Aunt Annie, as everyone in Linden called her, frequently tended those who were sick and under quarantine with a contagious disease, even when others in town wouldn’t go near them. She’d say, “God never punished anyone for doing good.”
After her husband disappeared into the goldfields and frontier life of Deadwood, South Dakota, Annie raised five children while working for the town’s most prominent people. Annie Catherine was my Grandmother Elizabeth Stephens-Fitzsimons’ mother.
Annie’s obituary read, “Her long residence in the community, her constant willingness and desire to serve others has endeared her to all. Her whole life has been a life of self-sacrifice and service. What home in the community is there which cannot say that her ministering in time of stress and sorrow has not been a great benefaction?”
Although I’ve tried to find information about her family, I haven’t been successful. She was born in London. Her mother died when she was a child, so she went to live with her aunt and uncle. They brought her to America, first to Superior, Wisconsin, and then to Ontonagon, Michigan. That’s where she met and married Joseph Stephens. He was eighteen years old; she was sixteen.
I’ve visited Ireland twice during past years, and I’ve found their people to be wonderfully friendly, but even more so after they learned about Annie Catherine. When asked about my Irish heritage and I told them it was Fitzsimons and Collins, their response was, “Oh, Collins, ’tis it now? When you die, have them send your body over, and we’ll shoot rifles over your grave.”
Many Irish consider Michael Collins to be an Irish patriot. Was Annie Catherine related to Michael? We’ll probably never know, but her own legacy is more important than her bloodline.
Aunt Annie was the inspiration for Mary Tregonning, the other Mary in my O’Shaughnessy stories.
After her death, the old school janitor told Mother,
“If everyone who Aunt Annie had helped when they were sick or needed help would put one flower on her grave, there’d be a trail of flowers reaching a mile out of town.”