Monday, November 25, 2013

Blind Spots

Every so often, in the course of my research, I come across something that makes me say "Duh! I already knew that!" or smack myself on the forehead and ask "Why wasn't I looking for that?" These moments always make me doubt myself, because how could I be so dumb? One occurred this weekend.

It had been awhile since I focused on Italian research; thanks to my recent trip to Ireland, I'd been seeing genealogy through emerald-colored glasses. This weekend, however, I finally had some free time and decided to return to Antenati, the Italian government website that houses vital records online.

I was looking for the family of Domenico D'Ingeo and Anna Pace, and I really thought I wasn't going to find any more of them; I was just being thorough. They had 5 kids (right?): Vincenzo, Rosa, Angelica, Giovanna, and Maria. The eldest two were certainly born in Italy, but it seems that the younger girls were born after the family had moved to Brazil. (This is a point of contention in the family, but although I can't prove it yet, I fall into the "probably born in Brazil" camp.) Having already found birth records in Italy for Vincenzo and Rosa (plus an earlier Vincenzo and Rosa who died as infants), I wasn't expecting to find anyone else. However, the Brazilian records on FamilySearch are not indexed, so I wanted to cover all my bases in Italy before tackling that project. (The Italian records on Antenati aren't indexed, either, but I know where they lived in Italy, and browsing the town of Toritto is far less daunting than browsing the entirety of Brazil.)

coffee plantation, Brazil
Coffee berry pickers, probably in Sao Paulo state inland, Brazil
By Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection. Copyright by E.M. Newman. No known restrictions on publication (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I was surprised, then, to come across a D'Ingeo born in 1896, and it was not Angelica, Giovanna, or Maria - it did not disprove the "born in Brazil" theory. It was someone I'd never heard of before: Francesco D'Ingeo, b. 5 Oct 1896. Unknown babies are, of course, not uncommon in genealogy, and I figured that this boy was another baby who had died young and who hadn't been recorded in the family oral tradition or shown up in later records. (See: the first Vicenzo and Rosa, who I hadn't known had died in infancy.)

Then I realized how wrong I'd been: I don't think Francesco actually was unknown. Another child, likely he, figures prominently in the family's "creation myth," as it were:

After Anna died, Domenico remarried (or lived with someone? or had a housekeeper? There was another woman in the house) and she mistreated the kids. When he found out, he decided to move the family to America, but while they were on the trip over, the quota was filled and the ship was turned away and went to South America instead. They settled in Brazil, where they lived for a number of years. While there, one of the sons was run over by a trolley (or horse and carriage? or wagon?) and killed. Sometime thereafter, the family moved to America.

There are a lot of differences of opinion in the family, and plenty of demonstrated inaccuracies in this account, from the fact that it all happened before the US even had immigration quotas; to likelihood that several of the children were born after, not before, the family arrived in Brazil (and that Anna was likely with them when they made the move); to, apparently, the fact that they went from Brazil back to Italy and then to America. But no one has ever expressed any doubt that there was a brother who was killed.

The brother's death certificate was on my list of records to find. His birth certificate was not. I always though of him solely as a boy who died, and somehow, not as a boy who was born. I never wondered what his name was, or whether he'd been born in Italy or Brazil. He showed up in an otherwise-suspicious story and while I didn't doubt his existence, I really didn't give it any thought, either.

And when I came across him (probably) in the 1896 Atti di Nascita, it never occurred to me that it could be him. Of course, I'm not done with the Italian birth records yet, and haven't begun on the Brazilian ones. Maybe Francesco was a baby who died young, and the brother who was killed was someone else entirely. Regardless, I had such a blind spot where he was concerned that I found myself inventing a place for this "new" child in the family - a plausible one, of course, but one that completely ignored what I already knew.

I'd like to close by asking you to look at your own blind spots, but they're the kind of things you don't know exist until they show up and make you feel like idiot. So instead, I'll ask you to make me feel better: am I the only one this happens to? Or have you ever realized that you're completely ignoring something you already knew?

May 30, 2016: This post submitted as a part of the Genealogy Blog Party at Little Bytes of Life, for the topic "What Was Your Genealogy 'Duh' Moment?"

Monday, November 18, 2013

False Friends

When I was in learning Italian, beginning in middle school, a teacher introduced us to the concept of "false friends." These are false cognates - words in Italian that sound similar to English words but don't have similar meanings. Some examples include:
  • fattoria - farm
  • camera - room
  • parenti - relatives

If you assume that they're real cognates and mean what it sounds like they mean (factory, camera, parents), you'll definitely be misled.

I sometimes have fun looking around my home and figuring out which of the things I own might be the "false friends" that would lead my descendants astray in their future genealogical research. A few examples come to mind. (I'm going to use Smith for all the surnames here, since the whole point is that they're not my family.)

  • When I was in 10th grade, my English class read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. As was usually the case, the books belonged to the school, and we read them and then turned them back in to the teacher once the unit on the book was over. For reasons unbeknownst to me, a boy in my class, Alon Smith, wrote his name in the front cover of his book. Then, like he was supposed to, he returned it to the school. Fast forward one year: My sister Laura is in 10th grade, and her English class reads Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The only difference is that this year, the school has decided to replace the books, and so, as the last class to use the old books, Laura and her classmates are allowed to keep them. Sure enough, the copy she brings home is the copy that Alon Smith had used the previous year, with his name inside the front cover. It currently lives on the bookshelf in my old room at my parents' house. If this book survives the generations and remains in my family, what will that name lead my descendants to think? Probably not quite what I wrote above! Alon and I were friendly, and ran in the same circles, but anyone searching for the "real" reason why "his" book had become a part of our family library would be led astray if he thought that an intimate friendship or a romantic or familial relationship were part of it. (Of course, if someone were looking to find out where we'd lived or what high school we went to, Alon "Smith's" much more unusual name would be more likely to point them in the right direction in an index or an online search. Might he lead them back to us eventually?!)

  • Last week, at my parents' house, we spent some time watching old home videos. One shows a couple of bored adolescents dyeing Easter eggs (and one not-bored 7-year-old who can't get enough of saying "Happy Easter 1999!" to the camera and getting others to do the same), while off-screen, my dad and my aunt discuss the story behind a divorce. As we listened to this 15-year-old conversation, my mom looked at me and asked "Who are they talking about?" My mind went through the divorces in our family, none of which seemed to have the characteristics being discussed, and many of which hadn't yet occurred in 1999. My mom figured it out first: "The Smiths!" There is no identifying information in the conversation, and no one who didn't already know of the couple in question could ever have figured out who was being discussed. The divorce in question had happened probably decades earlier. While no one will be led to the Smiths (a completely unrelated family) by watching this old movie, can't you just imagine a casual researcher assuming a family relationship and, erroneously and perhaps unconsciously, assigning the back story of the Smiths' divorce to a couple in our family tree?

  • This one is a little less incidental and little more predictable: A couple of years ago, I purchased a 1961 Catholic Missal from a local thrift store for 99 cents. I was interested in it for the historical and liturgical context. Inside the front cover is the name Theresa Smith, and the next page has the names of several of her relatives. I knew when I bought it that this could be confusing for someone, someday, but the price was good and I was interested in the earlier iterations of the Mass, so I got it anyway. I have not marked it to indicate that the (thoroughly enumerated) family is not mine. I have not tried to find the family in question, or return it to them. (I bought it because I wanted to have it. Is that so wrong?)

Does anyone else ever think about what might mislead your future descendants? Pictures of random acquaintances you barely remember, marked-up books that you bought used, ephemera you rescued to return to descendants who you were never able to find? Do you do anything to mitigate that risk?

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Visit to Castlebar, Co. Mayo

When I was a kid, I learned that "Pop's family came from Castlebar and Nan's family came from Pallasgreen." This was just over half true; as it turns out, all of Pop's family really was from in or around Castlebar, but while Nan's most recent immigrant ancestor (Michael Mulcahy) was from Pallasgreen, most of the rest of her family had been in the USA since the Irish potato famine and everyone had long since lost track of their origins.

I had visited Castlebar once before, when my family visited Ireland when I was about 12. What we knew then was what we had been told by my grandfather (the aforementioned "Pop"): that his father's ("Grandpa JJ") last memory of Ireland was of being asked to run up the hill to the post office to mail a letter to the family back home in New York to let them know they were leaving. I know that at the time, I wasn't clear on whether JJ had been born in Ireland or the US - I may have assumed he'd been born in Ireland since he'd lived there, but that wasn't actually the case.

We found a post office in Castlebar that was situated on a bit of a hill and figured it had to be the right one, since it was an older brick building, not one of the newer green buildings that house so many of Ireland's post offices. We took a picture. It was closed, because it was a holiday. Then I think we left.

This time, I tried to do a bit more research before arriving. I knew that the family had lived in Ireland from about 1900 to 1902, and had by all indications not been enumerated in the 1901 Census. When JJ's brother Patrick was born, their address was given as Castle St., in Castlebar. I contacted the Castlebar branch of the Mayo Public Library and asked whether they could provide any information via e-mail. (Our itinerary unfortunately had us in the city only on Sunday and Monday, days when the library was closed.) After I provided what little I knew about my ancestors' years in Castlebar, the library staff was able to send me two articles from the Connaught Telegraph that mentioned my 2x great-grandfather, John O'Hara. (His name is given as O'Hora in both, as well as in Patrick's birth announcement.) One lists John among business owners who applied for a liquor license and were all denied, due to the official's temperance sympathies. The other, included below, was published several years after the O'Hara family returned to the US and announced the sale of their property in Castlebar. The Baltic Street address given confirms that it's the right family, as the O'Haras lived on Baltic Street in Brooklyn for many years.

30 March 1907 Connaught Telegraph
When we got to Castlebar, we soon found ourselves driving past the same post office I'd seen years ago. Practically the next thing I saw was the sign for Castle Street, which was only a couple of blocks below the post office, just down the hill. For once, everything fit the story: the post office was in the right place, it was properly situated on a hill, Castle St. was at the bottom of the hill, etc. It was perfect!

Old Castlebar Post Office

Me, at Castle St.

Looking down Castle St.

I had hoped to mail our postcards from the same post office where my great-grandfather had mailed his letter, but it's no longer an operating post office. There was a sign on the door directing patrons to the new location. Instead, we dropped the cards in a mailbox. None of my research had allowed me to pinpoint the street address of the O'Hara's home and store on Castle St., so I wasn't able to get a picture of the building itself. Still, the street is only 2 blocks long, so I know I couldn't have been far away, and was walking the very same streets that Grandpa JJ did as a young boy. JJ was one of my two great-grandparents to live long enough to meet me, and I have memories of him and Grandma Molly from when I was a very little girl. Some of our other stops began to feel a bit academic in comparison to tracing the footsteps of someone I had known and loved.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Visit to Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick

After Kells, the next of my ancestral hometowns that we visited on our trip to Ireland was Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick, where the Mulcahys were from. My 2x great-grandfather Michael Mulcahy had emigrated from Pallasgreen, likely in the 1880s, and he had returned for a visit with two of his sons, including my great-grandfather Joseph Mulcahy, in 1905. As a result, we have a somewhat closer connection to Pallasgreen than to Kells - I grew up knowing that my family came from Pallasgreen, but had to do the research to learn that we also came from Kells.

I had visited Pallasgreen once before, when I visited Ireland as an adolescent with my parents. We had been told that our family's old home was "the first house outside of town, on the road with the school." When asking for directions, we had this exchange with a local:
Dad: We're looking for the house where the Mulcahys lived. We were told it was the first house outside of town, on the road with the school."
Local: I know the house you're talking about, but there's no school on that road.
Dad: Can you tell us how you get there?
Local: Just stay straight on this road until you pass the school, and it will be on your left.
During our brief stop (in 1998), we had a bite to eat at the local pub; stopped by what we thought was the old Mulcahy house, though we were a bit unclear on that (no one was home); and my dad talked for a few minutes with the local town historian, who was since passed away. He brought my sister along for that conversation, and I kick myself regularly for not having joined them. I wouldn't have taken notes or anything, at that age, but I might have remembered something. I was at an age, however, when the embarrassment of knocking on a stranger's door and introducing ourselves far outweighed my interest in hearing what said stranger might have to say. That local historian has since passed away.

This time, the town seemed somewhat larger and more developed than I had remembered it, but I don't know if that was perception or reality. My husband Ben and I stopped and had lunch in the local pub, where I took a picture of an old handbill hanging framed on the wall, advertising 1869's fairs and pig markets. 

Before we left, I asked at the bar where we could find the graveyard where I'd been told the Mulcahys were buried - the graveyard "with the old church." They sent me down the road to the Old Pallas Cemetery. I'm pretty sure that on the way we would have passed the house where my family had lived, but I didn't recognize it from either our first visit or the photo I'd seen. It certainly was no longer the first house outside of town - a couple of new developments seemed to have sprung up just outside the main area of town. I already had a picture of the Mulcahy headstone, but I wanted to visit in person and look around the graveyard some more, and I was glad I did.

I'd been warned that this area of Ireland was overrun with Ryans - Michael Mulcahy's mother was a Ryan - or I might have been more excited when we entered the cemetery and noticed that every 2nd or 3rd stone seemed to have the name Ryan on it. I found the Mulcahy gravestone relatively quickly - it helped that I'd already seen a photo of it.
Mulcahy headstone, Old Pallas Graveyard, Co. Limerick

Mulcahy headstone, Old Pallas Graveyard, Co. Limerick

The people listed are my 3x great-grandfather James Mulcahy; his wife Margaret Ryan Mulcahy; two of their children, Ellen Mulcahy O'Brien and Johanna Mulcahy; Ellen's husband William O'Brien; their daughter Margaret O'Brien McMahon; and Margaret's husband Michael McMahon.

Then I looked around at the nearby stones to see if any of them might be related, and while I haven't had a chance to investigate what I found yet, there were several that looked promising. The nearest stone memorialized an Ellen Dwyer, which happens to be the name of one of the sponsors at my 2x great-grandfather's 1860 baptism. Nearby was another Dwyer stone. The next closest stone belonged to an Ellen Ryan. Although Ryans are everywhere, this one seemed significant both for its proximity to the Mulcahy plot and the names of the couple. Margaret Ryan Mulcahy had among her children both an Ellen and a Michael, and this stone was erected by a Michael Ryan to his wife Ellen, who appear to be of an age to have been in Margaret's parents' generation. Neither of these stones was particularly legible, and the photographs don't reveal the inscriptions at all, so I transcribed them to the best of my ability.
Tombstone of Ellen Dwyer, Old Pallas Graveyard, Co. Limerick
Of your charity
Pray for the soul of 
Ellen Dwyer
Who died on the 22 Dec 1865
Aged 47 years
Deeply regretted by her husband
Wm Dwyer Cobelish Pallasgrean
Who erected this as his affectionate
Headstone of Ellen Ryan, Old Pallas Graveyard, Co. Limerick
Michael Ryan
of Kilduff in mem of his
Beloved wife Ellen
RYAN alias HAYES who
Departed this life June
20th 1845 aged 51 years

After we left the graveyard, we drove into the nearby village of Nicker to visit the church where Micahel Mulcahy would have been baptized. It was beautiful inside, but I only got a picture of the exterior. However, I made a note of the plaque mentioning the church's builder and its history, which confirmed that this was the church building that was around in the Mulcahys' day:
Very Rev. Thomas O'Mahony
P.P. 1812-1849
Built this church in 1820
Died 4th Nov. 1849 and
is buried here
Nicker Church, Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick