Friday, July 14, 2017

Willie T. Revisited

     Two years ago I wrote a blog about my search for my 1st cousin 3X removed, John Sheehan, who left home one day in 1875 and was never seen nor heard from again.  I promised an update if I ever tracked John down or alternatively, if I discovered what had caused the unrelated death of his nephew William Thomas Sheehan seventy six years later at the age of only 52.  Well, neither of those things have come to pass.  John is still among the missing and it's clear now that I'm not going to get a cause of death for William unless I order his certificate from the state of California.  I've located a death notice for William, but he passed away in Los Angeles and those big city newspapers didn't devote much print to lengthy obituaries unless the deceased was famous in some way.

     So why am I writing an update?  Because I found something even better than a cause of death for William, I found a photograph!  OK, Ancestry found it I guess and sent me one of those little leaves, but I'm still excited.  It's so rare that I come across photographs.

William Thomas Sheehan (1899-1951
     
     William was 20 years old when this photo was taken.  The document it was attached to was his application for a Citizen Seaman's Protection Certificate which he filed in September of 1919.  The certificates functioned like  passports for seamen and were issued at all Great Lake and ocean ports by the collector of customs.

     This may have been William's first trip, the spaces provided for listing departures and arrivals is blank on his form, but there is a ship called the Pearl Shell noted on the application. Also included in the file is a notarized, handwritten affidavit from William's mother Lillian Putnam Sheehan giving his date and place of birth.  I found a reference to William's ship in a book online called International Marine Engineering, Vol. 23 that indicated the ship was an oil tanker that was part of the Merchant Marine fleet and had been taken over by the US government.  That would explain the 1920 census which says William was a machinist who worked for the government.


   Below is what is written on the back of the photo and I admit I'm stumped.  I get the "Citz" in pencil that must be an abbreviation of citizen, but the rest?  Any suggestions what it may mean would be appreciated.




    

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Pursuing John Vincent's Pension: Act 2

     


     Well, some good did come out of my disappointing correspondence with the FGS yesterday concerning the War of 1812 Pension files.  I was so vexed that I scoured the internet for other War of 1812 pension sources.  And I found one that had some relevant information about John Vincent!  This time I'm sure it's the right guy, there are several John Vincent's in the 1812 pension indexes that are online in various places.  The indexes contain very little information and it's not always easy to tell if you have your man or not.  In fact I wasn't one hundred percent certain that John or his widow ever drew a pension, which is why I never ordered a copy from NARA, which if any of the John Vincent files was the right one?


     This time I'm positive it's him.  The database is at the Family Search site and is titled United States Revolutionary War Pension Payment Ledgers 1818-1872.  I know what you're thinking, different wars, but the description notes that a few 1812 pensions did sneak in.  Somehow, the file I sought was one of these.  I typed in John's name and waited.  Only two hits came up, the first for John Vincent from Indiana and the second for John Vincent no location.  The second hit did include a wife's name, Mary H*.  I wasn't sure what that could be, my John did have a wife named Mary but I'd never seen the initial H used for her -- I clicked it anyway.

     The page that came up was dark and hard to read, all I could see was the name John Vincent, Private, a dollar amount and--hold on a minute!  Someone had written Canandaigua on the same line.
Hard to read, but the last word is Canandaigua
 Mary lived near Canandaigua for a time after John's death, but where was her name? Looking to the left I saw a name that had been crossed out.  It did look like the forename Mary, the indexers at Family Search thought it said Mary, for they had written "Mary H" in the description.  There was also a surname and it began with an H.  So the H wasn't a middle initial at all, it was all they could decipher of her last name.  I enlarged the crossed through surname and-- Oh. My. Goodness! It read "Howland".  Which was the name of Mary's second husband, and there-- the payments to Mary H stopped in 1864.  That is the year she died, it's her.




      Admittedly, I don't know much more now than I did before I found the ledger, but I did learn that John was a Private in the service and most importantly that a pension file does indeed exist for my direct ancestor John Vincent.  Now if they will only put it online...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Today's Tirade -- 1812 Pension Applications

Doublespeak- evasive, ambiguous language primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable

     I can't imagine I'm the only totally frustrated researcher who has waited in vain for more images of the War of 1812 Pension Applications to appear on Fold3.  It has literally been years since the last batch was released.  You may recall the very successful campaign which raised $500,000 to pay for the digitizing and posting of the files, which was to be done in conjunction with the National Archives which holds the records and the Federation of Genealogical Societies.  Things were moving along, but then everything ground to a halt with letter M.  That's it, up to letter M then nothing.  And as luck would have it, my ancestor's name begins with the letter V.  

     The FGS Facebook page about the project hasn't been updated in nearly a year and the Fold3 site is equally mum.  When I inquired about the delay a year ago, this was the response--"there are persistent security issues and process control challenges with NARA’s internal operations"-- huh?  Today I tried again to get an answer to what was happening and got this reply-- "NARA has recently experienced some challenges managing their numerous work flows and processes...".  Did they realize how inadequate the first explanation was and revise it with a different but equally annoying excuse?  All I'd like to know is what is the problem?  And why the reticence to share that information with the individuals paying for the project?  It's much easier to be patient if one understands what is happening, (or not happening in this case), and why.

     The person who responded to my query did volunteer that an announcement concerning the project is expected from the FGS on August first.  After all the secrecy, I'm hoping this means something has changed and the project will resume, M is an awfully long way from V.

     

    

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Maria Vincent No Longer Among The Missing

    

     Looking through some posts about my Vincent family today I noticed a blog written before I had located all the children of John and Mary Clement Vincent, they being Matilda, Thomas, Maria, and Janet.  That blog noted one child,  Maria, had yet to be traced.  Happily, that is no longer the case.

     Maria Vincent was born in Saratoga County in 1806, probably at Halfmoon like her brother and sisters.  She married  Morgan Dunham, (Donham in some records), the son of William Dunham and Eleanor DuBois, in Saratoga County around 1830.  A deed from Saratoga County shows Morgan selling land there in 1831 which may be when the family migrated westward to Ontario County, New York.  They were certainly there by 1834 when their daughter Juliaette was born in Bristol, New York on June 22nd.  The 1840 NY census also places the Dunhams in the county, living in Richmond, New York, as was Maria's mother Mary Clement Vincent, now twice widowed and listed under her second late husband's surname of Howland.  Maria's sister Janet was there in her mother Mary's household though in 1840 she is only a tick mark in a column.  Maria's brother Thomas Vincent with his family also resided in Richmond in 1840.  All the Vincent siblings and their mother were together in Richmond except Matilda Vincent Irish who lived in Victory, New York in Wayne County.

     Maria and Morgan would have four daughters and three sons in that order, all of whom would survive to adulthood.  Sometime in the early 1840's the Dunhams packed up their children and moved to Pittsford, New York where Morgan had a brother, about twenty miles from Richmond.  By that time the other family members had also sold their property in Richmond and joined Matilda Vincent Irish in Victory.  Pittsford would have been quite a change for Maria.  While Richmond was a rural farming community, her new home was booming.  The Erie Canal had come through town in 1825, while 1842 saw the arrival of the Rochester & Auburn Railroad.  Pittsford was a prosperous, expanding community at the time Maria and her family arrived though she wouldn't get to enjoy it for long.

     Maria died a  month before her 43rd birthday from dysentery on 18 July 1849 in Pittsford.  In the days before refrigeration intestinal diseases were common, especially in the warmer months giving them the name, "summer complaint".  With the exception of Janet Vincent Wetherel, who would attain the age of 78, none of the Vincent siblings had long lives; their mother had to endure the deaths of three of her four children.  Matilda Vincent Irish passed at 46, Thomas at 39, and of course Maria at age 42.  Her husband Morgan would marry twice more, first to a woman named Sarah whose surname is given on the Find A Grave site as Etts, then in 1870 to Hannah Sutherland who would outlive him.

     With all the Vincent children now accounted for, I'd really love to know what caused the death of my 3rd great-grandfather Thomas Vincent, only son of John and Mary, at the young age of 39.  The historian of Cayuga County where Victory lies, wrote me that several epidemics swept through the town in the 1840's, carried by travelers and pioneers.  We see this in the cases of Matilda Vincent Irish and her two year old granddaughter Mary Jane Wetherel who both perished during the 1847 epidemic.  So far a lack of records has confounded my search for Thomas' cause of death but it may turn up one of these days.

     
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Most Wondrful News I Never Heard!

     


     For years I've had a love/hate relationship with the New York State Department of Health.  From taking forever, and I'm talking a YEAR here, to fulfill requests for vital record certificates, to finally putting a few death indexes online, but making it as difficult as possible to ascertain where the death occurred, they have earned my ire.  Apparently I'm not alone in this regard.  

     You may have heard of the non-profit group, Reclaim The Records -- made up of genealogists, historians and researchers-- in other words, my kind of people.  Near the top of their website is this sentiment, "Tired of restrictions and paywalls around public data?  So are we."  And they are doing something about it by filing Freedom of Information requests for public data and posting that data online---for free!  They filed a FOIL request to New York State and won access to the entire set of NYS death record indexes from 1880-1956.  Ridiculous as it seems, it took seventeen months to accomplish this even though the indexes are available on microfiche at several libraries around the state. The group is now in the process of uploading these indexes to the internet via Internet Archive, which I have to admit is one of my least favorite sites (I can never get the search function to function) but it beats driving to the city of Rochester Library, paying to park, and then spending another half hour driving home in order to check the index.  Which is fabulous!  Their page invites other genealogy sites to also put the indexes online, and with a little luck Family Search may just do that and make them searchable.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?

     The earlier images are online now and the others are coming soon, completion by August is the goal.  Those later images can be viewed if you download the zip file, but these files are huge, and August isn't so very long to wait.  It should be noted the index does not include deaths in New York City, those in mental institutions may be omitted, and compliance with the law requiring that deaths be reported was spotty in the early years.

     I don't know how I missed this great news, although since the loss of my husband I haven't been paying much attention to genealogy.  Now that I'm getting back into my research, this was a very pleasant surprise.  I'll still have to wait an interminably long time if I choose to order the actual certificate, but this is a definite step in the right direction.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Do You Mean DNA Is Worthless?

     
                                                                 Wikimedia Commons


     A few days ago my copy of Family Tree magazine arrived in the mailbox.  Among the reader's letters was a diatribe about DNA testing.  The author of the letter asserted DNA testing was a waste of money and of no use to anyone other than adoptees and "obsessive" genealogists looking for far distant cousins.  I beg to differ.

     I've made quite a few discoveries using DNA.  For example-- my Dad's match with a descendant of our McGarr line from County Kildare put me in touch with a distant cousin who had information I lacked and that rarest of finds, a photograph!  Also in the McGarr line, another match strengthened my theory that John McGarr of Garrettstown in County Carlow is my 4th great-grandfather.  A Gunn match brought family details as well, and so did a match in my Vincent line. 

     Then there's James White, my perennially troublesome 2nd great-grandfather whose birthplace eluded me for decades only to be solved when several DNA matches pointed to Queens County, Ireland as the spot.  Recently I came upon another DNA match for the White's of Queens.  This one looks like a possible older brother for my James.  His name is John White, born in Queens though there wasn't much information about townlands.  What's particularly intriguing about this John White, is that the DNA match is rated "very high" and the ever useful Irish naming pattern.  While the tree doesn't have parents for John, it does list his children.  My James' parents were James and Margaret,  John named his first son James, and his second daughter Margaret, while my James named his third son John.

     In each of these cases, DNA helped me find people I was related to, garnered more information from the individuals who took the tests, and in several cases is the most compelling proof of a relationship to date.  Especially with Irish research where there are no early birth records for Catholics other that baptisms that may or may not have survived.  The same holds true for early settlers in America as they pushed westward from the New England states, there were no churches or record keepers in the wilderness.  To wit; a match in my Clements line for a mid-1700's relative in colonial New York (New England puts New York to shame on early record keeping) appears to confirm that I was right about Mary Clements being my 4th great-grandmother.

     To me it seems absurd to dismiss DNA testing out of hand.  I've found DNA to be an invaluable tool that I would recommend to other researchers in a heartbeat.  While the ethnicity part can be somewhat off, although mine was spot on, the science behind matching is solid.
     

Sunday, May 14, 2017

They Turn Up In The Most Unexpected Places

     
                                              Nebraska Plains                           Wikimedia Commons


     I've been doing a little research on my homesteading Vincent/Matteson family recently, and this morning while playing with homestead records at Ancestry.com I noticed the site has two separate databases related to homesteading; the US General Land Office Records 1776-2015, which can be searched online at the government site for free, and also US Homestead Records, 1861-1908.  I know quite a bit about when the Matteson family arrived in Nebraska and where, but I was curious about the details of their life, like what sort of house did they live in?  Was it a dugout, a "soddy" or a more substantial dwelling?  One way to find out was to ask NARA to send the family's packet of homestead records including the "proving up papers", which as the name suggests were to prove to the government that improvements had been made to the claim and a house had been built thereon.  These papers include a description of the house and other buildings on the property along with other details.  Perusing the NARA form I noticed a fee of $50 would be charged, which inspired me to seek the desired information elsewhere.

     That's when I found the Homestead Records at Ancestry.  I'd already looked at George W. Matteson's paltry one page record at the Land Office site, describing his 80 acre claim filed in the Norfolk Land Office, for land in Lincoln Township, Washington County, Nebraska.  Ancestry's Homestead Records database contained an additional 14 pages of George's file, no doubt the same pages I would have received from NARA for my $50.  From these documents I learned George settled on his land on August 1st of 1869 and built a frame house with a shingled roof, five doors, (five doors???), and seven windows.  He dug a well and plowed and cultivated most of his 80 acres excepting the one acre he planted to forest and another half acre in fruit trees.  

     However, there was more.  Two entries down on Ancestry's search results page was, "George W. Mattison", with an I instead of E.  His claim was filed with the North Platt Land Office.  That couldn't be him, my George's land was on the Missouri River, no where near the Platt on the other side of the state.  It was clearly another George Matteson, why on earth would he want land nowhere near him?  

     But just to be on the safe side...  I clicked on the link, skimmed through the file, and there on page 3 was this--

     "I, George Mattison of Washington County ...solemnly swear that on the 16th day of June 1869 I made a homestead entry at the US Land Office at Norfolk Nebraska... this additional entry is for my own exclusive benefit..." 

It was him!  And he signed his name to the form with the correct spelling. There were 15 pages in this file also, the fourth being a real bonanza, it confirmed his Army service record along with the discharge date and place, while giving me some new information-- the town of his birth.  I knew was he was born in Herkimer County, NY, but now I had a town...Russia.  The form mentioned an amendment to US homestead law adopted on March 3, 1873.  Upon looking that up, I found it was titled, "The Soldiers and Sailors Act of June 8, 1872", it read in part--"An act to enable honorably discharged soldiers and sailors, their widows and orphan children, to acquire Homesteads on the public Lands of the United States..."  So that's why his military information was in the file.  It went on to state that soldiers like George who had only 80 acres could use this amendment to acquire an additional 80 acres to bring them up to the limit of 160 acres per homestead.

     Using the description of the land, I found it was near a town called Cozad in Dawson County, Nebraska almost 250 miles from George's original claim.  I was puzzled why he would want to claim land so far away, but on the other hand, if the government was giving away land it would be foolish not to accept.  It occurred to me, perhaps all the public land nearby had already been claimed and this was the closest George could get.  I'm confident the family never left Washington County, they can be found in every census there until George died in 1908 at the home of his sister in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, still in Washington County.  It appears this new land was considered part of his original homestead so the requirements for living on the land five years and building a home there were waived.  Now I'm curious what he did with his additional 80 acres?  Every genealogy answer begets another question...