From Garryharry, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal to Montgomery, Pennsylvania, U.S.A!

Not Just A Chamber Maid…

Matilda (Tillie) Graham Sweeney was one of ten children born to John Sweeney & Matilda Graham of Garrowcarry, Edenacarnan, Co. Donegal.  She was also a granddaughter of James Baxter Sweeney and Fanny Robinson, who were my 2nd great grandparents; of Garryharry, Co. Donegal.

Tillie was born on 17 May 1905; she was the 7th child and the 3rd daughter in the family.  In 1911 the Census revealed that she was a scholar and living at 16 Garrowcarry with her parents and eight of her siblings.  Her older brother Alexander had died prior to the census being taken. 

Matilda Graham Sweeney

Not much is known about Tillie’s life between 1911 and 1929 when I discovered her on the Caledonia’s Ships Manifest.  On 6 Apr 1929 Tillie departed Londonderry; her destination… Philadelphia, USA.  After ten days at sea the Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States recorded her arrival on 16 Apr 1929.  Two of Tillie’s brothers immigrated to the USA as well; however it’s unclear yet if they made the journey before or after Tillie left Ireland.

Matilda Graham Sweeney

Tillie “disappeared” off the grid again until 13 Nov 1935 when I unearthed the U.S. Naturalization Records Indices.  At the age of thirty, and just over six years after her arrival in Pennsylvania; she became a citizen of the U.S.A.   The record revealed that she was living at 8240 Crittenden Street, Philadelphia, PA.

On 4 Sep 1937, two years after being naturalized and eight and a half years after leaving her homeland; Tillie was once again onboard the Caledonian traveling from Londonderry to Philadelphia via New York.  It would seem she was returning from her first trip “back home” since she emigrated.  The record shows she was living on Chestnuthill, Pennsylvania.  The Ships Manifest and List of US Citizens revealed she arrived back in New York on Sept 13, 1937.

Matilda Graham Sweeney

The 1940 US Census revealed that Tillie was a Chamber Maid for the “well to do” Dick Family; and had been working for them since at least 1935.  The record also showed that she had worked for 72 hours the prior week and had earned $884 US Dollars that year.  Her salary was the equivalent of $14,826.70 today; a paltry sum when working 72 hour work weeks.

Matilda Graham Sweeney

For reasons that I will never know Tillie remained single for the duration of her life.  The US Social Security Death Indices recorded that she passed away in the Fall of 1971.  Her last known residence was 19117 Elkins Park, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, USA.

Matilda Graham Sweeney was not only a Chamber Maid; she was a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter and aunt; she had family who loved her.  I will always wonder if her life was as she had hoped; I will remember her.

About CJ Murdoch

Looking For "Dead People"! My Journey Back In Time - Tracing my ancestors and researching the counties, cities and towns where they resided. Taking a “Glimpse” into their lives and stories and the times in which they lived; all in an effort to learn about their “Dash”! “I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of his friend. He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning – to the end. He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the second with tears, but he said that what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.” I have always been interested in researching my family tree and “hanging out” in cemeteries. Like most of us... I didn't ask enough questions when elderly family were still living. Oh, what I would give for 24 hours and a camera with my ancestors… just to sit and listen! I'm researching many family lines, including: Murdoch, Wilson, Berry, Love, Scott, Beattie/Beatty, Hendren, Sweeney, Robinson and Elvin; just to name a few. My families are predominantly from counties Antrim, Donegal and Londonderry. However, it seems that many of them, both maternal and paternal lines, originally hailed from Co. Donegal. I was born and raised in Northern Ireland and now live in Ottawa, Canada, making frequent trips back home to visit with my family. Of course those visits also include treks to the many burial grounds of my ancestors. My most recent trip back home was during the summer of 2019! Looking forward to August of 2020 when I will return. If you are interested in help tracing your ancestors I’d love to hear from you!
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2 Responses to From Garryharry, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal to Montgomery, Pennsylvania, U.S.A!

  1. James Harvey says:

    What a lovely post — and memorial to what seems to have been your grand aunt. Thank you.

    I have several aunts,on both sides of my family, who came to the U.S. from Donegal in the 1920s. They either married and “kept house,” while often working for caterers in big Philadelphia Main Line Homes, or they lived in the homes of the wealthy (think of the two Philadelphia stockbrokers in the movie “Trading Places”) while working as cooks or maids.

    The aunts who lived as servants in the homes of the wealthy were invariably single. Was it a requirement that they be single? I’m not sure. It might have been. It was certainly the case that all the inducements would have been for these wealthy people to hire single women. Why take on room and board responsibilities for a husband or children? That may help explain why this beautiful young woman Tillie remained single her entire life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • CJ Murdoch says:

      James, thank you for your response it gives another perspective on Tillie’s life. I had Googled the street names she lived on and, as you mentioned; they are beautiful big homes. Tillie is my 1st cousin 2x removed and I wish I had known her. Just last summer I visited the home of my Sweeney’s in Donegal… there grandfather and my great grandmother were siblings; so they are the nephews and nieces of Tillie. I was welcomed as if they had always know me; it was a truly wonderful experience. I hope to see them this summer when I go back home to visit again! Thanks for reading!


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