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Ursuline Convent / Orphanage in Iowa around 1880

Ursuline Convent / Orphanage in Iowa around 1880

Posted: 1364400917000
Classification: Query
Surnames: Sullivan
I am trying to find some record of Kathryn T Sullivan (great grand mother) who was born in Iowa around 1871. When her father died (her age 10-12) she was sent to an "Ursuline Convent", most probably in Iowa, where she resided until age 18. I find her in the 1900 Federal Census (married with children at that point) and I find an almost certain sister living in Cedar Rapids, IA, in the 1880 Federal Census. I am puzzled why Kathryn does not show in the 1880 Census but am assuming that is somehow an artifact of living in the convent. I know of the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home (later Annie Wittenmeyer Home) but the Wikipedia entry mentions no association with the Ursulines.

Does anyone know of a convent, orphanage, or maybe school in Iowa that was operated by the Ursuline order? Would there be any records available from the Annie Wittenmeyer Home which closed in the 1970's?


Re: Ursuline Convent / Orphanage in Iowa around 1880

Posted: 1364447833000
Classification: Query

Was SULLIVAN your great-grandmother's maiden name?

What is your source for the information that Kathryn was sent to an Ursuline Convent?

Do you already know her parents' names and where the family was living as of the enumeration date of the 1870 census and/or when Kathryn was born circa 1871?

What was the name of the probable sister you've located in the 1880 census in CedarRapids, Linn County, IA?

Your post suggests that Kathryn's father died sometime between 1881 and 1884. Have you tried to locate a death record or obituary that might make reference to a parish to which the family belonged?

If you don't already know Kathryn's parents' names, and if she and/or her probable sister resided in Iowa in 1925, the state census may list their parents' names and state/country of birth.

Research in historical newspapers may be helpful. If you need assistance, contact me via email and please cut-and-paste the text of this message:

maryfobian [at] comcast [dot] net

Re: Ursuline Convent / Orphanage in Iowa around 1880

Posted: 1364471695000
Classification: Query
metaphor, thank you for your quick reply.

Yes, Kathryn SULLIVAN was her maiden name. The information about the Ursuline Convent came from my mother who remembers her grand mother (Kathryn) talking about being raised in an Ursuline Convent.

The story my mother remembers is that Kathryn's mother died when she was 3. Her father, a Civil War vet, raised the family but when he died Kathryn was sent to an Ursuline Convent.

I do not know her parents' names or exactly where in Iowa the family lived. Kathryn's description to my mother was that she had lived in a "little house on the prairie" type of setting until her father's death.

Kathryn had a sister who was about 10 years older named Nellie. I found a Nellie SULLIVAN, 20 yrs old living in Cedar Rapids, IA in the 1880 Census. I suspect this is the older sister but can't be certain. I have identified a Nellie SULLIVAN born in Iowa, married to Joseph BARLOW and having children Edna and Mabel in the 1900 Census living in Grand Forks, ND. Based on info from my mother, I am certain this is Kathryn's older sister. The 1900 Census shows Nellie's birth date as Oct 1965 but later Census' show calculated birth dates of 1862-1863.

The 1870 Census shows a Nellie and Catherine SULLIVAN in Elk, Clayton, Iowa. Nellie's age is about right but this Catherine seems a bit too old based on my mother's info. There's another 1870 entry of a Nellie and Katie SULLIVAN in Dubuque, IA. The ages fit better but it seems the family is being raised by mother alone which does not fit. My mother does remember that Kathryn was somewhat coy when it came to her age so a range for Kathryn's birth date would be appropriate.

Not knowing Kathryn's parents' names I've reached a dead end. I was hoping to find orphanage / convent records that I might be able to review.

I appreciate any advice or assistance you might be able to offer. I'm a bit new at this.


Re: Ursuline Convent / Orphanage in Iowa around 1880

Posted: 1364486401000
Classification: Query

Can you provide the name of Kathryn Sullivan's husband and children, and Kathryn's death date and place?

The best genealogical research starts with what is known for certain (and, preferably, documented), and works back in time to locate records about and references to the person you're researching.

Re: Ursuline Convent / Orphanage in Iowa around 1880

Posted: 1364564413000
Classification: Query
Edited: 1364564702000
Kathryn Sullivan married Oscar Owen Mercer in 1892. I positively identify her and family in the 1900 Census living in Duluth, MN, although her first name is listed as "Catherine". At that time her children were Frank O Mercer, Chas M Mercer, and Harold V Mercer. Later Census' show 2 other children, Helen M Mercer (my grandmother) and Grace M Mercer (real spelling Grayce). Harold died of diphtheria at age 5 (per my mother; can't find documentation of death). Kathryn died 15 Aug 1949 in San Francisco. The others can be reliably traced to their deaths.

I spoke with my mother and was able to discern a few additional items about Kathryn's early life. Based on this, I no longer believe that the 20 year old Nellie Sullivan living in Cedar Rapids, IA in the 1880 Census is likely Kathryn's sister. Because the Nellie (Nellie Barlow, nee Sullivan) identified in the 1900 Census in Grand Forks, ND was definitely Kathryn's sister, I will accept Nellie's birth as listed in the 1900 Census as Oct 1865 as reliable.

Additional info:

- Father's name: John Sullivan
- There were 5 children: 2 older brothers, Nellie, Kathryn, a brother who drowned around age 2
- Mother dies when Kathryn is 3 (noted above)
- Father dies at some point
- Older brothers raise younger sisters for a period of time
- Home is isolated (requires overnight travel to "town" for supplies)
- Nellie marries, brothers no longer able to care for Kathryn
- Kathryn sent to live with "the Ursalines".

I'm going to take another look at the Iowa Census data and see if I turn up anything further based on this additional info.

Thanks again for the assistance.

Found sister Elizabeth SULLIVAN with Oscar and Kathryn Mercer in 1895

Posted: 1364580863000
Classification: Query

1895: I found a 21-year-old Elizabeth SULLIVAN living with the Oscar MERCER family In the 1895 MN State Census (Duluth), suggesting that Kathryn had a younger sister named Elizabeth, as well as the older sister named Nellie (possibly aka Ellen).

Going back to the 1880 census, John SULLIVAN (53, born IRE, farmer) was living in Rye, Grand Forks County, Dakota Territory with five daughters: Nellie (18), Maggie (15), Mary (13) and Kate (10); all daughters were born in Iowa. These ages more or less align with what you know of Nellie and Kathryn, as well as the age of the Elizabeth SULLIVAN who was living with Kathryn and Oscar in 1895.

1870: A possible match for the John SULLIVAN family in Fort Dodge, Webster County, IA, showing the three youngest girls with the correct names and right age range:

1870 US Census, IA Webster FtDodge
John Sullivan 47, born IRE
Mary Sullivan 40, born IRE
Sarah Sullivan 16, born IN
William Sullivan 15, born IRE
Michael Sullivan 11, born IA
Thomas Sullivan 8, born IA
Ellen Sullivan 6, born IA
Maggie Sullivan 4, born IA
Mary Sullivan 3, born IA

I'm attaching an 1892 newspaper notice about Kathryn & Oscar's marriage. It indicates they were married in Lakota, which is in Nelson County. A marriage record may name parents of both bride and groom, and/or names of the witnesses, which may be helpful in future research. It will also name the officiant, which can provide a clue about which parish the family may have attended, and that church might have funeral/burial records for Kathryn's mother. Here is contact info for the vital records office in Nelson County so you can write to them and request a copy of the marriage record:
Nelson County Recorder
210 B Ave W, Ste. 203
Lakota, ND 58344

Also, I highly recommend procuring Kathryn's death record from the state of California, to see if it lists her specific birthplace and her mother's name:

Image: 1892 MERCER-SULLIVAN marriage announcement in Grand Forks Herald (ND)

Posted: 1364656873000
Classification: Marriage
Surnames: Mercer, Sullivan
Marriage announcement is attached as jpg file.

Re: Image: 1892 MERCER-SULLIVAN marriage announcement in Grand Forks Herald (ND)

Posted: 1364827670000
Classification: Query
Thanks for all the info. I can say the newspaper clipping is definitely not the Mercer-Sullivan who were my ancestors. The other families don't quite seem to match the info I have. Getting a copy of the death certificate is a great idea and I will pursue that.

Re: Image: 1892 MERCER-SULLIVAN marriage announcement in Grand Forks Herald (ND)

Posted: 1364883768000
Classification: Query
ozzie wrote, "I can say the newspaper clipping is definitely not the Mercer-Sullivan who were my ancestors. "

I'm very surprised to hear that! The husband's name is quite unique, and Kathryn's sister Nellie and her husband lived in that area. What about the couple in this clipping makes it seem an unlikely match?

I am absolutely certain that the groom mentioned in this clipping is the Oscar O. MERCER who died in Seattle in 1935, leaving wife Kathryn, daughters Grayce Sharpe and Mrs B.C. Cadden, son Charles, and a brother named William.

Re: Image: 1892 MERCER-SULLIVAN marriage announcement in Grand Forks Herald (ND)

Posted: 1364926563000
Classification: Query
Edited: 1364926724000
Well, I must stand corrected. Your information is exactly right.

I spoke again to my mother and tried to "push" her a bit about some of these details. At that point she remembered she had an old shoe box of some things. In the box was what appeared to be an "autograph book" that had belonged to Kathryn. Among the entries was one from a sister named Lizzie Sullivan and another from a sister named May Y Sullivan (Mary??). Another entry was signed "Your friend and schoolmate, Ursuline College, Feb 21, 1889." Another was signed "your friend Lizzy M Barlow" and another "your friend Anna Barlow, May 3, 1888". Many of these entries were addressed to Katie Sullivan. My mother had been unaware of these other sisters. The Barlow friends certainly locate Kathryn in Grand Forks in the late 1880's.

Also in the box was a newspaper clipping describing the marriage of "Miss Kittie Sullivan to Oscar Mercer, now of Great Falls, Montana". The clipping is a fragment without a date and does not appear to be the same one you discovered. But clearly you were correct about this.

So, the John Sullivan age 53 living in Grand Forks, Dakota Territory, in the 1880 Census must be the father. The brothers aren't listed I suspect because they were older and probably living under a different roof. The John Sullivan in 1870 Census seems less certain.

However, I was able to find reference to an Ursuline school that opened in Grand Forks in Sept 1883, later becoming known as St. Bernard's Academy.

What do you suggest from this point? Obtaining marriage record for Kathryn and Oscar; Kathryn's death certificate?

My mother remembers seeing at some point a Civil War discharge paper for John Sullivan but can't find it now. I know if I had his unit/regiment I could research the regimental history for mention of him. I appreciate any suggestions.

And I can't thank you enough for what you've already found.

p.s. I will visit my mother next month (opposite coast, I'm afraid) and plan to view the contents of this box personally. But other than a lot of photos, she didn't see any other printed material.
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