Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday's Website/Railroad Retirement Records


     The railroad played a huge part in my hometown of Manchester New York's history.  When the Lehigh Valley Railroad opened their freight transfer yard there in 1892 the population soared.  Everyone worked for, or knew someone who worked for, the railroad--engineers, firemen, gandy dancers and engine repairmen all found employment in this little village. The number of saloons also soared, but that's a story for another blog.

     Today's website is an index to the records of the Railroad Retirement Board.  Just click on the Collection tab and scroll down to the last listing.  The search results will give a birth and death or retirement date, so it's helpful to have that information. Many of my Irish immigrant ancestors and their children worked for the New York Central and Lehigh Valley railroads, and I've already found two of them in the index. 

    With the information generated by the search you can ask the National Archives to send you a copy of your subject's file.  The beauty of this is that requesting the documents directly from the RR Retirement Board would set you back $27-- the only charge from NARA is a copying fee of 80 cents per page.  There is even a handy link on the results page that leads to the NARA site.

     Many of our Irish immigrant ancestors and their descendants were employed by various railroads and since this is a national database you might just find them there.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

John Gunn, Flax Farmer?

Ah, it was a tedious old crop, flax right enough, and it was a hungry, greedy crop too but the fields around the Cleggan were good flax fields and there was money in it. I miss it, it's beautiful blue color. The fields were the color of a summer sky, and when it was scutched it was so golden that it burned and glimmered as the sun and moon had mixed and fallen on it.
                                                                                                  W J Smythe
     One of my great-great-great-grandparents whom I know very little about is John Gunn.  I estimate his birth took place around 1825 give or take, as his first known child was born about 1850, the tail end of the famine.  I know he lived in Ballygologue in County Kerry, very near Listowel, because that is the address the PP wrote in the register when his children were baptized.  I know he married Margaret Browne because when my great-great-grandmother, his daughter Mary Elizabeth, married Philip Power in Palmyra, NY, that is what St. Anne's PP wrote in the marriage register as the bride's mother's name.  Finally, from his death certificate I know he died in Ballygologue 3 October1871 of chronic bronchitis, an illness of "some days" duration.

     That's about it.  What was going on in between those dates?  What did he do to earn a living?  Other than the births of his children, those years are a complete blank. John was only in the neighborhood of fifty when he died, and what was chronic bronchitis and how did one get it?  MedicineNet says chronic bronchitis is a cough that produces sputum, lasts three months or more, and recurs. It must have been an unpleasant way to go, and equally so for his family who had to listen to the poor man cough himself to death.

     Several sites say cigarette smoking is the main cause today.  Was John a smoker?  I don't think cigarettes were common in 19th century County Kerry, though they did have pipes.  The west of Ireland was a pretty poor place, I would think tobacco was a luxury item probably not indulged in daily.  In fact one site I looked at confirms that, but claims peasants smoked Coltsfoot instead, which is actually used to soothe lungs. So what else might have caused this disease?

     Reading further on the amazing internet, I found that in John's era cases were often related to  one's occupation, in John's instance all I knew is that he was a laborer per his death certificate. That covers alot of ground.  I doubt there were many factories in Ballygologue, or in Listowel for that matter, the west of Ireland was quite bereft of industrialization at that time.  One thing they did have was flax! 

     In the "Parliamentary Papers 1850-1908 vol. 34", I found this-- "Bronchitis is a trade disease among flax workers."  That's interesting, but was flax even cultivated in John's area?  Found in "A Pamphlet, the Result of Practical Experience of the Benefits of An Extended System Of Flax Husbandry", published in 1870, is this reference to Listowel--"Flax of excellent quality is grown here; the land is generally let in small holdings, and the gentry are favorable to it's extended growth."  So-- there was flax farming going on in John's vicinity; but was he involved in it?  I hate to admit it but I don't know, and I have no idea how to research the topic any further.  There was a Flax Growers List for County Kerry circa 1796, but there are no Gunns on it and most of the farmers seem to be from the Dingle Peninsula or further south.  Of course John himself would not have appeared on a list from that early date, but I had hoped perhaps a relative would.

     I'm certainly not ready to throw in the towel, I'm still searching for obscure sources so if anyone has any ideas, I'm open.  I think flax growing/processing is a perfectly good theory of the cause of John's illness...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday's Tip/Hard To Read Baptismal Records


      Looking through the early parish records of Castledermot is challenging to say the least.  Many of the pages are so faded there is no earthly way they could be deciphered, though I wonder if the FBI could use some method to read them?

     I was looking for my Travers ancestors and not finding very much.  I tried the Ancestry index along with the one at Find My Past with only a few hits.  Using the indexes I did locate a baptism in 1793 for ____ Travers of Lucas and Maria Travers.  

     I'm not sure how they came up with Lucas, the name does appear to begin with an L, but I certainly can't make out the rest. I also wondered, was the child's last name really Travers or was that the mother's maiden name?  Above, you can see the name Maria Travers is clear, as are the sponsor's  names SS Pat. Malone & Ann Corrigan, but the others are quite indistinct.

     To attempt to find the answer, I skipped ahead a few pages and backwards a few pages until I came to a fully legible entry and used this to determine in what manner the baptisms were being recorded.  Some parishes did not include the mother's surnames at all in early records while others did, which is what I needed to know.  After reading the clear entry I saw that in this particular parish, the priest entered the child's first and last name, followed by first name of the father and next, the first and maiden name of the mother.  That meant the child's last name was NOT Travers, that was Maria's maiden name.  Looking at the entry I can see the child's surname really doesn't look like Travers either--I can't make it out but sometimes it's easier to tell what an entry doesn't say than what it does.  In this case the surname appears to end with a Y.  I see a definite down-stroke.

     It's important that you use another entry as close as possible to the one you're having trouble reading, as sometimes baptisms were entered in different ways by different priests in the same parish over the years.  For instance, I've also seen records that use the child's first name followed by the father's first and last name followed by the mother's name with or without her maiden name.

     Another method that sometimes works is to upload the image to a photo editing site.  I've been using Befunky, but there are other free sites.  Try the "sharpen" setting or playing with the contrast.  You can also adjust the blues and other colors to improve the readability.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Musings On A Summer Night


     You may have noticed a discernible uptick in my number of blog posts lately.  Yes, I'm on vacation!!  More of a stay-cation since I'm just hanging around home, but I'm enjoying every minute of it.  I've spent hours researching on the net, writing and just relaxing on my deck, which is where I was until a few minutes ago.  We're experiencing a heat wave here in New York, temps were in the mid-ninety's and the humidity made it seem like a sauna--cliche I know, but in this case it's no exaggeration.  

     Sitting here alone on a warm summer's eve listening to the "peepers" is the perfect time for reflecting on my ancestors.  I've written before about how I would love to be able to get inside their heads. To really understand them, their thoughts and concerns, their likes and dislikes--in short, their world.  Time and again I find myself wondering what they would have thought of some event or object.

     It's a lovely starry night and the temps are down to around 80 now, the last of the fireflies are blinking out, their mating ritual completed for another year.  They won't be back until next spring and I will miss them, but even the fireflies make me wonder--did my ancestors enjoy them as much as I do?  Suddenly that seems like a pressing question, so to the computer I go.  It turns out there are no fireflies in Ireland, which made me sort of sad, but they did have something called a glow worm.  They are insects, not worms, and they don't fly, but they do glow like a firefly.  Being such a rural place in the 19th century, Ireland must have been full of them I would think?

     Earlier I saw a shooting star streaking it's way across the sky, surely the ancestors must have enjoyed spotting those.  Again, Ireland was rural--no lights to distract from the beautiful glimmer of the overhead stars.  I like to think these simple little gifts of nature brought them some joy in their straightened circumstances.  I used to believe I was fairly atypical to feel such a connection and curiosity with and for these long ago kin, but after meeting so many similarly minded people, both on the net and in person I know I'm not alone.  Say, I wonder if there are peepers in Ireland????

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Leaving of Liverpool Part 2

     In a previous blog, The Leaving Of Liverpool, I wrote about finding the immigrant ship of my 3rd great grandmother Mary Travers Hore.  She sailed on the packet ship America which entered New York harbor on August 13th of 1852.  I knew from the ship's manifest that the America left from Liverpool, but not the date of it's departure.  I began the search to find that date, just because I'm curious about things like that, and I've finally found an answer.

     The ad above, from the Liverpool Mercury of 18 June 1852, stated that "the splendid American Packet ship" America would sail punctually on the 24th instant, (instant means that same month), meaning it only took 20 days for Grandmother to reach New York; pretty good time for those days before steam.  The packet ships were known for keeping to their schedules which made travel easier than the days when immigrants might have spent days or weeks in Liverpool waiting for their ship to finally begin it's trip down the Mersey.

     I'm still curious about her time directly before the ship sailed.  I haven't been able to find any other familiar names on the manifest, no one who might have been traveling with her, though it's possible of course a neighbor or friend may have.  She must have been widowed by that time since no husband is listed with her.  Mary, age 50, would have had to leave her small townland of Ricketstown in County Carlow and travel about 45 miles to Dublin to catch the ferry to Liverpool-- then navigate that city to her ship's berth on the Waterloo Dock.  Did she do this all on her own?  I like to think perhaps her son Patrick or daughter Winifred, the only two of her children still in Ireland, accompanied her as far as Dublin and possibly to Liverpool; the ferry wasn't terribly expensive.  It's little details like that that intrigue me--the ones that are lost within a generation or two and are so hard to recover.  What I wouldn't give for a detailed diary...


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday's Website/California Digital Newspapers


      I love old newspapers, what genealogist doesn't?  Today's website California Digital Newspaper Collection as the title implies, is a collection of newspapers covering most of the state of California.  On the home page, across the top, you will find a search tab which allows you to search by individual newspapers, a titles tab listing all the newspapers available on the site along with their dates and a county map tab which takes you to a clickable map of counties.  Just click on the county of interest to generate a list of newspapers available for that place.  A useful source of information even if the dates you need aren't yet digitized.

     I've found many references to my O'Hore family who settled in San Francisco using this site, like the death notice below of Edward O'Hore Jr. son of my 3rd great uncle.  Edward Sr. was born in Rathvilly Parish, County Carlow but moved his family to California in the early 1860's, becoming a miner before ending his days in a tenement in SF.

     As you can see, the search terms are highlighted on the newspaper page and it's an easy site to navigate.  Hope you find something useful.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Mayflower Descendant Twice, Me?


     In a previous blog, here I wrote about my 11th great-grandfather John Billington, a controversial passenger who sailed on the Mayflower.  Well amazingly enough, or maybe not all that amazing, I have found that another progenitor was on that storied ship;  Francis Eaton who is also on my mother's side of the tree.  It doesn't surprise me at all that both these Mayflower passengers were on Mom's side; my father's family were relative latecomers, not reaching America's shores until during and after the potato famine for the most part.

     The new ancestor is Francis Eaton, born in England in 1596.  Yes, 1596. That. Is. Mind boggling.  Men were mincing about in neck ruffs, codpieces and hosiery at that time.  It's a time so far removed from my experience that in truth, I can't begin to summon any real feelings about this individual.  Yes, he's my 11th or 12th great-grandfather, but I really can't make any emotional connection.  Anyway--Francis and his third wife begat Benjamin after arriving in modern day Massachusetts.  Benjamin begat Benjamin Jr., who begat another Francis around 1700.  Francis and his second wife Lydia Fuller had a son  in 1734 whom they named Silvanus.  We're now approaching a time I can begin to relate to-- slightly.

     This brings us to Annis Eaton born in Massachusetts just before the American Revolution.  Annis married Joseph Foster Jr. and they were the first direct ancestors of this line to move to New York State and into Wayne County where my mother's family lived for many decades after.  Annis' son Asahel Foster was one of the pioneers of Wolcott, NY; he married Hannah Gregory and they had at least one child, Lucinda, born in 1832.  Hannah died in 1834 and Asahel then married her younger sister Martha who bore him six more children--five girls and finally a boy, Asahel Jr.  I wonder how many more children there would have been had he not gotten that son in 1852?

     This is where the Galloway's come in, Asahel's third daughter, Clarissa, married George Galloway.  Their granddaughter Grace was my mother's mother who died in a tragic fire leaving seven children under the age of twelve, the youngest being eight months. 

     I often wonder how other researchers feel about their far distant ancestors?  I'm very curious about them and find myself reading histories of their time and place and studying costume sites online to see how they may have dressed, but I admit it, I feel somewhat emotionally detached. Francis Eaton was born 420 years ago.  When you say it like that, it doesn't seem all that long a time and yet everything has changed-- attitudes, modern conveniences even gender rolls, no woman today would be content with being her husband's chattel.  I will likely find more Mayflower ancestors on Mom's side, but to tell you the truth, I'm more impressed with my 8th great-grandmother Winifred the witch than I am with my Pilgrims.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Workhouse Howl*


     The workhouse at Baltinglass sat a mile from town on seven acres of land.  All that survives today are the blueprint-like drawings above; even the records no longer exist, lost to fire in 1920.  Poorhouses were established in Ireland as early as 1703 when the Irish Parliament authorized a "House of Industry" in Dublin to provide sustenance for the poor and infirm along with orphaned children.  Over the years, more facilities were built around the island at Waterford, Limerick, Belfast, Cork and a few other localities.  

     With the Act of Union in 1800, Ireland became part of England.  The British answer to the question of  Irish pauperism was to export their workhouse system to Ireland.  While that system may have worked well  in England, Ireland's real problem was the lack of work or other means of supporting oneself.  The idea of being confined to a workhouse was repugnant to the population of Ireland and it was a dreadful and dreaded last resort.  To discourage anyone taking advantage of the system, conditions were made as unpleasant as possible.  Whole families were required to enter the workhouse together, helping landlords clear their property of them, but they couldn't remain together.  Men and women were sent to different quarters and even more cruelly, children over the age of two were taken from their mothers.  Their diet was poor, as was their treatment by the staff.  Conditions worsened during the famine years with rising numbers of inmates and the fevers that afflicted the malnourished population spreading quickly in the confined quarters of  a workhouse.

     I thought my ancestors had all escaped that horror until yesterday.  I feel like I've uncovered most of the information about my direct ancestors currently available on the internet, so I've begun expanding my search to their siblings.  While looking through the parish records the NLI has made available online I came across the baptism of Sarah Holmes in October of 1846, the second year of the famine. Sarah was the daughter of George Holmes and Mary Hore; Mary being a distant cousin of mine and the daughter of my 3rd great-grandfather Michael Hore's brother John.  As I looked at the entry in the Baltinglass Parish register giving the family address, I caught my breath--it read "Workhouse".

     The entry is not in great shape, but I can make out 1846 Spt 6- Holmes Sarah of Geo. & Mary Hora or Horan, Workhouse.  Sponsors ? Hayden and Bridget Breene, I think.  I hate to think of my ancestors, or anyone's ancestors, being relegated to such a ghastly place, or of a tiny baby being born there amidst the crowding and disease.  There were four older Holmes children in 1846 ranging from 17 year old James to 7 year old Thomas, all would have been separated from their parents.  How did this family end up there, how did their state become so destitute that the only alternative was the nightmarish workhouse?  Did George Holmes die, or the famine and resulting evictions cause them to lose everything?  Did baby Sarah survive and what became of them afterwards?  It seems there is still plenty to uncover about my family if I go far enough afield.

* The workhouse howl was a cry of grief and utter despair that not infrequently was heard echoing through the halls of those institutions