Monday, September 16, 2019

A Love Story For The Ages

                                                                                         Wikimedia Commons

      Harborcreek.  A small town in Erie County Pennsylvania just south of it's border with New York State and mentioned briefly in my great-grandfather Edward O'Hora's obituary as his brother Daniel's residence in 1920.  I had no idea Harborcreek would be the key to Daniel's story.  Daniel, born in Owasco, New York in 1865, was the black sheep of my branch of the O'Hora family; he came and went, sold liquor without a license, seems to have had a common law wife, and was disowned by my grandmother's generation. 

     Daniel's obituary noted he had worked for the New York Central Railroad as a bridge builder which would have necessitated frequent travel so finding him in censuses was a challenge at times.  One I did find him in was 1900, living in Rochester, NY...with a wife?  Her name was Hattie and Daniel said they'd been married five years.  But that wasn't possible, four years earlier he had been living with his parents as a single man.  Hattie had four children with the surname of Sabin so she clearly had been married before at some point.

     Recently, I took a close look at Hattie and began gathering facts about her life.  She was born Hattie Taylor in Savannah, NY in 1864.  I found her marriage to her first husband Edwin Sabin in 1886 and confirmed the names of their four children, I also found a news article reporting Edwin Sabin's abandonment of Hattie and their children.  Over the years Daniel and Hattie lived together at times, and at other times apart.  When they cohabited she used his surname and when they weren't together she used Edwin's.  In 1917 she up and married a man I'd never heard of before, Albert Kent, claiming in the application it would be her second marriage. She signed the document, Hattie Sabin.  That, and the fact no record of her marriage to Daniel exists, leads me to believe theirs was common law.  I don't know what became of Albert Kent, but he was soon out of the picture.

     I can't locate Hattie or Daniel in 1920.  I have a hunch they were together and most likely in Harborcreek just as Grandpa Edward's obituary indicated Daniel was.  Several pages in the 1920 census for that place are completely faded away.  It would certainly explain why both of them are among the missing that year.  While Daniel's career caused him to be omitted from several censuses, I've found Hattie in all of them, except the 1920.

     From 1925 til Hattie's death in 1937 she and Daniel lived together in Hattie's hometown of Savannah, NY as man and wife with Hattie again assuming Daniel's surname.  Also in their household during those years was a young girl named Reva Geibel identified as Hattie's granddaughter, born in Pennsylvania.  After some searching I found Reva's details, she was the child of Hattie's youngest daughter Bessie Sabin and she was born in Harborcreek in 1919.  Was that a coincidence?  I don't think so, I think they were probably all there in 1919.  But what was the attraction to Harborcreek?  That question inspired me to do some digging into the New York Central RR.  I found that the NYCRR had a station in Harborcreek and that Harborcreek was right on the railroad line that ran south from Buffalo, NY -- the city Hattie "Sabin" was living in sans Daniel in 1905 and 1910.  This was no coincidence.  It was beginning to look like Daniel was the connection between Hattie and Harborcreek.

     I now believe Hattie and Daniel got together shortly after she parted with Edwin Sabin.  As Daniel's job took him to the western part of New York State, (directly above Harborcreek PA), Hattie and her kids went with him.  Once in Buffalo there was a falling out, with Hattie reverting to the surname Sabin and Daniel going on his way.  After Hattie's brief marriage to Albert, she and Daniel reunited and moved to Harborcreek where his work probably took him and eventually back to Hattie's hometown of Savannah.  I think Daniel and Hattie must have had genuine feelings for each other, even if their marriage wasn't exactly everyone's idea of real.  After all, they were together off and on for nearly forty years, longer than many legal unions.

Monday, July 29, 2019

I Think I'd Be Happier If I Wasn't So Thorough


     A while ago I mentioned here that I'd received the death certificates of a James White and his wife Margaret who died at Ballycoolid in Queen's County.  They were prime candidates for parents of my 2nd great-grandfather James White Jr.  Now I'm not so sure.  In fact I really doubt I have the right James and Margaret.

     I often see if I can disprove my theories as well as prove them, in the interest of accuracy.  The names, dates, and location all lined up for the individuals in my certificates, but since maiden names or parent's names don't appear on early Irish death certificates I couldn't be positive these were my people; James and Margaret are not uncommon forenames in Ireland.  Today I did a search at Find My Past's free database of Catholic Baptisms.  For search terms I used Queen's County for the place, the surname White for the subject, and only the forenames James and Margaret for the subject's parents.  I didn't use surnames for either of the parents.  Several hits came up in the White's home parish of Rathdowney, all of which were probably a bit too late to be the correct James and Margaret. 

     I clicked on the first one and held my breath...please don't let the address be Ballycoolid, please don't let the address be Ballycoolid...the address was Ballycoolid.  Damn.  So was the second hit, and both gave the mother's name as Margaret Duigan.  My 3rd great-grandmother was Margaret Keyes, Duigan didn't cut it.  It appears the James and Margaret in Ballycoolid are not direct ancestors of mine.  Of course there could have been two James and Margaret Whites residing there, but it doesn't seem likely.  I did have a sneaking suspicion that my great-great-great-grandparents probably didn't live into the 1870's, life expectancy being what it was in 19th century Ireland.  I repeated the search using County Tipperary as the place since Rathdowney is right on the border of Queens and Tipperary but nothing promising came up.

     While it's disappointing to discover one's supposition is incorrect, what you find to be untrue can also be helpful.  I've now been able to rule out the James White in Griffith's Valuation of Ballycoolid as my man.  That leaves only two other possibilities in Griffith's, James White in Errill and James White in Knockardagan. In Knockardagan there is a James White Jr. along with a James White Sr.  That's useful since I know from marriage records that my James White was a Junior.  The surnames Kayes, (a variation of Keyes), Fitzpatrick, Lawlor, and Delaney, all names associated with my Whites, also appear in the townland.  Interesting too is the presence of a William White, ( I strongly believe my James Jr. had a brother named William), and a Bryan Ford who could be the father-in-law of my James Jr.'s oldest son, who was named James White, (of course he was).

     Errill is slightly less interesting name-wise with several Fitzpatrick's and a few Hennessy's, a family who settled in the same area as James in America and one of whom married a Keyes here.  The fact is, with no early census records, no Catholic burial records, a huge gap in Rathdowney church records precisely in the period needed for my research, and no civil registration in the 1830's, I may never find exactly which James White is the right one, but then again, I had all but given up on finding a home county, let alone a parish for James.  And after all, as can be seen on the map above, the two places are only a little over a mile apart, I guess I can live with that.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thankful Thursday

     Like most of the graves at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Macedon, New York, John Crotty's was a mess.  The brother of my third-great-grandmother Honora Crotty Power from County Waterford, John was buried near the top of St. Patrick's with his wife Ellen Mullet and the Wallace's, they being Ellen's sister and her husband.  I say top because the cemetery lies on a steep hill.  One of my first blogs was about St. Patrick's woeful state of disrepair and it's precarious location.  My son and I tidied up what we could but it was a job for more than two people.  This required a small armed with chainsaws and earth movers.  Large branches and ancient trees  were falling upon the gravestones while their massive roots snaked through the cemetery upending others.  It was truly a sad state of affairs.

Before photo.  Crotty grave on the left.
     Last week I made the first trip of the year to check on Uncle John and Aunt Ellen, planning to pull the weeds that were constantly encroaching on their resting place and pick up whatever branches had fallen over the winter.  The rainy spring had delayed my visit, and I was dreading what I might find.  I began to climb the hill but stopped in confusion, their graves were in this direction, but where were they? Where were the trees?  Nothing looked the same, was it  possible I had forgotten the location of their graves?  No I had not--they had been cleaned!  The copse of decaying trees surrounding the stones that I had always wanted to take a saw to had been removed and the lower growing foliage had been mowed.


  I don't know who or when, but somehow their burial place had been beautifully restored.  Perhaps a Scout Troop or other civic organization?  I have no idea, but I'm so grateful to whoever it was.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Well That Was Way Off

                                                                                                                             Wikimedia Commons

     Have you ever begun research on a family and come to conclusions about that family only to have those conclusions completely upended?  That has been my experience with the White family of County Laois, or Queens County as it was known at the time they resided there.  Conclusion is probably too strong a word, it was more of a perception based on a census record indicating my great-great-grandfather James White could neither read nor write and the eventual loss of his farm to public auction.  Taken together they set an image in my mind of a poor, struggling immigrant.  Remember, at that time I was new to genealogical research and believed census records, as official government documents, were factual in every way.  I now know that is a far cry from reality.  For instance, I have yet to read a census record that has a correct date of immigration for any of my ancestors.

     My ideas about James began to change the day I found his naturalization papers, both his application and his final papers.  It was evident to me he had signed them himself.  The personal information contained in the documents was handwritten by a clerk, but the signature at the bottom was clearly in a different hand.  I saw that Grandpa James had a very distinctive way of forming the letter J in his name and it differed from that in the body of the document.  The letter J in the signatures was identical on both instruments, that was an eye opener!  

                  Signature bottom right, the J differs from that in the first sentence.

In going back to re-examine those census records I found that only one of them, the 1880, listed him as illiterate.  Somehow, I missed that.

     Then there were the Irish records.  It's only fairly recently I've discovered James' home county and parish.  Even at that, James White is not an uncommon name in the area around Rathdowney and I was never quite sure which James White belonged in my tree.  Looking at Tithe Applotments, Griffith's Valuation, etc... I originally discounted some of the individuals as unlikely, James White the baker?  That record couldn't be Grandpa James' father, who was also named James, or his grandfather could it?  But there was also DNA evidence, strongly indicating that a John White from the same place as Grandpa James was his brother.  That John White was a member of the RIC, which did not thrill me, but John must have been literate.

     Yesterday I received the death certificates of a James White and his wife Margaret who died in Donaghmore Parish in Queens County in the 1870's.  I know from James' marriage record in Palmyra, New York that his parents were James White and Margaret Keyes.  I cannot say with absolute certainty these are the correct certificates of  my James and Margaret, but the names, dates, and place match so there is a good chance.  When Margaret died in 1872 in Ballycoolid, her certificate states she was the wife of a farmer.  The informant was James White.  When James died, he was listed as a widower with the occupation of land surveyor.  What?  After some digging on the net, I found that there were any number of "amateur" surveyors during that era.  James the elder could well have been both a farmer and a surveyor--and may have been literate if that was the case.  The informant on James' death certificate was Julia White, a name I've come across before in my White research.  In Palmyra a woman named Mary Fitzpatrick from Ireland, living with Grandpa James' sister Catherine, was, (from her later marriage record), the daughter of a Julia White and her tombstone reads, "Born In Queens Co. Ireland".

     I've learned a lot from the evolving story of James White.  It's easy to make the assumption that post famine immigrants like James were seeking a better life in America due to things like landlord oppression, poverty, lack of education, or the wherewithal to attain one.  And in some cases that is true.  But it's also true that social and economic conditions at home were not conducive to even an educated Catholic doing as well there as he could abroad, so leaving may have seemed a smart choice.  Which reminds me of the answer my favorite Irish bartender gave me when I asked him if he didn't miss Ireland.  To my surprise he grinned at me and replied, "America, land of opportunity".


Thursday, July 4, 2019

In Honor of America, Country of Immigrants

                                   Monument to the lost passengers of the Carricks 1847

     It's the 4th of July in America, the national party in honor of a proclamation of independence made 243 years ago. There will be fireworks, parades, and picnics; a well deserved tribute to the brave rebels who made their stand so long ago and backed it up with their lives.  Their sacrifices made our way of life today possible and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

     A different sort of memorial will also be taking place this morning, to the north, and about 400 miles east of Quebec. A burial ceremony for immigrants desperate for a better life in North America whose dreams were snatched from their grasp as a massive storm destroyed their ship and stole the lives of their children.

     Their tale began in 1847 in a Sligo suffering in the throes of famine and came to an end on a rock strewn beach at Cap des Rosiers, Canada, as the survivors struggled ashore-- drenched, cold and screaming the names of their missing loved ones in an attempt to be heard above the crashing waves. Of the 180 people who sailed on board the Carricks, only 48 survived. Approximately 87 were buried there on the beach while the rest were never found. Most of the victims of the catastrophe were women and children.

     Local legend for years told the story of a mass grave on the beach but it came to the attention of a wider audience in 2011 when the remains of three children were found washed ashore. Testing proved these were small victims of the 1847 shipwreck, between the ages of seven and twelve, whose bones showed all the marks of famine and malnutrition and indicated a diet low in protein and dependent on potatoes.  Unfortunately the bones contained no DNA.

     A representative of the Irish embassy in Quebec will speak at their funeral today and plans to say,"While this is very much an Irish tragedy it remains also part of Canada’s story, recalling the enormous humanitarian generosity of Canadians in keeping Canada’s ports open at the migrant’s time of need".  Jason King, a native of Montreal and the academic coordinator at the Irish Heritage Trust and National Famine Museum in Ireland notes, “It invites us to reflect on people’s experiences today when they embark on similar types of journeys.”  

     I certainly will give thanks today for men like Thomas Jefferson who espoused the premise, "a right nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them".  Along with my sincere thankfulness for those who assisted all my immigrant great-great-grandparents when they left Ireland one hundred and seventy some years ago fleeing the famine and seeking a home in America.  What would have become of them had they been turned away?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

How Many Black Sheep Can One Branch Hold?

                                                           Bjarki Sigursveinsson

     My great-great-grandfather, James O'Hora from County Carlow, was a lovely man.  I'm sure of it.  When he passed away in 1902 all the area newspapers sang his praises, and if you're familiar with old newspapers you know they really didn't hold back if they disliked you.  Even during his lifetime his local Shortsville, New York newspaper published many complimentary articles about him.

     Then there was his brother John's family.  John's local paper in Auburn, New York referred to his sons as part of the "notorious O'Hora gang" and seemed to take great pleasure in detailing their misdeeds which in truth were many.  After John's death his wife Catherine got in on the act with several arrests of her own, as did one of their daughters Catherine Jr.

      Another daughter of theirs, Anna, was married at seventeen to a man of twenty-three named Michael Travers.  Two years after their marriage Michael and Anna became the parents of a daughter who lived only four months.  The following year their son William was born and two years later, in 1873 another son, John, came into the world.  Anna died that same year quite possibly of childbed fever; the baby survived however and seems to have thrived.

     Like his O'Hora brothers-in-law, Michael Travers was a regular in the columns of the Auburn paper's crime section.  A month before Anna's death he was charged with selling liquor on a Sunday, but he seems to have gone on a real tear after her passing.  Within six months he was arrested with his brother-in-law Michael O'Hora and found guilty of assault and battery.  In early 1875 his liquor license was revoked but that would prove to be the least of his problems that year, Michael was about to be indicted for manslaughter--
Feb 13 1875--The Coroner's inquest in the case of Callahan O'Connor, mentioned in our last issue, was concluded last evening at six o'clock.   The testimony of Dr. Gerin who conducted the post-mortem, was to the effect that O'Connor's death was caused by rupture of the bladder.
     The testimony of several witnesses, who were present at the den of Travers, on the evening when deceased was injured in wrestling with that individual, confirmed O'Connor's ante-mortem statement, and the jury found as their verdict, that Callahan O'Connor came to his death on the 11th inst., in the city of Auburn, from injuries received at the hands of Michael Travers, on the evening of February 8, at his saloon on North street.
      Where Michael's two young sons were during this period can only be guessed at, they would have been about four and two. Michael himself was enumerated as a resident of the city jail  when the New York State census was taken in 1875 but his children appear nowhere in it's pages.  They weren't shown where they might be expected, in the home of their grandmother Catherine, perhaps they were made wards of the county.  Michael beat the manslaughter charge when a jury at his trial that December refused to convict, but he continued his fractious ways earning himself multiple arrests following one after the other, mostly incidents of fighting and excise tax violations.  He was refused a liquor licence in 1878 but the 1880 census reports his occupation as saloon keeper, apparently a licence was obtained at some point.  That census also reveals a new wife fifteen years Michael's senior with a brood of her own.  His sons William and John were also back with Michael at this point but not for long.  William was removed from his care in 1886--
May 19, 1886 Auburn--Willie Travers, the incorrigible, as to whom Recorder Gulon was reported to be in a dilemma, the other day, was finally committed to the orphan asylum. Yesterday morning he got away to see the circus and has not been seen himself since that time.
and in 1888 John was fatally injured while playing in the railroad yards.  Michael's wife Ellen passed away the first day of November the following year.

     Not much is known about the final years of Michael's life, he doesn't appear in later censuses.  The Auburn paper reported in 1883 that he lost a piece of property when he defaulted on a mortgage but nothing else until 1894.  In March of that year Michael was admitted to the Onondaga County Almshouse near Syracuse.  The admission form is a revealing document.  It shows Michael's birthplace of County Kildare, his age of 52, and that he sought admission to the almshouse due to sickness and his inability to do more than light work.  It notes his "habits" which were intemperate but said his parents were of temperate habit.  Michael stated his education was limited and that he had one sister and one living child.  It also notes he had earlier spent two months at St. Joseph's, a charitable hospital in Syracuse.

     Michael died in Syracuse in December of 1903.  A two line death notice in the Auburn newspaper was his only tribute. His surviving son, William, followed in his father's footsteps being himself a regular guest of the Auburn jail--

1895--William Travers was arested this afternoon on a warrant charging him
with assault in the second degree. The complainant is Elizabeth Ferris, a resident of Delevan street who alleges that Travers, who bears a hard reputation,struck her over the head yesterday with a piece of iron which he grabbed from a
stove. The woman's head is badly cut.

     Elizabeth Ferris wasn't unknown to William, she was in fact a sister of his late mother Anna.  It's hard to imagine what could have caused him to attack her so viciously.  In 1919, like his father before him, William was admitted to an almshouse.  When asked about his habits William owned up to being intemperate but when asked about his father's habits he blatantly lied and termed them "good" though it's understandable if he didn't want to open that can of worms.  William seems to have never married, probably a good thing, and died in Auburn at the age of 57 after a fall from a hayloft.

     It's puzzling how two branches of the same tree can be so radically different.  Grandpa James and his sons were hard working farmers and good neighbors while those that remained in Auburn seemed to have been lost souls.  I often wonder if perhaps that was part of the reason James left Auburn and moved far away from them.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Of Family Trees, DNA, and Falling Walls

     I've spent many years attempting to establish the birth place of my second great-grandfather James White, the last of his generation I could find no documentation for.  Thanks to clues in old newspapers, church and census records, (none of which said anything more than born in Ireland or Irish Free State), several family trees on Ancestry and more importantly DNA evidence, I've proven to my satisfaction he was born about 1830 in County Laois.  The main problem was a lack of church records for the time period in which he was born, much too early for civil records since he was a Catholic.  That is why I continue seeking details of his life in Ireland; when there are no extant records in the country of birth, circumstantial evidence becomes very important, and the more of it the better.

     In an earlier blog I wrote about discovering the details of a Mary White from Ireland who emigrated to the same area of upstate New York as James White.  A DNA test on Ancestry indicating a "very high" confidence rating linked to a tree with a John White, husband of Mary Ann Prout in it's branches.  While no expert on DNA, it seemed to me that such a strong match with someone born in 1820 must be very close to my direct line. (Don't quote me on that).  Going on that premise I tentatively added John as a brother of my James.  Casting about trying to figure out where Mary White fit in I first thought perhaps a sister of my James and his brother John.  Her birth date of about 1851 didn't make sense for that to be the case however, so I kept looking.  The DNA test that linked to John White had a Mary White born 1851 listed as a daughter of John which seemed a better fit so again, tentatively, I filed her in that spot.  Her marriage record to Dennis Driscoll in Palmyra, New York did give her parents as John and Mary Ann after all, but I needed more.

     Yesterday it occurred to me, Mary White Driscoll had died in Palmyra in 1917 meaning there should be a death certificate on file for her there. I live around five miles from Palmyra so I jumped in the car and set out, hoping whoever supplied the information for the certificate had known the pertinent facts of Mary's life.  That seemed likely since she died at the home of a relative.  The clerk found the certificate meaning I did not have to deal with New York State, which moves with the speed of a giant sloth in matters of vital records, and she made me a copy as I waited.  It seemed to take forever, I was so anxious to see what would be revealed.

     Finally the certificate was in my hands.  Father-- John White, Mother--Mary Prout!  And there it was, Mary White was indeed the daughter of John White, the strong DNA match.  It's significant that when Mary came to America she settled in the same place as my James, so I have another piece of evidence for the James White folder.