Monday, April 25, 2011


On July 28, 1863, Mary Hester married a Dennis Nerney is Stockton on Tees in the county of Durham & York, England. The ceremony was at St. Mary's Chapel[Catholic]. No knowledge exists if any of her relatives attended, though we know from the wedding certificate[if you want a copy, let me know] that Dennis' brother,John, and sister,Ann, were there as they were witnesses. This certificate shows Mary's age[ 20] and names her father as Michael Hester, a farm laborer still alive. From other records we know her mothers name was Mary Stanton Both her parents were Irish as was Mary.

That sums up all that has been yet discovered about her early life. Family lore says that the Hesters were from County Clare and that was why their first born male child was named James Clare. Yet my research in the Griffith Valuation of Irish property[1852 -1858] showing renters and landlords and the Tithe Applotment Index of property tax rates [~1825] have no Hester names in County Clare. Closer to County Roscommon where we think the Nerneys originated is County Galway. This has a large district[correct term is Barony] called Clare but no Hester surnames in any of the indices, but there are Hesters living in Co.Roscommon. I have another theory about the name Clare, an explanation will be given on the paternal side of James Nerney.

The UK census of 1861, just prior to the wedding, provides no help. Michael Hester and his wife, Mary Stanton, are not working in England. Did they stay back in Ireland and allowed their 18-year-old daughter to depart Ireland seeking work? They would not be the first family to do so. I have found in the same 1861 census three Mary Hesters. One is with her brother Michael and they are working in a cotton mill and living with a Teddy and his wife, Ann Hester and a 16 year old daughter. They could be her aunt and uncle, but they are living on the west side of England! Another Mary is living in Preston where she is a lodger in a home and works as a cotton weaver. Both of these Mary's are about a 100 miles from the wedding site, but a third Mary is within 20 miles of the Chapel. She is living in Ellerton, Yorkshire. She is working on the 250 acre Knapton farm as a dairy maid. Maybe this is our young lady because Mary Hester Nerney did the same thing in Oakland ,California before and after she was divorced by Dennis. She had two milk cows, sold milk and raised pigs and chickens. She did this for over a decade at least. My guess this is our Mary.

When does she and Dennis leave England and come to the USA? I have searched fruitlessly for New York and Boston arrivals from 1863 to October ,1866 when Dennis and John become naturalized citizens in Rutland, Vermont. There is supposed to be a three year waiting time. Did they or their sponsors ignore this law? No answer as of yet. Then Dennis and Mary are in California at Vallejo were there first born ,Emma, arrives in 1869. When and how they arrived, by the new transcontinental railroad, or sooner, is not known. By 1871 they are in New York where the her second child is born, Martha. They are still in New York when James Clare is born in 1874. Then they are back in Oakland where the following are born, John {1877], Ester [1879] and Robert [1882]. The latter has a twin sister who dies young.

By 1879 the family is living on the southeast corner in Oakland at fifth and Oak Streets. "...The land is running in an easterly direction toward the estuary...". Today as you drive south on freeway 880 ,and with Jack London Square on your right, you would cross over this land. Sadly the marriage is falling apart. Christmas 1881, Dennis brings home a pet dog and the dog promptly kills a chicken. Mary hits her husband with a baseball bat, Her son,James, testifies to this in court later. Dennis moves out of the house and in December ,1882 ,he takes James[8], John [5] and Ester[3] and sails from San Francisco to Tacoma in the Territory of Washington. A year of residency will allow Dennis to divorce Mary who is raising Emma, Martha and Robert by selling milk, pigs and chickens.

Dennis is granted by the court a divorce on the grounds his wife is habitually drunk and given legal custody of all six children. Of course, Mary can't defend herself in California! He returns to Oakland in the 1884 and turns over to Mary, John and Ester, but keeps James and moves to San Francisco. Mary, in January 1885, she then sues Dennis for financial support but does she get any? By now,all the older girls are working at various jobs in a jute mill , box factory or as seamstresses. Mary works also but continues her dairy. About 1886 Dennis with James leaves for New York. He will soon find a young lady, Kate[19], marry her and and they will have their first child, Margaret, in 1889. Two years later Emmett is born.

Another blow hits Mary as she is dispossessed of her land. The Adams Brothers in November, 1891, claim that they have title to the fifth and Oak Street property.They claim that Mary is a squatter and on Thanksgiving Day have Mary and her family evicted. She is the forced to sell her animals and pay to the brothers $100 to remove some of her improvements on the property. Later, 1908, she and her son ,John, sue the Adam Brothers unsuccessfully to regain the said property.

Somehow Mary manages! Are the girls and sons supporting her and for how long does that last? At some time ,Martha and Ester will go back east to begin their stage careers. When does Emma get married? Robert at the beginning of the Spanish-American war will enlist in the Navy, claiming he is 18 years old. Mary signs the enlistment document for her 16 year old son. We find John will be living close to his mom for the rest of her life and will provide a lot of emotional and financial support I'm sure.

In the late 1890's Mary and John are living at 830 Fallon St., Oakland. John is working on the railroad and Mary has reestablished her dairy. For a least a dozen years nothing seems to have changed. Then the death at Soldiers Home in Los Angeles County, California of Robert E.Nerney(32] of tuberculosis on March 5, 1915, allows us to catch up on Mary's family. She petitions for Robert' s pension and claims that of her five children, only John H. has ever contributed to her support. All she owns is 25 foot lot at 612 Fallon St. and at 614 Fallon St., Oakland on each is situated a cottage. One cottage is rented at $12 per month and the other one is vacant. At that moment she is boarding with John in another family's house at 1259 12th St., Oakland, CA. Her petition also brings us up to date on her other children;

1. Emma has married a Henry von Crombruggne and is living in Marin County, California. She has two children, Wilbur and Mabel. Will be living in Berkeley, California when Mary dies.

2. Martha is widowed from a Mr. Morgan. She had a stage career singing in vaudeville and was called Donna Morgan. In 1915, she is living in Fairview, Nevada and in 1923 will live with her daughter, Alice, in San Francisco ,California.

3. James Clare Nerney is living in New York City in the Woodlawn district and he is a New York City police Lieut.

4. Ester has remarried a Mr. Thigpen after ending an eight-year marriage to the famed soft shoe dancer, George Primrose. Her residence is in Los Gatos California and that is the reason why James and Helen Nerney settle here for the birth of Lucy in January, 1918. By 1923, Ester has become Mrs. Gilbert Haldane, living in New York City.

I assume that Mary got the pension and she and John now occupied one of their cottages on Fallon street before the year is over. No mention of a dairy at this time, but John has jobs as a company clerk, a craneman and a Southern Pacific conductor. In 1922, they moved to1222 8th Avenue, Oakland where she will spend her last 12 months. She dies on March 3, 1923 at home of Influenza. The death certificate gives her of birth as February 12, 1845, contradicting her wedding certificate in 1863 saying she was 20.What to believe!

A requiem mass was held at St. Anthony's Church, Oakland and internment was at St. Mary's Cemetery, Howe Street, Oakland in lot T. 26-16. No word I have heard says who attended the services but with four of her children living near by, i.e. Emma, Martha, James and John. Did Ester come from New York City? About five years later John marries for the first time when he is 50. His bride, Maybelle McKean, this is her second marriage and she is around 40. Unfortunately she dies in 1937,ending a 10 yr. marriage. John inters her in his mom's plot. John soon retires from SP and lives another 15 years, dying on October 14, 1952. He left an insurance policy to James' first born, Helen Pat Stack. Was it fair, where feelings hurt and did others receive anything.?Some emotions were felt by the family but I was just inducted into the U.S. Army that day Uncle Jack died and only heard stories. John was buried close to his loved ones in plot Q.22-8.

The fate of Mary's three daughters is not researched. Evidently there were strong feelings about James deserting his family and going east with his dad, leaving behind family that had to struggle. Did a 12-year-old boy have much choice in the matter? But growing up in the 1930s and early 40s only Uncle Jack was in the picture. What contact did James have with his siblings? I remember Alice Morgan and her husband, Frank Hindshaw, in San Francisco. Frank Nerney carries his name and my mother inherited some of the Morgan furniture.. But what about Emma and Ester, they never seem to be in contact with the family.I never saw any member of this family in all my years at the ranch or at Baden Street. Having experienced a close and loving family, I know that Nerney siblings were nowhere near being called a tight knit group.

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