PLUNK GENEALOGY -- see "Family" label on this blog and/or write Mike at

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Discovery and Resolution

Yesterday Mike and I made a discovery and closed a loop in my family history. Last year, through his genealogy pursuits, we found the grave of my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Galvin (orig. Gallivan) Manley. She’s buried in the old section of Memphis’ Calvary Cemetery, not far from her youngest daughter, my grandmother Mary Michael Manley Thomas. Mary Michael lies alongside her husband and next to her only son, my father, and her older sister.

We were unable last year to locate Mary Elizabeth’s husband, Michael James, or any of their children who we knew died young. But, with Mike’s additional research and confirmations from Calvary’s old records, we were able yesterday to prove that the whole family is buried there.

Mary Elizabeth and Michael James were both Irish immigrants who lived in the Pinch District, an area near North Main Street which was primarily occupied by working class Irish, Italian and German immigrants. (See more about Irish immigrants in Memphis at -

Before marriage, Mary Elizabeth had been a domestic servant for one of the city’s wealthy families. Michael James was employed as a tinsmith. Mike’s research showed that, as the young couple started their family, it seemed that every time they had a baby, an older child died. They lived in the Pinch during the great yellow fever epidemic and lost a little girl to that disease.

The recitation of family deaths paints a tragic picture.
1878 – Margaret, age 5, died of yellow fever.
1880 – Ella, 2, died of pneumonia.
1883 – John James died two weeks before his third birthday.
1886 – Michael James died of liver disease at the age of 39. Mary Elizabeth was eight months pregnant with my grandmother and now was a widow.
1895 – Kate, 13, died on Christmas Day from consumption.

Of the children, only my grandmother and her sister Edna, who never married, lived into adulthood and their golden years.

Mary Elizabeth, who never remarried, died in 1925 at the age of 70. Hers was the only grave that had been marked. The little Manley family could probably barely afford the burials and certainly not headstones. We recently learned that the family plot had been a gift from an uncle of Michael James.

Lost, Now Found

As the administrator at Calvary Cemetery explained, little Margaret would be the only family member not in the plot. During the yellow fever epidemic, there were large numbers of deaths every day, and the victims needed to be buried quickly for sanitation reasons. He also explained that what appears to be two open fields near the cemetery’s old section are actually sites of yellow fever victims’ graves. Five-year-old Margaret would lie there.

Mike and I left the cemetery office and went to Mary Elizabeth’s crumbling gravestone. We stood there in the open area which we now knew was the family plot. Touching the grass, knowing that it covered Mary Elizabeth, Michael James and their little ones, I just stood there and cried.

Mike and I made arrangements to place a monument in the center of the plot that would bear the names and dates of birth and death for the six Manleys. No longer lost and forgotten, they will receive the honor and respect they deserve.

Driving away from Calvary, I wiped my eyes again and announced to Mike that I thought I was finally through crying. He responded with “It’s been a long time since anyone has cried for them.” And, of course, I started crying again – as I am doing as I write this.

Mary Elizabeth

With the many tragedies of the Manley family, it would be easy to picture an angry embittered Mary Elizabeth who had seen most of her children die and who became a young widow with daughters to raise alone. My grandmother, however, described her mother as a saint.

Despite the family’s meager financial status and the loss of children and husband, Mary Elizabeth was a woman of compasion and great faith. My grandmother Mary Michael told me that her mother consistently tended to the needs of her friends and neighbors in the Pinch.

In my favorite story, Mary Elizabeth was doing regular visitation with a family whose young son had been badly burned. The boy’s condition worsened, and the family was devastated at the child's impending death. Mary Elizabeth did her best to comfort them, but she had another concern. Because the family was Jewish, Mary Elizabeth knew that the child had not been baptized. A devout Catholic, my great-grandmother was distressed over the plight of the youngster’s soul.

She would not interfere with another’s religion, so she chose a secret course of action. Before her next visit, Mary Elizabeth slipped a vial of holy water into her apron pocket. As soon as she was alone with the boy, she performed her own baptism ritual and left that day confident that the child’s soul would rest with her Heavenly Father. That strength of faith is surely what carried her through the deaths of her own little ones.


ForkInTheRoad said...

What a beautiful post, Diane. I too shed a tear as I read this story. Those were difficult times, for sure; and Mary Elizabeth was quite a woman to have survived them with such dignity. I'm glad I had a chance to meet her through your words.
- Holly.

Scarlett said...

Thank you, Holly. We have more news today. For some time, we've seen John James as the third child. Mike has now seen a document related to John's birth that notes him as the FOURTH Manley child. We suspect that this little one did not live long. Yet another loss for Mary Elizabeth and Michael James. I just want to put my arms around her. I daily grow more proud that my first name is Mary.

ForkInTheRoad said...

wait... i didn't know that. is Diane your middle name? I feel a blog post comin' on...

Scarlett said...

Yep, I'm Mary Diane. Hardly anyone knows my first name. I've never been called Mary except for the first few days of school each year. Mother never intended to use it. It was a clever diplomacy move. Around the Catholic side of the family, it was for my g'mother Mary Michael (who was obviously named for both her parents), and it gave me a saint's name. Around Mother's Baptist side of the family, it was for Mother's older sister, Mary.
My mom was pretty clever, don't you think?
Now, knowing my ancestors as I do, I wish they had called me by my first name.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Mary Diane, what a wonderful story to tell. I am so happy you have met your forebearers. The Irish are known for their laughter and faith, got them through some terrible times. Your great grandmother was a testament to this. How very special for you. (and I cried too).

Scarlett said...

Vicki - Thank you! I knew you'd love Mary Elizabeth. i visit her grave -- and that of Michael James and the little ones -- but I would so long to talk with her. And I know that I missed many opportunities to talk more and ask more questions of my grandmother, Mary Michael. . . although she did tell me leprachaun stories.
Is it lost on anyone that with this list of ancestors named Mary and Michael, that I am Mary and I am married to Michael?
How does that make you feel about predestination?

ForkInTheRoad said...

Predestination and VERY Irish. My cousin started working on our family history and found that every generation had a set of Mary (sometimes called Molly), Kathleen, Elizabeth and Christopher.

Grace said...

Thanks for this story, Mary Diane. It touched me deeply. namaste.