Saturday, May 31, 2014

Introducing... The REAL Frank Cullen, Sr.

Before reading this post, I suggest that you read my original post about Frank Cullen, Sr. It is here: 

Ok, now that you're dying of curiosity, I will reveal how I found Mr. Cullen. And by Mr. Cullen, I mean Mr. Iliff. Did you say Iliff? How do you even say Iliff? 

I began looking for my 3rd great-grandfather approximately 4 years ago. I looked in the usual ways that you look for a man who died 75-100 years ago. Census records, marriage records, death records, city directories, photos, letters, postcards, address books, etc. You'd think that somewhere there would be a tangible clue. As I mentioned in my previous blog post (written over a year ago I might add), there wasn't a shred of evidence that Mr. Frank Cullen even existed. I was beginning to believe that Mary Jane Cullen made him up. Oh, but she did!

I'm getting ahead of myself again... 

Back in February, I was going down the old road again of looking for Frank. I decided to look backward by Mary Jane's city directory listings in Cincinnati. She was listed in Cincinnati as Mary Jane Quinn until 1878, and then drops off the planet until she shows up in Detroit as the widow of Frank Cullen in 1889. What happened during that 11 year gap? The other issue with Mary Jane is that her census records for 1880 & 1900 are nowhere to be found. 

Or so I thought. I decided to cross reference Mary Jane's mother's 1880 address of 93 Smith from the Cincinnati directory with 93 Smith in the 1880 US federal census. That took many hours considering the pages & pages of handwritten census records that jumped between streets & city blocks fairly randomly. What I found was this:
Quinn, Martha, White, Female, Age 59, widowed, Housekeeper - from England, with parents both from England. Well right there, I was skeptical that Martha Quinn was Mary Jane's mother Margianna. Her name isn't Martha, although it's similar. And all previous records have shown that she was born in Ireland or New York and that her parents are from Ireland. So I almost ignored the next record, which is:

Sliff, Mollie, White, Female, Age 26, Daughter, Widowed, born in Ohio, parents born in England.  

Then I thought that I might as well investigate. Maybe I'd find something interesting, if not Mary Jane's story, someone's story. 

So I searched Mollie Sliff, Mollie Iliff, and many other variations of the spelling since the handwriting isn't easily deciphered. And then Mary Jane Iliff, Sliff, etc.

Here's what I found on (which by the way has some records that doesn't. So I do always check with Family Search if I can't find what I'm looking for on

Michigan Marriages 
Detroit, Michigan
Dec 5, 1878
Frank Iliff - White - Cincinnati Ohio - 25 - (profession is illegible)
Mary Jane Quin - White - Cincinnati Ohio - 25

So, I'm putting the pieces together. Mary Jane married a man named Frank Iliff. That's where "Frank" came from. They got married in Detroit. They both lived in Cincinnati at the time. What took them over 250 miles north to Detroit? This was prior to the Interstate system of course. Even today it would take over 20 hours by train. Was she pregnant? Not that I can tell. Frank's brother Elmer was born in 1881, 3 years later. It's possible she was pregnant and lost the baby, but I don't have any evidence of that. Maybe they eloped. Neither the Cincinnati or Detroit newspapers (that are digitally searchable from my computer) have record of a marriage announcement. So maybe they did elope. Regardless of why, they got married. 

And this is weird. They got married 5 years to the day before their son Frank Cullen was born. It was already strange that Frank Cullen & his future wife Viola Marmaduke were both born on December 5, 1883, but now it's even more weird that Frank's parents were married exactly 5 years earlier. Especially considering the mystery surrounding Frank's father... I feel like this is significant...

Anyway, so I found him. I found Frank Cullen... I mean, Frank Iliff.

It took me a bit to get over the fact that I found him before the questions started rolling in. Just when I thought I had enough questions regarding my family history... 

Why was Mary Jane calling herself Mollie Iliff 2 years later - not to mention calling herself a widow? 
Did Frank & Elmer know their father's name was Iliff? 
Are there birth certificates out there for Elmer Iliff & Frank Iliff? 
Was Mary Jane out in Detroit calling herself the widow of Frank Cullen when Frank Iliff was still alive? 
Why all the secrets?

I probably had even more questions. This is just fascinating! 

So, I did find out a couple of things that I think are interesting...

Now that I had a name, my mom & I started going through Frank Cullen's postcards & date books, which include a lot of addresses. After searching a while, we found an address in his date book for a C. Iliff at 958 Hatch Street Cincinnati in 1905. It matches up with Frank Iliff's brother's address in 1905 in the Cincinnati city directory. Not only that, but the city directories show that Frank & Mary Jane Iliff lived together on Hatch Street in the 1880s. CRAZY! So did Frank know that this C. Iliff was his uncle? Did he know that his father's last name wasn't Cullen? It was really surreal to see the name Iliff written in Frank Cullen's beautiful penmanship. I wonder what his emotions were toward this man when he wrote his address. I wonder if he ever wrote to C. Iliff. Are there postcards out there right now that a grandchild of C. Iliff has kept? 

It drives me crazy to think that there may be answers out there to these questions. I just don't have enough hours in the day or money in the bank to put toward finding out! 

To answer another of my questions... Yes, I did find out that Mary Jane moved herself, her mother, and her young boys to Detroit Michigan around 1889. It was in Detroit that she began using the surname Cullen. Where she got the name, I have yet to find out, but you better believe I'm working on it! During that time, Frank Iliff was living in Cincinnati as a soap salesman, and ended up living in Columbus, Ohio, where he died in 1908. His obituary is a bit curious as well. 
ILIFF: Frank Iliff. suddenly, at Columbus. Ohio. Saturday. July 11. Funeral Monday, July 18. at 2 p.m. from J. J. Gilligan's mortuary chapel. 315 E. Eighth st. Remains to be cremated. Relatives and friends invited without further notice.
Since he was cremated, I doubt that there is a gravestone or memorial for him anywhere in Cincinnati. It does appear that he was taken to Cincinnati after his death for the funeral by someone. I need to order his death certificate. I also need to find out if there are birth certificates for Elmer & Frank under the name Iliff. 

This story leaves me to wonder many things, but mainly I wonder what happened between Frank & Mary Jane. Why did she leave Cincinnati and her husband? Why did she change her name? Did the boys have any contact with Frank after they left? Did they know he died in 1908? 

The best part about this is that I am able to share the story with my grandmother & mom. I wish my great-grandmother Mary Cullen (Frank's daughter) was still living so that I could talk to her about it. My mom & grandma and I agree that she probably did not know any of this. She was the type to dish the dirt about things like this. I wonder what she would've said if she found out that her name shouldn't have ever been Cullen. 

We are planning a Fall trip to Cincinnati to hopefully uncover more about the Iliffs. The Iliff family is well documented on, so I am hopeful that we will even meet someone from this previously unknown branch of the tree. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning of the story...