Resolving the birth name of my great-great-grandmother Mary (1836-1892), wife of Martin Haigney, has played out like a tennis match in my brain for several years. Here’s the recap, in order of evidence uncovered:
First point: A death certificate for Mary’s second child, William (1867-1930), listed his parents’ names as Martin Haigney and Mary CARROLL. [NYC #1923, 27 January 1930].
Second point: The death certificate for Mary’s first child, my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney (1859-1938), listed his parents as Martin Haigney and Mary MAHON [NYC #19507, 10 October 1938].
The refs say: Oh, great. We can theorize away here. (Since William and Joseph were born eight years apart, was their father married twice, each time to a Mary?) But eventually it’s time to stop horsing around and look at the only actual evidence in hand: the death certificates. And both these Brooklyn death certificates, sad to say, are not examples of thoroughness.
The “informant” for Joseph’s is “Hospital Records.” There is no date of birth and his age is given only in years, with the “months” and “days” spaces left blank. (Way to go, guys.) Same situation on William’s age, although at least the informant was an actual person — his widow, Sarah.
But let’s assume that Joseph’s widow, Catherine, was the informant for the hospital records/death certificate. Which widow would likely know more about Joseph’s and William’s birth family in Watervliet, N.Y.? Sarah Haigney (nee Dowd) was born and bred in Brooklyn, according to census records. Catherine Haigney (nee Connors) was born in Watervliet, according to her elder son’s World War I draft registration card.
OK, advantage MAHON. (Assuming Catherine really was the ultimate informant. Sigh.)
Third point: Mary Haigney’s April 1892 obituary. Naturally, this does not provide a maiden name. (You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?) The point here is its inclusion in a database of death notices compiled by the Troy Irish Genealogy Society (TIGS) from files maintained by employees of the Burden Iron Company — a major employer for Troy and Watervliet. Did a family member work for Burden? There are no Haigneys listed in payroll records available in another TIGS database (including searches under many alternate spellings). No Mahons, either. But there are lots of Carrolls. Hmmm. On the third hand, there are quite a few McMahons.
The refs say: Advantage still MAHON. Where the heck did William’s widow get the idea that Mary was a Carroll?
Fourth point: Sometime after all of this, I acquired a copy of The List, a Haigney family fact sheet compiled by my father’s oldest sister, Catherine. Here, Martin Haigney’s wife is named Mary MAHON.
The refs say: This Catherine is Mary’s great-granddaughter, born in 1914, 22 years after Mary’s death. But she was a young adult when her grandfather Joseph was still alive. And the last of Mary’s children lived until 1964. Catherine’s informant surely was one of Mary’s own children. We can hope that at least one of them knew what her maiden name was. Advantage MAHON.
Color commentary: Shouldn’t I have put this issue to bed by this point? I guess I could have. But I hated that loose end embodied in William’s death certificate. If only I could get a piece of contemporary evidence, something from somebody in Mary’s own generation. Like her husband? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Fifth and final point: Contemporary evidence arrived on my doorstep just the other day in the form of Martin Haigney’s Civil War pension file. In affidavits submitted to the federal Bureau of Pensions in 1898, Martin asserted that his wife’s maiden name was Mary McMAHON. Ten years later, he submitted a similar affidavit saying Mary’s maiden name was MAHON.
The winner: MAHON. Hurray! Let’s tailgate. Do they tailgate at tennis matches?
Oh, dear. Should I really quote the already-widely-quoted Mormon Times article about librarian Curt Witcher’s speech and the coming genealogical Dark Age?
But ignoring it is a little like visiting Chicago on a certain day in 1871 and neglecting to mention they’d had a fire. So many points and posts! Randy Seaver at GeneaMusings did a nice summary, in which James Tanner’s careful reasoning stood out, as usual.
So here’s my only two cents: As a former writer of newspaper articles, I recognize the technique of cherry-picking eye-catching quotes to make a snappy story. Not to say that this reporter turned in a bad story. I’m just saying that we as readers have to be aware when our hot buttons are being pushed, slow down and read carefully.
For instance, there’s the alarming quote: “People are losing interest and focus on keeping the thoughts and the words for future generations.” On second read, this is a bit unclear, and the reporter didn’t expand upon just what Mr. Witcher meant by it. If it means that the rush to digitize may be leaving important records in the dust, well, that’s a definite concern.
But if it means that we as individuals are losing this focus, I think the jury’s out. Certainly the rich profusion of genealogy blogs indicates an interest in sharing our personal thoughts and research. And yet (again): How are we archiving ourselves? Not an idle question … I wrote for an Internet startup in the dark ages of 1998 and can testify to the pain of belatedly realizing that many of my “clips” are no longer clippable!
So although I count myself among the hopeful, I appreciate Mr. Witcher’s remarks (as reported) as a timely wakeup call. We are living in an age of wrenching transitions, and we need to be keeping an eye on the repositories as they negotiate these changes. And on ourselves, too.
A dose of well-placed concern can be a good thing.
Over on the Brooklyn genealogy email list, correspondent Julie Parks recently contributed an interesting search tip for the Fulton newspaper database, a great New York source. The tip: searching by your ancestor’s street address as well as name. As she notes, it’s true you can pull up a lot of information about people who are not your ancestors, particularly if they lived in apartment buildings. But one might get lucky, too. Some respondents to the initial post didn’t have much luck searching address alone, but others got results with a name/address combination.
I have only just started playing around with this option myself — it’s pulled up a couple of articles I had already found. But I’m looking forward to experimenting with it some more to see if some of my more elusive ancestors might pop up.
This is another one of those posts in which I reveal my basic ignorance for the good of humanity.
You’re welcome, humanity.
See, Ancestry.com’s newspaper database was one of those things that I got all excited about when I first saw it, especially since it included the Troy, NY Times-Record from the ’40s through the ’70s, a very relevant period for me. I remember being all sweaty-palmed when I pulled up the search window:
In the “Name” area, I put in “Haigney” under Last Name, and came up with nothing. I made sure I wasn’t checking exact spellings or anything, since this surname is notorious for creative spellings. I played with those creative spellings.
At that point a child was having a crisis (probably the water pitcher in the fridge was empty) and I had to log out. I never made a note to schedule another playdate with the database, and somehow it got filed in my mind (an occasionally unreliable source) as Something That Didn’t Have Anything I Needed.
So yesterday morning, still blinking awake and sipping my first cup of coffee, I happened to notice an external link pointing to that very same Times-Record database at Ancestry. Probably if I was really awake, I would have remembered it was useless to me and not clicked through. Fortunately, I wasn’t, and I did. Then for some reason I decided to type in “Walker,” the married name of one of my Haigney relatives. A zillion hits popped up, naturally. So it occurred to me to consider this:
And to narrow things down a bit (probably to zero, I snickered to myself), I typed “Haigney” into the keyword box, leaving “Walker” as the main surname search.
People, the heavens opened. I believe we are at 28 clippings and counting, chronicling the comings and goings of Haigneys, Walkers and Roaches/Roches/Roachs in the Capital District in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. (My dad’s in there a couple of times, including a summertime visit from Chicago, where he was attending school.) Birthday parties. Obituaries. And not one, but two personality profiles of my great-great-aunt Maggie, who must have been a really fun interview. I have a lot of reading and crosschecking to do.
What I Learned From This Experience:
1. Avoid getting hung up on the same surname or group of surnames. Think of collateral kin, neighbors’ names, associations your kin belonged to, employers, heck, even the name of a shop or business your kin always talked about. See what happens.
2. Try combining a surname search with another surname in the keyword box.
3. Tell the kid to fill the water pitcher themselves, already.
P.S. Ancestry has a lot of other newspapers for those of you who are not obsessed with Troy, N.Y. From the “Search” area on the main toolbar, select “card catalog” and search there with your locality’s name and keyword “newspaper” — see if they’ve got a newspaper collection you can use!