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, November 6, 2011

SUNDAY'S OBITUARY - John Martin O'Donnell (1865-1937)

John Martin O'Donnell, my great-grandfather, was born in Jericho, Kentucky, on November 7, 1865,  to Irish immigrants Patrick O'Donnell (1823-1911) and Bridget Kennedy (1838-1883). He was the sixth of seven children in the family and the only son.

John's father and uncles had "helped to grade the L&N Railroad from Louisville to Lexington and had laid the first steel rails on this line" according to his father Patrick's obituary. So it was natural for John to follow his father's career path into railroading. But instead of the hands-on labor building the railroad, John earned two higher degrees from Eminence College in Kentucky and became a Civil Engineer with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

This career choice took him to Alabama, leaving his father and sisters in Kentucky, by the end of the 1890's. And it was in the town of Calera in Shelby County, just south of Birmingham, that he met his future wife Mary Huber (1873-1913). Mayme, as she was called, was also from Kentucky. She was working as a school teacher when they met, living in the same boarding house as John in Calera. They were married on Thursday morning, February 11, 1904, at St. Paul's Catholic Church (now Cathedral) in Birmingham.

O'Donnell Home in Norwood
(taken 2009)
John and Mayme settled in Birmingham and had four children: John Huber, born May 6, 1905 (my grandfather); Charles Patrick, born October 18, 1906; Edward Joseph Kennedy, born January 18, 1908; and Barbara Lena, born November 7, 1909. Soon after the birth of Barbara, Mayme became sick with Tuberculosis, a common and often deadly disease from which there was no cure. Even after receiving treatment at a sanatorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that treated patients with the illness, Mayme succumbed to the disease on March 30, 1913, in her home in Birmingham. Left behind was her husband of less than 10 years and their four small children - Huber (7), Charles (6), Ed (4) and Barbara (3).

In order to continue to work and keep his children, since, of course, there were no daycare centers and his family was all in Kentucky, John placed the three boys in the local orphanage run by Catholic nuns. The boys stayed here at the Atheneaum Orphanage during the week and John would bring them home on the weekends. They were enrolled here from April 2, 1913 (two days after their mother's death) until September 20, 1920. At this time they were 15, 13 and 12 years old, and old enough to stay home while their father was at work.
"Pop" and grandson J.H. O'Donnell, Jr.
ca. 1933

John's youngest child Barbara was sent out west after her mother's death to live with her mother's sister, Philomena Huber (1876-1937). Minnie, as she was called, was a nurse and had moved to Albuquerque to help care for her sister. The siblings stayed close by writing letters, and eventually Barbara, too, moved back in with her father and brothers in Birmingham.

On December 3, 1937, John's brother-in-law Benjamin Ruffner Smith died in Louisville, Kentucky. Benjamin (1857-1937) had been married to John's older sister Alice O'Donnell (1860-1934). John travelled to Louisville for the funeral. It was here, on December 6, that John died. One story says that he was eating breakfast at the family's table when he had a sudden heart attack and died. His body was brought back by train and was buried on December 9th at the old Our Lady of Sorrows' Cemetery next to his wife. He was survived by his four children, their spouses, and eight grandchildren.

                                                    J. M. O'DONNELL DIES
Birmingham Man Succumbs In Louisville; Burial To Be Here
"John M. O'Donnell, 72, of 2909 Norwood Boulevard, died suddenly in Louisville yesterday, relatives here have been advised. The body will be brought here for funeral and burial, services to be at 9 a.m. Thursday at the residence and at 9:30 at St. Paul's Catholic Church, by the Rt. Rev. Eugene L. Sands, Johns-Service directing.
     Mr. O'Donnell had gone to Louisville to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law B.R. Smith, who died Saturday.
     Until his retirement a short time ago, Mr. O'Donnell was connected to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad engineering office.
     Surviving are three sons, Hubert (sic) and Edward K. O'Donnell, Birmingham; Charles P. O'Donnell, Atlanta, and a daughter, Mrs. H. A. Nelson, Birmingham." (Birmingham News, December 7, 1937; page 10)

Prayer Card from Burial Mass
Years after his burial the site of the Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery was being relocated. Many of those buried were re-interred elsewhere but several of the actual graves could not be accurately identified so they were buried at a small cemetery behind Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, marked by four large headstones with the names of the eighty unidentified dead. John and Mayme are buried here.

Headstone at Old Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery
behind Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church
708 1st Street South
Birmingham, Alabama

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