Monday, February 24, 2014

Location, Location, Location

I have the great fortune of living in New York City as I research my ancestors in New York City. Not everyone can live where they research, but I highly recommend it.

It's nice to have the kind regular, incidental interactions with the lives of my ancestors that occurs when you live in close geographical proximity. I attend church at the parish where my 2x great-aunt was a member. I've been known to point out to friends, on our way home from an evening out, "That's where my grandparents were married." And just last week, when reminding myself of the neighborhood where my grandmother grew up for a note in this post, I remembered that my grandmother, Marilyn Mulcahy, had been baptized at St. Anselm's Church in Bay Ridge.

Baptism of Marilyn Mulcahy, 11 March 1931

This sounded a little familiar, and it didn't take me long to realize that I was there, last summer, when my friends' son was baptized. At the time, I had no idea that the church should hold any particular significance for my family, so it's a bit of a missed opportunity, but also one of those small moments of serendipity that connect me to my ancestors through time - whether I realize it or not.

It also, luckily, means I'm just an e-mail away from having a photograph of the church where my grandmother was christened. 

The happy parents with baby Jamie at St. Anselm's
Godmother April, parents Jeff and Michelle, and me holding Jamie
Photos courtesy of Michelle's dad.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Submit your Stories!

Some of the greatest experiences I've had in my genealogical research involve serendipity, those almost mystical moments when an ancestor makes it clear he wants to be found, or when generations collide with a kind of synergy.

There were two moments when this serendipity has been most obvious in my own research:

When my cousin visited the Brooklyn Historical Society and discovered that the person who had signed the sign-in sheet earlier that evening had given her home address as exactly the house we were researching. This netted us a fantastic trip to and tour of the old family homestead.

When I learned my great-grandmother's full given name and discovered that my dad had managed to name a daughter after his grandmother, like he wanted to, without realizing it until she was 21 years old. 

I know I'm not alone in having these magical, sometimes chilling experiences.  And so I'd like to invite you, my readers, to submit your favorite stories of genealogical serendipity, to be shared (with permission and attribution) in the series I plan to run this Spring. You can submit stories in the comments or via e-mail (kathleen.scarlett.ohara AT Please include a link to your blog, if you have one. (If you're interested in writing a full-fledged guest post about your serendipitous experience, let me know and we can talk about it.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Photography, Past, Present, and Future

Were the past 50 years a photographic blip?

I have 1 photograph of my great-grandfather as a child. I've seen maybe a dozen pictures of my grandmother as a child. There are several photo albums full of hundreds of pictures of my dad as a child. There are probably thousands of photographs of me as a child.

I've seen dozens of photographs of my great-grandfather as an adult. Hundreds of photographs of my grandmother as an adult. Hundreds of photographs of my dad as an adult. A handful of photographs of me as an adult.

When I say "photographs," I'm talking about physical, hard copy photographs. The kind of thing that will last through the fast-moving, planned obsolescence of modern technology. My great-grandfather's life saw the gradual transition from occasional, complicated, special-event, professional photography to inexpensive, omnipresent, personal photography, and the attendant increase in pictures. My life saw the transition from inexpensive, omnipresent, personal film photography to inexpensive, more-than-omnipresent personal digital photography, and the attendant decrease in physical photographs.

It's not like there aren't any photographs of Joseph Mulcahy as a child. There's this one. And it's not like there aren't any pictures of me as an adult.  There are 7 framed photographs of me in my apartment. 6 are from my wedding day. (The 7th is from a friend's wedding.) Plus, we have a few photo albums. At the end of 2011, I made a point of having prints made of good, representative pictures from the year, which might have been a dozen pictures or so. I haven't yet done the same for 2012 or 2013. I did have prints made of our honeymoon to St. Lucia, and made up a photo book of pictures from our recent trip to Ireland.

In other words, if you look past my unusual conscientiousness in 2011, the physical photographs of me and my husband as adults represent almost exclusively special occasions. Kind of like the extant photographs from c. 1900, right?

I firmly believe that in 100 years, the digital photographs that currently overload our hard drives and are posted to the internet ad nauseum will not have survived. Many photographs on paper won't have, either, but they've got a better chance. Our descendants will find themselves looking at a handful of special-occasion photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries; an unmanageable glut of unlabeled photographs from the mid and late 20th century; and a handful of special-occasion photographs from the 21st century and beyond.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Someone by Alice McDermott

I recently joined a local book club through, and the first book I was able to join them for was Someone by Alice McDermott. I didn't read the book because it was historical fiction about Brooklyn; I read it because I've been trying to "officially" join this book club for months now, and this was the book they chose during the month I could make it to a meeting. I was excited to discover, though, that it was the story of a girl growing up in Brooklyn during the interwar period.

That much I got from the description on the back of the book. As I started reading, though, I began to realize that the main character, Marie, was growing up in Carroll Gardens, or South Brooklyn, as it might have been known at the time. She even attended St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, which was where my Madigan and Mulcahy families would have gone to church when they were living at 85 Luqueer Street! I enjoyed this aspect of the book, even though my direct ancestors were no longer living in the neighborhood at the time the story is set. (Marie would have been more or less a contemporary of my grandparents, but my grandfather grew up in Park Slope and my grandmother, whose parents were from South Brooklyn, grew up in Bay Ridge and Flatbush.)

Given the amount of time I spend researching in Brooklyn, I always appreciate a book that gives me a flavor of the borough in general, or the culture of neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens in particular, and Someone did this in excellent fashion. I think anyone who is interested in this era of Brooklyn history would find this an interesting glimpse at the time and the culture, though it's obviously not a history book or a scholarly tome.

The book was, luckily, equally enjoyable as a work of literature. The narrative of the book switches from Marie's childhood to various stages of her adulthood, and while this is not what my linear brain would have preferred, it worked well and wasn't difficult to follow. My book club had some great discussions about the relationship between Marie and her brother Gabe and the dichotomy they represented, but I was also glad that as they grew, the author added some nuance to the depiction of them as polar opposites when they were young. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I'd say that the book is primarily about familial relationships and the way a person - and a family - can grow and change over a lifetime. It's a really good read, and while some of the book club members thought it was hard to get into, I found it impossible to put down from the very beginning. 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, February 3, 2014

Joseph E. Mulcahy's WWI Service Records

I recently ordered the NYS WWI Service Records of all 4 of my great-grandfathers. This will be my next foray into trying to interpret service records, as I attempt to do genealogical research in military records. The military service record for one of my paternal great-grandfathers, Joseph Eugene Mulcahy, consisted of two cards, each pictured here (front and back).

The biographical information in this record substantiates what I already knew. Joseph E. Mulcahy was born 3 September 1896, and lived at 85 Luqueer Street in Brooklyn. According to the record, he enlisted at Fort Slocum, NY on May 9, 1917. I've never been able to find a WWI draft card for Joseph Mulcahy; instead, I have an article from the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union, dated 28 June 1917, describing how he and his brothers enlisted after their father's death.

28 June 1918
This has always lead me to assume that they did not need to register for the draft because they enlisted instead. The Navy Service Record that I received for my other paternal great-grandfather, John O'Hara, has led me to reconsider whether this is accurate, since he seemed to both sign up for the Navy and enlist.

The service record goes on to record Joseph's promotions through the ranks. He was promoted to Corporal on 19 Aug 1917, and to Sergeant on 19 April 1918. The first card says that he accepted a commission on 4 June 1918; the next card says that he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on 5 June 1918. (Would these two events not have been simultaneous?)

I also received from a cousin a scanned copy of Joseph's promotion to 2nd Lieutenant, which is dated 1 June 1918.

Suffice it to say, by the end of the first week of June, he was a 2nd Lieutenant. At my present level of knowledge, I can't be more precise than that.

Joseph E. Mulcahy's "principal stations" were at Camp Gordon, GA; Camp MacArthur, TX; and Camp Johnston, FL. He received an honorable discharge on 3 Dec 1918, approximately 6 months after receiving his commission, and without ever having been involved in any engagements or even served overseas.