Ann McAleer – wise woman to Italian Americans

Ann McAleer was a cousin about three times removed from the McMahons. Her maiden name was McEnhill. I have discovered multiple intermarriages between these County Tyrone families: McAleer, McEnhill and McMahon.

Born around 1840 in Ireland, Ann went to live in New York with her husband Pat McAleer, possibly after a short time living in Scotland. There is a story that they eloped. I have no evidence whatsoever for this. It’s hearsay in the family. But they will have arrived in New York to join thousands of other Irish emigrants in less than salubrious conditions.

Together they had about 17 children! Through the Ancestry.com website, I began to identify all these kids. At the start, I thought there had to be a mistake. But sure enough, many women had this number of babies.

Half of them appear to have died in childhood. The ever expanding family lived on Mulberry Street in New York when it was part of a very working class district with high levels of poverty and immigration. As new Italian arrivals moved in, many Irish Americans departed but Ann decided to stay.

A descendant of Ann – Don Baratta (died 2016) – wrote that she acquired the status of a “wise woman” among the Italians who regarded her with awe and respect. She became known as Signora Macaleera¬†and in a 1930 census, she was listed as speaking Italian.

I find this fascinating. In our age of identity politics, here is a woman who arrived as an Irish emigrant but gradually assimilated into the increasingly Italian neighbourhood. Her family married Italians hence Mr Baratta who has now sadly passed away.

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