Hold on to that thought.
I heard that phrase many a time in my grade-school days, when I could have been a prototype for Hermione Granger, Harry Potter’s perpetually hand-waving buddy.
Well, “hold on to that thought” is useful advice in genealogical research. It can apply to all those funny bits of data we stumble across from time to time, the ones whose significance remains stubbornly unclear.
I don’t have that name in my lines, we might think. Or: I don’t know of anyone who was from that place.
We conclude that these things are flukes – a brief acquaintanceship, perhaps, or just a whistle stop on one of our ancestors’ journeys. This potentially can be a mistake.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about finding a guy in the 1900 census who sure looked like he could be my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney. His age, birthplace, marital status and occupation were all in line with how other sources described him during the 1890s. Sometime after 1899, Joseph moved from his lifelong home of Watervliet, N.Y. He eventually settled with his wife and children in Brooklyn, where he can be found with boring regularity from 1910 on.
But in 1900, he was quite elusive. And when I finally found a viable candidate, there were, in my mind, three very big snags:
- He was in Jersey City, not Brooklyn.
- His wife, Catherine (Connors) Haigney, was nowhere in sight, and neither were any of his children, including my grandfather Raymond.
- He was boarding in the household of an Edwin and Rose Brant. None of us had ever heard of anybody called Brant.
Assuming this was great-grandfather Joseph, what in the world was going on?
As I previously wrote, I established that Edwin and Rose, like Joseph, were recent arrivals from Watervliet. And about a year after the census find, I came into possession of an address book from the 1930s belonging to Joseph’s daughter, Anna, which strengthened the idea of a close association between the families. Thirty years after Joseph boarded with the Brants, Anna continued to keep track of three Brant daughters, now grown and married.
And that was it – an enigmatic census entry and an old address book, both pointing to a family named Brant in Jersey City. Based on what little I had, it seemed that this was a case of old acquaintances from the Capital District renewing their ties in Hudson County and Brooklyn. Interesting, but nothing to stop the presses about. I busied myself with other things.
Still, I held on to that thought.
And recently this paid off as I worked on the ancestry of great-grandmother Catherine (Connors) Haigney, Joseph’s wife. There are many more Connors families than Haigneys in Watervliet, and up to now it’s been hard to pick out which one might be Catherine’s – especially since I had no information about possible siblings.
Then one of my periodic rummagings through Tom Tryniski’s remarkable New York newspapers database turned up the piece of gold I had long sought: a Troy Times obituary for Catherine’s brother, James Connors, listing Catherine and another sister as survivors. This obituary led to a blizzard of other clippings, which helped crack the case of which Connors census entries were which, and before you could say “Get that in the database,” I had pieced together a preliminary picture of my great-grandmother’s parents, Patrick and Bridget, and their seven children.
Soon enough I had a decent basic idea of what became of five of these children, including my great-grandmother, of course. The two mysteries were a son named Timothy, who is difficult to trace after 1880, and a daughter variously recorded as Rose, Rosannah and Rosa.
It’s all so clear in retrospect, isn’t it?
Not in real time. I was sitting on a train the other day, thinking two things:
- I hate how the name Rosannah keeps putting that old Toto song into my brain.
- Have I ever seen a Rose anywhere in my travels?
Which was when I blurted out, “Rose BRANT!” thereby drawing some curious stares from across the aisle. (It could have been worse; I could have started singing “Rosanna.”)
The next logical stop was the Jersey City Free Public Library’s lovely New Jersey Room, where some lovely obituaries confirmed the hunch. Rose’s own death notice from 1914 referred to her only as the beloved wife of Edwin, but Edwin’s obituary from 1929 contained the wonderful words: “Edwin O. Brant, beloved husband of the late Rose Brant (nee Connors).”
This is the beginning rather than the end of the story. A lot of blanks still need to be filled in and connections confirmed in what is shaping up to be a typically sprawling Irish Catholic family. But it has been delightful to uncover a more detailed picture of my great-grandmother’s clan just in time for Women’s History Month, not to mention St. Patrick’s Day.
I’m so glad I held on to that thought.