Mad in Pursuit Notebook

Dunne family diaspora

Dunne Family Connection to St. Louis

Cora asks: How did the Dunnes end up in St. Louis? Did they come via Ellis island? Why St. Louis? Were they all Catholic... and did we influence Catholics in St. Louis?

How my family wound up in St. Louis (as opposed to somewhere more glamorous like New York or Boston) has always been one of my favorite questions. Not sure I have the perfect answer, but here are some generalities and some specifics.

My dad Curly is the official angel presiding over all my Dunne family research.St. Louis, Missouri, was settled early on by Irish, even before the great waves of famine refugees in the late 1840s. It prospered because of its location on the Mississippi River, with steamboat trade down to New Orleans, and was a jumping off point for westward expansion. There was always work for laborers.

Because there were so many Catholics among waves of immigrants to STL and because the Irish were great organizers, they took the lead in forming 29 parishes in the City [1]. Neighborhoods were defined by parish boundaries. Apparently only in STL, the first question a stranger asks you is "What parish are you from?" Catholic schools dominated education. Catholic hospitals dominated healthcare. Catholic nuns ran all these systems.

And as its industries expanded, the rich were always looking for domestic help. They preferred Irish girls. Why? The Irish were white. They spoke English. And once you found one you liked, they always had sisters or nieces to take their places when they married. So, for example, in the Dunne family, Ellen (aka Helen, b. 1890), Bridget (b. 1894), Maggie (b. 1902), and Katie (b. 1905) all migrated specifically to work as domestics. Katie found work with Mrs. Minnie Johnson in the 1920s [2]. Mrs. Johnson then also hired Maggie, then Mary Dunne Stephens' daughters Vera (officially "Bridget Veronica," b. 1920) and Mary Teresa (b. 1926), then Katie's daughter Theresa Collins (b. ?). (Katie had returned to Ireland in the early 1930s.)

The Dunnes and their neighbors were apparently not as hard hit by the potato famine as others, so they were able to hang on to their land and postpone emigration till it was less a matter of survival and more about smart economics. (Plus, I read the women couldn't find enough men to marry.) Ships' manifests from the early 20th century are filled with folks from northeastern Galway, headed for family members in NYC, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis. (I believe they mostly passed through the port of New York aka Ellis Island, but some [like Bridget Dunne] arrived in Boston.) They practiced "chain migration," going to communities where they knew family and where there were jobs. My question is always "which brave soul came first?" Unfortunately, the earlier ship records didn't list sponsor information.

Who is "Immigrant Zero" in our family? As of today, the earliest Ballaghduff émigré I can find is Aunt Delia Martin (my great-great aunt) of Rushestown, who arrived on the Pavonia with what appears to be a group of emigrants from her general "neighborhood." The ship's record states her destination as Boston, where we believe she might have had a brother. She may have worked there for a while before moving to St. Louis.

Sarah Marie Stephens arrived on the Lucania a month later and became a domestic for the Hoyt family [3] in St. Louis, till she married Martin Darmady in 1901. Sarah had two children. Her son became a priest. Her daughter married into the Wever family. also arrived that year.

In 1906, Sarah sponsored her younger siblings, Julia Stephens [McKee] (age 20) and Martin Stephens (age 18). Julia got married soon after her arrival so might have avoided domestic service, but she was a household name in our family because she ran the catering function for the posh St. Louis Women's Club. My grandmother Bridget worked for her, making delicate cucumber sandwiches and other delights, till she was at least 80 years old. Julia's daughter and two sons all joined religious orders.

These Stephens were the children of Ballaghduff residents Patrick Stephens (1835-1912) and Kitty Crowe (? - 1913). Another son Patrick (1885-1965) was my second cousin Maura [Kilmartin] Stephens' paternal grandfather.

In 1907, Michael Martin (our great-grandmother Catherine Martin's brother, b. 1870, age 37) and Ellen Dunne (age 17) emigrated to STL, sponsored by Thomas Dunne (1871-1944). His father, also named Thomas Dunne (abt. 1825- abt. 1911), was a neighbor to the Martins in Rushestown and 1st cousin (I think) to our great-grandfather Michael Dunne. Three of TD Sr.'s siblings migrated to the Wakefield, Ohio, area, mid-19th century. His son Matt acquired a home in Cooloo at the same time the Ballaghduff Dunnes did. His son Thomas migrate to St. Louis in 1896 and in 1907 married Delia Martin, Michael Martin's sister and Ellen Dunne's aunt (see above).

On the same ship as Uncle Mike and Ellen was Nora Stephens, sister-in-law to Mary Dunne Stephens. She started out in NYC but wound up in Chicago and married into the Hession family from Ballyglunin, not far from Ballaghduff. In 1929, she sponsored her nephew Bill Hession, who married Maggie Dunne. Nora was also responsible for bringing Jack and Mike Stephens to Chicago in the late 1940s, where there was apparently more work at the time for laborers.

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, in 1938, Ellen (now "Helen") Dunne Price sponsored the passages of her brother Patrick Dunne (b. 1900) and his Martin-side cousin John Coughlin (b. 1899).

Everyone was definitely Catholic.

I guess the short answer to the question "why St. Louis" is that once the Dunne family had linked into a community, it was easy to settle there -- people who knew your people, knew you. Chain migration -- chains of love.


All from Kilkerrin area to St. Louis, unless stated otherwise. I'm adding a few others not included above, as I find them.

1895. Sarah Marie Stephens [Darmady] (1879-1952), Delia Martin [Dunne] (1874-1943)

1896. Thomas Dunne (1871-1944) from Rushestown

1906. Julia Stephens [McKee] (1885-1966) and Martin Stephens (1888-1985)

1907. Michael Martin (1870-1961) from Rushestown, Ellen Dunne [Price] (1890-1967), Nora Stephens [Hession] (1889-1965) to NYC, then Chicago.

1914. Bridget Dunne [Price] (1894-1978)

1923. Katie Dunne [Collins] (1905-1993). Returned to Ireland in early 1930s.

1927. Maggie Dunne [Hession] (1902-1982)

1929. Bill Hession (1906-1977), to Chicago

1938. Patrick Dunne (1900-1975) and John Coughlin (1899-1968) from near Ballygar

1939. Catherine (aka Kathleen) Stephens [Ryan] (1918-1999) (Maura's paternal aunt, sponsored by "cousin Mrs. Oates" on Terry Av, also heading to a job as a domestic)

1939. Vera (Bridget Veronica) Stephens [Whelan] (1920-1999)

????. Mary Teresa Stephens [Barry] (1926- )

????. Nellie Stephens [Glynn] (1929-1971) (Maura's paternal aunt, sister of Catherine Stephens above)

1949. Theresa Collins [Davis] (1932- )

1949. Jack Stephens, to Chicago (1922-1992)

194?. Mike Stephens, to Chicago (1925-2007)


[1] David A. Lossos. Irish in St. Louis. Acadia Publishing, 2004.

[2] MRS. JOHNSON (b. 1870) of 25 Portland Place. Her husband was Jackson Johnson, co-founder, president, and chairman of International Shoe Co., once the largest shoe company in the world. They were from Mississippi and she was an active member in the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 

[3] The Hoyts were connected to Hoyt Metals in Granite City. The company was bought out by National Lead in the late 1920s. Coincidentally, my dad had his career with National Lead, as a sales rep for Dutch Boy Paint.

4 Mar 2018 (rev. 20 Mar 2018)


Books by Susan Barrett Price:

THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.



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