Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Bloggers' Geneameme

Jill at Geniaus has started another Geneameme, in honor of Australia's National Family History Month. Here's my contribution:

  1. What are the titles and URLs of your genealogy blog/s? I have this one, You Are Where You Came From, at, and help my husband with his letters blog, The Gleasue Letters, at
  2. Do you have a wonderful "Cousin Bait" blog story? A link to a previous blog post might answer this question. This is definitely my best Cousin Bait story:
  3. Why did you start blogging? Is there someone who inspired you to start blogging? I started blogging to share our family history with my relatives, and this was originally a private blog for their eyes only. When I realized how little interest most of my family had in ever reading it, though, I opened it to the public and found a wider audience.
  4. How did you decide on your blog/s title/s? I heard it somewhere, or made it up, or something. I've since come to regret it - it's too much of a mouthful, but it's too late to change it.
  5. Do you ever blog from mobile devices? What are they? Nope.
  6. How do you let others know when you have published a new post? I usually share posts on Google+ these days. I occasionally share them on Facebook, if I think a post would be of interest to a larger audience than just other genealogists.
  7. How long have you been blogging? I'm approaching my 5th anniversary.
  8. What widgets or elements do you consider essential on a genealogy blog? I'm not sure I consider anything "essential" beyond the ability to post and comment.
  9. What is the purpose of your blog/s? Who is your intended audience? The real purpose is to give me a place to analyze and interpret my research in ways I might not if I didn't have an outlet/know it would be public. That, and serving as "cousin bait," of course.
  10. Which of your posts are you particularly proud of? A couple from the past couple years that I particularly enjoy are On Serendipity, and Obstinately Ignoring Conflicting Evidence, and NYC Hurricane History: A Ruinous Gale, which I wrote during last year's Hurricane Sandy.
  11. How do you keep up with your blog reading? Not well. I never got into the habit of using a feed reader, and usually keep up best with what other people share publicly, particularly on Google+.
  12. What platform do you use for publishing your blog/s? Blogger.
  13. What new features would you like to see in your blogging software? I'm not sure, I've never really given it much thought.
  14. Which of your posts has been the most popular with readers? Apparently that is also On Serendipity, and Obstinately Ignoring Conflicting Evidence.
  15. Are you a sole blogger or do you contribute to a shared blog? I'm a sole blogger, though as I said, I also help my husband with his letters blog.
  16. How do you compose your blog posts? Slowly. It takes me forever to put together a post that I think is worth publishing, especially lately.
  17. Do you have any blogs that are not genealogy related? If you wish please share their titles and URLs. I have a gardening blog called How Does Your Urban Garden Grow? at
  18. Have you listed your blog/s at Geneabloggers? Yes.
  19. Which resources have helped you with your blogging? I'm sure there are many, but I can't think of any off the top of my head.
  20. What advice would you give to a new Geneablogger? Just keep writing. Even if you go through a slump - I've been through many - there's no reason not to pick back up again when you do have the time or the inclination to write.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Brooklyn Catholic Churches Map

I recently added a new Brooklyn Genealogy Resources page featuring, among other things, a map of Brooklyn Catholic churches. I created it a number of years ago, to assist in my own research, but I've always hoped it could be useful to other people, too. I've featured it in posts in the past, but thought I'd like to have it more prominently featured and more readily accessible. A number of people have told me they've found it helpful when I've linked to it on mailing lists and elsewhere, so here it is, permanently accessible. I am not the most tech-savvy person, so it had literally never occurred to me that I could embed it, other than in a post, until a couple of weeks ago.

View Brooklyn Catholic Churches in a larger map

The map currently includes the Brooklyn Catholic churches founded through 1900, though I hope to one day update it to include younger parishes.

Google has unfortunately rather gutted the functionality of this map since I originally created it. It used to be possible to take a custom map like this one, and then search for an address, like the address where you've found your family in census records. That address would then show up on the custom map, surrounded by the markers for the nearest churches. Now that searching for an address brings up that marker on a new map, you have to use two different tabs, or otherwise make sure that you're looking in the right neighborhood, rather than being able to plot the addresses against each other. It's still useful, I think, and I return to it frequently to work on different family lines, so I hope that my readers with Brooklyn roots will find it helpful, too - along with the other resources highlighted on the Brooklyn Genealogy Resources page.

This map was compiled using information from the Local Catholic Church and Family History & Genealogical Guide by Ann Mensch as well as the page Roman Catholic Churches of Brooklyn, N.Y. by Tim Desmond.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: Sacrificed for Honor by David I. Kertzer

After I recently discovered that my great-great-grandmother Anna Pace was probably abandoned as an infant in Italy in the 1860s, fellow genealogist Peter Barbella recommended that I read Sacrificed for Honor: Italian Infant Abandonment and the Politics of Reproductive Control by David I. Kertzer. With a subtitle like that, what person in my position could say no?

It's times like this that I'm most glad to have joined such an active, welcoming, online genealogical community, both through Geneabloggers and on Google+. It honestly hadn't occurred to me, when I saw the records of a number of abandoned babies in the southern Italian towns that my family came from, that there might have been a monograph written about it. Only other people researching the same topics could have brought it to my attention.

Sacrificed for Honor is a book that's specifically about the widespread practice of infant abandonment in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it contains such a wealth of information about Italian social, religious, cultural, and familial practices that I'd suggest it to anyone with an interest in Italian history or genealogy.

The book focuses primarily on northern Italy, particularly the large cities of Milan and Florence, where most of the research thus far has been done. However, it gives enough history of practices in the south to put my Anna Pace's life in context for me. I'm expanding on this by using the records found on Antenati to create my own index of babies abandoned in Grumo Appula in the 1860s (g-g-grandma was born in 1864) to see if I can figure out the local context for abandonment. For example, the book tells us that in the South, many small towns had a "wheel" at which abandoned babies were left. (This in comparison to the North, where babies from small town were brought to nearby cities and left at their wheels.) However, having looked, so far, at 24 babies abandoned in the course of 18 months, there's no mention of a wheel,  and each of the babies is described as having been discovered "behind the door of her house" by one of the 3 local midwives.

Kertzer provides a ton of national context for the practice of infant abandonment. For example, did you know that unmarried parents in Italy were essentially required to "abandon" their illegitimate children to the huge network of foundling homes and foster parents set up to receive them? (The book even mentions one case of a 6-year-old boy, whose parents were unmarried but living together. When authorities found out that he was illegitimate, they intervened at that late date to remove him from the home and send him to a foster family - from which, of course, he promptly ran away.) Or that the vast majority of infants sent to foundling homes perished within the first 2 years of life, most of them within their first months, due to the difficulty of obtaining wetnurses in the days before safe, nutritious formula? This, despite the fact that the entire system was arranged to protect illegitimate babies from the ever-present dangers of abortion and infanticide.

I can't say that I agree with all of Kertzer's conclusions, particularly where he extrapolates into modern moral and political arenas. I won't spend too much time on my reasons on a blog that doesn't have a political purpose.  Suffice it to say that the book makes clear where his beliefs and mine differ on things like women's rights and the sanctity of all life, at all stages of development. Had abortion been an officially sanctioned, accessible option in 1864 like it is today, there's a very good chance that Anna Pace never would have been born, and neither would her 7 children who survived infancy, among them my great-grandmother; or her 7 children, among them my grandfather; or his 8 children; or his 20 grandchildren (myself among them) or his 4 great-granchildren. You don't know my family, but they're pretty fantastic; I can attest my own life would have been least among these losses.

Putting the personal and the political aside, I can recommend Sacrificed for Honor by David I. Kertzer enthusiastically. In fact, I was thrilled to discover that Kertzer's website includes a long list of other articles he's authored on similar topics, and I've added them to my reading list to gain additional context on the childhood, maturation, and adulthood of foundlings like my great-great-grandmother. I don't have to agree with his politics to know that his scholarship has provided context to the murkiest line in my family. With a brick wall this thick, context might be all I have. Anna's parents are described as ignoti on her marriage certificate, and merely as the autori di suoi giorni on the record that describes her discovery behind the midwife's door. I'm thinking about testing my grandfather's mtDNA on the off chance that a match provides some more information, but that's uncertain and even would benefit from the context provided here. The book, though scholarly, is an easy and engaging read, suitable for anyone with genealogical research interests in Italy, and particularly for those of us with brick walls of this nature, and I recommend it highly.

Disclosure: This post contains 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.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Poll: Did your ancestors live in Brooklyn?

There is an oft-quoted statistic that 1 in 7 Americans can trace their ancestry through Brooklyn, NY. This is almost certainly complete bunk, but it's telling nonetheless: lots of people have lived in Brooklyn. For several decades in the nineteenth century, Brooklyn - then independent - was the third largest city America.* Today, if Brooklyn were still an independent city and not a borough of New York City, it would be the fourth largest city in the country.

My US-research has been almost entirely Brooklyn-based. Three quarters of my grandparents were born there, and a number of their parents and grandparents before them. As a result, I spend a lot of research time on Brooklyn, and I devote a lot of additional time to reading and learning about Brooklyn's history over the past couple of centuries. When I first started exploring the online genealogy community, I searched on Geneabloggers for other genealogy blogs about Brooklyn, and was shocked by how little I found. Plenty of content from the Virtual Dime Museum, some from the Ancestral Archaeologist and Tracing the Tribe, and more recently, the blog Brooklyn in Love and at War. But there was very little else that either focused on Brooklyn or treated it with any regularity.

Wondering about this disconnect has led me to ask the following poll question of my readers: Did your ancestors live in Brooklyn? I'd love to get as large a sample as possible - we'll see how readers of a genealogy-focused blog compare to that mythical 1 in 7 - so please select an answer below.

Did your ancestors live in Brooklyn?

*I wish could find the contemporary newspaper articles, in which Brooklyn papers are proud and Manhattan papers, ever superior, are absolutely incredulous. If memory serves, they say things like "Brooklyn now claims to be the 3rd large city in the Union," despite the fact that it's Census data, not Brooklyn egos, that underlie the claim.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Finding Louisa

My 2x great-grandmother, Julia Toner Mulvaney, had a sister named Louisa. Born around 1857, Louisa Toner seemed to disappear from the census records after 1875, and for the longest time, I couldn't find any evidence of her until her death in 1918.

In 1860, Louisa, 3, is enumerated with her family in South Brooklyn:
Toner family, 1860

In 1865, Louisa is 8 years old:
Toner family, 1865

In 1870, Louisa, 13, is at school:

In 1875, Louisa, 17, is living with her family, including her married sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Thomas Loughlin:
Toner and Loughlin families, 1875

In 1880, I can't find any of the Toner family on the federal census, and in 1892, I can't find anyone but the Loughlins on the NYS census.

After that, the rest of the surviving Toner children - Julia, Elizabeth, and Mary Toner Murphy - show up in census records with their families. But not Louisa. I couldn't find a single record of her until she died in 1918. At some point, she married a man by the name of Deegan, according to both familial memory and her death certificate, but I have no idea what his first name was. Family lore says that he made buttons, but even with that information, city directories have proved no help. Despite the fact that Louisa's death certificate claims that she was a life-long resident of New York City, there was no evidence of her life between her teens and her 50s. For years, the preceding part of this post was all I knew about Louisa.

Louisa's death certificate lists her residence as 391 Baltic St. at her death in 1918, but I've had trouble finding the enumeration for this address in the 1915 NYS Census, even when I page through each sheet of AD 08 ED 02, which is where Steve Morse's AD/ED Finder tool suggests the building should be.

Louisa is buried in a grave with my 2x great-aunt, Auntie Mae; Mae's husband Uncle Johnny; and an infant named Charlotte Reade who seemed unconnected to the rest of the family. I ordered baby Charlotte's death certificate, though, and when it arrived recently, I realized I'd been mistaken. Not only is she not unconnected to the family, but might she be the only connection we have to Mr. Deegan's family?

Excerpt from the death certificate of Charlotte Reade, Brooklyn NY, 17 July 1918

Charlotte's parents' names are given as John Reade and Minerva Deegan. Her home address, of 391 Warren St., puts her living right around the corner from Louisa's home at 391 Baltic. I didn't know who Minerva Deegan was, but my first guess was that she might be a sister of our Mr. Deegan. The truth never even occurred to me.

I went searching for Minerva Deegan, hoping her unusual first name would be easier to find than a Louisa in a haystack, or a Mr. Deegan whose first name I didn't even know. If I could find a link to the Deegan family through her, it might lead me to Louisa eventually.

That's sort of what happened.

The first record I found was of a Minerva Deegan who was the daughter of "Niele" and Louisa Deegan, living at home with her parents and an Irish-born servant, Mary Doren.

Deegan Family, 1900
Why this record never showed up in all the years I spent searching for Louisa Deegan I may never know, but I'd certainly never seen it before.  Minerva was born in May 1882, and it gives us a name for Mr. Deegan - though that name would prove less useful than I might have hoped. That the Deegans employed a servant struck me as a little unusual, because I assumed that a "cloak cutter" - Niele's occupation - was a low-level garment industry job. Asking around revealed that it's actually a highly-skilled garment industry job and might well bring a good wage.

Minerva soon disappears from the Deegan family, and it's probably because she grew up and got married to John Reade. On top of that, "Niele" is not the name by which Mr. Deegan is enumerated through the next few decades. Nonetheless, these Deegans - who had proved so elusive for so long - suddenly started popping up like crocuses in springtime.

Deegan Family, 1905
 In the 1905 NYS Census, the family consists of Louise and William Degan, and they're living in Manhattan, not Brooklyn. However, Mr. Deegan is still a cloak cutter, and all their other information matches, so I feel pretty confident that this is the correct couple.

Deegan Family, 1910
In the 1910 Federal Census, the household consists of William B. and Louise Degan and a boarder, Henry Wagner. They're still living in Manhattan, and William's job is given as a "Cutter" in the "Clothing" industry.

Deegan Family, 1915
In the 1915 NYS Census, William and Louise Deegan and a boarder (Harry Buston) are still living in Manhattan - this despite Louisa's home address being in Brooklyn when she died a mere 3 years later. William is a "Clothing cutter."

I have yet to find more information about Minerva Deegan Reade in the years between when she's enumerated with her parents in 1900 and when her daughter dies in 1918. Despite her unusual name, she isn't showing up easily for me this time around. Stay tuned for an update when, with any luck, I track down the rest of the Deegan and Reade families.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Top 10 Reasons to Stop Blogging for Months at a Time

10.   How many times can you post about working your way through each of the nearly-identical vital records of all of your great-great-grandparents' siblings?

9.   My job has the audacity to expect me to work before they'll give me a paycheck.

8.   Because dinner has to make it to the table every. single. night.

7.   Too busy reading scholarly books that greatly contribute to my historical understanding and advance my genealogical studies. 

6.   Too busy reading chick lit.

5.   Daylight Savings Time.

4.   The beach.

3.   8 weddings in 12 months. [See also: Top 10 Reasons I Can't Afford my Genealogical Habit or Any of the Other Pastimes I Used to Enjoy]

2.   Too many interesting articles about food policy, monoculture, and the microbiome on Slate.

and the #1 reason to stop blogging for months at a time:

1.   Spending time and resources on enjoying real-live relatives instead of on researching and writing about long-dead ones.

Disclosure: This post contains 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.