Sunday, April 27, 2014

G2 Grandparents Catherine Brady (1866-1944)and Joseph Alexander Knowles

Joseph (Pa Joe) Alexander Knowles was born on July 30th, 1860 in Rock Sound, on Eluthera Island, Bahamas. His parents were William H. Knowles (1825-1893) and Bethea Symonette (1823-1863). From this info, we can gather that Joseph's mother died when he was just 2 years old. It appears Joseph was the last child between William and Bethea, but it is possible she died in childbirth along with another child. This is just conjecture. The cause of her death is not known. She would have been 40. (Note: this info is from other researchers. A trip to the archives in the Bahamas is required to find more information.)

Joseph was the last of 7 children. He had three older brothers: William, Henry, and John, and three sisters: Eliza Ann, Letitia, and Martha. No info can be found on Martha after her baptism. It is possible she did not survive. Letitia died at age 19 in the Bahamas.

At age [14], Joseph immigrated to Florida in 1875, according to the 1900 census, to join older brothers William, Henry, and John. [What is odd is that it appears the father William stayed behind in the Bahamas. One researcher states that Joseph was raised by his older brother, Henry. However, it is proven that the grandfather Joseph Knowles immigrated, or was at least visiting, to Key West. He is found in the 1880 census living with William and Joseph and their wives. He is listed as being a farmer.] Each brother owned 130 acres of land on No Name Key under the Homestead Act passed by Congress in 1862. Henry later gave Joseph 60 acres of original land grant on which he farmed sweet potatoes, limes, sapodillas, and burning wood for charcoal. The vegetables, fruit, and charcoal were all sold in Key West and transported by sail boat. Joseph was also an active sponge fisherman and continued to be until his eyesight began to fail later in life (Johnson).

On April 2, 1880, when Joseph was 18, he married 14 year-old Catherine (Ma Catty) Brady.

Also from Rock Sound, Catherine (born February 10th, 1866) was the daughter of Robert Bell Brady and Elizabeth Knowles. It is likely Catherine and Joseph were related on the Knowles side somehow, but I have not been able to prove a link yet. Note Catherine married before her 20 year old sister Sarah and 18 year old brother Robert, Jr., just to give some family context. Marrying this young was not a routine thing for this family.

On June 25th, 1880, Joseph and Catherine are found living with his oldest brother William and his wife Susan. His grandfather Joseph was also there. It is not clear whether he lived with them or was just over from the Bahamas visiting.

The day after the census was taken, Joseph applied for US citizenship by filing his "First Intentions" on June 26, 1880, but did not follow through at the end of the five year waiting period.

In May of 1885, Joseph and Catherine have a child, a son Robert. This son exists during the 1885 census, taken in June, but ultimately does not survive. It is not known at this time how long Robert lived. This census shows that Joseph was a seaman. They lived on William Street.

The 1900 census is an important one for Joseph and Catherine. It shows that they had a total of 9 children, but only 3 were living: Rosie (10), Joseph Leeburg (Dodie) (8), and Kathleen (5). This is incredibly heartbreaking. How sad to lose 6 children in the first twenty years of marriage. This means that Robert, found in the 1885 census wasn't their first. Unfortunately, the other children's names are not known. They are most likely buried in the Key West cemetery along the fence, where most of the infants were buried at that time.

This 1900 census shows them living in a district of Key Matecumbe, which I am guessing is No Name Key near Big Pine. Pa Joe is listed as a sponge fisherman. Dodie and Rosie are in school.

Between 1900 and 1910, Joe and Ma Catty have two more living children, William (b. 1902) and my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Grandma Libby) (b. 1909). According to the 1910 census, they will have another child that does not survive, giving them a total of 12 children, only 5 who lived.

On July 7, 1905, their oldest child, Rosie, married Bahamian-born William Roberts. Rosie was 16 when they married, about the same age Ma Catty was when she married Joseph.

We find them again in 1910. At this time, they are back in Key West, though it is not for sure where. Pa Joe is still sponging. Rosie, her husband William, and their two oldest children, Camille (age 4) and Norwood (age 2) are also living with them. Rosie's husband is also listed as a sponger.

Joseph Alexander "Pa Joe" Knowles

In 1917, at age 57, Joseph filed another Declaration of Intention.

In this document, we learn that Joseph was not a particularly tall man. At 5'8", he was only an inch taller than me, his great-great granddaughter. He had gray hair and brown eyes.

Catherine Brady "Ma Catty" Knowles

According to their granddaughter, Phyllis Matcovich Johnson, Joseph and Catherine continued to reside in No Name until the 60 acre tract was sold to land speculators in the 1920's. The famous real estate bust occured shortly after the land was sold and the down payment was the only money ever recived, (although the land was later repurchased at a tax deed sale in the 1940's).

The 1920's census shows Joseph and Catherine, as well as their children William (age 17) and my Grandma Libby (age 10), living with William and Rosie Roberts and their children Camille, Norwood, Myrell, Joseph, and baby Bert Austin at 1313 Pine Street. William Roberts is listed as being a mate on a steam ship. Joseph and his son William are listed as fishermen.

1927-1928 city directory shows they still lived at 1313 Pine Street.

Catherine "Ma Catty" and Joseph Alexander "Pa Joe" Knowles

Since the 1930's census cannot be found for them, we lose them until 1935. This census shows them living at the house they purchased on 1 Polaski Street. Catherine, having never had to work outside the home (that we know of), is working as a stripper in the cigar factory. Her job would have been to strip the tobacco leaves to be dried for rolling. Joseph is listed as a seaman, but his health would most likely have been failing at that point.

Pa Jo dies just a couple days after Ma Catty's 72nd birthday, on February 12th, 1938 from complications due to cancer and chronic encephalitis. Encephalitis is a disease of the brain which causes seizures. No one really knows a definitive cause; it could be contracted from the herpes virus or the shingles/chicken pox virus. In any case, Pa Joe's last years would have been rather painful and difficult to endure.

Joseph's obit was not legible enough to print from the microfiche, but these are the details:

Joseph A. Knowles, age 73, dies at home Saturday night at 8:45 pm at 1 Polaski St. The funeral was held on Feb. 14th, at 4:30 pm at Ley Memorial Church. He left his wife, children, 19 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren. 

In February of 1940, she submitted her Declaration of Intention. It states she had gray eyes and gray hair, was 5'7" and weighed 120 lbs. The April, 1940 census shows Catherine at age 74 living alone in their house on Polaski Street. She no longer had an occupation.

Senile, she became ill with endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart, the endocardium, which is caused by an infection and usually involves the heart valves, on December 29th, 1943. She was attended by the doctor until January 2nd. Shortly before midnight on January 3rd, 1944, she died. They are buried together in the Key West Cemetery.

Their legacy summarized:

Rosie: Born in 1889, Rosie married Capt. William Uriah Roberts at age 16. They had at least 8 children together: Camille, William Norwood, Myrell, Joseph Archibald, Bert Austin, Benjamin Earl, Jack Albert, and Betty Jean. (Incidentally, Rosie and her younger sister, my great-grandmother Elizabeth, both named daughters Betty Jean, Libby's Betty was born in 1931, Rosie's Betty b. 1936.) Their last child was 31 years younger than their oldest.
Rosie's husband William was captain of a ferry boat. He died in 1938. Rosie died twenty years later. (Rosie would have lost her dad and her husband in the same year.)

Rosie's kids

Rosie and William

Rosie's children with their two aunts: Libby and Teen
Photo courtesy of Joanne Matcovich Bishop

Joseph Leeburg "Dodie":

When Dodie was in his mid-twenties, he married Mary Elizabeth Gibson. Like his father and grandfather, Dodie was a fisherman with Thompson Fish Co. He and Mary had 3 children: Joseph Leesburg, JR., Mary Louise, and Kathryn Camille. At some point after 1945, Dodie, wife and children leave Key West. They are found in the 80's living in Lake County, Florida, NorthWest of Orlando. Dodie dies on August 17, 1985.
Kathryn and Mary Knowles

Kathryn "Kay" Knowles, photo from

Kay's obituary: Kathryn C. Cerney 85, of Mount Plymouth, Fla., died Saturday, July 25, 2009. Kay was born in Key West, Fla., the youngest daughter of Jo seph (Dody) and Mary (Lizzie) Knowles. She worked at the Key West Naval Base during WWII, where she met and married her husband of 64 years, Ralph, who predeceased her this past October, in 2008.

She lovingly fulfilled her role as a "Navy wife" raising the children during numerous ship deployments and following her husband on various tours of duty overseas in France, Canada and the United States. Through the years she was active in various military and local organizations, including Mount Plymouth Volunteer Fire Department and Mount Plymouth Golfers' clubs. In her younger years she enjoyed bowling and playing bridge with friends. In her later years, she discovered a love of golf with Ralph and many friends.

She is survived by two sons, Ralph Jr. and Gary; three grandsons; and two great-grandsons. Visitation will be held from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Friday, July 31, 2009, with services in the funeral home chapel at 10:45 a.m. Internment follows at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Fla. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Red Cross, at 2025 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20006 ( Beyers Funeral Home, Umatilla. Cerney Key West Citizen, The (FL) - July 29, 2009 Page: 3A

Kathleen (Aunt Teen):

Kathleen Knowles Matcovich
Bertie Matcovich, Sr.
Unlike her older sister, Kathleen (Aunt Teen) attended school at least to the 8th grade and did not marry until the age of 20. She married fellow Conch, Ray Bert (Bertie) Matcovich, who was 5 years her elder and worked as a chauffer. They had two children, Ray Bert, Jr., and Phyllis. (When my Grandpa Albert was a boy, his uncle Bert, Sr. would take him fishing. One day, Albert shut his finger in the car door, and though he was in excrutiating pain, he put off telling Bert as long as he could, riding to the boat with his finger still caught in the door, because he thought if he told Bert about it he'd take him home and not let him go fishing. He did eventully tell Bert, who stopped and let him get his finger out the door. He took him fishing that day after all.)

Ray Bert, Jr.
Photo courtesy of Joanne Matcovich Bishop


Phyllis Matcovich Johnson would also come to be a genealogist. In fact, she made quite a few discoveries/gathered and preserved important photos that are crucial for our family history.
Unfortunately, she passed in 2011 before I could meet her.

5 generations: Ma Catty, daughter Teen (missing Teen's son Ray Bert) Ray Bert, Jr., baby Sylvia
Photo courtesy of Joanne Matcovich Bishop
Ray Bert, Jr. married Florence Dillon. They had two girls: Sylvia and Joanne.

Joanne remembers her father saying that Ma Catty would always make Queen of All Pudding. When she would, Pa Joe would let him know, and Ma Catty would fuss at him and tell him not to be telling people what she was making. He said she would make it and hide it! I love this story for many reasons: one, it tells me that she was a baker and probably a good cook, and two, that she had a sense of humor. That is, if she was joking!

For those that don't know, Queen of All Pudding is a traditional conch dessert that's like a bread pudding with guava and topped with a merengue. It's the most delicious thing.

Teen with her first granddaughter Sylvia, granddaughter-in-law Florence, and Ma Catty
Photo courtesy of Joanne Matcovich Bishop


Kathleen left Key West to live near Orlando. She died in March 1984.

William Irwin:

At age 23, William married Marion Naomi Cash. He was a fisherman. Marion was a housekeeper. He finished the 7th grade; Marion finished the 10th grade. Together, they had four children: William Jr., Mary, Jo Ann and Richard. Richard was 20 years younger than his older sister Jo Ann. Richard and my mother were very close, as I was close with his son, Richie, Jr. Being the same age, we grew up together. I don't recall having ever met William.

Mary Elizabeth (Grandma Libby) Knowles married Albert Cruz on July7, 1927. Together, they had three children: Albert (my grandfather), Donald, and Betty. She worked at the property appraiser's office. Her husband Albert was an electrician until he was severely hurt on the job and went on disability. Elizabeth died several years after her husband on May 31, 1980. Much more about Elizabeth and Albert soon. 


What's incredible to me about Ma Catty is her ability to go on in the face of great loss. I cannot imagine how awful it would have been to have lost 7 children, and to have the tenacity to keep trying. Had she given up, refused to have more children, my great grandmother may not have ever been born. This is just one example of the honor and acknowledgement we owe to the generations who came before us, and one of the main reasons why I am both fulfilled and fascinated by this journey of discovery.