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.


Reunions and research, perfect together

This week the Archaeologist attends a gathering of her husband’s tribe. With five family groups plus one matriarch represented, it qualifies as a reunion, if not one of those massive roundups of descendants that I hope to attend one day. (Or organize, if I get crazy enough.)

Reunions, large or small, are where the family genealogists get a lot of work done.

Of course the point is to spend rewarding time with family, and I wouldn’t promote a lot of family harmony if I spent the entire reunion with a tape recorder and a magnifying glass. But these are occasions where nosing around about family business is part of the fun, and genealogy is definitely on the program of festivities.

Some of the basic housekeeping tasks I try to accomplish include:

• Getting identities and background information for old photos;

• Going over recent research finds with relatives to see if they shake loose any additional memories;

• Showing off family group sheets to younger relatives who ask about them. It’s great to take these opportunities with little kids who are genuinely curious. Five minutes or so is probably what most younger children can sit still for, but who knows? Those five minutes might uncover a budding genealogist down the road.

It’s nice to think about a summer filled with families sharing memories – and information. If you have family reunions, what do you try to accomplish for your research while you’re there?


Timelines

I was mucho enjoying Dick Eastman’s review of the photography compilation The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation by Maureen Taylor. Some Revolutionary War veterans lived into the dawn of the age of photography, and Taylor’s book collects as many of their images as she could track down. It’s jarring to consider Continental Army soldiers posing for a photographer. Yet there they are, very old, often frail, but living links to a legendary past.

Time and generations are fluid, a point we often miss because of internal assumptions. Recently at a dinner with old friends, a trivia challenge was thrown down: Who is the earliest president to still have living grandchildren?

Good one! I was trying to think of presidents with considerably younger wives or second marriages. My guesses were Theodore Roosevelt or just possibly Grover Cleveland (the only president who got married in the White House! More trivia!).

But the answer, apparently, is John Tyler (1790-1862), president from 1841-45, or forty years before Cleveland. As of 2009 there were two living Tyler grandsons through his son Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935): Lyon Jr., born in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin, born in 1928. A jaw-dropper, but upon consideration, an understandable genealogy tale. It’s a not-unprecedented combination of longevity and fertile second marriages to much younger wives — in Tyler’s case, Julia Gardiner, 30 years his junior and the mother of Lyon Gardiner Tyler.

I saw another example of this a couple of weeks ago in the story of a (living) nephew of a Civil War veteran who worked to replace the marker on his uncle’s grave. This, too, was a tale of two marriages and two succeeding generations of males producing children late in their lives.

While there is nothing quite that extreme in my own family tree, there does seem to be a pattern of later-than-usual marriages. Our timelines are a bit stretched out, as a result. When my 12-year-old had to make a family tree a few years ago, the teacher couldn’t help noticing that she had a grandfather born in 1913, the sort of date most of the other kids were putting down for the births of their great-grandparents.

But families don’t always reproduce on trend. It is a useful thing to remember the next time we’re trying to figure out a time frame in which to search for Ancestor X. Better not say, “She couldn’t possibly have been so-and-so’s grandchild!” until we’re sure that’s really true.


On free lunches (or the lack of them)

My Google alert for genealogy turned up some alarm this past week about the dangers of relying too heavily on the Internet for genealogy research.

I’d just add that the belief in a Big Rock Candy Mountain of genealogy wonders predates the arrival of Ancestry.com. A lot of people love the idea that somewhere, somehow, all the genealogy records they need will be in a single place. If they evolve beyond a casual interest in genealogy, they soon find out that:

1. People generate all sorts of records in all sorts of places, some of which don’t share their records with big repositories, whether out of inertia or sheer desire to be annoying.

2. If you go back far enough, people didn’t generate much in the way of records, period. In which case no “central repository” is going to give you everything you need, anyway.

3. The way home to Kansas, Dorothy, is with your own two feet. You just gotta belieeeeveee.

When I first started my genealogy quest, Internet databases were practically nonexistent. But the Big Rock Candy Mountain idea was still out there.

I’d often talk to a relative about setting up an interview, only to be told that I simply HAD to journey to Salt Lake City (or order up a couple of FHL microfilms) and I’d find everything I needed to know. It was funny how people never saw themselves as my most important genealogy source. No, there had to be a Big Universal Official Source somewhere.

So I wouldn’t say the Internet caused this situation, although it certainly has intensified things. The problem is the myth of a one-stop solution, and it’s worth a good rant.

Because getting past this idea of the Universal Genealogy Bat Cave is so important. It’s such a barrier to creative thinking and problem solving. And once it drops by the wayside, a lot of supposedly impregnable brick walls can come tumbling down.


Surprise! Maggie’s 91st birthday

I hit a gold mine this morning in Ancestry.com’s newspaper image database for the Times-Record of Troy, N.Y. Out of the blue, too!

This database had disappointed me before. However, a chance tweak of the search form this morning turned up so much stuff, and so unexpectedly, that it’s worth another post or two about tweaking search forms and defying expectations. (You’ve been warned.)

For now, I’m having a blast working my way through the treasure trove of clippings. They feature my great-great aunts, Margaret [Haigney] Roache and Mary [Haigney] Walker, and my great-great uncle, Martin T. Haigney.

Many of the clips are from a local-news page that took the terms “local” and “news” to lengths that are unimaginable today. When I studied journalism, we would talk about empathizing with our readership (yes, it was a while ago). Even so, that didn’t mean covering stories like a college sophomore “spending the holiday vacation with his parents,” or Mrs. So-and-so’s hospitalization from a broken hip.  The news business hasn’t been that personal for a long, long time.

My great-great aunt Margaret's 91st birthday was top headline news in 1961.

But back in the 1950s and early 1960s, news was extremely personal in the Troy Times-Record, and what good luck for me. I’ve got a lot of new leads to pursue on those summertime genealogy day trips I was musing about a couple of days ago.

In the meantime, listen to this Very Important News Item from 1961 about my great-great aunt Margaret:

Mrs. Margaret Roach prepared a birthday party yesterday.

She baked a cake and set the table for the party which was for herself. It was her 91st birthday.

The wisp of a woman, who weighs less than 90 pounds, lives alone at 2509 2nd Ave. Many of the friends whom she has been associated with throughout the years were present. She was born in Watervliet … She now lives alone and cooks, sews, shops and does about everything else for herself. She voted at the polls last November because she felt it her duty. In her leisure time, she reads and is up to date on the various news happenings. She wears glasses because of a cataract operation performed one year ago, but her eyesight is still as keen as her hearing.

There is a TON of other terrific stuff in the story, including biographical details about Margaret, her late husband James, her father and her siblings. Above all, it has those wonderful personal details that form a perfect  snapshot of Margaret, still truckin’ along and throwing herself birthday parties into her 90s.

The unnamed reporter who covered this nearly 50 years ago couldn’t have known what a big favor his little human-interest story would do for me and my genealogy research. But thanks anyway!


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