Saturday, May 4, 2019

Cosmic Genealogy


     There is an old adage, "there are no coincidences".  While I don't subscribe to that maxim, it surely would simplify genealogy were it true.  If I knew there was a definite link to be found I'd certainly look that much harder and longer.  Statisticians, theologians, and psychiatrists have actually studied the concept of coincidences.  The numbers guys chalk it up to, "The Law of Truly Large Numbers", believing that in a big enough population, weird events are going to randomly happen.  Theologians and psychiatrists seem generally to lean the other way.
   A few years ago a cousin and I spent a great deal of time on our Vincent line who came from Saratoga County, New York to the Finger Lakes region of the state in the early 1800's.  The earliest Vincent I have proof of is John Vincent who died in 1814 during the War of 1812 and whose wife was Mary Clements.  Their son Thomas Vincent is my 3rd great-grandfather who died in Victory, New York at a relatively young age leaving behind a family. Two of his children can be found residing with a couple named Dubois in a later census.  I discovered in reading the will of Mary Clements' brother Frederick Clements, that Mrs. Dubois was Frederick's daughter, meaning the children were living with a relative. 

     But that living arrangement was not a coincidence, many persons from Saratoga County migrated to their area.  You'd expect some of them were related even though their surnames differed.  I would however, call it a coincidence that one of the Dubois children married my Worden 3rd great-grandfather's niece.  The Worden's were from Rhode Island with no known connections to Saratoga County families.

     Another interesting development in this same line involves Thomas Vincent's widow Matilda Taylor.  After Thomas' death in Victory, Matilda married Rockwell Rood around 1844, something my cousin and I were able to prove even though it was accepted, and published I might add, that she too had passed away.  The family of Rockwell Rood had settled in Dix, New York, many miles from Victory, after coming to New York from Vermont.  How did Rockwell and Matilda even meet?  That question has occupied my imagination for years now.  So imagine my surprise upon discovering another relative, my 3rd Great-grandfather Richard Wiggins, had a sister who married a widower named Peter Cooper  residing in Victory.  Richard and his sister, Catherine, lived in Wolcott, New York, near Victory so Catherine and Peter's meeting was not odd but... in about 1850 Peter's daughter Maria Louisa, (from his first marriage), married a man named Marcus Rood from Dix!  His father was none other than Rockwell!  Coincidence?

     The Vincents and Wiggins were not related except through marriage; a marriage that didn't take place until 1921.  But in all probability Peter Cooper and his wife Catherine Wiggins knew Thomas Vincent and Matilda Taylor there in Victory.  The Coopers are even further removed, in fact Maria Louisa is not related to my line except as a step-daughter and yet she was living in Victory until her marriage to a man named Rood, after which she lived in Dix, exactly like my 3rd great-grandmother Matilda.  

     Still not convinced?  How about this one-- Peter Cooper's daughter Maria Louisa who married Rockwell Rood's son was born in 1827.  Thomas Vincent and Matilda Taylor also had a daughter whom they named Maria Louisa.  She was also born in 1827.

Death certificate of Maria Louisa Cooper showing birth date, 18 Jan 1827
Death certificate of Maria Louisa Vincent with her birth date 1 Jul 1827

     I like to think that the universe sends us these delightful little gifts every once in a while to remind us we're all connected, past and present, and to make us smile in wonder, that from the unimaginable vastness, this particular gift was sent for me.  Deepak Chopra said,  "Coincidences are not accidents but signals from the universe", and  G. K. Chesterson*, Catholic convert, writer, philosopher, poet, etc.etc... weighed in with,"Coincidences are spiritual puns".  Their thoughts beat those of the statisticians by a mile.

*Author of "Father Brown" seen on BBC

Monday, April 1, 2019

I Think Maggie Is At Ebay!

     When I think of it, I do a few searches on Ebay, mostly using the names of towns I know my ancestors lived in or near, and I've had a fair amount of luck finding pictures and memorabilia of my family.  Today after looking at Shortsville, New York, home to my great-great-grandpa James O'Hora and his wife Maria McGarr, I checked Palmyra, New York where another great-great-grandfather, James White from Tipperary lived for a time.  I didn't find James, but I did find a name I knew.

     I recently started researching the Driscoll family whose matriarch was Mary White who I'm sure was a sister or cousin of my James.  One her Driscoll boys married a young woman named Ellen Hannigan, the youngest child of Irish immigrants whose family photo another researcher posted at The picture I came across today on Ebay is labeled, "Maggie Hammaajen", yes, Hammaajen.  Looking at the back of the photo, I don't see that at all, what I see written across the top is Maggie Hannigan.  Go ahead, click on it and tell me what you think.

     I can't make sense of the next four words, but after that it says-- to Palmyra, NY 1890 17 years.  Taking a peek at the 1880 Palmyra census of Ellen Hannigan's family we can see her sister Maggie age seven years right above Ellen age two.  That would make Maggie's birth year 1873 or thereabout.  Meaning that in 1890, Maggie Hannigan would have been...17 years.  Below is the Ancestry photograph taken around the time of the 1880 census.  Deducing that the girl standing on the far left with her older sister is Maggie, since she was the next oldest after Ellen, we get a good look at her features.

     Now, the photograph currently for sale on Ebay compared with a closeup of Maggie Hannigan from the picture above.

Ebay Photo Photo

     I would say we have a match. What a lovely young Irish girl!  If I was a relative of hers I would definitely purchase the photo, but $14 is a bit much to spend on an in-law so a screen shot will suffice.  Still, it gives me hope a great treasure is out there just waiting to be found.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

I know My Own Mother's Birthday, In Which I Concede I Can't Do Collaborative Genealogy

                                                            by Cindy Shebley

    I recently began a tree at Family Search, home to the Family Search Tree, for the express purpose of taking advantage of the hints they now send relating to your ancestors.  At the time I was leery of the fact others can come in and make changes to this tree, it's not really "your" tree but I thought, it's a trade off for the hints, how bad can it be?  Pretty bad.  Yesterday I received a hint; upon taking a look, I saw some changes had been made to my late mother's profile.  Someone had changed the year of her birth. By one year.  Because of a census record.  Really?  I know what year my mother was born and found that quite annoying.  But there was more.

     The branch where Mary White Driscoll resides had been altered beyond recognition.  Her daughter Catherine Ellen who appears in the 1870 census of Palmyra, New York and in the 1880 census of nearby Manchester, New York with her parents is clearly stated to have been born in New York.  She's still in Manchester in the 1892 census.  But now she had been transported from New York to Massachusetts and had a brand new husband and children. Which pretty much defeats my original purpose since in some instances the hints I'm getting are not even for my family.  How did the person doing the editing get it so wrong, was this a bad merge?  To top that off, the site won't allow me to delete the erroneous data because several people apparently agree with it.  How many times have you seen trees on Ancestry that are carbon copies of each other and are all wrong?  Sadly, not everyone doing genealogy is holding to a standard of proof.  And some are so married to their version of the facts they won't consider changing their online trees.  Even when presented with documents proving they are incorrect. 

     I no longer try to sway other researchers with facts.  No matter how tactful one tries to be it seems for the most part to irritate them, but when it's your own mother's data being played with that's another story.  I've never been overly concerned about identity theft, all my trees are open, but I also leave out some personal data about close relatives-- that isn't possible with the tree on Family Search.  Yes, you can omit facts and surnames, but a busy little bee will be right behind you adding them in.

     In light of this, I've decided it's best for me to not participate in the global tree, I just don't have the patience or temperament. Who has time to keep an eye on this and constantly correct mistaken data added by others?  Not me, I'm sticking with  Even though the cookie cutter trees there perpetuate errors, at least I can post the correct information in my tree to counter it.  I'd just delete my section of the Family Search Tree, but the site in all likelihood won't allow me to.




Friday, March 15, 2019

Musings During St. Patrick's Month

     Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have lived during my Irish ancestor's lifetimes; I don't think it would have worked out well.  As a young girl I was plagued with throat infections, especially when the weather turned damp.  Obviously, Ireland's climate and lack of penicillin could have proven problematic for me, quite possibly fatally so.

     My Gunn ancestors lived in County Kerry at a time when out of a population of 230,000 souls, 170,000 were destitute; they didn't have to wonder what living in poverty in the damp, cool, west of Ireland could do to a person's health, they knew.  My third-great-grandparents John Gunn and his wife Margaret Browne, born in the mid 1820's, were parents to seven children all born at Ballygologue near Listowel.  Three of them, (including my second-great-grandmother), emigrated to America, two died in childhood and two grew to adulthood in County Kerry-- Johanna, and her brother John who died at thirty eight of consumption.  Imagine having seven children and being left with only one.  The children's father John's death certificate puts his age at fifty six and his cause of death as chronic bronchitis, a disease known to be aggravated by damp weather.

     The younger John's case is especially sad.  His wife Deborah O'Neill's death occurred three years before his own from the same disease that stole his life. Their son who was orphaned at fourteen, passed away in 1908 at age twenty eight, also from the effects of consumption.

    Like her mother, Johanna Gunn Connor gave birth to seven children. Her first was born out of wedlock and I've been unable to trace him after his baptism.  I don't believe he reached adulthood.  Of her remaining six children, three of them, all named John after Johanna's father, died in early childhood. Two from scarlatina, which is a throat infection!  The other two children emigrated to America and prospered there.  Johanna's youngest son, Thomas, remained in Listowel where he died at age twenty four of consumption.

     Chronic bronchitis, multiple cases of consumption... that's a lot of lung disease. I wonder if there was a genetic component involved here?  Scientists have in fact discovered a genetic variant that predisposes people who have it to tuberculosis.  The mother of this clan, Margaret Browne lived long enough that her cause of death was given as "old age" while her daughter Johanna reached age seventy.  Somehow those two escaped the disease that took so many of their family members. The individuals who decamped to the USA seemed healthy enough, living reasonably long lives.  Unless you count Uncle George who got tipsy one night, fell in the canal, and drowned.  But he was in good health before that lamentable event.

     Ireland of course was far from alone in it's widespread cases of consumption, it was a highly contagious killer worldwide in the 19th century.  However, lack of warm shelter and clothing, an inadequate diet along with all the other lacks that resulted from poverty could not have helped the situation in Kerry.  One website had this to say--"It is easier to get TB if you have little or no heating and live in damp, dark or dusty conditions".

     Johanna nursed her son Thomas throughout his illness until his death yet she remained well.  Her death when it came must have been a lonely one with her children all gone before her except the two far away in America and her siblings all dead or also in America. Perhaps instead of wondering what it would have been like for me to live in Ireland during their time, I should be wondering what their lives could have been like had their country not been occupied by a foreign power.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Some green Irish DNA!

     A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about Mary White, newly proven relative of my great-great-grandfather James White. With the help of a DNA match found on, who turned out to be a cousin,  the tale of Mary's life has slowly come to light.  We now know she was born in Ireland, almost certainly in County Laois (Queens) and came to America, settling in the same area of upstate New York as her brother James, where she married Dennis Driscoll, a native of County Cork, in the Catholic Church at Palmyra, New York.  We know Dennis died and was buried in December of 1880, within months of the birth of their sixth child, and that Mary then married a man named McDuff, since the 1900 census of Canandaigua, New York, lists her as the widow Mary McDuff with a son named Joseph McDuff who was born in Pennsylvania. In that census Mary and Joseph are living in the household of Mary's eldest daughter Catherine Driscoll MacAniff and her family.

     That left a lot of questions however, which the lack of the 1890 census only exacerbated. Like when did they marry?  Did they marry in New York or in Pennsylvania?  They aren't in the NYS Marriage Index, but would the widow Mary leave New York and travel to Pennsylvania on her own? Where did they live in Pennsylvania?  When did Mr. McDuff pass away?  There was so much more to Mary's life after her first husband's death until her own in 1917.  I first checked the 1892 New York State census and found no trace of Mary though I did find her oldest daughter and her son John Driscoll still in the Palmyra area. John was living with Mary Lawler Floodman and her family, the same Mary Floodman at whose home Mary White Driscoll McDuff would pass away twenty-five years later.

  Pennsylvania of course had no 1892 census so it looked like church records were going to be needed, but which church?  That's when Joseph's social security application came to light showing his name now as Martin Joseph "MacDuff", his birthplace as Conshohocken Pennsylvania, and his parents as Martin MacDuff and Mary White.  His marriage record from 1916 gave his name as Joseph MacDuff and his parent's names as the same Martin  & Mary! That was progress.

Joseph's marriage 1916
        Conshohocken in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania was built on the Schuylkill River which provided power for various mills and other industries.  No doubt jobs were what drew immigrants to the area, but I was still curious about the circumstances of Mary's move there.  St. Matthew's was the Catholic parish in Conshohocken so I wrote to them-- and received no reply, but after much searching I discovered Ancestry held the cemetery records for St. Matt's.  Searching them I came across an infant born in January of 1890 in West Conshohocken named Rose McDuff who passed away in July of 1890 from cholera infantum.  While not contagious, this disease marked by severe diarrhea and vomiting, was fairly common in the summer months before refrigeration became available and was deadly to small children.  This could be another child of Mary's, no parent's names were listed but in the 1900 census Mary said she was the mother of 8 children, only 6 of whom were living.  Rose could be the missing 8th child.

     After much more searching for St. Matt's records online, I found some Diocese of Philadelphia baptisms on Find My Past.  There was Rose McDuff, parents Martin McDuff & Mary White and Joseph McDuff, his parents also Martin & Mary.  As it turns out, West Conshohocken had it's own parish, St. Gertrude's, which is where the baptisms took place.  Little Rose's burial said St. Matthew's only because both parishes shared St. Matthew's cemetery.  St. Gertrude's is no longer open, their registers are at St. Matthew's now but it doesn't look like they are going to respond to my email and so the search continues.  Martin and Mary's marriage date and place are still unknown as is the date and place of Martin's death, but now the groom's name is known and their place of residence in the early 1890's.  I'm closing in.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Today's Tip/Don't Rely On Those Indexes Of New York Vital Records

     Yes, I know that's not a new tip however, there is one mistake that keeps popping up in the New York State Vital Records Indexes, (birth, marriage, and death), that are now available on  

     Quite a few of my relatives passed away in Rochester, New York.  Even if it wasn't their usual place of residence, Rochester has the biggest hospitals in my area so for many of them Rochester was the final earthly stop on their pilgrimage to eternity.  The problem is, the abbreviation for Rochester, "Rch", keeps being mistranslated by the transcribers at Ancestry as Richmond, NY.  I don't know how the New York clerks abbreviated Richmond, but there you have it; and not once or twice, but many times.

     I don't know if this is happening with other cities, but if you're looking for relatives in Rochester, maybe even in Richmond, be aware of these errors.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

My Serious Crush on DNA, In Which A New Branch Is Added

     Long ago I turned to the FAN method (friends, neighbors, associates) in my attempt to find the birthplace of my second-great-grandfather James White.  It's now been determined, by me, that James hailed from Rathdowney Parish in Queens County, now known as Laois.  A large gap exists in parish records of Rathdowney, and all United States sources have been exhausted, so I will never find the proof  of Grandpa's home spelled out anywhere.  But then, there was DNA!  I've written before about the proof that has emerged here.

     Among the neighbors of Grandpa James White, could often be found the family of Michael Driscoll from Ireland.  In Palmyra, New York and later in Manchester, New York, there were the Driscolls right along with the Whites.  I had a feeling there was a connection.  Years passed while I attempted to find the link between these two families, and now DNA has provided an answer.  In Palmyra, St. Anne's marriage records contain the nuptials of Mary White and Dennis Driscoll.  Great, right?  Well it was, but while the first names of Mary's parents were John and Mary Ann, my James' parents were James and Margaret Keyes. Why is it never easy?  That record also gives the name of Dennis' father as John Driscoll who I now believe was a brother of the Michael who seemed to always live near my James. Enter DNA; a match with a tree containing the surname Driscoll came to light a few days ago, and the owner actually answered my email inquiring about her tree.

    As we compared notes, the emails flew and the puzzle began to take shape.  Me sharing the marriage record of Mary White and Dennis Driscoll, she sharing that someone long ago had mentioned a great-grandmother with the maiden name of White, the information we were sharing was all beginning to fit.  I now tend to think Mary White Driscoll was the daughter of my James' brother John who stayed in Ireland.  When my grandpa James' son was baptized in 1857 his godmother was Mary White, strengthening their connection.

     Then other names began turning up, names I knew from earlier research.  Like the name Mary Floodman, at whose home it turns out Mary White Driscoll died.  Mary Floodman was the former Mary Lawlor, granddaughter of Sarah Keyes (there's that surname again).  Mary Floodman in the New York State Census of 1915 referred to Mary as her aunt, (she was probably a much older cousin, but often in such cases the elder was given the title of aunt).  My father remembers people named Floodman visiting his grandmother, Ellen White O'Hora, the granddaughter of Margaret Keyes many decades ago and he id'd the photo below.  More proof!

Ellen White O'Hora nd Mary Lawler Floodman

     We began tracing the children of Mary and Dennis Driscoll, one of whom was William Driscoll.  A search of the 1892 New York census turned up William Driscoll, of the right age, living with none other than James White!  Not my grandfather James White, but his nephew, the son of his brother William White.  I had seen this census before, but had no idea who William Driscoll might have been, why he was living with the Whites, or why when James' wife Margaret Touhey died, her obituary referred to William Driscoll as her "foster son".  I knew now.

    Mary and Dennis seemed to disappear after 1880; returning to St. Anne's records I found the burial of Dennis Driscoll in 1880, he had died after the census that year, but no trace was found of his wife Mary White Driscoll.  Then an email from my new cousin arrived-- in the 1900 census of Canandaigua, New York, in the home of Catherine Driscoll McAnniff ,(eldest daughter of Mary and Dennis), and her husband Joseph was living Mary McDuff, Mother-In-Law.  No wonder it took so long to find Mary, she had remarried and had a new surname.  And a new child too; nine year old Joseph McDuff who was born in Pennsylvania.  Young Joseph's marriage record in 1916 gives his father's name as Martin MacDuff from Scotland and his mother as Mary White from Ireland.

    I'd long believed Mary White was a close relative and that the Driscolls were an important part of the story, now I have my proof.