Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday

     My 4th great aunt Ellen Ryan Maher rests in St. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery in Palmyra, New York.  She was born in Goldengarden Tipperary in the fall of 1840 to Cornelius Ryan and Alice O’Dwyer, my 3rd great grandparents.  Ellen was baptized on November 7th in the parish of Annacarty/Donohill, a small upland parish just a few miles north of Tipperary Town.  She joined six older siblings, and four years after her birth, the eighth and last child Cornelius Jr. was born.  I knew from church records and her tombstone that she died on August 25, 1877.
      Finding the details of where or how Ellen’s death occurred wasn’t easy.  Though she was buried in New York, she was living in Lexington, Ohio at the time of her death.  Could she have died on a visit home?  New York vital records don’t start until 1881, too late to be of use here.  Looking at the Family Search website one day, I noticed a database entitled Ohio Deaths and Burials.  Of course I checked, and naturally nothing came up.  I then did another search using the date from her burial records and the name Ellen with no surname, and there she was…Ellen “Marker”.  I knew it was her, Marker and Maher are pretty similar, the date was correct, and her mother’s name was listed as A. Dwyer.   The index gave her place of death as Lexington, but it gave no cause.
     While the state of Ohio did not keep vital records at that early date either, they did require the local probate courts to record deaths.  I wrote to the Richland County Probate Court requesting Ellen “Marker’s” information, hoping a cause would be included.  Amazingly enough they don’t charge for this service which was a nice change.  It was a few weeks before it arrived in my mailbox, but it was worth the wait, I had Ellen’s cause of death, childbirth.
     Ellen Ryan had arrived in New York Harbor on August 14, 1860 with her parents and younger brother Cornelius Jr.  After disembarking they traveled to Palmyra, New York where her older brother and sisters had already settled.  Three years later Ellen married Edward Maher, an immigrant from Kilkenny, and in exactly nine months their son Lawrence arrived.  Edward Maher worked for the railroad and sometime prior to the birth of their next son, Cornelius in 1867, he moved the family to Lexington, Ohio where their daughter, Margaret, was born in 1869.
      As the year 1877 was being rung in Ellen received the sad news her father back in Palmyra had died. But Ellen had news of her own; she was expecting their fourth child!  Childbirth in the 19th century was viewed differently than today.  While there was joy and anticipation, there was also apprehension.  At the time Ellen became pregnant, an estimated 400 in every 100,000 births resulted in the death of the mother; puerperal fever, (an internal infection), accounted for 55.5% of those deaths followed by hemorrhage at 22.5%.  Eclampsia and miscarriage made up most of the rest. Unfortunately, Ellen was about to become one of those statistics.  She died that summer at the age of 36. 
     Her obituary states that she died after a painful illness of several days duration, making puerperal fever a likely cause.  Ellen’s remains were returned to Palmyra, where her mother still lived, for interment in the Catholic cemetery there.  I’m still trying to determine what became of the baby, there is no mention of a child on her tombstone nor in the 1880 census.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Famine Echoes

     Well, it’s a brisk late summer day here in upstate New York; even I can’t deny fall is in the air.   Being so close to the Great Lakes, fall means lots of cloudy gray days and rain.  In other words, perfect weather for listening to a radio series.  I want to share a link to one I’ve enjoyed over the years.  The show is called Famine Echoes and as I’m sure you’ve guessed its topic is the great famine which hit Ireland in the 1840’s. 
 A little background:
     After fighting and winning a war of independence with England from 1919 to 1921, Ireland found itself embroiled in a Civil War.  The Anglo-Irish Treaty ended hostilities with England and established the Irish Free State, but without the six northern counties.  That agreement brokered by Michael Collins, who would himself die in the war, and his supporters was unacceptable to the Irish Republican Forces who viewed it as a capitulation and betrayal.  The two sides came to blows in June of 1922 and the exceptionally brutal conflict would last eleven months.  On April 30 of 1923 a ceasefire was called by the Irish Republican chief of staff and on May 24th he ordered the IRA volunteers to dump but not surrender their arms, ending the fighting but clearly not the bitter feelings.
     On the heels of the Civil War came a renewed interest in the history and traditions of Ireland. The long centuries of British occupation had nearly erased the Irish language and culture, which after all was England’s goal.  With freedom came the strong desire, and rightfully so, to resurrect that vibrant culture, and preserve it for future generations.  Enter the Irish Folklore Commission.  Founded in 1935, the Commission’s collectors fanned out over the countryside, studying the Irish language, conducting interviews and recording an astonishing amount of folklore.  Above is an image of a questionnaire they used. The fruit of their efforts was preserved in what is now the Department of Irish Folklore. 
     It is from their manuscript collection that Cathal Póirtéir, producer and writer, took the accounts of the famine as told by the survivors themselves to their children and others, and incorporated them into the sixteen part series.   All sixteen episodes are narrated by actors and actresses who assume the persona of the survivors and those they told their stories too.  Listening to the melodic Irish accents is a treat enough for someone like me who lives in the USA and rarely gets that opportunity.  As I listen, I find myself pondering how many of these experiences were also my ancestor’s?  How did they view what was happening around them?
     The episodes are free to download, and like much of Irish history are inspirational, depressing and maddening all at the same time.  There is also a companion book of the same name compiled by Cathal Póirtéir. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012


     My newlywed daughter was visiting this morning and got on my computer to show me a house she and her husband were interested in buying.  She went to a website called zillow.com.  Up popped the house, asking price, dimensions and the, "zestimate", what zillow thought the house should be valued at.  Cute huh?  It also thoughtfully provided the year the house was built.  "Is this site just for Monroe County," I asked?  No, it covers the whole darn country! 

    Immediately the family historian in me saw the genealogical use for this site.  Google street view, which zillow incorporates, was great, but knowing when the house was built adds another dimension.  I’m off now to check on some ancestral homes, hope you have fun with this site!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Little House on the Slaney & the 1901 Census

     I’m still engrossed with my McGarr ancestors and all the new information I’m finding.  Engrossed isn’t the word, ecstatic is more like it!  Griffiths Valuation of Ballyraggan, Kildare shows Daniel McGarr, my 3rd great grandfather, with around 14 acres of land, a house and offices.  In this instance, the term offices refers to outbuildings such as barns or sheds.   I wrote to the Valuation Office in Ireland requesting copies of the cancelled land books of Ballyraggan and was very pleased with the results.
     These are a wonderful resource; they allow you to track the leaseholder and/or owner of a particular property through the years.   The changes in leaseholders and owners were noted in different colored inks correlating to the year the change occurred.  The books cover right up to the 1970’s.  You can then find the current owner of your ancestor's property on the Valuation website, enabling you to stroll around their land on your next visit to Ireland.   They must be getting used to it by now dontcha think? 
     Using the cancelled books I was able to track Daniel McGarr’s property till the lease was taken over by Thomas Hughes.  After some digging at the Irish Family History Foundation website it turns out Thomas Hughes was Daniel’s son in law, the husband of his daughter Sarah McGarr.  I then checked the 1901 census to see if I could find Thomas and Sarah.  http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/
     Sarah was not there, but Thomas was.  Even better there was more information than I had ever dared hope.  There was the expected Household Return (Form A) asking the person’s name, age, profession marital status, place of birth and their religion; a matter of no small importance in Ireland at that time.  But wait, there were two more forms!  The House and Building Return (Form B1) not only gave the number of offices on the property, it actually described the house.  Under the heading, “Particulars of Inhabited Houses”   were columns for walls, asking if they were of sturdy construction such as stone or brick, or if made of mud or wood.  Another column for roofs asked whether of slate or tiles or thatch.  Others asked how many rooms, how many windows and what class of house it was from 1st to 4th class.
      The Return of Out-Offices and Farmsteadings, (Form B2), listed exactly what these out-offices were!  On my ancestor’s farm stood a stable, a piggery, a cow house, a fowl house and two sheds.  It was enough to gladden any family historian’s heart.  The information contained in the census along with  that found in the Valuation Books and earlier Tithe Applotment Books, not only satisfied my natural curiosity about how my ancestors lived, it gave me a clearer understanding of the social and economic factors that shaped their lives.  I can say with reasonable certainty they were long term leaseholders, not wealthy, but not on the lowest rung of their society and I even discovered that Daniel was a landlord himself!  He sub-let a tiny part of his holding to Patrick Cane, something I never would have suspected without viewing the valuation.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Brief Thoughts on Labor Day

     Labor Day is here again, summer’s last fling.  Parades, picnics, back to school sales all take center stage.  Not so long ago it was different.  Labor Day was a holiday meant to honor the American workers who built this country; that aspect often seems to get lost. 
     The first Labor Day, organized by the Central Labor Union, was celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882.  In 1894 congress made it a federal holiday celebrated coast to coast.  There is some contention about who first came up with the idea of Labor Day, Patrick McGuire or Matthew McGuire, but there is no doubt it was an Irishman.  The Irish were heavily involved with the early American labor movement, and why wouldn’t they be?  They held the most dangerous, lowest paying jobs available.  And they were among the least appreciated; should one Irishman fall, there was always another willing to heft his pickaxe. Canals, railroads and mines, they were there, and the conditions were horrendous.
      While there were many Irish Americans who worked to improve circumstances for workers, I promised this would be brief, so three of the better known:

    Terence V. Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor from 1879-1893, was the son of Irish immigrants who began his working career on the railroad at the age of thirteen.  After he was appointed head of the Knights of Labor, he helped establish labor bureaus and arbitration systems.  While serving the union, he was elected to three terms as mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  In 1897 he was appointed U.S. Commissioner General of Information and later, head of the Division of Information in the Bureau of Immigration.
      James Cardinal Gibbons also of Irish immigrant parentage was dismayed at the exploitation of Irish Catholics in the workforce. He worked closely with Terence Powderly, and between the two of them, they persuaded the Pope to end his objections to Catholics joining labor unions.  After his death in 1921 a journalist wrote of him, “He had Rome against him often, but he always won in the end, for he was always right.”
   Mary Harris Jones, who was born in Cork, came to Canada as a teenager with her family.  She later moved to the United States where she married George Jones.  They were living in Memphis when yellow fever struck the city. Mary endured the loss of her husband and all four of her children to the disease. She later moved to Chicago where she opened a dress shop only to lose everything she possessed to the great fire.  Still, despite her personal tragedies, she devoted herself to improving the lives of working men and women and especially children.  Her “boys” in the mining camps of Pennsylvania called her “Mother Jones” and the “angel of the mines”. 
     So today, enjoy the holiday, truly an Irish American holiday.  But do stop for a moment and raise a pint to the McGuires, Terrence Powderly and Cardinal Gibbons and to Mother Jones and all the other Irish labor leaders who made it possible.