Barking up the wrong tree for my O/Connell ancestors?

I was told that my great grandmother was Mary Marguerite O'CONNELL. Though, the only place I have seen this officially recorded is on her death certificate. Death certificates are often the least reliable source for things like parent's names, place of birth, etc. as the information usually comes from a child or other relative of the deceased. Not to disrespect the knowledge of the informants, but who knows how or when this information was relayed (a conversation 10 years prior when the child was just a teenager, for example) and it can often be a lot like the telephone game.

Various Family Stories...

Like Mary's husband, Winfield, I did have a few random clues about the O'Connell family to act as a starting point, though no official records. For example,

Possible Clue About Mary...

Before the 1910 New Hampshire census, I cannot find any records for Mary. By this time, she is married and has taken the Davis surname. However, she does indicate her immigration year as 1901 on the 1910 census record (though 1902 on subsequent census records). Searching recently digitized immigration records, I did manage to locate one Mary CONNELL, age 20 who immigrated from Cloughbally, [Mullagh, Co. Cavan] Ireland to Montreal on June 15, 1901 - with a final destination of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Though the age is off by a few years, this looks like it may be a possibility.

Finding James...

Regarding brother James… I started doing some investigation into his life. Searching for James O'Connell in West Newton yielded no results for the longest time. However, thanks again to recently digitized passenger records, I found a ship manifest that included James CONNELL and wife Alice traveling home to West Newton, MA from Buenos Aires in 1917. Was this just coincidence?

I wondered why the couple would be traveling to Buenos Aires - it seemed like an extravagant trip for the time. Looking back at the census records, I realized that James CONNELL had been a lodger living with a woman named Alice MCENANEY since at least 1900. My suspicion is that the Buenos Aires trip was actually their honeymoon. They simply didn't get around to marrying until they were in their 40s. This would also explain why I could not locate a marriage record for James in the Mass Vital Records which are currently only indexed through 1910.

The recent clue about the curtain factory was really helpful in proving a link. In the city directories for West Newton, I found that James Connell and Thomas MCENANEY (yes, Alice's brother!) were business partners in the West Newton Curtain Factory. So, all the pieces began to fit.

James' death...

As for the rumor about James' drowning death... Based on the city directories, I was able to narrow James' death date down to 1923-27 when wife Alice "widow of James" began to appear. I wrote to the Newton Clerk and they informed me that his death date was July 17, 1924 and that his parents were Daniel CONNELL and Rose BROGAN of County Cavan, Ireland. Interesting that the mother's name is listed as Rose, which goes against the family stories. With this date, I wrote to the Boston Public Library to see if they would have any information about James' death. They wrote to me the very next day with a tragic news story from the Boston Daily Globe. James was apparently trying to teach his niece, Margaret MCELROY, to swim in a "pool" in West Newton. I think by swimming pool they must have meant a cordoned off area in the Charles River or some other body of water because there is mention of a beginners beach, a bank and row boat. To get back to the story, James and Margaret apparently didn't realize that they were inching away from the shallow side and getting close to a 13-foot deep hole in the water. Margaret somehow got caught in the hole, James yelled for help and then dove down to try and help her. She apparently got a "death grip" on him (per the newspaper article) and neither lived. To make matters worse, James' wife and Margaret's sister (Julia McElroy) were watching from a nearby bank. They hopped in a rowboat to try and help, but could not. It's a very sad tale and I can't imagine how terrifying it was for all involved.

The newspaper story mentions that Margaret was 19 and had emigrated from Ireland to live with her uncle two years prior to the accident. To my knowledge, James and Alice did not have children, so Margaret was probably treated as if she was their own child - I think the fact that James provided her with a place to live and was trying to teach her how to swim are evidence of this. I am not entirely sure whose niece Margaret was, but I assume the connection was through Alice. Margaret's mother was Jane MCELROY, so perhaps Jane's maiden name was McEnaney? I did find that the McElroy family was from Dundalk, County Louth and were buried in the Bridge-a-crin Cemetery, per a transcription by the Faughart Historical Properties Preservation Society:

"McELROY, Owen. Ballybinaby Owen McElroy's father Nicholas McElroy aged 84 and his mother Bridget McElroy aged 72. His wife Jane McElroy died 12th Decr. 1927 aged 64 years. His daughter Maggie McElroy, died 17 July 1924, aged 20 years. The above Owen McElroy died 11th April 1935 aged 78 years. His son Nicholas died 5th Feb. 1970 aged 71 yrs. LF 11-12"

Well, all of the information I have found about James fits in with all of the family stories I've heard so far, so I think it is highly likely that we have a match. After all, how many James O/Connell's from County Cavan, Ireland; were the right age; living in West Newton; were curtain salesmen; and (sadly) drowned?

More info from

Since last posting this mystery, I have found some additional information. An advanced search on for anyone with parents Daniel Connell and Rose Brogan yields the following results:

Of course, this only causes more questions. The siblings match until you get to Patrick and where are Rose and Elizabeth? Perhaps the submitter didn't get beyond 1876 when they were searching the microfilm? Are Mary born in 1876 and "my" Mary one and the same? If so, why the 8-year birth date discrepancy? Is it possible, like I have seen many times before on other branches, that this Mary died and a later child was named Mary, as well? As is the case with my Dad's side of the family, more questions than answers here.

I still need help!

I seem to have found loads of information about James - several census records, city directories, a few newspaper articles, and even his death certificate - but still nothing about Mary between the time she was born in 1884 and 1910. I'd love to locate a birth record, marriage record, etc. Now that I have parents' names to work with, I'll have to write the General Register Office to see if I can locate a birth record. In the meantime, if anyone has any other information about this family, please contact me.