Friday, April 19, 2013

Surname Saturday/ A Rose, (or O’Hora) by any other name…

     It’s funny how the world has changed.  Today we are known by our names, which we usually keep for life excepting marriage, along with our social security number, employee number, account number etc…  When my ancestors, and yours perhaps, arrived in America in the 19th century surnames were variable things and numbering people was just starting to catch on.  Large numbers of Irish immigrants were illiterate and so had no idea of the correct spelling of their surnames, also Irish names and brogues were unfamiliar to American officials and open to all sorts of misinterpretationKeep in mind too, in the early 19th century standardized spelling was not universal. Barring restrictive privacy laws, future genealogists are going to have a much easier time than we did figuring out just who great, great grandpa was.

     When I started seriously trying to find my forbearers I turned to my Grandmother, the only one I had, whose maiden name was O’Hara…or so I was led to believe.  See Grandma's 100th Birthday Grandma was delighted to fill me in on the names and dates, and she was amazingly correct with all of it.  With the exception of the easiest thing to remember by far, her real surname.
Edward O'Hora 1868-1920

     While Grandma had no knowledge of where in Ireland the family originated, she knew the names of the immigrants and their children’s names, one of whom was her father Edward O’Hara.  I can’t tell you, because I lost count, how many hours I spent trying to find the O’Hara family of Littleville in Manchester Township, New York.  Or evidence of them emigrating, or owning land, or being enumerated in censuses, or existing on the face of the earth.  They just were not there.   Being a young mother at the time, with a growing family, time constraints forced me to put aside much of my research which in the early eighties had to be conducted on site.

     As I was able to devote more time to genealogy I found a wonderful repository about 14 miles from my home called RAIMS, also online now at There I found wills, court documents, census books, land records and tax records galore all under one roof, it was a genealogist’s dream come true; a veritable courthouse, county clerk and town clerk office all rolled into one.  The facility covers all of Ontario County, New York, and has indexes for many of its records at its website.   It also has an extensive map collection online.
     Looking through the 1875 New York census book for Manchester Township one afternoon and finding no O’Hara families, I noticed a family with a similar surname.  The children and parents had names and ages matching the ones I was looking for, but the surname was something that looked like O’Hove, it certainly was not O’Hara.  Upon checking the index for that year I saw that the indexer had also thought it looked like O’Hove.  I knew this had to be my family, Manchester is a small place and the matching children pretty much clinched it.  I moved on to 1880, and there they were again, only this time the name looked like O’Hore, later it morphed into O’Hora.  Things started coming together now!  I found deeds, passenger lists, death certificates and tax records.  Grandma had passed on by that time and no one else in the family had ever heard the names O’Hore or O’Hora, but I was sure I was correct.

     One of the best things I found after determining the correct surname was a long lost cousin who had posted to a message board, (don’t you love the internet?).  Rita lived in Georgia and was descended from my immigrant ancestor James O’Hora’s sister Mary, the mother of “Big Ed” McCabe from last week’s Black Sheep Sunday post  Black Sheep Sunday.  Rita shared research she had commissioned in Ireland which provided still another surname--Hore.  Hore or sometimes Hoare is the name the family went by in County Carlow.  She also shared church records from Holy Family Catholic church in Auburn, New York showing the name as Hore.  I knew I recalled Grandma mentioning Auburn when I was a child.

     My research has come a long, long way since those days, I have counties and townlands for all the ancestors on that side even though an obituary in a newspaper mistakenly printed James’ wife’s surname McGarr as McGraw and slowed me down for awhile.  I have to say I understand changing the name from Hore.  Lord knows they had enough to deal with being Irish Catholics in 19th century America without that name and its imputation.   

Alice far left-Mary far right center unknown
     The surname remained O’Hora until Grandmother’s generation when they switched to O’Hara, so she was fully aware of the change; in fact it was most likely she and her sister Alice who changed it.  I’m not sure why she didn’t share this information with me; not being interested in genealogy herself, she probably never dreamed I’d become this serious about the research and want to follow it back to Ireland.  It certainly made the trip more interesting, thanks Grandma.

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