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John Cahalan & Catherine Cahalan Norton

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


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).  This letter exists in three xeroxed manuscript copies, one reproduced here, and two typed transcripts, one by Joseph Cahalan.  With corrections as noted, it 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.


Grandfather Cahalan and his eldest son John came to America in 1849 [as noted in the previous entry, this date is probably inaccurate] to get work & earn enough money to bring the rest of the family to America.  They worked around Lima N.Y. where John died probably in his teens & was buried in Lima.  Finally Grandfather had enough money and sent for his family & they arrived and settled in Wyandotte in 1858.  Father (John C. [Sr.]) was born here in 1858 or 59 & named after his eldest brother because of the custom of that period and grandmother’s grief.


Catherine (Aunt Kitty) married Michael Norton--no children.  


The present entry is devoted to John Cahalan (c. 1833 - c. 1853) and Catherine Cahalan Norton (1841 - 1916).  Both were born in County Tipperary, Ireland, probably in the village of Borisokane, near Nenagh, which family tradition names our place of origin.  According to Marion, John “was buried in Lima [New York]” while Catherine and her husband, Michael Norton, are buried in the Cahalan plot in Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Wyandotte.  John was unmarried, and Catherine and Michael Norton had no children.


While the dates given by Joseph’s family tree accord with--and are most likely taken from--inscriptions in Mt. Carmel Cemetery, which can be taken as authoritative since they were produced at the direction of surviving family members, it is likely that Marion is in error in giving 1849 as the date of James’ emigration, and that Joseph is thinking of this event--rather than the date of the family’s migration to Wyandotte--when he specifies 1853.  Simply put, Joseph seems to have confused the date of James’ emigration with Mary’s, and we may discard the date of 1849.  This speculation coheres with tombstone dates in the family plot, and it has the added advantage of explaining the intermission in births to Mary and James between 1852 and 1859: during this period, James was in America.  


So James and John would have left for America in about 1853.  


John, who was probably about 15 at the time, is all but lost to us.  No identified photograph of him survives (in fact, no photograph from the Cahalan family can be safely dated to before 1859: all seem to have been taken in America, as photographers’ insignia generally show, so we have no photographs of any of James and Mary’s family until after their settlement in Wyandotte), and no census record seems to exist.  He most likely traveled with his father, ahead of the rest of the family, out of economic necessity: employable as an adult, his wages contributed to the expense of bringing over the rest of the family, whom he would never see again.  We do not know what sort of employment he and his father James were able to secure in Lima, New York, or the cause of his death, which could have been work-related. Marion describes him as dying “probably in his teens,” and since the date given in the 1880 census for Mary’s immigration is 1857, we might assume that he was born no later than 1838.  Marion mentions that he was buried in New York; his grave, or a record of it, is still potentially discoverable.


Incidentally, 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.


No record is known of either James and John’s, or Mary and the remaining children’s separate crossings, but Catherine certainly accompanied Mary in 1857 or 1858, traveling with her siblings, Anna, Bridget, James and Richard.  The family had probably been separated for four or five years, in which time John had died and Richard, now about six, would have likely forgotten much about his father. 


The lack of census information is a result of timing: with US Federal Censuses conducted in 1850 and 1860, James and John probably missed the earlier date by their arrival; the family’s relocation to Wyandotte in 1858 would have guaranteed that they were not accounted for in this source until later.  However, no other sources appear to be extant, either, and it is possible that, as unsettled laborers--who might well have thought of their stay in Lima as temporary--James and John could have escaped the notice of the official record, living in rooming houses or other provisional accommodations.  


Similarly, we do not know if the decision to move to Wyandotte was made before or during (or, given what was ostensibly a poor climate for employment, perhaps because of) the family’s brief stay in New York.  Other immigrants in the family tree, mentioned elsewhere on this site, exhibit a similar pattern of settling briefly in New York before moving to Michigan.  It is clear, however, that the promise of work at the E.B. Ward Rolling Mill fostered the need to relocate.


Little else is currently known of Catherine’s life.  She married Michael Norton (1845 - 1904), as later census data shows, in 1870, and the couple set up housekeeping in Wyandotte.  Previously, Michael Norton is included in the 1860 US Federal Census at the age of 15, living with his mother and older brother Daniel in the Township of Ecorse.  (Since this township name applied to a large local area, it should not be confused with the current City of Ecorse, Michigan, though it did contain the present city’s territory.) Both young men are described as laborers, and all in the household were born in Ireland.  


Ten years later, Michael and “Catie” Norton (or, as Aunt Marion referred to her, “Kitty”--since her name changes from census to census, it might be inferred that she and her husband spoke with strong Irish brogues the census-takers found difficult to understand) are listed in the 1870 US Federal Census as man and wife, with real estate property valued at eight hundred dollars and personal effects at one hundred and fifty.  (For reference, the only comparably-estimated property on the street housed a family of seven; perhaps Michael was unusually industrious.)  Though the street name is not on the source page from this information is quoted, the postal district is given as Wyandotte.  In the same document, Michael is designated as a “Male Citizen of the US of 21 years of age or older,” presumably for voting purposes; Catherine would not live to see women gain suffrage.  Michael is listed as working in the rolling mill, where his father-in-law was also presumably still employed.


The 1900 US Federal Census is the last official record of the couple currently known.  They were by then living in a house at 115 Eureka Avenue, married 29 years (thus establishing the date of marriage as sometime in 1870), with her younger brother Richard (who is listed as a “Boarder”).  Both are 54 years old, both born in March, and Richard is 47.  (He is designated a “Druggist.”)  Michael and his brother-in-law are described as naturalized US citizens, while Catherine’s designation is left blank.  She could, conceivably, never have been formally naturalized.

The address, on reflection, may be significant.  Since the census-taker lists households on Fourth Street immediately before Michael and Catherine’s home at 115 Eureka, it can be inferred that he was working his way around the block.  (Strangers to Wyandotte will need to know that Fourth and Eureka, a surface thoroughfare, are perpendicular, with Orange Street running parallel to Eureka one block south.)  The house at 115 Eureka would therefore have been one lot in from the corner of Eureka and Fourth, the present site of a printing business.  Family tradition states that, while the house at 100 Orange Street was being built, the family of John C. Cahalan Sr. lived in “the little house behind the big house”--a reference to a property a few lots west on Orange.  This address would therefore locate Michael and Catherine (called “Katty” in this census) on the diagonally opposite corner of the block, directly behind her younger brother’s grand establishment.  So Michael and Catherine lived within sight of 100 Orange Street, with Richard.


One detail of the 1900 census, however, is puzzling and certainly incorrect; Catherine is listed as the mother of six children, all of whom are living.  The writing is very clear on the form, but no other source mentions anything like this (could she have misunderstood and said she was one ofsix children?), and in fact Marion states that the couple was childless.  Perhaps the same language difficulties that repeatedly changed the spelling of her name also led to this error.  In fact, we do not know definitely that Catherine was literate, though it is highly likely that she was.


The next notice of Catherine in the extant material has her living in widowhood at 100 Orange Street after the death of Michael in 1904, where she is photographed with her niece Evelyn (the identification of this picture is by Joseph Cahalan, my grandfather). Presumably, Catherine crossed the back yard to 100 Orange Street  and lived the last eight years of her life with her brother’s family before dying at the age of 75 on 9 July 1916.  No record exists of what became of the house in which she and Michael had lived, though it is possible that its northeast corner is shown above; this seems not to show a back door of 100 Orange Street.


Catherine’s obituary, preserved in the scrapbooks of her brother John C., provides little new information about her, though it does hint at an interesting--and as yet unexplored--avenue of family history.  The obituary reads in full: 


Mrs. Catherine Norton, one of the oldest and most faithful members of the parish died on July 9th, 1916, and was buried on July 12th, at 9:30 a.m., with a Solemn High Mass. Rev, Father John Needham was celebrant; Father Dennis Needham was deacon, both being nephews of the deceased, and Father James Cahalan, her cousin was sub-deacon. Father Hally gave the sermon, praising especially the strong faith of Mrs. Norton. Mrs. Catherine Norton was the widow of the late Michael Norton, and leaves one brother, John C. Cahalan, and two sisters, Mrs. Anna McInerney and Mrs. Bridget Needham. May her soul rest in peace.


Fathers John and Dennis Needham were the sons of her sister, Bridget Cahalan Needham, whose family was located in Hubbardston, Michigan.  But the reference to “Father James Cahalan, her cousin” is interesting: he would have to have been the son of her father’s--James’--brother.

The last record we have of Catherine is her tombstone, located beside her husband’s in the Cahalan plot in Mt. Carmel Cemetery.  It is worth noting that he is buried there rather than locating her grave among other Nortons, even though he predeceased her by eight years; perhaps his older brother had also died childless and he had no surviving family in the area by this time.


Though her obituary does not present us with much of a sense of her life, several clues in the surviving records would seem to indicate that Catherine--”Aunt Kitty” as Marion makes clear the children called her--was a figure of particular affection in the family.  Her niece, a daughter of Bridget Cahalan Needham who would unfortunately die in 1904 (the same year Catherine lost her husband), was probably named--and also nicknamed--for her, and it is easy to assume from the photograph above that, living at 100 Orange Street, Catherine cared for her brother and sister-in-law’s children.  Evelyn, in her pinafore, is dressed for play, and Catherine is seemingly not otherwise busy; in fact, the picture may belong to a series taken when the girls of the family, at least, were playing in the yard.  Perhaps their Aunt Kitty had joined them.


First published 2 December 2009; last revised 19 May 2019.

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