Stephen Francis Brennan is my “brick wall”. He is an enigma, seemingly appeared out of thin air. Here is what I know and do not know about him.
I believe Stephen was born in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois on 26 Dec 1873. He has reported his birth place as Illinois consistently in all the documentation I can find. He has also given ages at various times that do not add up to 1873. His birth year could anywhere from 1872 to 1884, if one believes the documents.
There is no birth certificate – his daughter Marion and I have each requested one from the Clerk of Cook County several different times and in different ways over the past 30 years and one is never found. So was he really born there or not? Marion thinks that Stephen’s parents were Michael and Annie Brennan over from Ireland, based on family stories. Marion met Mary Brennan, her father’s sister, when she was a child, but has no information on her birth or death date. We have a picture of two women that Marion was told were her grandmother Brennan and Aunt Mary, but no “proof”. Marion also believed that her father came from a large family, and thought she remembered there were relatives in West Chicago, Illinois. All good clues, but no facts or other details.
|Possibly mother and sister Mary to Stephen Brennan|
The first documentation I have found of Stephen is the 1908 Chicago City Directory. He is listed at 2087 Wilcox Ave as a motorman. In 1909, he is at 2157 Wilcox Ave and motorman.
Stephen F Brennan is found in the 1910 US Census (enumerated 19 April 1910) at 4242 Wilcox St as a lodger. The head of the household is Berjetta Marcusen, widow, 48 years old, no work listed. Her daughter Anna is listed as single, 21 years old, and a seamstress in a department store. Stephen is listed as male, white, single and reports his age as 31 (making birth year 1878/79). He is listed as being born in Illinois, both parents born in Ireland. He is a motorman of a street car. Another lodger is Charlie Leander, male, white, single, 24 years old, born in Norway as were his parents. Charlie arrived in the US in 1905 and is listed as a bartender in a saloon. He does not seem to be related to any of the others.
|Marriage License of Stephen and Ann Brennan|
On 15 June 1910 Stephen married Anna Marcusen in Olivet Methodist Episcopal Church, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. This was Anna’s home church. Family lore has it that Stephen’s family disowned him for marrying out of the faith and non-Irish. That is the reason why Marion was told she never met his family.
|Anna and Stephen Brennan taken by |
Burritt Studio, 10 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago
In the 1910 through 1916 and 1923 Chicago City Directories, he is listed as Stephen or Stephen F at 4242 Wilcox Ave and motorman.
Stephen’s first son, Clarence Francis, was born 12 May 1912 and died 20 July 1912 at 2 Months 10 Days old. Documented cause of death was “starvation due to pyloric stenosis” with a duration of 1 month. On the birth certificate Stephen is listed as a street car motorman.
Stephen’s second son, Charles Joseph, was born 23 Aug 1914 and his only daughter, Marion Elizabeth was born 1 Oct 1917. On Charles birth certificate Stephen is listed as a street car motorman.
|1916 Chicago City Directory|
In the World War I Draft Registration dated 12 Sep 1918, Stephen reports his birth date as 26 Dec 1873. He is a native born citizen living at 4242 Wilcox Ave and a motorman for the Chicago Surface Lines. His nearest relative is Anna Elizabeth Brennan. It is noted that he is medium height, slender build with blue eyes and light brown hair.
|Front Row: Henry Hanson, Berjetta's nephew and Marion's Godfather; Charles Brennan, |
Marion Brennan on her father's lap. Back row: Berjetta Hanson Marcusen;
Anna Elizabeth Marcusen Brennan; Stephen Brennan. Circa 1918
Stephen F Brennan is found in the 1920 US Census (enumerated 6 Jan 1920) at 4242 Wilcox St as Head of the Household. He is listed as age 36 (making birth year 1884, seems he aged only 4 years between the census years), motorman for Surface Lines. In the household is his wife Anna E Brennan, age 31; his son Charles J, age 5; his daughter Marion age 2 ½; and his mother-in-law Berjetta Marcusen. It shows that the house is owned with no mortgage on the line with Stephen’s name, but the fact is that Berjetta owned the house, not Stephen.
|Chicago Streetcar from Chicagology|
In the 1928 Chicago City Directory, he is at 4242 Wilcox and listed as a janitor.
We see Stephen again in the 1930 US Census (enumerated 5 April 1930) at 4242 Wilcox St as Head of the Household. He is listed as 52 (making birth year 1878) and janitor for an apartment building. In the household is his wife Anna E, age 41; mother-in-law Berjetta Marcusen, age 68, a laundress out of the home and his children, Charles J age 15 and Marion E age 12. Again it shows that the house is owned (with a value of $7000) on the line with Stephen’s name.
|Stephen Brennan in front of 4242 Wilcox|
On 1 May 1939 Anna files a suit in the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois, asking for separate maintenance from Stephen. She alleged that in April 1938, August 1938 and February 1939, Stephen struck her and threatened her life. According to the suit filed, Anna “maintained conjugal relations with the defendant until AD 1920” and that “for five year immediately prior to the filing of the complaint, the defendant…has pursued a morose, hostile and wrongful course of conduct toward the plaintiff”. According to the document, it appears that Stephen had also been unemployed for most of the past 6 years (1933-1939) and contributed no support for Anna or the children, "not even enough for food". It says that Stephen and Anna have been living apart since 12 April 1939. It is also clear in the documentation that the property at 4242 Wilcox was not Stephen’s, but Berjetta and Anna’s. The divorce was finalized 16 Aug 1940.
In the 1940 US Census (enumerated 5 April 1940) Stephen is listed at 2816 Warren Blvd as Head of Household. He is the only one in the household. He reports himself as married, 66 years old (making birth year 1874) with an 8th grade education and living in the same place as in 1935. He is a janitor in an apartment building. Anna and the children are still at 4242 Wilcox Ave with Berjetta listed as Head of the Household. Anna reports herself as married. The divorce was not filed until after the census was enumerated.
In the 1945 Florida state census, Stephen is listed in Orange Park, Clay County, Florida in a long list of other men he same general age, probably all residing at Moosehaven.
According to their web site, Moosehaven, known as the "City of Contentment," is located in Orange Park, Florida, 15 miles south of downtown Jacksonville. Situated on a wide expanse of the St. Johns River in northeast Florida, the 72-acre campus has been home to members of the Loyal Order of Moose and Women of the Moose since 1922. In 1918, Director General James J. Davis proposed to that year's International Convention to find "a home in a warmer climate for the aged members and their spouses." Supreme Secretary Rodney H. Brandon purchased the historic four-story Hotel Marion and its eight acres, located on the St. Johns River in Orange Park, Florida. He named the property "Moosehaven" and the new residents renamed the hotel, "Brandon Hall." Moosehaven was dedicated on October 3, 1922. During the first six months of operation, over 50 residents were admitted. By 1926, there were 144 residents. Known initially as the "City of Endeavor," Moosehaven residents performed all of their own work and operated a successful dairy and farm. (More about Moosehaven here.)
Photo Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection
In 17 Aug 1951, Stephen died at Moosehaven of coronary occlusion after 10 years of arteriosclerosis (probably a heart attack). He is listed as retired motorman, divorced with a date of birth as 26 Dec 1873 making him 77 years old. His parents’ names are listed as unknown. His last known Chicago address was shown as 2816 Warren Ave. Interestingly, the length of stay at Orange Park shows “19 years, 3 months” which would mean he had been there since 1932, but we know that cannot be true based on the other records, so it is probably a typographical error. The physician of record says he has been attending Stephen since 15 Sep 1947 to the present.
Stephen was not talked about by his immediate family after the divorce. His daughter-in-law Alice, who married Stephen’s son Charles in 1946, thought he was dead, as her husband never spoke of him. She was also told not to speak of him with her mother-in-law Anna. In the early 1990s, Charles admitted he had visited with his father in Florida in about 1945-46. Charles was stationed there in the service and went to visit his father. He did not elaborate on the visit.
Marion was very interested in her father and his family, and wanted to talk about him but knew little. She said that he did not live with the family during her school years much, but that he was “around” (this would have been 1930-1940). So even though the divorce document says they have been living apart in 1939, it was probably earlier than that. Around 1999, when she and I were cleaning up in the kitchen after a family dinner, she finally admitted to me (in a hushed voice so no one else could hear) that her parents had been divorced. According to Marion, Anna’s mother Berjetta had strong feelings about marriage and divorce. She encouraged Anna to maintain the marriage. Marion said she felt that her mother Anna needed permission from Berjetta to file for divorce. When Berjetta realized how bad things had gotten, she supported Anna in the divorce proceedings.
I have to wonder if Francis was a father or grandfather to Stephen, as it is his middle name and his first son’s middle name. He consistently is found as Stephen or Stephen F in the known records when he is an adult. Possibly he was known as Francis earlier in life.
Over the years I have found some Brennan families in the census records that seem to possibly the right family, but nothing conclusive. I have also found “likely suspects” that are possibly Stephen, but born in St Louis, or living in Milwaukee. Without knowing his parents’ names, it is a hard wall to climb.
Stephen’s daughter, grandson and great-grandsons have had DNA testing. The Y-DNA confirms an Irish lineage. From the clan project at FamilyTreeDNA: Grandson and great-grandsons are of the “Corca Achlann tribe of central County Roscommon, Ireland, which includes the surnames Mulvihill and Brennan and their variants. Our Brennans are of the same stock as the Mulvihills, arising as a competitive entity for the Chieftainship of the tribe in about 1150 AD. There are at least 4 other, completely unrelated, sources for the Brennan name, and part of the objectives of the DNA Program is to attempt to sort this out. Initial Y-DNA STR results have been reported by FTDNA and appear to be members of the "Gael" branch of our Clan. This branch entered Ireland about 2000-2500 years ago, and is the dominant haplogroup throughout Ireland today.” We are hoping to identify cousins in the Brennan line via DNA. To get better odds, the grandson has also tested with AncestryDNA and 23andMe.