Note: Posting was light last week because of a death in the extended family, which prompted this post. It isn’t exactly genealogy, I’ll admit. But it IS sentimental.
What takes you by surprise is how practiced you’ve become at this routine.
The long-distance phone call, answered with a pleasure that vanishes with the bad news. The day spent conferring with your brothers and sisters, discussing logistics. Who can make the funeral, and who can’t? Who’s carpooling with whom?
The most appropriate outfit for the funeral is always at the cleaners. Why is this? Never mind; just get down there to liberate it before they close for the day. And print out the directions to everyplace (when are you going to get a GPS, already?).
A day later, you rattle down the expressways and over the bridges to a church in an area you dimly remember from childhood visits. Or maybe you just think you remember it. There have been many morning funeral Masses in many sunny churches. (Except for your father’s, where everything seemed dark, which can’t be right, because he was buried on a broiling, bright August day.)
So many little packages of Kleenex, discreetly unearthed from purses and pockets. Nobody wants to come unprepared. (“Make sure you have lots of tissues,” the church secretary told you and one of your sisters the day before your mother’s funeral. “You may not think you’re going to cry in front of everyone, but you will.” Your sister, furious, said the secretary had no right to make assumptions about such a thing, and she stayed dry-eyed the next day. But only at church.)
People do cry. Including yourself, including at funerals where the death was expected, the illness long. There is always something that breaks your heart and your composure. Sometimes it’s just the sheer weight of all those past funerals. Singing the hymns helps, if it’s a singing kind of crowd. But Irish families, who love to sing at parties, don’t always do that sort of thing at funerals.
The ride to the cemetery always snaps you back to attention. Clinging to your spot in a long procession of cars winding through neighborhood streets and crowded parkways is a tradition in your big Northeastern family. Someone always gets lost somewhere. There was a huge problem once trying to get to Holy Cross in Flatbush, involving your father and a wrong turn or two that he never discussed afterward. Determined not to become a family story this time out, you grip the steering wheel grimly, refusing to let civilians cut in on the procession. Too bad for them.
After the cemetery, there is lunch. The restaurant is an old favorite of the aunts and uncles and cousins. You went to your first big grown-up party there. Your 13-year-old has been there, too, although she would not remember, being one at the time. The decor and the menu are unchanged. Ditto the waiters, unsmiling but fast, quiet and efficient. There is great pleasure in eating and talking with all the cousins, catching up. When you were younger, you wasted a lot of energy feeling guilty about taking pleasure in such a thing, on such a day. Now you just roll with it.
All too soon, it’s time to go. You need to beat the traffic at the bridge crossings. Everyone hugs, and the cousins ask whether you will be all right, going all the way back to Jersey. Of course you will be. It isn’t really that far. Unlike the distance from the time when the parents and the uncles and the aunts were all alive, when the parties and fights and jokes were epic, when you were one of the kids.
Resolving the birth name of my great-great-grandmother Mary (1836-1892), wife of Martin Haigney, has played out like a tennis match in my brain for several years. Here’s the recap, in order of evidence uncovered:
First point: A death certificate for Mary’s second child, William (1867-1930), listed his parents’ names as Martin Haigney and Mary CARROLL. [NYC #1923, 27 January 1930].
Second point: The death certificate for Mary’s first child, my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney (1859-1938), listed his parents as Martin Haigney and Mary MAHON [NYC #19507, 10 October 1938].
The refs say: Oh, great. We can theorize away here. (Since William and Joseph were born eight years apart, was their father married twice, each time to a Mary?) But eventually it’s time to stop horsing around and look at the only actual evidence in hand: the death certificates. And both these Brooklyn death certificates, sad to say, are not examples of thoroughness.
The “informant” for Joseph’s is “Hospital Records.” There is no date of birth and his age is given only in years, with the “months” and “days” spaces left blank. (Way to go, guys.) Same situation on William’s age, although at least the informant was an actual person — his widow, Sarah.
But let’s assume that Joseph’s widow, Catherine, was the informant for the hospital records/death certificate. Which widow would likely know more about Joseph’s and William’s birth family in Watervliet, N.Y.? Sarah Haigney (nee Dowd) was born and bred in Brooklyn, according to census records. Catherine Haigney (nee Connors) was born in Watervliet, according to her elder son’s World War I draft registration card.
OK, advantage MAHON. (Assuming Catherine really was the ultimate informant. Sigh.)
Third point: Mary Haigney’s April 1892 obituary. Naturally, this does not provide a maiden name. (You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?) The point here is its inclusion in a database of death notices compiled by the Troy Irish Genealogy Society (TIGS) from files maintained by employees of the Burden Iron Company — a major employer for Troy and Watervliet. Did a family member work for Burden? There are no Haigneys listed in payroll records available in another TIGS database (including searches under many alternate spellings). No Mahons, either. But there are lots of Carrolls. Hmmm. On the third hand, there are quite a few McMahons.
The refs say: Advantage still MAHON. Where the heck did William’s widow get the idea that Mary was a Carroll?
Fourth point: Sometime after all of this, I acquired a copy of The List, a Haigney family fact sheet compiled by my father’s oldest sister, Catherine. Here, Martin Haigney’s wife is named Mary MAHON.
The refs say: This Catherine is Mary’s great-granddaughter, born in 1914, 22 years after Mary’s death. But she was a young adult when her grandfather Joseph was still alive. And the last of Mary’s children lived until 1964. Catherine’s informant surely was one of Mary’s own children. We can hope that at least one of them knew what her maiden name was. Advantage MAHON.
Color commentary: Shouldn’t I have put this issue to bed by this point? I guess I could have. But I hated that loose end embodied in William’s death certificate. If only I could get a piece of contemporary evidence, something from somebody in Mary’s own generation. Like her husband? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Fifth and final point: Contemporary evidence arrived on my doorstep just the other day in the form of Martin Haigney’s Civil War pension file. In affidavits submitted to the federal Bureau of Pensions in 1898, Martin asserted that his wife’s maiden name was Mary McMAHON. Ten years later, he submitted a similar affidavit saying Mary’s maiden name was MAHON.
The winner: MAHON. Hurray! Let’s tailgate. Do they tailgate at tennis matches?
Today’s NewsClip is the obituary of my paternal grandfather, Raymond F. Haigney. Raymond’s sudden and early death from a heart attack removed him from the family picture well before I was born, and until just a few years ago I had not even seen a photo of him.
Coronary disease, sad to say, is a big factor in recent family history — my paternal grandmother also died of a heart attack, as did my father, Peter, at age 59. It being hard to ignore a pretty striking family medical pattern, I thought genealogy research might provide some insights. So I guess you could say that Raymond F. got me into genealogy.
There are shelves and shelves of Civil War histories, and Lord knows there’s no shortage of riveting battle narratives and larger-than-life personalities to write about. But Drew Gilpin Faust, historian and lately Harvard’s president, takes a novel tack by focusing on the inevitable outcome of all that: the unprecedented thousands of war dead.
In This Republic of Suffering: Death And The American Civil War, Faust explains how the Civil War changed our understanding of death and mourning as surely as it changed the generals’ understanding of warfare. “We still live in the world of death the Civil War created,” writes Faust. Measures we take for granted today — the notification of next of kin, registering of graves, armies taking responsibility for soldiers’ decent burials — are really products of the Civil War. The carnage that occurred on an entirely new scale demanded entirely new systems for grappling with it.
In the chapter “Burying,” Faust recounts the evolution of burial procedures on the battlefield, and the rituals, often hastily improvised, that soldiers enacted to provide a sense of ceremony in the absence of clergy and family. “Believing and Doubting” explores the wrenching challenge to faith posed by the ever-mounting tally of losses. A surging interest in spiritualism and an outpouring of tragic popular ballads were two typical signs of the times.
What really spurred lasting change was the massive scale of deaths, and their remoteness from loved ones who desperately wanted a body to bury and a gravesite where they could mourn. Undertakers did a booming business at the battlefields for families who could afford to have bodies located, embalmed and shipped homeward. Thousands more soldiers were buried in common graves, and more than 40 percent of Union dead remained anonymous at war’s end. (The percentage was even higher for Confederate soldiers.)
The inability to account for fallen soldiers seems ridiculous to us today, but it was rather typical for its time — certainly the dead of the Mexican War fared no better. Still, by war’s end, the yearning to name and account for the dead crystallized into a national movement to create official burying grounds for them — the beginnings of the national cemeteries of today.
Books like this are valuable to the family historian, illuminating social assumptions and customs that have faded from memory, and giving us greater understanding of the ways our ancestors grappled with grief during this time of incredible upheaval. If you have a Civil War soldier in your family tree, it’s definitely worth a look.