Continuing the search for the first Boston Marathon winner: we want your help!

John J. McDermott, winner of the first Boston Marathon. Boston Sunday Journal, 1 May 1898.

Scott Steward, founder and editor of Vita Brevis, retired last month. This blog has been a wonderful creative outlet for all of us at American Ancestors/NEHGS, allowing me space to vent about research projects, share what I’ve learned about certain record collections, and manipulate a genealogical theme just enough to warrant another post about Harry Potter.

But the most satisfying, miraculous, and fulfilling posts that I’ve written were about the first winner of the Boston Marathon, John J. McDermott—and we still don’t have an answer to our mystery yet. But you could help!

To summarize:

On April 20, 2015, I wrote the first of my posts ( Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go? ) in which I lamented the difficulty of locating a person with a very common name in a very large place. According to period newspapers, John J. McDermott, the winner of the first Boston Marathon in 1897, was an avid long-distance runner from the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City. John was born about 1880, immigrated from Ireland, and worked as a lithographer in New York. While McDermott should have been a celebrity of his time, newspapers and marathon histories neglected to report any information about his personal life: no date of birth, date of death, or names of his wife, children, or other family members.

On my own, I came up with very little information, but when Vita Brevis readers got ahold of the research project, things got incredibly exciting!

  •  KT found references to John J. McDermott dying before 1927 and Noel Ray later found references that pinned the death date to before 1909.
  • Paul Baltutis (who played a pivotal role in this research) put me in touch with Roberta Schulmeister, who had an heirloom belonging to John J. McDermott that was presented for his first place finish in a “marathon” race put on by the Knickerbocker Athletic Club dated 19 September 1896.

Using the hard work of Vita Brevis readers, I wrote another blog post ( Crowdsourcing , posted April 2017) where I was able to determine that John J. McDermott was the son of James McDermott and Elizabeth Grady (Roberta’s great-great-grandparents). His birth record shows that he was born Johnny McDermott in Manhattan on 16 October 1874. Unfortunately, the trail went cold there: I could find no evidence of his marriage or death in New York City or New York State.

I did find his siblings, however, in New York City: Julia (McDermott) Fitzpatrick and James Edward McDermott. Here is what I found:

  • Julia McDermott married John Fitzpatrick in New York City in 1901. She had a son, Francis Fitzpatrick, who was born in New York City in 1902, but he died young. She also died young in 1905. She and her son were buried in Calvary Cemetery in New York City. John J. McDermott is not buried with his sister and nephew.
  • James Edward McDermott was born in New York City on 13 October 1876; he married and moved to Buffalo, New York where he worked as a lithographer (!!). He died in Tonawandas, New York in October 1938. His obituary in Tonawandas does not mention his brother, John. Additionally, the baptismal records of the St. Francis Church in Tonawanda do not include any of James’s children (in the hopes that his brother, John was listed as a godparent). John J. McDermott is also not buried with his brother James in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Again, our incredible Vita Brevis readers came through and found some additional information. One finding of note came from Noel Roy: four newspaper articles about John, narrowing the time of his passing to between 1898 and 1906, with the beginning and end years unlikely. Additionally, details from the newspapers insinuated that he died from tuberculosis.

Using these details, I found what I believe is John J. McDermott’s death record . According to the record, John McDermott died of tuberculosis in Bellevue Hospital on 13 May 1903 at the age of 25. There is no information included on the record about his parents, but all the other details fit the story. As a result, I ordered the cemetery record from Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, New York to finally decide whether this John was OUR John J. McDermott. Here are the details from the transcribed record:

Section: 7 Range: 27 Plot: O Grave(s): 7
Recorded in the name of: Hugh Casey
Date of purchase: July 25, 1868

Interred Date of Burial Age at Death Buried in Grave Birthplace
Rose Casey July 25, 1868 6 mo. 7 NY
Ann Casey August 19, 1888 52 7 Ireland
Hugh Casey September 7, 1888 60 7 Ireland
Kate Brennan February 26, 1893 22 7 NY
John McDermott May 17, 1903 25 7 NY


Now, who are all these people? Ah, the frustrations (and fun) of genealogy!

The short answer is, I don’t know. I’ve never run into the Casey or Brennan surname while searching for John J. McDermott. It is possible that the individuals buried in this grave never knew each other and ended up together at random. However, it is possible that they did know each other, and if so, I would be more confident that this John is indeed our John J. McDermott.

To get y’all started, I did a little research on these individuals. What other juicy tidbits can you find using the information I’ve included below? Happy Hunting!

  • Rose Casey was the daughter of Ann Golden/McGoldrick and Hugh Casey. She died 22 July 1868 in Manhattan at 6 months old.
  • Ann Golden/McGoldrick married Hugh Casey in the Church of the Nativity in New York City on 16 November 1865. The marriage was witnessed by Bernard Noonan and Eliza Farrell. Ann was born in Ireland about 1836, the daughter of Andrew Golden/McGoldrick and Ann _____. She died of Tuberculous on 17 August 1888 in Manhattan at 517 East 15 th Street.
  • Hugh Casey was the widow of Ann Golden/McGoldrick. He was born in Ireland about 1828, the son of Patrick Casey and Rose _____. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the Charity Hospital, 402 East 26th Street. Hugh Casey and Ann Golden/McGoldrick had the following children:
    • Rose Casey, born on 14 February 1868, baptized at St. Brigid in NYC on 20 February 1868. Witnesses: James Murray and Mary(?) Golden. Died at 6 months old 25 July 1868.
    • Margaret Casey, born on 11 February 1871, baptized at Immaculate Conception in NYC on 19 February 1871. Witnesses: James Brennan and Mary McGoldrick
    • Ann Casey, born 24 September 1873, baptized at Immaculate Conception in NYC on 28 September 1873. Witnesses: John E. Donnelly and Mary Brennan
    • Edward Casey, born 25 November 1875, baptized at Immaculate Conception in NYC on 28 November 1875. Witnesses: James McMorrough and Ann Brennan
  • Kate Brennan was the daughter of James Brennan and Kate _____, both of Ireland. She was born about 1871 and died on 23 February 1893 of Pneumonia at 307 East 35th Street in NYC.

About Lindsay Fulton

Lindsay Fulton joined the Society in 2012, first a member of the Research Services team, and then a Genealogist in the Library. She has been the Director of Research Services since 2016. In addition to helping constituents with their research, Lindsay has also authored a Portable Genealogists on the topics of Applying to Lineage Societies, the United States Federal Census, 1790-1840 and the United States Federal Census, 1850-1940. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has appeared as a guest on the Extreme Genes radio program. Before, NEHGS, Lindsay worked at the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she designed and implemented an original curriculum program exploring the Chinese Exclusion Era for elementary school students. She holds a B.A. from Merrimack College and M.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

9 thoughts on “Continuing the search for the first Boston Marathon winner: we want your help!

  1. How absolutely fascinating! Great post.

    I have a question about the easiest access to the NY archdiocese sacramental records. Everything I find suggests that “findmypast” is the way to go. Is there a better option? Whenever you have a chance to answer is fine.

    1. Hi Rose-

      Good question! Find My Past has a great number of NYC Catholic parishes available as databases (I’ve linked to many of their records above). However, not all of them are complete. Nonetheless, if you have Catholic ancestors who lived in NYC, it would be a fine idea to check out the offerings at Find My Past!


  2. Does it seem that these people who are buried in Grave 7 died in a hospital? or from pneumonia?.. just thinking..

    1. Cindy- Good thought! Many people who died of TB were often buried in specific graves, but I don’t know if that is the case here. We know that the Caseys buried in the grave are related, and I am convinced that Kate Brennan’s family knew the Caseys. Too many people with the Brennan surname acted as witnesses to Casey baptisms… seems too perfect to be a coincidence.

      But I like it! Keep those thoughts coming!

  3. Hi Lindsay, I realize my question is a bit off topic, but how were you able to get such great info from Calvary cemetery? I have a 3rd great grandmother buried there but they were not particularly forthcoming when I called.

    Love the article!

    1. Hi Daniel-

      Calvary has pretty good cemetery records. If you are looking for confirmation of an individual’s burial at Calvary, you can call them at 718-786-8000 and ask for the plot information— you need to know their name and burial date (most death records have that information). The person will USUALLY give you the location information (section, range, plot, grave), the purchasers name, date of purchase, and number of people in the grave. They cannot tell you the names of all the persons buried in the grave, however, that’s a different process.

      If you’d like an inventory of all the persons buried in the lot, then you need to write to the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Calvary Cemetery, 49-02 Laurel Hill Blvd., Woodside, NY, 11377 and include a check for $170.00. It took about 2-3 months if I remember correctly.

      The record is a transcription and not images of the original, but it’s excellent information. I’m sure that this record will be the lynchpin that pulls this whole project together!

      Happy hunting-

  4. Oh gosh Robin! That’s a great suggestion! I think I know how the Brennan and Casey families knew each other, but not yet how the McDermotts fit into the puzzle. This could be the key!

    I will have more on the Casey and Brennan connection shortly, but let’s keep these great suggestions coming!!

  5. There is a 15 year old Elizabeth Grady on the 1870 [line 28] living with the Rooney family in a NYC tenement building. Their neighbor is Patrick Brennan.

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