An alien and an alias

Mary Ellen Cassidy, a babe in her mother’s arms, at the family homestead, 13 Palmer Street, Fall River, Massachusetts, summer 1891. At left, Mary’s brother John P. Cassidy; her father, Patrick Cassidy (ca. 1862–1891); Mary’s aunt Ellen Flynn stands behind her mother. Original photo, on a piece of silk, underscores the paradox of Mary’s loss of citizenship, as she remained on the property through the entirety of her life.

At first glance, the terms alien and alias hardly seem applicable to my father’s beloved aunt, Mary Ellen (Cassidy) Clynes of Fall River (1890–1960). Her name, however, is listed among the National Archives Alien Case Files #10897934. This bewildering status only came to light in the spring of 1955, when Mary’s daughter Eleanor attempted to assist her mother in signing up to receive her first Social Security check. The city clerk said, “I am sorry, Mrs. Clynes, but you are not eligible for Social Security because you are not an American citizen.” What a puzzle for a woman born only a mile-or-so from the city center! It took months and a lawyer’s help to unravel the tangle.

John, Mary, and Anne Cassidy, ca. 1897. The girls’ frocks belie their well-worn shoes.

Mary’s parents, Irish immigrants Patrick and Annie Cassidy, bought a lot from the Globe Mills in Fall River’s south end in 1887. They and Annie’s sister Ellen Flynn soon built a cottage at 13 Palmer Street, an easy walk to the mills. Here Mary was born on 1 May 1890. A family tragedy soon transformed Mary’s childhood, when her father died, age 29, following an industrial accident. Mary’s sister, Annie, was born on 11 May 1892, seven months after their father’s death. Their unmarried aunt, Ellen Flynn, supported the family by working in the Globe Mills while their mother Annie Cassidy kept house, with income from a hastily erected tenement with three cold-water flats on the back lot. Undoubtedly, Ellen paid for this studio picture of the Cassidy children.

At 12, while her brother John continued his education, Mary joined her aunt Ellen in the mills. World War I influenced Mary’s life in an unexpected way: she married Irish-born bricklayer Patrick Clynes on 30 July 1917. A month before their wedding, Patrick registered for the draft, with his card revealing he had not yet become a naturalized United States citizen.

Only months into the marriage, with a child on the way, Patrick shipped off to France, perhaps with little heed to this law:


A U.S. citizen woman who married an alien between March 2, 1907 and September 22, 1922, was held to have lost her U.S. citizenship under Section 3 of the Act of March 2, 1907.

Following his wartime service, Patrick Clynes returned home to Palmer Street to wife Mary and daughter Eleanor, born while he was in France. What happened next remains murky—he left Fall River abruptly, never to see his wife Mary or his daughter again. It took Mary more than 35 years to learn her marriage to an alien cost her her citizenship. She never spoke of her husband’s abandonment.

Anne (Cassidy) Dwyer holding new grandson Michael Dwyer with Mary (Cassidy) Clynes outside their childhood home, August 1959.

In the meantime, with support from her sister, Anne, now a nurse, Mary Clynes kept house, sometimes cooked for other families, and raised her daughter Eleanor. When Eleanor started school, Mary went back to the mills. They moved out of the cottage and into the first-floor apartment on the back lot when Anne married in 1929. Until her death, Mary never changed her status as married. She remained the bedrock of the family’s stability. My life overlapped with that of Aunt Mary for only a year, and how I wish she lived into the realm of my memories. I too spent my preschool years in the house on Palmer Street.

Now to the alias: Patrick Clynes leaves a trail of mysteries. Born in County Mayo, Ireland, on 9 March 1894, as Patrick Mulkeen, eldest of nine children, he emigrated to New York in October 1915 as Patrick Joseph Clynes—his sponsor, an uncle named Patrick Clynes, formerly Mulkeen. An explanation, offered by one of Patrick’s many nephews, suggests the name Clynes sounded less Irish than Mulkeen. Within months of landing, Patrick made a declaration for naturalization but never followed through with final papers.

After quitting Fall River, Patrick settled in Chicago, resumed his identity as Patrick “Joe” Mulkeen, acquired a new wife, and prospered in the construction business. No children were born to this new union. Further compounding the duplicity, Patrick Mulkeen now claimed 9 March 1884 as his birthdate, thus aging by ten years. He stated New York as his birthplace, thus solving the citizenship problem! His World War II registration card reflects these altered facts.

In the end, all these attempts to obviate his life with Mary in Fall River dissolved upon his death in January 1963: He left his entire estate to his only daughter Eleanor, who, in turn, had no desire to meet newfound relatives in Chicago.

About Michael Dwyer

Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he is a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist and The American Genealogist. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. The Vermont Department of Education's 2004 Teacher of the Year, Michael retired in June 2018 after 35 years of teaching subjects he loves—English and history.

19 thoughts on “An alien and an alias

  1. Michael
    intriguing article
    I have a tangential question I attempted to send to your comcast email but was rejected
    could you please provide me an update?

    Dan Hazard

  2. Thank you for this fascinating family story.

    I understand completely getting rid of the Irish name Mulkeen. My mother, born Teresa Beatrice Mullarkey in 1904, told me never to let anyone know that I was Irish. Her grandfather changed his name from O’Shea to Shea in an effort to move away from prejudice against the Irish.

    1. I have the same photo of Beatrice. It all gets very confusing. On the back of the photo it says Beatrice Horan Hafey. I used to write to my Uncle Tom( Beatrice s son) during the 60 s after he came over to visit. His wife was called Mary but I lost contact after he died. He had no children. But his wife had children from a previous marriage. Tom worked for Falls River Police as far as I remember

  3. Fascinating tale Michael that leaves me with so many questions! Talk about silly laws… and however did you discover the original name Mulkeen? Interesting lives! I’m betting there is more here to tell. Good stuff!

    1. You’re right, Jeff, about a bit more to the story. The Mulkeen piece came to light when Eleanor went to Chicago in 1963 and learned some of her father’s brothers were Mulkeen. Thanks for weighing in.

  4. My famously anti-immigrant maternal grandmother, with American roots back to half of New England in the 1600s, married my England-born gf on New Years Day 1907. Until seeing the start date in your post I was under the impression (and many laughs) that she temporarily lost her American citizenship by virtue of marrying Grandpa in 1907. Thank you for the clarification. Grandpa’s dad, btw, who’d brought the family from England in 1882, became a Naturalized Citizen in 1912, shortly after he and Great-grandma returned from a month-long visit there, but Grandpa didn’t become one until 1942. No idea why he held out so long as he was barely 5 years old on arriving here and claimed not to have any nemories of the country of his birth.

    1. I think I can provide an answer to your question about 1942. Again, during wartime, when national security is heightened, the government began to check on people who were not naturalized. My grandmother had a tenant, a quiet, widowed mill worker from Québec, who was deported in 1942 because she was not a citizen. In other instances, some folks who procrastinated in following through with their final papers hurried up and complete the process in the early days of World War I. I know of three Vermont men, who had been here for more than 20 years, that were naturalized during the same week in 1917.

      1. Thanks, Michael. I should’ve known Grandpa becoming a citizen in 1942 had something to do with WWII since I’ve long suspected his father did so in 1912 ahead of WWI. Both were too old to serve in either the U.S. or British army, but not too old to be deported.

      2. Thanks, Michael. I left a longer reply that apparently Grandpa and his dad both became citizens to avoid deportation ahead of World Wars, but not sure it “took”.

  5. I stumbled across that “silly law” many years ago, as my interest in genealogy was just beginning. After my grandmother died, my mother was sorting through her papers, and found a naturalization certificate for my great-grandmother, Myrtle (Hastings) Boyle Winslow, stating her former nationality as British. She was very confused, as Myrtle had been born on Christmas Day, 1895, in Broad Creek Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware, and a birth certificate issued in 1939 attesting to that fact was also among the papers.

    My mother made some inquiries through the local LDS family history center, and found out about that law. Myrtle had lost her American citizenship when she married her second husband, Max Webster Winslow, an immigrant from Canada (though a direct descendant from Kenelm Winslow, his branch having migrated from Buffalo to the Niagara region in the late 1800s). He was naturalized in 1939. Both were working at the duPont munitions plant in Carney’s Point, New Jersey, and it seems that at the beginning of WW2, the fact of her lost citizenship came to light, and she was naturalized in 1942.

  6. Hi! Delia Mulkeen 1897 (Ballyhaunis) – 1983 (Rochester, NY) is my great-grandmother. I can trace my family to my 4th great-grandfather James Mulkeen abt 1795 – 1877. He is my brick wall. I have spoken with Clynes DNA matches before the CM is small but it is there! Thank you for posting this, very interesting. My email is if anyone is interested in Mulkeen family research collaboration.

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