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149 years later, Medal of Honor may have recipient

The key to obtaining an unclaimed Medal of Honor won by a Lockport man in the Civil War may lie with a fifth-grade teacher in the Catskills.

Elizabeth Russett of Ellenville said Friday she is trying to obtain marriage and death certificates of her family to prove that she is a descendant of the brother of Michael Huskey, the U.S. Navy sailor from Lockport who won the nation's highest military honor in 1863 but didn't live long enough to claim it.

Niagara County Historian Catherine Emerson, who has been on the Huskey trail for the past three years, contacted Russett last year and had one brief conversation with her, but since then has not received any response to calls and letters.

"I'm extremely busy," Russett said. She added that her house was damaged in the Catskill floods last fall.

The county had the notion of claiming Huskey's medal, but the Navy wouldn't release it to anyone except a proven descendant.

In March 2011, four Western New Yorkers came forward in response to an article in The Buffalo News and said they were descendants of Patrick Sheehy, who was either Huskey's half-brother or full brother. But upon further review, doubts grew that they were really part of that family tree.

Previous research by Emerson and her deputy, Craig Bacon, with help from an Irish genealogist, showed that Michael Huskey's birth name was Sheehy and he was born in Ireland. His mother was widowed and her second husband was named Huskey.

Further digging through genealogies and census information led Emerson and her staff to Fred Schutt of Billings, Mont.

Schutt, a member of another branch of the extended Sheehy-Huskey family, pointed Emerson to Russett.

A teacher at Rutherford Elementary School in Monticello, Russett is thought to be the granddaughter of Patrick Sheehy's grandson.

She said she was "stunned" to learn that a Medal of Honor winner may be in her family tree.

"I never knew this man existed," Russett said Friday when The News reached her by phone.

Russett said as time permits, she's trying to obtain death and marriage certificates of her ancestors in Ulster County and elsewhere in New York. She said her family has lived in Ellenville for more than 100 years.

Emerson said she has contacts that might ease that search, if Russett will call her.

Huskey was recommended for the medal for his heroism in a battle between Union gunboats and shore-based Confederate infantry in Steele's Bayou, Miss., in March 1863.

He fell ill in 1864 and died in a hospital in Memphis, Tenn., a month short of his 24th birthday. He never married and had no children. Emerson believes Huskey is buried in an unmarked grave in a national cemetery in Memphis.

"We don't care if we get the Medal of Honor or not, but we'd like somebody to have it," Emerson said. "But what we really want to see is Michael Huskey to have an 'in memory of' marker in Memphis and in St. Patrick's Cemetery [in Lockport]."

The Navy needs documentary proof of the relation between Huskey's brother and Russett.

"Memphis won't acknowledge him without her signature," Emerson said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com