Monday, December 30, 2013

2014 Family History Goals

I didn't do a full-fledged "goals" post at the beginning of 2013. Using the still-undone of my 2011 goals as a starting point, I'm going to pose some questions that I want to try to answer in the coming year. For a variety of reasons, I expect this to be harder to accomplish in 2014 than in years past, but I hope to make at least a little headway.
  1. Who were Mathew Madigan's parents? Who were Margaret Sullivan Madigan's parents?
  2. Who built the house at 85 Luqueer Street?
  3. What happened to Mary Mulvany, daughter of James Mulvany and Bridget Rothwell?
  4. Where was Maria D'Ingeo Gatto born, Italy or Brazil?
  5. Who were Hugh Quinn's parents? 
  6. What were the relationships between James and John Mulvany and between their wives, Bridget and Ann Rothwell?
Additionally, I'd like to:
  1. Commit to a schedule of 1 blog post per week
  2. Correct my apparent errors in the King family line
  3. Get back in the habit of visiting my local Family History Center
  4. Track down a photograph of each of my 2x great-grandparents (I'm currently at 5 out of 16)

As of this writing, the question that occupies most of my mental space is that of Maria D'Ingeo Gatto. At various times over the past year or two, it has been the Rothwell-Mulvany conundrum, or the old family homestead at 85 Luquer St. I have not systematically investigated any of the other questions, but they are all mysteries to some degree - or at least interesting questions - and all things I would like to find answers to.

Here's to a 2014 full of accessible records, online indexes, background reading, archival trips, focused research, serendipity, cousin bait, and genealogical happy dances!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The genealogy of Christ: He is conceived and born of a Vigin

In celebration of Christmas, I reproduce again the beginning of the first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren. And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar. And Phares begot Esron. And Esron begot Aram. And Aram begot Aminadab. And Aminadab begot Naasson. And Naasson begot Salmon. And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse.

And Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias. And Solomon begot Roboam. And Roboam begot Abia. And Abia begot Asa. And Asa begot Josaphat. And Josaphat begot Joram. And Joram begot Ozias. And Ozias begot Joatham. And Joatham begot Achaz. And Achaz begot Ezechias. And Ezechias begot Manasses. And Manasses begot Amon. And Amon begot Josias.

And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon. And after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel. And Salathiel begot Zorobabel. And Zorobabel begot Abiud. And Abiud begot Eliacim. And Eliacim begot Azor. And Azor begot Sadoc. And Sadoc begot Achim. And Achim begot Eliud. And Eliud begot Eleazar. And Eleazar begot Mathan. And Mathan begot Jacob.

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. So all the generations, from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:1-17
Douay-Rheims Bible

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Visit to Tawnykinaffe, Co. Mayo

When we were in Ireland recently, we met up with some of my Gillan cousins, who took us out to the small town of Tawnykinaffe, Co. Mayo, where my great-great-grandmother Mary Gillan was born. Although the property is no longer in the family, my cousins had grown up there and so were fantastic tour guides. There are two houses right next to each other, the original one-room cottage and the larger house, built c. 1940. After the family moved into the newer home, the older building was used as a barn. Both are now abandoned.
The new house
The original house
After I got home, one of my Gillan cousins sent me this 1931 picture showing Michael Gillan (born c. 1910) in front of the same house we'd visited.
Michael Gillan, Tawnykinaffe, 1931
I'm not sure whether the appearance that the door is in a different place is just a question of angles and perspective, an indication that the entrance was moved at some point, or evidence that the picture was actually taken from the opposite side of the house (as I can verify that there are both a front and a rear door; I walked through both).

This little corner of Tawnykinaffe, with only a few houses, most of them empty, seemed quiet and isolated. It was a little surreal to hear stories of how bustling, active, and full of life the neighborhood had been as recently as the mid-twentieth century. It was also challenging to mentally eliminate the encroaching trees to try to picture the landscape as it would have been before the Irish government planted them en masse, at some point in the last 50 years. Though they look full grown, they're actually a very recent feature. It's easy, when visiting a town, to look around and identify new buildings and modern technology and realize that the scenery has changed in the last 50 or 100 years. Without my personal tour guides, though, it never would have occurred to me that natural features like trees - particularly in such numbers - might also not have been a long-standing feature of the environment.
I managed to peer through the trees for a glimpse of the view that predated them.

After visiting the family homestead, we went out to lunch in Pontoon. This was cool for me, because Tawnykinaffe is so small that Google Maps can't always find it. To get a general idea of the area I was looking for, I used to search for nearby Pontoon, instead. Pontoon is easy to identify because it falls right between two lakes that are very close together, separated by only a bridge. This is a feature that stands out on a map, and is easily identifiable as you drive across that bridge in your car!

View Larger Map

Ben and I on the Pontoon Bridge

We had a fantastic time and a lovely lunch and I felt so lucky to be able to meet so many of my cousins and have a personal tour of the place my ancestors had lived.

Our last Gillan family stop was a trip to the cemetery, but I will save that post for another day.

Monday, December 16, 2013

On grief and cookies

On July 26, 2013 my grandmother, Laura Lanzillotto Gatto, died. It was the Feast of St. Anne. It was not unexpected, but was nonetheless devastating. My mom later told me that when she called to tell me, I "couldn't form a complete sentence." I'm not sure I was trying to. What is there to say?

Instead, I did the only thing that made sense to me at the time. When I hung up the phone with my mother, I walked to the kitchen and took 1 1/2 sticks of butter out of the fridge to soften. Not until they were on the counter did I call my husband, or start to cry. It may have been the first time I ever remembered to take the butter out to soften.

My grandmother's most famous recipe, the food she was best known for, were her biscuits. (That's bis-coots, accent on the second syllable. The vowel sound is closer to that in look than in loot.) Both the name and the recipe are derived from biscotti, but we never called them that, and they are, truly, a completely different cookie.

I'm fairly certain that I got my first job out of grad school due to my education, experience, relevant skill set, and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that the interviewer had once had Grandma's biscuits at a bake sale.

No one has ever been able to replicate Grandma's biscuits exactly, despite sustained efforts. We've been trying for years. She didn't bake from a recipe, so every recipe she wrote down was slightly different from the last, and you always had to cross your fingers and hope that this index card was going to be the index card that got everything right. Grandma was known to look at a biscuit recipe in her own handwriting and ask, incredulous, "Where did you get this? I never would have told you to put [so much butter, so little butter, so much flour, etc.]!" My cousin has come really close to replicating Grandma's biscuits, and I had a couple of good batches in high school that got everyone's hopes up before my luck wore off. My husband irritated me by coming closer with his biscuits than I ever do with mine, despite the fact that we work from the same recipe card and I share Grandma's genes. My mom's are good, but they're not the same. 

I had not planned to bake that Friday, of course. I had the day off, but was hoping to research at the NYC Municipal Archives. My major worry was that I couldn't find my research notebook. What ended up mattering, instead, was that I didn't have enough sugar or flour, but I'd already begun creaming enough butter to make a full batch. So I improvised. I put in as much sugar as I had in the pantry, and stopped there. I substituted whole wheat flour for what was missing of the white. This was not an effort to replicate Grandma's cookies. This was a desperate attempt, a clawing at the air, to capture whatever I could of her essence, her routine, her personality, her legacy. My biscuits tasted fine, but they were nothing like Grandma's.

Baking may have been an irrational response to my grandmother's death, but I was not unique in crying into my cookie dough. The night after my grandmother died, my cousin - the cousin who comes so close with her biscuits - began baking.  She made multiple batches, each one tweaked slightly. She had taste testers. She took notes. She was determined to get them right. She came a lot closer than I did.

And yet, my grandmother had told me where her recipe came from. She took her mother's recipe, and her mother-in-law's recipe, and changed them to suit her taste. She removed the lard from one, substituting butter so they would be healthier. She eliminated the yeast, preferring the rise she got from baking powder. In some sense, I think that the pursuit of the perfect biscuit is the pursuit of a fiction, something that doesn't exist - or that, at the very least, is a moving target. Even Grandma's were not necessarily the same from one batch to another. She'd improvise if she ran out of ingredients. She sometimes added cinnamon. Grandma didn't inherit a finished, perfected biscuit recipe, so why should we expect her to leave us one? Maybe the tweaking, the changing, the improvising is as much a part of the legacy as the taste of the perfect cookie.

But even knowing that didn't make it any easier when, on the night after the funeral, I waited until everyone else had gone to bed, took from my mom's cookie jar what I knew would be my very last of Grandma's biscuits, and savored it through my tears.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Martins Gillan

When we were recently in Ireland, we visited with several of my Gillan cousins, who showed me the family's old homestead in Tawnykinaffe, Co. Mayo. They were kind enough to give me a copy of a photograph of my 3x great-grandfather Martin Gillan:

Martin Gillan and grandson Martin Gillan of Tawnykinaffe, County Mayo, Ireland, c. 1912. Photographed in Castlbar.
Martin Gillan and Martin Gillan, c. 1912
Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland
Standing next to Martin Gillan (seated) is his grandson, Martin Gillan, son of the elder Martin's son Michael. The younger Martin was born c. 1900, and the best estimate of the date of the picture is around 1912, based on the belief that he looks to be about 12 here. I'm told that the photo was taken at the studio of a professional photographer in Castlebar.

This makes two photographs I have of Martin Gillan, which is two more than I have of any of my other 3x great-grandparents. He lived nearly another 20 years after this picture was taken, and the other photo, which was sent to me by another Gillan cousin a couple of years ago, was clearly taken much closer to the end of his life.

As far as I'm aware, there are no extant photographs of Martin's wife Honor Grimes Gillan. I don't know exactly when she died, but she was alive when the 1911 Census was enumerated, so she lived well into the age of photography, and I continue to hold out hope that a picture of her will show up eventually.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Genealogy Gift Guide 2013: Gifts to Share Your Family History

If I get a chance, I hope to publish a guide to gifts for genealogists, but I'm going to start with a guide to gifts from genealogists. How can you share your passion for family history with your loved ones? (You know the loved ones I mean, the ones who get the glazed-over look in their eyes when you start talking about genealogy.) How can you preserve and disseminate your family history in a way that's interesting and family-friendly? Here are some of my favorite ideas!

-Family Tree
There are lots of ways to present your family with a nice "completed" version of your family history in an attractive format that even a non-genealogist would love to hang on the wall. offers printing services, and your genealogy software may print a tree nice enough to display.  Family ChartMasters offers a multitude of options. Personally, I've ordered blank charts from Etsy seller Fresh Retro Gallery and filled them out as gifts that were always well-received.

-Photo Ornaments
Photographic ornaments like these can hold current pictures of family members or memorialize Christmases past. You could even give a set each year, with updated pictures of kids or grandkids to create a future heirloom and tell your family story in real time!

-Photo Coasters
A few years ago, we got this lovely set of photo coasters from a family friend for Christmas. While ours were empty, you could pre-fill the coasters with old or new family photos (copies only, please!), pictures of the old homestead, or even artistically cut excerpts of important documents (really, copies only, please!) to create a conversation piece that will really get family members talking about memories and stories whenever they gather for a beverage.

-Framed Photographs
Any picture in a frame can be a gift, but to really make it worthwhile, pick family pictures that mean something, or arrange them in an artistic way. There are a million ways to go about this. This year, my in-laws are getting a photograph that we took on our trip to Ireland, of the farm where my mother-in-law's family has lived for up to 200 years. It's not exactly an "old family photograph," but it's definitely a picture full of family history! They're also getting side-by-side framed pictures of family photo from the early 1900s and my husband recreating the shot in 2013:

Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland. Left: Joseph Gleasure, c. 1905. Right: Ben Naylor, October, 2013.

These are best when they tell a particular story. Memorialize a piece of your family's recent or ancient history - anything from your family's Christmas memories, to a new baby's first year of life, to the life story of a particular ancestor. If you're interested in digital scrapbooking, try the MyMemories Suite. It's the tool I used to create the header for this blog, and it can make wonderful scrapbooks, as well. You can read my review here. If you plan to buy MyMemories software, you can use the exclusive coupon code STMMMS25444 to get a discount on your purchase.

-Family Stories
I know you pay attention when relatives tell stories. I hope you write them down. And now, I encourage you to share them! Using a service like, you can compile them into a nice book or booklet, illustrate with relevant family pictures, and order copies for the whole family, or make it available for purchase by relatives or the public. I did this last year with stories my grandfather had told us years earlier, and ended up with a really nice-looking book, a preview of which can be seen here. (Everyone who received a copy cried. I consider that a successful gift.)

-Oral Histories
Record an oral history with a relative. With permission, share with family members. Satisfaction guaranteed!

-Family Cookbook
Gather recipes from relatives, or compile your own most famous recipes to share. You can write them out by hand if you're only making one copy; otherwise, please spare your wrist and get them printed up! This can be another job for, or you can print up recipes and photos together in a photobook from Shutterfly or Snapfish. Make a family cookbook particularly compelling by organizing it around a theme: Grandma's famous recipes, or family Christmas favorites. Tell the stories that make your family dishes so memorable.

Edited to add:
-Home Movies
How many old home movies do you have on VHS, or even on film? There are services that can transfer these to DVD, creating a much more accessible trove of family memories. If you have access to a combination VCR/DVD player, you can even do it yourself! I bought a selection of DVDs and jewel cases, and am in the process of transferring a number of old movies to DVD for my parents. Be warned, though: regular DVDs are not an archival medium, and you should not discard your originals! If you're willing/able to pay up to buy Archival Gold DVDs, you should, but I'd still recommend keeping the originals, particularly if your originals are on film. VHS tapes aren't archival, either, and won't necessarily outlast your regular DVDs, but duplication is always smart.

I hope you can take away from this post some creative ideas about how to share your research and your family's history with your loved ones this holiday season!

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. Additionally, I am a MyMemories affiliate, and can receive a small commission if you purchase their software using the above code.