Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Patrick Murray and Ellen McCusker: From County Down to Massachusetts

The location of Ballintlieve, on the Western edge of Ballyculter in County Down

Patrick Murray and Ellen McCusker were my third great-grandparents. Their son, John Bernard Murray, was my second great-grandfather.

Patrick Murray was born in Ballintlieve, near Ballyculter in County Down, Ireland.  It is now Northern Ireland.  He was the son of Patrick Murray, Sr. and Rose Smythe.  His birth date may have been July 12, 1787, but this isn't proven.

Ellen McCusker was born between 1800 and 1802 in Banbridge, County Down. She was likely the daughter of Laughlin McCusker. Her full name may have been Eleanor, but she is listed as Ellen on most paperwork.

Patrick and Ellen were married in Banbridge in 1823, when Ellen was about 23 years old and Patrick possibly about 36. They settled in Banbridge and had children there. I reviewed paperwork my grandmother had copied from the Dromore, County Down Register of Baptisms and Marriages 1823-1845 and turned up the names of eight children born to Patrick and Ellen.

Patrick Murray (b. 1823)
Bernard Murray (b. 1825)
John Bernard Murray (b. 1834)
Eleanor Murray (b. 1836)
Michael Murray (b. 1838)
Margaret Anne Murray (b. 1840)
Elizabeth Jane Murray (b. 1844)
Matthew Murray (b. 1846)

There are some confusing things here. Firstly, the 9-year gap between the second and third children is extremely unusual, especially when the other children were born at two-year intervals, for the most part. There are a couple of possible explanations. There may have been other children born during that gap whose baptismal records were lost, or who died prior to baptism. I see some mentions in other family trees of a child named Catherine Murray born in 1832, so it's entirely likely I just haven't found all the records for the Murray children. It's also possible that there was more than one couple with the names Patrick and Ellen/Eleanor Murray in Dromore Parish and we're confusing the records from two families.

Another thing that raises an eyebrow is the multiple births well into Ellen's forties and Patrick's late fifties. If Ellen was truly born in 1800-1802, then her youngest child was born when she was either 44 or 46 and her husband around age 59. While this is not impossible, it's unusual.

Patrick and Ellen immigrated from County Down, Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts.  I am not sure if they came with some or all of their children, or if they came later.  I have not been able to find details of their move.

This family is a perfect example of how writing a genealogy blog helps you dig deeper into your research.  When I started writing this post, I assumed I had a lot more information about Patrick and Ellen than I actually do.  The narrative about them has been passed down in my family, but it turns out there is little documentation to support the stories that have circulated about my third great-grandparents.  When you actually have to write down the story of an ancestor, with facts and sources, the holes in your research suddenly loom large. Here are the things I cannot currently prove about Patrick and Ellen:

  • Dates of birth
  • Date of immigration to the USA
  • Place of arrival in the USA
  • Census records placing them in Boston (or Charlestown)
  • Death records

Those are some pretty big missing pieces of the puzzle.

I found death records for a Patrick Murray in San Francisco in 1884.  It's possible that Patrick followed his son John Bernard Murray west, but this death date makes him 97 years old at the time of his passing.  That's impressive by today's standards, and nearly unheard of at that time.  I'm not convinced this is the correct Patrick.

I've also found death records for an Ellen Murray in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1875.  I believe this may be the correct person for several reasons. The Ellen who died in 1875 was about seventy-six years old and was married to Patrick Murray.  This is the correct age and spouse for my Ellen.  Also, we know that some of the Murray children settled in Charlestown, so it would make sense that their parents lived there, too.  In a newspaper article detailing Ellen's death, her husband Patrick is said to be seventy-six years of age, and a former tailor who had moved to Charlestown from "the old country" just four years prior to his wife's death.  Our Patrick was a tailor and an immigrant, so that is correct.  The article places Patrick's year of birth around 1799, while I'd heard that Patrick was born in 1787. However, 1799 makes so much more sense for a number of reasons, including his age at the time of his marriage and the births of his children, so I think it's possible we've had his birth date wrong.

So, what do we really know about Patrick Murray and Ellen McCusker?  We know they were from County Down, Ireland, that they married and had children there and then the family moved to America.  I'll have to continue to search for more information about them.


  1. Erin:

    I have lots of documentation on the Murrays and McCuskers. Patrick and Ellen had 11 children and I've followed everyone to America except one. I've also documented the parentage of Samuel B smith but you may prefer solving the family puzzles on your own.

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your message! I'm very interested in talking with you about these families and learning more. Clearly, you have info that I don't, which is great. I'll email you directly and am looking forward to chatting about the Murrays and Smiths.