plot: Thomas Holleran (8 October 1855) and John Holleran (25 September 1872), both sons of Thomas and Margaret Holleran.

Purchase of Plot 82 South B, St Peter’s Cemetery
The burial of Thomas Holleran in 1863

I believe, based on the body of evidence, that Thomas Holleran and Margaret Reilly came to Jersey City from County Mayo. What do you think?

A descendant of Denis Reilly and Margaret Holleran and I have both tested our DNA. We should be double 4th cousins, if my theory is correct, but we share no DNA.

P S – the house and lot at 315 Railroad Ave were sold at auction in 1874. Margaret could not afford to keep it, after the early death of her husband and then the death of her only surviving son.

#52Ancestors

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New Year’s Day

This week’s prompt is: First


On this day –
On New Year’s Day, 1835, in Walton County, Georgia, my maternal 2nd great grandparents, David Kelley Michael and Catherine Hughes Johnston, were married.

Thanks to cousins, I have photos of both David and Catherine.


David and Catherine had 8 children: John William, Martha Ann, William David, James Knox, Anderson Green, Samuel B, Elizabeth Fendora, and Mary Emma.


On this day –
On New Year’s Day, 1851, my paternal 2nd great grandparents, Thomas Holleran and Margaret Ann Reilly, were married at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey.


Thomas and Margaret arrived in New York in May 1850, probably coming from County Mayo.


I have no photos of Thomas and Margaret, but I do have a copy of the marriage register from St Peter’s. Unfortunately, the register does not contain the names of their parents.


Thomas and Margaret went on to have 6 known children: John, Maria Ann, Thomas, Margaret Elizabeth, Catherine Veronica, and Elizabeth. Thomas died in August 1863 and is buried in St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Jersey City. Little Thomas is also buried there; he died when just a few months old. Son John is there too, having died at just 21. Margaret died in 1882 and is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Sepulchre in East Orange.


My paternal grandmother, Margaret Frances Hughes, was named for her grandmother, Margaret Reilly Holleran. And, in turn, I was named for my grandmother, completing the circle.

#52Ancestors