To my online tree viewers, once I go public

I’m one of those people who struggles with the decision to take an Ancestry tree public. I’ve been torn between the desire to connect and share, and the reluctance to become part of something that’s bothered me forever: the perpetuation of mistaken associations (or just plain mistakes) when family tree information is cut and pasted without sufficient thought.

These trees online? They are works in progress. I know so much more about my lines than I did two decades ago, when I started researching them. (And boy, am I glad you can’t see some of the early trees that were on my long-ago hard drives.) I expect, if I am lucky and keep working hard, that I will know much more five or ten years from now, and these trees will keep growing and changing.

So what am I getting at? Simply:

Go ahead, use what you can. If you credit me, that would be super (and, let’s face it, decent), but you know what’s more important?

Check behind me where you can. Take my online stuff as a starting point, not the family Bible (and we all know how dicey family Bibles can be). Also, keep checking back from time to time. See what’s up. Drop me a line, compare some DNA, don’t be shy.

Above all, if something in my online universe doesn’t match something in yours …

Check. It. Out.

Don’t assume I’m right … or that you’re right, for that matter. Maybe neither of us is right. Or even, in some weird, only-in-real-life way, we will discover that both of us are right. In a world full of guys who do stuff like marry three successive wives named, say, Susan, it happens.

I will now climb down from the soapbox before it is kicked out from under me. Whoever you are, if you’re reading this, I wish you all the joy of discovery and the fun of reconnecting with long-lost relatives. But I swear, if I catch you saying that Martin Haigney (born 1828) married somebody named Mary Carroll, BECAUSE HE DIDN’T HE DIDN’T I SPENT 15 YEARS AND BEAUCOUP BUCKS INVESTIGATING THIS, I will hunt you down and … Ahem. Sorry. Got a little upset there. Better now.

Happy hunting. Really.


A Day After Christmas Carol

On this day 128 years ago, “Pat’k Hagany,” occupation, tailor, entered the poorhouse in Rensselaer County, N.Y.

As required by New York State’s Board of Charities, Patrick’s custodians recorded a data snapshot of his life on a standard form. His age was given as 70, although he might have been as much as seven years younger. He had lived in New York State for 32 years, so he said. It was noted that he had no education, just like a twentysomething Patrick Hagney who in 1856 had signed his X to a declaration of intent to take an oath of U.S. citizenship, which duly happened in 1858, and was duly memorialized in a ledger of newly minted citizens which still sits, among many others, on a metal storage shelf in the basement of the county courthouse in Troy, N.Y.

These two Patricks, thirty years apart, are probably the same person, along with Patrick Haganey, or Hegney, or Hagany, a tailor recorded for three decades under various spellings in the Troy city directory and in state and federal censuses, although in 1870 he is called  “Patrick Egan.” The enumerator either gave up trying to get the surname right, or never tried in the first place, seeing as Patrick probably could not have offered what an official would have considered a standard Anglo-Saxon spelling to begin with. From a bureaucratic standpoint, it was a life of impotence rather than importance.

On that day after Christmas 1885, Patrick was in the poorhouse because he was old and he could not work. The questions on the poorhouse form reveal as much about the attitudes of his caregivers as Patrick’s answers tell us about himself. The proper spelling or even the substance of his name had never been worthy of attention, but other things were: his [drinking] habits (moderate) and those of his parents (temperate); the economic condition of himself, his parents and all his ancestors (self-supporting); whether he had ever been on public assistance before (no) or had been resident in a charitable institution (no).

At the end of this 19th-century character test is a final verdict: Probable Destiny. And on the line next to that the county’s version of the Recording Angel wrote: “will recover.”

I hope he did. I am still working to find out what happened next. For now, Patrick and where he spent his day after Christmas in 1885 are a useful reminder in a season of energetic cheerfulness that some seasons are triumphant just by surviving them, and the notation “Will Recover” represents its own small victory. So here’s a sincere wish to anyone reading this for all the best this winter season, whatever you celebrate and however you are happening to celebrate it. And if by any chance this year has given you challenges along with celebrations, I wish you strength, and a nice, clear “Will Recover” on your own dotted line.


My Show: How Do You Think You Spell That?

I married into one of the easy names. Once in a blue moon, someone tries to spell it  “Linch,” the way my husband’s ancestors did in 18th-century Virginia, but basically, it’s easy. (To spell, not to research, which I realize is a whole other story.)

In contrast, my birth name is made for alternate spellings. I use what my great-great-grandfather settled upon in the 1870s. More likely, someone settled upon it for him, since the evidence is abundant that my immigrant ancestor was illiterate, signing his mark for important papers well into his old age. Starting in the 1872 West Troy directory, my branch spelled their surname “Haigney” and Haigneys they remained, thank God.

But research still must account for the alternate spellings random officials bestowed upon us. And with the spellings other Haigney families liked better.

Searching for possible extended family of my immigrant ancestor, I recently concluded an in-depth Troy city-directory search for the Haigney surname. I limited myself to reasonable variations, based on what I’ve encountered in 15+ years of research: Hagney, Heagney, Heaganey, Heagany, Hageny, Hagany, Haigney/Heigney/Haigeney/Heigeney and Hegney/Higney. Again, reasonable:  For sanity’s sake, I did not attempt to mind-meld with the sort of thinking that led a 1900 census enumerator to call my great-great-grandfather “Haggemy.” (Although if I saw one of these in the directory, of course I’d look hard at it.)

Two funny things about this name: On the one hand, it’s really very rare, however you spell it. For instance, when I searched for my great-great-grandfather in the Irish Family History Foundation’s baptisms database, I found only 10 Martin Haigneys (this includes variants) for all of Ireland in 1793-1911. It’s easy to get spoiled with searches like that.

On the other hand, the abundant spelling variations, and the freedom with which 19th-century Haigneys employed them, are a challenge to the confident pronouncement of my elders: “If they’re a Haigney, we must be related.”

Who is everyone, anyway? And what is our name? Sometimes after an intensive search, seeing all the variations play out, a surname starts looking like a funhouse mirror. How much of it belongs to me, and how much of it belongs to some 19th-century courthouse clerk’s imagination of how those Gaelic noises were supposed to look?

When I was a child, it seemed that my father and his siblings were the only Haigneys in the whole world. Then the Internet showed us that there were others, not as abundant as Smiths, certainly, but we no longer existed in a vacuum.

And then the genealogical databases expanded to give panoramic views of how fluid spelling was of this surname, how it varied not just from family to family, but changed within individual lifetimes. It was also apparent that not all Haigney families were created equal. Some U.S. groups, like mine, were poor immigrants who found opportunities through army service and industrial jobs. Others gravitated quickly toward white-collar employment like clerking and teaching.

What do these educational and economic differences mean? How do they play out with Haigneys in other parts of the world – the ones who stayed in Ireland, the ones who migrated to England and Australia? Why did my immigrant ancestor grow up in County Tipperary, when many accounts state with confidence that the Haigney surname is welded to County Tyrone? Are those Hagneys and Heaganys in the Troy directories closely connected to my West Troy Haigneys?

What, in short, is really in a name? It’s one of the background questions that keep my fascination with genealogy humming along.


Hold On To That Thought

Hold on to that thought.

I heard that phrase many a time in my grade-school days, when I could have been a prototype for Hermione Granger, Harry Potter’s perpetually hand-waving buddy.

Well, “hold on to that thought” is useful advice in genealogical research. It can apply to all those funny bits of data we stumble across from time to time, the ones whose significance remains stubbornly unclear.

I don’t have that name in my lines, we might think. Or: I don’t know of anyone who was from that place.

We conclude that these things are flukes – a brief acquaintanceship, perhaps, or just a whistle stop on one of our ancestors’ journeys. This potentially can be a mistake.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about finding a guy in the 1900 census who sure looked like he could be my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney. His age, birthplace, marital status and occupation were all in line with how other sources described him during the 1890s. Sometime after 1899, Joseph moved from his lifelong home of Watervliet, N.Y. He eventually settled with his wife and children in Brooklyn, where he can be found with boring regularity from 1910 on.

But in 1900, he was quite elusive. And when I finally found a viable candidate, there were, in my mind, three very big snags:

  1. He was in Jersey City, not Brooklyn.
  2. His wife, Catherine (Connors) Haigney, was nowhere in sight, and neither were any of his children, including my grandfather Raymond.
  3. He was boarding in the household of an Edwin and Rose Brant. None of us had ever heard of anybody called Brant.

Assuming this was great-grandfather Joseph, what in the world was going on?

As I previously wrote, I established that Edwin and Rose, like Joseph, were recent arrivals from Watervliet. And about a year after the census find, I came into possession of an address book from the 1930s belonging to Joseph’s daughter, Anna, which strengthened the idea of a close association between the families. Thirty years after Joseph boarded with the Brants, Anna continued to keep track of three Brant daughters, now grown and married.

And that was it – an enigmatic census entry and an old address book, both pointing to a family named Brant in Jersey City. Based on what little I had, it seemed that this was a case of old acquaintances from the Capital District renewing their ties in Hudson County and Brooklyn. Interesting, but nothing to stop the presses about. I busied myself with other things.

Still, I held on to that thought.

And recently this paid off as I worked on the ancestry of great-grandmother Catherine (Connors) Haigney, Joseph’s wife. There are many more Connors families than Haigneys in Watervliet, and up to now it’s been hard to pick out which one might be Catherine’s – especially since I had no information about possible siblings.

Then one of my periodic rummagings through Tom Tryniski’s remarkable New York newspapers database turned up the piece of gold I had long sought: a Troy Times obituary for Catherine’s brother, James Connors, listing Catherine and another sister as survivors. This obituary led to a blizzard of other clippings, which helped crack the case of which Connors census entries were which, and before you could say “Get that in the database,” I had pieced together a preliminary picture of my great-grandmother’s parents, Patrick and Bridget, and their seven children.

Soon enough I had a decent basic idea of what became of five of these children, including my great-grandmother, of course. The two mysteries were a son named Timothy, who is difficult to trace after 1880, and a daughter variously recorded as Rose, Rosannah and Rosa.

It’s all so clear in retrospect, isn’t it?

Not in real time. I was sitting on a train the other day, thinking two things:

  1. I hate how the name Rosannah keeps putting that old Toto song into my brain.
  2. Have I ever seen a Rose anywhere in my travels?

Which was when I blurted out, “Rose BRANT!” thereby drawing some curious stares from across the aisle. (It could have been worse; I could have started singing “Rosanna.”)

The next logical stop was the Jersey City Free Public Library’s lovely New Jersey Room, where some lovely obituaries confirmed the hunch. Rose’s own death notice from 1914 referred to her only as the beloved wife of Edwin, but Edwin’s obituary from 1929 contained the wonderful words: “Edwin O. Brant, beloved husband of the late Rose Brant (nee Connors).”

This is the beginning rather than the end of the story. A lot of blanks still need to be filled in and connections confirmed in what is shaping up to be a typically sprawling Irish Catholic family. But it has been delightful to uncover a more detailed picture of my great-grandmother’s clan just in time for Women’s History Month, not to mention St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m so glad I held on to that thought.


A Shadow Across Generations

For me the search for family history began as a search for medical history — as it probably does for a lot of people. So I was fascinated by this ABC News story about a medical condition that has stalked a family for four generations.

Reading about Lisa Salberg’s struggles for answers about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy reawakens my respect for what family history can reveal about our health — as well as the limitations of those revelations. Her family’s terrible dance with the condition goes back at least a century to a great-great uncle, an Irish immigrant who died suddenly in a New Jersey mine at the age of 19. As the story points out, there is a strong genetic component in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which affects the muscles of the heart and, left undetected, can result in sudden cardiac arrest in otherwise healthy young people.

But there’s no simple, smoking-gun clue to who is most vulnerable — there are over 1,000 genes associated with cardiomyopathy. For this reason, many experts do not consider genetic testing an effective screening tactic. Apparently it yields false positives as well as negatives.

Although this condition isn’t in my own family, as far as I know, it was my father’s fatal heart attack at age 59 that eventually got me going seriously about my genealogy. Looking back, I began with a pretty simplistic assumption. I knew my father, and both his parents, had died before age 60 of heart attacks. (My grandfather was 49 when he died.) When I began going back further than that, I thought I would find a string of similar deaths. But instead, I found a cluster of ancestors, including my great-great-grandfather, who lived into their eighties and beyond. Unsurprisingly, I also found a lot of people who died from things we can treat today — tuberculosis, pneumonia and the like. The picture, in short, was a lot muddier than I’d imagined.

So reading today’s story reawakened my respect for the mysteries we can encounter at the intersection of genealogy and genetics. The connections are a lot more intricate than I naively assumed when I began studying my family years ago.


Re-dirECTing

My sister hates the signature whine her GPS makes when she deviates from the agreed-upon route:

“Re-dirECTing!”

For a piece of electronic engineering, it sounds remarkably petulant. However, sometimes redirECTing is unavoidable, as we could tell the GPS if it were in the mood to listen.

Particularly in genealogical research. Particularly when your original route is leading into a swamp.

For example: One of my great-great-aunts, Mary Ann Haigney (1872-1956), inconsiderately married a person surnamed Walker. Sorting through Walkers in directories, documents and federal censuses is not nearly as efficient as sorting through Haigneys, and I just don’t know as much as I’d like about them. I did have a bunch of newspaper clippings about Mary Ann, including her obituary and several society items about family parties mentioning visits from her son Edward and his wife, a grandson, and “Mrs. Geis.” I really wanted to confirm the names of Edward’s wife and son, and find out who the mysterious Mrs. Geis was.

But this year, I had a couple of super-strengths to put into the Walker search.

The first was the 1940 census. The second was the address book kept in the late 1930s and early 1940s by my great-aunt Anna.  When I got this address book last fall and realized its value as a 1940 search tool, I felt like holding it aloft, superhero-style, and waiting for thunderbolts to explode out of it.

In the address book was a Brooklyn address for an “E. Walker,” whom I devoutly hoped would turn out to be Mary Ann’s son Edward. Using another awesome thunderbolt of genealogical power, the Unified 1940 Census E.D. Finder, I located:

Walker, Edward, head, 38

Walker, Frances, wife, 43

[redacted], son, 11

Geis, Caspar, brother-in-law, 58

Geis, Henrietta, sister-in-law, 49

[redacted], niece by marriage, 23

Identities for Edward’s wife and son! Plus, an explanation for Mrs. Geis!

Clearly, Caspar was Frances’ brother, and Frances’ maiden name was Geis. Fantastic. I decided to take a lunch break.

Astute readers will know that any time the word “clearly” appears in my text, things are actually not clear at all. Over a sandwich and tea, I recalled that phrase “by marriage.”

Wait a minute. Whose marriage? Was Edward linked to the Geis family through Caspar, or through Henrietta? I read through the entry again. Sure enough, it was a classic case of stopping too soon for a lunch break. There was a seventh name in the household:

 Schemank, Mary, mother-in-law, 77

With that, I had the complete picture. As the full household list implies (and other documents eventually confirmed), Edward had married the former Miss Frances Schemank, not Geis. Henrietta (Schemank) Geis is one of Frances’ sisters (she had two, plus a brother). Caspar Geis, of course, is Frances’ brother-in-law, not her brother.

And I’m just glad my genealogy GPS redirECTed before I drove the car into a swamp.


NewsClips: An Inspector Calls!

I never knew my paternal grandfather Raymond Haigney (1891-1940), as I mentioned recently when describing his final census appearance in 1940. But I knew that at the time he died, he worked for the New York City Department of Health as a food inspector. I’d always supposed that my knowledge of his work was destined to begin and end there.

But, thanks to the magic of indexed, digital newspaper archives, I have three news clips showing my grandpa on the milk-dealer beat, keeping an eye out for questionable practices and doing his bit to keep New York’s dairy supply pure. You go, Grandpa Haigney!

The newspaper is the long-ago Daily Star, published in the borough of Queens (my grandfather was detailed to the health department’s Queens bureau). Punctuation, grammar and capitalization are reproduced faithfully from the original, alas.

First, here are two fairly routine situations:

Daily Star, Queens Borough, N.Y. City, Tuesday January 17, 1928, page 1: Milk Dealer Fined Total of $250 On Two Counts in Ridgewood Court

A man described as Meyer Krout, a milk dealer, of Seventy-ninth street (Furman avenue), Middle Village, was fined $100 by Magistrate Benjamin Marvin yesterday on complaint of Health Inspector Raymond Haigney, who swore that the defendant had fifteen quarts of milk for sale which was unwholesome.

Daily Star, Queens Borough, N.Y. City, Thursday Evening, October 11, 1928, page 7: Milk Dealer Fined $25 For Unrecorded Sales

Morris Cohen, a milk dealer of Cooper avenue and Eighty-eighth street, Glendale, was fined $25 by Magistrate Peter M. Daly in Ridgewood Court yesterday on complaint of Inspector Raymond Haigney attached to the Queens office of the Department of Health, who alleged that Cohen failed to keep a record of milk sales as required by regulations of the Department of Health.

This last one contains a bit of drama.

Daily Star, Queens Borough, N.Y. City, Tuesday evening May 28, 1928, page 1: Milk Dealer Pays $50 Fine For Violation

Muzzio Saladino, a milk dealer, of 2243 Flushing avenue, Maspeth, charged with violating the Sanitary Code was found guilty in Ridgewood court yesterday and fined $50 by Magistrate Peter M. Daly.

The defendant was accused by Inspector Raymond Haigney, attached to the Queens bureau of the Department of Health, with having eighty quarts of mlk in unlabeled and untagged containers. Saladino told the court that he informed the inspector that the milk was to be used for making cheese and was not for sale.

Haigney read Saladino’s record, which purported to show that he has been fined on no less than ten occasions for various infractions of the Sanitary Code relating to milk. In answer to the plea of Francis D. Saitta, counsel for the defendant, Magistrate Daly said:

“This defendant seems to have no regard for the law. I am going to fine him $50, and I don’t want a repetition of the offense.”

Compiler note: I will admit to a sneaking bit of sympathy for Mr. Saladino. I mean, freshly made cheese – what’s not to like? But the law is the law.

Research note: I found these clips (along with many other valuable items) in Tom Tryniski’s amazing Old New York Newspapers database – well worth a look for those of us tracking Empire State ancestors.


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