Untimely End, Unanswered Questions

Catherine was a first cousin twice removed, which means her father, William Haigney, and my great-grandfather, Joseph, were brothers. I was so excited to learn of her existence.

William (1867-1930) remains a blurred image on the family chart, somebody unknown to the older relatives I’ve been able to ask. But … he’d had a daughter, born about 1905. And although experience should have taught me otherwise, my head instantly filled with fantasies of collateral kin, rediscovered cousins and unmined troves of memorabilia.

Unfortunately, the first sign that these would remain fantasies came early: a 1946 entry in the New York City Death Records Index that looked an awful lot like Catherine. I jotted down the certificate number and put it on a list of items to look up on an upcoming trip to the New York City Municipal Archives in downtown Manhattan.

This was actually one of those times that I half-hoped I had the wrong person in the index. My inner schoolteacher told me sternly that it was best to know the facts, however disappointing: Most likely she’d perished, unmarried and childless, of pneumonia, or cancer, or whatever. The dreamer inside me responded: Yes, yes, of course – but what if?

Funny how when you’re mulling two pet possibilities, you get blindslided by a third. This is what happened when I scrolled through the microfilm and hit Catherine’s death certificate.

Father: William Haigney

Mother: Sarah Dowd King Haigney

Sigh. It really was her. Oh, well.

Cause of death: Fractured skull, subdural hemorrhage, lacerated brain.

“Holy @#$@,” I said to the microfilm machine.

“Excuse me?” said the person next to me, who very fortunately was plugged into an MP3 player and was only reacting to the sight of my lips moving. (I hope.)

I re-read the cause line. It said what I thought it said.

Very dramatic, I thought, my brain going temporarily foggy. But let’s not get carried away. Maybe it wasn’t really sinister. Maybe it was a chronic disease of some sort that … that fractures skulls and lacerates …

Never mind that. Back to facts. Who was the doctor, and where had he examined her?

Oh. He was a coroner. And he’d seen her at the Kings County Morgue.

Well, then. That does sound legitimately dramatic.

It took a while to settle down and actually look critically at the certificate, so hard did I have to work at readjusting my expectations. I’m a big girl and I know that not everyone dies in their beds. Still, I had trouble assimilating the intense contrast this certificate posed to what I’d hoped to find.

And the facts on the death certificate don’t help. Catherine’s job was listed as “usher, theater,” similar to the occupation listed for her in the 1930 census – cashier, theater. The date of death was September 18, 1946 in Kings County Hospital. On that same date, a Kings County medical examiner took charge of her remains at the morgue. But the death certificate wasn’t filled out and filed until Oct. 1, and the informant was Catherine’s maternal uncle, James Dowd.

So why the gap between the date of death and the filing of the certificate? Had Catherine’s body lain unidentified in the morgue for two weeks, or was this just the result of having to wait for an investigation to run its course? And how did she receive the fatal injury?

According to the certifiate, Catherine’s death was turned over to the medlcal examiner for investigation. There was a number for a coroner’s case file, which I’ve requested. It might have some answers. Until then, my questions (and my unruly imagination) will have to be put on hold.

Links, 1.17.11

Happy Monday! And of course, it is also Dr. King’s birthday (observed — Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual birthday was Saturday). See how you do on this Martin Luther King Day quiz, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor.

Letters from the past: Part of the Growing Bolder series at Huffington Post, a moving look at Joanie Schirm, a Florida native whose exploration of family letters from Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust led to a deeper understanding of her father’s life.

Cleveland burials: Another massive indexing project: Volunteers have indexed thousands of Cleveland burial records. I had trouble getting the news story’s link to work. Try this one.

NJ news: Good news if you’re digging in the Garden State! The National Genealogical Society has published a “Research in the States” series guide to New Jersey. H/t to Jersey Journal genealogy columnist Daniel Klein.

Calendar items: Have you seen the Genealogy Blog Editorial Calendar at GeneaBloggers? A dizzying array of information and prompts.

Bye-bye mortgage: Congrats to the Illiana Genealogical and Historical Society, which has “burned the mortgage” on its Danville, IL facility. Local columnist Joan Griffs has more on the society and its holdings.

Digital doings: Canada’s National Library and Archives says that over the next seven years it intends to go completely digital. Here is a report on what that might mean in practical terms.

Grant program: Via Diane Haddad at Genealogy Insider, details of a grant program from Archives.com open to both individuals and societies seeking to complete family history or preservation projects.

Embracing change: Brenda at Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog has a wake-up call for local genealogy societies: If your attendance is dwindling, it’s time to make some changes.

Daily diary: Jasia has begun her very own Project 365. If you haven’t heard, this means taking a picture and posting it every day for 365 days. Interesting to think how impossible such a visual diary would have been for a lot of folks even a decade ago. Now it’s a meme! h/t Greta Koehl at Greta’s Genealogy Bog.

Passport perspective: Michael at Irish Roots Cafe spotlights the topic of using your genealogy to get Irish citizenship if you haven’t got it already. I think it’s one of the most succinct run-downs of a subject that grabs a lot of attention on Irish-American genealogy listservs.

Scouting around: Jennifer at Erudite Genealogist embarked on a quest to gather genealogy resources for her resident Cub Scouts to earn a Heritage Belt Loop. Given the interest kids often show in old photos and family trees, you’d think this would be a slam-dunk, but I’ve had mixed experiences finding user-friendly activity planning materials. Check out what she came up with and how the meeting went!

Now we’re off to an MLK Day of Service event at the older kid’s middle school. Enjoy the week!

Old Photos: Notes on Unsticking the Stuck

Quite a while back I wrote about evil magnetic photo albums and how scores of my family photographs were held in their death grip. The new year has brought a renewed burst of energy for this project on my part.

I’ve already covered the details of my agonizing over the decision to break up the old albums. (Pro: The glue harms the photos! Con: Removing them could splinter them!) For me, the decision was made when it became obvious the glue on many pages was failing on its own, and the photos were beginning to drop out anyway.

Also, it is so wonderful that they are not stuck anymore — that they can be slipped out of their sleeves for scanning and sharing. (Not too much mobility, though — some are really fragile.)

Beyond that, here are some notes about the process:

1. The unwaxed dental floss method of removing stubbornly stuck pictures (see here for a detailed description) is working well. Pictures are coming up very nicely, with inscriptions on the back intact. I’ve noticed, though, that one has to be very careful with prints that have the crinkle-edge borders, lest the floss catch one of the sawteeth and slice into the photo rather than underneath it.

2. It’s interesting how much my increased understanding of the family timeline has increased my ability to identify and date pictures properly. In fact, new genealogy facts — or more precisely, facts new to me — have cleared up some previously “unidentifiable” items. While some photos remain a complete mystery, I’m beginning to think that it’s premature to abandon hope entirely that they will ever be identified.

3. I’m saddened by the deterioration of the color of many prints from the mid-fifties onward. Was this a result of the magnetic albums, or just a feature of the print process? I guess I’ll be reading up on this topic.

4. I’m grateful now for my dad’s holding my feet to the fire with regard to studying German, although it was a complete bear at times. Very handy for inscriptions on my mom’s side of the family.

Looking for Sayres

Not classic mystery authors, but descendants of Thomas Sayre (1597-1670), formerly of Leighton Buzzard, Bedforshire, England, who immigrated to America circa 1634 and co-founded Southampton, Long Island, New York circa 1640. I will let study coordinator Gregory Morley explain more:

Many researchers are supplementing their primary and secondary sources (paper trail) with Y-DNA analysis. My research aims to learn why at least two different haplogroups exist among the current population of Sayre descendants or paternal relatives of Sayre including spelling variations. The project is also open to those who have not participated in Y-DNA testing.

This project uses the first five generations of Sayre males beginning with Thomas Sayre (1597-1670). Thomas was the son of Francis and Elizabeth (Atkins) Sayre. Thomas and wife, commonly reported as Margaret Aldred/Aldrich, had four sons: Job, Daniel, Francis, and Joseph, representing generation #2. Up to three additional generations of known male descendants from each son are identified in the project.

If you believe your male ancestor was related to Thomas but was not one his sons, you are encouraged to include your lineage.

This link will open the Sayre Family Research project, a two question multiple choice survey, which should take about two minutes to complete. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5GJLWJD

h/t NJ-GSNJ email listserve.

Census Success (Section X, I Love You)

Images of many counties in the New York State census of 1865 are available online at Familysearch.org. Which is great. They are not indexed. Which is daunting.

Right before the holidays I searched for my Watervliet Haigneys in this census. I ran into trouble when I noted that these 1865 pages didn’t seem to have street names or house numbers. They number the dwellings (and the families) in order of visitation. So House 1 meant first house visited. That’s it. Not No. 1 Chapman Street, or whatever. Just No. 1 House Visited.

It did not seem possible, therefore, to browse pages by street names, which can help when you know where the family lived but can’t locate them in an index. One can’t browse by guessing where the enumerator walked first. This was frustrating, because I knew from city directories where this family was living in 1865, but I couldn’t think of how to find them in the census, short of reading it page by page.

I googled around for any obvious finding aids for the 1865 Watervliet E.D.s — nada. Obviously I would need to call or write a local expert to see if they could help with this. Then the holidays rushed up and I forgot about it. Bad me.

Then New Year’s Day rolled around, and the whole house was sleeping off the holiday calories, and I had my feet up and my 17th cup of coffee in hand, thinking about this 1865 census.

I started thinking about those pages at the back of each census district count — the agricultural schedules, the mortality schedules, the sections listing who was serving in the military. This family was headed by a soldier in the U.S. Army. Maybe that would narrow my search. So I flipped to the back of one district listing, and that’s when I saw Section X:


This tenth section includes spaces for listing important places in the district, such as churches, schools and newspaper offices. And it occurred that if I could find a listing in a district for the church where my ancestors worshiped, I might not have a sure bet, but I would feel a lot better about slogging through 50-odd pages.

The page above lists the places of worship in Watervliet’s First Election District. It notes the presence of a Roman Catholic church, although not its name. However, the Reformed Dutch church listed below it is a few blocks from St. Bridget’s, the Roman Catholic parish where my ancestors went to church.

OKAY! We have a district to search!

What happened next was a New Year’s gift. Just for laughs, I started paging through the district in reverse order. I thought it would be more interesting. (This is the sort of thought that occurs after 17 cups of coffee.)

And there were my Haigneys, on page 46 of 53 pages. Sweet.

So don’t forget those back pages in that 1865 New York census. See if a church or another landmark rings a bell. Or look to see if your surname is on the military listings. It’s one way of narrowing a search in a big district. And it sure beats reading the whole city of Watervliet.

Links, 1.11.11

The unexpected dividend of delaying the links by a day is a terribly catchy post title, no?

Credentialed: So you wanna have some letters after your name? Kimberly Powell writes about Options for Becoming a Credentialed Genealogist.

Rated: The Motley Fool financial-advice column takes a look at Ancestry.com’s fortunes (and prospects) now that stock analysts have given it another thumbs-up.

Playing: An Orem, Utah-based company has devised a genealogy game app for Facebook. Called Family Village, it’s scheduled for a February debut. You have been warned.

Booming: Australia is undergoing a genealogy boom, like a lot of places. I mainly included this item because of the lead: “Family skeletons are streaming out of closets … ” [Edited to add: On a far more serious note, prayers and good thoughts for those affected by the unprecedented and  devastating floods in Queensland. Information on relief efforts here.]

Migrating: I love this topic! Asheville, N.C. writer Dee Gibson-Roles offers  a look at migration patterns and how they can help you trace your ancestors.

Secure: Dick Eastman offers an informative look at laptop security, including a primer on Cable Locks 101. To be honest, I have never used a cable lock at the library or the archives. But I have never left my laptop unattended, either. I have bumped along with the lug-it-around-in-a-backpack method, but my back is beginning to think it’s time for a lock.

Enjoy the week, and the snow, if there happens to be some coming your way!


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