The Ugly Files: Playing with Picasa

A crucial feature of the Ugly Files: Photos. Not the subject matter, of course!

But oh, the organization. I have a MacBook, and  iPhoto is a great application, but it’s always worrisome to think that someday the laptop could be stolen, or drop out a window, or just up and quit one day, and take hundreds of photos to never-never land.

I do back up to an external hard drive, but — duh! What if there’s a fire and both the drive and the laptop go up in smoke?

After way too many months of thinking “I really should do something about that,” I have officially entered the cloud, or online storage, or whatever you like to call it. As a first step, I’ve been exploring Picasa, Google’s image organizer. What I like, so far:

• Editing the photos using Google’s Picnik application is pretty easy. At least, it is for basic editing — cropping, adjusting sharpness, contrast and shadows, etc. I honestly don’t know what it would do with stuff like color saturation and fine-tuning, but then, in this context I’m mostly interested in information, not restoration.

• The caption area is roomy and easy to read, which is nice after trying to squeeze genealogical information into iPhoto fields.

• It’s simple to designate an album as private, which means only people I invite can view it.

• It’s possible to order prints from Picasa albums, which is also nice.

I’m sure there are many lively opinions out there about the pros and cons of various photo organizers. What are your thoughts?


The Ugly Files is an occasional series in which I document various stops in my journey to organize my genealogy life.

Links, 3.21.11

Some first day of spring! It is snowing outside my window as I type. We should have been craftier here in the Northeast and said that today was actually National We Love Winter, We Really Do Day. Yeah, right.

Cousins, classmates: Two strangers go to a genealogy program at a local library and start filling out family tree sheets for a class exercise. They realize their fathers were cousins. Are you jealous yet? I am.

Perfect world: At ThinkGenealogy, Mark Tucker discusses what genealogy software would look like in a perfect world. Read about his vision of ‘GenPerfect’. It’s intriguing to think of a genealogy program that can handle the perspective of open genealogy questions, in addition to puzzles already solved.

NY listing: My love of Rootsweb mailing lists is well documented. Of potential interest to those with New York State research interests is a new list, NYSCOGO, which takes its name from its sponsor, the New York State Council of Genealogical Organizations, formed in 1991 “to facilitate communication between genealogical and historical groups.” H/T to SBurch at the NY-IRISH list.

RootsTech, again: Still can’t get RootsTech out of your mind? Or still wishing you’d been there? View videos of selected presentations online for free at H/T to Kimberly Powell.

Start your engines: Check out, a new genealogy search engine launched by Mocavo, Inc., backed by TechStars founder David Cohen. It pulls in the usual suspects (genealogy message boards, online family trees, historical societies), along with the Library of Congress, Ellis, Find A Grave, etc. More on this from Dick Eastman.

Marker migration: How does a wooden grave marker migrate from an Outer Banks cemetery to Sandwich, Mass.? Nobody knows for sure, but at least the 1891 marker is back where it belongs. As reported by the Virginian-Pilot, the journey home began when a sharp-eyed museum curator in Sandwich realized the marker just didn’t look local, and got the ball rolling with a query to the online newsletter of the Association for Gravestone Studies.

Enjoy the week. I’m off to offer hot chocolate to the crocuses.

Events: Irish Family History at Drew University

I’m looking forward to April 16. You’re probably saying, “Who isn’t?” But not only is April 16 the day after Tax Day, it’s also the day for this:

Emigrants and Exiles, An Irish Family History Symposium

It’s taking place practically in my own backyard, at Drew University in Madison, N.J. Check out the speakers and topics. Excellent stuff!

* Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, “Right Annie, Wrong Annie”

* Professor Christine Kinealy, “The Famine is only part of the Story. Why your ancestors came to America”

* Dr Anne Rodda, CG, “Immigrant Imprints: American and Irish records that tell the story”

* Claire Keenan Agthe, “Offbeat records for New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia”

* Judy Campbell, “Family History Search Catches a Tammany Tiger”

* Alan Delozier, “Family History from a Religious Perspective”

* Julie Sakellariadis, “Imagining the Past: Using Historical Resources to Find Stories from the Past”

* Dr Thomas Callahan Jr., “Looking For Katie: The McCormack Family in America”

The link takes you to the website of the Genealogical Society of New Jersey, which is co-sponsoring the event with Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. You can download a .pdf file of the conference brochure and registration form, if you are in the area and might like to attend.

NewsClips: Obituary for Peter Kelleher, 1932

Recently, I came across the death notice for one of my great-grandfathers, Peter Kelleher, who lived with my grandmother and her family during the last years of his life.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, Wednesday, April 13, 1932, Page 10

PETER KELLEHER died Tuesday at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Raymond Haigney, 519 Court St. He was the husband of the late Catherine Kearney and is survived by his daughter; two sons, Frank and Michael McKenna; a brother, Bernard Kelleher, and a sister, Mrs. Harry Scofield. The funeral will be held on Friday at 9:30 a.m. from his home; thence to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church; where a solemn mass of requiem will be celebrated. Interment will be in Holy Cross Cemetery.


1. Peter Kelleher was the father of my paternal grandmother, Margaret Kelleher Haigney. My father, Peter J. Haigney, was named for him (over my grandmother’s objections, but that’s another story.) He was born in 1864 in Leitrim, Ireland.

2. The two sons listed, Frank and Michael McKenna, are actually stepsons. My great-grandmother, Kate Kearney, was the widow of Peter McKenna before marrying Peter Kelleher.

3. Well look at that: I hadn’t heard of my great-grandfather’s sister, Mrs. Harry Scofield, before reading this obituary and am trying to find out more about her.

Maura O’Connell: Irish Blessing

Here’s a singer I can’t resist, even if sometimes I get cross at her because once she covers a song, she pretty much ruins it for anyone else by hitting it so far out of the park that there’s no point trying to get it back again.

I saw Maura O’Connell years ago at a venue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It being close to St. Patrick’s Day, a significant segment of the audience was stoked for Irish!!! Music, especially one spirited gentleman wearing trousers in a spirited shade of kelly green.

O’Connell proceeded to flummox them with her own unique and beautiful take on Irish singing. Despite starting out with De Dennan, a traditionally-minded Irish band, Maura was (is) a pretty eclectic solo act — Irish as they come, but definitely marching to her own drummer. For the first 15 minutes or so on that South Florida night, she weathered occasional shouts of “Sing something IRISH!”, before silencing the hall with Gerry O’Beirne’s gorgeous “Western Highway,” after which even the guy in the kelly green trousers piped down and none of us looked back.

Maura O’Connell sings a version of the traditional Irish Blessing that, typically, sounds like nobody else’s. May the wind be at your back, etc. and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Good Reads: The Famine in Toomevara

The Famine Clearance in Toomevara, County Tipperary, by Helen O’Brien. FourCourts Press, 2010.


This is a slim, nonglitzy volume that looks like the kind of graduate thesis you’d find tucked away in a university library. It reads a bit that way too: concise and clear, but distinctly academic in tone. The author isn’t aiming for a potboiler and she does not even appear to be auditioning for a spot as an expert on Who Do You Think You Are? Although I’d watch an episode with her in it, for sure.

I ordered the book upon a recommendation from a member of the Troy Irish Genealogy Society email list, and because Toomevara is a village in the part of Tipperary my ancestor Martin Haigney might have left in the early 1850s. I was curious to read a Famine-era study specific to this region.

I was not expecting anything overtly genealogical, and O’Brien’s book does not deliver that (although she certainly mentions many local surnames). Her mission is to analyze what this one little village of Toomevara was like going into the crisis of 1845-52, how the famine shook it to its foundations, and what effects and memories lingered afterward.

It’s revelatory background for anyone (like me) who has always been vaguely aware their Irish immigrant ancestors “came over during the Famine” without considering the suffering and dislocation behind that decision. The “clearance” in O’Brien’s title refers to the forced eviction of 500 villagers on 28 May 1849, an incident brutal enough that it rated indignant articles in local newspapers, and even a discussion in the British House of Commons. As one resident recalled years later:

About 5 p.m. the work was over, the place in ruins and the only roof for souls was the vault of heaven. The people gathered their fragments of furniture, doors, dressers, old boxes and built sheds along the channel of chapel wall and school house, a few in the school house yard and the gardens at the rear of the two houses in Chapel street …

Ultimately even these pathetic digs were unacceptable to the authorities, and in February 1850 a work gang of local recruits — the “hut tumblers” — pulled down the makeshift shelters of about 20 evicted families who had refused to disappear to neighboring villages or into the workhouse.

However upsetting contemporaries may have found all of this, there was little recourse for the villagers. As O’Brien illustrates in painstaking detail, the Famine was not an era chock-full of options. There’s no shortage of bad guys in the narrative, but some of them might surprise. O’Brien’s analysis certainly shows inactivity on the part of the great landowners, but the system that subdivided and subleased huge holdings into tinier and tinier parcels meant that a confusing web of agents and subagents made the more direct decisions about who could stay and who must go.

Disturbingly, these hard times often pitted villager against villager. Local folk were part of the gangs who tumbled the huts in 1850  and in the initial eviction in 1849. For some it may have been a way of ensuring protection from being evicted themselves; in other cases workers were promised lumber from the cottages they pulled down.

Ultimately Toomevara, like most of Ireland, was transformed by the crisis. O’Brien notes that 187 surnames recorded in parish baptism registers between 1831 and 1852 disappear from the records after the Famine, reflecting the degree to which deaths and emigrations changed the village forever. Long and angry memories remained, not only toward the British and Anglo-Irish power class, but toward fellow Irish who took advantage of the upheaval and dispersals to enlarge their own land holdings.

In her introduction, Ms. O’Brien says that while the Famine has been extensively studied in a general way, “ample room exists for more local studies on the topic.” To judge from the way this concise book brings these horrible years into a vivid and personal focus, she’s absolutely right.


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