When I first read the Perth Courier’s obituary (January 1941) for my great-grandmother Catherine McCarthy (Mrs. Arthur McGlade), I was puzzled to read that she was survived by, amongst other people, a sister named Miss Mary Mahoney. Miss (as in, never married) Mahoney? But shouldn’t that be Miss Mary McCarthy?
Well, no, not necessarily. Not if Miss Mary Mahoney was a half-sister of Catherine McCarthy, with a father named Mahoney who had previously been married to Catherine McCarthy’s mother Anne McDonald (or possibly McDonnell). Simplest explanation in the world, and of course it should have immediately occurred to me. But I was so focused on the surnames McCarthy and McGlade, that it actually took a bit of digging to make sense of it all.
The “blended family” is nothing new, of course. Back in the day when a woman dying in childbirth was no rare or unusual occurrence, and when a man in the prime of life, and seemingly hale and hearty the last time his neighbours ever saw him alive, might be carried off by influenza within the course of week, remarriage was quite common, and households containing children from a previous marriage were therefore quite commonplace. If you were a widow or a widower with a parcel of young children to be fed and watered, your best bet was probably to find yourself a new spouse: a new husband to bring home the bread, or a new wife to bake it. And the possibility of a remarriage is something to keep in mind when you’re looking through the 19th-century census returns: don’t assume that all of the children in a household are the children of the enumerated married couple of that household.
When Eugene McCarthy married Ann McDonald (21 March 1872), he was the widower of Catherine Trainor, with whom he had five known children (with one of them, Charles, presumably dying in infancy). And when Ann McDonald married Eugene McCarthy (21 March 1872), she was the widow of David Mahoney, with whom she had three known children, all of them daughters. Here is their blended family household from the 1881 Canadian census (transcription by ancestry.ca, with original image [LAC] here):
The above household contained children from three separate marriages:
1. Eugene McCarthy and Catherine Trainor (Jeremiah, James, Mary, and John McCarthy);
2. David Mahoney and Ann McDonald (Mary J., Abigail, and Annie Mahoney);
3. Eugene MCarthy and Ann McDonald (Ellen and Catherine McCarthy)
Abigail (Catherine Abigail, nickname “Abby”) Mahoney is mentioned in Catherine McCarthy’s (Mrs. Arthur McGlade’s) obituary as “Mrs B. Dignan,” which again, was initially a bit mystifying to me. She married Bartholomew, son of James Dignan and Catherine Cahill, whose nickname in combination with his surname (“Bartley Dignan”) is perhaps my favourite name ever to be found in my family tree, though with the duo of Mickey and Maisie Moran running a close second (when John Levi [Leavy] “Mickey” Moran married Mary Katherine “Maisie” Dunn, to become Mickey and Maisie Moran, that couple should have put on a Broadway show or something, their paired names had such a lovely alliteration).