Sunday, October 9, 2016


When you are doing genealogy research the hardest person to find is a female.  It was only in the early 20th century that women had a legal say in anything.  Before that time when a woman took a husband she lost what limited freedom she might have had as a single adult. Those few married women who worked for pay could not control their own earnings. Most could neither buy nor sell property or sign contracts; none could vote, sue when wronged, defend themselves in court, or serve on juries. In the rare case of divorce, women lost custody of their children and any family possessions.

On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. With it, 17 million women won for themselves that most basic promise of democracy: the right to vote, but were still not equal to the men in legal documents.  The only time a women might have land or money is if her husband was incapacitated or she is a widow.  There were some women who had their own companies but mostly through the death of a family member.

All this has always given me a hard time finding information about the Great Grandmother of my husband.  She was Honora Quinlan Murphy born in Ireland and died in New York in 1908.  I have her in the 1870 census to 1905 census but do not know where she was born or married.  She married John Murphy and had their first child, Mary in 1873 in New York.

When I am researching using there are always hints for the people in my family tree I have on the web site.  I usually check the hints, but some are just not worth considering.  Well the other day as I was checking the hints one came up for a will for Honora Murphy.  I figured I would check it out, not that I thought it was my Honora Murphy, there are thousands of Honora/Nora Murphy on  It was my Honora Murphy, what a surprise.

The information on this Petition for Probate tells me that this is our Honora Quinlan Murphy.

·        She lived in Brooklyn, New York in all the census that I found with her and her family.

·        She died 19 February 1908 NY Death Cert. #3801

·        Her husband had died before her.  John Murphy died 14 April 1891 NY Death Cert #6073

·        Her three children listed are correct.  Thomas is my husband’s Grandfather. Mary who married Edward McEvoy and Margaret who married James Coyne.

The most surprising part of this petition was the amount of money Honora Quinlan Murphy left to her children.

The $3,000.00 was a considerable amount of money in 1908.  Some on-line money converters indicate that amount in this day would be between $60,000 and $80,000. The average wage earner in 1908 made about $400 a year.  My question was how did she get that much money.  Her husband was a plasterer, not a very high paying job and he died 20 plus years before.

That got me thinking maybe John Murphy left a will.  I did not find one although there might be one.  There are just too many John Murphy’s in the index to figure which one is his even going by the year 1891.  So I looked for more Quinlan’s and I found Honora’s sister Margaret.  Margaret never married and left $1,000.00 to Honora Murphy and Alexander Quinlan her sister and brother.  It also indicates she had bank accounts but doesn’t say how much is in them.  Margaret Quinlan died in 1904 so that is where Honora got some of her money.

This is such a wonderful find considering most women didn’t own anything and didn’t have a career.  Finding 2 women, sisters too, that have left wills with substantial amounts of money is a gold mine in genealogy.

I did get another surprise in Margaret’s will, the brother Alexander, I had never heard and seen any indication that there was a brother named Alexander.

More to research!

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