Our Family Forest - The Donnelly Family

The John Donnelly - Bridget Shannon Family

Name Spellings General Donnelly History Data and Sources

John Donnelly Line

John2 Donnelly was the 5th child of Patrick and Ann (Nancy) Larkin. He was born about 1832 in Potsdam, New York State and died of congestion of the liver October 3, 1899. He was at various times a farm laborer and a trader. He was living on King Street in Iroquois Village, Ontario, Canada at the time of his death. According to his grandson, Edward Donnelly, Jr., he married Bridget Shannon in about 1871 or 1872. As their first son James was born in 1873 this date is about right. There was a difference of about 15 years in their ages. Bridget Shannon was the daughter of Thomas Shannon and Celia McHugh. She lived in Iroquois, Canada across the St Lawrence River from Waddington. She was born in County Tyrone, Ireland on November 16, 1847. She would die in Buffalo on March 14, 1935.

The primary information we have on the Shannon family comes from the Canadian and American Censuses and their death certificates. Thomas Shannon was born in County Fermanagh, Ireland, about 1809. He died in Ontario probably before 1891 when that year’s census did not record his presence with the family. He was a stonemason. About 1844 he married Celia McHugh from County Tyrone, Ireland. She was born in Ireland about 1822 and died in Iroquois, Ontario, Canada of heart failure March 21, 1899.


                     Children of Thomas Shannon and Celia McHugh


        i. Elizabeth, born July 7, 1845, Co. Tyrone, Ireland, died March 15, 1922 in Buffalo, N.Y. She never married.


       ii. Bridget, born November 16, 1847 in Co. Tyrone, Ireland, died in Buffalo, N.Y. March 14, 1935. She married John Donnelly.


       iii. James, born August 13, 1859 in Iroquois, Ontario, Canada, died in Buffalo, N.Y July 10, 1926. He never married.


The first record we have of the presence of Shannons in Canada is the 1871 Census. In that census we find Thomas Shannon, stonemason aged 62, living with his wife Celia (McHugh), age 49, and their three children in the village of Iroquois in Ontario. Based on their responses to the 1901 Canadian census the Shannons appear to have come from Ireland in 1855. In the 1910 census in New York the family’s responses to this question is somewhat garbled. In this census Bridget, or someone speaking for her, said she immigrated to the United States, not Canada, in 1857. As there is no evidence that they came to the United States I assume whoever answered the census for the family was simply wrong or a victim of the corrosive effects of memory.

As a result of their marriage John and Bridget had four children.

Children of John Donnelly and Bridget Shannon

   i. James Herbert, born December 17, 1873 in Waddington, N.Y., died of a stroke August 31, 1959 in Sisters Hospital, Buffalo, N.Y. He attended Hamilton Normal College in Hamilton, Ontario where he received his undergraduate degree. He was a 1906 graduate of McGill University where he received his medical degree. He married about 1917 Adelaide Biggie. They had two daughters.


   ii. William F., born October 13, 1875 Iroquois, Ontario, Canada, died September 2, 1925 Buffalo, N.Y. He was a haberdasher. He married Gertrude Carson. She was born October 1883. There were no children. After William’s death her father lived with her in 1930.


 iii. Edward Glenn Donnelly, born most likely February 28, 1878 Ogdensburg or February 18, 1879 in Waddington, N.Y. died February 26, 1951, Buffalo, N.Y.


 iv. Elizabeth Donnelly, born in Iroquois, Ontario, Canada, October 2, 1880, died of cancer in 1955 in Buffalo, N.Y. She never married.

Life in Waddington and Iroquois

According to Edward Jr., the grandson, when John Donnelly and Bridget Shannon married she came to live in Waddington. John was a farmer and in a few years his mother Nancy would die and he would inherit the farm. However, they may have gone back and forth as their second son, William, was probably born in Iroquois in 1875. Their third child, Edward was born in Waddington in either 1878 or 1879 depending on which source is accurate. However, by 1881 the family was now living in Iroquois and was picked up by the national census. Bridget’s grandson, Edward, believed that they moved because the schools in Ontario were better than in New York State.

At this point John may have given up farming as well. In the 1881 Canadian census he identified himself as a trader. Family lore is that he was an itinerant salesman or a lightning rod salesman. According to his grandson, Edward, he was full of drama and schemes and his wife Bridget felt she could not depend on him to "bring home the bacon." Bridget had no occupation in 1881. However, in the 1891 census John identified himself as a “gentleman.” As the family had no money this was probably a polite word for being unemployed or possibly he was unable to work. Bridget, by contrast, identified herself as a tailoress. According to her grandson Edward she ran a large tailoring operation composed of up to twenty or so young Irish girls and, presumably, was now the major source of support for the family. James, her brother, was a salesman for a mercantile establishment in the village.

Bridget's oldest son, Herb, developed an ambition to become a doctor early inhis life. He attended Iroquois High School and played on the football team. However, when he graduated from school he had little money. Finally, he entered a teacher's college to earn a certificate to teach. He taught school for a few years, but had a better future ahead of him. A Mr. Healy from Toronto lent him the money to attend medical school at McGill University. It was all done very formally with signed notes and Herb paid Mr. Healy back.

Bridget's youngest son, Edward, got a job as a bookkeeper in a store and probably did not go beyond the 10th grade in school. Family lore is that he was having trouble in school and, over the protestations of Bridget, he dropped out when James Shannon said he could find work for him as a clerk. When he was 20 or 21 he went on the road as a salesman for a Scottish dry goods firm. Edward's son, Edward Jr., believed that James Shannon may have been a major influence on his father's life. James Shannon was a very tall, thin man and highly intelligent. However, he had a feisty streak that could cause him to "bristle like an Irish terrier" at the slightest criticism or oversight. When he migrated with the family to Buffalo he went to work for Kleinhans along with his nephew William.

Migration to Buffalo

Celia Shannon and John Donnelly both died in 1899 while the family was still in Iroquois. The oldest son Herb was a medical student and it is likely that the family was going to rely on him for financial security. When it appeared he had opportunities in Buffalo the family apparently decided they would all move to Buffalo. They started the move in increments. By 1901 William and Edward were living in Buffalo at 41 Whitney Street. By 1904, more of the family had settled in at 16 West Avenue. Edward was living there with his sister Elizabeth, who was a nurse, and his Uncle, James Shannon. Herb Donnelly was also there as a student. Apparently his work on his medical degree from McGill involved coming to Buffalo for a while. The house was located on the edge of the downtown area near the Italian district. When Herb graduated from McGill in 1907 the remainder of the family, Herb, Bridget and Elizabeth Shannon, all followed. In the meantime William had taken a position with Kleinhan's and was also living at the West Avenue house.

James Herbert Donnelly – “Uncle Herb”

Upon completing his internship at Sisters Hospital Uncle Herb set up his practice at the house in 1907. He used the parlor as an office. The room was separated from a small living room by some sliding doors. On the floor above was a master bedroom which was the same size as the parlor. In addition to the master bedroom, there were six bedrooms on either side of a long hall leading to a walk in linen closet and a bathroom in the rear. Each member of the family had their own room. There was a rear stairway leading down to the dining room.

During WWI he was a Selective Service Examiner. He was an associate professor of diseases of the chest in the University of Buffalo Medical School from 1918-1940. Tuberculosis was a major medical problem in those years. From 1923 to 1940 he was chief of tuberculosis at of Meyer Memorial Hospital. He became known as one of Buffalo's experts on tuberculosis. For years he spent weekday mornings at the City of Buffalo free TB clinic. For his work in the clinic he was paid only a stipend and the family nagged him to give it up. He continued until he retired in his seventies.

Uncle Herb ran his practice from 16 West Avenue until about 1922. At that time he moved to 293 Linwood Avenue with his new wife Adelaide Biggie. They met when she was working in a sewing "sweat shop" in the neighborhood and accidentally drove a needle into her knee. Herb was called on to help her. They were married a few years later. Adelaide was of German parentage. Herb's nephew, Edward Jr., thought she was a good wife for him. She was very thrifty, a good money manager. She was also young and ambitious. She was responsible for their buying the home on Linwood Avenue. They had two daughters.

William Donnelly

While "Uncle Herb" was serving his internship his brother William was working as a salesman in "men's furnishings"-- shirts, ties, socks, underwear. He became a buyer for Kleinhan's, the largest men's store between New York City and Chicago. Later he became a partner in Georger and Donnelly, a store that opened on Main Street in downtown Buffalo. In appearance he was the reincarnation of the public image of Diamond Jim Brady-- overweight, florid complexion and usually wearing a boutonniere in his lapel, a very well dressed fat man. He had a routine of coming home for lunch every day and Bridget would fill him with rich foods. His brother Herb constantly warned him about his eating habits. He was very nice to Edward's sons when they would visit Buffalo from Elyria when they were young. He gave them money for ice cream every noon when they were visiting "grandma's." About 1920 he married a woman named Gertrude Carson. They moved to 643 Parkside. He died about 1925. His widow remained at the Parkside home for many years after his death.

Elizabeth Donnelly – “Bess”

Upon the family's arrival in Buffalo, Elizabeth, the youngest daughter, entered Sisters Hospital as a nursing student. She was known as Bess to the family. She had strong religious beliefs and attended Mass every day. After graduation most of her practice was private duty. Later in the mid-twenties she began to work for institutions at regular hours. This allowed her to care for her mother Bridget who was not well. By this time the house at West Street was almost empty. Herb had moved his practice with his new wife Adelaide to Linwood Avenue. William and Gertrude were living by themselves as well. Her son Edward had been living in Jefferson, Ohio since 1907. They rented rooms to meet their basic monthly rent. The proximity of the house made it a desirable location for working ladies. In the end few actually boarded there.

William Davies, the Roomer

For many years William Davies took a room with the family. He worked at Kleinhans with William Donnelly. He sold men’s hats all his adult life. Edward Jr. remembers him as short, wimpy sort of man with a few vices. He had a Saturday night card club and he played the horses. Every August he attended the races at Saratoga. He stayed with the family even after Bridget and Bess moved into an apartment. He used to take Bess to the movies 3-4 times a year and asked her to marry him late in life. She declined. He died in 1936.

Edward Donnelly, Sr. Comes to Jefferson, Ohio

Sometime after the family's arrival in Buffalo Edward joined a large dry goods firm named Clawson and Wilson. He became the salesman for the Northeast corner of Ohio and his route took him into Jefferson Township in Ashtabula County. It was there that he met the granddaughter of Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, Cassandra Wade. Ben Wade was one of the Radical Republicans during the Civil War. He was one of Lincoln’s chief critics and Chairman of the Committee on the Conduct of War. The Committee was constantly investigating the performance of the Army and urging Lincoln to pursue the war more aggressively. When Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became Vice President, Ben Wade, as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, was next in line to become President. He missed becoming President by the one vote when the Senate found Johnson not guilty by a single vote. The Wades were one of the most prominent families in Ashtabula County.

Family lore says that Edward first met Sarah Wade, Cassandra’s mother, while dining in Jefferson Ohio’s only hotel dining room. Sarah was responsible for introducing her daughter to Edward Sr. He must have been a sight for the Wade family members. A Catholic traveling salesman. All his life he dressed in very natty manner. Indeed, he used to rake the leaves in his coat and tie. Family lore is that Sarah’s interest in a Edward Sr. did not go over well with the relatively affluent and very Protestant Wade family.

On Saturday morning, June 22, 1907, Cassandra married Edward Donnelly in a Catholic ceremony after converting. The wedding was at St. Joseph's Church and presided over by Father Dowd. As recorded in the Ashtabula Sentinel here is a description of the wedding.

To the strains of Mendelson's Wedding march, the bride entered the church alone, preceded by her sister, Mrs. Walter Woodbury who acted as matron of honor and was met at the altar by the groom and his brother, Mr. William Donnelly of Buffalo, who was best man. The bride wore a simple gown of embroidered Swiss lace, wearing also the bridal veil of her sister.


At the conclusion of the ceremony the guests, who were immediate relatives and close friends, repaired to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Woodbury, where congratulations were received, after which the wedding breakfast was served.


Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly left on the Pittsburgh-Buffalo Flyer at noon, amid showers of rice, on their wedding trip down the St Lawrence, and other points. They will be gone about three weeks.


The bride is the youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Parsons Wade, and a granddaughter of the late Senator B. F. Wade.


Mr. William Donnelly and sister were the only out of town guests.

They had four children.

Children of Edward Donnelly and Cassandra Wade


         i. Edward2 Glenn (Edward1), born March 5, 1912, died March 26, 1994. Married April 16, 1937 Frances Knight, daughter of John Burton Knight and Jessie May Newton. They had three sons.

        ii. John, born July 22, 1913 in Jefferson, Ohio died 1990 in Oregon. He married and had two children.

       iii. James Francis, born October 19, 1915 in Jefferson, Ohio, died August 31, 2000 in Columbia, Maryland of prostrate cancer. Married Betty Muck, born _____, died 1990. Adopted a son, Timothy, who died in 1968.


     iv. Joseph, born in Jefferson, Ohio December 22, 1917 died at age 12 in Elyria, Ohio January 17, 1930. He was killed in the explosion of a gasoline station.

Life in Ohio

After marrying Cassandra Wade Edward Donnelly opened up his own dry goods store in Jefferson on the bank block on Main Street. It was there for about ten years. In 1917 he decided to move his store from Jefferson to Ashtabula, Ohio for unknown reasons. Perhaps he felt he could do better business there. He was there for a year or more. His son Edward Jr. says that one of his earliest memories was of looking out the window in the house in Ashtabula and listening to the church bells ringing to signal the armistice ending World War I. Sometime after the Armistice, he was hired by a women's ready to wear chain of stores called Saul's. They wanted him to open a new store in Elyria, Ohio. The family moved there into a middle class neighborhood.

The family apparently did very well for the first few years in Elyria. Cassie wanted the best for her boys. They lived in a neighborhood where the fathers of other children were bankers and other pillars of the community. However, the 1930s were difficult for Edward and his family. In 1930 their youngest son, Joseph, who was 12, was killed in an explosion in a gasoline station. The depression also hit the family hard. Edward Sr. had health problems and had long periods of unemployment. The family’s house was repossessed by the bank in the mid-1930s.

Life in Buffalo and Dispersion of the Donnelly Family

At some point in the early 1930s the oldest son, Jack, migrated to the West Coast while Edward Sr. and his son Edward went back to Buffalo. Cassandra and his youngest surviving son, James, followed in the mid 1930s. Life in Buffalo was difficult. Edward Sr. has trouble finding regular work he eventually sold religious items for the Catholic Church. His son Edward worked at various occupations, including unloading ships at the docks, putting toys together at Department stores during Christmas and pumping gas at a filling station. Eventually he obtained a job in sales for Chevrolet. By the end of the war he was a salesman for Frontier Oil. In the early 1950s Edward took a job with United States Rubber and moved the family to Pittsburgh. Edward Sr. would die in 1951 shortly after the Edward Jr.’s family moved to Pittsburgh. Edward Jr’s family would live in a variety of other places. He died in Stamford, Connecticut in 1994. He had three sons all of whom have one child each.


James was the only one of the three brothers to serve in World War II and his experiences were quite dramatic. He was a waist gunner in a B-17 and flew thirty missions over Europe in 1943 and 1944. On one mission his plane was the only one in the squadron of six that survived. The plane was badly damaged and losing altitude. As they came over the English Channel everything that could be was thrown out of the plane. To line up with their airfield they came in over London skimming the tops of the barrage balloons designed to knock down German aircraft. At the last minute they realized they had no brakes and they needed some fluid in the braking system. In desperation a can was passed to each man who answered nature’s call and made a contribution. It was enough to get the plane landed. Jim married Betty Muck. They lived in the Baltimore area. They were unable to have children and adopted a son named Timothy. He was killed at sixteen in a car crash in 1968. Betty died in 1990. He worked for Martin Aircraft and Vitro, a defense contractor. He died in 2000.

Copyright © Mark Donnelly

Donnelly_Shannon.shtm last updated 11 March 2015.