I've learned from my research over the last two years that my paternal great great grandmother Catherine Josephine Connelly Jones was a survivor of the first degree. Born in County Leitrim, Ireland, about 1829, she endured the Great Hunger. A letter found in her Civil War Widow's Pension file came all the way from Mohill, County Leitrim, from the priest who married Catherine and her husband James R. Jones in 1849. Nearly 15 years later, her remebered them both well. The information that proved most revealing for me, though, was the fact that both Catherine and James were residents of the historic Mohill Workhouse. A product of the grinding poverty that gripped Ireland during years bottomed-out economy, workhouses were built to house and provide for the basic sustenance of only the most abjectly poor. The interior of these vast human warehouses looked suprisingly like the bowels of the sinister slave ships that plied the seas between Africa and the American colonies. Tiers of slotted racks that were to serve as sleeping spaces stretched the length of huge, dormitory-like wards on both sides with an aisle between.
Presently, I have no way of knowing if Catherine and James had parents or siblings residing with them at Mohill. But the master of the Mohill Workhouse, Father John J. Evers' letter attests that "we always considered [Catherine] the best school mistress we had" and that "[James] was a great favorite of mine" I secured a copy of their marriage registration and found that their witnesses were Joanna Jones and Patrick Connelly. Are these two family members? Perhaps some day I will know.
Not quite a year after their marriage, James and Catherine Jones set out for American. It is very likely that the administration of the Workhouse or funds from the Poor Law Union sponsored their emigration, given that the young couple had few if any financial resources. Such sponsorships were not uncommon. They served as a means of reducing the population of the workhouses and preserving precious resources for those not capable of caring for themselves. Who can say whether the union of Catherine and James was rooted in love or in the convenience of two young, able-bodied individuals throwing their lots together in order to forge a new life in a new land. The two entered the country at New York in 1850. Their first child Michael was born there in 1852. By 1860, the couple is living in Ritchie County, Virgina and has five children. The federal census of that year identifies James R. Jones as a "railroader." Since I have not yet found any kind of documents to trace their move westward, I'm making a educated guess that James could easily have moved his family in the direction taken by the ever-expanding railroad tracks.
In 1861 James R. Jones musters into the 3rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry as a private and over the next two years rises to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. But misfortune lies ahead. In June of 1863 2nd Lt. James R. Jones, 6th West Virginia Cavalry finds himself in Grafton, Virgina. He and several officers enter a private establishment in search of liquid refreshment ...it turns out to be cherry wine. The owner will later testify that James became raucus and disorderly and that James climbed atop the bar, stretched out, and went to sleep. Unable to rouse him, the owner went in search of the Provost Marshall to lodge a complaint. When he returns not long after - with several arresting officers - they find that Jones has rolled off the bar and landed on the floor behind. Arrested on site, he's bound off to the brig and charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Surprisingly, Jones is court martialled the very same day, found guilty, and dismissed from the Union Army. He returns to his family home in Wheeling, West Virginia. On August 8, 1863, James R. Jones drops dead - the cause: apoplexy.
Not only has Catherine had to endure the disgrace of her husband's dismissal, but now she has also become a young widow, the sole support of her children. Within the year, she relocates to Cincinnati, Ohio. I've yet to find any document that might shed light on the reason for the move. Catherine also begins to petition for a Civil War Widow's pension in December 1864. That date marks the beginning of a struggle that will go on for several generations. Over the years, she will file and refile her claim as the government looses records, creates duplicate files, and fails to locate her husband's names on muster files, thus proving that he did serve in the Union Army. At one point, Catherine hires a lawyer to pursue to claim for her. She believes firmly that she is deserving of the twenty-some--odd dollars she would receive per month from the U. S. government. The government, however, maintains that James R. Jones had been separated from the Army prior to his death and that she is, therfore, not entitled to any benefits. I have no idea how Catherine supported herself and her family during this period. Her oldest daughter Alice marries and moves to St. Louis, Missouri, taking her two younger sisters Louisa and Elizabeth to live with her. I can find no evidence of the boys at this time.
Catherine Connelly Jones died in 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio, of severe asthma. A letter submitted by her daughter Alice Jones Flanagan to the Department of the Interior states that on her death bed, Catherine makes her daughter promise that she will pursue the struggle to claim the Civil War Widow's Pension funds for the children of the family. In 1915, great grandson William James Heitert of St. Louis will continue the fight. Only days ago, I located Catherine's burial location: St. Joseph's New Cemetery in Cincinatti. A cemetery representative told me in a telephone conversation that her grave could be found in Section 2, a single-grave area. He went on to explain that many elderly first-wave immigrants were buried there. In many cases, their spouses had died earlier and interred elsewhere and their children had moved away. Often non-family members arranged the burial and cemetery officials had little or no information to place in their records. Catherine was buried under her middle name, Josephine, and could easily have escaped anyone's notice. The records had no year or place of birth, no spouse's name ....only the last known address in Cincinnati. Sadly, her grave bears no marker, nothing that might give a clue that she lived and breathed and walked this earth. I am hoping that soon I will be able to remedy the situation. How can I know precisely where she rest and abandon her to anonymity?