Friday, May 25, 2012

A Personal Story of Decoration Day

My great great grandfather, William Mahady, was the first of my family to arrive in America. He left County Mayo in the northwest of Ireland around 1840, probably sailing from Queenstown (now Cork) in the far south. He made the voyage in a wooden ship with his older sister, Catherine. They arrived in New York City and traveled up the Hudson River where Catherine was employed as a domestic for a family who lived near West Point. William probably went to work on the D&H Canal that would eventually connect the coalfields of Pennsylvania with the Hudson River and New York City.

In 1854, when he married his wife, Mary Loftus, he was one of thousands of workers living in a workers’ camp near to the rails bein layed  for the D&H Railroad. In the 1860 census, he is living in Minooka, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining town south of Scranton where all my Irish ancestors from Cork and Galway would also settle. He was one of the first to inhabit this tiny hamlet.

Things could not have been easy for William and Mary. Coal mining was always dangerous. Their son would be killed in a roof fall in 1893. But in the early 1860s, it was particularly dangerous because of non-existent safety laws and explosions. Every three days, 2.5 men were killed in the hard coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania. But William’s greatest challenge was down the road. In 1864, he volunteered to go fight the Rebels in the Civil War. He was captured at the Battle of Petersburg and would become a prisoner of war at the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Of the eight men captured, he was the only one who survived.

I was able to get William Mahady’s pension file from the archives in Washington, and a record of his ordeal and the fight for benefits connected with his imprisonment are at this link. I thought I would post it in honor of his service to his country and to recognize all those who preceded and followed him in serving in the armed forces.

Re: Picture - G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic - My great great grandfather's regiment marched in the parade that went down Pennsylvania Avenue, marching past President Andrew Johnson, who had assumed the presidency after Abraham's Lincoln's assassination.

Have a safe Memorial Day!


  1. Wow! That is wonderful that you have such a record of your great great grandfather! Very cool! I don't know much about my ancestors.
    I was told my great great grandmother, on my mom's side, was a full blooded native American, I have a picture of her daughter, my great grandmother.
    My grandfather (my dad's dad) was left at an orphanage during the depression. He never got over that and refused to tell us anything about his biological family or their last name.

    1. Candy, Maybe you get your beautiful high cheekbones from your great grandmother. It's too bad that you don't know your grandfather's real surname. You can learn so much just from census reports. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. What a great Memorial Day post. I loved reading it.

    1. Thanks, Erlynn. It was like getting a Christmas present when the package arrived from the Pension Office. I learned so much, including his wife's maiden name and the fact that he had four children, two of whom died in childhood.