Nora’s Name – The First Analysis

Judy and I didn’t make it to Hartford this week, so I’m writing about something else. Since it is Women’s History month, and only a couple of weeks since St. Patrick’s Day, it seems appropriate to write a little about Nora Hunt and my searching for her maiden name.

I recently pulled “Angela’s Ashes” off my to-read pile and read it. At about the same time I was going through the emails in one of my research folders, trying to add sources to my husband’s family tree and clean up that pile. I ran across a series of emails back and forth with his cousins about their grandmother, Nora, on their father’s side. Ok, so no direct relation of my husband’s, but an interesting collateral line. Nora and their grandfather John were Irish, Catholic, and had their own life stories – mostly only known to us as bits and pieces, but which surely contributed to what Uncle Jim’s early life was like.

The couple’s life story started, as told by their son, when Nora got pregnant and John escaped back to Ireland only to have her brother come after him. He was brought back to the US and they got married. Maybe not until after the baby was born, since Jim told people he was “illegitimate”. (This sounds a lot like the beginning of “Angela’s Ashes”.) Nora had been married before, and had a son from that marriage. Story went that this son was put in an orphanage or otherwise put out of the family after John and Nora married.

We had other tidbits of information. I was originally told that Nora’s maiden name was McNamara. She had a brother Thomas and a sister Mae, who later lived in Buffalo too. She was said to have came from Quilty, County Clare, Ireland. John was said to have came from Kilmorna, County Kerry, Ireland. Not a lot to go on, but some hints. I think these places were what John and Nora actually said about where they came from.

When I started looking into this family, I started with the censuses. And the 1910 census provided some interesting information. There was the family, living in Buffalo where I

John Hunt family, 1910

expected to find them, and the household included a 16 year old stepson and a boarder named Thomas Fitzgibbons. Could the boarder be her brother Thomas, and a clue to her maiden name? The stepson’s name certainly provided a clue about her previous married name. His information also suggested that the marriage had been in Canada, where he was reportedly born. In addition, Nora had borne 3 children 2 still living as of the 1910 census.

The next thing I found was a World War I registration card for John McGowan in Buffalo that looked like the right one. He was 24 in 1917, and had a wife and child. He also listed a birthdate and place: Hamilton, Ontario. So I looked on for McGowan listings in that location. And I found the indexed record of his birth, listing both parent’s names, including Nora’s maiden name of McNamara. With his father’s name in my pocket I looked for their marriage record in Canada

McGowan-McNamara marriage

and minutes later had it. As soon as I saw it I knew why I hadn’t been able to find anything under Nora’s name; she was listed as Leonora not Nora. Not a variation I would have thought of. Better yet, both of Nora’s parents were named, including her mother’s maiden name. You have to love good recordkeeping!

The most recent searching I have done was also on – looking for children born to John and Margaret Madden McNamara, Nora’s parents. I have found five so far, all daughters except for one. And the son I have found is named John, not Thomas. So I clearly have more searching to do. I did find the daughter I think is our Nora: named Honora, and born in September 1867. That would have made her about 37, for the New York State census of 1905, where she was enumerated with her father and mother and listed as 32. And about 42 for the 1910 census, on which she was reported to be 35. On the 1920 census she was listed as 45. And on the 1930 as 50. My theory of the moment is that, in a time-honored tradition for women, Nora shaved years off her age each time she gave information for an official record, and a few more years each time. It will be interesting to see what age is listed for her when the 1940 census comes out in just a week.

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  1. […] about any of these people as I go through the folders, I clearly didn't keep this promise – see the Nora post I put up last week. It is very difficult for me to look at information and not follow "just one […]

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