Edith Alice’s move to America led to broken family relationships. We don’t know our Irish or English cousins and they don’t know us. So maybe love does not conquer all, which makes Edith’s tombstone a little heartbreaking to read at first.

Photo of Edith Alice’s tombstone, Wallkill Cemetery, Middletown, New York, from a family visit to her grave in 2017

July 14, 1867 – Jan 7, 1916
Aged 48 Years
Youngest Daughter of the late
Dean of Lismore Co. Waterford

Our Irish grandma Edith Alice descended from a distinguished family and she wanted everyone to remember it, including her granddaughters Dorothy (Mom) and her older sister Alice who both passed along her story to my generation, my brother and sister and cousin Chip. Poor widow Edith Alice, fallen from a Kelly green Eden to live with her adult children in a small frame house near the railroad tracks in Middletown, New York, while her sisters were living in country estates and a fancy London neighborhood. Irish Cinderella. That’s one way to look at it.

Here’s another. How many people name their father on their tombstone? Edith Alice did. She named her father and his title on her tombstone proudly claiming a relationship that was severed long before she died. 

In light of Mona’s feminist take (see previous post), I can also read the tombstone as an act of defiance against a disowning family, a claim written in stone to be remembered now over 100 years later.

Remember me you Broughams?

My great grandma left a grudge for the ages. I believe that is some sort of Irish heritage right there. Good for you Edith Alice.

But is this right? Edith Alice’s obituary mentions one surviving brother John R. Brougham (1857-1923), the industrialist, and her two sisters, Mrs. Kate Lloyd (1852-1924) who married the artist and Mrs. Lucy Hobson (1863-1942), of London, which suggests that she kept up correspondence with some of her siblings. Edith was perhaps not entirely banished from family memory, after all she had something in common with her brothers and sisters who also left Ireland, all Anglo Irish orphans or sorts. Maybe her tombstone is meant to recall fonder family correspondence?

Why claim her father and not her husband? Where was John Prendergast, the once dashing groom in all this? Edith’s obituary states that they were married in 1895 (not 1894, as their actual marriage record indicates), but nothing else. What happened?

We know from a Kennebec County, Directory that Edith Alice and John were living in Augusta, Maine in 1905-1906. We also know from her obituary that Edith, moved to Middletown New York in early 1911.

According to my mother, John Francis Prendergast left his wife and children. In fact his son, originally born John, refused to go by his father’s first name and used the name Reginald instead. John must have left the family sometime between 1906 and 1911.

Family photo of Edith Alice Prendergast (Brougham), ca. 1914. This is in our family possession along with a photo of similar format depicting her son Reginald Henry Prendergast (1895-1958) dressed in WWI military uniform. 

Edith Alice is about 47 years old in the photo above, by living in Middletown, New York with her adult son and daughter. Despite her age she looks like a choirboy with the lace collar and short haircut. She attended Grace Episcopal Church in Middletown. She has a serious gaze and is not smiling. She seems to be expressing what? Sorrow? Fright? 

John Francis Prendergast absconded between 1905 and 1911. Searching for a death record I found a few other John Prendergast deaths from about that time in Maine but I can not verify them. Our family record book, kept by Reginald Henry Prendergast (1895-1958), Edith’s son, lists John’s birth date but does not mention a death date.  

John Prendergast would have been 37 years old in 1905, 10 years short of the US male average for that year. The Ford Model T was introduced in 1908 and men who made their living with horses were looking at diminishing employment. What actually happened?

When and how he died is still to me a mystery and as it turns out so are his origins.