Monday, December 19, 2011

How I Found the Mysterious McGarrs of Ballyraggan

    My immigrant McGarr ancestors have been frustrating me for years.  Quite a feat considering they’ve all gone to their rewards.  For over ten years I’ve tried in vain to find any information about their lives in Ireland.  It didn’t help that the only clue I had was the obituary of my great grandfather Edward O’Hora from the local weekly.  It erroneously gave his parents names as James and Maria McGraw O’Hora.  I spent years trying to locate Maria McGraw in any records before finding her name was in fact McGarr.  Even with that discovery the McGarr family did not reveal itself.  No, they remained as elusive as ever, occasionally throwing tantalizing clues my way to keep me coming back.   

     In church records from Auburn, NY where they originally settled, I found the marriage of the above mentioned Edward’s parents, James O’Hora and Maria McGarr, also the baptisms of the children of James’ brother John O’Hora and his wife Catherine McGarr.  Later after James and Maria had left Auburn they turned up a mile or two from Bridget McGarr and her husband Martin Kinsella, also former Auburnians, in Shortsville, NY.  I seemed to have no trouble finding McGarrs in this country, Auburn was full of them, but there was no way to tell how they were related.  Wills, land records and death certificates yielded nothing to indicate their relationships.
     I began to come up with all sorts of exciting, romantic explanations for why they seemingly did not want their pasts in Ireland uncovered.  Visions of Irish rebels fleeing to America for their lives danced in my head.  I fantasized they had changed their names upon arrival here to avoid detection by British agents in the US.  I know, farfetched, especially considering once in Auburn several began businesses and entered politics; hiding in plain sight, how crafty of them.
      All that changed a few weeks ago.  I hadn’t worked on my McGarr line for some time, and feeling slightly masochistic that day I opened their file and began going through old notes I had taken and emails from a cousin in Rochester researching the same line.  One of his old emails mentioned that Ballyraggan in County Kildare, (where an old McGarr tombstone in Auburn indicated this covert band may have originated), was actually part of the Catholic parish of Baltinglass in neighboring County Wicklow.  At that point, I remembered The Irish Family History Foundation now had parish record indexes online.  I had searched that site for the McGarr family before, but forgetting that email from years ago, I had searched in the county of Kildare, not Wicklow.
    I tried an advanced search using the parish of Baltinglass and the name McGarr with no luck, par for the course.  I knew from Cousin Jack in Rochester that Bridget’s parents were Daniel McGarr and Ann Donahoe so I omitted McGarr and tried Daniel for father’s first name and Donahoe in the field for mother’s surname.  BINGO!   Of course I bought the transcription and got the details.  Up popped Sally McGar born in 1836, address (drum roll) Ballyraggan!!  Seems like the search engine should have caught McGarr/McGar, but nonetheless I had found them.  I bounced off the walls and ceiling a few times, annoying my Yorkies, then tried again.  There was Catherine, the future Mrs. O’Hora and her sister Maria, also a future Mrs. O’Hora; another sister Anne and two brothers Richard and John!  There was even the baptism of Mary, the first daughter of John O’Hora and Catherine McGarr, the only one of their children born in Ireland.  What could I do?  I bought the transcriptions of the whole lot. All were residents of Ballyraggan as it turned out.  

   McGarr was spelled a variety of ways in the records, McGah, McGhaa and Magar, none of which came up if “McGarr” was used for a search term.  Fortunately the parish priest could spell Donahoe, or maybe the fault lies with the transcriptionist.

  Regardless, I now have a much better picture of the McGarr family, a townland and confirmation that Maria, Bridget and Catherine really were sisters as I always suspected.  I also have a reminder of a tip that has worked for me before; old notes and emails can contain forgotten clues that later, seen in the light of new research and/or newly available resources can prove invaluable.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Whiskey You're the Devil

     My youngest son was the first to notice, or the first to actually say it out loud.  There seem to be an inordinate number of alcohol related deaths in our early family history.  There!  Now I’ve said it, or rather written it.  It started with George Gunn.  If you follow my blog you are acquainted with George and his sister Mary.  He died in 1892, two years after arriving in the US from county Kerry.  George was buried in the local Catholic cemetery, although in unconsecrated ground.  What could he have done to deserve that?   Perhaps his death holds a clue. 

Palmyra NY Courier, Friday August 19, 1892:
      The body of George Gunn, a laborer, about 30 years old was found floating in the canal just west of this village, on Sunday morning last.  Gunn was in Palmyra late Saturday evening and the supposition is that he had been drinking and while on his way to Macedon by tow-path he fell into the canal and met his death by drowning.
     George has a very nice tombstone which has been lovingly under planted with day lilies that still grow today.  I know they are day lilies because they weren’t blooming due to overcrowding so I dug up a slip and took it home to see what grew.  Voila!  Lilies.  Who but his sister Mary would have done the planting?  That she loved her brother cannot be denied, she named her third son for him. Unfortunately, it seems her son George Power inherited some of his Uncle George Gunn’s less desirable traits.  In the wee hours of the morning of May 27, 1928, young George picked a fight with a train…he lost.

Rochester Democrat &Chronicle May 28, 1928:
     Palmyra May 27  Two youths were killed instantly at the Walworth Station crossing of the New York Central Railroad, four miles northwest of here, when their automobile crashed into the side of a moving eastbound freight train at 1:10 o'clock this morning.  The impact derailed the fifth and sixth freight cars, just ahead of the caboose and demolished the automobile.
     The dead men are George Powers 22, son of Philip Powers, of Manchester, and Merrill Hartle, 22, son of Mr. and Mrs. Loey Hartle, of Newark:  The pair had been employed in construction work on the Palmyra Hotel, and had left this village shortly after midnight.  Hartle is believed to have been driving.
     Call me cynical, but I find it unlikely two young men were doing construction work on a Saturday night on into the early hours of Sunday morning, and where were they going?  They werent heading to either of their homes; they were traveling in the opposite direction.  Prohibition was the law of the land in 1928, perhaps to a rural speakeasy?
      In a strange twist of fate, George was killed about two miles from the spot his uncle had been found floating 36 years earlier.  At least Mary was spared the trauma of her sons death, having passed away herself five months earlier. 
     Philip Power, young George’s father, had other family in America.  His mother, Honora Crotty and two sisters had also immigrated.  The oldest sister, Mary, married Thomas Ryan in Palmyra and had two daughters.  One, Catherine Ryan, married a local businessman named Riffenburg, and lived a comfortable life, her sister Ella was not so fortunate.  Ella Ryan was a troubled woman.  Her husband left her and Ella drank herself to death in 1915 at the age of 46.  Cause of death from her death certificate:  gastritis, heart failure, drinking habit.
     Switch now to the County Carlow relatives, and we find murder and mayhem.  Edward McCabe, a nephew of my great-great grandfather James OHora, thankfully never married.  Instead he lived with another bachelor in a cabin on a farm where they both worked as laborers.  One evening, after a day of drinking in Canandaigua, NY, the roommates returned home and began to argue.  Edward lay down and went to sleep.  It was then, his drinking buddy wielding a heavy shovel, pounced.  Edwards face was nearly split in two and he later died in a nearby hospital. 
     A niece of James OHoras, the child of his wife Maria McGarrs sister Bridget, went the route of Ella Ryan.  Either Mary Agnes met her future husband in New York and followed him west, or she became acquainted with him in her travels.  Eventually they were married in Tombstone, Arizona where he was serving as a hospital steward in the US Army.  Life on a western Army Fort in the early 1890s was not exactly enjoyable; just check some of the womens diaries from that era, also this wonderful site,  Perhaps it was more than Mary Agnes could cope with.  At some point she began drinking and the couple separated.  Her death record below from the Horan Funeral Home, whose records are available at the Denver Public Library, says she was a widow, but in fact her husband was serving in the Philippines at the time she died. She also had an alias.  An alias!  Who has an alias?  Her widowed mother paid to have her remains shipped back to New York for burial, and hushed up the sordid details.
Transcription of Horan Burial information, Denver Library:
Mary Agnes Westerdahl  died 2 Oct 1902, 35 years old
Alias name of Annie Wilson, widowed
Lived at 2161 Larimer St. Denver Colorado
Born New York
Cause of death: Paralysis of heart due to Alcoholism
The cleaned up version:
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Wed. Oct. 8, 1902
     The remains of Mrs. Mary A. Westerdahl, who died in Denver Friday, last, were taken to the residence of her mother, Mrs. Bridget Kinsella, in Shortsville yesterday.  She was 45 years of age and died from paralysis of the heart.  She leaves a husband, who is in the service of the government in the Philippine Islands as hospital steward, an aged mother, two brothers and four sisters.  The funeral will be held this morning at 9:30 at the church.

     I am seriously thinking all this entitles me to membership in International Black Sheep Society!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Was Great-Great-Grandma a She Devil?

     When the Irish census of 1901 was taken, only 20 houses stood in the townland of Ballygologue in County Kerry.  Mary Elizabeth Gunn had been born in that speck on the map of Ireland in the spring of 1860; now, forty-one years later, she was thousands of miles from Ballygologue.  To be precise, Mary was in a courtroom in Ontario County, New York, defending herself against a charge of fraud.
     Mary came to the United States in 1879 where she found work as a servant on a farm in Macedon, NY.  That she left her parents John and Margaret (Browne) Gunn and brothers George and Francis in Ireland to travel alone was not unusual.  Many Irish women did the same; post famine Ireland had little to offer poor young Irish women.   Her mother’s sister Sarah Browne Griffin made her home close to Macedon, and was no doubt the reason Mary chose that area.  Her future husband, Philip Power, had emigrated from County Waterford, and by 1880 was working as a laborer on a nearby farm.
    The couple was married at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Palmyra, NY on 8 November 1882; Mary’s Aunt Sarah Griffin was her witness.  At some point in their marriage they moved the few miles to Manchester, NY, where Phillip had found an opportunity to work a farm on shares.  The owner of the property, a widow named Lydia Clark, had recently died leaving two married daughters, and a son, Eugene.  It was he who inherited the farm, and allowed Mary, Phillip and their young children to move into the house with him.  That single decision set in motion a series of events that would reverberate through the local courts for years.
     Thirteen months after Mrs. Clark’s death, Eugene deeded the entire farm to Mary Power, reserving only life use for himself.  The fury of the Clark daughters can only be imagined.  This was no small farm, it encompassed over 180 acres.  They contended Eugene was incapable of minding his own affairs and sought to have a guardian appointed to watch over him and his property.  By the end of the year, they succeeded in having Eugene declared incompetent, but the story was far from over.  For the next six years the case would wind through the courts, being confirmed in one, only to be dismissed in another as appeal after counter appeal were filed.  Sensational headlines blared from local newspapers, “Man Was Under Complete Control of Powers Family” read one. 
     Charles McClouth, who for a time was appointed guardian of Eugene, filed suit against Mary Power; contending she had knowingly taken advantage of a “weak, feeble minded” man and was guilty of fraud.  In the papers he filed with the court, he made a point of their ages and the close proximity in which they lived.  While the charge was never explicitly made, the implication was there; a forty one year old woman living with a forty nine year old single man had worked her feminine wiles until he was rendered, “completely subservient to the will of Mrs. Power”.
     Mary countered with a motion of her own.  She claimed the deed was conveyed to her for, “good and valuable consideration, in good faith and without fraud.  That she has performed her part of the contract, has boarded Eugene, nursed him when he was ill, done his washing, mended his clothes, taken care of his room and administered to all his wants.   Mary further maintained Eugene was and always had been of sound mind, and she may have been correct, he was trusted enough by the town to be elected collector of school taxes for several years.
       Eugene’s guardian Charles McClouth won that decision, only to find it reversed on appeal.  In 1905, Eugene's lawyer filed a motion seeking to have him declared competent.  The motion was granted.   His sisters and their husbands had had enough!   No more appeals were filed in the case.  When the New York State census was taken that year, Eugene was listed as a border in the household of Philip Power.   Eugene passed away in 1909; his obituary stated he died at the family home where he had always lived.  The 1910, 1920 and 1930 census’ all show the Power family living at the farm.   Their descendants resided there until 1978 when Phillip Power Jr. the last surviving son of Mary and Phillip Sr. died at the farm.
     Did Mary beguile Eugene to the point he was willing to give her everything he owned?  Or did she in truth have an understanding with him that she would care for him as his mother had always done for the remainder of his life?  The only certainty here is that by some means, a middle aged woman from an impoverished country who could not even sign her own name ultimately became the owner of a 180 acre farm in America.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Irish Genealogy Database

     The search for the birthplace in Ireland of my Gunn ancestors has finally been successful thanks to my new favorite internet database .  From her marriage record, I knew the names of my great grandmother Mary Gunn's parents and that she was born in Ireland, but that was all I knew.  The clues have been few and far between, but they've finally come together.  The first came in a small Catholic cemetery located in Palmyra, NY.  There, next to the maintenance shed stood the badly weathered gravestone of my presumed great, great uncle George Gunn.  It bore what looked like the inscription, "Native of Listo, County Kerry, Ireland".  George, I later discovered, is next to the shed because at the time of his death, he was deemed undeserving of a Catholic burial and was placed in non-sacred ground.  The joke was on them though, the cemetery has grown to such an extent that George is now surrounded on all sides by holy ground.
     The second clue was his death certificate.  It named his birthplace as County Kerry, and his parents as John Gunn and Margaret Browne, the very same parents listed in Mary's marriage record.  Mary's name also appeared on the death certificate as the informant.  Taken together I concluded they were almost certainly siblings.  Clue three was finding George's name on the passenger list of a ship arriving in America in 1890, his address --  Listowel, now the partial word Listo on his stone made sense.  Listowel is a town, but also a parish so I knew the family's home wasn't necessarily in the town of Listowel.
     The breakthrough came from the Irish Genealogy site. There I found the baptismal records of not just George Gunn, but his sister Mary, brother Francis and a previously unknown sister Seragh.  The information included names of parents and godparents, and more remarkably, those transcriptions contained a townland, Ballygologue, County Kerry!  The site has records from Roman Catholic parishes in Kerry, Dublin and Cork.  Church of Ireland records are available from Carlow and Kerry along with Presbyterian records from Dublin.  The site is easy to navigate, and although there are as yet no images of my records, they promise they are coming, along with new records.  If only there were more sites like this one, and did I mention, it’s free!