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Kimberly Powell

A Tale of Three Brothers - AKA Don't Always Believe What You Read in the Newspaper

By September 2, 2010

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As I was chasing down a few leads on a user-submitted brick wall ancestor yesterday, I ran across an interesting marriage notice from the New York Times. Published 19 October 1938 under the title "Evelyn N. Purcell Married to Jurist," the marriage notice reads, in part:

"Miss Evelyn Norma Purcell of this city, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Purcell, was married yesterday morning to Judge Samuel Jordan Graham of Washington, D.C., onetime Assistant Attorney General of the United States, in the chapel of S. Bartholomew's Church... . Mrs. Graham is a member of an English family of long residence near Belfast, Ireland. Her father, who was a well-known member of the Dublin bar, died some years ago in California. The bride's two brothers, Major William Purcell and Lieutenant Edward Purcell of the British Army, were killed in the Battle of the Somme during the World War..."

Some parts of this marriage announcement are true. Her parents were Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Purcell and they were both deceased. That part about the brothers, though...

Evelyn's mother, Sarah Elizabeth Proctor, apparently died sometime prior to 1898 in Ireland, as Marcus Purcell was listed as a widow when he married Adelaide Jane Wright 23 Nov 1898 in St. George Parish, Dublin. Marcus Powell, an attorney with the California Land and Title Company, died from self-administered poison on 18 Jan 1928 according to an announcement published the next day in the LA Times titled "Attorney Dies from Poisoning." There's a nice profile on Marcus Purcell (including photo) in the "History of the Bench and Bar of California" by Joseph Clement Bates in Google Books.

I'm  not as sure about the "English family of long residence." That's open to interpretation, I guess. Evelyn was born in Dublin, as were all of her siblings. Her father was also born in Ireland. It was part of the United Kingdom at the time, however, and many described themselves as "English," not "Irish."

The rest of the marriage announcement rang enough bells that I thought it had a likely connection to my quest when I first ran across it, but kept discounting it when facts didn't add up. It turns out I should have trusted my instincts to begin with, even though the name  and other details were slightly off - "Evelyn Norma Purcell" is named on her baptismal record as Emily Geraldine Norman Purcell, for example.

Now on to the interesting part - the brothers. Evelyn did have a brother named William, and one named Edmund (not Edward). Neither, however, died in the Battle of the Somme. Edmund Vere Purcell, born 25 Mar 1890 in Dublin, enlisted in the U.S. Army on 15 Mar 1911 at Ft. McDowell and was assigned to 7 Cav Co H.  He was dishonorably discharged 20 Dec 1911 at Ft Wm McKinley according to his enlistment record on Ancestry.com. Edmund then made his way to Australia where he enlisted in the 35th Battalion of the Australian Army on 14 Apr 1916 according to his military service record, online at the National Archives of Australia. His occupation was given as "jockey" and his nearest relative his father, Marcus Purcell (Examiner Buildings, San Francisco, California), at least that is until he crossed him out and added his brand new wife, Annie Duggan, who he married that year in Sydney. He returned to Australia at the end of his service on 5 Apr 1919 and apparently lived there until his death in 1936.

The other brother, William Bonner Proctor Purcell, moved around even more than Edmund! He was born 10 Apr 1883 in Dublin and married an Irish woman named Selina Vincent Kavanagh, daughter of Thomas Christopher Kavanagh and Selina Leader, on 13 Feb 1906 in Manhattan (this marriage being the focus of my original investigation). Apparently things didn't work out, as Selina is back in London by 1916 marrying William Lionel Alexander Johnstone. William Purcell is living in Phillips County, Colorado, in 1918 when he registered for the U.S. World War I draft under the name William Bonner Purcell and listed his nearest relative as father, Marcus Purcell, in San Diego, California. At the time of the 1920 census he is still in Holyoke, Phillips County, Colorado, listed as divorced and working as a bookkeeper/stenographer. Apparently not deceased in the Battle of the Somme while serving with the British Army...

He's also likely the William B. Purcell living in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1910 with wife, Alma C. (Green) Purcell and daughter Norma E. M. Purcell (7 months) as the names, locations and other particulars match up, and Norma was his sister's name. There is also a divorce proceeding for William B. Purcell and Alma Purcell from 1920 in the Colorado Historical Index to follow up on. I found Alma and her daughter, Norma, living in Sacramento, California, in 1920 (where she listed herself as a widow). All of this means that William's marriage to Selina in 1906 apparently was very short-lived as he was once again married by about 1909 (probably in Illinois) to Alma.

Then there is the third brother, Marcus Meredyth Purcell, who didn't even warrant a mention in Evelyn's marriage announcement. He was born 6 Aug 1887 in Dublin and arrived in America aboard the Majestic on 26 Nov 1901 along with his brothers William and Edmund. The three brothers were temporarily held up in immigration with a charge of "LPC certificate" (likely to become a public charge, medical certificate) for Marcus, although they were all admitted to the U.S. later that same day. Census research reveals this was likely because Marcus was blind; in 1920 he's living as an inmate at the Home of Destitute Blind in Bronx, NY. His World War I draft registration card from 1918 even mentions his sister, Norma, as his nearest relative - stating that she's "somewhere in France" (which is true, she served there as an Army Nurse during the War). In 1930, Marcus is living as a resident of the Central Islip State Hospital on Long Island, NY. Juliana Smith has a good article on searching for hospital records that includes mention of this facility.

There was actually a fourth brother as well, Loftus George Purcell, born in Dublin on 7 Oct 1884 and baptised on 13 Nov 1884.

Evelyn Norma Purcell Graham, sister of four Purcell brothers, died on 5 Dec 1959 and is buried with her husband, Samuel Jordan Graham, in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. There's a photo of her attached to her 1926 passport application on Ancestry.com. I'm still left wondering if the mention of two brothers dying valiantly during WWI, and no mention of the blind brother in the State Hospital, in her marriage announcement was intentional.... 

I did run across mention of several pre-med and med-school scholarships endowed by her estate - I'll have to tell my daughter about them!

September 3, 2010 at 7:41 am
(1) Cathy Daly says:

I would like to thank Kimberley for her hard work and giving me some advice as to how to proceed further and hopefully finding out more about my ancestors.

September 3, 2010 at 1:51 pm
(2) Constance Rinaldi says:

This is a fascinating story of good detective work and a determination not to take things at face value…a valuable attitude for a genealogical researcher. As the editor of a newsletter for a genealogical association devoted to the surname Purcell (and all its spellings variants), I’d like your permission to use this story in our next issue (properly attitributed to you, of course) as an illustration to our members of the proper way to document our family tree data. Thanks for sharing the story with us.

September 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm
(3) Robert M Files Sr. says:

just want say that we all need to do our homework more carefully nowdays.
This is where legwork must come in for all of us. I have done reasearch for over 25yrs and I have run across some real strange info when looking up information on my line & other people’s lines.
This just goes to show us, that we should never take things at face vaue or granted. We all need to do our homework better. After all god gave us a brain, legs, hands, & eyes to use
so we should use them.
i have said in the past to people, computers are wonderfull, but lets NOT FORGET OUR OTHER TOOLS THAT WERE GIVEN TIO US. So this is a good article for us all. I would suggest that we reread this from time to time. and maybe include it in a class as well.
Well done.
Thank You
Robert m Files Sr.

September 8, 2010 at 7:04 am
(4) southlakesmom says:

As I do family research the stories people in the family people think are “God’s own truth” are often . . . um . . . related to the truth, but perhaps not exactly as they were. When those stories get repeated often enough, you can end up with stories like this one — perhaps whoever wrote her obit believed that to be the version that was true, never having heard anything else!

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