Ancestor profile: Mary Ellen Horgan Gorry

Mary Ellen Horgan Gorry, my 2nd great grandmother, is one of those people for me. Despite several trips to the Municipal Archives in the city, I haven't been able to find her birth certificate, but my father found in my grandfather's basement a record of her baptism on 11 Aug 1873 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in New York that gives her birthdate as 6 August that same year. As far as I can tell, she was born in New York. According to her father's obituary (also found in my grandfather's basement - packrat extraordinaire!), he was born in Cork, Ireland, and I think I have found a ship passenger manifest that shows Mary's mother, Julia Murphy, was also born in Ireland.

I have also had trouble finding Mary in the 1880 census - I have a theory that I've found them in Manhattan under the last name "Holgan" but that's still just a theory. As far as I can tell, Mary was an only child. Thanks to the destruction in a fire of the 1890 census, there are a lot of holes in a lot of family histories, something that continues to frustrate me in my research, but according to a marriage certificate, Mary married James Gorry on 14 Aug 1890 at Immaculate Conception Church. According to his death certificate, he was a brass finisher.

James and Mary had four children: Joseph Francis on 11 Nov 1891, twins Mary and Ellen on 4 Jun 1893, and Elmer Anthony (my great-grandfather) on 28 Jul 1896. Both of the twins died the same month they were born. James and Mary were married for only 7 years. After falling ill in October of 1897, he died on 1 Dec 1897 at about the age of 29, leaving Mary a 24 year old widow with two young sons. The cause of death is somewhat illegible on his death certificate, but its possible that one of the words is "pulmonale." "Cor pulmonale" is a problem with the heart resulting from a respiratory disorder. But the heartache was not over. Her son Joseph died of acute endocarditis less than a year later, 3 days short of his 7th birthday.

Back then, there was no Social Security. Women couldn't vote. Most women did not have jobs outside the home. Most 25-year-old widows would remarry, not only to ensure their own livelihood but to ensure the livelihood of their children. Mary was young; she could have had more children, started a new family. But she didn't.

I don't know where her father is all of this. I can't find him in the 1900 census. He died in 1908 and Mary is listed in his obituary. But in 1900, Mary and Elmer were living with her husband's family - her mother-in-law, Mary Corr Gorry; her two spinster sister-in-laws, Mary and Hannah; and her bachelor brother-in-law, Michael.

By 1910, the situation had changed. Michael, Mary, and Hannah Gorry had moved to Brooklyn and taken their 13 year old nephew Elmer with them. Mary Horgan Gorry had lost everything - her husband, her father, her 3 children, and I imagine it broke her heart to not have her son with her, but I think maybe she knew she couldn't hold down a job and care for her son, too. In Brooklyn, Michael was an ironworker and Mary and Hannah were dressmakers, maybe from home, maybe able to work and care for Elmer at the same time. In Brooklyn, Elmer was able to go to school, almost all the way through high school. In Manhattan, Mary was living with her cousins, the Hallorans, and working in a pencil factory.

During World War I, Mary corresponded with a soldier named R. Morrow, who from his photo (letters and photo courtesy, again, of my grandfather's basement), looks African-American. In 1920, Mary is still living with the Hallorans and working at a pencil factory. Ten years later, she and her cousin Jeremiah Halloran are still at the same address, but she was working as a launderer at a branch of Bellevue Hospital. By that same year, 1930, she was also a grandmother to Elmer Anthony Gorry Jr., my grandfather, living across the river in Queens. She died 31 Aug 1955 at the age of 82.

I imagine Mary as a strong woman - maybe the tragedies that plagued the early part of her life left her broken, but she survived. She did what she needed to do to make sure her son had his own chance at a good life. She didn't rely on a man to take care of her; she didn't remarry because she had to. I imagine she was probably very lonely at times too. Maybe James was the love of her life. Maybe she couldn't bear to marry again. Life was probably a struggle. But she had her son. And she had her two grandsons. And she lived to see two great-grandsons, one of which is my father. She inspires me when I feel like my own tragedies in life are too much - I have her blood in me, and I have her name, so maybe I have some of her strength, too.