Implementing crowdsourcing as the chief means of gathering information has had success from Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary to Planters Peanuts. In fact, I would be so bold as to put Vita Brevis on this list – as comments from our readers have led to many breakthroughs in our bloggers’ brick walls.

Case in point: On 20 April 2015, I wrote a blog post (Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?) in which I lamented the problems facing genealogists, especially when asked to locate a person with a very common name in a very large place. To summarize, I was interested to learn what had become of the first winner of the Boston Marathon, John J. McDermott, who won the race in 1897. However, after weeks of searching, I was only able to determine the following:

“McDermott was an avid long-distance runner from the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City. He won the first marathon ever run on American soil, the New York City Marathon, in 1896, the year before he won the Boston Marathon. An Irish immigrant, he was born about 1880, and worked as a lithographer in New York. While McDermott should have been a celebrity at the time, newspapers and marathon histories did not include any information about his personal life: no date of birth, date of death, names of wife, children, or other family members. In fact, newspapers did not even specify the New York borough where he lived.”

I was able to find some leads, but nowhere near the number of clues that I received from the readers of Vita Brevis:

  • Jennifer Lyons suggested that I contact the New York Athletic Club for information about the Pastime Athletic Club, which was active from 1880 until the period of the First World War.
  • KT found references to John J. McDermott dying before 1927 and Noel Ray later found references that pinned the death date to before 1909.
  • John E. MacDermid also commented that his grandfather was John J. McDermott from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He was born in April 1868, and left Cape Breton at 1895 to work in South Africa. He was positive his grandfather was the winner of both the first New York and the first Boston Marathon.
  • Paul Baltutis (who played a pivotal role in this research) put me in touch with Roberta Schulmeister, who had an heirloom belonging to John J. McDermott that was presented for his first place finish in a “marathon” race put on by the Knickerbocker Athletic Club dated 19 September 1896.
  • As recent as last week, Noel Roy concluded, using newspapers and facial recognition, that Dr. MacDermid’s grandfather was not the same person as the John McDermott who won the first Boston Marathon.

Using the hard work of Vita Brevis readers, I did not give up my research on the descendants of John J. McDermott. In fact, I dove in to each comment – beginning with Roberta Schulmeister’s ancestry, since she had concrete proof of a connection to John J. Maybe her ancestry held the key?!

John J. McDermott ... was presented [a prize] for his first place finish in a “marathon” race put on by the Knickerbocker Athletic Club dated 19 September 1896.

Through information from Roberta I was able to determine that John J. McDermott was the son of James McDermott and Elizabeth Grady (Roberta’s great-great-grandparents). His birth record shows that he was born Johnny McDermott in Manhattan on 16 October 1874. Unfortunately, the trail went cold there: I could find no evidence of his death in New York City or New York State. Nor could I find his marriage (if he was even married).

I did find his siblings, however, in New York City: Julia (McDermott) Fitzpatrick and James Edward McDermott. Here is what we know:

  • Julia McDermott married John Fitzpatrick in New York City in 1901. She had a son, Francis Fitzpatrick, who was born in New York City in 1902, but he died young. She also died young in 1905. She and her son were buried in Calvary Cemetery in New York City. John J. McDermott is not buried with his sister and nephew.
  • James Edward McDermott was born in New York City on 13 October 1876; he married and moved to Buffalo, New York where he worked as a lithographer (!!). He died in Tonawandas, New York in October 1938. His obituary in Tonawandas does not mention his brother, John. Additionally, the baptismal records of the St. Francis Church in Tonawanda do not include any of James’s children (in the hopes that his brother, John was listed as a godparent). John J. McDermott is also not buried (as far as we can tell – more should be done to confirm) with his brother James in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Therefore, because crowdsourcing has worked so well in the past, I am extending my plea to help locate the final resting place of John J. McDermott, the first winner of the Boston Marathon. Maybe we can have this solved by the running of the New York City Marathon (another race associated with John J.) in November 2017? Who’s gonna solve it?

Lindsay Fulton

About Lindsay Fulton

Lindsay Fulton joined the Society in 2012, first a member of the Research Services team, and then a Genealogist in the Library. She has been the Director of Research Services since 2016. In addition to helping constituents with their research, Lindsay has also authored a Portable Genealogists on the topics of Applying to Lineage Societies, the United States Federal Census, 1790-1840 and the United States Federal Census, 1850-1940. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has appeared as a guest on the Extreme Genes radio program. Before, NEHGS, Lindsay worked at the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she designed and implemented an original curriculum program exploring the Chinese Exclusion Era for elementary school students. She holds a B.A. from Merrimack College and M.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.View all posts by Lindsay Fulton