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The Death of Dennis McNellis

 John P. DuLong

 Please cite, quote, or photocopy only with
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Since the mid-1970s I have searched in vain for the death record of my great-great-grandfather Dennis McNellis. I have achieved some success with tracing my Acadian, French-Canadian, and Métis ancestors and have extended some of these French lineages back to the Middle Ages. But my efforts to trace my mother's Irish ancestors has been frustrating. I had thought that since Dennis died in the latter half of the nineteenth century that it would be relatively easy to find his death record. My searches for his death record eluded me until recently. This is perhaps the most satisfying genealogical discovery I have ever made. 

Dennis was born around 1828 in the southwest corner of Co. Donegal, Ireland, and he immigrated to Schuylkill Co., Pennsylvania, around 1848. With some difficulty I found him living in Cass Twp. in the Civil War draft records. This was long before these records were digitized and I had to go to the National Archives in Washington, DC, and search through the original draft manuscripts. 

He married Catherine Carr, another Co. Donegal immigrant, on 4 December 1849 at St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Church, in Minersville, Schuylkill Co. He moved his family to De Pere, Brown Co., Wisconsin, by 1870 as he appears on the census. In the 1880s he was living in Escanaba, Delta Co, Michigan, at the home of his son-in-law, John R. James, a locomotive engineer for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. Dennis was employed at the railroad's roundhouse in Escanaba. 

From previous research I knew that Dennis died between 19 January 1891 and before 1898. The first date was when he transferred a farm he owned in neighboring Wilson, Harris Twp., Menominee Co., Michigan, to his wife Catherine. The second date comes from the fact that Catherine was called a widow in the 1898 Houghton Co., Michigan, directory. She had moved to Houghton to live with the James family after John hired in with the Mineral Range Railroad. Catherine died on 14 May 1899 in Houghton and was buried a few days later back in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in De Pere. 

To try and find the death record of Dennis I searched the courthouse house death records in Delta, Menominee, and Brown counties all to no avail. A request for information about his possible burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery yielded nothing. I then made contact with several Catholic parishes in Escanaba, De Pere, and near Wilson and again nothing was found to indicate when and where Dennis died. 

The solution to this problem only came after the De Pere newspapers were digitized by the De Pere Historical Society. I hired Mr. Dan Milquet to search the newspapers for any information regarding Dennis and my other Irish relatives who lived in De Pere. With great joy I finally learned the fate of Dennis from the newspaper. The key article is "Drowned at Escanaba," Brown County Democrat, 13 Aug. 1891, 1. Once I had this article, I found that his death was also mentioned in "Accidental Drowning: The Body of Denis M'Nellis in the Bay," Semi-Weekly Iron Port, Escanaba, 14 Aug. 1891, 1. 

Dennis died on or about 8 August 1891 near Escanaba. The exact date of his death is not known because on Saturday the 8th he left in the morning to take his cow out to the pasture near the Escanaba River. When he failed to return home, searches were conducted looking for him on the 9th and 10th. His body was found on the 12th floating in the river. A coroner's inquest concluded on the 14th that his death was accidental. The newspapers also reveal that his body was indeed shipped to De Pere. He was buried on 13 August 1891 in the Mt. Olivet Cemetery. 

Now I know when, where, and how Dennis died. Unfortunately, the absence of civil or religious records at the time of his death means that there is no document naming his parents. Nor are his parents mentioned in his marriage record and the existing documents for Co. Donegal in the 1820s are few and far between for Irish Catholics so no birth record is likely to be found naming his parents. I will nevertheless continue to search for the names of his parents. 

I have learned much more about my maternal Irish ancestors and I am in the process of preparing a report that will contain information about all the Irish ancestors and relatives I have found for my grandfather, John F. Stanton, including more information about his grandfather, Dennis McNellis. This report will be completely documented with detailed citations. Once it is done, I will post it as an Adobe Acrobat file on my website.

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This page, and all contents, are Copyright 1999 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI.   Created 1 February 2020.  Last modified 19 March 2020.