Saturday, September 29, 2007

I Finally Found Him In 1930

But I am sadden by my discovery. For many years I searched for information about my grandmother's father, John McCaffery. I finally made my first breakthrough several months ago when a McCaffery relative came across my website and contacted me. I was thrilled beyond belief at my good fortune that someone out there knew something about John McCaffery. Though I had searched numerous records, I could never pinpoint the whereabouts of his life. The only information I had on this man was folklore passed down generation through generation. But, I had no facts. I had no facts to verify any of the folklore. I wanted to know who this man was. Where he came from? I also wanted a clue to why he left his only child, my grandmother in the hands of relatives after the sudden and unexpected death of his wife when my grandmother was just three years old.

I remember very clearly the times I sat with my grandmother and listened as she spoke about her parents. There was such sadness in my grandmother's face and voice as she told the story of her mother's death. What was especially heart breaking was my grandmother could not remember her mother's face and no one in her extended family ever had or if they did never showed my grandmother a picture of her parents let alone the mother she did not remember. She was 76 years old and did not know what her own mother looked like. It would be several years later and after much research that I would finally come across a ship record that stated my great grandmother Agnes (Bridget) Boland McCaffery had dark brown hair, blue eyes and was fair skinned. Sadly, I never got the chance to tell my grandmother this news because she had already been dead ten years.

When Bridget Boland McCaffery died in 1915, my grandmother was sent to live with her maternal grandparents. From that time on she rarely seen her father. He would enter and exit her life over the next fifteen years. It is these years that have been most difficult to track in my search. When my grandmother died in 1990, I made a promise to her and myself that I would dig into the past and find as much information as possible so that I could piece together some sense of a life. His story. Their story.

I was so happy to find his immigration records from Ellis Island. To read where he came from, when he arrived here, how tall he was, what color hair and eyes he had and even how much money was in his pocket was simply fabulous. I felt I could envision this man within my mind. This Irish immigrant who came to this country to find a new life. And for a time that is exactly what he did. He reconnected with other members of his family from Ireland. He found employment, a place to live and even a wife. Soon thereafter he had a child. From all perspectives he was living the American Dream. But something happen. Something so sudden, so tragic that changed his life forever and began the downward spiral of one man's life into the pits of hell.

In 1915, his wife of four years died from an appendicitis. Shortly thereafter he handed his only child, my grandmother over to his deceased wife's parents to raise. After which he disappeared only to resurface years later.

What happen to John? Where did he go? There have been so many missing pieces to the puzzle of this man's life. It has been seventeen years since I began to research my family. It has been a long seventeen year journey through the life and times of various members of my family only to have some members of this family constantly elude me until a few months ago when I began to find more pieces that fell swiftly into place, the latest being of my great grandfather John McCaffery.

But it is the latest discovery that nearly brought me to my knees that made my eyes swell up in tears because what I discovered about the last months of this man's life was sad. April 14, 1930 I found proof that John McCaffery was a resident of a homeless shelter for men called "Whosoever Gospel Mission and Rescue Home". This was just four months before his death in 1930. The mission is still located at 101 E. Chelten Avenue in Germantown. The mission has been open since 1892. Records indicated that the father of my grandmother "was a broken man".

Folklore through the generations stated that he became an alcoholic after the death of his wife and he moved from one place to another and held many jobs. In the summer of 1930, my grandmother received a message that stated her father was found on the streets and admitted into Philadelphia General Hospital in the TB Ward. She saw him once before he died.

During this visit, her father was trying to tell her something but he could never articulate his words. I wonder if he wanted to tell her he loved her or that he was sorry he left her.

I cannot imagine what those fifteen years were like after he lost his wife and handed over his child. How lonely he must have felt. How every dream he had became lost.

Friday, September 28, 2007

What Was Once Known As Dobson Row

Why photograph abandon houses you may ask? Because once they are torn down the history is gone and being born in East Falls makes me nostalgic for a time long gone. A time when life was simple. A time when I felt nothing but happiness. A time when all the neighbors knew one another and actually enjoyed each other's company. For long summer nights hanging out on the front steps chatting with friends.

One such area of East Falls held a lot of memories especially for my mother. She knew nearly everyone on this small block of rowhouses. Houses built for the employees of the once popular Dobson Mills.
Today, the old mill has been torn down and in its place are these condos as seen here on the other side of the railroad tracks as I stand on Dobson Row.
Those who lived on Dobson's Row had the railroad as their view from the street and their backyards. I am not sure when the last member of this historic block moved out but I was told there were residents as of ten years ago.
Less than a dozen homes on this block known as Dobson Row.
Dobson Row lead into another once historic street known as P&R Railroad Road that once contained a series of "Trinity" rowhouses that ran along the railroad tracks. These houses on this small alley-like cobblestone road were built for the employees of the railroad in the late 19th century. Today, the houses are gone and the street (alley) is overgrown with weeds and gated off. I remember cutting through this street on my way home from St. Bridget's as a little girl.
When I look at these homes I could almost see the life that once danced in them.
Today, they await the bulldozer.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Philadelphia's Own Ellis Island

Immigrants have been arriving through the Port of Philadelphia since 1682. In the years between 1717 to 1749, Philadelphia saw mass migrations of Germans and Scot-Irish. Though it took seven weeks to make the Trans-Atlantic trip, nearly 70,000 Germans and 150,000 Scot-Irish alone immigrated to the city through the Port of Philadelphia before the Revolutionary War. Most were indentured servants and had to work off the cost of their passage to America.

The largest immigration years were after 1815 and at that time New York City was considered the Chief Port for immigration while Philadelphia came in 4th.
Before docking in Philadelphia and in order to prevent disease there was a "quarantine hospital" built a few miles South of the city where local medical inspections were done on those who wanted to enter the city.

By 1820, there were two distinct ship lines that carried large numbers of Irish and English immigrants from Liverpool to Philadelphia. The cost for passage in the steerage compartment was approximately 5 pounds per traveller. Steerage berths were 6 by 6 feet and held four passengers.
After the Great Potato Famine in 1847, 60,000 immigrants came through the Port of Philadelphia from Ireland. Several more thousands came through New York City because it was impossible to dock in Philadelphia because in the winter months there could be up to 5 feet patches of ice in the Delaware River.

By 1854, Philadelphia was known as the 3rd largest port for immigration to this country. The immigration season was April thu October and the Trans-Atlantic trip took about a month.

Between 1855 and 1864, 50,000 more immigrants entered through Philadelphia and in the city 3 out of every 10 people who lived here were known as "foreign-born" Most of those were either of German or Irish descent.

The Irish were poorer than the Germans and were employed in positions such as weaving, carting and day labor. Most lived in areas known as Southwark, Moyamensing and Gray's Ferry. The Germans were more skilled and held positions as construction workers, tailors, shoemakers and bakers and most lived in Northern Liberties.

In 1870, there were about 100,000 Irish and 50,000 German immigrants living in Philadelphia and this made up most of the total population of the city. In earlier times, the population was mostly made up of those of English or Scottish descent.
As the population increased so did the need for housing. Therefore large tracts of row houses sprung up in areas such as North, South and West Philadelphia whereas Germantown became more middle class.

Most of those in skilled trades were of German or British descent. The Irish still held unskilled positions in factories, as servants and farmers. Many Germans in the late 19th century began to move into places such as Kensington and NorthEast Philadelphia.

By 1873, immigration into the Port of Philadelphia was so great that the American Ship Line with support from the Pennsylvania Railroad opened its first ever immigration center at Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia where it completed its own medical inspections.

The American Ship Lines had 3 sailings a week from Liverpool to Philadelphia and in the year 1882 alone, 17,342 passengers arrived from Liverpool. The line had four ships that travelled "via" Liverpool and Queenstown to Philadelphia. They were called Kensington, Southwark, Haverford and Merion. The Merion is the ship that carried our Cafferty and Boland ancestors to America.

All in all, the ship brought in around 20,000 immigrants each year between 1880 and 1910 from England/Ireland.

The years between 1910 and 1914 created the height of Southern and Eastern European Immigration to the Philadelphia Port. The city saw a huge influx of Jewish, Polish and Italian immigrants and the Port of Philadelphia was still considered the 3rd largest port in the country following New York and Boston.

The area surrounding the port was filled with warehouses, factories, sugar refineries, freight depots and grain elevators. Philadelphia in itself was leading the entire nation in the production of locomotives, streetcars, saws, hosiery, hats, leather goods and cigars and was second in the production of drugs and chemicals. It also had a large affordable housing market and along with plenty of employment.

After World War I, the government changed the immigration laws which curtailed the influx of immigrants that arrived in the country. By 1923, immigration really trickled down though in the years that followed, the city experienced an increase in the Asian and Cuban populations.

Today, the Washington Avenue Immigration Center is nothing more than a historical memory.
(information taken on the writings of the following authors; Fredric M. Miller, Morris J. Vogel and Allen F. Davis)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

S.S. United States

This vessel is South Philadelphia's Hidden Treasure docked at one of the neighborhood's local piers on the Delaware River. To see it in person is truly a majestic and magnificent sight. For the ship's history, click on and enjoy the adventure.

Monday, September 24, 2007

St. Peter's Church Yard

If you are interested in reading the history of the church and adjoining church yard that I photographed above, click on

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Not For The Faint Of Heart

What life is like for one who calls himself; the embalmer, undertaker, funeral director. He references himself as all three.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church Yard

Click to enlarge and view history.