Peter Francis Farrell & family at the Lepe, Hants coastguard station.
Peter Francis Farrell & family at the Lepe, Hants coastguard station.

At the age of 15, in the year 1870, Peter Francis Farrell was taken by his mother, Marianne, to the British Royal Navy's recruiting office in Dublin, Ireland where he was signed up for 13 years service. There is no record to suggest that he ever returned home or saw his mother again. The navy became his life until he married and transferred to the coastguard service, being stationed at a number of bases along the English south coast. Peter never talked much about what he could remember of his early years in Dublin, but he did tell a grandson, my father, that an ancestral Farrell had been a 'Gentleman', originating from County Longford; that horses were involved; and that at least one of his 'uncles',  named John, had "emigrated to America, joined the Army and fought in the Civil War,  becoming an officer". Nothing more had been heard of John since. 

Patrick Farrell, Gentleman.
Patrick Farrell, Gentleman.

Research has since determined that a Patrick Farrell, born circa 1789 had been a 'Smith', probably involved mainly in the shoeing of horses in his early days, but the business had  expanded to include all types of ‘metal working’, plus bell hanging. Patrick senior’s standing in the community had also grown, as confirmed by his listing in Dublin's 1861 Almanac of Nobility, Gentry, Merchants & Traders! We had our family's association with horses and our "Gentleman"! Further research identified a son, also Patrick, father of our Peter Francis, as being active in the business. No trace of "Uncle John" was found, but good Irish catholic couples in those days had large families, often spanning twenty or more years and he could therefore have been a brother to either of the Patricks, Junior or Senior. 

4 Harcourt Place, Dublin (centre with archway) 'Gentleman' Patrick Farrell's home. The archway led to a large workshop and yard at the rear.
4 Harcourt Place, Dublin (centre with archway) 'Gentleman' Patrick Farrell's home. The archway led to a large workshop and yard at the rear.

One of my "extremely high confidence", 4th-6th cousin DNA matches is a lady in the USA (let's call her Anne) and when I made contact she was very excited about it all. Apparently she had been using Ancestry.com to try and find her 2x great grandfather, a John Farrell, but to no avail. Given the closeness of our DNA results, we agreed initially that her John Farrell could well be my "Uncle John", but we had no means of proving so. The story in her family was that their Irish born John had appeared in a small Iowa town circa 1975 and married a local girl in 1880, when he was supposedly aged about 27. She gave birth to a son in 1881, but in November 1884 the marriage was annulled, by which time John had already left town and no one knew what happened to him thereafter. Otherwise he was believed to have had associations with New York and had a drinking problem. Anne was keen to find out what sort of life he had lived subsequently and whether he might have returned to Ireland, possibly to take part in that country's civil uprising. We also had to consider the possibility that he re-married. In order to progress the investigation, I decided first to proceed with the assumption that Uncle John did indeed serve in the American Civil War and came up with the following information.

Typical Civil War Union Force members
Typical Civil War Union Force members

On the 14th July 1862, the SS ‘City of New York’ docked in New York harbour, one of its passengers being a John Farrell aged 21, labourer, accompanied by 18 year old Johanna Farrell, 'spinster', the pair probably being brother and sister. For young Irish people to emigrate at an early age was quite common, the men to find work and women to find husbands. At that time Ellis Island had not yet opened its doors as the main point of immigration for people from Europe and it is highly likely that on disembarking from the ship John and Johanna were directed to the processing centre at Castle Garden (now Castle Clinton) where according to a historian, “Recruiters for the Union Army waited outside and offered bounties to immigrants for their service. Many potential soldiers hoped to send money back to their families in Ireland, and so signed the recruitment papers and entered military service”.

Just imagine, you are aged twenty-one, have just spent weeks in very uncomfortable conditions below decks on an overcrowded ship, have no job or accommodation to go to, and someone offers you immediate shelter, food and a bed, plus money in your pocket! Many would have signed the papers immediately, all completely unaware of the horrors of warfare that awaited them, but perhaps the Farrell siblings decided first to try their luck in the city. Not for long however, because it is on record that in August a John Farrell from Ireland signed up to serve in the newly forming K Company of the 140th New York Infantry Regiment (Volunteer) which, following basic training became official on the 13th September 1862. Coming from a ‘good’ family John had undoubtedly received at least a basic education and was able to read and write, unlike many of his fellow recruits, especially poor Irish immigrants. It would be no surprise to learn, therefore, that he was useful for clerical work in the newly formed regiment’s administration.


The 140th New York first served in the Provisional Brigade, Casey's Division in the defensive fortifications around Washington, DC. In November the regiment was reassigned to the V Corps, 2nd Division, 3rd Brigade of the Army of the Potomac and saw action at most of the major campaigns and engagements in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, including Gettysburg, until cessation of hostilities. In the winter camp at Beverly Ford 1863-64, the regiment was outfitted as Zouaves, in flamboyant uniforms patterned after elite French army units which had earned military glory in the 1850s, "awarded" to the 140th in recognition of the regiment's great record. Throughout 1865 the 140th New York was present or active in The Battle of Hatcher's Run and the Appomattox Campaign to close out the war. In May the regiment marched to Washington DC and participated in the Grand Review of May 23, 1865. On June 3, the 140th was mustered out near Alexandria, VA.


The regiment suffered terrible losses during the war and only 245 of its original members answered to its final muster, among them Sergeant John Farrell, promoted at some stage of the war as a non- commissioned officer. For John to have survived, whilst a majority of his mates were either killed or badly injured, would suggest that he indeed was a member of the adjutant general’s staff, though never far from the action. Clerks and cooks in the civil war often had to take up their rifles and defend HQ in some very bloody skirmishes. The war left psychological wounds that for many of the veterans were never to heal.


So there we have a John Farrell, who went to the USA, joined the army, fought in the civil war and became an "officer", just as Peter Francis Farrell told his grandson some 60 years later. Could there have been another John Farrell, with a similar history, and what about Johanna? Yes, of course there could have been. Both names were very common. As for Johanna, well four years before she left home with John, in 1858 Peter Francis had acquired a sister, whose parents Patrick and Marianne Farrell baptised Joanna and there was a custom of naming children progressively after parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles etc etc. Does all this constitute proof? No, but there is more to come.

Frankford Post office today.
Frankford Post office today.

Following his demobilisation, Sergeant John Farrell probably returned to New York and remained there for a few years, perhaps qualifying for government employment in recognition of his war service. Indeed US Post Office records for New York in the 1870 census included a number of Farrells as messengers, clerks etc and our John may well have been one of them, because soon after that he must have travelled north to Missouri where in 1872 he was listed as a post office appointee in Bowling Green, Pike, St Louis. Then a year later in 1873 he appeared in the ‘US Register of Civil, Military and Naval Service’, a bi-annual publication that listed all government employees, as the Postmaster for Frankford, Pike County, just to the north of Bowling Green. There John met Joseph McCune of McCune Station, another Post Office employee and subsequently was introduced to McCune’s daughter Mollie, whom he courted and married on the 19th June 1875. According to associated McCune family trees, a son, Edward, was born within that same year, though no details are available. The possibility of it having been a ‘shotgun’ marriage cannot therefore be discounted.


Life would have been looking good for John and Mollie Farrell, with a secure government job, and baby son, but shortly afterwards John must have lost his job, because he no longer appeared in Post Office records and from 1875 to 1882/3, no further children arrived, suggesting that John and Mollie might have separated. Why could that have been the case? For any number of reasons, naturally, but in the light of what was to happen later, it is important to mention that after the war, along with many other veterans, John would have had difficulty in re-adapting to civilian life, particularly in view of the horrors that he experienced, with Americans out to maim or kill fellow Americans in the name of a cause. Forgetting didn’t come easily and many turned to drink in order to blank out the awful memories, as a result making things difficult for their families and others. It is well within the realms of possibility, therefore, that John Farrell had a drinking problem that cost him his job and caused a major family fall out. Another possibility is that John heard that big money was available on railway projects up north and decided to work away from home for a few years. If so, where did he go and what did he do?

We now return to the Iowa Farrells and the John Farrell who, circa 1875, appeared in a small Iowa town not far from the border with Missouri, in fact only two hundred and ninety-two miles north-west of Bowling Green. All that was known of him was that he had been born in Ireland and had spent time in New York, a place that he liked very much. There he met a young lady we will call "Mary" and after a long ‘courtship’ they were married in July 1880.  Sixteen months passed before a son was born, in November 1881, suggesting that John and Mary were ‘co-habiting’ at least until the February of that year but a descendant believes that cohabitation ceased before the child was born. Indeed, in all probability they remained separated thereafter and in November 1884 Mary obtained an annulment.


Although confirmed as having been notified, John did not appear at the ‘trial’ and did not defend. The court found that Mary’s allegations were true and that she was entitled to the “relief prayed for”. The marriage was declared “dissolved, null and void and of no effect”. Custody of the child was given to Mary and within 4 months she was re-married.


According to family lore, something happened which turned the very short marriage into an absolute disaster, with Mary subsequently attempting to expunge John from the records and only allowing him to see his son once thereafter. The latter, in later life, sadly used to say that whenever he was in a crowd for some reason, he would hope to see his father. He didn’t and nor did anyone else, ever. John Farrell just dropped out of sight, although one story had it that he returned to Ireland and fought in the 1916 rebellion against the British government. A search of records has found no evidence to support such a possibility.


Did John have 'another life’ which came to light and did Mary react violently as a consequence, as might be expected? Or did John get involved with another woman once Mary was pregnant? Or did Mary change significantly once married, or pregnant, and John simply left home? One of a hundred reasons could apply. However, one of his Iowa descendants recalls it being said that John had a drinking problem and that he used to hurt Mary in fights, leading eventually to her brothers taking a stand and telling him to leave. But would that have been sufficient reason never to let him see his son again and virtually to expunge him from the records, as apparently happened?

Let's pause for a moment and review what we have.

Firstly we have John Farrell from Ireland, who became an 'officer' in the Union Army and fought in the civil war: afterwards lived in New York: joined the Post Office; moved to Missouri as a Postmaster; married and had a son; then in 1875 seemingly lost his job and separated from his wife.

Secondly, in 1875 a John Farrell turns up in Iowa; marries a local girl in 1880; has a son in 1881; then by 1882/3 is no longer around and the marriage is subsequently annulled, consistent with cases of bigamy.

Could the two John Farrells have been one and the same person? The dates fit certainly, but whereas we have a DNA match that probably connects Iowa John to our family, we only have circumstantial evidence that links Missouri John via the civil war story. But let's move on.

Mollie Farrell's application in Missouri for a war widow's pension dated 31 Dec. 1898.
Mollie Farrell's application in Missouri for a war widow's pension dated 31 Dec. 1898.

Back in Bowling Green, Missouri there is no evidence to prove that John and Mollie Farrell ceased co-habiting between 1875 and 1882/3, or that he lost his job and had to go away. There could be various reasons why Mollie Farrell did not give birth again until August 1883, which was to a second son namely Forrest Sissons Farrell, conception having taken place presumably in December 1882. That he was spending more time at home from 1882 onwards is confirmed by the arrival of a daughter, Nellie Mary, in 1885 and a third son, Henry Clark Farrell, in 1888. 

However, if the Farrells of Bowling Green were a happy family unit as the 19th century neared its end, unfortunately bad times were to come, because between 1892 and 1898, John Farrell died, leaving Mollie with a relatively young family to raise. How John had been making a living and in what sort of financial situation he left Mollie, we don’t know, but in December 1898 she made application for a Civil War widow’s pension, referring to the “New York Volunteers” as his regiment. Following John’s death, Mollie Farrell ran a rooming house in Boone County for a number of years and died in 1920. Forrest Sissons Farrell moved to Texas and worked as a sales manager. Younger brother Henry Clark Farrell moved to Oklahoma.  Nellie Farrell married a Richard Joseph Klohr, had two sons, John Farrell Klohr who died young and Richard J Klohr. Nellie died in 1983, aged ninety-eight.


Finally, in the course of further checking of my DNA matches, I came across a 'good confidence' 5th cousin relationship with a lady known only as 'DM' and in studying her family tree I discovered that her great grandmother was none other than Nellie Farrell, finally confirming that in all probability our two John Farrells were one and the same! And if the reader is not convinced, how about this for a further piece of irony - John and Mollie Farrell's youngest son was given Mary's maiden name, presumably Uncle John's idea, not Mollie's!

D.N.A. (Do Not Ask!) - It gets very complicated!


This whole investigation of John Farrell’s life since his departure from Ireland circa 1862 has arisen as a result of DNA testing and two matches, one ‘extremely high’, the other just ‘moderate’. Before proceeding to summarise therefore, it is important to justify both as being relative to the exercise.  

In respect of my 4th – 6th cousin match with Anne of Iowa, we are supposed to share 3 x great grandparents, effectively with John being my 2 x great grand uncle, brother of Patritious. But with regard to my 5th – 8th cousin match with ‘DM’ we share 4 x great grandparents, in which case John would be my 3 x great grand uncle, brother of Patrick Farrell Senior. However, Ancestry.com consistently advises DNA enthusiasts that no match results can be relied on 100% to identify relatives and even extremely high confidence matches can be wrong. However, they also say that if a supposed DNA match has a tree in which a name also matches, then the odds for success improve significantly. If we take Ancestry.com advice with respect to relationship parameters in its widest sense, then both Anne and ‘DM’ could be my 5th or 6th cousins. As we are repeatedly told, there can be major variances in readings between individuals and families. The Irish Farrell family story points very strongly to John being Patritious Farrell’s brother and uncle to my great grandfather Peter Francis, tieing in completely to the civil war connection.


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