Since my mother’s passing back in February, I have really missed being able to share my genealogy discoveries with her. Recently, however, I have begun collaborating with a cousin, Anna Marie, on a family history for the McGallagher’s. Mama had loaned her a lot of resources and materials and Anna returned those to me neatly organized in binders. It means the world to me to have these notes in my mother’s own handwriting. It is as if she is here with me helping unravel the mystery of our ancestors.
Among the treasures were copies of a court case in Biloxi which my mother had first came across back in the 70s. Anna had gone back and gotten more documents related to the case. This court case is the avenue through which Mama had first discovered the identity of her GG-grandfather, James Henry McGallagher. She had heard hints of his name and where he lived, but none of her living relatives at the time knew anything about him other than an entry in a family Bible that connected him to a Wentzell from the Wentzell’s in Biloxi. The court case Mama discovered involved a lawsuit between the heirs of Holmes and Sarah Wentzell in which the oldest son, Charles, had laid claim to all of the family property and for some unknown reason two of his sisters had decided several decades after the death of their mother to take ownership of their share. They included in their lawsuit the children of their deceased siblings and a younger brother for whom they had lost contact. The lawsuit named all of the heirs and among them was one Charles Gallagher (our Charles McGallagher). He was the son of Mary Elizabeth Wintzell and “Henry Gallagher.” We know now that her husband was actually James Henry McGallagher. We also know that she went on to have three more children after Jame’s death, and they are not mentioned in the lawsuit, so her family probably did not know about them. Apparently they were never able to reach Charles McGallagher since he was not one of the recipients of the lawsuit settlement. Charles Wentzell, the defendant, said that he had spoken to Charles Gallagher, and that he did not want anything to do with the proceedings. I don’t believe that was a factual statement because had he spoken to Charles McGallagher, they would surely have been made aware of the existence of three more heirs and the correct spelling of McGallagher. No matter the outcome of the case, the depositions of the witnesses brought to light the names Mama needed to finally further her research and from there she found census records and burial records.
James Henry McGallagher (AKA Henry Gallagher), was born in Ireland and immigrated to the US. He likely came with his family since the 1850 census has a 13-year-old named Francis McGallagher living with him and his wife in Biloxi. He was a sailor. His son Charles was born about a year before his death. Charles, his mother Anna Maria and her brother Robert Wentzell moved to Bayou La Batre, Alabama with her second husband, William Simonson. Anna Maria died in 1862 at the age of 30, leaving her 11 year-old son to be raised by his step-father and eventually his step-father’s new wife. When we see him on the next census, he is listed as a Simonson, it was only after Charles was an adult that he appears again on a census as a McGallagher.
I spent quite a while this past week transcribing the old copies of the court case into a typewritten manuscript that is easier to read. While doing this, I realized that the document gave me clues to several more relatives that I had not yet discovered. The first were the names of Mary Elizabeth’s maternal grandparents. I knew her mother was Sarah McAleb, but could not find any clues to Sarah’s parents. In the lawsuit, it was mentioned that the property in question was a gift to Sarah, NOT HOLMES, by a Charles and Ellen McAleb which I assume would be her parents. Also, it listed a Francis and Oscar Letten, and from there I discovered the name of the spouse of Sarah Wentzell, Mary Elizabeth’s sister. I also ruled out that this Francis could possibly be the same Francis listed on the 1850 census with James and Mary.
Attached to the lawsuit was a drawing of the property that was divided by the estate of Holmes Wentzell in 1846. I believe this is a portion of the property in the lawsuit. In any case, I overlaid the drawing onto a current street map of Biloxi so that I could visit the area and see what it looks like today. The property begins at Oak Street and goes about three blocks west and based on the drawing ends at the railroad but according to the lawsuit, ends at Back Bay. When I visited Biloxi on this past Sunday, (June 11, 2017), Harrah’s Casino was to the east of the property. The portion closest to Biloxi Blvd. was devoid of structures, probably due to Katrina, but several hardy oaks remained. Driving north on Oak Street toward Back Bay, we passed a couple of Vietnamese restaurants, A Vietnamese Catholic Church, A Buddhist temple and a few run-down stores/bars before again coming to lots without buildings. When we reached Back Bay, there were several docks. I parked and we walked around a bit. I can imagine how beautiful this area must have been (and still is despite the rise of modern structures, bridges, powerlines, etc.) There is a bit of a hill before the land slopes into the bay. Cement slabs give testimony to a number of buildings that once existed on the property, some of them looked old enough to have possibly been around during the 1800s, but it is hard to say for sure. After returning to the car, we drove back toward the gulf a couple of blocks over. As we got closer to Biloxi Blvd., a number of houses lined the streets. Though the neighborhood was fairly well-kept, it was obviously one of the poorer neighborhoods and appeared to be a neighborhood of folks from Asian descent.
I took my daughter-in-law, Janet, and my grand-daughter, Emily, with me on this little road trip, and Emily loved helping me take pictures. We headed on over to the Biloxi Cemetery next. I was hoping to find headstones of anyone in my family tree. I did find McAlebs, Lettens, and Wentzell’s, but they were later generations. In any case, I may be able to use some of their info to go back and make some more connections. There were also Ladners, Lameys and Bosarges, no surprise. I know they are distant relatives, too, but research on that line is for another day. The most fascinating discovery in the cemetery was several grave markers that were made of slabs of wood. The writing was indecipherable, but the markers had a charm that only comes with age. Perhaps some such marker graced my distant grandfather’s grave at one time, but like so much of his history, it has been washed away with only a whisper of what was to remain.