Naming Traditions, Irish-Style

Every so often on listserves or genealogy forums the topic of Irish (and Scottish) naming conventions comes up. This is the tradition by which children in a family are named after a specifically ordered sequence of ancestors.

When you have blank spots in your family tree, as I still do with my paternal great-grandmother, talk of the Irish naming tradition can be only a tantalizing clue to shadowy identities. Still, it’s fun to know about. And when it comes to my father’s family, I think it might possibly be a factor behind his quirky first-name story.

Recently I compiled one of my primitive but useful charts, comparing what tradition dictated to what my father and his siblings were actually named. Note that some sources say the tradition didn’t really apply after the third son or daughter — subsequent names were the parents’ choice. But let’s go for the whole enchilada, shall we?

Naming Tradition Should Have Been (if known) Child Actually Named
1st son  after father’s father Joseph Raymond
2nd son after mother’s father Peter Francis
3rd son after father Raymond Joseph
4th son after father’s oldest brother Joseph Peter
5th son after mother’s oldest brother (sometimes father’s 2nd oldest brother) Francis

(father’s 2nd brother: Leo)


So we see that by the first quarter of the 20th century, when these babies started arriving, my grandparents weren’t following hallowed Celtic tradition. Still, at the time my father, Peter, came along, his parents had already named sons after the father and the father’s father. And that was supposed to be that, because according to one of my aunts, my grandmother had no intention of naming a child after her own father. (Nothing personal; she just didn’t care for the name.) However, her mother-in-law absolutely insisted the new baby be named Peter.

Until I heard about the naming tradition, I could think of no reason (other than bizarre obstinacy) that my paternal great-grandmother would be so worked up about a maternal-side name. But perhaps she felt that the ancient ways must be served. Or perhaps she was just really stubborn. Anyway, my dad was named Peter, and his mother called him by his middle name, Jerome, for the rest of her life. Ah, tradition!

Now, let’s check out the situation with the daughters:

Naming Tradition Should Have Been (if known) Child Actually Named
1st daughter after mother’s mother (or father’s mother) Catherine (Kate) Catherine
2nd daughter after father’s mother (or mother’s mother) Catherine Virginia
3rd daughter after mother Margaret Dorothy
4th daughter after mother’s oldest sister Catherine (Yes, we like this name in my family) Bernadette
5th daughter after father’s oldest sister (sometimes mother’s 2nd oldest sister) Gertrude Margaret
6th daughter after mother’s 2nd sister (possibly) Not known Joan

This is a good time to wonder out loud what was supposed to happen with the naming tradition if several ancestors in the sequence shared a name. In this case, both grandmothers, along with my grandmother’s half-sister, were named Catherine. (There’s a similar problem in my boys’ chart, with two Josephs.) If you know, do not be afraid to be a smarty-pants in the comments.

I don’t mean to pooh-pooh tradition with my chart-making. As I dig deeper into the family’s Irish ancestry, the naming traditions may have stronger meaning. For many researchers of Irish ancestors, the tradition has been important in piecing together family relationships.

But it does seem that my grandparents, if they were aware of the Irish naming tradition, didn’t feel honor-bound to uphold it. They went their own way – which is, really, a typical American story.


Link things: March 29, 2010

Today’s links: A new gadget (we always like those!) some musings on metagenealogy and ideas on bringing genealogy home to your kids.

Gadget corner: Google street views have gone to the UK, reports ProGenealogists. Now you, or the virtual you, can “walk” your ancestors’ streets across the pond just by typing in the address. Very nice for those with UK locations in their past.

The Big Picture: James Tanner at Genealogy’s Star writes on Developing a MetaGenealogy. Yes, it is a big-idea post, so much so that I’m going to have to go back to it after choir rehearsal tonight to re-read it. Lots of interesting musings on what makes history and genealogy different, and what they actually share.

The Kid Angle: Lastly, I’ve been digging around for sites with ideas for turning genealogy into a kid-friendly activity. Somewhat to my surprise, my 8-year-old has been asking about my family history research, and it only recently dawned on me that she wasn’t just doing it to get a raise in her allowance.

Cyndi’s List has a kids and teens section with a lot of links that I’ve been rooting through. And may I remind you that if you’re following the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy challenge, this week’s assignment is to connect or re-connect with Cyndi’s List.

Also, since my little one’s a Brownie Girl Scout, I was happy to find a couple of great suggestions for incorporating genealogy into two of the Brownie Try-It patches. I found information on the Listening to the Past Try-It here. (P.S., this is just a wonderful site in general if you’re a Brownie leader.) And here are suggestions from the AfriGeneas Juniors community on genealogy projects and the All In The Family Try-It. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a hands-on genealogy presentation for kids, so if anyone else has sites they like on this topic, I’d love to hear about them.

Have a happy week!

Today in History: The Triangle Fire

Ninety-nine years ago today, 146 young garment workers died when their New York City workplace went up in flames.

I was sixteen when I read labor historian Leon Stein’s account of the  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire — first published in 1962 but still essential today. Stein was writing at a time when many fire survivors were still alive, and he made excellent use of his interviews with them. To a kid who had picked up the book from idle curiosity, the survivors’ anguished memories were like a punch in the stomach — so many were my own age at the time. I suppose I led a charmed life; it took Stein’s book to shock me into realizing that being a teenager doesn’t confer immortality.

This wrenching video combines period images with audiotape of survivor interviews:

My mother’s cousin Alma, a thirteen-year-old Brooklyn girl when the fire occurred, recalled the horrifying newspaper accounts: “The doors opened in, not out. They pushed and pushed, but they couldn’t get out.” Not only that, the owners had a habit of locking the factory’s doors for fear of theft; the one fire escape was pitifully inadequate and quickly buckled under the strain of escaping workers; the firefighters’ ladders were too short to reach the windows where workers desperately pleaded for help.

Despite the fact that the factory’s owners never faced serious consequences for the appalling state of their building, the fire proved to be a turning point in awareness of substandard conditions for factory workers. Small comfort to the families of the dead, but important nonetheless.

The Kheel Center at Cornell University maintains a breathtakingly detailed multimedia site about the Triangle fire, including a page with a list of victims and survivors. If you think you might be descended from a Triangle worker, this is definitely a place to investigate.

Today the building which housed the factory is known as the Brown Building of Science, owned by New York University. Two plaques commemorate the terrible tragedy that happened there. A federation of New York City preservationists, artists and labor activists called Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is preparing to mark next year’s centenary. In addition to spearheading educational events about the fire, they hope to establish a permanent memorial to the victims.

Tombstone Tuesday: Joseph F. Haigney

I had a perfect summer day for my trip to Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn last year. Knowing the size and scope of the place, I was hoping at least to get a lot of exercise and a nice photo of my grandparents’ grave. As it turned out, I came away with new information on three gravesites, including today’s Tombstone Tuesday post: my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney.

Joseph F. and I have had our ups and downs. I still don’t know as much as I’d like to about his youth and his decision to leave Watervliet, NY and move to Brooklyn in 1900. And where exactly this family group was in 1900 is still a bit of a mystery.

Marker for Joseph F. Haigney and family, Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.

What’s neat about this gravesite is a key piece of information that isn’t even carved on the tombstone. We see here Joseph F., his wife, my great-grandmother Catherine (Connors) Haigney, and two of their children: my great-uncle Joseph C. and Anne M. (“Anna”), my great-aunt by adoption.

However, according to the cemetery records, there is a fifth person here: my young great-uncle Leo, who died in 1901, at the age of 3. The cemetery listing gave me the specific time frame I needed to confirm that this was my Leo’s death certificate in the New York City Municipal Archives index. And on the death certificate itself, I learned that when little Leo died of meningitis in February 1901, he and his family had only been living in Brooklyn for five months.

Gradually the murky picture of this family’s whereabouts in 1900 is coming into clearer focus. From census digging, I know Joseph is likely to have been living apart from his family in Jersey City, NJ in June 1900.

And from Leo’s death certificate, I now know that he and his family were living in Brooklyn by September or October of 1900. So after a period of transition and separation, the family came together for what sadly turned out to be a very brief time before Leo’s illness and death.

I was very glad to have the knowledge the cemetery records gave me about who is actually in this grave. As it happened, the littlest occupant’s story had a great deal to tell me about a key event in the family timeline.

Link report: March 22 tip digest

Does anybody ever call up a neighbor for a good how-to tip these days? I don’t: Google has replaced the backyard fence as the portal of earthly wisdom. You name it, my first impulse is to Google it. How to clean baked-on gunk from a cookie sheet? Google. Best wording for a first-communion party invitation? Google. How to be a First Footer on New Year’s Day? Google.

Today I pay tribute to the how-to, can-do quality in these genealogy links:

• Katrina McQuarrie’s wonderful Kick-Ass Genealogy blog is an encyclopedia of how-to goodness. Her most recent post is about making a master research map to keep you from losing focus during those times when you can’t work on your genealogy 24/7 (which is, like, 24/7). But I can’t get enough of her practical wisdom in general.

• In my husband’s hometown of Springfield, Ill., two “cemetery hunters” share stories and insights from years of trooping among tombstones. The also share some interesting tips on how to read hard-to-read stones!

• For Irish-Americans, St. Patrick’s Day often awakens that dormant urge to figure out where we came from in Ireland, even if nobody knows who came to America in the first place, or when. If you’ve just decided to take on the challenge, the Irish Echo offers a great, basic list of tips on beginning the search for your Irish roots.

• Finally, newspaper advice columns are the ultimate tip source, although you wouldn’t expect to find a genealogy question in one. But that’s just what happened recently in the Washington Post’s Ask Amy column. A reader asks how best to approach the widow of the recently deceased family genealogy hound for access to his treasure trove of photos and records. Read what Ms. Amy advises, and consider — what do you think ought to happen to your genealogy treasure trove after you pass on, and what will you do about it?

Census form completed, with a tip

All done, and it took me about five minutes, even with a new child to list since the last time around. Despite an incredible temptation to spell my surname six different ways as a gesture of solidarity with my ancestors, I kept all spellings standard.

I also used a great tip from the Genealogical And Historical Research discussion group on LinkedIn:

Make a photocopy of your completed census form and file it with your genealogy stuff. No sense making your descendants wait 72 years to see what your answers were if they don’t have to!

I can’t believe I never thought of that! Am I the last person to start doing this?

Photographs Past + Digital Present

Two women having tea and looking at photographs. Reina Lawrence photo collection, part of the digital archives of the Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, NJ.

Although I worry occasionally about what will happen to old-style newspaper clippings and photo files, I don’t hate new-style. Digital archives are the most amazing gift to the researcher. For instance, anyone who can remember when unearthing and reviewing vintage photographs meant a special appointment at a special library probably gets a sneaky thrill when paging through a digital photo archive. It’s just too easy.

Here are some of my favorite photo places.

• Plainfield (NJ) Public Library, local-history collections: Near and dear to my heart because I grew up in the town next door, North Plainfield. The collection’s main focus is Plainfield, naturally enough, but a fair amount of images from my hometown can be found here. Beyond photos, the site includes blueprints, postcards and online exhibits. Here’s the link for the photograph search engine.

New York City Municipal Archives. A person could spend way too much time here, and frequently does. The scores of  New York City images are catalogued by topic for easy browsing. In addition, you can go here for information on how to ask for a search of the Tax Photos, which were taken of every building in New York’s five boroughs between 1939 and 1941 and also in the 1980s. They’re not searchable online, but if you know an ancestor’s address in New York it might be worth asking for a search to see if you can order a photo of their house.

The Brooklyn Library’s Brooklyn Collection. The library now has a Flickr site with tons of Brooklyn photos. Some are organized into specific collections; or you can just root around. Not that I would complain about that.

Kindergarten May Day party in Montclair, 1925. Photo by Norman M. Germond, Montclair Public Library's historical photo collection.

The Montclair (NJ) Public Library. This is my hometown now, and it has a beautiful online photo collection, too. The only complaint I have is that it can be a little tricky to navigate to from the main library page. (It’s Databases by Subject/Genealogy-Local History/Montclair Images, in case you were wondering.) But once there, you can have a lot of fun using keyword searches to pull up collections of photos by topic.

Those are some of my favorite photo places. What are yours?