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.
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.
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.
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.
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?