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


Thursday, August 11, 2011

WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY'S PHOTO - John Martin "Pop" O'Donnell and His 3 Boys

John Martin O'Donnell, with his 3 sons
Ed, Charles and Huber
ca. 1916
John Martin O'Donnell, my great-grandfather, was born in Jericho, Henry County, Kentucky, on November 7, 1865. He was the 6th child and only son of seven children born to Patrick O'Donnell (1823-1911) and Bridget Kennedy (1838-1883), immigrants from Ireland. He attended Emminence College in Kentucky, and became a Civil Engineer with the L&N Railroad in Louisville. He was transferred to Birmingham to work on the new L&N Railroad being developed there in the late 1890's.

On February 11, 1904, John married Mary Huber at St. Paul's Catholic Church. Mayme, as she was called, was born August 8, 1873 in  Bowling Green, Kentucky. She was the second child of seven born to parents, Phillip Huber (1847-1901), an immigrant from Florsheim, Hessen, Germany, and Barbara Brunett (1852-1896), from Jennings County, Indiana. Mayme had moved with her father and three younger siblings to Bessemer, Alabama, outside Birmingham, after her mother's death. She worked, as she had in Kentucky, as a school teacher.

Huber, Ed, Charles
John and Mayme started their family right away. John Huber, their oldest, was born May 6, 1905. Huber, as he was called, is my grandfather. Three more children soon followed - Charles Patrick, born October 18, 1906, Edward Joseph Kennedy, born January 18, 1908, and Barbara Lena, born December 7, 1909. The family lived in Owenton (Bessemer) while "Pop", as his children called him, continued working for the railroad.. Unfortunately, their happiness together was short lived.

Early after the birth of their daughter, Mayme was stricken with Tuberculosis, a contagious pulmonary disease that is often fatal. It was one of the leading causes of death in the early twentieth century. An estimated 110,000 Americans died each year in the early 1900's from TB.

Because tuberculosis was thought of as a death sentence, those infected were isolated from society and sent off to sanatoriums - hospitals designed to care specifically for tuberculosis sufferers. Before antibiotic treatments existed, a regiment of rest and good nutrition offered the best chances that a sufferer's immune system would "wall off" pockets of the TB infection and be cured.

Tuberculosis, known as consumption in the 19th century because it seemed to consume the patient's body, is evidenced by chronic cough, blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats and weight loss. Mayme was sent to Albuquerque, New Mexico after she was diagnosed with the hopes of a recovery.

New Mexico was definitely one of the country's prime destinations for tuberculosis sufferers. "In the early 1900s Arizona's sunshine and dry desert air drew many people (lungers) suffering from tuberculosis, rheumatism, asthma and various other diseases. Wealthier people chose to recuperate in exclusive TB resorts, while others used their savings to make the journey to Arizona and arrived penniless. TB camps in the desert were formed by pitching tents and building cabins. During the tuberculosis epidemic, cities in Arizona advertised the state as an ideal place for treatment of TB. There were many sanitariums in the state of Arizona modeled after European away-from-city resorts of the time, boasting courtyards and individual rooms. Each sanitarium was equipped to take care of about 120 people. The greatest area for sanitariums was in Tucson, with over 12 hotel-style facilities in the city. So many people came to the West that there was not enough housing for them all. In 1910, tent cities began to pop up in different areas; one of which was described as a place of squalor and shunned by most citizens. Many of the infected slept in the open desert." (from

St. Joseph Sanatorium Cottage
ca. 1921

In 1909 TB was the leading cause of death in the United States. By 1910, "Lungers", as the local population called those guests of the city inflicted with the disease, numbered 3,000 in the city - a city of 13,000 total inhabitants. St. Joseph Sanatorium opened in 1902 by the Sisters of Charity to care for TB sufferers; it was the first of its kind in the city. Soon the town had eight sanatoria, along with convalescent homes. The less fortunate stayed in tent houses. There was little actual treatment for TB. Rest, fresh air, nutritious food and sunshine were the main prescription of the day.

Mayme left her family and traveled with her sister Philomena (1876-1937), a nurse, to Albuquerque by train. Minnie, as she was called, stayed with her older sister and took care of her during this time. It's unclear if Mayme stayed at any time in one of the sanatoria or if they stayed together in a private residence. While his wife was convalescing, John had to continue to work for the railroad. There were no day care centers in 1910 to care for their four small children under 5 years old so John placed the children in the Atheneum Orphan's Home run by the Daughters of Charity, located in the East Lake section of Birmingham. He would leave them in the home during the week while he worked, then pick them up and bring them home for the weekend. He did his best to keep his family together during this very difficult time.

Ed, Charles, Barbara & Huber O'Donnell
Albuquerque, New Mexico
unknown woman c. 1911

At least once John visited Mayme with the children while she was in Albuquerque.

In February 1913 John checked the boys out of the orphanage and they went to New Mexico to bring Mayme home. On March 30, 1913, Mayme, just 39 years old and the mother of four children ages 3 to 7, died in their home in Birmingham at 10:20 PM. She was buried in the Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery. On April 2, the day after their mother's funeral, John re-enrolled his three sons at the Orphan's Home, where they would live during the week, until they left for good on September 6, 1920. Little Barbara, only 3 years old, was sent to Albuquerque to live with her aunt Minnie. She came home to Birmingham by 1926 and was working as a nurse at St. Vincent's Hospital.

The three boys, growing up between a Catholic orphanage and a widowed father, all recalled their years at the Orphan's Home as years of happiness and love. Each boy got married, each had families and were devoted fathers. The nuns were given much of the credit for raising them with great love. Huber married Susie Flemming (1909-1999) and they had eight children, including my mother Barbara who had been named for his much loved little sister. Charles married Helen Hoehn (1907-1966) and together they had four sons. Ed married Mary Waters (1908-1996) and they had three sons. Barbara married Howard Nelson (1908-UNK) and they had three children.

Minnie lived the remainder of her life in Albuquerque, working as a private nurse. John died on December 6, 1937, at the age of 72 while back home in Kentucky, attending the funeral of his brother-in-law. He was buried in Birmingham next to his wife. Huber died in 1964 at the age of 59. Charles died on May 14, 1987 in Atlanta; he was 80. Ed lived to the age of 81; he died in Los Angeles on February 15, 1989. Barbara died in Biloxi, Mississippi on September 29, 1996; she was 86 at the time of her death.

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