Monday, September 1, 2008

A Love Untarnished

This post was written for the 55th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.

Most of the heirlooms that I do have of the Austin family ancestors are in the form of photos or naturalization certificates, and perhaps some letters. Not many other items exist, perhaps due to the fire that completely destroyed the home of my great-grandparents, John Ralph Austin and Therese McGinnis Austin back in 1979.

But one of my cherished heirlooms which was actually rescued from the debris of that fire, is the wedding silver given to Catherine Sullivan, my 3rd great-grandmother, around 1855 when she wed David O'Keefe.

Catherine Sullivan was born in 1837 in Albany, New York to Daniel P. Sullivan and Mary Griffin, both of whom were from Ireland. Although I have not yet found an exact wedding date, looking at the birthdate of her first child (abt 1855), I can approximate the date to around 1855. Catherine married David O'Keefe who was born in Ireland about 1830.

Catherine and David had seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood, and all were born in Lowville, New York. David O'Keefe died about 1870, not long after the birth of their last child, Maurice D. O'Keefe. Catherine died on February 12, 1928 in the Bronx, New York at the home of her daughter, Catherine O'Keefe Austin.

My mother, Jacqueline Austin MacEntee actually gave me the silver set several years ago before her dementia and subsequential Alzheimer's Disease worsened - we both figured it was time to review items so she could tell me about them. I was absolutely floored when she opened up a small felt bag filled with 12  forks, 12  knives and 3 large serving spoons.

While this may not seem much of a silver set to some, in that it is missing some of the more common items we take for granted today such as salad forks and teaspoons, it is special to me. The spoons are engraved in script with the name "O'Keefe" and although it isn't easy to see in the photos, the engraving is done by hand and not by a machine.

The set appears to be sterling except that the main part of the knives is silverplate, which was common at that time.

I never use the set since it really doesn't have enough pieces for a modern dinner, but from time to time I do open up the bag, polish the silver and reflect on my 3rd great-grandparents. I wonder how life was for them in Lowville, how they weathered major events such as the Civil War. I also wonder how often they used the silver and think that it was probably only used on special occasions such as weddings, baptisms, and holidays.

I also like to think that as often as I have to polish away the tarnish that comes with age, that theirs was a love untarnished.


Wedding Silver of Catherine Sullivan O'Keefe. Chicago, Illinois, September 1, 2008. Digital image. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, Illinois. 2008.

Catherine Sullivan O'Keefe and grand-children. 248 Elm Place, Bronx, New York, abt 1920. Digital image. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, Illinois. 2008.


Apple said...

A very nice set. I'm surprised that the set was still intact at the time of the fire and that it survived.

wendy said...

Your heirloom silver is wonderful! I used to polish my grandmother's silver about twice a year as a teenager. I decided then & there I didn't want silver - took too much work! But as a grown woman now, I think an heirloom set would be great to have! Thanks for sharing!

looking4ancestors said...

I don't think many of us can say we own the silver from our 3rd great-grandparents. What a treasure!

Amy said...

Beautiful pieces. Thank you for sharing the story behind them.