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.


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.


So When Was He Born Again? (Part 2)

The other day I was reviewing my online files, which are in a quite a state, and I rediscovered one of my signature Primitive Word Charts™ compiling data encountered in a Civil War pension file about my gg-grandfather Martin Haigney’s date of birth.

It’s another one of those exercises in How Old Do You Think You Are? Here goes!

YEAR NOTES
1890 Martin says he is 57 on his initial application. 

Birth year: Approximately 1833.

1890 Martin’s neighbors say he is “about sixty”. 

Birth year: Approximately 1830.

1897 Martin says he is 66 on his application for an increase. 

Birth year: Approximately 1831.

1907 Martin gives his date of birth as 2 March 1831 on his declaration for continuance of his pension. He states age as “past age of 75 years.”
1907 Army records supplied in support of Martin’s declaration of 1907 state his age on (a) 7 Mar 1859 as 27 and his age on (b) 7 Mar 1864 as 32. 

Birth year (a) 1832; Birth year (b) 1832.

1907 Martin’s affadavit affirms that to the best of his recollection he was 22 years old on his first enlistment, 7 March 1854. He says he must have been born in 1832, not 1831 as stated on his initial 1907 application.
1908 Martin gives his date of birth as 18 March 1832 in an application for an increase.
1908 Martin’s date of birth is noted as 18 March 1832 in approval of increase

Notes:

  1. Martin did not know the exact date or year of his birth:
    1. He gives an age on his initial application that doesn’t agree with the age he would be from information on later applications.
    2. He furnishes two different birthdays – 2 March and 18 March – on different documents.
    3. In his affidavit of 1907, he says his age at the time of his first enlistment is “to the best of my recollection.”
  2. Note that the birth month and the enlistment month are the same. It is possible that the birth date given was a guess pegged to a date everybody did actually agree upon – the date Martin first enlisted in the army.
  3. The pension forms do not uniformly require birth dates. The early forms asked only for age.
  4. At this point a birth year of 1832 seems to be a decent estimate. Using the information from the Army’s enlistment records, we know the age Martin gave at his re-enlistment in 1859 was 27. At least this record was compiled closest to whatever the actual date was.
  5. Of course, all this information is only from one source — the pension file. The census birth date estimates skip around: 1832 in the 1860 census; 1830 in the 1870 census; 1827 in the 1880 census; 1835 in the 1900 census; 1830 in the 1910 census. His tombstone lists a birthdate of 1829.

What is the moral of this particular tale, you might ask? There might not be much of one, but I’ll take a stab at it:

First: “To the best of my recollection” sure doesn’t mean “my exact recollection” on anybody’s part.

Second: You know when they say to use a wide date range when searching databases, no matter what you know you know about a person? Listen to them.

Note From The Dept. of Mangled Prose: Ha! I just noticed that I labeled Part One “When Were He Born Again?” A product of the post-turkey-day haze, I guess. Should I change it, or should it stand as part of the historical record? Decisions, decisions.


So When Were He Born Again?

We now have officially entered the holiday season, which means that if anyone is vaguely interested in all this genealogical poking around we’re doing, now is the time they’re going to ask about it.

Just before Turkey Day, in one of those feast-planning phone conversations, my sister Mary and I got to talking about the genealogy stuff and about our ancestor Martin Haigney in particular. (I know, I know:  The last half of this year has pretty much been MartinFest, but his Civil War pension file has just had so much interesting stuff in it.)

One of the questions my sister and I discussed is a classic: When was he born, exactly?

And even better: You mean he didn’t know either?

It’s so interesting to contemplate the radically different relationship our ancestors had with concepts such as vital statistics. Not being sure exactly when you were born? To me it feels dislocating, upsetting. How much in my life would be difficult, if not impossible, if I could not prove when I was born?

To Martin, it did not appear to be something one thought about at all. In fact, I’ll bet he didn’t worry much about it until his old age, when somebody at the Bureau of Pensions noticed a discrepancy in the ages Martin had reported on various pieces of paperwork.

The result was this 1907 affidavit, which neatly illustrates the vague relationship many of our ancestors had with their own birthdates, and the subsequent difficulties we can have trying to establish a timeline for them. In my Part II post, I’ll discuss Martin’s various ages, as stated by himself and others.

-0-

GENERAL AFFIDAVIT.

State of NEW YORK

County of STEUBEN

In the matter of Pension Ctf. #592,963 of Martin Haigney, Ord. Dep. U.S.A. – Claim for pension, Act of Feb. 6, 1907.

Personally came before me, a Notary Public in and for aforesaid County and State Martin Haigney aged 75 years Citizen of the Town of Bath (S. & S. Home) County of Steuben State of New York well known to me to be reputable and entitled to credit, and who being duly sworn, declares in relation to aforesaid case, as follows:

I am the above described claimant for pension under the Act of Feb. 6th, 1907, and in reply to official letter of March 18th calling for proof of my age, I have to state that I cannot get proof of same by record evidence or otherwise, and hereby wish to ammend [sic] my claim on account of a slight discrepancy and error discovered by me. I have figured back and well remember now that I was 22 years of age at my first enlistment in the Regular army on March 7, 1854. According to that I must have been born in 1832 instead of 1831 as I thought when filing my claim on age on or about Feb. 12, 1907.

Therefore, I wish to amend said claim so as to have my pension commence at the rate of $20 per month from the date of the filing of this statement in the Pension office; and that a rating of $15 per month be granted me commencing from the date of filing said claim, on or about Feb. 12, 1907, because I was more than 74 years old at the date of said filing, and supposed I was 75 years old, but as before stated, I now recollect well that I was 22 years old at the time of my first enlistment, and the records in Washington no doubt will corroborate my statement.

I am unable to furnish proof of my age, and respectfully ask that my claim be amended as above requested.

Witnesses  to Mark: Daniel J. Orcutt   Thomas B. Hannon

His

Martin         X            Haigney

Mark

[Receiving stamp at Pension Office: March 27, 1907]

Note: Martin sent this affidavit not from Watervliet (West Troy), his longtime home, but from Steuben County, New York, where he was a resident of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ home in Bath. I wrote a little bit about the home here.


The Sinews of War: A Day at the Arsenal

I wouldn’t have visited the museum at the Watervliet Arsenal if my great-great-grandfather Martin Haigney hadn’t served there.

My interest in armaments and military history is mild, to put it mildly. And I wasn’t sure how useful the visit would be in giving me specific insights about my ancestor’s life there. Also, it was pouring chilly rain as I set out.

Fortunately, I didn’t talk myself into a detour to a nice warm Starbucks.

Housed in the historic Iron Building, the Watervliet Arsenal museum includes a wealth of artifacts, displayed in the context of the lives of Arsenal workers and residents. (Fun fact: The poet Stephen Vincent Benet was a third-generation resident. His grandfather and father were both commanders there, and the arsenal’s Benet Laboratory is named in their honor.)

Civil War-era workers on shop floor at the Watervliet Arsenal. Display at the Watervliet Arsenal Museum, Watervliet, NY.

Watervliet has operated since 1813, but since Martin’s Army service occurred between 1854 and 1867, I concentrated on the Civil War-era displays. Interestingly, Watervliet did not manufacture the actual cannon guns in that conflict. It made everything else, such as the carriages they sat upon, the shells they fired, and the ammunition cases that held the cannonballs.

Behind a metal door at one end of the exhibit hall is a huge, echoing room that feels off-limits to visitors, but is actually a particularly cool exhibit area. On one side is a wealth of rare antique cannons and weaponry. On the other is an array of metalworking machinery, arranged to give a sense of what an arsenal shop floor might have looked like back in Martin’s day.

At peak capacity during the Civil War, the arsenal had 2,000 employees, one-quarter of whom were children. At first only boys were hired, but when the arsenal began manufacturing cartridges for the Sharps carbine in 1864, it was discovered that the smaller hands of little girls were better suited to rolling the linen cylinders.

“I was nine years old,” recalled a child worker many years later. “All of us little girls sat on a long bench, our feet not quite touching the floor, and we filled cartridges all day long … I worked from seven in the morning until six at night.”

The curator, a helpful and erudite fellow called Scott, clarified the term “artificer,” an enigmatic job description in my ancestor’s Civil War pension file. It’s an elegant way of saying “machinist”; however, Martin’s particular machines and skills are lost in the mists of time.

Display at the Iron Building at the Watervliet Arsenal of 19th-century metalworking equipment.

Since my visit coincided with the last of the day’s visiting hours, Scott was able to show me the barracks where Martin would have lived as a soldier. (In the 1860 census, Martin has two addresses – one at the arsenal, and one at a house in the town of West Troy with his wife Mary and their oldest child Joseph, my great-grandfather.)

It was not a day (or a setting) for poring over records. But thanks to the museum and the kindness of its curator, I had a grand time walking in Martin’s footsteps for an afternoon.


Going to Church(es), While I Can

St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, Watervliet, NY.

I’m slowly working my way through a number of posts about a trip I took recently to Albany and Rensselaer counties in New York. With Sunday just around the corner, how about a picture of a church?

I always feel vaguely subversive, hanging around other people’s parishes in the middle of the week in broad daylight. Without a choir rehearsal to attend or a child to pick up from CCD, I’m a bit of a miscreant. I’m just snapping pictures and wandering around curiously, all because some people related to me worshipped here once, a long time ago.

But curiosity pays off in the form of a picture of St. Brigid’s Church in Watervliet, N.Y., the parish where my great-great grandparents Martin and Mary (Mahon) Haigney raised their family. They would have called it “St. Bridget’s” in their day. All of their eight children were baptized there, the first in 1859 and the last in 1874.

St. Bridget’s was pretty new in Martin’s and Mary’s time. Both of them Irish immigrants, they joined an early parish community that also included many refugees from the 1848 revolutions in Germany and France. According to a parish history, the church itself was only completed in 1851. Its first full-time pastor arrived in 1854, after a couple of years during which Masses were said by visiting Jesuit priests from South Troy, a boat ride away across the Hudson River. I regretted I wasn’t able to enter the building to see the stained glass windows, which looked impressive even from the outside. Especially because, for all its history, St. Brigid’s faces an uncertain future.

St. Brigid's in about 1906, with its original steeple that was destroyed by lightning in 1948. From "St. Brigid's Parish: A History of Its People And Their Accomplishments."

With the Diocese of Albany in consolidation mode, the parish has merged with neighboring Immaculate Heart of Mary. Masses are still being said at St. Brigid’s, for now, while a parish planning committee ponders what’s next. The most recent church bulletin says there is no final decision yet on the fate of either St. Brigid’s or St. Patrick’s, another parish also consolidated with IHM.

It’s sad to see these difficult choices playing out. Long ago, every neighborhood had its own parish in towns like Watervliet; it was just the way things were. Today, the diocese says the population isn’t there to support all the church buildings, and some must close. For a genealogist, it means wondering where the records are going to be. For the community, it means a part of history is going away, and it seems it can’t be helped.


Gut Reactions: A 19th-Century Medical Adventure

I’ve blogged already about the Civil War pension records pertaining to Martin Haigney, my great-great-grandfather who served at the Watervliet Arsenal in West Troy, N.Y. Previously I wrote about the joys of discovery, the fun of organizing all that paperwork and the larger social implications of the pension system — all lofty, rewarding stuff.

Today, however, we descend into the bowels of the file. Literally.

It started at the dining room table, which was probably not the best place to be dissecting a Civil War medical record. Still, when I noticed not one, but four diagnoses of cholera in Martin’s medical history, I couldn’t help blurting out my astonishment.

“Cholera? What’s that? Is it serious? Do you throw up?” The eldest daughter suddenly lost interest in her cinnamon Pop-Tarts.

“Four times? That’s highly unlikely,” said Mr. Archaeologist, who in real life is an actuary and keeps track of statistics and stuff.

“Shush, you two,” I said, re-checking the page. [Note: Mr. Archaeologist is a casualty actuary, not a life actuary, so it was OK to shush him. -- Ed.]

Yes, there it was on the record, four times. Here is the transcribed list from a War Department memo of 24 January 1899:

  • Aug. 7 to 9 54, Cholera Morb.;
  • Sept. 18 to 20, 54, Diarrhea;
  • Mar. 5 to 8, 55, Pneumonia;
  • Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 57, Sick;
  • Nov. 13 to 15, 57, Influenza;
  • Aug. 16 to 19, 59, Cholera Morb.;
  • Aug. 8 to 12, 60, Diarrhea;
  • Sept.  6 to 9, 61, Cholera Morb.;
  • Nov. 2 to 4, 61, (no diagnosis);
  • Aug. 20, 62, Diarrhea;
  • Feb. 2 &3, 64, Diarrhea;
  • Mar. 17 to 30, 64, Measles;
  • June 9 to 11, 64, Diarrhea;
  • Aug. 5 to 7, 64, Dysentery;
  • Jan. 23 to 29, 65, Tonsillitis;
  • July 11 to 12, 65, Diarrhea;
  • Jan. 5 to 12, 66, Dysentery;
  • June 29 to July 1, 66, Rheumatism from exposure to cold & rain, ret’d to duty as – Hagney, Corp[? illegible];
  • July 24 to 26, 66, Cholera Morbus;
  • Jan. 19 to 21, 67, Lumbago, ret’d to duty;
  • Nothing further found

“Eeeww,” said the eldest daughter, who had managed to finish her Pop-Tarts anyway.

“That’s some gut,” said Mr. Archaeologist brightly. [Note: Actually, his comments have been somewhat edited -- Ed.]

Indeed. But what was going on with all those reports of cholera? Everyone knows how how swiftly cholera claimed its victims. From what I’ve read, it was possible to survive it back in the day, once. But to have it four times and live to get a pension? C’mon.

It turns out this is a classic example of reading a 19th-century list with 21st-century eyes. The clue is in the fourth instance, where the diagnosis is spelled out as “cholera morbus.” A quick Google led me to the Wikipedia entry on gastroenteritis, where my mystery was solved, although I had to scroll to the bottom of the entry for the payoff.

Before the 20th century, the term “gastroenteritis” was not commonly used. What would now be diagnosed as gastroenteritis may have instead been diagnosed more specifically as typhoid fever or “cholera morbus”, among others, or less specifically  as “griping of the guts”, “surfeit”, “flux”, “colic”, “bowel complaint”, or any one of a number of other archaic names for acute diarrhea. Historians, genealogists, and other researchers should keep in mind that gastroenteritis was not considered a discrete diagnosis until fairly recently.

The listing of my great-great-grandfather’s ailments certainly seems to point to a chronic gastrointestinal condition. Or maybe to a chronically compromised drinking water supply.

So consider “cholera morbus” your archaic diagnosis of the day. And since I’m feeling generous, here’s an extensive list of archaic disease terminology to consult at your leisure.

I recommend waiting until after breakfast, however.



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