12 Nicholas Cozzens, Co. Wexford, Ireland

Not my son, Nicholas Eliot Cozzens Calabrese born in 1981, but his great-great-grandfather, my father’s father, my great-grandfather, born in 1842 in Ireland and died in 1900 in California. He came to the US in 1854, we now know. Living in the twenty-first century, I find it strange that my great grandfather—only three generations ago—was born in the mid-nineteenth century, but men in the Cozzens family have tended to marry and have children later in life, my own father included. Warren Cozzens was 34 when I was born, and his father Cheever was forty-one when Warren was born—so the generations stretch out across the centuries. Interestingly, I picked the name “Nicholas” before I knew my Cozzens great-grandfather’s first name.

12 Family Tree 1

Nicholas Cozzens’s family tree. Cheever and Sarah were the parents of my father Warren and his sister Ellen.

While I had a vague notion since childhood that the Cozzens ancestor came from Ireland, it didn’t really play much of a part in my growing interest in Irish literature and history. But now, many years later, the prospect of having even a distant Irish ancestor is exciting. No long lost Irish relatives need fear—I’m not searching for a castle or family heirlooms that are supposedly mine to claim. But I would like to know more about where Nicholas and his family came from, how they got to Illinois (Galena, at first), what their lives were like in Ireland and in the US, and anything else I can discover.

For the first time, we have confirmation of the family story that Nicholas Cozzens came from Ireland as a boy, along with a handful of interesting details about where he came from. Thanks to my brother Todd, who employed a genealogy firm to do some digging for us, we have both concrete and speculative information about Nicholas and his family—a good starting place for further research.

According to Ellen, my father’s sister and our chief source for much of the family lore, the story went like this: Nicholas and his father “Robert”—whom we now know to have been named “Bartholomew”—came to the US from “Wexford and the [or “in the”] County Clare” during or shortly after the famine (1845-52). Knowing that the father was named “Bartholomew” rather than the more common “Robert” should make it easier to find out more about the Irish connection. Wexford and County Clare are on different sides of the island, of course, and have no common ground. I think that “and the County Clare” or “in the County Clare” was a mishearing of some kind or refers to something now gone, because Wexford turns out to be a fact in Bartholomew’s biography—County Wexford, that is.

12 Bartholomew Cozzens Death Notice

The search firm turned up this death notice from The Chicago Tribune in 1885—a goldmine of information. We can now assume the Co. Wexford part of the story to be true. I know from other research that there were lots of Cozzens, Cozzins, Cousins, and Cussins, etc. in Wexford in the past. Wexford is very near Britain and was always the most English of counties—we have long suspected that our Cozzens ancestors were English Catholics who fled the more rigid enforcement of the anti-Catholic penal laws in Britain, where Catholics were fewer in number and perhaps more easily victimized, and ended up in Ireland. “One of the pioneers of the Galena lead mines” is a new detail that can be explored. Ellen never said 12 Chicago Evening Journalanything about lead mining. There was lead mining in Wexford in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, though. The 1860 census in Galena lists Bartholomew as a “master harness-maker”; maybe that was his trade in Ireland, and he moved into mining when he arrived in Galena. The notice tells us that Bartholomew’s wife was Eleanor or Ellen, Ellen clearly being a family name, and that Nicholas was the oldest and had a brother and two sisters. All of this is significantly more information than we had before.

Ellen used to tell us that her Grandfather Cozzens worked for a newspaper and helped to carry the presses across the Chicago River during the Great Fire of 1871, so the newspaper could continue to publish. According to Bartholomew’s death notice and several other sources, Nicholas did work as associate news editor for the Chicago Evening Journal  in the 1880s and 90s. Click on the paper’s name to see a readable image of this “Extra” with the paper’s account of the fire—perhaps Nicholas had a hand in reporting, writing, or printing it. In the 1870 census he is still living in Galena, working as a printer and married with several children, but the move from printer to editor is not a huge leap, and by 1877 he is living in Chicago and working for the paper, so all of that fits with the family legend. A search of the newspaper’s archive might reveal more about him and what he did.

A “Bart Cousins” lived in the Parish of Kilmore, Co. Wexford, Diocese of Ferns in 1833, according to the Tithe Applotment Book, a record of tithes that landowners had to pay to the Church of Ireland—the established church until 1871—whether they were Catholic or Protestant. This is noted as a “possible” document in the case because too little information is present to confirm that it was our Bartholomew. The relative scarcity of Bartholomews gives me a bit of hope that this may turn out to be a real lead. I looked up the Catholic church in Kilmore: St. Mary’s was built in 1802, just in time for Bartholmew’s birth in 1805. “A distinctive belltower was erected in 1889 by Frank Cousins,” according to the Kilmore Parish web site, so Kilmore may have been a Cozzens stronghold at one time.

12 Bartholomew Cozzens Tithe Document

The Tithe Applotment Book

These are tantalizing possibilities at this point, nothing more. But having a certain name for Nicholas’s father and dates for Bartholomew’s birth, marriage, and emigration along with knowing that the family came from Co. Wexford give us something to go on. It’s not much, but it’s more than a lot of people have and an intriguing puzzle for me and other family members to solve.







St. Mary’s Church, Kilmore, with its “distinctive belltower.”


  1. Michele Cozzens

    …. and what a fun and interesting puzzle this has been. Love the post, Chris. Keep it coming.

  2. Robin Wells

    Neat. Very, very interesting.

  3. Sue Cozzens

    Thanks Chris really enjoyed this. I see paralells with my family–very interesting!

  4. I am trying to get information on my great grandfather Nicholas Cousins, born around 1820. Married to Cathrine.
    Now I am not certain that Nicholas was my Great grandfathers name, but Cathrine was my Great, grandmother, born around 1824. Died 1909. The family lived in Knockigal Piercestown. Wexford.

  5. Richard Cozzens

    Rich, I found Mel Cozzens on face book and I found him to be quite interesting. We may have the same heritage from Ireland and Wales. This Email post was from him. He is very much into the family tree. I thought maybe you would like this info.

  6. Michael Cozzens

    My family origins have lead me to believe we are also from Wexford. My ancestors sent money for the statute in the wexford Square supporting the Irish revolt. It was a Patrick Cozzens that came here from Ireland during the potato famine. We are not sure but it was told he had brothers that came to the US at or about the same time.

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