Julia’s Wish Has Been Granted-Part 1

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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.

My great-grandmother, Helen Mitchell Fischer, and me in 1967

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.

Dawn and Me

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.


Grandpa Green’s Gift

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I was raised by my maternal grandparents, Richard and Mildred Greene, who never stopped talking about their families. One of the stories my grandmother loved to share was how my Grandad’s father, Grandpa Green, ruined a bunch of tintypes. I used to love listening to her go over all the details. Decades after the fact, she was still “stewing” as my Grandad would say.

Grandpa Green and a friend

The story was told to me this way. When Grandpa Green was in his 80s in the mid-1960s, he used to live with my grandparents. At the time, my grandfather was a funeral director/embalmer who owned his own funeral home in Brockton, MA and my grandmother was always by his side to help him. One day, while they were overseeing a funeral, Grandpa Green decided that he wanted to label all the tintypes that he had in his possession. There were about 30 tintypes that had been taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s in New Jersey. They included photos of his family and friends. My grandmother remembered coming upstairs after the funeral only to discover that Grandpa Green had labeled the tintypes by putting the names of the people on the FRONT side of the tintypes. It always irked my grandmother that he didn’t think to put the names on the back of the tintypes. She always believed that he ruined them.

While I could certainly see her perspective on this, I always believed that Grandpa Green felt an urgent need to document the names of my ancestors and their friends before he passed away. It seemed to me that he wanted the names on the front for a reason— almost as if to say, there once was a person named…I believe Grandpa Green was leaving us a gift. Who knew that decades later, his gift would be welcomed with open arms and that he would leave clues for me and Andrea to follow in our family history search?

I remember seeing the tintype of my 2nd great-grandmother and realizing my own mother was a “throwback.” My mom didn’t look like her parents, but she looked a whole lot like her great-grandmother Laura Thompson Green.


My 2 great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green and Grandpa Green

 When I first met Andrea, she only knew her great-grandmother’s name, Goldie, but had never seen a photo of her. My aunt, who has the tintypes in her possession, gave Andrea the tintype of Goldie. What a gift that was. Thanks Grandpa Green!



Goldie Green Van Riper




Finding Cousin Andrea

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I’ve had an Ancestry.com account since 2001. But, most of the time, I only signed up for a couple of months, did a little research, and then logged off for months, even years. Back in March of 2011, one of my older cousins mentioned that one of our Washington ancestor may have been a descendant of slaves owned by Martha Washington. I was intrigued by this info and decided to do some research on Ancestry.com. I was on Ancestry for a couple of days before I realized that someone had emailed me. That someone was my 3rd cousin Andrea.

My 3rd cousin Andrea

Andrea had sent me 5 messages over the course of a year! Each email stated the same thing. She wrote, “I think we are related. My great-grandmother was Goldie Green.” I have to say, I was thrilled that Andrea kept contacting me. My great-grandfather and Goldie were siblings so we share the same 2nd great-grandparents.  I immediately wrote her back and told her to call me ASAP. We chatted for a long time and I was able to email her photos of our 2nd great grandparents as well as Goldie and her siblings. If there is one thing I knew from jump street, it was Andrea is tenacious and I love that about her.

From our first phone call, we have been joined at the hip when it comes to researching our maternal family history. We tend to compliment each other when it comes to doing research. For example, looking through wills and probate records is not exactly my cup of tea, but Andrea is a wizard at finding this info and I love looking through historical newspapers and going to the NJ Historical Society to do primary research. It is so good to have someone close to me who has also been bitten by the genealogy bug as much as I have.  We probably have a reputation in the family now as the Crazy Genealogy Cousins, but we are cool with that. LOL

When I first met Andrea in person a couple of years ago, the first thing I said was how much she looked like a Green girl. When I look at her, I see my great Aunt Lizzie, one of my grandfather’s sisters. What do you think?

My Great Aunt Lizzie