Monday, December 1, 2014

4 Awesome Stocking Stuffers for Genealogists

Just in time for Cyber Monday (because I don't know about you, but Black Friday is my idea of hell on earth), here's a list of four great ideas for genealogy stocking stuffers.

presents, stocking stuffers, genealogy, genealogists, Christmas


1. Family Tree Magazine 

I never thought of magazines as stocking stuffers until I got married, but in my husband's family, everyone always has a magazine or 5 sticking out of the top of their stockings on Christmas morning. It's still a little foreign to me, but since my husband always goes out of his way to make sure my magazines are ones like Family Tree Magazine, or other, less common genealogy magazines (or Crochet Today!, but this might not be the right audience for that one), it's something I've come to look forward to! If you want to go big, have the magazine in the stocking be representative of a year's subscription, in print or on Kindle.

2. A flash drive
The bigger, the better! (In terms of storage capacity, that is.) Because every genealogist wants to be able to save digital images or original documents somewhere convenient, or to bring along digital notes and other materials when on a research trip. (An especially good gift for someone whose spouse left her flash drive behind in a computer at NEHGS last February.)



3. Christmas Ornaments

My mom used to get those picture frame Christmas ornaments (like these) each year and put our school pictures in them. If you do this each year, they're a family heirloom being made in real time. You could also, however, put pictures of your ancestors in them to make your Christmas tree a family tree. Or make these cool Heritage Ornaments from Caroline Pointer of 4YourFamilyStory.com.

4.  A disposable camera

(They still make these, right? Looks like they do!) Because, as I've said before, the digital is ephemeral. The photographs that will last are the ones that are physical objects. Genealogists don't just love to discover the past, they love to document the present for the future. Give a genealogist a disposable camera and let her document this Christmas in a way that you'll be able to show your grandchildren!


Disclosure: This post contains Amazon.com affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase from Amazon after clicking one of these links, I will receive a small portion of your purchase price as a commission. I personally make a point of starting my Amazon shopping through the affiliate links of bloggers and friends whenever possible, so that large corporations are not the only beneficiaries of my purchases, and encourage others to do the same, regardless of whether they use my affiliate links or another blogger's. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"So This is Christmas" Geneameme

So I go most of the last six months without posting at all, and decide on the holidays as the perfect time to start writing again. It's not like I have anything else going on, right? I'm not busy these days, right? In the spirit of "Why not write 4 posts in 1 week, when I couldn't write 1 post in 4 months?" I'm participating in Sharn White's "So This is Christmas" Geneameme.

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS - GENEMEME 2014

1.WHAT KIND OF CHRISTMAS DID YOU HAVE AS A CHILD?
Our Christmases were religious - we always went to Mass on Christmas morning - but primarily they were family-oriented. We always spent Christmas Eve with my mother's family, having a big Italian fish dinner with 30-50 people, and Christmas Day with my father's family, which was much smaller at only 16-20 people.

2. WHERE DID YOU SPEND  CHRISTMAS?
Because we were lucky enough to have both sides of our family close living nearby, we always woke up in our own beds on Christmas morning, and yet were still able to see all of our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who we visited either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

3. A LETTER AND SOMETHING YUMMY FOR SANTA
We always wrote letters to Santa. Once, several months after Christmas, I found them hidden in a cabinet above the fridge. When I showed them to my Dad, he assured me that he had made copies to mail to Santa, even though he'd held on to the originals.

4. THE CHRISTMAS TREE
We always had a live Christmas tree, usually from a small local farm. (They only grew vegetables, but sold trees in the winter anyway.) Sometimes the whole family would go pick it out, but more often my mom would stay home to get ready for dinner and decorating while my dad took my sisters and I. We always listened to Christmas music on the way, sometimes for the first time that year. I distinctly remember the year someone quickly grabbed a Christmas cassette out of storage on the way out the door and it turned out to be my mom's Joni Mitchell tape. We ended up listening to "River" - not exactly an upbeat carol - on the way to get the tree and were not happy about it.

5. DECORATING THE CHRISTMAS TREE
We all helped decorate the tree. My mom would usually make appetizers - particularly those little mini quiches and pigs in a blanket - which we would eat while we decorated and listened to Christmas music (most often "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and Stevie Wonder's Christmas album).

6. DID YOU DECORATE OUTDOORS?
We always decorated outdoors, with lights, wooden soldiers, and a Nativity scene. Dad did most of the work, but we all helped. My major contribution was untangling the strings of lights.

7. CHRISTMAS CARDS
We always sent and received cards, which was mostly my mom's domain. I remember always being very excited to be get to open cards as they arrived, and excitement that lasted until I was really too old for that - at least into college. The cards were always strung on twine and hung around the dining room doorway.

8. CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS
We all had stockings, which hung by the fireplace. I liked my stocking, but it had my name written on it in glitter that was really quite ugly - or maybe it had once been pretty and had gotten icky and worn out over the years. Both of my sisters had their names written on their stockings quite nicely, and I was always jealous.

9. CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
We always got presents from our parents and Santa on Christmas morning, and from other relatives on Christmas Eve or at Christmas dinner. Eventually, the number of kids got too be too much to handle, and the presents from other family members were scaled back considerably.

10. YOUR FAVOURITE CHRISTMAS PRESENT
Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe my bike? Not because I was more excited for it than for anything else at the time, but because I'm still using it on a daily basis 10+ years later!

11. WAS THERE A PRESENT YOU WANTED BUT NEVER RECEIVED?
I wouldn't say I had an unrealistic Christmas present I never received, but I spent several years wanting "young" Barbies - a Skipper, or maybe there were Barbie babies at some point? All I knew was that both of my sisters had Barbie "kids" and I wanted some but never got them. I'm sure there were tons of gifts I asked for but didn't get over the years, and I have no idea why this one tiny thing sticks out in my mind after all this time!

12. DID YOU GIVE GIFTS TO TEACHERS AND FRIENDS AT SCHOOL?
Once I hit about middle school, I remember always giving gifts to friends. Usually they were little trinkety things like small candles, candies, etc. I'm sure we also gave gifts to my teachers (I hope), but I have no real recollection of that.

13. CHRISTMAS FOOD
Oh the food! Our real Christmas feast was always Christmas Eve. Being Italian, we always had fish on Christmas Eve - baked clams, raw clams, fried shrimp (that was my mom's job), spaghetti with squid. And then lobster! It's everyone's favorite night of the year.

14. A SPECIAL CHRISTMAS RECIPE
We're still having the same big Christmas Eve dinners, although most people now buy, rather than make, their contributions. My mom is the one main exception - she always spends Christmas Eve morning up to her elbows in flour-coated shrimp, frying them for the evening's meal. I know that while my grandmother was alive, she appreciated that my mom still took the time to do it by hand.

15. CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
See the above description of our Christmas Eve feasts. After dinner, there's always dancing!

16. CHRISTMAS MUSIC
We always listened to pretty standard Christmas music. I know that my paternal grandmother, who was Irish, loved the song "Feliz Navidad," and because my mom loves it, the main soundtrack of our Christmas was always Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas." When I was in Kindergarten, I was chosen as 1 of 3 girls to get up on stage at the annual Christmas concert and dance in a bathing suit and grass skirt while an older grade sang "Mele Kalikimaka."


17. YOUR FAVOURITE CHRISTMAS CAROL
There are lots that I love, of course. "Mele Kalikimaka" has fond memories for me because of the aforementioned Christmas concert. I've always loved "Away in a Manger," although now that I'm the parent of a newborn, the line "no crying he makes" makes me laugh. Jesus was human, right? That's the point of the Incarnation. And human babies - trust me on this - they cry. As I got older, I began to really love "We Three Kings," too.


18. CHRISTMAS PARTIES
I don't remember the specifics of many parties, or of parties that were annual traditions when I was a kid, except that for many years my dad's extended family had a party a day or two after Christmas which was great, because I got to know my second cousins pretty well over the years. As a college student, my roommate and I always hosted a Christmas party in which we insisted that our friends behave like grownups for once and at least wear fancy clothes while they got drunk. It was always a roaring success.

19. CHRISTMAS CONCERTS/PLAYS
As mentioned above, I was a dancer in the Christmas concert the year I was in Kindergarten. We had Christmas or holiday concerts every year after that; the only other one that bears mentioning was that in 2nd grade (I was in Catholic school at the time), I was an angel in our Nativity play.

20. CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS
Because it was winter, we were often a bit cooped up inside, unless it happened to be good weather for playing outside in the snow. Since Christmas usually fell towards the beginning of the break, I guess we probably spent most of our time playing with our new toys!

21. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST CHRISTMAS MEMORY?
My memory is not particularly vivid, but I do remember my sister having chicken pox at Christmas one year. I couldn't have been older than 3.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Don't fuhget the fuhgotz!

I'm trying something new, or rather, something old, for Thanksgiving this year. In addition to my annual whole-berry cranberry sauce, I decided on a whim that I would try to replicate my grandmother's . . . well, her what exactly? If I said focaccia, you'd know what I was talking about, but it wouldn't feel right. We never said "focaccia" in our family.

It was this item that first introduced me to the idea that our family's linguistic heritage was something of an Americanized - maybe "Brooklynized" would be putting it better - non-standard Italian dialect. I was probably in middle school - young enough that I had to write an "About Me" assignment at the beginning of the year, but old enough to know that the word I was typing was decidedly not what I was trying to say.

My favorite food is my grandma's faggots

Well, that can't be right.

My favorite food is my grandma's fagots

That looks way too close to the other one.

"Mom, how do you spell [fuhgotz]?

Her answer, in essence, was that "fuhgotz" was not a real word, that we were just saying "focaccia" wrong. She spelled "focaccia" for me, and I found myself writing in an essay that my favorite food was this thing I'd never heard of before. I wasn't sure how I felt about it.

My grandmother was an excellent cook, and the foods she made are part of her substantial legacy. Fuhgotz were on the table just about every Sunday. (To me, focaccia will always be something you get at a fancy restaurant, not the food I grew up with). They have rarely made an appearance since she passed away, though. Though everyone has recipes for her biscuits, her pizza dolce, her sauce, fuhgotz seem not quite as prominent on our menus these days. Whenever they were forgotten in the oven in the rush of getting dinner for a huge family on the table, my grandfather would say, "You fuhgot the fuhgotz!" I hope we don't.

I asked my mom for the recipe, and she was able to give me a brief outline. It was similar to what I remembered from the time Grandma had shown me herself, years ago, though I hadn't written anything down and so would have forgotten the onions. Mom said she wasn't sure, though: "You'd have to ask Aunt Cathy. She's the only one who really knows the recipe. I just do the biscuits."

I have literally no clue how my first attempt at fuhgotz will turn out. (In retrospect, maybe the first attempt should have been one I tried out at home, not my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner. Oh well.) But this exercise has me thinking. About how fuhgotz is more of a real word to me than focaccia will ever be, even if it doesn't appear in any dictionary. And about the fractionating of legacies. How Grandma crocheted, made biscuits, made fuhgotz, belonged to the Rosary Society. How I crochet. Mom makes biscuits. Aunt Cathy makes fuhgotz. Aunt Sue belongs to the Rosary Society. Grandma could do all of those things, but while we all have treasured memories of these and many more facets of Grandma's life and personality, it seems like we are each the keepers of only some small fraction of her legacy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Event: Finding Your Ancestors in Catholic New York

I want to share the announcement of a really exciting event coming up from the New York Irish History Roundtable. The following announcement was recently shared on several listservs I belong to, and I have permission to reproduce it here:

>From the New York Irish History Roundtable:
(roundtable@irishnyhistory.org)

Dear Roundtable Members and Friends,

On Saturday, December 6, at 2 p.m., Kate Feighery, Archival Manager for the Archdiocese of New York (and the Roundtable's new Vice President for Local History), will discuss strategies for discovering & using Catholic religious records -- rewarding resources for information about Irish Catholic ancestors who lived in New York beginning in the early 1800s.

Topics to be explored include: What a family-history researcher can expect to find. Locations of christening, marriage & funeral records.  How records can be accessed.  Whether permissions are necessary. What else a researcher can expect to find.

This event promises to be a very informative lecture about the holdings of the archives - after all, who amongst us can boast of having a chance to listen to an archivist who works at the New York Archdiocesan Archives, a place that has been off-limits to so many of us for most of our lives? That situation is all changed now, and Kate and Rev. Michael P. Morris (Senior Archivist) now are welcoming visitors and researchers to the Archives on an appointment basis.

The lecture will be held at 263 Mulberry Street, in the Parish House of The Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. The location is within several blocks of the Prince Street station of the N and R trains, the Broadway-Lafayette Street station of the F train, and the Bleecker Street station of the Number 6 train. The Parish House is right near the corner of Prince and Mulberry streets.

Seating will be limited, so please try to arrive early!

This program is open to all interested family-history researchers. A reception will follow the program.($5 donation for reception)

Contact for the Roundtable:

Frank Naughton
Naughtonfrank@yahoo.com

The Roundtable's Board of Trustees would like to wish all of our friends a joyous and safe holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and a very Happy New Year to everyone!

I unfortunately won't be able to attend, but wish I could! If you're interested, check it out!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Family Reunion Recap

My mother's side of the family recently had a family reunion. I signed up to bring the genealogy (and a side dish).

The broccoli was a hit. The genealogy was more of a mixed bag, so I'll go over what worked and what didn't, what I expected and what I was surprised by.

Family Tree
My mom is one of 20-something first cousins on this side of the family, and I simply can never keep the current generations straight. They look too much alike and all have the same names.* Their kids don't always come to family events. However, I am the recognized expert on generations past. So I got two big sheets of butcher paper, and on one, starting with my grandmother's generation, drew a family tree that went back from her siblings to her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Then I took the other piece of paper and taped it below the first one. I hung this on the wall and brought markers so that attendees could write in themselves and their own families. People were really excited by both the historical family tree and the ability to participate in bringing it to the present day.

What would I do differently? I would have announced the existence of the tree and requested help filling in the younger generations over the microphone so everyone knew it was there. As it is, one entire branch of the family left without filling themselves in, and they may not have noticed the tree even existed.

Genealogical Records
I printed out all of the records I have for this side of the family, put them in sheet protectors in a binder, and left it hanging out for people to peruse at their leisure. It actually got more interest than I anticipated!


What would I do differently? If I had all the time and money in the world, I would have included translations from the Italian, or at least abstracts of what the records showed. And if I was making announcements anyway, I would have mentioned the binder was there, but I was pretty impressed with how much interest was shown anyway!

Scanning
I brought a wand scanner and put out a note weeks earlier on the event's Facebook page that I would scan any photos or documents anyone wanted to bring, but no one did. I wasn't really expecting them to, but figured I'd be prepared, just in case.


What would I do differently? Nothing really. I didn't want to push, just provide a nudge in case anyone would have thought to bring old records if they knew someone was interested!

Memory Album
I bought a photo album and a number of note cards, which I passed out with the instructions to record one family memory and return it so we could compile them all into an album of family memories. I had grand dreams of finding out lots of things I never knew about my great-grandparents. I spent a week of my train commute writing "I Remember . . ." on 200 index cards. I got 12 back. We did not have nearly the buy-in I was hoping for. When I mentioned the project to the party's organizer, she thought it would be more fun to have people stand up and say their memories into the microphone. I couldn't tell if this was better or worse - there was more pressure to participate, so there was more participation, but I think people were attributing that pressure to me, which is exactly what I didn't want. I just handed you a note card and walked away! It was a lot of fun to hear everyone's memories, but most of them didn't get recorded. And when everyone was done sharing memories, they started cleaning up and went home. It seemed to serve as sort of an ending, and I'm not sure the party would have wrapped up so soon if we hadn't done it. 

What would I do differently? I have this stirring narrative in my head that inspires everyone to diligently record all of their memories. But I don't like to get up and speak in front of people, so I don't know if I'd ever say it, much less whether it would be effective. Drawing paralells between the stories that have been told of my great-grandparents and the generations tha came before them, I would do something like this:

[Pointing to family tree hanging on the wall] "There are lots of names on that family tree that are new to us all. Vitomichele Scigliuto. Giacoma Rutigliano. And it's cool that I was able to find out their names, that I can research when they were born and when they died. But what I can't find out, because these things don't get recorded, is whether he loved music. Whether she would cover every surface in the house with homemade macaroni. Whether they had a dog named Beauty. If their grandkids played Bingo with orange peels when they visited. These are the details - the important details - about our family that will be lost to history unless we make an effort to preserve them. Otherwise, in a generation or two, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents will be nothing more than names on a piece of paper. And so I encourage all of you to write down at least one memory so that it can be preserved for posterity."

Also, I would have recorded the memories that people chose to share out loud.




* Fun fact, that I realized when watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as the father introduces his family, all of whom are names Diane and Nick: Every single one of my mother's female maternal cousins has a name that includes or is a variation of the names Anne and Mary. Examples: Rosemarie, Annie, Anne, Mary Ann, Ann-marie, Joanne, Annette, Mary, Marie, Ann

Monday, November 3, 2014

Top 5 Signs You're a Genealogist and a New Mom

My pre-baby interests are desperately trying to reassert themselves, so I've begun to sneak some genealogical research time in here and there. And as a result, I've discovered the following indications that you might be a genealogist and the mother of an infant:

5. Your child's name references 6 generations across 4 different lines.

4. You do online research while using a breast pump.

3. You cry when discussing historical infant mortality rates.

2. You've ever found yourself in a dark room after putting the baby to bed, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep (because why does he sleep worse now than when he was a newborn?), furiously citing a source before you'll let yourself go to bed. 

And the top sign that you're both a genealogist and a new mom . . .

1. You add to the family tree at both ends!

Monday, July 21, 2014

False Positives - Who clogs up your search results?

I suspect every researcher has them. The people who turn up again and again in your search results, even though they're definitely not your guy.

Search the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for Mulvaneys in the 19th century, and you'll find occasional references to the family of James and Bridget Mulvaney, my ancestors. But you'll find dozens of references to Deputy Sheriff Mulvaney, whose job kept him in the papers all the time. The search term gymnastics you have to do to exclude the good deputy sheriff would probably eliminate a number of more promising results at the same time.

I have eBay alerts set up for a number of the names of my families. Some almost never show up, and when they do, I get excited by the prospect of a real find. (Nothing yet!) But others pop into my inbox with amazing - and utterly unhelpful - regularity.

My "Lanzillotto" search is routinely confounded by the book L is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir by Annie Lanzillotto. Interestingly, this one actually is about my family, written by a cousin of my mother's. But - I already have a copy!



Some of the more common names in my family need geographic qualifiers in their search terms, so I have an alert set up for "Quinn Brooklyn." And I get alerts more days than not. 99% of them are baseball cards for Jack Quinn, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s. People list Jack Quinn baseball cards for sale just about every day. The other 1% were Christine Quinn campaign pins from the 2013 NYC mayoral campaign. (I'm not related to either of them, as far as I know.)

I have an "O'Hara Brooklyn" alert set up, too. All of the results are vintage magazines featuring articles about John O'Hara, the author, not John O'Hara, my great-grandfather.

All of these e-mails get deleted. It takes all of my willpower not to delete them without reading them, but what if one day it's a Quinn family Bible, not a Jack Quinn baseball card? And so I read a daily e-mail about Jack Quinn baseball cards that does nothing to help my research.


Who clogs up your search results? How do you craft your searches so that these false positives don't show up over and over again?


Disclosure: This post contains Amazon.com affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase from Amazon after clicking one of these links, I will receive a small portion of your purchase price as a commission - and the price you pay doesn't change! I personally make a point of starting my Amazon shopping through the affiliate links of bloggers and friends whenever possible, so that large corporations are not the only beneficiaries of my purchases, and encourage others to do the same, regardless of whether they use my affiliate links or another blogger's.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pedigree Collapse?

Or does this guy just not know how great-grandparents work?

We enthusiastically set about filling in the family tree in my newborn's baby book, and were confronted with this:


You don't have to be a genealogist to be annoyed by this, right?

Luckily, I can print out a full-fledged pedigree chart from Family Tree Maker and stick it in the baby book, to make up for these oversights, but I understand that among the general population, almost everyone has 16 great-great-grandparents, and almost no one has genealogy software. Where does Joe Notagenealogist put his kid's other 12 great-great-grandparents?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails: What a difference a Y chromosome makes

Before the recent birth of my son, I was pretty convinced that we were having a girl. Almost everyone I knew disagreed - everyone had "a feeling" it was a boy, or insisted that I was carrying like it was a boy, or that my face hadn't changed, or that my "beauty hadn't been stolen," so it had to be a boy. (Remind me to be insulted if people start guessing that the next one's a girl.) So much for mother's intuition - he's definitely all boy.

I think we were still in the delivery room when I remarked to my husband, "I guess the reign of the Gatto women is really over." My mother was one of 8 children - 7 girls and 1 boy. I was one of 20 grandchildren on that side - 13 girls and 7 boys. (And those numbers are misleadingly even; the first 10 grandkids are 9 girls and 1 boys; the next 10 are 4 girls and 6 boys, so the older cousins grew up in an environment that was all girl, and our younger cousins are growing up in an environment that is substantially boy.) My son is now one of 5 great-grandchildren - 0 girls and 5 boys.

So I decided to draw up a few statistics. Are the gender differences between these generations really as stark as they seem from the inside?

  • In the 1950s, there were 5 births, all girls. 100% female.
  • In the 1960s, there was 1 birth, a boy. 100% male.
  • In the 1970s, there were 4 births, 3 girls and a boy. 75% female, 25% male.
  • In the 1980s, there were 9 births, all girls. 100% female.
  • In the 1990s, there were 4 births, 1 girl and 3 boys. 75% male, 25% female.
  • In the 2000s, there were 6 births, 2 girls and 4 boys. 33% female, 66% male.
  • In the 2010s, there have been 4 births, all boys. 100% male. 

There are as many 100% male as 100% female decades, but on the boys' side is my one uncle born in the 1960s, and on the girls' side are the 9 of us cousins born in the 1980s. 


  • From the 1950s through the 1980s, there were 19 births, 17 girls and 2 boys. 89% female, 11% male.
  • From the 1990s through the 2010s, there were 14 births, 3 girls and 11 boys. 21% female, 79% male.

When you break it down like that, it's pretty apparent that my aunts and the cousins I grew up with really did inhabit a substantially different family environment than my young cousins - and my son - will. I hate to perpetuate gender stereotypes, but I'm pretty confident in stating that, as a whole, these little boys will play far fewer games where they pretend to make jewelry. They will choreograph fewer dance routines and play more pick-up basketball games. They will go to fewer of their cousins' dance recitals and more of their football games; fewer horseback-riding lessons and more wrestling matches. The current crop of young girls - okay, just the one young girl - will have no one with whom to compare the flare of her fancy dresses at holidays. (Picture this: Spin around in a dress. Does the skirt flare straight out, perpendicular to your body? If so, you're wearing a "cake" dress, and can feel superior to your cousins who are merely wearing "cupcake" dresses that don't flare so much when they spin! That is the kind of thing you are surrounded by when you are 6 and your family is 89% female.) 

For much of my early childhood, I had just the one boy cousin. He frequently occupied himself teasing the life out of the younger girls who surrounded him. We'll find out how that looks in reverse, with one little girl growing up in the midst of nearly a dozen boy cousins. 

This situation makes me wonder what I'm in for in the coming years - as someone who grew up with only sisters and mostly girl cousins, boys are kind of an alien species - as well as how these accidents of birth affected other people in my family throughout history. Gender can have some very substantial effects on someone's life - career prospects, health, ability to vote, military service - but what about the more subtle effects? How would my grandfather's life have looked different if he'd had 3 sisters instead of 3 brothers? Would it have changed the way my great-grandmother grew up if the genders in her family had been more evenly distributed, instead of all the girls first, followed by all the boys?

In an oral history I recorded with my late grandmother, who was born in the Bronx in 1927, she told me that her brothers always roamed farther from home than she and her sisters did. "When you're little boys, you hang around more. When you're little girls, you stay kind of by your stoop." She also mentioned that they would have to stop playing softball with the boys when her father got home, because he didn't like girls and boys playing together. "I guess he didn't want us to play with the boys . . . they were very strict about that when we were younger."

Clearly, the differences between a family full of boys and a family full of girls would have been even more stark in previous generations!

Monday, May 5, 2014

What to Expect When Great-Grandma Was Expecting

In advance of Mother's Day this weekend, some thoughts on childbirth and my great-grandmothers.

During the course of my recent first pregnancy, I spent a lot of time thinking about birth in prior generations. This was at least in part because doing any research about childbirth inevitably leads to discussions of both how much birth has improved over the past century (maternal mortality declined from 6-9 deaths per 1000 live births in 1900 to less than 0.1 deaths per 1000 live births in 1999) and how much current standard practices can impeded the course of normal labor, increasing complications and leading to still more interventions, preventing our bodies from working the way our foremothers' were allowed to.

Don't worry, gentlemen, I'm not planning to go into much more detail than that! You can stick around.

However, my thinking about the history of childbirth was also substantially influenced by my natural historical and genealogical perspective, and so I've been calling to mind the stories I've heard of my great-grandmothers' birthing experiences.

Of course, these are not the detailed birth stories you can sometimes find on mommy blogs or when talking to your girlfriends. These are soundbites, the most interesting bits of an experience, the parts that could be sterilized for public consumption and that are interesting enough to have been repeated 3 generations later.

Molly Quinn O'Hara
Molly O'Hara, one of my paternal great-grandmothers, had 4 sons, including my paternal grandfather. She was the one who said that when it came to babies, you need to "Get them before they are two, or they will get you." She lived directly across the street from the hospital, and by the time she was pregnant with her fourth child, she said, she didn't bother seeing a medical professional during her pregnancy, but just showed up at the hospital when it was time. "I had done it three times before, I knew what I was doing."

Anna Cianciotta Lanzillotto
Anna Lanzillotto had 7 children, of whom my maternal grandmother was the fourth. According to my grandmother, when she was being born, her older sister, at 18 months or so, wouldn't leave the room or stop jumping on the bed. The midwife tried to shoo her out but she wouldn't go, or at least wouldn't go quietly, so her mother allowed her to stay. "But," Grandma said, "I'm sure that when I was coming, they got her out of there!"

As the story of my grandmother's birth illustrates, her mother was accustomed to giving birth at home. However, one year at Christmas time, my grandmother recalled that she and her siblings couldn't find their mother anywhere. They looked all over, under beds, in closets, but there was no sign of her. Finally, someone came home to tell them that they had a new baby brother, and that mother and baby were in the hospital. I'm not aware of any particular circumstances that would have caused Anna to deliver Baby #7 in the hospital after 6 home births, other than changing conventions and the fact that hospital births were becoming more common as time went on (1930s as opposed to 1920s). There could have been risk factors I'm unaware of, or it could have been due to the simple fact that a mother is, by definition, older when giving birth to her seventh baby than to her first, and "advanced maternal age" can be a risk factor for many complications, though how strongly that was considered at the time I don't know.

Maria D'Ingeo Gatto
Maria Gatto also had seven children, of whom my maternal grandfather was the 6th, I believe. All 7 were born at home, my grandfather told me recently. "We never had a doctor. My mother was my doctor." Beyond that, I know that those seven children were not her only births. I had heard that she was a midwife, but my grandfather told me recently that that's not exactly accurate. She delivered 9 babies in addition to her own. According to Grandpa, she just happened to be there for some of them, and then was called by other women, too poor to hire the real midwife, because "she knew how to do it."

Veronica Mulvaney Mulcahy
Veronica Mulcahy gave birth to three children in the 1930s and 1940s. In this case, I know little of their actual births, although I have a hospital "birth certificate" (not the official municipal certificate) from Bensonhurst Maternity Hospital in Brooklyn for her eldest, my paternal grandmother Marilyn Mulcahy, so I know that at least one of her children was born there. This doesn't surprise me, as I remember a conversation among my aunts once about whether their parents had been born in hospitals or at home - they didn't know the answer, although clearly on that side of the family, hospitals were the norm - in which one volunteered that "I can't imagine Nana giving birth without whatever forerunner of the epidural existed at the time." (I tried to do some research into what pain relief options would have actually been available at Bensonhurst Maternity Hospital at the time, but found no specific information, and conflicting reports as to the general use of the most well-known early drug for labor pains, twilight sleep.)


What's interesting to me is the clear divide here between the birth  practices of the two sides of my family. The Italians had all or mostly home births. The Irish apparently had all hospital births. Was this a mainly cultural difference? Socioeconomic? Was it related to the fact that my Italian great-grandmothers were both immigrants, and my Irish great-grandmothers native-born New Yorkers? How did these factors interact during what was clearly a time of transition from birth at home, attended by a midwife, to birth at a hospital, attended by a doctor? Where do these "soundbite" birth stories fit into the historical context of the time (1920s-1940s) and place (New York City)? My brief online research didn't supply answers.

What do you know about childbirth in the early-mid 20th century, in general or in NYC in particular?

Monday, April 28, 2014

FAN Club: Looking for Mary Ennis

The premise of the FAN Club method of research is a focus on the Friends, Associates, and Neighbors of your research subjects in order to trace your own ancestors and contextualize their lives.

In looking over some old posts recently, I found a reference to an excellent candidate for this type of search. In 2009, I had posted briefly about finding the death notice of a Mary Ennis, whose funeral left from the home of my 3x great-grandfather, Richard Toner. At the time, I was not keeping good records, so she had fallen off my radar in the interim. In fact, it took me quite some time to track down where I'd even found the newspaper notice in the first place. (I added a citation to the old post once I figured it out.)

Mary Ennis, Richard Toner, death notice, May 5 1866, Maynooth Kildare
Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "Died." 5 May 1866. via eagle.brooklynpubliclibrary.org

Mary Ennis's death notice was published on May 5, 1866, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She was born in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland, like the Toners. She died on May 5, 1866. Beyond that, there was no biographical information - no age, no address, no place of residence, no relatives. This does not make her an easy person to track down, but she obviously had a connection to the Toner family, and I'd like to figure out what it is. Did it go any deeper than being from the same hometown? How do I find out?

To begin with, I'm using the technique outlined in this excellent tutorial and the Irish Family History Foundation website to draw up an index of all the Ennises in Maynooth prior to 1866. I've already determined that there were no marriages between Ennises and Toners, Ennis births to women with the maiden name Toner, or Toner births to women with the maiden name Ennis. 

Next, I would like to order Mary Ennis's death record. In 1866, it would have been a line in a ledger, not a certificate, and would have included only minimal information. However, I might be able to learn her age and where she was buried. The former could help narrow down the Mary Ennises I've identified in Maynooth, and the latter could lead to cemetery records or a tombstone that could further locate Mary Ennis's relationships.

I also looked into the Kings County Estate Files series on FamilySearch, and found that Mary Ennis does not appear.

I am hoping to find Mary Ennis in the 1865 NYS Census, as well, but since it is not yet indexed, I haven't had a chance to search for her yet. Additionally, while I could begin the search for her in the Toners' neighborhood, she could have actually lived anywhere in Brooklyn or Manhattan, or even further afield, and without the additional information possibly provided by the death record, it will be hard to know if I've found the right Mary Ennis.

Am I missing anything? Where else can I look to find out about Mary Ennis and her connection to the Toner family?

Monday, April 21, 2014

"On Basketball Courts"

In my recent searches of the Brooklyn Eagle at the new Brooklyn Newsstand site, I came across an interesting reference to my Mulcahy family.


Nevada Five, Red Hook, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Michael Mulcahy, Brooklyn, basketball,
"On Basketball Courts." Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 22 Jan 1912


The item, which ran in the "On Basketball Courts" section of the 22 Jan 1912 edition of the Eagle, is advertising for competitors to play against a basketball team called the Nevada Five. (I cannot for the life of me figure out why this team from Brooklyn was known as the "Nevada Five.") These ads were common at the time, though I've seen more of them in the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union than in the Eagle. The team's contact, Mike "Mulcay," is one of my Mulcahys, who lived at 85 Luquer Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I'm guessing that the number "(120)" refers to the weight of the players, as most other similar advertisements refer to teams as "95 pound" teams, or as teams with "135 pound players," etc.

This all leaves one big question: Who was "Mike Mulcay"? The Mulcahy family had two Michaels living at 85 Luquer St., a father and son, and I can't tell from this ad or the other ones I've seen whether these teams were more likely to feature adults, adolescents, or both. Michael Mulcahy, Sr. was approximately 49 in 1912; his son, Michael Jr., was 13 or so. 120 lbs seems somewhat low for a grown man, although I've never seen a picture of Michael Sr.; he could have had a very slight build. Current CDC data, though, says that a 13-year-old boy who weighs 120 lbs is close to the 90th or 95th percentile for weight, and I don't think the Mulcahys tend to run quite that comparatively large.

Michael Jr.'s WWI draft registration card, from 1919, gives his build as "medium."

I have one picture of Michael Jr. as an adult, at his brother Gerard's wedding in 1937. Michael is the man in the gray suit, sitting erect at the center of the table, left side, across from the groom. He is not such a large man as to give the impression that he would have been at the 95th percentile for weight as an adolescent, but none of the brothers at the table are so slight as to give the impression that their father was likely to have weighed only 120 lbs.

Hotel St. George, Mulcahy, Danaher, 1937
Wedding of Gerard Mulcahy and Ann Danaher. Michael Mulcahy at center, left.

As an alternative, it's possible that the Mike "Mulcay" referred to in the paper was not actually a player on the team, but a manager who might have been smaller than the players themselves, or a father who was the coach or contact for a team that included one of his older, larger sons as a player. (That a team of 15- or 18-year-old basketball players would use one of their parents as a contact seems so hopelessly, helicopterously, 21st century though, doesn't it?) Or, of course, I could have completely misinterpreted the number "120" in the ad, as I had no idea what it referred to before looking at other similar items, and the others were all much clearer when stating their weights. I cannot, unfortunately, find much if any information about early 20th century amateur basketball in Brooklyn to inform my interpretations.