Inspired by Judy G Russell’s excellent keynote, “Suffer the Little Children,” at the SLIG banquet, I’m inspired to write my first genealogy blog post about just such a story.
I’m sure that when Jimmy Ahern boarded the ferry from Tiburon to San Francisco on the morning of February 15, 1900 he had little idea of how much more tragedy would strike before the day was done. Jimmy and his sister, my great-grandmother, Mary Bradley, were embarking on one of the most sorrowful of tasks, traveling to the city to help their sister-in-law, Becky, plan the funeral of their brother, Henry, who had died the previous day.[i]
While he was away, Jimmy’s wife, Sarah, attended to her household tasks, perhaps laundering the clothes the family would wear the next day or preparing food for the mourners and visitors who would undoubtedly gather. As she worked, distracted by her grief, the youngest of her three daughters, fifteen-month-old Agnes Jane, named after both of her grandmothers, wandered away from the family home. How long until Sarah noticed the child’s absence is unclear, but once she did, she raised the alarm in the small railroad town, and neighbors and colleagues of her husband, an engineer with the California Northwestern, began to scour the town for the toddler. Nearly an hour later, Fred Curtis discovered the lifeless body of the little girl, lying face-down in the shallow tidal lagoon behind the Ahern home.[ii]
Yet more tragedy would befall Jimmy later that evening. As Sarah and a neighbor toiled upstairs in the house preparing Agnes Jane for burial in the morning, Jimmy, Mary Bradley and Felix Murphy, one of the pall bearers who would carry the little white coffin the next day, gathered to visit in the quiet of the yard. The neighbor’s child was there, too, and when she reached up to pet Jimmy’s bird dog, the animal snapped at the child, lacerating the face. After losing his brother and daughter within a day, Jimmy had to put down the dog.[iii]
The loss of Agnes Jane had grave implications for Jimmy’s family the following spring, and sent ripples of grief that would touch his sister’s family a generation later. More next week….
[i] Petaluma Argus, 16 February 1900, page 1
[ii] Testimony of G. F. Lewis at the Coroner’s Inquest held at Tiburon, Marin County, California, February 15, 1900 upon the body of Little Agnes Jane Ahern who was found drowned in the lagoon
[iii] Petaluma Daily Courier, 16 February 1900
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.