Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I think I just hit my first brick wall

I've been spending a lot of time lately - when I can find the time - going through microfilmed Civil Registration records from Bitetto, Bari, Puglia, Italy. 3/4 of my Italian great-grandparents came from Bitetto, so this gives me the most bang for my $7.50.* However, I recently discovered, through the Italian Family History Research community on Google+, that the Italian government is putting these same records online at an Italian genealogy website called Antenati ("Ancestors"). Although only a small portion of these are online so far, Bari is among those provinces that have been uploaded.

I have to admit that I was getting a little bored with this Italian research. The most exciting thing about genealogy, of course, is piecing together stories, solving mysteries, getting to know your ancestors. But Civil Registration is just Civil Registration, and I wasn't doing any of that. I was compiling lists of births, marriages, and deaths, which barely goes beyond collecting names. And yet it's the groundwork that needs to be done before I can move on from Nati, Matrimoni, and Morti to the Atti Diversi that might contain some more of the details that go beyond BMDs. I also have hopes of eventually figuring out what the local newspapers were and how I could gain access to them, but I haven't gotten there yet.

With easy access to all of Bari at my fingertips, I stepped away from Bitetto to the other town where my ancestors originated, the nearby town of Toritto. My great-grandmother Maria D'Ingeo was born either in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, or in Toritto, Italy, and her parents were Domenico D'Ingeo and Anna Pace. Unfortunately, the birth records only go through 1899 and Maria D'Ingeo was born in 1902, so this doesn't resolve the question of her birth. However, I was able to quickly find the birth record of Maria's older brother Vincenzo ("James") because he had listed his 1891 birth date not-too-inaccurately on his American draft registration. This confirmed their parents' names and gave me a good place to start looking for their marriage record, since all reports were that Vincenzo was the oldest child.

I found the marriage of Domenico D'Ingeo and Anna Pace on 31 Jan 1886, and annoyance over boring vital records dissipated.

The first point of interest is the date: 5 years passed between the wedding and their first known child. I'll have to spend more time on birth records in the intervening 5 years to see if there were any other children who didn't survive.

A second point of interest was that neither spouse was from Toritto, although both were living there. Domenico had been born in Terlizzi, and Anna in Grumo Appula. Both are nearby towns, but I'll have to learn more about the area to figure out if there was something in particular drawing them to Toritto.

Additionally, this record complete one additional generation in the D'Ingeo line, introducing me to my great-great-great-grandmother Rosa Rutigliano.

However, the vastly more interesting item was Anna Pace's parents - or lack thereof. The atto di matrimonio is a standard form with blanks left to be filled in. It reads, roughly translated:

"In front of me, [name] official of the Stato Civile, presented themselves:
1. Domenico D'Ingeo, age twenty-four, farmer, born in Terlizzi, residing in Toritto, son of the late Vincenzo, residing in life in Toritto, and of the late Rosa Rutigliano, residing in life in Terlizzi;
2. Anna Pace, age twenty-one, farmer, born in Grumo Appula, residing in Toritto, daughter of unknown father, residing in ________    and of unknown mother, residing in                        . . ."

As I scrolled down the page, I had first read figlia di padre ignoto and I thought I understood. She didn't know who her father was! Maybe her mother didn't even know who the father was! Then I kept reading, and was shocked. Clearly, Anna didn't know the identity of either of her parents. How does that happen?

While my first thought was that she could have been orphaned at a young age, a trip through the Atti diversi of a different town and an unrelated year showed that the majority of those acts recorded the discovery of abandoned babies. I still have to find some time to page through both birth records and Atti diversi for Grumo Appula in the mid-1860s to see when and how Anna Pace makes her appearance, but my guess at the moment is that she was another abandoned baby.

If that's the case, it seems like I'm staring down the brick wall of an impenetrable brick fortress with no doors or windows. Anna could be the beginning and the end of the Pace line in my family.

*$7.50 is the price to order 1 roll of microfilm from the Family History Center. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Online Resource: The Bowery Boys' podcasts

I recently discovered the Bowery Boys podcast, and can't believe I've never heard of it before. The podcast covers various aspects of NYC history, focusing on a different topic each episode.

I started with last year's episode on Red Hook, of course, since that's where all my people lived.  I've been picking and choosing the episodes most relevant to my family's history since then, but I'd love to work my way through the entire archive. (Luckily, I have a few days of important but rather tedious and mindless work to do in the coming weeks, so I've got lots of listening time available.) The recent episode on New York City's consolidation is a must-listen for anyone researching in NYC who might not be familiar with what exactly constituted "New York City" and when. (Hint: it looked very different before 1898.) A couple of the topics that they've covered that I most want to listen to are the Civil War Draft Riots, Collect Pond and Canal Street, and Old St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Although this sampling tends to be biased towards the era and geography of my own family's history in New York, the same bias is in no way reflected in the topics covered by the Bowery Boys, which extend from Peter Stuyvesant to JFK Airport. I highly recommend these podcasts to anyone with an interest in New York City history, or anyone with family who lived here at any point, as it will add history and context to your research.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Laight St.: How my sister's boyfriend accidentally solved a genealogy mystery

In December, my cousin got married in Hoboken, NJ. Rather than get a hotel room, we had planned to take the PATH train back to NYC afterwards. However, NJ's transit system was still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, and we had to drive home instead. On our way to Queens, we dropped off my sister and her boyfriend in Brooklyn.

This is all relevant only because we ended up taking a trip we had never intended to take, driving a route we'd never driven before and don't expect to ever have to drive again. My husband's iPhone had died, and my sister and I have phones that think T9 texting is high-tech*, so my sister's boyfriend Cayce was reading the directions off of his phone in the back seat:

"Continue onto Late Street," he read.

I whirled around. "Onto what street?!"

"Did I say it wrong? It's L-A-I-G-H-T. "Lite" Street, maybe? It should turn into Canal Street."

"It turns into Canal Street?!"

At this point, I'm sure it seemed that I was having an extraordinarily difficult time understanding some fairly simple directions. Luckily, I was not behind the wheel, because though I was thinking about roads, my thoughts were not on the road.

"That's it! Cayce, you just solved a mystery!"

I have in my possession a semi-anonymous account of the history of the Mulcahy family, transcribed on my blog here. It says that my great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Madigan, "was born on Lake St. in Manhattan." This was always a stumbling block for me, because there isn't a Lake Street in Manhattan. As best I could discern, there had never been a Lake Street in Manhattan. The only address I've ever actually found for the Madigans in Manhattan is 482 Canal Street. It had occurred to me that someone had confused two bodies of water and said "Lake" where they meant "Canal," but that seemed an unlikely mistake.

Although the account I had, written by an unnamed cousin of my grandmother, is not perfect, it has proved to be relatively accurate over the years. The only things that appear to be incorrect are the assertion that James Madigan was the youngest child in his family (he seems to have been in the middle) and the spelling of Loretta Madigan's married name as Rickett instead of Rickert. That last one is key, because it means I already knew that someone was writing things as they sounded, not looking at the names on documents and transcribing them accurately. (I've been told that the research was done by this cousin's wife, so either she had collected stories from people who were still alive without having them clarify spellings, or she had read out pieces of her research to her husband so he could write out these notes for his cousins, and he wrote what he heard.)

I had been aware for some time, since discovering the proper spelling of Rickert and confirming that there was no evidence that there had been a Lake Street in Manhattan in the 19th century, that "Lake" could have been a phonetic spelling of a different street name, but I had no way of figuring out which one, and it clearly wasn't similar enough that Google would return it when I searched for "Lake Street."

When Cayce read us the directions late that winter night, it all became instantly clear. Not only did Laight Street sound very much like the Lake Street I was looking for, but it also is in the correct neighborhood, only blocks from the address where I've confirmed the Madigans lived a few years later. I still use qualifying language when I talk about it, because I have no proof, but I can also tell you that I really have no doubts. I'm about as certain about Laight Street as I can be about something for which there is no definitive evidence.

If not for the fact that all 4 of us in the car that night are too "frugal" (cheap?) to spring for a hotel room when we're only 30 minutes from home; if not for the unfortunate storm damage to the transit infrastructure in northern New Jersey; if not for the fact that none of us are familiar enough with that neighborhood to be able to navigate it without directions; if not for Ben's failure to charge his iPhone, so he wasn't reading directions silently to himself but having them read aloud; if not for Cayce's innate knowledge of how to pronounce "Laight,"** I might still have absolutely no idea where my great-great-grandmother was most likely living when she was supposed to be on the nonexistent "Lake St. in Manhattan."

*by choice
**I've since looked it up; it seems that "LATE" is the correct pronunciation, but I think I'd have looked at Laight and said "LITE," and maybe never made the connection.

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Missing Mary

I am having the hardest time figuring out what's going on with my O'Hara family in the first decade of the 1900s, after they returned from a brief sojourn in their Irish homeland. The family consisted of parents John O'Hara and Mary E. King, and children John J., Eugene W., Patrick, Malinda, and Mary.

In 1900, they're enumerated in Brooklyn, at 253 Clinton Ave. (John, Mary E., John J., Eugene)
In 1901, their son Patrick was born, on 15 Dec., at Castle St., Castlebar Co. Mayo, Ireland.
On 1 May 1902, they arrived back in NYC.  (John, Mary, John, Eugene, Patrick)
On 6 April 1905, their daughter Malinda was born in Brooklyn and, 10 days later, baptized at St. Augustine's Catholic Church.
In June 1905, they were enumerated at 586 Baltic St. (John, Mary, John, Eugene, Pacey, Malina)
In April 1910, they were enumerated at 527 Baltic St. (John, Mary, John Jr., Eugene, Patrick, Melinda)
On 29 Oct 1910, Malinda died at home, at 527 Baltic St., age 5 1/2.
On 20 September 1911, their daughter Mary died at home, at 527 Baltic St., age 3.


Mary O'Hara existed according to both family lore and her death certificate. Both put her at 3 years of age at her death in 1911. And yet there's no evidence of her life. She's not a between-the-censuses baby. She was alive - she was about 2 - in 1910. But she's missing from the one census that should be a record of her. And although the O'Hara family lived in the same 2-block stretch of Baltic St. from 1905 through 1911, she was not baptized at St. Augustine's Church (116 6th Ave.), the nearby church where her sister had been baptized a few years earlier. I haven't been able to get a response from any of the other Catholic churches that I've contacted in the neighborhood. If they were switching churches, there must have been something going on, some story behind it. (I attend Mass at a few different local churches, depending on my schedule, but I can't imagine celebrating my family's important sacraments all over the place willy-nilly - not without a good reason.)

I have a baptismal certificate for Malinda, and death certificates for both girls. I've just requested a birth certificate for Malinda, and I've requested one for a Mary O'Hara. (There are a good half a dozen other Mary O'Haras born in Brooklyn between 1907 and 1909 who could be my missing Mary, and if this one's not right, I'll be requesting the rest of them next.)

There are lots of between-the-censuses babies in my family tree, and each of them has a sad story. But I can't get Mary out of my mind. Because she's not. Because she should be there, and she's missing. And it make me so curious - where is she? - at the same time that it makes me so sad. I hate that there's no record of this little girl except her death, especially when there definitely should be.