We're going to go back in time, as is only logical, to look at Emma Anna (Murphy) (Regan) Shaw, my great-great grandmother, and most frustrating brick wall. She lived most of her life (at least from 1888 until the 1930's or 1940's) in Middleborough, Massachusetts.
28 February 1970 - Harrison Shaw's death certificate lists his mother's place of birth as Nova Scotia
2 October 1951 - The first and final accounting of Emma's estate is filed by Harrison
4 May 1945 - Petition for administration of Emma's estate is filed by Harrison. Emma died intestate (without a Will).
17 Mar 1945 - Emma's obituary in the Taunton Daily Gazette gives the same information as her death certificate, below
14 March 1945 - Emma dies in Taunton State Hospital. Her death certificate says:
84 years, 1 month
Birthplace: Portland, Maine
Father's: England, John P. Murphy
Mother's: Scotland, Mary A. Frasher
2 April 1933 - Emma's husband, Erastus Shaw, dies in Taunton State Hospital.
1930 U.S. Census - Middleboro, MA, Emma A. Shaw, age 67, born in Maine, parents born in Canada
1920 U.S. Census - Middleboro, MA, Emma A. Shaw, age 59, born in Maine, parents born in Canada
7 October 1910 - Emma appears on the front page of the Middleboro Gazette in an article about charges of assault (in which she was the defendant!). Yes, my great-great grandmother attacked her neighbor. She "biffed him" in the head with a jug.
1910 U.S. Census - Middleboro, MA, Annie E. Shaw, age 45, born in Massachusetts, parents born in Massachusetts. In this census, she is also noted as having had 2 children, with only 1 living (my great-grandpa, Harrison Shaw).
So far I have yet to find a birth and/or death for a child of this family between 1900 and 1910. I'm pretty sure a neighbor gave this information.
1909 - Emma A. Shaw as grantor, book 1022, page 153, Plymouth County Register of Deeds.
1905 - Emma and Erastus grant land to Ruth Bliss, book 914, page 562, Plymouth County Register of Deeds.
1900 U.S. Census - Middleboro, MA, E. Anna Shaw, age 38, born in Maine, father born in England, mother born in Scotland (like the death certificate)
1897-1899 Middleboro Directories - Emma appears on her own in as owner of a variety store and "dining room" at 143 Plymouth Street, also her home.
1890 Middleborough Directory - Mrs. E.B. Shaw, Occupation: Variety story, Location: Plymouth, E. (as in Plymouth Street in Middleboro)
Family rumors place Emma's store in Cambridge or the surrounding area. We have no idea why. Nothing has been found in Cambridge or area directories for an Emma Shaw. She might have owned a shop under her first husband's surname (Regan). We've not found an Emma, Anna, Annie, E. Annie, E. Anna, or E. A. Regan in directories either.
We don't know her first husband's first name, under which it is possible such a store existed. I've searched Regans (and all sorts of spelling variations) for deaths in Massachusetts between 1880 and 1888 (when Emma married Erastus at the age of 25). Nothing found yet.
9 May 1889 - Her son, Harrison Clifford Shaw (my great-grandpa) is born 6 months after their marriage (so she was in Middleboro at least 3 months prior to her marriage, unless Harrison was quite premature. But the likelihood of a preemie surviving back then was pretty low). His birth certificate says that "Emma A. Reagion" was born in Maine.
So on we go with Maine, right? You might wonder why I think that she was born in Nova Scotia, when reference to NS only comes up twice - for the second (and final) time in my great-grandfather's death certificate in 1970, and for the first time in:
17 November 1888 - Marriage certificate/record/register (in Middleborough, MA) for Erastus B. Shaw and Emma A. Regan. The original handwritten register indicates that her maiden name is Murphy.
It was the second marriage for both parties. Emma gives her birth as 25 years old, her birthplace as Nova Scotia, her father's name as Patrick Murphy and her mother's name as Mary ____.
A search of the 1880 and 1870 censuses for Maine and Massachusetts give me nothing. I've tried so many variations - not just in naming, but in searching. I've looked for Murphy born in all the places mentioned, throughout the entire census. There is a slim possibility here or there, but nothing that screams, "Hi, I am your family!"
I've also tried the 1881 Canadian census and found "potentials" but, again, nothing to fit the known facts.
So this is when I must stretch into the unknown and unanticipated.
I've gone a step back to 1860 in Maine and Massachusetts, to try to find a John Patrick Murphy and wife Mary Ann, but so far I haven't turned up what seems like the correct family.
So between 1888 and 1945, Emma's life is pretty well-documented. She was in Middleborough for most of it. Before that, she is nowhere.
Well, she's somewhere.
I'm just not sure if it's on this planet.