Sunday, December 3, 2017

Tracing Family Stories- Sarah Hughes Rowan?

One of my paternal 2nd great-grandmothers was Sarah Agnes Hughes Rowan.  The story my grandmother told was that Sarah’s mother Susan Hughes disowned her daughter when she married John Rowan.  John was an Episcopalian and the Hughes family were devout Roman Catholic who had suffered oppression by the Church of England in Northern Ireland.  She said John and Sarah had their daughters baptized Roman Catholic to try and get back into her parent’s good graces.  A  cousin of my father’s remembers being told a story that Sarah took her first child to her parent’s house and knocked on the door.  Her mother asked who it was and she said, “Your daughter”.  Susan’s reply was “I have no daughter”.  Sarah then left.  Did this really happen?  As I do my research I wonder if I can prove or disprove this one of many family ‘stories’ that were passed down.
Sarah Agnes Hughes Rowan
Here is what I have been able to find out about Sarah:

1850 US Federal census- August 1st, 1850 in the 1st District of the 16th Ward in New York City. I was able to find a Patrick Hughes age 36, his occupation was a Laborer and he was born in Ireland.  Susan, his wife was 30 years old, born in Ireland.  Susan, their daughter, age 3 years old and born in New York.  The dwelling they lived in had 3 family groups.  There is also a woman listed with the family named Susan Quinn age 32 born in Ireland.  I wonder if Susan Quinn is a relative of the family?
  • This would mean that Susan and Patrick were in New York by 1847.  See post  The Luck O’ the Irish…Perhaps…  which, if I am following the correct trail, shows Susan and Patrick marrying in Ireland in Clonfeacle Parish, County Tyrone in 1846.  So far, I may be on the right track.
Sarah was born reportedly about 1850/1 in New York City (according to family recorded notes).  There was never a mention of her parents.   Sarah was first generation American born.  I have been unable to locate a birth certificate or baptismal record.  

US Federal Census 1860-Have not been able to locate them in the census yet.

On August 1st, 1869 John William Rowan and Sarah Agnes Hughes were married. On their Marriage license 18 yo Sarah’s address was reported as 318 10th Avenue, New York City.  23 yo John’s address was 239 10th Avenue, New York City.   When I found Sarah and John’s marriage license I was able to find out her parent’s names-Patrick and Susan McKenna Hughes.  The witnesses were:  Ellen Cavanagh and Charles A. Colwell.  Don't overlook the witnesses.  I wonder if Ellen Cavanagh could have been Sarah’s Aunt Ellen? 

1870 US Federal census-Have not been able to locate them in the census yet.
  • Joseph Valentine born 1871, born in Pennsylvania-lived to adulthood
  • William born 1872, born in Pennsylvania-lived to adulthood
  • Susan born 1875 and died at 3 months of age, buried in New York  If the family had gone to Pennsylvania where the previous 2 children are reportedly born then they were back in New York City by 1875 when Susan died.
New York State Census 1875-Have not been able to locate them in the census yet in New York or in Pennsylvania.
  • Mary born 1878-lived to adulthood
  • Sarah Agnes born 1879 (my great grandmother)-lived to adulthood
1880 US Federal Census- June 10th, 1880 New York City in District 1. I find ‘Jno’ was 34 years old, Occupation was Engineer, he and his father were born in New York and his mother was born in Ireland.  Sarah was 28 years old, Occupation was Housekeeper, she was born in New York, her parents born in Ireland.  Joseph 9 years old, attending school and born in Pennsylvania. William 8 years old and born in Pennsylvania.  Mary 2 years old and born in New York.  Sarah 10/12 months old and born in New York.  Ann, John’s mother, 68 years old, she and parents born in Ireland.  I wonder if Sarah worked outside the home as a Housekeeper since usually wives don’t have an occupation listed and her mother-in-law was living with them so she could have taken care of the home and the children?
  • Elizabeth born 1881 and died 1882 at age of 1, buried in New York
  • John born May 7th, 1882 and died at 4 days old, buried in New York
  • Hiram born 1884 and died 1885 at age 1 about 2 weeks after his mother, buried in New York
On August 18, 1885 Sarah died at the age of 33 in New York City at Presbyterian Hospital of Cerebral Endocarditis and failure of respiration.  Sarah’s death certificate also reports her parents as Patrick Hughes and Susan McKenna.

Sarah is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.  My father and I went to the cemetery to see Sarah’s grave.  It was disheartening to find no cemetery stone to mark the resting places of Sarah and her 4 children or the other 2 children, I assume cousins, who also died as young children.  Sarah would watch 3 of her children die before her and know a 4th was ill when she herself was in the Hospital dying.  How heartbreaking!  I know it was common for children to die young but as a mother myself it's still difficult to imagine.

On Sarah’s death certificate it lists her occupation as Cap Maker.  I did some research and found out that many women did piece work at home to earn extra money for their family.  From the book entitled the History of Women in Industry in the United States reported that in 1871 in New York about 2,000 women cap makers earned from $6-$8 per week.  When I look at Sarah’s picture above she is wearing a cap.  I wonder if she made that one? 

There is so much I would still like to find out about Sarah.  I still don’t know if the family stories about Sarah and her parents are true.  I would like to find the ancestors of Sarah’s children Joseph Rowan, William Rowan and Mary Rowan White (called Mamie by family) to see if they have some additional information about the family.  Did they ever hear these stories?  My Great-Grandmother was the youngest in the family after all.

If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,


  1. I wonder how old she is in that photo? She looks very sad or worn down. I suspect life could do that to someone back then. Heck, it happens to us even now. I hope you find out a bit more about her. I also hope her parents eventually welcomed her back into their home. It would be their loss if they didn’t.

  2. I am guessing it was taken not long before she died. She was 33 when she died. Know she did not have an easy life. She had had 8 children with 4 of them dying as babies or young children.