My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Sunday, July 3, 2011

What's in a name? The story of 'Susan'

When I was born in 1961, my parents named me 'Susan Frances'. I was named for my two grandmothers - 'Susan' for my maternal grandmother Susan "Susie" Elizabeth Flemming O'Donnell, and 'Frances' for my paternal grandmother Sarah Frances Baxter Powell, called "Frances". I always knew this was where my name came from, and it was my first awareness of being connected to generations before me. These weren't given to me because they were pretty names - 'Susan' is from Hebrew meaning 'lily' and 'Frances' is from Latin meaning 'free'. I wasn't named these because they were popular - according to the Census Bureau "Susan" was the second most popular name for baby girls in 1957-60, and 3rd the year I was born (Frances was 135th). My name was handed down from two women who had been living for more than 50 years before I was ever born. This fact joined me to them in a way that my other siblings would never have. But, by doing family history, I have recently found out that the name 'Susan' was handed down through our family for at least 6 generations before I was born.

Headstone of Susan McCaffrey
St. Patrick's Cemetery     Baltimore, Maryland
"SUSAN, Beloved Wife of Thomas McCaffrey
A native of county Tyrone, Ireland
Died Dec. 24th, 1869
Aged 76 years
May She rest in peace, Amen"
[photo by Robert Breneman]
           Susan McCaffrey, my fourth-great-grandmother, immigrated to the United States from County Tyrone in Ireland (now Northern Ireland) early in the 1800's. Susan (1793-December 24, 1869) married Thomas McCaffrey (1799-April 16, 1890), also from County Tyrone. They had five children - three daughters and two sons. Their fourth child and second daughter was named Susan McCaffrey. Susan was born in 1834 in Boston. On October 4, 1855, daughter Susan died in Baltimore where the family was now residing. She was just 21 years old. Thomas and Susan's third child was Thomas Joseph McCaffrey (April 17, 1832-May 21, 1896). Thomas was my 3rd-great-grandfather, and Susan's older brother.
          Son Thomas married Charlotte Elizabeth McCluskey (February 15, 1838-June 12, 1917). They had 13 children together, relocating first to Shelby County, Alabama during the Civil War, then settling in Rome, Georgia. Their second child, their first daughter, they named Susan McCaffrey and called her Susie. She was born March 3, 1856, five months after Thomas' sister Susan had died. Tragedy struck on May 28, 1861, when 5-year-old Susie died from Scarlet Fever, while the family was living in Philadelphia. Thomas and Charlotte's third child, and Susie's younger sister, was Elizabeth Agnes 'Lizzie' McCaffrey. She is my great-great-grandmother.
          Lizzie (December 23, 1858-July 17, 1922) met and married Charles Clinton 'Charlie' Flemming (June 23, 1854-January 26, 1932) while living in Georgia. They had ten children together. Their first daughter, and second child, was given the name Susie Elizabeth Flemming, no doubt in honor of Lizzie's older sister. Susie was born November 17, 1879. This Susie married John Moore in November 1906, but again tragedy struck and on November 24, 1908, Susie died during childbirth. Lizzie and Charlie Flemming's first child, and Susie's older brother, was Harry Clinton Flemming. Harry was my great-grandfather.
          Now in Birmingham, Harry (January 12, 1878-May 25, 1955) married Pearl Alphonsine Horst (November 19, 1884-September 25, 1961). They had married 7 months prior to his sister Susie's wedding. Harry and Pearl had 8 children. Their second child and second daughter was born 9 months after Harry's sister Susie died. In her memory, they named their daughter Susan Elizabeth 'Susie' Flemming. Susie was my grandmother.
          Susie (August 23, 1909-July 7, 1999) married John Huber O'Donnell (May 6, 1905-June 19, 1965) and they had 8 children together. This 'Susan' was the first in five generations to live past her 30th birthday and to have children of her own - not since the first Susan McCaffrey who had immigrated from Ireland. Susie's oldest daughter (and coincidentally her second child) was named Mary Susan 'Mary Sue' O'Donnell. Their oldest child Huber, Jr. (aka Jack) named his only daughter Susan Elizabeth O'Donnell (b. 1960). Susie and Huber's 3rd child, Barbara, was my mother, who named me after her mother.
          Unfortunately, after seven straight generations, this is where the name ends in our family. I had three sons, and there is no "boy named Sue" living with me. None of my cousins named their children Susan. Susan is no longer at the top of the popular name chart - in fact it's now #792, even less popular than the name Frances! But now I know just how meaningful my name has always been, and much more of how I'm connected to past generations. The lives, and deaths, of Susans before me effected how I was named - traveling across the ocean in the 1820's to come to America; dying before ever getting married, or in childbirth, or at just 5 years old; living to almost 90 years old, with 8 kids, 20 grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren. They each played a special part in making me who I am . . . Susan.

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