A Chicago Woman Scorned (c.1872-1880)

Earlier this week I learned from my Facebook newsfeed that the Chicago Tribune has made an archive of its holdings for 1849 through 1991 which, for the time being, is both text searchable and free. It’s currently in “beta” version, I was warned, so it will change to “not free” at some unknown date in the future. With numerous Chicago ancestors to research and armed with that caveat of limited availability, I decided to poke around with a few family names to see which, if any, would come up in the pages of the Chicago Tribune during that time period.

It didn’t take long for my great-grandmother’s name, Margaret McCarthy Keating, and that of her sister, Ellen McCarthy, to pop up on my computer screen. The first date? December 5, 1872. The article’s title? “A Queer Revenge”. The (rather lengthy) subtitle?

“A Girl Entices Her Discarded Lover Into Her Room and then Throws a Pot of Lye Over Him—He Procures Her Arrest.”


You can find the article in column 5 at this link or read it in it’s entirety right here:

Scaled Image 1Bottom line, it appears that great-grandma Margaret Keating had a sister named Ellen who was jilted by her fiance, Michael Finan. In response to his romantic rejection, Ellen decided to collude with her sister (great-grandma Keating) to entice the ex-fiance to Ellen’s room under the pretext of returning some jewelry he’d given her.

The plan worked.

Ellen tossed a pot of lye at him to exact her revenge for being dumped; Finan took his ex to court; and Ellen was required to post bond in the amount of $500 (nearly $10,000 in today’s dollars!) for trial in the Criminal Court of Cook County.

I’m relieved to note that while an effort was made to hold great-grandma (“Mrs. Margaret Keating”) as an accessory in this event, Justice Eberhardt decided there just wasn’t enough evidence to warrant holding her for trial as well.  Good thing, as at that point, my great-grandma was the mother of five–count ’em–five children, ages 8, 4, 3, 1, and newborn. The third child was my own grandmother, Ellen Mary Keating.  (Oh, no! Grandma was named after my great-aunt, the center of this criminal activity? Yikes!)

Looks like I’ve got a bit of research to do down at the Cook County Criminal Courts building in the next few weeks. I simply must find out what happened in the case of the jilted lover. (Sort of sounds like an old Perry Mason episode, doesn’t it?)

But while it seems great-grandma’s name does NOT appear again in the Tribune archives (she must have had her hands full with all those kids), the same is NOT true of her sister Ellen, the defendant in this story. For Ellen McCarthy’s name appears yet again in the pages of the Tribune eight years later on Sunday, May 2, 1880.

It can be found in column 2 at this link which states that Ellen McCarthy was sentenced to one year in the “House of Corrections” for “assault to do bodily harm.”  Is this the same Ellen McCarthy who was my great-grandma’s sister?  If so, was this sentence for her assault on her ex which occurred 8 years earlier in 1872 or was it, perhaps, for a second offense that she had been found guilty of? If a repeat offense, it would seem that my great-aunt Ellen McCarthy had a bit of, what today would be called, an “anger management” issue.

Here’s part of the article (6th line from the bottom) which refers to Ellen’s sentence in 1880:

1880 sentencingIn coming up with a headline for today’s post I decided to Google the term “a woman scorned” and found this in Urban Dictionary:

woman scorned

Seems in the case of my great-aunt Ellen McCarthy, neither Hell nor Chicago had the fury in the late 1800s like that woman who was apparently so scorned.

(And I was just hoping to find a few birth, wedding or death announcements in this newly available database!)


News articles copyright © 1872 and 1880, The Chicago Tribune

Blog post copyright © 2015, Patricia Desmond Biallas

Posted in Biographies, Chicago Crime, Family Legends, Family Stories, Newspaper Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

Westmont’s Finest Saves the Day

Many moons ago (over twenty years worth to be exact), I wrote a weekly column entitled “That’s Life” for my local newspaper, the Westmont Progress.  Typical topics included bake sales, blood drives and community events. On occasion though, I’d write a little “slice of life” piece recounting my adventures as a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers in tow.

Here’s one about a little adventure my daughters and I remember all too well. A reminder that genealogy isn’t just about collecting names, dates and chronological facts.  It’s also about saving and savoring family stories, for its the stories that bring our ancestors (and in this case, our descendants) to life–even if it’s only been a couple of decades since the events in those stories took place.


Westmonts Finest Copyright © 1995, by Patricia Desmond Biallas, Progress-Reporter Publications, Downers Grove, Illinois.

Posted in Biographies, Family Stories, Just for Fun! | Tagged , | 4 Comments

A Marital Union at the Dawn of the Civil War

Old St. Patrick's Catholic Church shortly after it was built in 1856.

Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Chicago, shortly after it was built in 1856.

It was April 14, 1861, just two days after the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, which ignited the American Civil War.

What was happening in your family history on that date?

For me, it was the marriage of my great-grandparents, Thomas Keating and Margaret McCarthy, who wed at St. Patrick’s Church, one of the oldest and most famous churches in the city of Chicago. It’s one of the few buildings in the city’s original business district to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Marriage certificate issued by Old St. Pat’s Catholic Church, Chicago, for my great-grandparents, for Mr. Thomas Keating”  and "Miss Maggie McCarthy” on 14 April 1861, the third day of the American Civil War.

Marriage certificate issued by Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Chicago, for my great-grandparents, “Mr. Thomas Keating” and “Miss Maggie McCarthy” on 14 April 1861, the third day of the American Civil War.

…It’s a church that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its history, architecture, and stained glass windows of traditional celtic design…

…a church that is steeped in the history and culture of Irish Catholics who immigrated to Chicago during the Great Potato Famine in the middle of the 19th century.

And that’s exactly when the McCarthys and the Keatings–immigrated from Ireland to start a new life in America for themselves and their descendants.

St. Patrick's Church Register of Marriages

St. Patrick’s Church Register of Marriages

Happy anniverary to me!

For Further Information

To learn more about the history of Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and Irish Catholics in Chicago you may want to check out the following books:

  • “At the Crossroads: Old Saint Patrick’s and the Chicago Irish”  by Ellen Skerrett, Wild Onion Books, Loyola Press, Chicago, IL, c. 1997.
  •  “The Irish in Chicago”  by McCaffrey, Skerrett, Funchion and Fanning, University of Illinois Press, c. 1987.

To view photos of  Old St. Pat’s richly detailed stained glass windows designed by celebrated Irish artist, Thomas O’Shaughnessy, click on the Pinterest link below:



Old St. Pat's  still stands today at the corner of DesPlaines and Adams on Chicago's near west side.

Old St. Pat’s still stands today at the corner of Des Plaines and Adams on Chicago’s near west side.

Copyright © 2015 Patricia Desmond Biallas

Posted in American History, Biographies, Chicago History, Civil War, Family Legends, Ireland | 4 Comments