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Bridget Cahalan Needham


Note: to conserve effort and provide continuity, this article draws largely verbatim on material from a previous entry, on James and Mary Mulfany Cahalan.  All quoted source material is reproduced as faithfully as possible, including original textual errors.


The most complete account we have of the children of James (1808 - 1883) and Mary Mulfahy Cahalan (1819 - 1902) exists in a letter (referenced in full in a previous entry),  dated 6 March 1963 from Marion Cahalan, their granddaughter, to her cousin, John McInerney.  This letter exists in three xeroxed manuscript copies and two typed transcripts, one by Joseph Cahalan, James and Mary’s great-grandson and my grandfather, who added the following introduction:


This is a partial history of the Wyandotte Cahalans prepared by Marion Cahalan in 1963 at the request of John McInerney.  Some of her dates are wrong--she states that the family came to Wyandotte in 1857.  Actually it was 1853. [As noted in previous entries, this is contradicted by census information.]  Also she states that her father John C. [Cahalan, Sr.] was born in 1858.  Actually it was 1859.


Marion’s letter reads in part:


James & Mary Mulfahy Cahalan of Nenagh, Tipperary Ireland had seven children: John, Catherine, Anna, Bridget, James M.D., Richard and John C.




Bridget married Patrick Needham and had eleven children.  Molly is the only one living.


As recorded in Marion’s letter (with dates from a family tree chart produced by Joseph Cahalan in 1986), the children of James and Mary were John (born circa 1838 and died before 1857, as can be inferred from Marion’s letter and a correction to it described in a previous entry; though no record of his birth or death is currently known), Catherine (1841); Bridget, (1845); Anna (1846 - 1916); James, (1850 - 1903); Richard, (1852) - 1909); and John Charles (1859 - 1939).


The present entry is devoted to Bridget Cahalan Needham (1845 - ?), born in County Tipperary, Ireland, probably in the village of Borisokane, near Nenagh, which family tradition names our place of origin.  The location of her grave is currently unknown but may, for reasons given below, be located somewhere in California.  


No record is known of either James and John’s, or Mary and the remaining children’s separate crossings to America, but Bridget certainly accompanied Mary in 1857 or 1858, traveling with her siblings, Catherine, Anna, James and Richard.  The family had been separated for four or five years, in which time her older brother John had died while working with their father in Lima, New York to raise money for the family’s passage.  (This John is not to be confused with his younger brother, John C. Cahalan Sr., born in America in 1859 after the family had been reunited the previous year, and who was James and Mary’s last child.)


Because they travelled between federal census years, and because their first establishment in Wyandotte probably saw them living as unsettled laborers in rooming houses or other provisional accommodations, there are no census records of the family before 1880, and no mention of Bridget, specifically, can be found before the 1870 census, which will be considered below.  An earlier-reaching source on the Needham family, however, exists in a letter of 17 September 1978 from Sr. Aline Needham, O.P., of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to my grandfather, Joseph Cahalan, which also includes a typed page of narrative genealogical information.  


Sr. Aline was Bridget Cahalan Needham’s granddaughter, and she seems to have written to Joseph following the funeral of Fred Schroeder, husband of Evelyn Cahalan Schroeder, their cousin.  Perhaps Joseph took the opportunity afforded by the wake to approach Sr. Aline, who was 72 at the time, to ask her to compile what she knew of her branch of the family.  Her narrative seems to have been produced for another Needham family member, however, since she refers to Bridget as “your greatgrandmother,” which is not correct in relation to Joseph; perhaps she already had the narrative on hand and simply sent it along in response to his request.  (He has labeled it with a note reading “This is the information from Sr. Aline.”)  It starts a few generations ahead of our present needs, but reads in part:


My knowledge of the early history of the Needham Family is quite limited, however, this is accurate.


My greatgrand mother Needham, a widow, with six young children left Nenagh, Tipperary sometime during the 1840’s, likely during the potato famine and landed in New York where she stayed with her family for a time before coming to Hubbardston [Michigan].


The children were:

Denis who married but had no children

Julia who married Michael o’Brien

Bridget who never married

Mary who married John Cahalan (somehow related to our branch but I do not know how.)

Another girl who became a Mrs. Dooley, who with her family moved to Chicago and connections were lost

finally Patrick who married Bridget Cahalan, your greatgrandmother to whom were born the following children:

Jim, the oldest who died at the age of 17
Jule and Mollie who never married 
Fathers John and Dennis
Kitty and joe who were single and died in early 20’s or late teens.
Will, who never married.
Ann who married Con Redmond (They had one daughter, Mary Jule now Mrs. George Copeland who has three children, two of whom are married and a third a junior in college.  Mary Jule lives in Pacific Palisades, California.

My father Richard who married Mary Carroll (I had a younger sister who died at the age of 13, the year before I entered the convent in 1919.


It is interesting to speculate, if it is not a reference to her children, what family of “greatgrand mother [sic] Needham” existed in New York--if indeed any were there ahead of her--and why she would have undertaken the move west.  Perhaps, like James and Mary Cahalan, she joined others in New York before moving on.  It would also seem to be implied by Sr. Aline’s account that all of the living children of Great-grandmother Needham emigrated with her from Ireland and survived into adulthood in Hubbardston, though she further mentions that ”[i]n the Hubbardston cemetery, there is the grave of greatgrandmother Needham with her name, that of her husband and one or two sons who died in Ireland.”


Sr. Aline, uncharacteristically, does not mention the names of this husband or the children, so it is possible that she is writing from memory sometime after her visit to the gravesite. gives the husband’s name as Patrick, and his birth year as 1800, but mentions no earlier children.


So Julia Needham (as we learn was her name from sources at had six children who survived into adulthood, of whom two definitely produced children of their own, to the best of Sr. Aline’s knowledge.  While we do not know of any descendants of Mary and John Cahalan, on the same page of the 1880 US Federal Census that gives us Julia’s name we find a James O’Brien (age 47 at the time) who, with his wife Julia (40 or 46--the form is hard to decipher), had seven children: James (16), Mary (15), William (13), John (10) Thomas (8), and Maggie (5).  The family’s ages and their proximity to Julia (nine doors down, if I read the ledger correctly) would seem to indicate that they are Julia’s progeny, and that Sr. Aline perhaps misremembered James’ name.


The ‘lost’ Mrs. Dooley, like the mysterious John Cahalan (husband of Mary and not the John C. Cahalan Sr. of the Wyandotte branch of the family), presents a lead to be followed in the future, though it is interesting to speculate on this ‘other’ John Cahalan, since the obituary of Catherine Cahalan Norton, Bridget Cahalan Needham’s sister, mentions “Father James Cahalan, her cousin,” who (since his last name is Cahalan) would have to have been the son of Catherine and Bridget’s uncle, their father’s--James’--brother.  This other John Cahalan would presumably have been in the same generation as Father James, and could have been his brother.  So, at least one other branch of the family can be shown through the obituary and Sr. Aline’s narrative to have existed in Michigan.


The 1880 US Federal Census lists a Julia Needham, aged 72, living in Hubbardston, Michigan, with her daughter Bridget, who was 38 at the time.  She is employed in “Keeping House” and Bridget is a “Servant,” in which capacity she had been recorded ten years earlier, in the 1870 US Federal Census, in the household of her brother and sister-in-law.  Perhaps ‘servant’ is incorrect, since Patrick Needham, at age 25, is said here to “work for Lumbermen,” and Bridget, at 24, is employed in “Housekeeping,” and the household includes only two others: Patrick’s brother Dennis, 21 and a clerk in a hardware store, and James, the son of Patrick and Bridget Cahalan Needham, 11/12.  (This last figure must refer to James’ age in months--he would be not quite a year old, since he was born in 1869, and therefore eleven-twelfths of a year.)


Further confusion is possible for us since Bridget Needham, Julia’s daughter, and Bridget Cahalan Needham, the daughter of James and Mary Cahalan, are living under the same roof!  I will do my best to keep them clearly separate in what follows.


The age of James Needham is not the only thing unusual in the census records, since Patrick is recorded as owning real estate in the value of $2500.00--quite a substantial sum for someone as young as he--while Bridget Needham, at 26, has property valued at $500.00 and even Dennis, who must certainly have been studying for the priesthood about this time, has $700.00 in real estate to his name!  To complicate things further, all of these amounts are clearly registered as “Real Estate” and not “Personal Property,” though the census-taker could have gotten his columns confused.


Perhaps the need for a ‘servant’ is explained by supposing that Bridget Cahalan Needham was under the care of her sister-in-law after a difficult birth or subsequent illness--or perhaps after the loss of a child: her second-born, according to, was born in 1870, after which time he disappears from the extant records.  It is clear, however, that Bridget Needham was employed throughout her adult life as a domestic, since her profession is a matter of similar record in the census of ten years later, when she is shown living with her mother.


It is also clear that Bridget Cahalan and Patrick Needham must have married before 1869, since true Irish fecundity manifests itself thereafter with their children.  While sister Aline lists ten (of whom seven survived into adulthood), gives us eleven names and vital dates: James (1869 - 1886); Michael John (born 1870 and not mentioned by Sr. Aline, further lending credit to the supposition that he died in infancy); Richard Edward (1872 - 1956); William Patrick (born 1874); Julia G. (born 1875; Sr. Aline’s ‘Jule’); John Francis (1877 - 1947, the future Father John); Michael Joseph (1879 - 1905; Sr. Alines’s ‘Joe’); Mary B. (born 1880; seemingly the "Mollie” Sr. Aline mentions); Dennis George (1882 - 1925, the future Father Dennis); Kittie (1885 - 1904, who would seem to have been named for her aunt, Catherine Cahalan Norton, also nicknamed Kitty); and Ann (born 1886).


Heartbreakingly, those children who did not survive--James, Kitty, and Joe--were already adolescents or young adults at the time of their deaths, and their aunt, Catherine Cahalan Norton, lost both her husband and her namesake in the same year.  Also like other family groups in the larger family story from about this time, relatively few of the children were married--only Ann and Richard--which might indicate relative poverty: marriage, then as now, was generally the province of those who could afford to set up housekeeping.


Another passage from Sr. Aline’s narrative also implies a degree of impecunity:


When the Hubbardston Lumber Company closed, one in which my grandfather was envolved, the entire family except my father moved to Traverse City and completed their high school education at St. Francis School there.  Many of our older Sisters knew the family well.

It is generally true that Michigan’s lumber industry gradually advanced northward as areas of prime timber in the south were clear-cut, so it is understandable that the family should have moved to Traverse City, a notable hub for the lumber trade at the turn of the last century.  No doubt Patrick’s skills--not to mention those of his adult sons--were developed in this industry. Sr. Aline records that “[m]y father told me that the present church in Hubbardston still in use [she doesn’t say which] is the one built from lumber my grandfather sold the parish,” so it’s entirely possible that Patrick’s profession was the business of lumber as a commodity: he was likely a trader or salesman.  Later mention of a business college among the family enterprises would seem to support this.


This relocation must have occurred before 1900, since the 1900 US Federal Census shows the family living in Traverse City.  At this time, the household consists of Julia, Mollie (both described as teachers), Kittie and Anna (both “at school”), with reference to Michael, Joseph and their mother cut off by the end of the previous page.  Michael, Joseph and Kitty are both listed on as having died in Traverse City, though the location of their graves is not currently known.  Patrick Needham died in Traverse City in 1906, the third member of the family in as many years to do so.  Though we do not know how long they had been living in Traverse City, it is certain that their stay there was marked by recurrent tragedies; we do not know the cause of Patrick’s death, or that of his children Kitty and Joe. 

Of Patrick Needham, however, there is one more important piece of information, one that has eluded the documentary record but was known to my grandfather and others in the family who told me: at some point (it would be logical to assume after the move to Traverse City and before the census of 1900 omits him as a part of his wife's household) he abandoned his family.  We do not know the circumstances surrounding his departure, or what might have prompted it, but it is perhaps kind to consider the hints of poverty earlier in the family's life, and to point to the deaths of three nearly-grown children in a short time.  Bridget and Patrick, married more than 30 years by the turn of the century, had lived lives marked by devastating tragedies.


Sr. Aline continues:


Uncle Will had a business college there [in Traverse City] until ill health forced him to close it.  He then joined his mother and three sisters who in the mean time had moved to Detroit.


Father John was the first pastor of St. Mary’s, Royal [Oak], but because of ill health had to give up his pastoral duties and join his mother and sisters who were then in California where he remained until he died in 1947.


If we take Sr. Aline’s mention of Detroit as a general geographical reference (there is no record of them living in the City of Detroit itself), then perhaps they moved back to Hubbardston; given recent family history, it is unsurprising that Bridget and her children would want to relocate nearer to their surviving family members.


A photograph exists in The Grey Velvet Album, the family album of John C. Cahalan Sr.and Anna Hogan Cahalan at 100 Orange Street, which might show Bridget sometime after 1883, when the album would have been first assembled.  This speculative attribution is made possible by the photographer’s imprint, which identifies the place of the portrait sitting as Ionia.  (The picture may instead show one of two Mary Cahalans, Bridget’s aunts, the wives of her uncles Dennis and John.) Several other family portraits from the same source are similarly imprinted, and may be pictures of Bridget, Patrick and their children, though none are securely identifiable.  


John and Dennis would both be employed as parish priests, and live out their lives, in southeastern Michigan.  They are frequently mentioned in newspaper stories about family members, particularly as it appears they regularly presided at family funerals and other events.  It is interesting to speculate that John could have been named for Bridget’s oldest sibling, the John Cahalan who died while working with his father, James, in New York before the rest of the family emigrated, while Dennis is also a family name--Dennis Cahalan was Bridget’s paternal uncle, and Dennis Needham was Patrick’s oldest sibling. Sr. Aline mentions that “Father Dennis was the pastor of St. John’s, Ypsilanti until he died in 1925.”


Bridget was James and Mary Cahalan’s farthest-travelled child, and her family is the farthest-spread.  A group of Cahalans can be found on the west coast today, and it is not beyond reasonable speculation that the mysterious John Cahalan (husband of Bridget’s sister Mary) had previously moved west.  In general, it is a safe bet that Bridget and her daughters moved toward something or someone with whom they were already familiar, and so we have another echo here of a lost branch of the family.  In addition, Bridget’s daughter Ann might already have moved to California with her husband, Con Redmond, since this relocation would also help to explain the presence of Ann’s daughter Mary Jule in Pacific Palisades in 1978, according to Sr. Aline’s narrative.


Speculation aside, this is where we lose sight of Bridget Cahalan Needham, and her daughters Jule and Mollie, for whom we have no dates of death or known place of burial.  There are no further descendants of the Needhams by that name, and Sr. Aline concludes her narrative by noting that “[f]rom this you can see that I am the “last leaf” on the Needham Family tree.”



First published 22 December 2009; last revised 21 February 2019.


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