The copy editor in me prompts some quirky reactions to old newspapers: “Ewwww…. Futura! I hate that font!” (By the way, did you know there’s an entire documentary about Helvetica?)
But as we all know, newspapers are about more than type fonts. They give us big genealogy discoveries. Today is about a sequel to one of them.
A while back I wrote about the treasure trove of family nuggets I found through keyword searches of the Troy (N.Y.) Times-Record. I pawed through this impressive pile of clips in drunken abandon, updating my notes like mad.
Several months later, I’m regarding my impressive pile of clips with more wariness. Like censuses, newspaper items can contain a lot of information to cross-check. Did I get everything right? And what did I miss?
As part of Operation Database Cleanup, I began updating the database card of my great-great-aunt Mary Ann (Mamie) Haigney Walker (1872-1956). She had been a minor part of the Big Newspaper Trove, but it did contain her obituary, where I found the names of her husband and son. My current task was doublechecking these names. I didn’t have much else planned.
The names checked out fine against the obituary. But it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to cross-check these names in the rest of the newspaper items in my files – purely as a precaution. I just knew I had seen everything there was to see about this surname.
Mrs. Mary Walker of Kelly Road recently celebrated her eightieth birthday. At the time she was at the summer home of her sons in Far Rockaway and was surprised with a large dinner party of relatives and friends. Mrs. Walker was honored with a large birthday cake. Four generations of Walkers were represented by Mrs. Walker, her son, Edward, grandson and great-granddaughter. …
OK, class, what is of interest here?
(A) The phrase “home of her SONS.”
(B) The phrase “FOUR GENERATIONS of Walkers were represented.”
(C) The headline font may be Futura.
Very good, it is both A and B! We see that Mrs. Walker might have had more than the one son listed in her obituary. She also had a grandson and great-granddaughter. Perhaps they are mentioned by name elsewhere in the clips? Perhaps it would be a good idea to look?
After further examinations of the clips, I think “sons” might be a typo, as I have found only one son mentioned by name in subsequent articles. But I certainly went back to the rest of the clippings in a chastened and more careful state of mind. I realized I hadn’t really been paying a lot of attention to the Walkers – I had been too busy looking for clues about the Haigney surname.
As a result of renewed hunting I have added two grandchildren to the list I’m investigating for Mamie’s family group, plus a woman with a surname different from Walker who might be a married granddaughter or great-granddaughter. All of these names were scattered throughout my collection of newspaper snippets, but because I wasn’t really scanning for them, I read right over them.
A clear case of read in haste; re-read (and research) at leisure. Consider me abashed.
In Part One, I was tempted to visualize my way into a mistake by over-interpreting a perfectly innocent piece of census data: a prime example of the source being right and the perception going astray.
But investigating this family further has produced more confusion, as further investigation often will. Makes you want to retire your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap for good.
By carefully looking at data on Martin and Mary Haigney and their family in the period of 1860-1870, it was possible to establish that the big gap in ages between their first and second sons resulted not from a second marriage and a second family, but because three daughters were born and died between censuses. Step by step, I re-traced my way through the evidence:
First steps: U.S. Censuses of 1860 and 1870 and an 1890 affidavit from Martin Haigney’s Civil War pension file, establishing that his first child, Joseph, was born in 1859, with the next two surviving children being William, born in 1867, and Margaret, born in 1870.
Second step: Re-checking my handwritten family genealogy gold mine, also known as The List. It listed seven children for Martin and Mary: Joseph F.; William; “Mary I and Margaret I — died in infancy”; Mary “II”, Margaret “II”, and Martin. It did not include birth dates.
Third step: Baptismal records for the Haigney children, transcribed from the register of St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church, Watervliet, now in the archives at Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church. St Bridget’s listed baptisms for eight children, not seven:
- Joseph, 29 January 1859.
- Mary, 31 March 1861.
- Joanna, 26 July 1863.
- Ellen, 10 September 1865.
- William, 10 November 1867.
- Margaret, 16 January 1870.
- Mary Ann, 25 August 1872.
- Martin, 11 November 1874.
I nodded tolerantly when I saw these entries. The List had been pretty accurate so far. In fact, darn near 100 percent accurate. But now it had missed a kid. And it had listed a “Margaret” as dying in infancy, when clearly that child had to be named either Ellen or Joanna.
Oh, well; even The List is entitled to an off day. And off I went to the …
Fourth step: Finding this family in the New York State census of June 1865. Obviously a very useful resource, since it provides a glimpse of the family midway between federal censuses. Here’s what it said:
- Martin Haigney, 35, male, head of household. Born in Ireland. Parent of 3 children. Married once. Occupation: Soldier. Place of Employment: U.S. Arsenal. Currently in Army.
- Mary Haigney, 30, female, wife. Born in Ireland. Parent of 3 children. Married once. Status: Married. Citizenship status: Alien.
- Joseph Haigney, 6, male, son. Born in Albany [County].
- Mary Haigney, [age mark illegible; might be a 4, judging from other 4s on the page]. Female, daughter. Born in Albany [County].
- Margaret Haigney, 2, female, daughter. Born in Albany [County].
Fifth step: Huh????????
Somewhere I just know that my Aunt Catherine, compiler of The List, is crowing and saying that’s what comes of thinking you know it all.
Why is the child whose age corresponds to the baptismal register’s “Joanna” called “Margaret” by the 1865 census taker, and by Aunt Catherine’s source for her List? Which piece of data is wrong?
I can tell you that the church archivist who is transcribing the St. Bridget’s registers mentioned that the recordkeeping can be sloppy. So maybe “Joanna” in the register is an error, plain and simple. Or maybe the little girl was called Joanna Margaret, and the family preferred to call her Margaret.
At the moment, I have compromised in my genealogy records by listing her as Joanna [Margaret]. Will I ever know her name for sure? Mysteries like this are infuriating, and addicting.
“Sometimes … the actual source is just fine: it’s our perception of that old document that may need a bit of work.”
“Yesss!” said I when this quote popped up as I was Google-Reader-ing the other day.
It comes from AGS fellow and author Henry Z. Jones, who gives a talk called “When the Sources are Wrong” that I’d dearly love to hear someday. [Note: If you're going to the Chula Vista (CA) Genealogical Society meeting tomorrow, you can!]
Mr. Jones’ wise words remind us how easy it can be to take a wrong turn to Genealogy Nowheresville. I’ve flirted with disaster a few times (cough), but never more temptingly than when I was trying to unravel the mystery of an Irish great-great-grandmother’s maiden name.
I’ve written before about the search for Mary Haigney’s birth name. I started with death certificates for the two eldest of Mary and her husband Martin Haigney’s surviving children: my great-grandfather Joseph (1859-1938) and his brother William (1867-1930). They differed on the mother’s maiden name. Joseph’s said it was Mary Mahon; William’s said Mary Carroll.
That earlier post focused on analyzing evidence that was very specific and personal to my family: death certificates, an obituary, a handwritten genealogy and, ultimately, my great-great-grandfather’s Civil War pension file. But there was another, less personal source to consider: census data. And here’s where perception could easily have led me astray from reality.
Conflicting death certificates in hand, I revisited the census data I had on this family, which at the time was limited to the federal censuses of 1860, 1870 and 1880.
1860: Martin, age 28, laborer, born in Ireland, listed at two addresses: by himself in a barracks at the Watervliet Arsenal, and at a dwelling in West Troy (later renamed Watervliet) with his wife, Mary, age 26, born in Ireland, and their son, Joseph, four months, born in New York state.
1870: Martin, age 40, laborer, living in West Troy with wife Mary, age 37, and children Joseph, 11; William, 2; and Margaret, 6 months.
1880: Martin Haigney, age 53, laborer, living in Watervliet with wife Mary, age 50, and four children, William, 12; Margaret, 10; Mary, 8;and Martin, 6. Joseph F. Haigney, age 21, was living in a boardinghouse across the Hudson River in the city of Troy.
Can you see the tempting wrong turn in this data? I thought the changes in Martin’s household between 1860 and 1870 were a potential red flag. There he was in 1860 with a wife named Mary and a baby son. There he was in 1870 with Mary and what amounts to two sets of children — an 11 year old and two little ones, separated from the first birth by 8 years.
And there I was with two Marys on two death certificates — a Mahon and a Carroll. Could the first Mary (Joseph’s mother) have died, and a second Mary (William’s and Margaret’s mother) have replaced her? A lot can happen in ten years!
Well, a lot did happen — just not that. In my defense, my original theory wouldn’t have been unheard of at the time. But the real story was also sadly common. There was only one Mary, as it turned out, and her name was Mahon. The reason for the big gap between Joseph and William was that Martin and Mary had three little girls after Joseph, none of whom lived to be counted in the 1870 census.
The “two Marys” theory officially died when I obtained a copy of a handwritten family genealogy compiled by one of my aunts. It listed two of the children who died young, bringing the total of Martin and Mary’s offspring to seven. Then I found a 1958 newspaper story about their daughter Margaret, which asserted that she was one of eight children. Finally, on a trip to Watervliet last fall, I was able to gather the baptismal dates of all of Martin and Mary’s children — and there were indeed eight. The three daughters missing from the 1870 census were born in 1861, 1863 and 1865.
When exactly they died, I don’t yet know.
But I do know that for a time there, I had some perfectly good census data in hand — and was tempted to imagine my way into a perfectly wrongheaded conclusion.
(Coming up in Part 2: Another naming mystery!)
Many family histories, if not most, are frustratingly incomplete. People vanish, leaving behind only cryptic sentences in letters or documents – moved West; left no forwarding address. Sometimes we find them; sometimes we don’t. We can’t always know everything, much as we’d like to.
But in the case of my distant cousin Catherine Haigney, I sure wish I could.
She died in 1946, in some violent way. The death certificate was quite clear (if shocking) on that point. The death was referred to the medical examiner for further investigation.
So off I went to apply for the coroner’s report, thinking that even if I didn’t like what was in it, at least it would explain Catherine’s death to my satisfaction.
Well, yes and no.
Catherine entered her final hours on September 16, 1946 lying unconscious on the floor of her Brooklyn apartment. Her landlady found her and called an ambulance. At Kings County Hospital, they found a wound on her head had resulted in a brain hemorrhage. She died two days later, without regaining consciousness.
So where did the head wound come from?
According to the hospital:
“Patient unconscious when admitted. Impression: Subdural hematoma, multiple abrasions. Said to have been beaten up one week ago, was a patient in this hospital and released.”
According to the medical examiner:
“This is a re-currence of injuries received on Sept. 9-1946. Their [sic] is no report of a case on Sept. 9-th, 1946 in the 68th Pct.”
And also from the medical examiner:
“Deceased was brought to the Kings County Hospital on the 16th day of September, in an unconscious state, from her home, she having allegedly received head injury in some unknown manner, about one week prior to admission. Police, however, have no record of any alleged assault and report nothing suspicious.”
There is a lot more in the way of facts and figures. As a set of documents, this coroner’s report is really interesting, and I’ll write about that in another post.
But none of it says anything more about the violent act that ultimately killed Catherine. The medical examiner’s report mentions that a detective from the 68th Precinct was assigned to investigate Catherine’s death. And that’s where the story leaves off.
What happened? One big problem: The incident that fractured Catherine’s skull wasn’t reported to the authorities at the time. (Or, possibly, it was reported, but was not considered worth looking into.) So forget about it turning up as a newspaper police blotter item somewhere around Sept. 9. It seems that the next step would be finding out what, if anything, was reported by the detective who investigated after her death.
I’ve taken my time about writing this one up, because frankly, it’s just really sad and frustrating. Especially the idea that somebody could be beaten that seriously and nothing would come of it, at least judging from the papers I have so far. Could this have been considered a “domestic incident” too mundane to make a big deal of? (Tough to reflect upon, but definitely not unheard-of.) Was there something about her lifestyle that put her in the category of people too marginal to worry about? Or was it just something that couldn’t be solved?
Guesses, that’s all I have at the moment. Also, a lot of sadness.
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.
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.