Volume 1, Issue 1 August 2001

Ellen O'Brien Pearson  page 1

John Pearson and Ellen O’Brien
Our common ancestors

John Pearson and his wife Ellen O’Brien settled in Yonkers, NY, where they raised their family and where they are both now buried. Their grand children and great grandchildren are scattered across the US, many in Connecticut, New York State, and Florida. Others live in most of the states on the eastern seaboard, and some out West. I have limited information on John Pearson, although I continue to do research. The 1880 Federal Census reports that he and his parents were born in England, where, according to his grand daughter Glare Heffernan Pennell, he worked as a chauffeur of horse drawn carriages. In the 1880 Census in New York (taken June 3, 1880), John listed his occupation as farm laborer. He stated his age as 40, doing the math puts his birth date as late 1839 or early 1840. In 1880, he lived in the 4th ward of Yonkers, Westchester County, NY. By then, he was married to Ellen O’Brien Pearson and had four children Sarah J., Edward, Kate F., and Mary E. (NB: The latter two children are Katherine Foster and Mary Ellen Pearson.) Because John was born in England and Ellen O’Brien in Ireland, as stated on

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1 John Pearson and Ellen O'Brien
1 Update on Genealogy Project Underway
2 Ellen O'Brien
3 The Pearson Children and Their Families
4 Allow me to Introduce Myself
Update on Genealogy Project Underway

Debbie Heffernan Benko
A great great granddaughter

I have been piecing together the O’Brien/ Pearson/Heffernan family tree since 1997, when my Uncle Edward Heffernan gave me a copy of what his Uncle Corney Heffernan had put together years earlier for their branch of the family. Corney was one of John and Ellen’s grandsons. Comey’s younger sister Glare Heffernan Pennell added names and details to the tree, and her younger brother Bill Heffernan later added stories and descriptions of various people.

I am thrilled to share what I have, including the family tree, narratives, pictures, and newsletters.

I have interviewed a number of cousins having a half dozen or so different surnames, and continue to do so as I obtain more names and phone numbers. I have gone to the National Archives in Washington, DC, to look at century old Census records; conducted searches on the Internet; accessed genealogy archive CDs, left queries on message boards on genealogy sites; and found relatives on AOL.

Last summer, I traveled to Yonkers, NY, where the Pearsons, Smiths, Mullens, Birdsalls, Heffernans, and others settled and raised their families. Most of their children were born there, and they and most of their children are buried there at St. Mary’s Cemetery. I took pictures of

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Ellen O'Brien Pearson  page 2

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the Census, I am presuming that they met and were married in the US, most likely in Yonkers.

The 1880 Census listed Ellen’s age prior to June 1, 1880, as being 30 and her occupation as housekeeping She also stated that she and her parents had been born in Ireland.

John is buried under the Pearson tombstone in St. Mary's Cemetery, Yonker's NY.  (See picture).  I couldn't find John in the 1900 NY Census index (soundex), because he died sometime in the 1880’s, leaving Ellen with young children to raise by herself. Glare’s brother Bill Heffernan writes that he never knew his grandfather; who died long before his wife (who died in 1939) and before Bill was born (1923). It is likely that John Pearson died before the 1900 Census.

His wife Ellen is buried with their daughter Mary Ellen Pearson Heffernan and son-in-law Edward Roger Heffernan, Sr. under a Heffernan headstone, also in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Yonkers, NY.

Ellen O’Brien Pearson’s death certificate lists her birthplace as Ireland and that at the time of her death at age 88 on April 8, 1939, she had lived in the US for 65 years, the last 6 months of which had been in Brooklyn, NY, with her daughter Katherine Smith. Again, doing the mat means tat she likely was born in Ireland in 1851 and immigrated from there around 1874. Her parent's names are listed as being Patrick O’Brien and Ellen Riley. According to a memorial book owned by Harriet Birdsall Miele, Helen Smith Birdsall writes, "Nanna died April 8, 1939, Easter Saturday and was buried on Tuesday, April 11, 1939. May she rest in peace. Burial from St. Peter’s Church and waked from Gertrude and Ben’s (Hicks) house. God bless them.

Bill Heffernan writes that his grandmother was all Irish. Ellen O’Brien from County Clare, which is how Glare Heffernan Pennell got her name. According to Bill’s daughter Linda Heffernan and Eileen Landy (Ellen and John’s daughter Mary Ellen’s niece by marriage), Clare reportedly was named after the county in which her grandmother Ellen O'Brien was born. I need to reconcile this with other anecdotal information tat I have (from Clare) that her grandmother was born in Waterford, Ireland.

Bill Heffernan also writes the following: Ma’s mother (referring to Ellen) was always ancient to me. She was probably in her 80’s when I was a kid and lived wit Aunt Kitty Smith in Yonkers. She had a brogue and always seemed to be cold. She stayed wit us for a month or more one summer and complained all the time about all the trees that were outside her window. I had to give up my room for her, and I remember she had a commode, which I did not like. She wasn’t any fun, as I remember, always crabbing about something and wanting to go back to Yonkers.

Grandma, Winsted, CT, at Mary Ellen's House


Ellen O'Brien Pearson  page 3


According to Ann Pennell Cimini, she and her mother Clare Heffernan Pennell traveled to Waterford, Ireland in 1977 and visited the parish church in the city of Waterford, Ireland, looking for information on Ellen.  (They didn't look in the other parishes in Waterford County, although it is unknown whether Ellen came from the City or County of Waterford).  They found 3 families listed with baby girls named Ellen O'Brien around the 1840's (if the information was correct that Ellen O'Brien was born around then).  Anyway, Ellen reportedly had two sisters named Bridget and Maggie (which we are assuming is short for Margaret), which three sets of parents listed also had daughters with those same names.  So Ann and Clare couldn't discern which family was OUR ancestor.


My next projects include gathering more anecdotal information from Pearson descendents.  Please call or email me with stories and pictures.  I need to review the census materials again to identify more about birth dates, immigration dates, etc.  I am eagerly awaiting the Internet debut of immigration data.

I am very curious about John Pearson and wonder if anyone has any stories about him!  A Picture would be a bonus.

I hope to trace Ellen's parents Patrick and Ellen Riley back in Ireland, as well as her two sisters.

the gravestones and have posted them on the Internet on the web site. I met several family members still living in Yonkers and had a wonderful time talking with them and hearing their stories. On a second trip this summer, I traveled to Unionville, CT, where Ellen and John’s daughter Mary Ellen settled with her husband Edward Heffernan and their children.

More recently, I have been exchanging emails and letters with Harriet Birdsall Miele and her sister Suzanne Birdsall Seaman, two of John and Ellen’s great granddaughters. They sent some great pictures of Ellen and the Smith girls, as well as Ellen’s death certificate.

I hope to produce this newsletter a few times a year to keep everyone posted on our family tree and to use it as a conduit for gathering more information.

I am trilled to share all of my work, including the full family tree, narratives and pictures of individuals, and copies of past newsletters. At no cost, I can email JPG files for the pictures so that all of us can maintain the history of these wonderful pictures and text files. For a modest "contribution" to help defray my growing costs, I can mail you copies of these almost 100-year old pictures and a 50-page family history document.

If you know of family members who have not received this newsletter, please contact me with their names and addresses. I’d love to send them one.

Contact me at or call me at (301) 424-1058.

Gertrude, Terry, and Marian Smith

Ellen O'Brien Pearson  page 4


I am Debbie Heffernan Benko, one of John and Ellen's great great granddaughters.  My father is Richard Francis Heffernan, who is the second son of Edward Roger Heffernan Jr. and Madeline Francis Bowler of Unionville, CT.  Edward Jr. is the second son of Edward Heffernan, who married Mary Ellen Pearson, daughter of John Pearson and Ellen O'Brien.   I am 39 years old, have been married 4 years and have a 3 1/2 year old son David and 3 stepchildren, age 25, 17, and 14. 

I am doing this project because I want to preserve our family history on paper.  It also feels wonderful to me to find that after years of moving around the world as part of an insular 4-person Navy family, that I have at least 100 Pearson/O'Brien relations (and more to add).  Lastly, by preserving the names, stories, and images of my ancestors and relations, I feel somehow that they will not be forgotten and that they live on for our children and grandchildren to know.

Mary Ellen Pearson
age 16

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