Portraits and Presumptions

By J. L. Starkey

Above all else, deep in my soul, I’m a tough Irishwoman.”

– Maureen O’Hara

A friend’s note in my Senior Year annual kept an inside joke going long after graduation. “I can’t believe that you’re actually a KENNEDY!!” he wrote. “Mrs. B. was so envious!”

It started innocently enough. One day in class, I let it slip that my great-grandmother was a Kennedy, and that (according to family legend) she was related to that other Kennedy.

You know the one, don’t you?

Mrs. B. sure did. She was fascinated with any and all things about John F. Kennedy, and I have to admit that I shared that sentiment.

And then there was that photo.

Anne Kennedy, ca. 1900
[Family photo collection]

“It was used in a prayer card,” my mother said of the colorized portrait of my great-grandmother. As a child, I often gazed at the photo and wondered about the life of this beautiful Irishwoman.

She looked glamorous, resolute, and so very strong. She had to be strong, my young mind reasoned. After all, she immigrated all alone…as a teenager.

Well, she did. She really did!

Didn’t she?

More than three decades later, I am still fascinated by that photo…and I still haven’t proven that darn legend.

Every brick wall has a name, and the most beautiful one in my family is named Anne Kennedy.

Assumptions and Probabilities

Anne (lower rt) with her family, ca. 1924 [Family photo collection]

According to mom, Anne Kennedy emigrated from Ireland (“Probably from Tipperary, or maybe Cork?”). She settled in Chicago and worked as a maid or servant before marrying fellow Irish immigrant John Joseph Reedy. (You can read about how I tracked down Anne and John’s marriage record by clicking here.)

Because of that prayer card, mom knew when Anne died and where she was buried, but that was where her knowledge ended [1]. The rest of Anne’s story contained far too many assumptions and presumptions to be considered factual.

Family members assumed that Anne had no siblings (“We never met anyone related to her”). They also assumed that she and John met in Chicago, and that Anne immigrated alone, because…well, because nobody ever said that she traveled with anyone, did they?

Post-1910 census records provided little help in proving those assumptions. According to those documents, Anne was born in Ireland around 1880, immigrated to the United States prior to 1900, and married John Reedy prior to 1910. She raised six children with her husband, and she lived in Chicago until at least 1930 [2].

Hoping to find more clues in pre-1910 records, I searched the 1900 census for Anne Kennedy, since Anne and John didn’t marry until 1904 [3]. Surprisingly, in 1900, Chicago was home to just one unmarried Irish immigrant named Anne Kennedy who worked as a servant [4]. That woman was employed by Norman Carroll, and she resided in the family’s Kimbark Avenue home. According to the record, she was born in 1879 and immigrated to the USA in 1894.

Anne’s 1900 census record? [FamilySearch image]

The Carroll family was wealthy indeed; in 1898, Norman Carroll was issued a $15,000 permit to build the home that would later be the (assumed) workplace of my great-grandmother [5]. Today, homes in that area routinely sell for one million dollars or more.

Using the 1894 immigration date as a guide, I searched passenger lists for Anne’s name but soon encountered obstacles. Was my great-grandmother the one who first settled in Syracuse? How about St. Paul or St. Louis? Maybe Hartford? Or perhaps she went to Canada first, or Boston?

Frustrated, I shifted my focus to death records, hoping to find clues about Anne’s family that way.

It was a decision that would prove to be more than worthwhile.

Carroll Connection?

Clues in Anne’s death certificate?

Anne passed away from heart and kidney problems on 17 July 1934 [6]. Her death certificate included valuable health information for her descendants, along with several Easter eggs for future family historians.

According to informant John Reedy, “Annie,” who died at the family’s Lowe Avenue home, was born on 26 September 1879 in Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland, to James and Mary (Carroll) Kennedy.

“Mom was correct,” I said to myself. “Anne was from Tipperary. Finally, I’m getting somewhere!”

I looked again at the maiden name of Anne’s mother. Carroll? Didn’t I just see that name on another document?

I reviewed the 1900 census and confirmed that Anne’s employer was indeed Norman Carroll. A check of his background revealed that he, like Anne, was born to Irish parents [7].

“Maybe Anne wasn’t so alone after all,” I thought. Maybe Norman Carroll was not only Anne’s employer, but also her relative. Did he offer her a hand up, perhaps as a favor to the family?

As I pondered that possibility, I turned to the next Easter egg in Anne’s death certificate. I had seen the word Nenagh before in my family tree – and often. It was the town that my Reedy ancestors called home for generations [8]. In fact, Anne’s husband was born there.

I started to rethink that whole “they met in Chicago” bit of family lore. Did it really happen that way, given that John and Anne were both born and raised in Nenagh? Honestly, it was starting to seem as though quite a few family assumptions were wrong. But just how wrong were they?

In a word? Very.

Righting the Wrongs

Finding Anne’s birth record should have been an easy task. I simply needed to search the 1879 birth records for Nenagh, and then…

Wrong again.

Civil Registration for Anne’s birth [Irish Genealogy image]

John Reedy may have made an error when reporting his wife’s date of birth, or maybe Anne had not been honest about her age. According to civil records, she was born on 28 April 1876 in Drummin, a townland in the Portroe district of Nenagh [9]. However, even that date was probably incorrect.

According to Youghal Arra parish records, Anne was baptized on 24 December 1875, which places her date of birth on or before that date. James and Mary Kennedy might have waited until the new year to register Anne’s birth, which would explain the discrepancy between parish and civil records [10].

Anne Kennedy’s baptism record [Ancestry image]

To learn more about Anne’s extended family, I conducted a page-by-page review of Youghal Arra parish records. There were hundreds of pages available online (for free!), and it seemed that each one contained barely-legible cursive, creative surname spellings, and ink blobs…so many ink blobs. This was going to take hours…or days…or weeks.

I enjoyed every frustrating minute of it.

It can be a painstaking process, but page-by-page searches are absolutely essential. While a digital index is helpful, the actual record often contains much more information than that handy (and legible) computerized list.

So it was for Anne Kennedy, because within a matter of hours, she had siblings…a lot of them. According to records, she was the youngest daughter in a family of at least ten children [11].

So much for that “only child” assumption. Wrong again.

And the surprises didn’t stop there.

Parish Records and Presumptions

As I inspected parish records, I did a double take on digital image 49, which included the baptism record for Anne’s brother, Michael. Directly above his name was an entry for Margaret Reidy, the daughter of my third-great-uncle, Con Reidy [12].

Reedy-Kennedy coincidence? [Ancestry image]

“Reidy? Hmm…that’s an odd coincidence,” I mused as I advanced to the next image.

As I read the next entries, though, I realized that this was no coincidence. There, at the bottom of image 50, was the baptism record for another baby named Margaret Reedy [13]. The daughter of Michael and Margaret (Butler) Reedy, she was the sister of my great-grandfather, John Reedy.

In other words, she was Anne Kennedy’s future sister-in-law.

A Reedy-Kennedy connection! [Ancestry image]

Margaret’s baptism record was proof that Anne and John were not only born and raised in the same town, they were registered at the same parish in that town. While they might have met for the first time in Chicago, that scenario seemed pretty unlikely.

Part of me wanted to argue with those records. It just couldn’t be, could it? Anne and John met in Chicago. Chicago, remember? We have that family legend about how they were both from Ireland, but their paths didn’t cross until they arrived in Chicago. It was so romantic! Two brave (but lonely) only children immigrated to a strange land, met, and fell in love, only to discover that they were from the same county in Ireland. Who could resist a story like that?

Enter Margaret Reedy…and her baptism record.

So, about that neat little legend? Sorry…wrong again.

Where the Story Ends…For Now

Nenagh, Tipperary, ca. 1860-83 [National Library of Ireland on The Commons – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/19032506124/, No restrictions]

I wish I could say that those parish records broke down the rest of the Kennedy brick wall. I wish I could say, “Yes, I’m related to that Kennedy family,” or, “No, I’m not related.”

But I can’t say those things (not yet, anyway), because the discovery of Anne’s parents led straight to another Kennedy brick wall.

Another one?

It’s true. This one is named James, better known as my great-great-grandfather. Will this be the year when I finally find his father?

Stay tuned…this is one brick wall that is getting ready to fall!


  1. “Illinois, Archdiocese of Chicago, Cemetery Records, 1864-1989,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-XC83-YLP?cc=1503083&wc=Q64L-7LY%3A1590082625 : 31 October 2016), 004401931>image 988 of 5490; Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois.
  2. “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RN2-XP3?cc=1727033&wc=QZZQ-75W%3A133640201%2C135332401%2C140576801%2C1589218872 : 23 June 2017), Illinois>Cook>Chicago Ward 19>ED 839>image 19 of 36; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, n.d.). (See also: “United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRXQ-S3P?cc=1488411&wc=QZJ5-XGS%3A1036473701%2C1037511801%2C1039878901%2C1589341992 : 10 September 2019), Illinois>Cook (Chicago)>Chicago Ward 32>ED 2004>image 15 of 24; citing NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, n.d.); and “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRH7-7YN?cc=1810731&wc=QZF3-X5Z%3A648807601%2C648807602%2C649991401%2C1589287360 : 8 December 2015), Illinois>Cook>Chicago (Districts 0501-0750)>ED 713>image 56 of 60; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: NARA, 2002).
  3. “Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N74N-D9C : 10 March 2018), John Reidy and Annie Kennedy, 22 Jun 1904. (See also: “Marriage Licenses,” The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, 19 Jun 1904, p. 13, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
  4. “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DCYS-5LP?cc=1325221&wc=9B7V-7M7%3A1030552601%2C1031967101%2C1035185901 : 5 August 2014), Illinois>Cook>ED 1021 Precinct 30 Hyde Park Town Chicago city Ward 32>image 28 of 45; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, n.d.).
  5. “Building Permits,” The Inter Ocean, 3 Apr 1898, p. 19, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
  6. Death certificate, Annie Reedy, 17 Jul 1934, Certificate no. 19944, State of Illinois Department of Public Health – Division of Vital Statistics. Genealogical-purpose-only copy in possession of author. (See also: “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N3CR-JJY : 10 March 2018), Annie Reedy, 17 Jul 1934; Public Board of Health, Archives, Springfield; FHL film 1,907,320, and “Reedy,” Chicago Auburn Parker, Chicago, Illinois, 25 Jul 1934, p. 7, col. 3. Retrieved from newspaperarchive.com.)
  7. “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DCYS-5LP?cc=1325221&wc=9B7V-7M7%3A1030552601%2C1031967101%2C1035185901 : 5 August 2014), Illinois>Cook>ED 1021 Precinct 30 Hyde Park Town Chicago city Ward 32>image 28 of 45; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, n.d.).
  8. “Ireland Civil Registration Indexes, 1845-1958,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FY1D-36R : 9 March 2018), BIRTHS entry for John Reedy; citing Nenagh, 1872, vol. 8, p. 665, General Registry, Custom House, Dublin; FHL film 101,049.
  9. “Ireland Civil Registration, 1845-1913,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QGY4-P1BJ : 12 April 2018), Anne Kennedy, 28 Apr 1876; Birth; Nenagh, Nenagh, Ireland; citing General Register Office, Southern Ireland; FHL film 255,954.
  10. National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 02483/01. Youghal Arra; County of Tipperary; Diocese of Killaloe. Baptisms, Apr. 1875 to Mar. 1876, p. 61. Baptism record for Anne Kennedy. Retrieved from Catholic Parish Registers at NLI, https://registers.nli.ie/pages/vtls000634645_061.
  11. Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915, Killaloe>Youghal Arra>1847-1881 listings for Kennedy, James, and Kennedy, Mary (formerly Carroll). Retrieved from ancestry.com.
  12. National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 02483/01. Youghal Arra; County of Tipperary; Diocese of Killaloe, p. 49. Baptism records for Michael Kennedy and Margaret Reidy. Retrieved from Catholic Parish Registers at NLI, https://registers.nli.ie/pages/vtls000634645_049. (Note: For unknown reasons, the Reedy surname is spelled “Reidy” in this branch of the family.)
  13. National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 02483/01. Youghal Arra; County of Tipperary; Diocese of Killaloe, p. 50. Baptism record for Margaret Reidy. Retrieved from Catholic Parish Registers at NLI, https://registers.nli.ie/pages/vtls000634645_050.

9 thoughts on “Portraits and Presumptions

Add yours

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! There is so much mystery in the life of Annie Kennedy – it’s been a lot of fun finding the real person behind all of those stories!


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