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...

    

Monday, May 8, 2017

Mappy Monday; Where I Learn More About Google Maps and Knockardagannon

Kyleahaw to Knockardagannon North                                    Courtesy of Google Maps

     I'm still gathering data on my great-great-grandfather James White, looking for that holy grail, definite proof that he was from County Laois and the name of his townland.  One of my DNA matches on Ancestry generously sent me his research on the White/Keyes families from Rathdowney Parish, which strongly points to a place called Knockardagannon North as being the townland of James' birth.  Parish records of the Catholic Church there are missing for precisely the period I need, which at least explains why after years of searching I've never found any for James, his sister Catherine or his parents James Sr. and Margaret Keyes, whose names I have from James' marriage record here in the USA.

     I've found various scraps of information here and there and the place-names Rathdowney, Kyleahaw and Errill in County Laois keep turning up in my research.  I turned to maps to get an idea how close these places were to each other, using the "directions" option at Google Maps.  Being a definite right-brained person, even then it was not easy for me to visualize the distances between these areas.  The map above shows the shortest route between Knockardagannon North and Kyleahaw.  The latter place being the birthplace of James Treacy who came to America in 1906 to live with Grandpa James' son James White Jr.  The two places look very close, but exactly how close were they?

     I decided to "walk it" using the little person in the bottom right corner of the map on the Google site.  I set him down at the intersection of R433 and the "road" to Knockardagannon.  This is what that looks like when you switch to street view--

                                                                                                                     Google Maps

and this is as far as one can get.  The little guy just wouldn't go down that country lane no matter how hard I tried to persuade him.  I attempted a different route with no better luck, he wouldn't go down the road Knock. North sits on either.  Then I tried satellite view!  I'd love to say I thought of that on my own, but it was an accident; in trying to pan out further on this image it automatically switched to satellite.  At that point, I did come up with the bright idea of trying to look at Knock. North that way and voila!

                                                                                                                                          Google Maps

     There it is, Knockardagannon North--there is absolutely nothing there.  Unless you count the bogs to the north.  Actually there's not much in Kyleahaw either.  But this map does show, in a visual way that even I can comprehend, how very close the two places really are.  I like that the little blue dots showing the route carried over from the first map too. That icon in the white square is a person walking the distance between the two places in six minutes.  That 500m below the figure translates to about one third of a mile.  Knock. North was literally right in Kyleahaw's backyard and Errill is about a mile and a half east on R433.  They are practically the same place.  In fact the 1901 census shows the Treacy family living in "Knockardagannon North (Errill, Queen's County)".  Perhaps their home was the wee house just above the intersection?

Monday, May 1, 2017

One Place You Don't Want To Find A Relative

Newark, NY State School
     
     I recently received a message via Ancestry.com inquiring about a distant family branch from Newark, New York.  My paternal great-grandfather's family, or families, have not been thoroughly researched I should add; I've mostly concerned myself with his first marriage, the one which produced my grandfather.  Grandpa's father had bad luck with wives, he buried two before the third one outlived him.   My grandfather never spoke about his half siblings, and I never met any of them so they were a bit of a mystery to me.

     I had done enough research on the various families of Great-grandfather to know that when Newark was mentioned it was probably in relation to a daughter of his second marriage who I will call Rita. Though she's been gone thirty years now, I know she has descendants who are involved in genealogical research, so I hesitate to use her real name and cause anyone embarrassment.

     After reading the message, I looked at my family tree software to see what I had found on Rita -- outside of her marriage and place of death it wasn't much.  I ran a few searches and was shocked to find that in 1940,  24 year old Rita was a patient at the Newark State School For Mental Defectives.  According to that census she was a resident there in 1935 as well.  I then did some searches looking for the identity of the person who had sent me the message and I discovered the most likely candidate was a son of Rita's born in 1938.  That made no sense!  His mother would have been a patient at that time if the census was correct.  But wait, his last name and his mother's maiden name were the same, was he born out of wedlock?  I went back to the 1940 census and sure enough, he too resided at the State School, enumerated as a boarder.  Rita must have become pregnant while she was a patient and her child remained institutionalized with her after his birth.

     Now I looked for information about New York State Schools in the mid 1930's.  Many of the patients in that era were what was then termed, "high functioning", and teachable.  Some even lived and worked in the communities surrounding their institution, though they remained on the books as patients.  Another search turned up a PDF of the 1935 town board minutes from the place where Rita had lived prior.  In the brief excerpt under the title was this, "Trip to Newark State School -- Examination: Mental Defective, Rita..."  No last name in the description, could it be her? 

      I clicked on the title to open the PDF and there among the quarantines and inspections in the report of Health Officer Reeves, I found Rita, "mental defective".  To today's sensibilities that label sounds so harsh, so dismissive and lacking in compassion.  And to have a toddler in that place!  It disturbed me to think none of Rita's family took the child in.  Her father, my great-grandfather, had remarried by that time and had more children with his third wife, and Rita had three older sisters, one of whom was married with a young son of her own and still living in the same town.

     At some point, Rita left the State School, married, and had several more children.  Which made me curious about her husband.  You won't believe where I found him in 1940... an insane asylum in the Panama Canal Zone!  He had joined the US Army and was stationed there.  More emails from the author of the original query confirmed he was indeed the son who was born in the State School and was seeking his father's name.  He told me he was born at the school to a mother with a low IQ and was taken from her at an early age, and placed in foster care.  They did reconnect at some point later on, and he knew his half-siblings.

     I've never heard a word about this sad, disturbing chapter in my family's past, mental disabilities just weren't talked about in the 1930's and even today it's hushed up.  I hope in the end Rita found some happiness, but I'm not banking on it.  In the early 1980's her youngest son hung himself with a bed sheet in the local calaboose...

    

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

This One Is Personal

Jack & me, costume party

     You may have noticed a resounding silence from me of late.  Other than the blog about my rebel ancestor which was written quite some time before I published it, I haven't posted in awhile.  I've debated whether or not to do so now, but in the end I wanted to do something to mark the passing of a wonderful man, so here it is.

     My loving husband passed away last month and concentrating has been difficult, so writing has been impossible.  I have no words to express how much I miss him, but I hope to return to blogging soon.  Until then, sincere thanks to all of you who have written to me.
Ellie

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Announcing a New Holiday

    

 
     I've come to the conclusion my County Carlow ancestor Patrick Hore, who was hung by the British for defending Ireland's freedom during the rising of' '98, deserves some recognition.  To that end, April 5, the day on which he was murdered, will hereafter be observed, (in my family at least) as Patrick Hore Day.  I designed the t-shirt above and everyone in the clan is getting one which they had better wear.

     Patrick's offense was to administer an "unlawful oath" to Matthew Brennan.  Something along the lines of "damnation to the king and all the royal family".  Supposedly he also conspired to kill Luke Lyons, but I'm not sure if the conspiracy ever came to fruition.  Probably not since he was not charged with Luke's death.  Regardless,  I feel great pride at having a rebel in the family and now that I've finally found him, I couldn't bear to have his memory lost again.  Here's to you Patrick, may the Saints bless and protect you.