The story of a 93-year-old woman who was mugged visiting her childhood home in Manhattan is just … ragemaking.
I was relieved to read that the woman and her daughter suffered only “bumps and bruises” when the accused assailant, who offered to take them up to see the family’s old apartment, promptly proceeded to mug them. But how horrible that an innocent trip to take scrapbook pictures and revisit childhood memories should end in such a violation of trust.
I don’t know what to say about someone who would coolly trap and exploit someone like that, I really don’t.
What makes me even angrier is remembering the many times I’ve benefited from the goodwill of strangers in strange cities. Their kindness is an eloquent rejoinder to this contemptible person’s behavior.
The Big Brown Envelope of New York Vitals from Albany lingered in the pile of post-vacation mail for about a second. That’s because getting vitals from New York State is about as carefree a process as snagging a breakfast reservation to Cinderella’s Royal Table at Disney World.
Just kidding! It is not THAT bad! Still, in the interest of full disclosure: The last time an envelope from Albany arrived, I was high as a kite on painkillers following elbow surgery, but I came roaring back to alertness at the sight of a return address that read “Department of Health.” Mr. Archaeologist had no idea a zombie could open an envelope that fast.
This time was no different. Shoving silly nothings such as credit-card bills and municipal tax reminders aside, I tore into the envelope, to be rewarded with a treasure trove of data. In a lot of cases I was getting confirmation, not discovery. Overall, though, it was a satisfying haul.
There was only one dud, but it was a tough one. The certificate I thought might be for my great-great-grandfather Patrick Connors turned out to be for an 18-year-old; clearly not my Patrick, who should have been at least in his fifties.
“So you guessed wrong,” said Mr. Archaeologist helpfully.
“I do NOT guess,” I said coldly.
“Excuse me. I meant your hypothesis turned out to be incorrect.”
Well, it was true about my guess … I mean, my hypothesis … oh, let’s just come clean; this was a great example of wishful thinking. In my defense, when I ordered up the certificate, I didn’t know everything I know now. But still: I’d had a burial card for Patrick from St. Agnes Cemetery, Menands, that read 10 March 1882. When I went to search the death index microfiches, all I could find for a Patrick Connors who died in West Troy was a death on 18 September 1883. Maybe the burial card was somehow in error. (Although these St. Agnes cards haven’t been wrong yet. See? Wishful thinking.) Or maybe the death was reported some time after the fact.
The day after sending in the request, I turned up an Albany County probate filing that stated my ancestor’s death was 10 March 1882, in other words, what the burial card said. If I’d had the probate filing 24 hours earlier, I’d have snapped out of it. Oh, well. The request was already on its way.
What now? Back to the index, I guess, and see what I can see again. Did I really, truly check all the name spelling variations? Did my eyes cross over one listing too many?
It is helpful to get a reminder from time to time about how important it is to keep your cool and not let the desire for a quick solution override common sense. This is, of course, a great life lesson in general, but in genealogy, it is particularly pertinent.
The Archaeologist recently experienced one of those painful paradoxes.
This is the one where a person is about to depart for a seashore holiday, surrounded by boxes of Indispensable Seashore Stuff like sunscreen, bug spray, beach towels and the seventeen boxes of mac ‘n’ cheese that the offspring are not using as their main nutritional foundation, they’re just emergency rations, honestly …
Ahem. To resume: What would be A Very Frustrating Thing in such circumstances?
A breakthrough on a genealogical brick wall, that’s what. Of all the things to happen when one is about to depart from one’s hometown library haunts and Internet connections!
Alas, we cannot pick and choose the timing of these matters. So a full account of the excitement must wait until I return.
Meanwhile, I have had to content myself with other people’s ancestors. On Block Island, I took the three-mile (round-trip) walk from the ferry slip to the island’s hilltop cemetery — very much worth it for the exercise, the peaceful atmosphere, and the lovely view:
Meanwhile, on the mainland, there have been nice sunsets.
And sea breezes.
But as nice as it is to get away, it will also be very nice to get back home. And get digging.
See you soon.
I married into one of the easy names. Once in a blue moon, someone tries to spell it “Linch,” the way my husband’s ancestors did in 18th-century Virginia, but basically, it’s easy. (To spell, not to research, which I realize is a whole other story.)
In contrast, my birth name is made for alternate spellings. I use what my great-great-grandfather settled upon in the 1870s. More likely, someone settled upon it for him, since the evidence is abundant that my immigrant ancestor was illiterate, signing his mark for important papers well into his old age. Starting in the 1872 West Troy directory, my branch spelled their surname “Haigney” and Haigneys they remained, thank God.
But research still must account for the alternate spellings random officials bestowed upon us. And with the spellings other Haigney families liked better.
Searching for possible extended family of my immigrant ancestor, I recently concluded an in-depth Troy city-directory search for the Haigney surname. I limited myself to reasonable variations, based on what I’ve encountered in 15+ years of research: Hagney, Heagney, Heaganey, Heagany, Hageny, Hagany, Haigney/Heigney/Haigeney/Heigeney and Hegney/Higney. Again, reasonable: For sanity’s sake, I did not attempt to mind-meld with the sort of thinking that led a 1900 census enumerator to call my great-great-grandfather “Haggemy.” (Although if I saw one of these in the directory, of course I’d look hard at it.)
Two funny things about this name: On the one hand, it’s really very rare, however you spell it. For instance, when I searched for my great-great-grandfather in the Irish Family History Foundation’s baptisms database, I found only 10 Martin Haigneys (this includes variants) for all of Ireland in 1793-1911. It’s easy to get spoiled with searches like that.
On the other hand, the abundant spelling variations, and the freedom with which 19th-century Haigneys employed them, are a challenge to the confident pronouncement of my elders: “If they’re a Haigney, we must be related.”
Who is everyone, anyway? And what is our name? Sometimes after an intensive search, seeing all the variations play out, a surname starts looking like a funhouse mirror. How much of it belongs to me, and how much of it belongs to some 19th-century courthouse clerk’s imagination of how those Gaelic noises were supposed to look?
When I was a child, it seemed that my father and his siblings were the only Haigneys in the whole world. Then the Internet showed us that there were others, not as abundant as Smiths, certainly, but we no longer existed in a vacuum.
And then the genealogical databases expanded to give panoramic views of how fluid spelling was of this surname, how it varied not just from family to family, but changed within individual lifetimes. It was also apparent that not all Haigney families were created equal. Some U.S. groups, like mine, were poor immigrants who found opportunities through army service and industrial jobs. Others gravitated quickly toward white-collar employment like clerking and teaching.
What do these educational and economic differences mean? How do they play out with Haigneys in other parts of the world – the ones who stayed in Ireland, the ones who migrated to England and Australia? Why did my immigrant ancestor grow up in County Tipperary, when many accounts state with confidence that the Haigney surname is welded to County Tyrone? Are those Hagneys and Heaganys in the Troy directories closely connected to my West Troy Haigneys?
What, in short, is really in a name? It’s one of the background questions that keep my fascination with genealogy humming along.
A big confession: I am not very attached to Google Reader. I have trouble forming attachments like that. It’s been a real problem emotionally for me and Google Reader over the years of our relationship.
Google Reader was all like, “Liz, you’re never there for me.”
And I was like, “I know, Google Reader, but I just have trust issues. I can’t silence that little inner voice that’s telling me maybe someday, YOU won’t be there for ME.”
And Google Reader was all, “How can you say that? I would NEVER!” So I’d have to be all, “Oh hon, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Let’s just call for some takeout and open some wine, OK?”
So guess what! Google Reader is going away by the end of today.
Maybe I was right to have trust issues, hon.
So: If you DO read this blog using Google Reader, you will need to form another relationship, although I trust you have already done so. Some suggestions are here. Also, Thomas McEntee updated the Geneabloggers readership on what the change will mean, here.
I am an avid consumer of footnotes. As a wee thing, I distinctly remember devouring my mother’s paperback copy of Lady Antonia Fraser’s Mary, Queen of Scots and tearing the pages in flipping them back and forth to savor the footnotes and endnotes.
But if I was tiresome about footnotes as a child, I am absolutely insufferable about them now. Genealogy has made me a footnote connoisseur — scratch that, an obsessive. An addict. It’s almost not healthy, the way I can ditch a well-crafted historical narrative in favor of a juicily detailed footnote. (For instance, Mary Beth Norton’s In The Devil’s Snare has Gorgeous. Footnotes. It’s a groundbreaking study of the Salem witch trials, too, but whatever.)
My interest in genealogy has set me a certain standard for footnoting, and that’s generally a good thing. If you’re stuck in front of an ancestral brick wall, throw a book at it, is what I say. A well-researched, well-cited history set in your ancestor’s place of residence might well lead you to a key source you hadn’t thought of.
However, one bummer about my footnote fetish is how quickly it can ruin a book for me. For instance, I just bought an ebook-format biography — a recent, well-reviewed book about a personality I’d always found intriguing, and I was pretty excited to read it. But I quickly found myself getting frustrated at the frequency with which the author got hazy on biographical details that I thought would be fairly easy to clarify with decent genealogical research. Or if they couldn’t be clarified, I’d hope to see the attempt to do so.
My irritation bubbled over at a footnote that cited 1880 and 1900 census reports for a family group and went on to say: “Those for 1870 and 1890 either don’t remain or were never taken [for the town in question].”
A. If you’re seriously researching a family and using census records, you should know there is no either/or about why there are no 1890 census returns. Even if you’re not a genealogist.
B. Of course there were 1870 census returns for the town in question, and I found the family there in about three minutes on Ancestry. (You knew I was going to do that, right?)
Now, maybe Point A was simply a case of fuzzy phrasing, but this sort of thing really wrecks a book’s street cred for me. I’m not citing the particular work or author because (1) I haven’t finished the book yet and (2) I haven’t the heart to single out one person in particular for something I see all the time.
But I do giggle a bit sometimes in contemplating the supposed gulf between historians and genealogists. Because the best ones on both sides of the aisle know the true value of what each side is doing, and use it to their advantage. And ours.