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.
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.
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.
My sister hates the signature whine her GPS makes when she deviates from the agreed-upon route:
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.
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.
Even without a Great Mystery to solve in the 1940 census, everyone has things they’re curious about. How does what we find stack up against what we were wondering? Over the next few days I’ll share some of my own comparisons.
As a starting point, I made a list of New York City relatives whose addresses were as close to sure bets as anything gets in genealogy. I then used Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub’s Unified 1940 Census E.D. Finder to find them in the 1940 census. The Unified Finder proved to be a thing of beauty, in my case. In under an hour I found E.D.s for all my candidates. (Only one false start, and it was my own fault – I transposed two digits on the street number.)
Enough of the preliminaries. Here’s case study No. 1.
Names: Raymond and Margaret Haigney
Relationship: Paternal grandparents
Background: This was to be my grandfather Raymond’s last census appearance. Raymond (born 1891) died of a heart attack seven months later at age 49, on 26 November 1940. This sad fact carries a genealogical benefit – the address on Raymond’s death certificate would almost certainly be where he lived when the census was taken. Raymond and Margaret both died before my parents met, and my father never talked much to us about his childhood. So anything in this census is potentially interesting.
• What did my father’s family look like in this last snapshot with both parents alive?
• What was my father’s first name going to be in this census? (I know; it’s a long story.)
Results: Here are Raymond and Margaret, right where I supposed they’d be. Listed with them are eight of their ten surviving children, including my father. (Two of his older brothers were married and living in their own households by this time. Oh, and there is one person in that list who is still with us, which is why you can’t read that name.)
Names: Great news! My father has regained his baptismal name, Peter. In 1930, he was listed as Jerome, which happens to be his middle name, apparently because his mother had a serious issue with his first name. I told the story here. I am glad Dad got his first name back. I wonder what discussions were involved.
Money: Raymond worked as a health inspector for the city of New York, not bad for a guy who never was able to attend high school (see below). His salary was $2,100 a year. Still, adjusted for inflation (using this nifty tool here), that would be $32,609.42 – not a ton of salary to raise eight kids on. I’m sure the money his two oldest daughters brought home came in handy.
Education: Raymond had completed school through the seventh grade; his wife the sixth. Their oldest daughter, Catherine, completed eight grades and was working as a packer at “Beech-Nut”, probably the Beech-Nut factory at 148 39th Street in Brooklyn. Maybe she’d answered a Brooklyn Eagle ad like this one from January 1945:
The next sister, Dorothy, had graduated high school and was a clerk at a wholesale grocery. Most of the other kids, including my dad, were still in school. Dad’s older brother Joseph had completed two years of college (I think he was the first college student in the family), and was working as a “gov’t.” messenger. I’m assuming that Dad was in his junior year of high school, since the census said he had already completed two years.
After Dad’s father died, the family considered the obvious choice of having Dad leave high school and go to work like his older sisters. (As you can see from this census, there were a lot of younger kids still at home.) My mother said one of Dad’s teachers persuaded my grandmother to let Dad finish high school. But it must have been hard.
Takeaway: As I’ve said, I don’t have a lot to go on with my dad’s family. Dad himself died of a heart attack at age 59, before I really got serious about genealogy, so what he himself would have had to say about this period in his life, I can only guess.
I first heard the story of his almost dropping out of school from my mom, and my reaction was resentful: How could they? He was smart, he was hardworking. How unfair! If it hadn’t been for Dad’s teacher, a shortsighted decision might have put his life on a very different path.
But looking at the names and numbers from 1940, and knowing the event that’s about to hit them all in a few months, puts this story in a different perspective. Life can really deal out some tough choices sometimes. I don’t envy my grandmother the situation she faced.
Next time: The maternal grandparents!