Stories of People in Poverty: The Trail Continues

1864 Tewksbury Almshouse Intake Records #21827 and #21828 for Margaret Kellaher and John C. Kellaher.

I wrote about Margaret (Mulligan) Kelleher and her infant son John Cornelius Kelleher a few months ago in a previous Vita Brevis post. While I thought the trail had gone cold, I wanted to try looking one more time at the Tewksbury Almshouse records. As you may recall from my previous blog post, according to records, Margaret and John were sent to the Tewksbury Almshouse after being given a meal at Boston’s Temporary Home for Women and Children.

I had previously searched for “Kelleher, Margaret” and “Kelleher, John” with no results returned, but I realized that might not be the end of the road. As genealogists, we get used to performing searches on larger genealogy sites which use Soundex —a system which indexes names by sound, and can therefore return search results which include similar-sounding names. However, many smaller and nonprofit archives don’t have this feature, meaning that researchers must manually search for different possible variations of a name. I decided to try a few different versions, and finally came across a John C. Kellaher, recorded with his mother Margaret!

We learn more details about Margaret and John’s lives in this short entry. Margaret’s birthplace was given as Boston, and John C.’s was given as B.A.H. (Bridgewater Alms House). Margaret’s father was Pat Mulligan, a naturalized immigrant from Ireland who was listed as “Insane.” Her mother died in Stoughton. Margaret had married twice, a detail which I knew from her intake form in Boston. Her first husband was Thomas Mulligan, and her second husband was Cornelius “Kellagher.”

Using this information, I was able to find Margaret’s marriage record to Thomas Mulligan . They married on 13 November 1859 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in South Boston.

Marriage Record of Thomas Mulligan and Margaret Mulligan, 13 Nov. 1859, Stes. Peter and Paul, South Boston, Archdiocese of Boston. Source: Massachusetts: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1920,

According to their marriage register, which was recorded in Stoughton , Thomas was a stone mason. Margaret was 23 years old, and Thomas was thirteen years her senior. Both Thomas and Margaret were residing in Stoughton. He was born in Ireland, and Margaret was born in Boston. Margaret’s parents were listed as Patrick and Bridget.

Marriage Record of Thomas Mulligan and Margaret Mulligan, 13 Nov. 1859, Stoughton, Massachusetts. Source: Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1841-1910,

It appears that Cornelius had run from the draft and may have been in the Bridgewater Alms House under the name of Mulligan. It was barely a year since the Boston Draft Riot of 1863 . Many of the recipients of conscription notices were immigrants, who couldn’t afford to pay $300 to furnish a substitute in their place during the war. Did Cornelius assume an alias to keep the local police from conscripting him into the U.S. military? Perhaps he viewed the Alms House as a place of refuge.

What happened next to Margaret and John? The margins on the left-hand side of the intake record note an absence on 13 July 1864, and a discharge on 12 August 1864. There may be a trip to the Massachusetts State Archives in my future to learn more about what happened to Cornelius Kelleher, and hopefully to pick up the trail on Margaret and John.

I’d like to give a special thank you to the staff at the Center for Lowell History for their assistance deciphering the details on the Tewksbury almshouse record.

About Melanie McComb

Melanie McComb is a genealogist at NEHGS. She is an experienced international speaker on such topics as researching in Prince Edward Island and using newspapers and DNA in genealogy. Readers may know Melanie from her blog, The Shamrock Genealogist. Melanie holds a bachelor of science degree from the State University of New York at Oswego. Her areas of interest are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec. She is experienced in genetic genealogy, genealogical technology, social media, military records, and Irish and Jewish research.

9 thoughts on “Stories of People in Poverty: The Trail Continues

  1. Thank you Melanie for your Almshouse post. I am in the process of publishing a book about my Grant line in southwestern Nova Scotia and New England. It’s called “The Descendants of John Grant and Mary Sabean.” It begins in Annapolis Royal in 1755 with the birth of my 5th GG, John Grant. Poor farms or County Homes feature in the book, in my home county of Annapolis, and in Digby and Lunenburg counties. I have discovered two sad results of close cousins marrying (their unions did not always end with sad results). In one case three of five children were reported with diminished capacity and were cared for by their parents until the latter passed away. Then, the remaining two boys were sent to the County Home in Bridgetown, Annapolis County and there they died. The good news is that they are interred with their parents in Fundy View Cemetery, Port Lorne. Two other boys/youths did not fare as well. Their parents died relatively young and a sister married and moved to Massachusetts. The boys were sent to the Dayspring home in Lunenburg, where they died and are buried in the almshouse/asylum cemetery – in unmarked graves (I think there are 77 graves with markers and numbers, but no names. In the first case, the men in Bridgetown were associated with family contact information, a brother who cared enough to meet his obligations and a place in a cemetery with their parents. In the second case, there was no contact information and no one to contact. Thus the unmarked graves.

    I attended the NEHGS course in Atlantic Canadian genealogy. Thank you for your contribution.

    Best wishes … Allen Grant

    1. Allen, Interested in information that you have (and in your book?) on John Grant & Mary Sabean. My late husband was a descendant, if they are the same couple. Regards, Nancy Hersey

  2. I feel your pain in researching Kelleher – while researching a 19th century cousin family by that name who emigrated to Norwich CT, I was faced with many spellings of that surname – even misheard as “Callahan!” Also, Cornelius seemed to be a favorite forename in the several Kelleher families I followed.

  3. My ancestor Joseph Hamilton Mathews was born in Providence, Rhode Island 1850. His father Jeremiah Mathews died 1854. Joe, his mother Irene and his sister Amanda were identified on the 1860 census as paupers in the Dexter Asylum for the Poor. The Rhode Island Archives were able to furnish some further information on them. At some point the Shakers came there and took the children with them to Merrimack Shaker village. Daughter Amanda remained with the Shaker for many more years til her death. Joseph shows up as farm laborer nearby in 1870 census and working for the railroad came to Texas and married my great grandmother.

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