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?


Links, 9.13.10

At long last the Archaeologist’s family experienced the first day of school, a mixture of excitement and trauma. Well, mostly trauma, to be honest. The scholars were not about to give up vacation without a fight. They clearly belong to the summer-loving half of our family’s  gene pool.

I belong to the other half, having been the sort of child who was trying on her school uniform a month before the first day (as my brother screamed, “MOM! Tell her to stop that!”).

Here’s my Back To School edition of links.

Postmarked: A lovely site called Philatelic Genealogy is compiling images of old postcards, letters and so forth. The material is indexed, and the site welcomes new material as well. h/t to Roxane Moore Saucier, Bangor Daily News.

Cautioned: This genealogy column out of Asheville, N.C. repeats what is becoming well-worn advice not to trust the Internet too far when it comes to genealogical information. However, I do like the author’s brave observation that online trees can be a good jumping-off point for fledgling researchers — as long as they don’t regurgitate them unthinkingly.

Merging?: In Scotland, three major records repositories have been asked to consider merging. They are the General Register Office for Scotland, National Archives of Scotland and Registers of Scotland. More here from The Herald (Scotland).

Classes, continued: Last week I mentioned the joy of online genealogy classes. Kimberly Powell draws our attention to more  online classes at the site. And they are free!

Adoption issues: At the MyHeritage blog, they’re kicking off a series of posts and exercises aimed at researchers tracing adoptions in the family tree. While I’m not sure I would sign up for MyHeritage just to do this, it might be a nice tutorial for those who already have an account there.

Bloggin’ it: At MSNBC’s Cosmic Log science blog, an interesting post about DNA and African roots … At GeneaBloggers, a call for new genealogy blogging theme ideas … At Slovak Yankee, Martin Hollick ponders the role of luck, good and bad, in research results, and poses the question: Which “lost” resources would you most wish to have back?

Now it’s time to do the three zillion things I couldn’t get to during summer vacation time. Off to the races …

NewsClips: Obituary, Raymond F. Haigney

Today’s NewsClip is the obituary of my paternal grandfather, Raymond F. Haigney. Raymond’s sudden and early death from a heart attack removed him from the family picture well before I was born, and until just a few years ago I had not even seen a photo of him.

Coronary disease, sad to say, is a big factor in recent family history — my paternal grandmother also died of a heart attack, as did my father, Peter, at age 59. It being hard to ignore a pretty striking family medical pattern, I thought genealogy research might provide some insights. So I guess you could say that Raymond F. got me into genealogy.

Obituary: Raymond F. Haigney, 1940

Good Reads: ‘This Republic of Suffering’

There are shelves and shelves of Civil War histories, and Lord knows there’s no shortage of riveting battle narratives and larger-than-life personalities to write about. But Drew Gilpin Faust, historian and lately Harvard’s president, takes a novel tack by focusing on the inevitable outcome of all that: the unprecedented thousands of war dead.

In This Republic of Suffering: Death And The American Civil War, Faust explains how the Civil War changed our understanding of death and mourning as surely as it changed the generals’ understanding of warfare. “We still live in the world of death the Civil War created,” writes Faust. Measures we take for granted today — the notification of next of kin, registering of graves, armies taking responsibility for soldiers’ decent burials — are really products of the Civil War. The carnage that occurred on an entirely new scale demanded entirely new systems for grappling with it.

In the chapter “Burying,” Faust recounts the evolution of burial procedures on the battlefield, and the rituals, often hastily improvised, that soldiers enacted to provide a sense of ceremony in the absence of clergy and family. “Believing and Doubting” explores the wrenching challenge to faith posed by the ever-mounting tally of losses. A surging interest in spiritualism and an outpouring of tragic popular ballads were two typical signs of the times.

What really spurred lasting change was the massive scale of deaths, and their remoteness from loved ones who desperately wanted a body to bury and a gravesite where they could mourn. Undertakers did a booming business at the battlefields for families who could afford to have bodies located, embalmed and shipped homeward. Thousands more soldiers were buried in common graves, and more than 40 percent of Union dead remained anonymous at war’s end. (The percentage was even higher for Confederate soldiers.)

The inability to account for fallen soldiers seems ridiculous to us today, but it was rather typical for its time — certainly the dead of the Mexican War fared no better. Still, by war’s end, the yearning to name and account for the dead crystallized into a national movement to create official burying grounds for them — the beginnings of the national cemeteries of today.

Books like this are valuable to the family historian, illuminating social assumptions and customs that have faded from memory, and giving us greater understanding of the ways our ancestors grappled with grief during this time of incredible upheaval. If you have a Civil War soldier in your family tree, it’s definitely worth a look.

Links, 9.06.10

It’s the Labor Day edition of links!

Working it: This is a great day to review and consider resources that cover our ancestors’ working lives. “Business, Institution and Organization Records” by Kay Haviland Freilich and Ann Carter Fleming is a good overview. (It’s at; subscription required.)

Immigrant stories: I’m sure there will be a lot of good stories out of this one: Ellis Island immigrant oral histories have gone online at Ancestry, part of a project begun in 1973 that encompasses 2,000 histories.

Start learning: It’s fall. The kids are back in school — what about you? I’m thinking about genealogy courses, and here are two upcoming examples. In New Jersey, the State Library is accepting registrations for seminars, both real-time and online. Some are definitely of interest to genealogy researchers: “Finding Your Ancestors” and “Sanborn Maps”. You can find the schedule by going to the link and clicking on the “Mid-Day Training” buttons at the right. If you’re interested in Pennsylvania, there’s a Crash Course in Pennsylvania Genealogy webinar coming up at the end of this month.

Illinois cemeteries: An update from the Illinois Farm Bureau a few days ago draws attention to a recent measure that apparently overhauls licensing and regulations for any cemetery that has money of any amount in a care fund (even tiny family burying grounds). I say “apparently” because the press release is not as clearly written as it could be — still, an interesting development.

Haunting: In Los Angeles, police work and genealogy are intersecting as investigators try to unravel the mystery of an old trunk containing the decades-old remains of two infants. The steamer trunk, found last month, had been abandoned in an apartment building’s basement; the ownership has been traced to a Scottish immigrant born in 1897 who worked as a nurse in Los Angeles before moving to Vancouver, where she eventually died.

Blog world: The Chicago Genealogy blog highlights a benefit to erect a memorial for the McCoy brothers, influential Chicago musicians who died within months of each other in 1950 and are buried in unmarked graves. … At Ties That Bind, a poignant reflection on holding on to family treasures — and letting them go. …. Finally, while trying to figure out the history of Labor Day, I stumbled upon Paterson Fire Journal, which blogs all about the history of fires and firefighting in Paterson, NJ. Fascinating anecdotes and pictures.

Hope you’re enjoying the holiday weekend — and here’s to a great fall.

Blog Note: Endless Summer Wrapup

As previously noted, schools aren’t starting in our neighborhood for another week and a half, so we’re on the road visiting family out West. Posting will be a little lighter than usual but I’ll be trying to keep up with the Monday links.

Enjoy Labor Day weekend. One last barbecue, one more swim …

Good Reads: ‘American Passage’

Ellis Island occupies a hallowed place in imaginations — some might say, the Plymouth Rock for Americans who didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. This is a vast oversimplification (it leaves out a lot of Americans who didn’t land in either place). But it fueled enough fat family-saga novels to cement certain imagery firmly in place: the large, close-knit families struggling together across the gangplank into a new world; the arbitrary name changes by brusque inspectors; the triumphant journey from dirt-poor tenement to American-style riches in the suburbs.

Vincent J. Cannato’s American Passage is a history of Ellis Island that is well worth reading if your ancestors passed through it, or even if they didn’t. It  supplies a wealth of information about how the place began and, importantly, how it worked, starting with a detailed account of Ellis Island’s very different predecessor, Castle Garden.

Castle Garden was a state-run operation, originating in response to activism by immigrant-aid societies whose mission was to protect and aid immigrants — a mission that also propelled Castle Garden, at least in its early years. Ellis Island, by contrast, was a federal facility born in an age of increased resentment and apprehension at the surge of immigration at the end of the 19th century. Aiding and protecting took a back seat to quality control — the drive to ensure that only the fittest, strongest and most productive new arrivals made the cut.

Cannato writes supple, succinct prose, with an excellent eye for compelling historical examples — such as families separated, often forever, when one member was deemed too “feeble-minded” or physically infirm to be admitted. He illustrates with infuriating examples the lengths to which inspectors went to ensure that the immigrants’ characters were sufficiently elevated, a quest which predictably led to crass harassment: “Did he sleep with you on the boat?” asked one inspector who made “moral turpitude” his personal mission.

American Passage also dispels some cherished misconceptions about Ellis Island. Despite what hundreds of family stories say, Ellis Island inspectors did not change names to make them more “American-sounding”: “Name changes largely occurred either on the other side of the Atlantic, when steamship officials recorded names in their manifests, or after Ellis Island, when immigrants filled out naturalization papers or other official documents,” Cannato writes.

The narrative is full of similarly illuminating details, and ends with a meditation on Ellis Island’s slide into decay and neglect, followed by its return as a point of pilgrimage, a highly charged symbol of American aspirations. It’s a nice wrap-up to an excellent overview of the years in which the United States, and its immigration policy, reached a troubled maturity.