The 52 Week Challenge: Week 4 – Invite to Dinner

This week Amy Johnson Crow‘s Topic for the 52 Week Challenge is “Invite to Dinner.”  I have many, pretty much ALL of those who have gone before me I would love to talk to.  But If I have to write about one (pair) it would be my great grand-parents Francesco Cavallone (1875-1953) and Rosa Libretti (1879-1956).

Mama Rosa and Tata Chich 1944

They arrived at Ellis Island in 1899 right after getting married in Sassano, Italy.  I’d want to know how they experienced life in Central Italy.  What drew them to America and specifically Chicago.  I’d love to learn their recipes (though I love my grandparent’s gravy and pasta recipes).  What made them make so many trips back and forth from Italy.  I’d ask “Thetan Cheeck” (that’s what they called Francesco) where he was originally from because there are no records in Sassano of his birth or his parents Giuseppe Cavallone and Maria Giuseppa Furiati.  Mama Rosa, yes.  I don’t know of any Francesco’s siblings as of yet.

They settled at 4900 South Federal Street (previously Armour Ave) in Chicago and moved after 1940 to 837 West 51st Street.  All of Thetan Cheek’s children resided in the same general block.  My dad used to tell me that you couldn’t go anywhere without an aunt or an uncle and even older cousins (my oldest great aunt had children before my grandfather was born) knowing what you are up to.

I think it would be a blast to see this in person:


Come to think of it I’d love to be a part of this, my great grandparents and my great Aunts and Uncles back in the late 1940’s at Francesco and Rosa’s 50th Wedding Anniversary.  They didn’t have much, but Family was important.


(l-r) front: Vincenzo “Jimmy,” Antonia “Dora,” Francesco, Rosa, Catherine, Michael; back: my grandmother Frances Matroci holding my aunt Rosemary, shadowed in the back my great aunt Mary Biancamano, Joseph, Frank Merenda and my grandfather John Cavallone.

Ah, the thought of leaping back in time to learn about the family first hand.  I think I’d prefer that over seeing the future.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Favorite Picture

In 2002, my oldest daughter had a school assignment that required her to find out what ancestors came to America and why.  I had no idea what would follow.  I knew I wanted to learn more about my family, especially after my paternal grandparents passed away in 1996.  But procrastination won.

Not anymore.

We visited my Aunt Rosemary, who was the family historian.  She taught us the history and how large our family really was.  I knew of no siblings of my grandfather.  I didn’t pay attention.  My Aunt provided phone numbers of second cousins and they all contributed to the story.

As I visited each branch of the family, I brought my portable scanner and laptop and scanned all of the pictures.  These meetings eventually turned into a family reunion (to be discussed in a future blog) bringing relatives together from coast to coast.  It was a great site to see my 80-year-old relatives see each other again after 30+ years!

So, I actually have two favorite pictures.

This one is from my great grandparents 50th wedding anniversary in 1949.  The picture is from Rose Cavallone Mateicka’s collection.

Frank and Rose 50th Group-2

The second one is the oldest “Cavallone” picture we have.  This is from my Aunt Rosemary’s collection.  It’s from 1909.  My paternal great-grandparents, Rosa Libretti (30) and Francesco Cavallone (34), along with (l to r) daughters Caterina (3), Antonia (4-5 months ?) and Josephine (8)


I’m grateful that many of my Rispoli cousins were photographers.  There are many Cavallone family pictures from the 1940s and thanks to technology I was able to collect and share what each branch of the family shared with me to other family members.

The McGrath Family

It’s been a long time since I wrote on this blog, but genealogist and blogger Amy Johnson Crow created a challenge to fellow genealogists called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks and I’m up for the challenge.

I have a fondness for the McGrath Family.  I never met any of them but through researching my wife’s side of the family I learned of their tragic story.  Anna Kelly was the second oldest of six children born to Rose Keenan on February 9, 1871, in Allegheny Pennsylvania.  She was baptised on February 26, 1871, at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.  She grew up with sisters Catherine, Rose and Mary and brothers Cornelius and John in Western Pennsylvania until about 1895 when the family moved back to Chicago (Rose Keenan married Edward Kelly in Chicago in 1869, daughter Catherine was born in Chicago January 2, 1870).  Anna’s father Edward died in Pennsylvania around 1875 when he was about 41.

Anna married Edward McGrath on June 29, 1900, at St. Ailbe Catholic Church on Chicago’s Southeast Side.


Anna’s sister Rose left Chicago to live in Sidney, Nebraska prior to Anna’s marriage.  According to the Sidney Telegraph newspaper, Anna regularly visited sister Rose in Sidney.

Anna and Edward had two girls, Loretta born August 21, 1905, and Bernice born Jan 3, 1914.  Anna and Edward adored their girls.

On October 17, 1918, Anna became a victim of the Spanish flu which ravaged the nation. While comparing notes with Thomas McClory a few years ago, he noted, “The day of Anne’s death from this disease, October 17, 1918, became known as Black Thursday in Chicago when 381 people died and nearly 1,200 more contracted the illness in a single 24-hour period.”

Loretta and her sister Bernice, along with their grandmother Rose Keenan Kelly,  moved to Cheyenne County Nebraska to live with Anna’s sister Rose and her husband James McNulty.  Not long after the move to Nebraska Rose and James McNulty, Loretta, Bernice and Rose Keenan moved to Denver.

On April 30, 1922, tragedy strikes again as Loretta and Bernice’s father Edward Kelly was killed in a train accident.

Anna always wanted her daughter Loretta to be a Nun.  Loretta followed that path and became a Sister Mary Bernice in the late 1920s.  She watched over her sister Bernice as told in her story below.


1906 – Anna Kelly McGrath, Loretta McGrath (left) and William McClory (right) courtesy Thomas McClory collection.

Sister Mary Bernice

About 1927 – Sister Mary Bernice McGrath (Loretta McGrath) courtesy Thomas McClory collection.

The following story of Sister Mary Bernice was sent to me by the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati.  It describes the strength and faith of Anna’s daughter, Sister Mary Bernice.




Anna Kelly McGrath is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 2755 W 111th Street (Section 50 Block – Lot 692 Grave 3)

Edward McGrath is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 2755 W 111th Street (Section 43 Block – Lot 35 Grave 1) 

Sister Mary Bernice McGrath is buried at Sisters of Charity Cemetery

Bernice McGrath is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 60 Site 7409)

Cheyenne County Catholic Church Records

Today was another successful day.  We started out meeting Father Dave in Bridgeport, NE at All Souls Church.  He let us look at the sacrament book.  There were a few clues to new information on Becky’s cousins, James Ward, Catherine Ward’s son and his wife Catherine Keenan(!)’s daughter Isabella Catherine’s Baptismal. The records only went back to 1917, though the church was opened in 1908.  All of Catherine’s children were born and past the traditional baptismal years.  Only her children’s children would be found.

Father Dave offered to call St. Patrick’s Church in Sidney to see if we could look at the sacrament books there.  They welcomed us there as well.

When we arrived at St. Patrick’s there were several pages of sacraments!  We found James McNulty and Rose Kelly’s Marriage; Rose McNulty (d.1927), Catherine Ward (d.1937), Susan Ward Dalton (d.1964) and Patrick J Dalton (d. 1934) death; and a few baptismals.

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Line 1 is Rose McNulty’s death she is James McNulty’s sister.

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Catherine Ward is found on line 11

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James McNulty and Rose Kelly’s Marriage is located on line 63, the third line down

Though we didn’t find everything we were looking for, the past four days were successful with documentation we would never have acquired otherwise.  Best of all was meeting Tom Walsh, his friend Jim, Father Dave and many other very hospitable residents of the Cheyenne County area!

Tomorrow, on to Denver to Vital Records, the Denver Public Library, a cemetery visit and then to Estes Park to visit family!

A Day with Tom Walsh

We met Tom for lunch at Loading Chute in Gurley Nebraska.  I gave him some of his grandmother Mary McNulty’s homestead papers I found on ancestry and the 1913 township map of 17N 51W which includes the sections James McNulty owned.  He shared history with us.

After lunch we accompanied him to the Dalton American Legion Auxiliary where they were serving ice cream and pie.  Tom participates in reading deceased service men and woman’s names at American Legion functions.

We then went back to Tom’s place, hopped in his truck and he took us around to the areas where the McNulty’s (Rose, Mary and James) homesteaded.  He also took us to Catherine Ward’s homestead.  The land had no home on it.  Tom suggested we talk to the current owner.  Jim was very welcoming.  He immediately told us he had the abstract on the property.  He found it right away and invited us in.  We copied the pages with Catherine Ward’s transactions and he sat and, along with Tom, shared stories of the land ownership in the area, the depression, and several other stories that we are very greatful for.    


The evening closed with dinner with Tom back at the Gurley Loading Chute.  We are extremely greatful for Tom’s generosity and hospitality!

Tomorrow we visit Father Dave in Bridgeport NE to look at Sacremental records!

Dalton Nebraska

The day started out at the Sidney Library where we looked through the old Sidney Telegraph newspapers for any mention of family members.

Here is a sample of what we found:   The 1905 notification of James McNulty and Rose Kelly’s (Becky’s great grand uncle and aunt)

 1904 mention of Becky’s great grand aunt Mrs. Anna McGrath.

  Becky’s 1st Cousin 3x removed – Susie Ward.

 Mrs. Anna McGrath and Rose Kelly (Becky’s great grand aunts) 

The highlights of the day were experiencing Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Dalton.  Though the physical building is not the same as the one Becky’s family worshipped in, the experience was wonderful.  Father Dave’s warm welcome made us feel at home.  He had a copy of the Centennial celebration for us with some of the pictures we were looking for as well as an invitation to see the old sacrament book on Monday.

Father Dave introduced us to Tom Walsh, who shares James McNulty as a common uncle with Becky as his grandmother is James’s sister Mary.

We had dinner with Tom at “The Big V” and he welcomed us to his farm which was purchased from the McNulty’s generations ago.

Tom invited us to an ice cream social tomorrow as well as a trip back to his farm.

Onward to Sidney Nebraska

When we first started this research several years ago we were generously provided a document mixed with facts and assumptions about Rebecca’s ancestors.  We took that document and found facts and documented our findings on  The added fun is Rebecca’s 91 year old father, Raymond, a WWII veteran with the best sense of humor ever!

For the most part we found the direct lineage and accompanying cousins, second cousins, etc.  But Raymond’s great grand mother’s sister Catherine Keenan Ward and her husband “James” were forever elusive.  Every time we’d give Raymond new findings, he’d be excited, but add “Well, what about the Wards?”  They were one of those genealogy brick walls that I couldn’t break.  I looked everywhere.

In April while I was on the Denver Colorado Public Library website, I noticed that they published an index of death notices for the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post.  They also offered the service that they would copy the death notice and email it to you.

We knew that Rebecca’s great great grandmother, who lived in Chicago, left after the Chicago Fire and lived in Braddock, PA; returned to Chicago in the late 1890’s; eventually moved to Denver to live with her Daughter Rose Kelly McNulty in 1920.  Rose Kelly passed away in 1927 and she was buried next to her husband in Alsip’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.  Rose McNulty’s husband James also passed away in Denver 1930.  So as a obsessive completest,  I ordered the death notices.

Two weeks later, they were in my gmail account.

McNulty Kelly

“Sister Catherine Ward of Sidney, NE???”  “James McNulty’s remains were sent to Dalton, NE??”  What?  Nebraska?  What is in Nebraska?  So I plugged those locations in my ancestry account and the brick wall came tumbling down and an avalanche of information flooded in.  Suddenly we knew basic information about unknown 3rd cousins!

There is an in between that I will get to, but I’m going to jump to the last 48 hours…

I wanted to know more.  I wanted to know the history.  The only way to really do that is – destination Sidney Nebraska.  I was prepared with my checklist of things I wanted to accomplish, we were ready to go.  Midnight strikes and time to take that twelve hour drive.  Dark, rainy, and construction.  We got in at 3pm that day and were exhausted.  Food and sleep were next on the agenda.  After checking into the hotel, we found a nice little place by the golf course called Hillside Bar and Grill.  We were pretty much the only ones there so we were able to ask the hostess and a regular their suggestions on how we can get a feel for the area.  They were very kind and gave us a phone number to contact a Dalton Museum board member and suggested that we stop in at the Fort Sidney Post Commander’s Home and Officer’s Quarters Museum.

7pm – We are out for the night.  (It’s really 8pm Chicago time)

Out the door by 8:45am. First stop, Sidney Public Library to look for additional death notices, check out a couple reference books and donate a copy of the genealogy work I put together to date connecting the Keenan sisters.

By noon we found all the death notices we were looking for from the microfilm of the Sidney Telegraph and the Dalton Delegate newspapers.  I also was able to gather information from Dalton’s Heritage by Linda Morgan and History of Cheyenne County Nebraska 1986.

After lunch we visited the Sidney Museum.  I love historical museums that house the way the building originally was and the clothing and artifacts of the time.  I always say, we don’t know how easy we have it, even when it’s not so easy.  We take electricity, the bathroom, light, transportation and a whole lot more for granted.

We visited Greenwood Cemetery, where Catherine Ward and her one daughter’s family (Susan Ward Dalton) is buried.  St. Mary’s Cemetery was also visited where James McNulty and his two sisters, Rose McNulty and Mary McNulty Walsh (and her family) are buried.

We stopped at the local ma and pa grocer to grab a cold water and as I was leaving I saw a copy of the Dalton Heritage book, which I could not find anywhere online.  Mine.  To share with my father-in-law, of course.

I knew before the trip that James McNulty and Catherine Ward were involved with the beginnings of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dalton.  I called Father Dave and asked if we could look at the 100 year anniversary book the church published, Hoping there may be information or pictures of the Wards or McNulty’s.  He told us to meet him for Saturday service tomorrow!  Maybe we can see church records too?

Tomorrow’s goals – take our time looking at old newspapers for articles and visit St. Mary’s church.

Rebecca is passed out as I write this.  She’d hate me as a boss.

To be continued….