When it comes to the Simmers side of the family, it’s no easy task separating fact from fiction. Spirited recollections made around holiday dinner tables, memories shared over coffee or scotch were taken as gospel. Little paperwork was left behind to substantiate oral tradition.
Then along comes intrepid family genealogist Judy Herbert , who, based on her postings in message boards around the web, has spent a great deal of time during the last 30-plus years doggedly tracing the family lineage back to Ireland. We caught up with Judy recently to get an update on her progress.
Curator: Judy, how are we related?
Judy: We share the same great grandparents , John McCullen and Margaret Wigmore. John was born in New York, and oral family tradition tells that the family first lived in or near Troy. He married Margaret Bridget Wigmore, who was born in New York City. They spent most of their married life living in the New York City area, raising nine children.
Curator: You knew my grandmother, Mabel Simmers?
Yes, she was my grandmother’s (Sara “Sally” Harriet McCullen) younger sister. Aunt Mabel was so much fun to be with, and a really great lady. Unfortunately, with the way 3M moved us around the country when I was growing up, I never got to see as much as I would have liked of your grandmother–or mine for that mater!
Curator: Is there any truth to the story that my grandmother used to tell that we’re related to Lord Wigmore?
Judy: Mabel told me the same story. She had heard her grandparents say that we were descendants of Lord Wigmore. He is immortalized in a statue, you know, riding a horse, in one of the squares in London, across from the 3M offices. I haven’t proven it yet. Wigmore is an English name, and our Wigmores came to the U.S. from Ireland.
Curator: When it comes to tracking down oral traditions, how often do you find that they are true?
Judy: About half the time. The other half of the time there is usually at least a shred of truth in them, so they are still valuable for providing clues. Often people are operating from imperfect memories. Occasionally, you’ll get what seems to be an outright, intentional falsehood, perhaps due to embarrassment, or to avoid sharing details about a difficult or painful situation.
Curator: We share the same great-grandmother, a woman neither of us could have ever met, Margaret Wigmore. You have done some tremendous work uncovering family roots in Ireland. What can you tell us about her family?
Judy: We know that Margaret’s father was Stephen Wigmore.
Curator: Yes, Mabel left behind his death certificate. He died in November 1872 and was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Queens.
Judy: He died of T.B. He came to New York from Ireland, only four years earlier, in March, 1868, on the ship, City of Antwerp. I’ve determined that Stephen’s father was James Wigmore, who married Mary Scanlon in 1836 in the Catholic Church at Donoughmore Parish, southwest of Mallow. They were both born about 1820.
Curator: Wow, that’s quite a find. I believe that Mabel was Protestant. Does this mean that her mother was Catholic?
Judy: The Wigmores were Catholic, at least from the time of the 1836 marriage and the baptisms of each of their 8 children. Either my grandmother Sally, or your grandmother Mabel, told me that the McCullen/Wigmore team was a mixed marriage. To keep peace in the families, John McCullen and Bridget Wigmore baptized every other child Protestant, and the ones in-between, Catholic. While I haven’t found any church records for our McCullens or Wigmores in the U.S., John McCullen, Margaret Wigmore, and all four of their parents, are buried in Catholic Cemeteries in New York City and Westchester County.
Curator: What else can you tell me about James and Mary Wigmore, the Irish-born parents of our great- grandmother, Margaret Wigmore?
Judy: They had eight children, who were born in Fidane and Upper Lavally, located just to the southwest of Mallow, Co. Cork, in the southern part of Ireland. I have baptism records for the children–James 1837; Bridget 1838; Mary 1841; Jeremiah 1843, who I believe, was the twin of our Stephen, baptized on the same date in 1843; Catherine, 1845; Timothy, 1849; and Ellen,1857.
Mary’s maiden name was probably Scanlon. One of the witnesses to James and Mary’s marriage was Jeremiah Scanlon who, I believe, was most likely Mary’s father or brother. I don’t know whether James and Mary immigrated to the U.S., or remained in Ireland. But their sons–Stephen, Jeremiah, and Timothy–all emigrated to the U.S. James was still alive in November of 1870, when his son Timothy married Bridget Allen in Cork City. Some of the records in the Mallow area go back far enough that further research might reveal the parents of both James Wigmore and Mary Scanlon.
Curator: It seems as though the big leap was determining Stephen Wigmore’s parents. There was nothing left behind to figure this out. How did you do it?
Judy: Well, first I determined that Jeremiah Wigmore, also of New York City, was Stephen’s brother. One of Jeremiah’s children was buried in Stephen’s cemetery plot. Jeremiah’s parents are listed on his death certificate as James Wigmore and Mary Scanlon of Ireland. Timothy Wigmore of New York City was another brother; he lived with his wife and children at the same address as Jeremiah in 1880. I later found Timothy’s death certificate; it showed James and Mary Wigmore as his parents. It’s possible they had another brother, William, but the evidence isn’t as compelling with him.
Curator: I read that you made a major discovery recently. Tell us about it.
Judy: Well, I located our Wigmores in Ireland, prior to Stephen and his brothers’ arrivals here in the U.S. As I mentioned, they were from Fidane and Lower Lavally, Co. Cork. I really never expected to find their location over there, and finally ‘got there’, through finding the marriage of Stephen’s brother Timothy in Cork City, to his wife, Bridget Allen. I’m just really starting to dig into the records in Cork now.
Curator: Do you know who Stephen Wigmore married? This person would have been our great, great-grandmother.
Judy: Stephen married Bridget McEnery/McKerney/McInerny/McNary, who was born in the Republic of Ireland in 1849 or 1850. I’ve found four spellings of her maiden name. They married in about 1869, 1870. The 1880 census in NYC shows Mary McKerney living with them, enumerated as “Mother in Law,” a widow.
Curator: Was that Bridget’s only marriage?
Judy: No. Bridget also married a Ringrose, either before or after Stephen Wigmore died in 1900, but I strongly suspect Ringrose was her second marriage. Bridget’s origins are very difficult to trace, perhaps impossible, due to the different spellings I’ve seen of her maiden name. Heck…for all we know, we could be heirs to a Tabasco sauce fortune. Or, if not heirs, at least entitled to a free bottle or two.
Curator: What can you tell us about the McCullen side of the family?
Judy: Mabel McCullen-Simmers, your grandmother, my great-aunt, had thought that John McCullen’s father was a Stephen McCullen, and that the family was from the Troy, New York area after immigrating from Ireland. I believe Mabel was combining names of her grandfathers, and mentally transposed Stephen Wigmore’s first name, with her McCullen grandfather’s name.
Curator: So who was her grandfather?
Judy: My research proves that her McCullen grandfather, was Maurice (the Irish spelling for what we in the States pronounce, Morris) McCullen, a shoemaker, who I believe is the M. McCullen, age 25, shoemaker, who arrived in NY aboard the ship George Washington on Oct. 4, 1852, from Liverpool. Our Maurice is surely the one who received his naturalization in NYC on Oct 19, 1868. Maurice is likely the Maurice McCullen that is listed in Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland from the late 1840s, in the northern end of Dublin. The McCullen name with that spelling, is found in the Drogheda area, and it is possible that he migrated south a bit to Dublin to work.
Curator: Who did Maurice marry?
Judy: He married Mary Ann (known as Annie) Carr, the daughter of Edward Carr and Margaret McHolland, sometime before 1856. Maurice was born in 1825-26, and Annie was born in Ireland in 1827-30. I don’t yet know whether they married in Ireland, or New York. They were living on Hester Street in Manhattan in 1858 and had three children that I know of, all born in New York–Edward Jas., born 1857, our John J., born 1858-59, and James, born 1860-61.
Curator: What became of the children?
Judy: Edward, the older brother, was a plumber and steam fitter who married Alice Pierce in about 1880. They had 7 children; only two surviving to adulthood. Our John was a painter (and decorator, per Aunt Mabel), fireman, and a member of the NYC Special Police. Mabel also told me that he was involved in politics. James was a founder (he would have been casting iron or brass) who married three times. The the first marriage was to Mary Conroy, with whom he had four children. The second marriage was to Jessie Baxter Taylor, and they had one son. His third marriage was to none other than your great-grandmother and mine, and the widow of his brother John–Margaret Bridget Wigmore.
Curator: That’s scandalous!
Judy: Yes. James died in 1935. Aunt Mabel never mentioned Margaret’s marriage to James, and I have not found their marriage record, so it is possible that they were living together as husband and wife without a ceremony. It is just as likely that I just have not found the marriage record yet.
Annie Carr-McCullen died in January of 1889, from a fall she took getting out of a chair 10 months earlier. Maurice McCullen died in September of 1894. They are buried in Calvary Cemetery, in Queens.
Curator: Where does the McCullen name come from?
Judy: The McCullen name is a variant of MacQuillan–a name that you will find connected with the early days (16th century), at Dunluce Castle, in Co. Antrim, Ireland. You can read a brief history of the castle at this site: http://www.northantrim.com/dunlucehistory1.htm. I took some photos there in August of 2009; it’s a breathtaking place.