The Sweeney Family Crest
Courtesy of Ernest Hatton, Jr.
Settlers I: The Sweeneys of Ringer Hill
***********************************I found some property tax records for Michael and Patrick Sweeney from the early 1850's in the Sullivan County Courthouse. These more or less continue until the end of the century. There are no organized death records in this location. There are also some partial wills and land records. I have a copy of the will that Michael executed in 1878, the year after his wife died. It reflects what appears to have been an earlier (1869) arrangement to parcel the land up among his sons, with protections for his daughters as well. This earlier document had been given in trust to Valentine Rohe, their next door neighbor, but could not be found when Catherine Sweeney died June 24, 1877. The reason escaped me until I learned that Valentine himself had died on February 10, 1873. The 1869 document could easily have been destroyed or lost after its keeper passed away. For the 1878 will, Michael Sweeney's youngest daughter, Ellen (sometimes referred to as "Ella"), was the executor, presumably because, as a schoolteacher, she could read and write. Ellen, as we mentioned above, eventually married Mr. Thomas Lavelle in May, 1884. In the spring of 1885, however, Ellen, apparently without her husband, but accompanied by her 83-year-old widower father and her brother also named Michael, relocated to the newly annexed Indian territory in Cheyenne County, Kansas, to become homesteaders!!!! the government passed a little known Timer Culture Act in 1874 that more or less granted the same homesteading rights to adventureres who would try to harvest timber on the frontier, as to those who went there to farm. It comes as no great surprise that folks like the Sweeneys, who were expert woodsmen and lumberjacks as a secondary profession, might find this appealing. However, growing timber as a cash crop on the windswept Kansas-Nebraska border exceeded the skills of even the most diligent veteran of Eastern timber stands. The venture in Kansas did not work out for these Sweeneys. A message from a local historian, Marian Holzwarth, in 2001 reported as follows:
We really do not know why Ellen left her husband either. He later ended up living in Walla Walla, Washington, before returning to Sullivan County, it would appear, before 1910, where he is listed as a widower in the 1910 census. Thomas died in 1926 in Laporte, PA, from carcinoma of the esophagus, under the care of his niece, Mrs. Thomas Cavanaugh. As indicated previously, we do not know as of yet exactly what happened to Ellen. The Sullivan Review for June 9, 1885 reports that the homesteading trio were working 320 acres of government land in Wano, Kansas. However, the town of Wano itself was relocated to nearby St. Francis, KS in 1887. There is another record that "Ellen Sweeney", daughter of "Michael", married Elijah Bray there in October 1886. However, the records also show that she left by 1888, after being granted a divorce on grounds of cruelty. We do know that Michael returned at some point to Ringer Hill to his old home, and died there on February 14, 1894, perhaps from pneumonia or lagrippe, both of which besieged the local community that year. There is also an old family rumor, which I heard once from my father, that Michael, "the oldest man in the county", died when he fell off a ladder. This story remained unconfirmed in 2001, but would not be surprising given Michael's previous adventures.
We don't know as yet the whereabouts of Ellen after 1888, when or where she died, or if she returned with her father to Pennsylvania. Stay tuned as several family genealogists continue to research this intriguing story. There is a woman by this name and the correct age and birth location listed as a boarder in the Federal census for 1900 in Philadelphia; we suspect this is Ellen, but cannot say for sure. No word has passed down in the family of her fate, perhaps because she was viewed as some kind of "black sheep".
We know as well that her brother Michael returned to Pennsylvania at some point, likely as a laborer and woodsman. He is listed as such in the 1920 census where he is living with his brother Owen at Cherry Mills. He also is known to have spent some time with his brother Patrick at the latter's home in Salamanca, NY around 1920, and that he died in 1925 in Luzerne County, PA, from gangrene.
By the way, Ellen's niece Ella B. Sweeney, daughter of Owen, was also a schoolteacher and was the
executor of Owen's will in 1921. In November, 1921, at
the age of 51, after all those years of caring for her
aged parents, Ella married Chris Murphy and resumed her
life as a well-regarded teacher in the local school
system. Her mother, Owen's widow, went to live with her
eldest child Annie ("Grandma Annie" to her
children and grandchildren) (Sweeney) McDonald at the
family house in Dushore. She died there in 1929 at the
age of 89. The house still stands and is owned by
McDonalds to this day.
On the Loyalsock Creek, Dushore, PA
Postcard from Ella Bridget Sweeney
Mailed Before 1921
Source: eBay Auction July 2005
Agnes Sweeney (1903-1978), pictured above, became a school teacher in the local Sullivan County schools. She was very close to Rose Marie Sweeney, her first cousin, the youngest daughter of Peter Francis and Agnes (Kelly) Sweeney. Here is a letter she wrote to the local newspaper in 1928 that reflects her interest in education:
February 15, 1928
February 11, 1928
The Sullivan Review,
I agree with you in that the question of combining the Sullivan and Bradford County Institutes is a matter of the widest debate and publicity.
The chief argument against the movement seems to be that our own county in merging with Bradford would lose its individuality. In other words it seems to be a question of preserving the individuality of Sullivan county rather than the improvement of the Sullivan County Teachers' Institute.
While it is true that we would lose some of our prestige in the event of a combination, it is well to remember that some sacrifice is always necessary in the interest of progress. The advantages to be derived by teachers from the proposed consolidation are: access to a wider range of instruction and to more and better entertainment, and the inspiration to be acquired through contact with new people and a new environment. All this cannot but result in greater inspiration, an enlarged viewpoint, and a broader vision for the teachers of Sullivan county.
M. Agnes Sweeney
|The oldest son was James Sweeney, named for his mother's father James
Wright. James (1862-1931) married Bertha Kuhnle (1860-1935), daughter
of Charles Kuhnle and Louise Keck. The Kuhnle family was part of the
German community in Sullivan County. James was known as "Big Jim"
and we know he was employed in the lumber industry. His obituary describes
him as a lumber scaler, a job that involved measuring the lengths of
pieces of cut timber. Big Jim and his wife lived in the lumber town
of Jamison City down along the border of Columbia County. Bertha was known for her home made ice cream, as
reported in Catherine Casey Chapin's 1976 memoir entitled Jamison City As I Remember It:
The Sullivan Review
The Sullivan Review
Another son of Martin and Julia, named Edward L. Sweeney, born in 1873, stayed single but grew up to become a prominent local lawyer. He graduated from the University of Valparaiso (Indiana) Law School in 1914 and was still practicing in 1949 when he died of a heart attack at his brother Michael's home in Albany, Pennsylvania. He walked with a cane as a result of polio.
One daughter of Martin and Julia was also named Annie and she married William M. Kelly. Kelly in turn was first cousin to Agnes E. Kelly, the wife of Annie's brother Peter Francis Sweeney, another son of Martin and Julia and my grandfather. Aunt Rose Marie remembers Annie as a fussy older woman dressed in black who was treated as royalty when she visited Rose Marie's home, the household of Peter and Agnes (Kelly) Sweeney in Towanda. Here is her obituary:
Two other daughters of Martin and Julia were Ellen (always called "Nell") and Blanche. Nell married into the Cummings family from Towanda, but was widowed early. Her husband Stephen was killed while working on the Rainbow Bridge, the first bridge from the US to Canada at Niagara Falls. In 1900, she was living at the farm of Martin and Julia near Dushore with her two children -- five-year old Rachel Marie and three-year-old Eugene. Eventually, she ended up living on Pleasant Street in Sayre two houses away from the home of her sister Blanche and Blanche's husband Frank Wayman. The Waymans also had two children, Alma and Eugene (who became disabled by polio).
One other astonishing factor is that Kate Sperduti's husband Fred had a brother John. John was actually working in the same room at the Sayre shops where my grandfather Peter Francis Sweeney was killed by a falling boxcar end in March, 1934.
Peter and Agnes were married at St. Francis Xavier Church in Overton on January 7, 2004, Father Enright presiding. Agnes eventually gave birth to twelve children, ten of whom survived to adulthood. The couple at first lived in Sayre, then moved to Towanda where they first lived on Watt Avenue. In 1906, the family bought a home at 27 Pratt Avenue, one of five "new" houses at the time on the north edge of town. This house would remain in the family for over fifty years until after Agnes died in 1960. The oldest child, Ivan Joseph Sweeney, died in childhood. According to what my Aunt Mary told my Aunt Rose Marie before Mary died in 1989, Mary could remember Ivan crawling through a fence on Watt Avenue where he was supposed to be penned in. So, he must have been at least a toddler before he died. Some time after Agnes died, a new hospital was built on the property including the house lot where Peter and Agnes raised their family. However, the house was not demolished. It was moved across the street, painted brown instead of its original green, located a few house lots further north, and reversed so that the back porch now opens on Pratt Avenue. Here is a picture taken of the house by Angela Wallace, a granddaughter of Peter and Agnes via their daughter Gertrude (Sweeney) Osmond, at the time of the Kelly Family Reunion in 2006.
And, here is what the house originally looked like. This photo was taken in 1982. Bob Sweeney and his father, Robert Gerard Sweeney, are on the right. The shirtless man is unidentified. Bob's father was born in this house.
The next child was my Aunt Mary Bernice Sweeney, who married Patrick Francis Godwin of Scranton, PA. You can look at the family chart for the Godwins at The Godwin-Sweeney Lineage, produced courtesy of my first cousin, Edward Benedict Godwin. Also, in July 2010, Ed Godwin contributed the attached Maternal Ancestry DNA Report. This Report indicates that his mother, my aunt Mary Sweeney, is a descendants of the Travelers, known as the Pavee among the Irish; this nomadic ancestral group is related to the Gypsies and Tinkers. Who would have guessed that the Sweeneys were descended from "Gypsies"?
The oldest survivng boy, Robert Gerard Sweeney, my father, was born October 15, 1918. He would grow up in Towanda, lose his father to an accidental death in 1934, and join the Marines in World War Two. Dad was a veteran of the First Marine Division and Guadalcanal and Pelelieu, and was decorated for bravery more than once. After the war, he married Teresa Alva Hughes from Wellington, New Zealand, whom he met on duty there. She was born on January 11, 1924, the daughter of Bernard and Ellen (Hansby) Hughes. You can learn more about Teresa's adventures and the Hughes and Hansby family of New Zealand at A War Bride Comes to Pennsylvania. Incidentally, if you have a broader interest in this topic, there is also a page entitled The American War Bride Experience.
He became a teacher in small towns in Pennsylvania and she raised a family of nine children, all still living in 2010. In 1954, they moved to Binghamton, New York. Dad became a teacher and coach for baseball and basketball. Binghamton, in those days, was probably the typical American town, with summer baseball, hot sitcky summer days, ice cream trucks, and Easter Egg Hunts in the spring. See the 1956 egghunt in Recreation Park in the picture below, with the marking by my mother showing me in full flight. The Sweeney family lived at several addresses on the west side of town after 1976, and attended St. Thomas Aquinas Church. The kids went to the parochial school there.
Eventually, Dad was promoted to Principal and toward the end of his career became a member of the School Board and Superintendent of Schools in that community. He died of a massive heart attack on October 4, 1996 just after watching his grandson Michael Ford play a high school football game. Ironically, both his mother Agnes Kelly Sweeney and her father Daniel Kelly all died of heart attacks in their mid-70s as well, while the Sweeney paternal side of the family tends to live to the mid- or late-eighties or even longer, if they don't die in accidents. Dad is buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Johnson City, NY. Here are five pictures of my parents: single shots of each about 1945, their wedding picture from November 5, 1945 at St. Peter and Paul's Church in Towanda, a picture [embedded in a news story] of my dad taken in 1990, and a shot of them together about 1995 in Binghamton. I also include a picture of me and my daughter Becca taken in late August 2000 in Memphis, TN; then, a picture of my brother Kevin Bernard Sweeney and his two sons. Their names are Kris and Kevin, Jr. The pictures were taken in 1999 and 1997, respectively. My brother Kevin, born October 21, 1956, lived in the Memphis area as well in 2002 and worked at that time for my partner in business, David Beard. He later moved back to Binghamton in 2005. These two boys, Kris and Kevin, Jr. are my daughter Becca's first cousins.
My sister Colleen has lived in the Binghamton, NY area all her life. She became a high school history teacher and married Jim Ford, a musician of great talent who also builds and repairs harpsichords and pianos. In June 2006, their son Michael Ford married Alicia Kipikas at St. Patrick's Church in Binghamton. Many of Mike's uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives made the trek to Binghamton for this event. You can meet the Fords and other members of my family at The Ford Wedding 2006.
Ashley is the daughter of my sister Terry Lou and, in June 2008, lived with her mom and grandmother, Teresa, on Beethoven Street in Binghamton, NY. There are more pictures of Ashley, her cousins and other members of my family at The Ford Wedding 2006.
Just as an aside, I personally have had a somewhat unusual life. First, I have lived in at least 15 different residences in my adult life, from San Francisco to near Tel Aviv, Israel. In 2006, I had been living in Memphis, Tennessee for the previous twenty years. My wife and I had been married for 37 years at that time, and our daughter Becca Ariella Sweeney was nearly age 27. When I was a child, we were also an itinerant family, but the moves were within about 50 miles of an area centered on Bradford County, PA. I was born at the Robert Packer hospital in Sayre, while my family lived in Towanda. We spent a brief stint in East Orange, NJ, where my dad enrolled at Panzer College after World War II. In a year or so, we returned to Towanda, and dad transfered to Mansfiled State Teachers College, about 25 miles west of Towanda. When he graduated, we began our moves that paralleled his career as a teacher, coach and later school administrator. We lived in Alice Hollow and Leraysville, in rural Bradford County, PA. Then, in 1954, we moved to Binghamton, NY. I would live there from age 8 until age 25, with the exception of a stint in the Marine Corps in the late 1960s and two years at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. By the way, that was the last year that Don Shula coached there before going to the pros! As a kid, I attended three different Cahtolic grade schools in Binghamton, and later went to Binghamton Central High School, where I was the valedictorian in 1964. Here are a few pictures of St. Thomas Aquinas church and school, where I was a student from 1956-1960. This is the actual original school building, but the church is a replacement for the old stone structure that used to stand across the street from, just east of, the school.At first, I thought I wanted to be an academic; in the course of that pursuit, I earned six univesity degrees--including four masters degrees and a doctorate in American history. However, my career has been in business. I never made a dime directly from being a scholar, but the things I learned about writing, speaking and organizing information in those programs are what made it possible in many ways for me to advance in commerce. Also, when you spend a lot of time in learning environments, one becomes aware of how little one really knows and one also develops a tolerance for other faiths, ethnicities and points of view. The most important thing my wife and I did was to raise a child without even the slightest iota of prejudice in her heart for people of other colors, beliefs or orientations. Any way, here is a letter I got back from the famous biologist Steven Jay Gould after I complained to him about his treatment of the French philosopher and scientist Antoine Lavoisier in one of his articles.
On my birthday, August 4, 2006, I was saddened and shocked to learn of the death of a nephew, Seth Michael Sweeney, age 32, of Binghamton. Seth was the son of my brother Phillip Peter Sweeney and therefore another first cousin of my daughter, Becca. He died of what was reported to be a heart attack in his apartment; he was separated from his young wife, Kimberly (Gates) Sweeney and their three children: Conner, Maeve and Mairen. Here are his obituary and a picture. He was a good kid and his loss was tragic.
August 7, 2006
Seth Michael Sweeney, of Binghamton
Seth Michael Sweeney, 32, of Binghamton, died unexpectedly on August 4, 2006. He is survived by his children, Conner, Maeve, and Mairen; and his former wife, Kimberly Sweeney, all of Endicott. Seth is also survived by his parents, David and Teri Tanenhaus, Binghamton, and Phillip Sweeney, Harpursville; his brothers, Adam (Heather) Sweeney, Princeton, Massachusetts, and Gabriel Tanenhaus, NYC. Also surviving are his grandparents and many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. Seth was a graduate of Binghamton High School and attended Herkimer College and Broome Community College. He lived in Arizona for several years. He worked recently in construction, and was a gifted musician. A gentle man, Seth loved fishing, hiking, sports and all animals. Seth was greatly loved and will be greatly missed.
A private burial will be held at Vestal Hills Memorial Park at the convenience of the family. Arrangements are by Ernest H. Parsons Funeral Home.
Here is another photo of Seth Sweeney, taken with his father Phil and his daughter Maeve about 1999 in Binghamton, NY.
As technology advances, it has become possible to link audiovisual materials to web pages. Therefore, let me give you access to two
videos shot at the time of the Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary of my parents, Robert G. and Teresa Alva (Hughes) Sweeney, in November 1995. Click on the arrow below the
image on each video to play.
Finally, let me share with you the Eulogy which I delivered on behalf of my father on October 8, 1996 at St. Patrick's Church in Binghamton, NY:
EULOGY FOR AN UNKNOWN HERO
The things I have to say about my Father are meant mostly for the young people, the children and grandchildren. You knew him as a grandfather, but I knew him as a father of nine children and a leader in this community. A teacher, a coach, a principal. And also as a man who moonlighted parking cars at a drugstore and driving a bus for the Police Athletic League to help feed his children. All things we could and should be proud of, but not what I want to talk to you about today.
Copyright ©1999-2001 Robert E. Sweeney and individual Contributors. All Rights Reserved. Prior written permission is required from Robert E. Sweeney and individual Contributors before this material can be printed or otherwise copied, displayed or distributed in any form. This is a FREE genealogy site sponsored through PAGenWeb and can be reached directly at ~Sullivan County Genealogy Project (http://www.rootsweb.com/~pasulliv)
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