Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The House on Loon Lake

Last week at work, I was listening to an episode of This American Life from a few weeks ago. (Yes, I'm allowed to listen to podcasts at work.) This episode, "The House on Loon Lake," was a mystery story, and guess how they solved it? Using genealogy! I highly recommend it; you can listen to it streaming on the This American Life website, or download it (for $.99, I believe) from iTunes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

John J. O'Hara Death Certificate - 3 Dec 1946

This is the death certificate of my great-great-grandfather, John J. O'Hara. His son, John, who provided the information, was my grandfather's father, aka "Grandpa JJ." John Sr. died 3 December, 1946, at the age of 68 years; his birthdate is given as 1 January 1878. His wife was Mary E. King, and his job was as a realtor. In the 1930 census, Grandpa Molly and Grandpa JJ are seen living in the same apartment building as JJ's parents. But they, like most of the people in the building, rented. John Sr. owned. It's my understanding that he owned the entire building and the rest of the residents were his tenants.

He was born in Ireland, but was a US citizen. His parents names are given as Patrick O'Hara and Bridget Kearney. I would swear to you that I had once seen a document among my grandfather's papers giving John's parents names as Patrick O'Hara and Catherine Walsh, but that was before I got really interested in genealogy, and whatever document that was has been misplaced, and no one I ask has any memory of it ever existing.

John died in Kings County Hospital, where he'd spent all of October and November. The causes of death listed are "Carcinoma of sigmoid" (Colon Cancer) and "Bilateral Pubic Cold Abscesses" (I don't want to know). A contributing cause was the incision and draining of the abscesses, so it seems he may have taken a turn for the worse after they treated him, although the certificate says that the operation was on October 18, and he didn't die until a month and a half later.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mary Toner's Death Certificate - 26 Aug 1899

Mary Toner's death certificate! Woo hoo! . . . or maybe not. To be frank, while I'm inclined to believe that this is Mary Cullen Toner's death certificate, I'm not positive, and there are several pieces of information that make me wonder whether maybe Mary Cullen Toner had another relative, likely an inlaw, Mary Somethingelse Toner.

This Mary Toner died 26 Aug 1899, at 270 Van Brunt Street, which was where Mary Cullen Toner's daughter Julia lived with her husband Patrick Mulvaney and their children (3 or 4 at this point: James, Grace, and Mae, certainly, and Willie may have been born this month). In 1892, Mary Cullen Toner was living with her other daughter, Elizabeth Toner Loughlin, so it's reasonable to think that she spent time living with each of her daughters after her husband Richard died. The undertaker was "Mrs. T. Murphy," who is likely Mary Cullen Toner's other daughter, Mary Toner Murphy. This Mary Toner died of a cerebral hemorrhage and pulmonary edema.

Now here's where things get tricky. According to her death certificate, she was widowed, 63 years old, Irish-born, had been in the US 35 years, and was the daughter of parents named John and Mary. Mary Cullen Toner should be widowed and Irish-born. She should have been well older than 63, though it's difficult to say just how old. Her age was given as 40 in the 1860 census, 40 in the 1870 census, and 69 in the 1892 census. If any one of those is correct, 63 is far too young. The fact that her age was never given consistently, though, means this isn't really a strike against her. 35 years in the U.S. is clearly wrong for Mary Cullen Toner, although maybe by "only" 15 years or so. The Toners' oldest known child, Julia, was born in the US around 1851, so her mother couldn't possibly not have immigrated until 1864 - not to mention that Mary was enumerated on the 1860 census.

Further, there's the matter of of the baptismal dates that were looked up for me. If you'll recall, someone looked up some names in the parish registers of St. Mary's Church in Maynooth, Co. Kildare for me, and gave me this information:

24 Sept 1818 Mary, (of) Patrick Cullen and Mary Carr godparents John Carney and Judith Scully.

3 Nov 1821 Richard (of) William Toner and Margareth Walsh godparents Charles Kearns and Mary Cushion.

15 Jan 1850 Richard Toner to Mary Cullen witnesses Edward Hackett and Mary Boland

I was already skeptical because Richard's mother's name didn't match what I knew. Her name was either Judith or Julia, but it certainly wasn't Margareth. And now Mary's father's name doesn't match, either. Does that mean that the baptismal information refers to the wrong people, that the death certificate doesn't belong to Mary Cullen Toner, or that the information on the death certificate is wrong? If the baptismal information is correct, Mary Cullen Toner should have been way older than 63 in 1899; she would have been in her early 80s.

Which piece of conflicting information should I doubt? All of them, probably. Can they be reconciled? It's possible that, say, Richard's mother and Mary's father both died soon after their children were born, and their parents remarried. Might Judith have been the step-mother who raised Richard, and John been the step-father who raised Mary? I contacted the church in Maynooth to try to verify the information I was given and to see if there were records of such later marriages, but got no response.

Not sure what my next step is going to be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

United Fruit Company/Chiquita: Lack of access to institutional records

My great-great-grandfather, Michael Mulcahy, owned bars in Brooklyn at the turn of the century. When he died in 1917, though, his death certificate listed his occupation as watchman for the United Fruit Co. The United Fruit Company, after a century and several mergers, eventually became Chiquita Brands. So I e-mailed Chiquita to see if they maintained institutional archives for their constituent companies, whether those archives would contain information about individual employees, and if so, how to access those records.

Something about the response I got seemed a little . . . off.

As a company with a history than spans more than 100 years, we receive numerous requests for the use of past materials, including photography, film and written documents. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to employ a librarian or archivist on staff for these purposes. As a result, I regret to inform you that we do not make our archives to available to the general public.
Chiquita Brands is, for lack of a better word, ginormous, with an estimated 10,000 employees. They "lack the resources" to hire one measly archivist? You and I both know archivists aren't exactly raking in the big bucks. So they "do not make [their] archives to [sic] available to the general public"? Which means, yes they do have archives. And if they have archives, they likely maintain their archives, which means they probably have an archivist. It's just not his job to deal with the public. Maybe it's my cynical nature, or my penchant for conspiracy theories, but something about that seems suspicious, given the history of United Fruit Co. and Chiquita Brands. Both were accused of such things as payments to paramilitary groups, human rights violations, bribery, massacres, and coups. It seems possible that the archives are closed less because of resources than because of concern about what might be contained in the records.

Do I come across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Grandpa Lanzillotto, soldier

My mom recently called me and said she'd found this image of Grandpa Lanzillotto in his Army uniform on her computer. Did I know where it came from? I did not, I'd never seen it before. But I wanted it, so she e-mailed me a copy. It appears to be a pencil drawing, as best I can tell, but since all we have is a digital file, this picture is really a mystery. No clue where the original is, where it came from, who the artist was, or why it was created.

Lanzillotto relatives, does anyone know anything about this picture? Let me know in the comments, or e-mail me at kathleen.scarlett.ohara AT

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Creating Our Descendants' Genealogy

Whew! Sorry for the extremely long break in posting! I was extremely busy, having numerous assignments due while also trying to study for comprehensive exams, which went off fairly well (I hope) on Friday.

I have lots of posts to write, about death certificates I've received, cousin connections I've made, cousin marriages I've discovered (first one!), Brooklyn Catholic church resources, etc.

But first, my non-genealogical big news. Or rather, news that won't really be considered genealogical for a few generations yet: I'm engaged! In the midst of all my academic craziness was my two-year anniversary with Ben, and after we went out to dinner to celebrate, he asked me to marry him. We're incredibly happy and excited, and though I can't even begin to imagine how to plan a wedding, I can completely imagine spending the rest of my life with him.

And guess what?! (My fellow genealogy nerds will appreciate this like no one else.) My engagement ring is a family heirloom! It was originally his great-grandmother's ring, the ring William G. Harber II proposed to his wife Esther Murphy with, and it's also the ring that their son, William G. Harber III used to propose to his wife, Theresa Gleasure. Ben's mother has worn it, too, though not as an engagement ring. I have asked and asked whether he's sure his mother and his sister and his nieces and his cousins are actually all okay with me - outside the bloodline - wearing this ring. (He assures me they are.)

All of my friends and cousins had the same reaction when I told them about the ring: "Oh, that's perfect for you!" "Oh, you must love that!"

I'm thinking about starting a wedding blog. I'll let you know.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Carnival of Irish History and Culture: Medieval Irish Hagiography

For the St. Patrick's Day Parade of Irish Heritage and Culture, I'm sharing a paper I wrote in Fall 2006 examining the native and Christian motifs in medieval Irish hagiography, based on readings of The Life of Senan, Son of Gerrgenn and The Life of Ciaran of Clonmacnois. It was 11 pages double spaced, so it's quite a bit longer than the average blog post, but I hope there's some interest!

Native and Christian Motifs in Medieval Irish-Language Hagiography