Obituaries are often the triggers for my research. Sometimes they take you in unexpected directions.
A fairly straightforward obituary in many ways but what caught my eye was the reference to the Panama Canal Zone.
I'd never heard of that before but my curiosity was aroused. As in most cases, Wikipedia came to my aid. The zone was apparently an unincorporated territory of the United States from 1903 to 1979. At its centre was the canal itself. The zone originated when the Republic of Panama granted to the United States land for the construction, maintenance, operation and protection of a canal.
Construction of the Panama Canal was one of the most massive construction projects in history. Such was the scale of the operation that it required an army of workers. The zone —10 miles wide and about 50 miles long — had a population of 62,000 people according to the 1912 census of the Panama Canal, More than half, approximately 36,000, were unmarried men, and 40 nationalities were listed.
Among the workers was Nellie Heenan's husband James.
James Patrick Heenan
With the help of census and employment records I discovered that James Patrick Heenan had joined the workforce in the canal zone as a blacksmith in the mechanical division on September 27, 1907. He had signed an oath a few days earlier (the nature of which is unclear). He reported for duty on October 13 that year. At the time he had been living in Valley Junction in his home state of Iowa and was 29 years old.
For his services he received 65 cents per hour, a wage which increased steadily over the following years. In March 1934 he was earning $1.48 an hour but he was moved to a monthly salary of $266.00 in 1936. James Patrick worked for the canal operation 33 years and was clearly a diligent employee because he earned a service rating of excellent. When he retired in April 1940 he was awarded an annual annuity of $1683.
Life After Panama
The Heenans left Panama shortly before James’ official retirement date. They set sail from Cristobel, Panama Zone on 17 April, arriving on the SS Cefalu at New Orleans on 22 April. Their intended address was the town of Ferriday in north eastern Louisiana.
By 1945 they had settled at number 824, 7th Avenue, Pinellas in Florida but from Nellie Heenan’s obituary it’s clear that this was not their final home. At the time of her death in 1950 the couple were living at 5322 Sixteenth Avenue South, Gulfport.
James Patrick died in 1958 at the age of 79.
The obituary shown above mentions a brother Owen Heenan. This is the only firm information I’ve been able to locate about James. Census returns indicate he was born in Stuart, Guthrie, Iowa on 10 April 1878 but I have not yet been able to locate any official record of his birth. His father was said to be from Northern Ireland and his mother from the Irish Free state.
Tracking down this family in Iowa is going to be my next challenge