This post is dedicated to my Irish-American 2nd great-grandmother, Julia Linnehan Mitchell.
Julia was born in Boston around 1875 to Irish immigrants, William Linnehan and Ellen Shaughnessy, who were from Buttevant, County Cork, Ireland. Sometime around 1894, Julia met my 2nd great-grandfather, James D. Mitchell. At the time, James owned a fish market in Boston. James had moved from Petersburg, VA to Boston after the Civil War. Both of his parents were tri-racial (Black/Native American and White parents). Somehow, Julia met James and fell in love. According to my great-grandmother, James traveled back to Petersburg and found a light-skinned Black women to marry in Julia’s name. It was a proxy marriage as interracial marriage was illegal at the time. With their 1895 marriage certificate in hand, he went back to Boston.
Julia’s marriage to James led to her being disowned by her entire family. I can’t imagine how this must have felt. Not being able to see or communicate with your parents or siblings must have hurt her immensely. To be rendered invisible by your own flesh and blood must have felt like being exiled. I know Julia wished that her whole family could be reunited at some point.
For an interracial couple, living together in Boston was very difficult. To stop from being harassed, James made the choice to move his family from Boston to Stoughton,MA, about a half-hour south of Boston. He purchased a farm and built a store on his property. The people in town used to refer to him as the “Old Indian” which is the only physical description we have of him. Life was good for a time. But, then Julia contracted tuberculosis.
Julia passed away on April 2, 1905 leaving a grieving husband and 6 small children. My aunt said she still possess the receipts from her funeral which included a horse drawn carriage. None of her own family attended her funeral, but two male family members —one was her brother— went to James’ farm after her death and wanted to take the white looking children, including my great-grandmother who was 6 years old. Of course, James told them where they could go. In the 1910 census, we see that he hired a caretaker to look after the kids while he was working.
Over a year ago, my cousin Andrea found a 2nd marriage certificate for James and Julia that documented their official marriage in Boston on February 28, 1905. I get emotional thinking that, as Julia lay on her deathbed, she was trying to guarantee that the lives of her children would be protected and they would remain with their father. James and Julia also switched their religion from being Catholic to being Episcopalian. Apparently, the Catholic Church would not allow a widower to keep his children with him. I admire the length to which my 2nd great-grandparents went to keep keep their family together. This was true love.
Fast Forward to 1978:
I was 11years old when I asked my grandmother, Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? We always ate a boiled dinner on that day and I remember thinking that I wasn’t Irish, not with this brown skin (LOL), and I wondered why we were eating Irish food. My Nana’s response was, “Just look at your great-grandmother. ” Now, I knew what my Nana Fischer looked like, but, up until that time, she was just Nana Fischer. I never looked at her through a racial lens until that day. It was then that I learned about Julia. My great-grandmother never talked about her mother much as she died when she was very young. But, my Nana Fischer must have remembered her St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with her mom because that was what got passed down to us. And I am very thankful for that.
Fast Forward to January 2013:
I just just received my 23amdme.com DNA test results. I had been anticipating finding some of my Irish-American DNA cousins. I had also been debating how to bring up the disowning issue. When I got my results, the first surname I looked up was Linnehan/Lennihan. There was only one DNA cousin that had that surname and it was M. Dawn Terrell. I decide to reach our to her.
I sent Dawn an email that described my descent from the Linnehans. I also mentioned how Julia was disowned by her family and how my Nana Fischer clung to what little Irish culture she remembered. I also expressed how happy I was to have made contact with my Irish-American cousins.
Here was part of Dawn’s reply verbatim:
"It sounds as if Julia and James had a really strong bond, as they went to a lot of trouble to be together despite the discrimination against them as an interracial couple. Interesting that the Linnehans were so against their union, and yet here are two of their descendants, both interracial, connecting all these many generations later! And it sounds like the one thing that was passed down in both our families was a respect for the Linnehan's Irish heritage."
It turns out that Dawn and I are 3rd cousins 1X removed. Her great-grandmother Annie (my 2nd great aunt) and Julia were sisters. Dawn is the only DNA cousin whom I have found that I have a paper trail for too. She is also one of my highest matches on 23andme, FTDNA, AncestryDNA and Gedmatch. Every time I see her name, I smile knowing that she is the link to my Irish-American ancestry.
So, three generations later, the descendants of Julia and Annie are back together again. I truly believe that Julia is smiling down on us knowing that her wish has been granted.
Fast Forward to November 2013:
I found out through AncestryDNA that I am 13% Irish. Julia will always be with me.