My Shaw Family Story

by Kathleen Shaw Decker

January 21, 1918

     Lawrence Shaw, 24, Irish and Roman Catholic and Nettie Scranton, 22, descendant of wealthy, distinguished, early-American English stock, and definitely NOT Roman Catholic, were married. in St. Mary's Church in Auburn New York. How they met and what led to this "mixed" marriage I will never know in this lifetime, but it must have been true love, for they risked their families' wrath by dating. Prohibited from seeing each other, they met away from home during their courting days, and Nettie was willing to be disinherited in order to convert to Catholicism and marry Lawrence. Five children came in the next eight years. Lawrence Vincent, James William, Mary Mildred, John Robert (my father), and Raymond Edward. The family moved often, perhaps the consequence of a growing family, perhaps the consequence of a father who may have had the "Irish Affliction," and over-imbibed a few too many times, probably a combination of both. But in any event, the family lived in several different areas of Auburn over the next decade. In 1930, when my dad was 4 years old, Lawrence died. The official death certificate reads cause of death acute nephritis.

     Nettie worked in the shoe factory and raised her five young children with the support of her mother, a widow who was remarried and had a fairly young family of her own. Nettie still maintained contact with her father-in-law's family on Fitch Avenue so that her children would know their "other" family. Tragically, Nettie died of a ruptured appendix two short years later. The only recollection my dad has of his mother is that he remembers, after being hit by a car and breaking a leg, he laid in the bed and, taking full advantage of the situation, asked "mommy, can I have a nickle?" He remembers her saying "Of course, Jackie, you can have a nickle." Based on that memory, he says he knows she was a nice person.

     The children stayed with their maternal grandmother for a few years until she could no longer afford to support them. The only recollection my father has of those days was of a grandmother who was a nice lady, but that there was a lot of drinking and fighting in the home. Contact with the Shaw's ended except for occasional visits to their grandfather when they were sent to visit him, knowing that he would give the children $5, which they turned over to their grandmother. Even these visits were not at the family home. They visited him at the Wadsworth Mansion (formerly on the corner or Genessee and Fort Street), where he worked as a driver and handyman for the Wadsworths.When their grandmother could no longer afford to support five growing children, the family was broken up, Vince and Jim entering the work force and military and the younger children placed in foster homes in Port Byron, and finally my dad and his brother Ray were placed in the local orphanage, The Cayuga Home for Children. It was here dad met my mother. My grandfather, Rev. Ralph Knight, was the director of the home, and my mother, Jeannine, lived next door.

     After dad returned from the war, their relationship bloomed and they were married in 1950. Another "Mixed Marriage." Dad remained Catholic until I was nine years old. I remember every Sunday he would walk to Mass in Weedsport, while the rest of us went to church in Auburn where my Grandfather was the minister. We were never allowed to attend the Mass with him. I didn't understand why, but felt bad that we couldn't go to HIS church sometimes, and said so. That was when he changed his church affiliation so we could all go to church together.

 June 28, 1969

     I married my husband, Jim, in a ceremony performed by my grandfather in the Lake Avenue Christian Church. The previous month, I had attended a bridal shower for my cousin, Diane Shaw, Vince's daughter. I was introduced to a lady named Aunt Gert. Assuming this was just a family friend, I was amazed to find out that her last name was Shaw and that she really was my great aunt. My father said he never knew her. I think that this was the first time I tasted the curiosity that would turn to a lifetime drive to fill in the missing years. What else didn't I know about my own family? I invited Aunt Gert to my wedding so my father could meet her. My wedding day was the usual blur. I don't remember a whole lot of details about it, but I remember standing in the receiving line as Aunt Gert came through. With her was a pleasant elderly gentleman. She introduced us. This was my Uncle David. I turned to my father and asked "Uncle David?" He shrugged and was acted as in the dark as I was. Uncle David explained that he was Aunt Gert's brother, he lived in Sayre, and, unfortunately, had not kept in touch with his neice and nephews like he would have liked. I learned later that he owned the Donkey Basketball business that came to our school in Weedsport every year. They had been so near, yet I never had any idea these people even existed. I remember meeting him as being one of the unexpected highlights of my wedding day.


      Aunt Gert died. I wish I had been able to ask her all the questions that I have spent years finding answers to. She had no will, so her house on Fitch Avenue went on the auction block and the proceeds were divided between the neices and nephews. I remember that my brother, Brian, got a new silver trumpet with part of the money. Before the auction, I remember my dad saying, "let's go take a look at this house that we're part owners of." I remember driving past a non-descript older house on Fitch Avenue and being quite unimpressed. How I wish now that I had gone inside. How I wish I could have had just a piece of something associated with that house. How did I know that this was the same house, at 76 Fitch Ave., that my great-great grandfather, David Shaw, purchased in 1867, the first home he actually owned, 17 years after coming to Cayuga County from Ireland. Where he raised his family of 12 children, where the grandfather that I never knew was born. Where the house was filled to overflowing at the wake for my great-grandfather, Larry.

Summer 1978

     I had been happily married for nine years, had two great kids, and was feeling guilty because everything in my life was so good. The only unsatisfied need that I had was a somewhat selfish desire to prove I could handle college. I had goofed off so much in high school that it is a wonder I even graduated. If not for the fact that a passing regents grade meant you passed the course, I wouldn't have. I tested the waters with a chemistry course, and, thanks to Professor Harry Greer, the best instructor I ever had in any school, anywhere, I passed with an A. Confidence bolstered, I jumped in with both feet and entered the nursing program.

     A major component in any nursing curriculum is social science. Learning about cultural differences and influences, as well as genetics in the science courses, made me curious about my own family background. This was when I first asked my father about what kind of a name Shaw was. He had no idea. I sat with him while he tried to remember as much about his childhood as he could, but aside from the memories I have already mentioned, and watching their house burn down (on the corner of Fitch and Parker Sts) he was blank. I went and asked my Uncle Vince, who was the eldest of the family and was 12 when his father died. He said he thought we must be Irish because he remembered that his grandfather spoke with a brogue, but that was all he knew. He told me a few names of people he knew we were related to, but wasn't sure how, but it was obvious that there was a lot he wasn't telling me. I came to realize later, that there was a tremendous amount of resentment because he felt "abandoned" by his father's family. It is only because time offers the ability to view things in retrospect that I could take a more global view and imagine the circumstances at the time his grandmother placed the children in foster care. Here was his grandfather Shaw, a widower, living with two single adult children, all of whom had full time jobs, during the depression years, with grandchildren who had been raised by a grandmother who had no use for his family. I can't imagine many people would feel they were in a position to take the responsibility of 5 children. Especially knowing they had a secure roof over their heads in foster care. Knowing what little I had discovered about his family and how much was missing in my dad's past made me curious about the rest of the Shaw family and I decided to find out what I could for him.

The Search

     Armed with nothing but a couple of names and a street name, I began the search. Initially, I just wanted to find out for certain that the Shaws were Irish. Knowing how my life, twenty years later, has become intertwined with Irish music, history, culture, and relatives, I have to laugh as I am writing this. Nevertheless, back then I didn't even know for sure where those roots were planted. I discovered the Cayuga County Historian's Office and went to work. Through city directories, and census records I discovered that, indeed, we were Irish. What I couldn't find was where in Ireland we were from. Not wanting to waste a lot of time researching something that someone might already know, I undertook the project of calling everyone in the phone book with the surname SHAW. I'm not sure if had it been 1998 instead of 1978 that I would have gotten the same cooperation, but everyone I spoke with was helpful, even when they didn't know anything. I spoke with half a dozen people who had a general idea that somehow they might be related, but didn't really know how, or anything about their Irish roots. Almost everyone said that if I found out anything, let them know. I kept notes on everything they told me, and this paid off later when I got more involved with searching for extended family members.

     Then, on a summer afternoon, during a thunderstorm (funny I remember that), I called a person named Lee Shaw. Not only did he know my great-grandfather, he was his Uncle Larry, brother to Lee's grandfather, Frank, and Lee had photographs of him somewhere. My heart soared. No longer were we just an isolated little cluster of Shaws, related to no one. Someone actually knew our family. I knew how it must feel to be adopted, looking for your birth parents, and finally making the connection. Lee told me how we were related, and yes, he knew where the family was from in Ireland. His father, Leo, had been there. It was Carlow. The best part of the story was when he told me how he could remember where the family was from. When he and his brother, Bob and sister, Ginger, were young, they had a family dog. His father had named the dog Carlow so that the children would never forget where they came from!

     Lee also told me that his family was having a reunion at his cousin Teddy Shaw's house the following month and invited me to come along. Eagerly, I went to this reunion and found a whole yard full of strangers, who were at once family. I found people who had known my grandfather and never knew what had happened to the rest of the family. I heard the stories about how Lawrence and Nettie had to sneak behind their parent's back when they dated. I met Tom Mahoney, another grandson of Frank, who had been documenting Frank's family history. He had a handwritten account of how David Shaw came to America in a sailing ship that took 52 days to cross, that the Shaws were from Carlow and the Souhans (David wife, Anna) were from Dublin, that four brothers came to Auburn and one, Patrick, stayed behind. It was just overwhelming. Tom became my motivator to find out more and more about our family. Having someone as excited as I was to get more information made it all the more worthwhile. Who were these other brothers who came to Auburn? Did they have descendants living here now? Were they some of those people that I had spoken with on the phone who didn't know how we were related? What about the brother, Patrick, who stayed behind? Do we have relatives still living in Ireland today? (I have to laugh at this question too. If only I knew. . . ) So much to know, so little time! I was glad I didn't wait until I retired to start this search.

      Also at this reunion was Ed Kenna Shaw, a man I had spoken with on the phone previously. He told me that he had been to Ireland to visit his mother's family, the Kennas, in Carlow. When I asked him why he didn't look up the Shaws while he was there he said he didn't know that the Shaws were from Carlow too. He gave me the name and address of his cousin, Oliver Kenna, and suggested that maybe he might know if there were any Shaws still living in Carlow. I owe Oliver for so much! He is a psychiatric nurse by trade, and a historian and genealogist in his spare time. He took what little information I had gathered and began sending me newspaper clippings, magazines articles, pictures, and descendant charts for relatives over in Carlow. I soon realized that there were as many, or more, relatives on the other side of the ocean as there were here in Auburn. I soon was contemplating the next step on my journey the trip to the Old Country!

East Meets West

August 1987

     My sister, Linda and I made the trip! We arrived at Shannon, and Patrick Shaw, great-grandson of the brother Patrick who stayed behind, was to meet us at the airport. He said, "you'll know me because I look like a Shaw!" As we surveyed all the faces in the airport, we decided he could have been anyone there because everyone looked like a Shaw. I guessed it must just be that "Irish Look" that we all have. After we slept off our jet lag, for a whopping 2 hours, we were off to meet his wife Mary and sons Cathal, Dara, and Aaron. Thus, began a two week whirl of meeting more relatives than anyone could imagine. And, everywhere we went, everyone we met seemed like family we had known all of our lives. We drove around the Ring of Kerry, kissed the Blarney Stone, and did all of the obligatory tourist things, but the most memorable and important part of the trip was meeting all of our kin. We drove to Dundalk to meet Pat's brother Lorcan and sisters Marie and Alice and their families. We soon discovered that musical talent was a strong family trait that is not limited to the West of the Atlantic. Lorcan and his son Laurence played banjo and fiddle for us and made music that would take your breath away. We had tea with a different family each night the week we spent in Carlow. Our bed and breakfast hostess was our "social director." She delighted in keeping track for us where we were supposed to be and when. She said in all of her days of operating a bed and breakfast she had never seen anyone with so many relatives! We admired the beautiful hand knit sweaters that Ann Power Kelly had made, and I still have the book of Prayers written in Irish that Ned Haughney gave me. Someday, maybe I'll learn to read them. Tom (or Margaret) Kehoe has to make the best Irish Coffee in the world, and I discovered that Kathleen was married to a Mr. Mabey not that she was "maybe married," as I had entered in my family information.

     On the night before we were to leave, several families met with us at Bolger's Pub. We had a wonderful evening. I remember Martin Shaw being so excited when he discovered that I attended a Methodist church and Linda was Episcopalian. He listed for us the various religious denominations that members of our family belonged to beside the Catholic church. I guess we are a truly ecumenical family. I also remember, that night, the waitress trying to get us all out of the pub after closing time and no one making any effort to leave. At least until Eddie Shaw leaned over and said "you know what's going on don't you? If you're still here when the constable comes around in five minutes, you'll get arrested. Then you'll have to stay for court next Tuesday night, so you won't have to leave tomorrow!" I've never moved so fast in my life. I guess the thought was nice though. If there could be a "highlight" of our visit in Carlow, it was meeting Kathleen Shaw. At 72, she delighted us with her family stories, warm sense of humor, and unwavering faith. One night at 1030 PM she took us walking up and down streets, knocking at doors and introducing us to more and more cousins. I wish I could remember all of them that we met. We went to a weekday Mass at the church in Tinryland where many of Michael Shaw's children were baptized prior to coming to Auburn and attended Mass together Sunday morning in Carlow. I felt that was the best way possible to conclude our visit.

      In spite of thousands of miles and a over a century separating our two branches of the family it was like we were still one. Since our visit, many, many more cousins have made the crossing to Ireland and we are re-establishing ties broken over time. Lorcan and Ann have visited with Joe and Eunice Shaw in Detroit and families are re-establishing old friendships and making new ones on and between both continents. It is with the hope that this family directory will help to maintain these new bonds that I am sharing it with everyone.

DNA enters the research picture and the Seoighe Surname emerges. Are we Joyce Descendants?

July 2013

     When I visited Carlow in 1987, one of the most common questions everyone seemed to have is "where did our Shaw family come from, and why are we Catholic and not related to all the other Shaw families in Ireland who seem to be protestant and Scots?" I had my father's yDNA tested, looking for someone with the Shaw surname who matched his. No one had matched in the thousands of men who had been tested. I had his half-second cousin tested, just as a control, to make certain there was no error in the DNA results being associated with their common Shaw ancestor and they matched identically, so we are certain this is a yDNA Shaw line. . Finally, after seven years of searching, we found a match! It is a 3 step deviation on a 37 marker test, which suggests a 95% probability of a common male ancestor within 20 generations. Problem was, the man's surname was JOYCE. As in related to James Joyce, from Dublin! I examined that man's pedigree, and, it was the Joyce surname all the way back to the 1600s. But, looking closer, low and behold, back a half dozen generations, was a man whose surname was not Joyce, but Seoighe. Knowing Gaelic words never sound like they appear, I went and googled the name and found this fascinating website explaining the origin of that name and the pronounciation... Shoya. The name is the Irish variant of Joyce! Doesn't take too much imagination to picture Shoya becoming Shaw over time. Here's a link to that Joyce page about the name variation: Also, I joined the Joyce yDNA project to see where my father's sample would fit, and it's eerie how close he is to the Seoighe person tested there. Here's a link to the results chart for the Joyce surname project. You will see my dad's sample as the one labeled Shaw, and the Joyce who matched him so closly is directly above his data. Since the earliest Castledermot and 1798 uprising records refer to the name as Shoe, Sheow and/or Shew, it may have been with the migration into this area where the Shaw surname became the norm. I have contacted the person who matched so closely and, subsequently he and I got the maximum yDNA marker testing done (700 marker comparison at FTDNA) and it has shown only 6 differences in 522 markers compared. This correlated to a 98.44% chance of a common ancestor within 12 generations. This would be about a generation prior to the first records of our family in Co. Kildare. The earliest Shaw in the matching pedigree is a Richard Joyce b. 1700 in Lixnaw, Co. Kerry, however this man's son Sean Mor Seoighe is given as possibly b. Galway in 1668. Hopefully some other Seoighe men will get involved in the Joyce yDNA project to help us get a clearer picture of our early ancestry. So far, in 20216 Joyce men are in the subgroup for our DNA in the Joyce project., .