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Two Centuries of Iowa Birminghams:
A history of the family of Martin Edward Birmingham and Elizabeth Antoinette Falada
from 1803 to 2023.

from sources collected by Eleanore Birmingham Kilcoyne 1990-2002

compiled by Allen Frantzen 2022-23
A mid-nineteenth-century photograph of the Patrick Birmingham family

The Iowa Birminghams

It would be good to have a full history of the Birmingham family’s northeast-Iowa branch. Thanks to Eleanore Birmingham Kilcoyne (1930-2022), we have a narrative connecting genealogical evidence she collected. We also have pictures to give life to the family chronology, which goes back to the early nineteenth century. This is unavoidably a lopsided history in several ways. Eleanore did not pass forward much information about the Falada family, so little is said about Elizabeth's ancestry. Any information that can be added to this account will be greatly appreciated. The generation of Eleanore and her sister Dorothy, my mother, is the point of reference generally used to identify the Birminghams of the nineteenth century. We begin with their great-grandfather, Patrick, who was born in 1803. References to “our” relatives generally point to Birminghams who lived most of their lives in the twentieth century, starting with Martin Edward, 1869-1946 and Elizabeth Antoinette Falada, 1888-1951, Dorothy's and Eleanore’s parents and our grandparents. After the section on Elizabeth and Martin and their children, this page becomes a record of the family of Dorothy and her husband, John Frantzen, and their six children.

Plan of this history

We begin with Patrick W. Birmingham, our great-great grandfather, and his wife Mary O'Donnell. We have a picture (just above) of Patrick W. with two of his sons outside a small farmhouse, probably in New York.

The second generation comprises the children of Patrick and Mary. Their son James Patrick Birmingham married Bridget O'Keefe. We have pictures of five of their eight children, one of whom was Martin Edward, our grandfather.

The third generation is that of Martin Edward Birmingham and his wife, Elzabeth Ann Falada. There are many pictures of them and their children.

The fourth generation, traced to my siblings and me, is that of Dorothy Mae Birmingham and her 12 siblings.

The fifth generation is that of Dorothy Mae Birmingham and John Victor Frantzen's six children, five of whom had children of their own.


Historical background

1. Great-great-grandparents: Patrick W. Birmingham (1803-1878) and Mary O’Donnell (1812-1869)

Children James Patrick, 1832-1921 (our great-grandfather)
Thomas 1836-1923
Daniel 1843-
John 1846-?
Peter 1849-1881
Michael 1853-?
an infant girl (1855)
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2. Great-grandparents: James Patrick Birmingham and Bridget O'Keefe

Children John Mathias Birmingham 1864–1932
Bridget Ann Birmingham 1866–1887
James Birmingham 1868–1944
Martin Edward Birmingham 1869–1946 (our grandfather)
Mary Ellen Birmingham McLaughlin 1872–1950
Teresa Rose Birmingham Biever; 1874–1964
Patrick T. Birmingham 1875–1940
Harriet Birmingham Costa 1883–1925
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3. Grandparents: Martin Edward Birmingham (1869-1946) and Elizabeth Ann Falada (1888-1951) and their siblings Children Violet Mary (Sister Martin) 1907-1985
Mildred Evelyn (Sisul) 1909-1995
Dorothy Mae (Frantzen) 1910-1985
Martin Edward 1911-1979
Mary Ellen (Chihak) 1913-2008
Audrey Maurice (Nibaur Conway) 1915-1998
Clarice Harriet (Stuart) 1918-1958
Pat (James) 1919-1984
Harriet Mae (McGinnis) 1921-2005
Adrian Francis 1923-2002
Alphonse Joseph 1926-2010
Cyrilla Teresa (Haugen) 1932
Eleanore Ann (Sister James; Kilcoyne) 1930-2022
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4. Parents Dorothy Mae Birmingham (1910-85) and John Victor Frantzen, their children and grandchildren Carmen (1935-2020)
Wayne (1937-)
Mary Ann (1939-)
Karen 1944-)
Allen (1947-)
Thomas (1952-)
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5. Connecting generations: A chart

Historical background

Irish immigration

The Birmingham family was a large one and was always on the move. Eleanore’s great-grandparents and their eldest children were born in Ireland. Patrick and Mary Birmingham and five sons are listed in the 1850 census for Steuben County, New York. Their son Daniel, at that time age 7, is the first to have been born in the United States, and Thomas, age given as 13, was the last to have been born in Ireland.

We can assume that the Birminghams came to the U.S. between 1837 and 1843. They were part of what is known as he “second wave” of Irish immigration to this country, which was primarily Catholic. This wave started around 1845, during the potato famine that struck Ireland and led to the departure of nearly 2 million Irish to the U. S. between 1845 and 1860. They were not alone. In 1850 the population of the US was 23 million; in 1860 it was over 31 million. The “first wave” of Irish immigration occurred in the early eighteenth century (1718-29). Also motivated by crop failure, it was chiefly Protestant and was built on trade relations that linked Ireland, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The family in Iowa

Like many Irish, the Birminghams settled in New York and Pennsylvania. As early as 1869, some members moved to Iowa and established the northeast-Iowa Birminghams. Eleanore’s grandparents, James Patrick Birmingham and Bridget Sheehan, are listed in the 1870 census of Howard County, with four children: John, age 6; Bridget, age 4; James, age 2; and Martin, a boy of 7 months. Martin would grow up to become Eleanore’s father, Martin Edward Birmingham.

The records are not always clear. For example, when naming both boys and girls, parents used already-established family names. So there are many Birminghams named Mary, Patrick, and James, and some were known by two names, as was James Patrick. Online sources are useful but also ambiguous. Some spell the name Bermingham, for example. A quick look shows that Birmingham was a very common name in the state of Iowa in the late nineteenth century.

The male line bearing the name Birmingham continues in the line of Martin Edward Birmingham and Elizabeth Antoinette Falada, who had four sons: Adrian, Alphonse, Martin, and Patrick. Adrian’s sons do not survive, Alphonse had no children, and Martin had no sons. Pat had three sons, Jim, Joe, and Mike, but all are now deceased. However, Jim and Mike Birmingham also had sons, so the name survives in their offspring and in the offspring of one of their daughters. The female Birmingham line survives in offspring of Mildred (Sisul), Dorothy (Frantzen), Mary Ellen (Chihak), Audrey (Neibaur), Harriet (McGinnis), and Cyrilla (Haugen).

1. Our great-great-grandparents: Patrick W. Birmingham (1803-1878) and Mary O’Donnell (1812-1869)

Our oldest known relatives are Patrick W. Birmingham and Mary O’Donnell. Both Patrick and Mary were born in Ireland and they married there. Patrick was born in Tulla, County Clare in 1803, and died in Rexville, New York, in 1878. Mary was born in Meelick (Killala), County Mayo, in 1812 and died in New York in 1869. She and Patrick are buried in the Catholic cemetery in Greenwood, Steuben County, New York. She is remembered! Flowers were placed on her grave in 2019 by a Birmingham relative. Patrick is mentioned on one side of her obelisk. His name can be read but his birth and death dates cannot be deciphered (we know them to be 1803-1878).

We have one picture of Patrick W. Birmingham, thought to be the man in the white shirt standing in the doorway. With him are two of his sons, Thomas, standing, and James Patrick, in the buggy. Thomas’s wife sits at the left side of the picture, which is probably from about 1860. This seems to be the oldest picture we have of the Birmingham family. It is a farm scene showing three men and a woman. It might have been photographed at Irish Hill, New York.

We have two sources of information about this picture, and they differ on one point. Eleanore Birmingham Kilcoyne and her cousin Teresa Dempsey Cox (who lived in New York) agree that the man in the white shirt is probably Patrick W. and that it is his son Thomas in the black shirt standing opposite him. They also agree that the woman on the edge of the porch, at left, is Mary Keenan Birmingham, wife of Thomas. They disagree about the name of the man in the buggy.

According to Teresa the man in the buggy is James Patrick, her grandfather and the younger brother of Thomas. Teresa’s information came from her grandmother, Rose Birmingham Dempsey, who was the daughter of James Patrick. Rose said that the figure in the buggy was her father. There is a note by Teresa (about whom more below) written to Eleanore on the back of our copy of this picture:

James [Patrick] Birmingham in the buggy. Beautiful team of horses! My grandmother, Rose Birmingham Dempsey, had the original picture. Grandma only wrote “James Birmingham” on the back of the photo. I am guessing that the man in the dark clothes is Thomas Birmingham and the woman sitting on the porch is Mary Keenan Birmingham [his wife]. Maybe the man with his arms folded is Patrick Birmingham. I assume this photo was taken on Irish Hill, Rexville, NY. James Birmingham looks to be in his late 20s, early 30s. Do you have a copy of this picture, too? Teresa Cox.

However, Eleanore believed that the man in the buggy was her father, Martin Edward, 1869-1946, the son of James Patrick and Patrick W.’s grandson. She thought that the man in the buggy resembled the formal portrait of her father Martin “as a young man,” as he is seen in a picture from 1890, and as he is seen again in a picture dated “around 1900,” taken in Elma, Iowa (both of these pictures appear later in this album).

Teresa’s dating is supported by other evidence. James Patrick was born in 1832 and would have been in his 30s or late 20s at the time of the photograph. If so, that would suggest a date for the picture of about 1860. Patrick W., Thomas’s father, was born in 1803, and about 1860 would have been in his late 50s or early 60s. If these guesses are correct, we have a mid-century picture of Patrick W. Birmingham with two of his sons and one of his daughters-in-law.

Since Patrick W. Birmingham, in the white shirt, died in 1878, that is the latest date possible for the picture. Eleanore’s father, Martin, was born in 1869, and in 1878 would have been only 9 years old. The man in the buggy is obviously much older than that, perhaps in his 20s. It seems that Teresa’s identifications and dating hold up better than those proposed by Eleanore. (Note that Teresa says that the man in the white shirt, arms folded, is “maybe” Patrick. Identifications in a photograph of this age and quality are, of course, tentative. If the man in the white shirt is not Patrick W., then a later date is possible.)

Teresa was closer to the evidence. She wrote that Rose, the fourth child of Thomas and Mary, had the original copy of the farmhouse picture, which included Rose’s grandfather, Patrick W., and both of her parents, Thomas and Mary, as well as her uncle, James Patrick. Eleanore’s identifications extend the family by one generation to Martin Edward, James Patrick’s son, but as we have seen, the dates of others in the picture make this unlikely.

Here are pictures of James Patrick, Thomas, and their younger brother Michael, followed by discussion of their brother John
According to the 1925 census, James Patrick was, like his parents, born in Ireland, in 1832 (d. 1921). He married Bridget Sheehan, who was born in 1835 (d. 1885). He was her second husband; she brought two children to her marriage to James Patrick from her first marriage.

Thomas, the second son of Patrick W. and Mary Birmingham, married Mary J. Keenan (1843-1893). They are buried in West Union, New York. Mary and Thomas had five children:

Mary A. (1867-1961)
Alexander (1868-1960)
Thomas (1875-1954)
Rose (1874-1972)
Leo (1887-1950)
Rose Birmingham Dempsey, the fourth child, was the grandmother of Teresa Cox, who corresponded with Eleanore about Birmingham family histories.

We have pictures James Patrick with two of his brothers, Thomas, d. 1923 and Michael, b. 1853.

Given the portrait above, James is easy to identify here, with his white beard and white hair. He was nine years older than his nearest brother, Thomas (standing), and 21 years older than his brother Michael (seated next to James Patrick). Taking a guess, we might say that James Patrick was 60-70 years old at this time, dating the photograph to the 1890s. The notes under the picture are by Eleanore Kilcoyne: "Three sons of Patrick Birmingham and Mary O'Donnell. Standing Thomas Birmingham (1841-). Sitting: (left), Michael Birmingham (1853-), James Patrick Birmingham (1832-1921)."

In the second picture Thomas is easily recognized, his beard and hair now white but his head tilted to the left at the same angle as in the photo above, with his father and Michael; arms folded here, he is seated. Behind him, according to Eleanore, is his son Peter Joseph (1889-1975), who became a surgeon in Indiana. Thomas (1836-1923) was 53 when his son was born.

The boy sitting at the lower left is not named, but he cannot be either of Peter Joseph’s two children. Thomas died in 1923 and Peter Joseph’s first child was born in 1925. Eleanore thought that this picture was taken about 1921-22. That would make Thomas about 87 at the time of the photograph: "Peter Joseph Birmingham--standing.Thomas Birmingham--seated. Unknown lad. Thomas died 28 March 1923." So 1923 is latest possible date for this picture. We know that the farmhouse scene, which includes Thomas and his wife, came to Rose. It included her grandfather (Patrick W., b. 1803); her father and mother, Thomas (1836) and Mary (1843); and Thomas’s brother, James Patrick, her uncle (1832). Rose married James Dempsey, and their daughter, Mary Eloise, was Teresa’s mother. Because Eleanore and Teresa are the same age, we expect them to be of the same generation (one was born in 1930, the other, Teresa, in 1931). In fact, however, there are four generations separating Teresa from James Patrick Birmingham and Bridget Sheehan O’Kieff (sometimes O’Kieffe, O’Keef, or O’Keeffe), as we see in the diagram below. In contrast, there are only three generations separating Eleanore from James and Bridget. James Patrick was Eleanore’s grandfather, while his brother, Thomas, was Teresa’s great-grandfather.

2. Our great-grandparents: James Patrick Birmingham (1832-1921) and Bridget O’Kieff (1835-1885).
The seven children of Patrick W. and Mary Birmingham include James Patrick and Thomas. The Iowa Birminghams descend from James Patrick. The New York Birminghams descend from Thomas.

James Patrick (pictured above) was their oldest. He married Bridget O’Kieff (1835-1885). They had eight children:

John Mathias Birmingham 1864–1932
Bridget Ann Birmingham 1866–1887
James Birmingham 1868–1944
Martin Edward Birmingham 1869–1946 (pictured below, with some of his wife's family)
Mary Ellen Birmingham McLaughlin 1872–1950 (pictured below)
Teresa Rose Birmingham Biever 1874–1964 (“Aunt Tessie” (pictured below))
Patrick T. Birmingham 1875–1940 (pictured below)
Harriet Birmingham Costa 1883–1925 (pictured below)

We have information about and pictures of five of these children, who are treated here in birth order, and perhaps a picture of the wife of another child, the eldest, John (treated at the end of this section).
Martin Edward: "Grandpa Birmingham 1890"

The oldest picture of Martin Edward Birmingham is this impressive portrait from around 1890, showing a well-dressed and confident young man. It is worth noting how many formal portraits of the Birminghams there are, like this one featuring well-dressed people who seem to know who they are. The frame was from a Minneapolis company named Kierski, a name found in many records (Ritten-Kierski, for example) and a company that produced post cards, probably from photographs sent to them by regional photographers. Several pictures included here, including those of Martin’s sisters Harriet and Mary Ellen, were post cards, but Martin’s portrait is not.

The second picture is from about 10 years later. It shows a young man, again with a large moustache, with his hands in pockets of his suit, standing in front of a barn. “Around 1900, Elma, Iowa,” Eleanore Kilcoyne has written on the bottom.

We have pictures of some of Elizabeth's family. Eleanore had very few pictures of the Falada's family. Here is a picture of her brother Frank with his 1935 Chevy. The note on the back is written by one of the children of Elizabeth's daughter Mary Ellen Birmingham Chihak ("Chas Chihak") to "Awnie," a name some of her nieces and nephews had for Eleanore.
Frank Falada
Elizabeth's sister Katie
Eleanore also had a portrait of her aunt Katie Falada, who is seen in the informal family picture on the porch, below.

Kate Falada, "early 1900s" (Eleanore's estimate). Kate and another of Elizabeth's sisters appear in an informal porch picture below.

Pictures of the brothers and sisters of Martin Edward follow, including Mary Ellen, Teresa, Patrick, and Harriet. Some pictures of Mary Ellen also include Harriet, so they are treated togethere here (i.e., out of birth order).

Harriet Birmingham Costa 1883-1925
Harriet was born in 1883, at Elma, Iowa, to James Patrick Birmingham and Bridget Sheehan Birmingham. Harriet had 7 siblings: Patrick Birmingham, Martin Edward Birmingham (my grandfather, my mother’s mother) and 5 others. Harriet married Joseph Costa and lived in Illinois. She also lived at various addresses in Iowa in 1880, 1885, 1905, 1910, and 1920. She died in 1925 in Illinois, at age 42. It is said that she was an opera singer (no evidence, no information about this in January 2022).
There are two pictures of Harriet alone, in an elaborately carved wooden chair, the picture dated about 1915 by Eleanore Kilcoyne; and in a long white suit, with purse and elaborate plumed hat, no date.

Harriet and Mary Ellen
There are three postcard pictures of Harriet with her sister Mary Ellen (1872-1950). Mary Ellen, as we have seen, married Frank McLaughlin in 1900 and had three sons. Their sons were born in the first years of their marriage, and about 1905 or shortly before Mary Ellen was hospitalized in Independence. We know about this from information in the file of her. brother James (1868-1944), who died in the hospital. A report on him from June 1915 mentions that he was in a satitarium in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1906 and was discharged after a year as "normal." He was diagnosed in 1915 as "Acute Manic" and regarded as insane.
This same report adds, "The patient's sister, Mary McLaughlin, was admitted to this hospital Sept. 6, 1904; paroled March 25, 1905; discharged as recovered May 12, 1906. Diagnosis - Katatonia" (Independence State Hospital, papers of Eleanore Kilcoyne, p. 9. "Katatonia," catatonia to us, was first diagnosed in Germany by Karl Kahlbaum, a psychiatrist, in 1874 (the ISH doctor's spelling may indicate his awareness of a Germany source). As Edward Shorter and Fink write in The Madness of Fear: A History of Catatonia, this disease of the brain had been studied throughout the nineteenth century and before. They write that it is "classically marked by stupor, mutism, posturing, rigidity, and repetitive speech and acts" (p. 1). Mary Ellen's brother James was diagnosed as delusional and manic depressive, but not catatonic (ISH, pp. 10-11). Catatonia was and remains curable.

We have one picture showing Frank with Mary Ellen, dated by Eleanore to the 1920s, but I think the picture could be ten years earlier. Mary Ellen was born in 1872, Frank in 1868. She was 30 in 1902 and 40 in 1912. She hardly looks much more than 40 here. He could be five years older in this picture.
But we have none of Mary Ellen with her children (no pictures of Frank with them, either). We do have a picture of them with James Patrick, their maternal grandfather (above). We also have three pictures, formal portraits, of Mary Ellen and her sister Harriet,

One shows both women in white, Harriet on the right, in a white hat, Mary Ellen holding a purse, about 1914

Another, with Harriet seated, is from the same sitting (dresses and jewelry are the same; chair and background are the same)

The third, with both women in black, with Harriet standing, is dated about 1916. Mary Ellen married Frank McLaughlin (1869-1957); they are buried in Elma. Harriet married Joseph Costa in Ohio in 1920 and died at 42 in 1925. She is buried in Mount Caramel Catholic Cemetery in Hillside, a western suburb of Chicago. He is not among the Joseph Costas buried there (Costa is a very common name in this cemetery).

Teresa Birmingham Biewer 1874-1964

Teresa was known to the family as our mother’s “Aunt Tessie.” She is the sister of Martin Edward, our grandfather (1869-1946) and sister to Mary Ellen and Harriet, one of the eight children of James Patrick (1832-1921) and Bridget Sheehan O’Kieff Birmingham (1835-1884).

Teresa married Frank Biewer and had two sons. Both of them are buried in the Lourdes cemetery, James (1900-1977), a Chicago policeman; and Francis E. (1897-1948), a farmer in the Lourdes area, see above sitting on either side of their grandfather. The mother of Francis E. is incorrectly given in the census as Jessie (for Tessie, I assume) Birmingham, age 48 in 1925, which would give 1877 as her birth year (it was 1874).

Buried with James and Francis, the 2 sons of Teresa/Tessie (i.e., same grave marker), is Susan Urban Biewer (1891-1969). She was the wife of Francis E., according to the 1940 Howard County Census. Their father, Frank, reportedly left Teresa and his family; he is named in the census but no birth year is given. Francis E. and Susan had four daughters: Mary G., b. 1918; Marget (sic), b. 1919; Genevieve, b. 1921; Susan E., b. 1923.

We have portraits of Patrick Thomas Birmingham and his wife Alma Littig

We have pictures of the children of both Mary Ellen and Teresa. The photograph shows James Patrick Birmingham (1832-1921) with five of his grandsons.

Front row, seated, from left on either side of James Patrick. The sons of Teresa (1897-1964) and Frank Biever: they are Francis Biever (1898-1948) and James Biever (1901-1977).
Back row, standing, from left. The sons of Mary Ellen Birmingham (1872-1950) and Frank McLaughlin (1869-1957): Paul (1904-1990), James (1901-?), and Alphonse (1902-1937).

We have a much earlier picture of the three sons of Mary Ellen and Frank. I take them to be James (standing), Alphonse (left), and Paul (right).

The haircuts of all three boys corresponds to the haircuts in the later picture (central parts, side part for James). The picture of the three boys is undated, but since Paul was born in 1904 and Alphonse in 1902, we can guess perhaps 1907-1908 (making Paul about 3-4, Alphonse about 5-6); names provided by Eleanore. There seems to be a hidden story here, and perhaps two hidden stories, one concerning Mary Ellen, the boys' mother, and another concerning James, who stands in the middle of both pictures.

Mary Ellen (1872-1950) and Frank (1869-1958) married in 1900, when she was 28 and he was 32. The following 1905 census information is quoted directly from source material and leads to some revealing information about Mary Ellen.

1905: Census evidence. Population schedule for 1905
Frank (age) about 36. Record #474 (father)
James (age) about 4. Record #475 Elma
Alphonso (age) about 3. Record #476
Paul (age) about 1. Record #477 Elma
Ellen (age) about 33. In Independence hospital. Record #940
Mary Ellen has a different record number from the rest of the family because she was hospitalized at the Independence (Iowa) State Mental Hospital. First, Mary Ellen and Frank had three sons, as the census shows: James, Alphonso, and Paul. However, we will see that the history of James McLaughlin is a mystery. (Another James--James Reginald McLaughlin--lived 1929-34, was son of Regina and Paul; the boy is mentioned above, age 1.)

Mary Ellen McLaughlin'ss ons were born in 1901, 1902, and 1904 was at the Independence mental hospital shortly after the birth of her third son. He was born May 22, 1904, and her hospitalization began 3 months later, in September 1904. She was paroled in late March 1905 and discharged as recovered in May 1906. We know about her hospitalization because of notes made in reference to her brother James, who was also hospitalized in Independence often betwene 1915 and his death there in 1944. It is only because of his record there that we know about hers.

A doctor's report from the Independence State Hospital (Eleanore requested and received a copy, and related documents), dated June 18, 1915, concerns Mary Ellen's brother James, who was a patient there at the time and who died there in 1944. Mary Ellen had been a patient there 11 years earlier, i.e., in 1904. She did not return to live with Frank after her time in the mental hospital. The hospital notes say, "She is well and happy now but never went back to life with her husand" (hospital file, p. 8).

As we see in the card, when the census was taken in 1905 she was hospitalized: for "Occupation," the census taker wrote "Independence hospital." Mary Ellen and Frank were married in 1900, when she was 28 and he was 32. In 1905 she was hospitalized, and if she did not return to live with Frank, then it seems that she did not return to live with her 3 young sons. However, she and Frank are buried together in the Elma cemetery, as the website shows.

About Mary Ellen and Frank's son James
Their son Paul lived 1904-90 and Alphonse 1902-37. Son James was born in 1901. On the grave markers of the family in Lourdes and Elma, James is not listed as a sibling of Paul or Alphonso (presumably because he was still living in 1990. Eleanore had no death date for James (again, perhaps because he was living when she wrote). That is why, presumably, James is not listed at the website as a child of Mary Ellen and Frank, or as a sibling of Paul and Alphonse, both of whom are named there. The website lists no James McLaughlin as the son of Mary Ellen and Frank, only Alphonse, who was about 3 in 1905, and Paul.

James is the name of Mary Ellen Birmingham’s father (d. 1882). Paul H. McLaughlin is listed in the "Family Search" website as having only one brother, Alphonsus, and, in turn, in the latter's record at the site only Paul H. is listed among the children of Frank and Mary Ellen. Eleanore Kilcoyne estimated the date of the picture to be 1917-20; she recorded names on back of the picture. The expected cemetery evidence identifying James as a brother to Alphonso and Paul has not been found. Did he leave Iowa and die elsewhere?

The Iowa State Census for 1925, Howard County, lists only Paul and Alphonse as sons of Mary and Frank. Yet he can be seen in the picture with his grandfather from before 1921. In the 1920 census Mary is listed as the head of the household with two sons, Alphonsus and Paul, ages 17 and 15. James is not, so far as I could tell, included in the household in this document. Apparently of the same generation as Martin Edward, Teresa, and their siblings is the woman below, referred to as “Mother” by an unknown writer and referred to by Eleanore as “Aunt Mary Birmingham” (identification of this person uncertain 11/22). Eleanore thought she was the wife of John Birmingham, the oldest brother of her father, Martin Edward. She is the woman below, seated outside at a covered table.

John Mathias Birmingham was the oldest of James Patrick and Briget’s children and was known as “Uncle Johnnie” to Eleanore. He married Mary Julia Hebig (1870-1963) in Cresco, Iowa, in 1893. They had eight children. She outlived him by 31 years. Mary Julia died in Arkansas; she is buried in Dunklin, Missouri, where her daughter Lelia lived. Lelia also died in Arkansas, in 1985, as did her husband, Henry J. Kroes, who had lived in Dunklin for 20 years. (Dunklin is located in the so-called “boot-heel” of Missouri, which extends into the northeastern tip of Arkansas.) Eleanore thought that this woman was John's wife.
There are two notes on the back. The first says “Mother on her 91st birthday, July 16, 1947.” The subject was born in 1857, the period in which the children of James Patrick and Thomas, sons of Patrick W. Biringham, were born. The writer is unidentified. The writer cannot be Rose herself, for her mother, Mary J. Keenan Birmingham, died in 1893 at age 50. I believe that the picture was sent to Eleanore by Teresa Cox, who was Rose’s granddaughter, but we do not know for certain who the woman pictured is.

The last two lines, in ink, are Eleanore’s. “Mrs. Johnnie Birmingham, Aunt Mary Birmingham.” To be celebrating her 91st birthday in 1947, the woman in this picture would have been born in 1856. But can we match this date and the reference to “mother” to Aunt Mary Birmingham”?

Mrs. Johnnie Birmingham, or Aunt Mary Birmingham, was born Mary Julia Hebig (1870-1963). She married John Mathias Birmingham (1864-1932), who was the eldest son of James Patrick, in Cresco in 1893; they had eight children. She died in Arkansas. However, her dates do not match the photograph information, since Mrs. Johnnie Birmingham would have been 91 in on March 14, 1961, not on July 16, 1947.

Alternatively, it is possible that the “mother” named here is Mary A. Birmingham Grumley, known as “Minnie.” She was the oldest child of Thomas Birmingham 1836-1923 and Mary Keenan 1843-93, and she was sister to Rose. She was born March 3, 1867, and died Feb. 5, 1961. This “Aunt Mary” would have been 91 in March 1958, not in July 1947. She would have been “Aunt Mary” to Rose’s children and thus a possible link to Eleanore. Mary A. married Michael Grumley in 1891 (he died in 1941). They had 7 children (Mary, Celia, John, Thomas, Robert, Michael, Rita). She and Michael are buried in St. Mary’s New Catholic Cemetery, West Union, New York.

These women come from different Birmingham branches. Mary Hebig married John Birmingham, son James Patrick (Iowa branch). Mary A. Birmingham was the daughter of Thomas (New York branch), who was James Patrick’s brother. Either could be seen as “Aunt Mary.” But it seems that we cannot resolve the discrepancy between the birth dates of either of these two women and the information on the back of the picture. Note that the two likely candidates for “mother” were close contemporaries. Either would have been in her 80s in 1947 but not in her 90s. It is not likely that the son or daughter of this woman would have been wrong about the date of her 91st birthday, however, and I can find no one in the records I have seen whose birth year and date correspond to those given for the woman in the picture.

The note was written by a son or daughter of the woman pictured; both woman had many children. If Teresa sent the picture to Eleanore, as seems probable to me, Aunt Mary would likely be from the New York Birminghams. In that case, she would more probably have been the wife of Michael Grumley and would have been referred to as “mother” by one of their seven children, one of whom had this picture.

Eleanore’s contact was Teresa Cox, whose grandmother was Rose Birmingham Dempsey, daughter of Thomas Birmingham. Rose married James Dempsey (1869-1931). Both are buried in West Union, New York. They had 4 children: Mary 1908-83; Paul 1914-99 (married Mary Louise, d. 1995); James 1920-2004; and Leo 1922-84. Rose was Teresa’s grandmother, but we are not given the name of Teresa’s mother.

I believe that Teresa’s mother is Rose's daughter Mary, Mary Eloise Dempsey. Mary Eloise married John Cornell in 1930; they had two sons, neither of whom seems to have married (Edward, 1933-99; James Patrick, 1938-2004), according to cemetery information. Mary Eloise is buried in West Union, New York. Teresa (alive at the time the cemetery page was constructed) is not named. Evidence that Mary Eloise is also Teresa’s mother is given below. I propose a five-generation history: Patrick W., Thomas, Rose, Mary Eloise, and Theresa.

Mary Eloise married John Cornell. They were, I believe, the parents of Mary Teresa Cornell. New York (Steuben Co., West Union) graveyard information lists only two sons, no daughters, born to Mary Eloise and John; sons Edward and James Patrick were both dead when the entry was made, and perhaps because Mary Teresa Cornell was living at the time she was not listed. She married Walter Conway Cox, who lived 1920-97. I do not have proof of who Teresa’s mother was, but I believe that it was Mary Eloise. Mary Teresa was born to Mary Eloise and John Cornell in 1931; Edward was born in 1933 and James Patrick in 1938.[1]

Rose, mother of Mary Eloise, had a sister named Mary A., an aunt of Mary Eloise (i.e., the sister of Mary Eloise’s mother). It is possible that Mary Eloise’s daughter, Teresa Cox, could have regarded Mary A. as Aunt Mary, although she was really Teresa’s great aunt. This could be the reason for EK calling this woman “Aunt Mary Birmingham,” although not for calling her “Mrs. Johnnie Birmingham.” Perhaps EK confused the New Yorker, Mary A. Birmingham Grumley (daughter of Thomas), with the Iowan, Mary Julia Hebig Birmingham, wife of John Mathias Birmingham (who was the son of James Patrick). It seems that Eleanore’s Aunt Mary Birmingham and Mrs. Johnnie Birmingham, the wife of John Birmingham, were two different women.

It is quite possible that the information on the back of the picture of the woman celebrating her 91st birthday is incomplete or misleading and that two Birmingham Marys were confused across generations. When we compare Teresa’s dates to Eleanore’s, we can see a possible cause of confusion. Eleanore’s mother, Elizabeth, was born 1888 and married in 1907. EK was born in 1930, when her mother was 42. Teresa’s mother, Mary Eloise, was born in 1908, 20 years later; Teresa was born in 1931, when her mother was 23. Eleanore’s father was 61, and Teresa’s father, born in 1869, was 62. He died the year of her birth.

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3. Grandparents: Martin Edward Birmingham and Elizabeth Ann Falada, family and farm

Martin and Bessie: undated formal portrait, about 1944

On the farm in the mid-1940s; note by Eleanore on the back: "Last picture of my parents together." Martin died Nov. 9, 1946

On the porch, an informal family portrait, early 1920s, with two of Elizabeth's sisters

At the top, wearing a hat, is Katie, Elizabeth’s sister (and mother of Eddie Kovarik). Wearing dark glasses is Martin, and, in front of him, Mildred, Dorothy, and Violet (Sister Martin), holding her hat. Standing just in front of them are Clarice and Audrey. The lady with the dark hat is our grandmother Elizabeth. Standing next to Martin Edward is Patrick, a little boy, and next to him is Mary Ellen. The Sister in full garb is probably Clara, Sister Wenceslaus, another sister of Elizabeth. Probably before 1921, when Harriet was born (followed by Adrian in 1923, Al in 1926, Eleanore in 1930, and Cyrilla in 1932--none of them seen here). Ladies in hats, Martin in a suit--just back from church, perhaps?

The children of Martin and Elizabeth gathered just once as adults, at their mother's funeral in 1951

Mary Ellen, Dorothy, Adrian; Violet (Sr. Martin), Mildred, Martin; Clarice, Harriet, Alphonse; Cyrilla, Audrey, Pat; Eleanore (Sr. James)

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Pictures of Martin and Bessie's children, including Dorothy Mae Birmingham and John Victor Frantzen

Clarice (d. 1958)


Cyrilla at 4, with Eleanore, age 6, 1936

Violet and Mildred
Violet and Mildred, possibly at their First Communion, around 1917, ages 10 and 8

And at the high school graduation, hair much improved

Adrian and Al, boys on the farm, soldiers in World War II

Al comes home from World War II, Easter Sunday, 1946
Al Birmingham (1926-2009) fought in the Philippines during World War II. He came home at dawn on April 21, 1946, stepping off a train in Elma, Iowa, that he had boarded the day before at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Nobody knew that he was on his way.
Al walked from the depot to the home of his older brother Pat, dropped his bags on the kitchen floor (no locked doors in Elma in those days), and said, "Stand up and shake hands with a man." Evidently that's what Pat did. Then the brothers drove to the family farm near Lourdes, a few miles away. Their parents were at church, so Al and Pat went to church too. It was Easter Sunday. Al had turned 20 just two months earlier.
Some 60 years later, Al smiled when looked back at Easter 1946. He remembered his welcome after Mass, with everybody congratulating him and shaking his hand. "It was the greatest day of my life," he said. It must have been some celebration for his family to see their son and brother return from the War at the same time they celebrated Christ's resurrection from the dead.

Martin (b. 1911) and Pat (b. 1918)

Dorothy, holding Harriet (b. 1921), with Mary Ellen, about 1921.

Harriet and Joe, 1942(?)

Mary Ellen, b. 1913

Dorothy and Milred, about 1930

Dorothy in the cornfield, as “Shortie,” no date

3 sisters, 1973 or 1974

Eleanore, Dorothy, Christine Birmingham, Cyrilla

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The family working on the farm

Martin on tractor (father), Dorothy steering car
, a 1917 Saxxon Six.

Pat, foot on binder, Frank Sisul in white shirt. On the tractor, Adrian or Al—? Either would have been from 7 to 10 years old in the early- to mid-1930s.
Below, threshing scene, undated.

4. Our parents: Dorothy Mae Birmingham and John Victor Frantzen

Wedding picture of Dorothy and John, January 21, 1935
On Jan. 21, 1935, Dorothy Birmingham and John Frantzen were married in Lourdes, Iowa. There had been a blizzard on Sunday, but the 21st was clear. However, it was -16º (the coldest day in northeast Iowa on record was just 2 days later, -23). Mother’s dad took the family by sleigh to the highway, where a car met them and took them to church. The groom and best man (John's cousin, Jack Detterman) had spent the night in the Birmingham home, good sense outweighing tradition in this case. The wedding party got to church 2 hours late.

Mother’s lavish flowers (Calla lilies) and those of her maid of honor, her sister Audrey (carnations), were kept in a tin bucket overnight in their house. At church, their sister Mary Ellen started to play the organ and Audrey and Dorothy started up the aisle. Suddenly Audrey turned around and said, "Dorothy, we forgot our flowers!" They walked back and got them and started up the aisle again. I don't know what our father thought when the ladies turned around, but evidently he did not lose his nerve.

Members of each family were there. The ceremony kicked off a wedding week. After Mass the guests came to the Birmingham home for dinner; they went to the table in shifts (not enough chairs or plates for everybody). Three days later Dorothy and John had a wedding dance in Alta Vista (there was another blizzard), and on Saturday they left on their honeymoon "in an $80 car," mother wrote. They made it, and God bless them. They certainly managed to have a smashing wedding picture.

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5. The children and grandchildren of Dorothy Mae Birmingham and John Victor Frantzen The six children's sibling reunions 2002-2021

Connecting Five Birmingham generations
1. Parents   Patrick W. Birmingham 1803-78
& Bridget O’Keefe 1812-69
2. Children Thomas 1836-1923 & Mary Jane Keenan 1843-93 Parents of Thomas & JamesJames Patrick 1832-1921 & Bridget Sheenan 1835-85
3. Grand-children Rose B. 1874-1972 & James Dempsey 1869-1931 Grandparents of Rose & MartinMartin B. 1869-1946 & Elizabeth Falada 1888-1951
4. Great-g children Mary Eloise Dempsey 1907-83 & John Cornell 1899-1958 Great-g parents of Mary & Dorothy,
Eleanore, and siblings

Dorothy 1910-85 & John Franten 1910-98
Eleanore 1930-2022 & James Kilcoyne 1921-2007
5. Great-g-grand-
Teresa 1931- & Walter Conway Cox 1922-1998 Great-great g parents of Teresa
and the Frantzens at right >
Carmen (1935-2020), Wayne (1937), Mary Ann (1939),
Karen (1944), Allen (1947), Thomas (1952)



[1] The information below was found at St. Mary's Cemetery, in the town of West Union, at Rexville Center on county Route 117, with information dated 2003. Go to

COX, Mary Teresa Cornell , Spouse of Walter C , Born July 3 1931 , Died [ uncut, i.e., still living ] In God We Live. COX, Walter Conway , Spouse of Mary Teresa Cornell , Born Sept 7 1920 , Died May 5 1997 TEC 5 US Army WWII.