Write what should not be forgotten - Isabel Allande

Name those McGees…



I have a couple of picutres of the McGee family that are mostly unidentified.  Really hoping that my McGee cousins recognize  some of these folks! The above picture came from Nora McGee Pierce, my grandfather’s sister.  There is unfortunately no year on the picture but has to be before 1926.  Here is what I DO know:

From left: William McGee (1856-1926), J Norman McGee (1894-1952), the woman next to Norm maybe be Mary Ellen Murphy McGee (?),  the last lady on the right in this row is Martha Flynn McGee (1865-1949)

Back row: Nora McGee Pierce (1903-1932), Orrin Pierce (1885-1936), Unidentified,  Madeline McVay McGee (1894-1967)






Pretty much the same thing with this photo, taken before 1926. I don’t know who any of the children are, the man with the pipe on the left is J. Norman McGee, the man behind him is his father William McGee, the next man is unidentified (also sitting near William and Norm in the first picture), Madeline McGee is next, in front of her maybe Nora McGee Pierce? The standing woman is Martha Flynn McGee.




It’s not as bad as the doll…

Being an only child, there are many photos of my dad.  This is my dad (James McGee) in 1937, he was 7 years old.  There is no information about where is was taken.  I can see bit of my brothers, nephews and my sons in the picture. The ears are a distinctive McGee trait which my father and grandfather shared!    The horse is a little creepy – but nowhere near as scary as the smoking doll from a couple of weeks ago!!

John M McGee 1827-1905

John and Catherine McGee gravesite. St. Michaels Cemetary Warsaw, NY


John M McGee was born in 1827 in County Donegal, Ireland. He was the first of six children born to William and Margery Mcconnell. Not much is known about his life in Ireland, the family was Catholic and were likely tenant farmers. The family sailed to America in 1841 aboard the Stephen Whitney. John was 14 years old. His father did not sail with the family, he had gone ahead to get established before sending for his wife and children.  

The family sailed to New York City and then made their way to western New York state first to Lockport. It is thought that his father had found work on the canal, then to a small town near Pavilion, NY called Union Corners. In 1849 John’s father, William purchased a farm in Perry, NY (Wyoming County).  John and his siblings helped their parents with the running of a farm.  

The McGee farm was purchased in December of 1849, on January 7, 1850 John became a naturalized citizen of the United States at the age of 23. A Mr. James Givens and Mr. Mcgrath served as witnesses for John.  The paperwork was filed in nearby Livingston County.

In 1853 John married Catherine Gill, she had been born in Dublin about 1830 and came to the United States during the great famine. John and Catherine had 5 children: William (1856-1926), Catherine (1858-1919), Mary (1860-1919), Ella (1862-1897), John B (1863-1932).

John is shown in the Civil War draft registration record for Wyoming County in June of 1863.  There is no record that he ever served in the war.

John left the family farm and became a salesman.  He travelled the local Wyoming county selling goods to the farmers.  The following is an excerpt from Angie McGee’s poem:

John, the eldest, took for his mate

A worthy maiden whose name was Kate.

Dear Uncle John! How we watched for his coming,

And over the hill we all went running

For a ride on his cart was the greatest of treats,

While he sold his fresh fish and sweetest of meats.

In 1860 John and Catherine (Kate) were living in Perry Center and he is listed as a farmer with real estate valued at $1900, son william was 3yrs old, daughter kate 2yrs old and Mary 4 months old.  There also had a 17yrd old boy named John Donaldson living with them who helped with the farm work.

In 1870 the family is still living in Perry and John now lists his occupation as a butcher. The family included William, Kate, Mary and now Ellen 8yrs and John 6.  Kate’s mother Catherine Gill is living next door.In 1875 the family moved to Warsaw, NY and in 1880 John, Kate and all 5 children aged from 23 to 16 are still living at home, Kate’s mother now lives with the family.  John is again listed as a Farm laborer, William(23) a butcher, Kate (22) and Mary (20) list their occupations as Tailoress.

In 1890 John and Kate are living at 146 North Main St in Warsaw. Kate reports giving birth to 6 children, 4 of whom are still living. John is listed as a landowner and peddler. Mary 38yrs old is living with them and still a Tailoress. Son John (36) is a grocer. They also list Veronica Derrick aged 9, a granddaughter living with them.  The last member of the household listed is a Thomas Murphy aged 25 a border who was a salesman at the grocery store.  There will be more to come on the grocery store!  Also more coming on little Veronica and how she came to be living with her grandparents.

John died on February 14, 1905 at his home in Warsaw.  His obituary is a treasure trove of information:

Warsaw has lost one of its oldest, best known and most respected citizens in the death of John McGee, which occurred at his home on North Main street, last evening, February 14th, at half past eleven. Heart trouble and old age were the causes of death. Mr. McGee was born in Ireland 78 years ago last October, and when a lad of 14 years his parents came to this state, first going to Lockport. Shortly after they came to Middlebury, but for over fifty years his home has been in Warsaw. He spent some time in agriculture, but most of his life work was as a butcher.  He was a man of strict honesty in all his dealings, kindly and approachable, and few men of his wide acquaintance had more friends or was more generally respected.

His wife survives, also four children, John B., William and Miss Mary Mcgee of Warsaw, and Mrs. Chris O’Melia of Rochester. One brother, William, lives in the town of Perry.

(Warsaw, NY, Wyoming County Times, Feb. 15, 1905)

I also found a mention of John’s death in a New York City paper, Irish World.  People in Ireland and the US frequently subscribed to the paper to pass along information about the family. John is the only one of the McGee’s that I have found mention of in this paper.

The paper says that John was a native of County Donegal and lists his wife and 4 surviving children.

(NY, NY, Irish World, March 11, 1905)


Kate died in 1908


John and Catherine are buried in St. Michaels Cemetery in Warsaw, NY


Mary Angela McGee, Family Papers (N.p.: n.p., 16 November 1929), Poem by Angie McGee.


Nightmarish Doll


I came across this picture of my dad recently.  It was taken in 1938, my dad was about 8 in the photo.  It isn’t the greatest picture, the exposure is off and it isn’t clearly focused, this was the best I could do with it.  Looks like just a relaxing evening at home with a super creepy  doll – if you look closely it actually has a cigarrette dangling out of its mouth. I am honestly not sure what to think of the whole set up but it is a very unique picture!

Sorry in advance for any nightmares…


Merry Christmas

Hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas! I am so happy to have connected with so many relatives – it means so much to me.  My sister and I will be spending the day together with our families – we will probably not try and recreate this photo


Eileen and Mary Ellen McGee Christmas 1973

This gem is from my first Christmas in 1973

Christmas at Williamsburg


Back row: Meg Kelly, Terry Marshall Kelly, Rosann Kelly, Kay Marshall McGee Front row: Maureen Kelly, Mary Ellen Reardon, Beth Kelly 1993 Williamsburg, VA

This is one of my all time favorite pictures! I came across it the other day out of nowhere and took it as a sign that it should be shared. The picture was taken in December of 1993 at Colonial Williamsburg.  My sister Eileen must have taken the picture.  Several of the ladies of our clan met in Williamsburg for a long weekend. My sweet cousin Beth works there and we had such a fun trip. Everything was decorated for the holidays and was just beautiful.
We almost weren’t able to make the trip. On the day we were to leave Buffalo was enjoying bit of a snowstorm – did anyone see the Bills game this weekend? It was kind of like that! We were the last flight out as they were closing the airport. I can still remember watching them de-ice the plane.
We had so many laughs and made great memories on this trip. Beth still works at Williamsburg and her sisters Meg and Maureen live there now too. Maybe it’s time for another trip…

Life Lessons

Day 11: Looking at your family history, write down five life lessons you feel you’ve learned from your ancestors. Write an essay for the benefit of sharing with your children, grandchildren, and future descendants.

1. You are Braver than you think

Brave is not a word I would use to describe myself.  I always think I am more of a chicken.  Maybe it is getting older but I feel braver than I ever have. Maybe it is just life experiences losing my mom, watching my newborn son undergo open heart surgery, going through 9/11. None of it destroyed me, it made me bend but not break. Watching that same sweet boy grow up with his brothers has been a joy. Parenthood makes anyone braver! When my sister and I went to Europe for the first time, it was scary. We were completely out of our comfort zone – but you know what? We figured it out and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. The older I get, the less I care what others think. I know who I am – and I like it! My ancestors were incredibly brave – to leave for the promise of a better life. Sometimes you just have to take that leap.

2. This too shall pass

Sometimes cliches are truth. This phrase is always with me, always.  It has helped me through some really tough times in my life, because it is true.  It doesn’t have to be a tough time – sometimes just a regular stressful day. Things may not turn out how you want them to – but somehow they end up ok.  Just wait and see. My ancestors surely went through the hard times but they persevered and kept moving.  No matter what the situation, good or bad it will pass.

3. Strong Foundations

Strong foundations make for strong people.  It isn’t money or things, it was being raised by people who showed me what it means to be a parent, partner, family member and friend.  I believe that this has been handed down for generations.

4. Whatever you are be a good one

This one was a favorite of my dad’s.  He taught me that it really didn’t matter what you did for your living as long as you put your heart and head into it.  I would like to think he would be proud that I became a nurse – but I know that he was just as of proud me working at my first job in a library.  He supported his children in whatever they did as long as they worked hard at it.

5. You come from Hearty peasant stock – deal with it

As a kid I had a pretty active imagination and was pretty sure that my family was secretly royalty.  That somehow my ancestors had to flee their palace and in order to keep themselves safe had to hide the truth.  Please tell me I am not the only one…  Through a lot of research and DNA testing – it turns out that there is not an ounce of royalty anywhere on my family tree.  In fact I am descended from hearty peasant stock on both sides.  Turns out I am ok with it.  They may not be royalty but they were good, hardworking people. People who fought to live and raise their children, people who changed the course of their lives by making a decision to leave their homes in search of a better life and opportunities for their children.  Here’s to good hearty stock, it has served me well!

A Typical Day

Day 6: Imagine a typical day for a female ancestor. What time did she wake up, and what did she do throughout the day?


Mornings are a pretty hectic time for most of us, I can’t imagine it was much different in the early 1900’s.  What is much different are the how and why.  In 1911 my Great grandmother, Theresa Eich Pfundstein had 13 children to get up and ready for the day. Just let that one sink in for a moment.  I have 3 and lose my mind most mornings.

Theresa days were filled with hard work .  She would be up before the rest of the family to start breakfast. She would need to get the stove heated and begin to warm water for cooking and cleaning.  The Coffee would be started.  Breakfast could have been any number of things from eggs to homemade cereals – porridge, oatmeal, etc.  In 1911 her children ranged in age from 21 to a newborn.  All of them were still living at home.  With a family that large, everyone would be expected to pitch in to get the day started.  I can’t even imagine what the daily rush to get out the door would have been like – shoes, coats, lunch buckets

Once breakfast was finished and the older children were out the door, Theresa would have begun the first clean up of the day.  Dishes, dusting, floors etc.  The amount of laundry must have been impressive.  Even taking into consideration the family only owned a few outfits each.  Theresa sent her laundry out to be done. This is how my grandparents met – my grandfather’s mother was the who did the laundry.

The next part of the day would have been spent shopping for any necessary items.  Many ingredients for meals would be purchased fresh the day they were to be used.   Theresa lived in Brooklyn and had access to many different types of food.  She would have easy access to fresh meat from the butcher, fresh seafood and any seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most of the family’s food would be made from scratch, commercial items such as crackers and biscuits were just becoming readily available.  She likely cooked many German dishes that she learned to make from her own mother. Most of her shopping would have been done in her German neighborhood but living in Brooklyn they could sample food from all over the world.

Much of her day would have been taken up with cooking and cleaning as well as mending. Theresa would have prepared a main meal midday and a dinner for the entire family in the evening.  The cycle of cleaning and preparing for the next meal would continue as soon as one meal ended.

The older children helped with the younger ones and they all found ways to entertain themselves.

Raising a family and caring for a family in 1911 was hard, back breaking work.  While some aspects of it are easier today it is still a tough job.  

There are many things that we worry about today that didn’t exist then – but it works both ways.  I am especially grateful for modern medicine…and vacuums, washing machines, and crockpots!





Augusta Pfundstein 1917

Family History Magazine Writing Challenge: Imagine your ancestor had social media during their lifetime, and write a Facebook post or series of tweets describing something they’re witnessing in real-time.

In 1922 Augusta was a 21 year old woman living in the Boroughs of New York city. She was also a registered voter. What an amazing witness to history she was! She is listed as a  Democrat in a book of enrolled voters,  It made me so proud to see.

The first Presidential election she was eligible to vote in was 1924. It saw Republican Calvin Coolidge running against  Democrat John Davis.  Coolidge was already in the White House, he was Vice President when Warren Harding died in office the year before. The election probably didn’t turn out as she hoped – I know the feeling…

Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had died long before women were finally granted the right to vote.  Even though they were not alive to see their efforts rewarded they influenced generations of women to come. Susan B Anthony is buried in nearby Rochester, NY.  Every year on Election Day thousands of women visit her grave to pay tribute to the pioneer.

Here is my imagination of Augusta’s Facebook post from Election day in 1924:

Women around the country vote today! History in the making. So proud to be a part of this great nation.  Go Vote!  #susanbanthony, #elizabethcadystanton, #womenrule, #hopemyguywins

Augusta went on to live her best life and I have to believe that the brave woman who came before her, helped to influence her. She became a Nun, but didn’t fade quietly into their numbers.  Augusta (Sister Miriam Claire) got an education, more than many women of her time were able to even fathom.  She was 27 when she went into the convent. She was high school teacher and went on to become an administrator. I found her in a book that included an abstract of her dissertation that was published in 1939. Augusta Pfundstein rocked and I could not be more proud to be her relative!

City Record Supplement: Transcript of Enrollment books. Borough of Queens. (1922). New York, New York.

National Date Book


Day 7: Select a family heirloom (watch, quilt, Bible, etc.) and write a narrative about it. Where has it been? How did your ancestor acquire it, and what would it have encountered throughout the years? What important family milestones might it have witnessed?

In terms of money, the family heirloom that I am writing about is not valuable at all. In terms of helping me with my research it is absolutely priceless.

Tucked away in a dusty box in my mom’s basement was a small green book. It is maybe 4×6 in size and has seen better days, there is some discoloration to the cover of what was once a dark green.  The words National Date Book are stamped on the cover and it is bound with thread.

Inside is a simple lined notebook with the month and day at the top of each page.  The notebook belonged to my paternal grandmother, Madeline McVay McGee  or Maime as she was known.  Maime was good at keeping track of her life’s events, there is another notebook in which she lists her classmates and information about her high school graduation.  The second half of that book lists every wedding gift and card that she received.  I have always felt like Maime  and I were kindred spirits and this is just another reason.  I have always been a list maker, it helps to ground me and organize my thoughts.  I have taken to Bullet Journaling and who knows – maybe someday my ancestor may come across it.  

Like most people of her generation the notebook was used for more than one purpose.  On the top of the page under the date there are names and years written in faded ink. The writing looks a little different than the rest of the book and I think it originally belonged someone else in the family. I don’t recognize most of the names the dates are from the 1870’s to early 1900’s.

Maime kept meticulous lists of every Christmas card that she sent and received beginning in 1936 and going until 1966 (Maime died in 1967).  She even listed cards specifically sent to my father.  It is a fascinating look into her world.  There are many familiar names in the book and many more mysteries. Some of the people have addresses carefully written next to their names.  Every single time I open this book I find something new.  There are a few McVay’s listed – usually as “The Dick McVay’s”  There are one of my brick walls. It was reassuring to see them listed, they did exist and one of these days I will track them down!  Last year I found out who the “Art Hau’s” were and they unlocked many more of the names for me!  Leo McGee is in the book – he was the author of a really informative family history that I use all the time.  I was especially happy to see the “Jack McGee’s” of 703 Starin Ave, Buffalo listed.  The Hau’s helped me to unlock this branch and amazingly – cousin John McGee is now on my Christmas card list…on Starin Ave in Buffalo!

The last part of notebook and by far my very favorite part is documentation of life events that happened each year starting in 1930.  She documented the move from Warsaw to Batavia for my grandfather’s job in March of 1932 Her mother had a stroke and was living with them when they moved.  She says:  “Mother was still an invalid – stayed upstairs most of the time. It was a bitter cold day”  By 1934 my great grandmother was recovered enough to move to New York City to live with her son, Madeline’s brother Wayne. Maime mentions going to visit them in NY and that my Grandfather tried to find work in a bank.  She also mentions a trip to Chicago for the World’s Fair in 1934.

She records heart breaking things very matter of factly.  Maime records the death of her sister in law Nora McGee Pierce in 1932. She wrote: Nora very sick all summer, died September 15, 1932. This had to be very hard on both of my grandparents.  Nora was Norm’s only surviving sibling and they were close. The saddest entry is from 1934: “Very sick all winter. Mother came home from New York February 22. I went right to bed for two weeks. Then went to the hospital. Our baby was born March 6.”  Her sweet son William was born and died on the same day.  

She talks about my dad a lot  – his various illnesses and how he missed quite a bit of school in his first year.  Maime proudly records various professional achievements of my Grandfather’s. It is in these little details where I feel connected. This tiny book has given me a vivid glimpse into her life, details that I would never have known without her words. Its pages span the majority of her adult life. It records her life as a young mother, a widow, and a grandmother. It is concise and factual. It lovely to watch through the years as my mother’s parents and siblings begin to show up in her Christmas card lists.

This small book isn’t valuable, it isn’t beautiful, it probably never travelled outside of Batavia, NY.  It pages though are incredible, they hold a family history of 34 years a few lines at a time. In the Christmas card lists you can follow couples having children and of those children growing up and starting families of their own. Wedding dates carefully recorded in the back section by year, addresses changing through the years. The book chronicles couples year after year until one year only one name is written.

I love my technology but there is something to be said for handwritten history.  Imagining my Grandmother sitting at her desk – a desk that I still use just makes me happy.  Some of the entries are written in pencil and are very faded, some are written in pen and are a little easier to read.  For me it is a wonderful piece of history and is something I am truly grateful for.

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