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James McAdams and Catherine Sullivan


Catherine Sullivan was born in December 1858. She told the family that she was born "on the boat." She lists her birthplace as England on her 1880 marriage license to Emmett McAdams, however. Catherine Sullivan was living at Thirty-Fifth and Liberty Avenue. Thirty-Fifth runs into Liberty at an angle, so that the intersection of Thirty-Fourth, Thirty- Fifty and Liberty is shaped like the letter "K," so in 1880 James married the girl next door. Their Marriage License was recorded in the 1880 Ministers' Returns of Marriages in Pittsburgh, PA. Catherine and James were married at St. John the Baptist Church located at Thirty-Second St. and Liberty Ave. The existing St. John the Baptist Church building was built in 1902-1903 and has now been converted to a restaurant.

Next to the Sullivans entry in the 1880 Census is the entry for James' sister Sarah and her husband James McPike. Not only did James marry the girl next door; he married the girl next door to his sister.

I am grateful that Catherine and James married in a Census year. I was having difficulty finding out information about Catherine's parents, Thomas Sullivan and Catherine Welsh Sullivan, because there were several Thomas Sullivans in Pittsburgh at that time and I had no way to pinpoint the right Thomas. Since Catherine listed her residence on her marriage license, I was able to continue the search.

Thomas and Catherine Sullivan fit my original image of Irish immigrants. They may have been among the many that fled the miseries of the Potato Famine. From 1816 onward, wet weather destroyed crops, the potato failed in several Irish provinces and, weakened by hunger more than 100,000 Irish died of starvation and disease. According to one farmer, in late September of 1845 a "queer mist came over the Irish Sea…and the potato stalks turned black as soot." In 1845, the potato blight destroyed 40% of the Irish potatoes and the following year, approximately 100% of the crop was ruined. Successive crop failure led to "Black '47," with increases in famine, emigration, and disease. Although the potato crops from 1847-1851 were unaffected by the blight, famine conditions intensified due to a lack of seed potatoes for planting new crops and an inadequate amount of potatoes having been planted for fear that the blight would persist. When a fungus destroyed the potato crop, a nation starved and one million survivors left the island, many destined for America. (Information from IRISH POTATO FAMINE AND TRADE (HISTORY) http://gurukul.ucc.american.edu/TED/POTATO.htm)

The Sullivans may have been among the many impoverished Irish that fled to America in the years following 1847.

In the 1870 Census, Thomas Sullivan was living with his wife Kate. His age is listed as 50 and hers as 44. With them are William, age 14, Kate age 12 and Lizzie [whose 1887 marriage to John Pfrenzinger was recorded in the Allegheny County Marriage License Docket] age 10. The birthplace of all five of the Sullivans is listed as Ireland. This presents conflicting facts. If Elizabeth was born in Ireland and was younger than Kate, it doesn't seem likely that Grandma Mac's explanation that she was "born on the boat" can be taken literally. Thomas lists his occupation as "peddler." In the 1880 census, Thomas's occupation is listed as "invalid." He and Catherine are living with William and Elizabeth, but they now have an adopted son Michael, age 8.

According to the Census, neither Thomas nor his wife could read or write, although their daughters could. My original image of the immigrant Irish came to mind when I read the Census table. Thomas and his wife may have lived an incredibly hard life, having no time for education. It may have been a struggle for them to save their children from starvation. The fact that the girls could read and write points to the fact that Thomas and his wife found opportunity in America to provide a better life for their children than they had had. Thomas and his wife may have seen their dreams of a better life come true when they came to America.

Thomas Sullivan died on February 15, 1886. According to his obituary, his funeral was conducted "from his late residence, 2411 Penn ave." He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.

Catherine Welsh Sullivan died on July 4, 1891. Her funeral was conducted "from the residence of her son-in-law J. E. McAdams, No. 137 Forty-Sixth st." I picture Catherine as living with her daughter's family after her husband's death.

William Sullivan died in 1928. His obituary reads:

SULLIVAN - On Tuesday, October 2, 1928, William Sullivan, son of the late Thomas and Catherine Sullivan and brother of Mrs. Catherine McAdams. Funeral from Jerry T. O'Shea's funeral home, 5064 Penn avenue, at Main street. Notice of time later.
The fact that the obituary lists William's parents and sister but makes no mention of a widow or surviving children suggests that William might not have married. William was buried in Section R Row 21, St. Mary's Cemetery, Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, with his parents.

Catherine Sullivan McAdams lived at 319 Ella Street from the time her husband James died in November 1898. The 1900 lists Catherine "McAddams" as living with her four children, Charles, Thomas, James Emmett and Catherine G. Charles' occupation is listed as "bookkeeper." Thomas is a "machinist apprentice," and the younger children are "at school." Also living with them is Catherine's niece, Elizabeth Murphy, who is a "telephone receiver." Catherine reports that she owns her home and that it is "owned free of mortgage."

Most documents from the time Catherine lost her husband in 1898 to the mid-1930's list her as living on Ella Street. Later she lived on the first floor of a duplex on Emerson. One exception is the 1920 Census which shows her as living in an apartment in Westmoreland County with Emmett whose occupation is listed as "clerk - auto supplies." It is possible that she moved there temporarily to be near her daughter, Gert in New Kensington.

Catherine Sullivan McAdams died in 1947 around the age of 90 from "old age - senility." She was laid to rest in Lot 281, Section H of St. Mary's Cemetery with her husband James, James' three sons, Charles, Thomas, and James Emmett and with their daughter Lydia.

Charles did not have children of his own, but he and his wife Sarah Hunt, daughter of William Hunt and Margaret Sembawer, raised Louise after the death of her mother in 1922. They were very good to Louise and to all of the McAdams children. I think it was Gert that said that Louise was "spoiled rotten."

Emmett never married. For a time he lived with his mother and later he shared a duplex with his brother Thomas.

Catherine McAdams This picture shows "Grandma Mac" at the wedding of her grandson, James "Howdy" to Peggy Hart in 1934. This photograph, courtesy of Peggy Hart McAdams, was taken at the Hart family home at the corner of Columbo Street and Aiken Avenue.

On the left are the young couple, Howdy the groom and his beautiful bride. Howdy's good looks remind me of the actor Gene Kelly. Standing behind them is Father Joseph Young. Next is the groom's father, Thomas Joseph McAdams Senior and his mother Catherine Sullivan McAdams. In front of Catherine is Peggy's Aunt McCarthy and next to her is Peg's mother Kitty Hart. The young woman standing behind them is Catherine "Gertrude" McAdams Doering, daughter of James and Catherine McAdams. More about the Doering family on the Doering page.

James McAdams had five children: Charles by his first wife, Mary Keally, Thomas, Gert, Emmett and Lydia by his second wife Catherine Sullivan. Emmett never married. Charles married Sarah but had no children of his own. Fortunately Thomas McAdams married and had six children; otherwise the McAdams name would have died in that generation and I would have no more to write.

Thomas Joseph McAdams was born to James and Catherine Sullivan McAdams on September 8, 1881 at Rear 137 46th Street in Pittsburgh. He was baptized at St. Mary's Church, further up 46th Street on September 25, 1881. His mother's sister, Elizabeth Sullivan, later Mrs. John Pfrenzinger, was listed as a sponsor.

Earlier in 1881, a cheese maker and possibly an army deserter from Switzerland made his way to the United States. The man's name was John Amacher. He was my dad's grandfather, and the first in this country with my maiden name. At one time John listed his address as Kenzig Brewery in Cleveland, owned by my second great-grandparents, Christian and Elizabeth Kenzig. Not only did John work for the Kenzigs, but he married the bosses' daughter, Carrie. Carrie was the third of Christian and Elizabeth's twelve children. John and Carrie married on February 20, 1883 and had six children, the youngest of whom was my dad's father, Harold C. Amacher, Sr.

We often think of the immigrant experience as peering through the mist to see the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. However, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty took place on October 28th 1886. The National Park Service Web site explains that the statue was a centennial gift from the people of France to the people of the United States ten years late.

By the time the Statue first lifted her lamp welcoming immigrants, the McAdams family had been in the United States over sixty years. Thomas Joseph McAdams, the second generation to be born on American soil was five years old.


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Copyright © 2000 Nancy McAdams

March 20, 2000
Updated November 11, 2000

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