News You Can Use

My dad wouldn’t have been caught dead reading The New York Times. “The paper for eggheads,” is about as printable a comment as I can reproduce here. But there were culturally sound reasons behind his distaste.

The Times didn’t cover Dad’s New York. It’s famous for having a blind spot about working-class New Yorkers, really. I do think they’ve tried to rectify that in recent years. But to this day, it’s possible to read unintentionally amusing pieces wherein an earnest Times writer takes a trip to a place like Queens or Staten Island, and carries on as if they’ve just been to Mars.

My purpose is not solely to make fun of the Times (no! not solely!). The more important point is that I belong to a Daily News family as far as death notices go. In the more distant past, we were of course a Brooklyn Eagle family, but one branch seems to have been staunchly Brooklyn Standard Union.

We know from any basic research guide that newspapers are valuable sources for genealogists. Obituaries and birth announcements are only the most obvious benefit. Society meetings, town government, charity balls, who was visiting whom and who had just come home from the hospital — all this was fodder for news once upon a time, and a good thing, too.

But we must pay attention to who our ancestors were, to use newspapers effectively. Because once upon a time, the paper you read was a bit like where you worshiped. You just didn’t read some papers because they were edited by those [expletive] dirty [political/economic/religious enemies]. You would never, ever insert a notice about a loved one’s birth or death in that [expletive] paper. After all, you’d want your friends to read it, wouldn’t you?

And don’t think you’re off the hook in small towns. For an example, consider this episode in Terry Ryan’s affecting memoir, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. At one point young Terry and her mother make a nostalgic visit to Mom’s small Midwestern hometown. Here’s what newspaper consumerism was like there, circa 1915:

The seven papers Mom’s uncle Frank and aunt Clara read were mostly Republican-owned, but they subscribed to a few Democrat newspapers, too. “Not to mention,” Mom said, “a German-language paper for immigrants like my grandparents, and a Whig paper.”

“Wig?” I said …

“No, Whig with an h, like the political party of the same name,” she said.  … “The party died out in the mid-1800s, but it still had its followers. According to Uncle Frank, people had to have a variety of news sources to be well-rounded … “

I grew up long past the time when it was possible to subscribe to seven newspapers! Consolidation and corporate ownership meant, even by the 1970s, that relatively few large towns in the U.S. had more than one daily. Today, there is much talk about the death of the printed newspaper, but re-reading this passage, it occurs that we’re experiencing not a death, but a restoration of diverse opinions and themes. If Uncle Frank were alive today, I’m convinced, his Google Reader would be working overtime.

As it is, it helps to be aware of this vanished and complex world of print news, when we’re using it to track our ancestors.


Liz Taylor’s Heartland Roots

Elizabeth Taylor, who was probably the reason the word “fabulous” was invented, and who died on Wednesday at age 79, had family roots in Springfield, Ill., reports the State-Journal Register.

Imagine that!

“Taylor’s father, art dealer Francis Lenn Taylor, was born in Springfield on Dec. 28, 1897. His parents, Francis Marion Taylor and Elizabeth Mary Rosemond, were married in Sangamon County Feb. 27, 1890.”

Now that isn’t as fabulous as being 15 minutes late (intentionally) to your own funeral, but it’s still pretty darn fabulous if you’re from Springfield, as is Mr. Archaelogist (a k a the guy at  Actuarial Opinions), to whom I owe this important genealogical tidbit.

And let us also not forget that Springfield is hosting the 2011 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in September.

This concludes today’s news update regarding Springfield fabulousness. You’re welcome, Springfield.


NewsClips: 1961: Another Year, Another Birthday Party Story

Today’s clip is another in a series of articles about birthday parties for my great-great Aunt Maggie (Haigney) Roache (or Roach, or Roche). I know — I think it’s a little odd myself, and I used to be in journalism and everything. What can I say; the Troy Times Record just kept covering her birthday parties. I’m beginning to get the feeling she was buddies with somebody on the city desk.

A few months ago I wrote about this article and did a partial quote of it, but to be thorough for my NewsClips project, I’m including the full text here. It’s another engagingly written story with charming details about Maggie’s feisty personality. However, as my notes indicate, it contains inaccuracies, too. You do have to be careful about newspaper stories. But they can be tremendously valuable in pointing out new avenues for research.

Mrs. Roach Notes 91st Birthday


Mary’s Maiden Name: A Research Score Card

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?


Dark ages? Maybe a little gray.

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.


And another newspaper 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.


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