Week 14 – Maiden Aunt

This week’s prompt is “maiden aunt”. Nearly every family has a maiden aunt.  Often this is the person who has the least information about them to be found. In the ‘olden days’ unmarried women did not generate the wealth of records genealogists live for. They did not typically own property. They lived with their parents, adult siblings, and then sometimes their nieces and nephews as they aged. No marriage records, no birth records for their children, and no land deeds or property records. Hopefully, future generations will have better luck researching their maiden aunts. These days, many single women are purchasing property and leaving plenty of records behind. Not to mention social media… I can only imagine what future generations of  genealogists will think when they see our social media posts.

In my own family, there are quite a few unmarried women. I look at the names on my family tree and wonder why they never married. Were they unattractive? Unpleasant? Did they prefer the company of women? As a single woman myself, I know it’s silly to think these are the reasons my ancestors remained single, and there are many other reasons to be unmarried.

My third great aunt, Sarah Alphonse O’Connell was born 05 September 1869 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her parents were Irish immigrants who met and married in Providence. Sarah was the youngest of five children born to James and Mary (née Batt) O’Connell. Her oldest sister Catherine and her brother John, also never married. The next oldest sibling, Helen, died at age 35 and left behind her 3 year old daughter, Grace. The middle child, Michael Frank, was my second great grandfather. Sarah, Catherine, and John lived at home until the deaths of their parents. James died in 1877 when Sarah was seven and Catherine was eighteen.

Two years before James died, all the children attended Catholic school, except for Catherine, who at 16 worked as a carder in a woolen mill.

1880 all Mary’s children were living at home. The four oldest, ranging in age from 13 to 21 all worked for a jeweler. It seems all but the youngest went to work after James died, rather than finish school. Sarah, at 10 years old, was the only one still in school.

In the years between 1880 and 1900, Helen married, had two children, and passed away. Helen’s youngest child only lived a few months, and Helen died within 3 months of her baby daughter. Michael Frank married and began his own family.

1900 found Catherine and Sarah living with their mother. Also living with them was their brother John and Grace, Helen’s daughter.

Mary died in May of 1905 and when Rhode Islanders were enumerated in June for the State Census, 10 year old Grace was living with Catherine, Sarah, and John. John is now listed as the head of household.

John passed away in 1907 and the next census shows Catherine, Sarah, and Grace still together. The census also shows that the family had taken in two boarders. A father and his 9 year old daughter.

In 1915, Catherine, Sarah, and Grace still had their boarder, Gladys, but her father was no longer residing with them. They also had a young man of 19 named Joseph as a lodger. In 1915 neither Gladys or Joseph were working, so how did they pay their way?

Catherine died in 1915 and Grace married in 1918, so by the 1920 census, Sarah was on her own, taking in various lodgers to help make ends meet. Sarah worked as a sales lady in a millenary shop for many years, and died 11 June 1947, outliving all her siblings.

I wonder why Catherine, Sarah, and John all remained single? Did they not find anyone suitable? I have another maiden aunt, Sadie McKenna (1888-1967), who according to my great grandmother, was an attractive woman and had several offers, but was too choosy. Before she knew it, she was in her 50’s with no husband or children. I wonder how these maiden aunts (and bachelor uncles) felt about being single? I hope they had happy lives full of good friends, family, and maybe a cat or seven.

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