Thursday, October 1, 2020

By Some Strange Coincidences


On the eve of their fifty-first wedding anniversary, Mark and Bridget Falvey's hometown newspaper ran a detailed article on the milestones in the couple's long life together and the strange coincidences which tied their family together. While that certainly must have been a nice commemorative for the Falveys' special day, it also serves to guide us in piecing together the timeline of two Irish immigrants who arrived in Chicopee, Massachusetts when it was merely "a hamlet of scattered houses."

The way The Springfield Daily News reported it in their January 14, 1911, back page column, the Falveys' January 15, 1860, wedding occurred only three years after the two immigrants had arrived in Chicopee, "each unconscious of the existence of the other." Each had taken a "sailing vessel" from Ireland only weeks apart from the other's journey. Though Mark Falvey and Bridget Gibbons traveled on different ships, each vessel experienced the same type of journey: thirteen weeks of enduring "severe storms with heavy seas." Noted the Daily News:

There was nothing in their lives which they ever welcomed quite so joyously as their first sight of land after passing thirteen soul stirring weeks upon the water.

The similarity in their journeys into New York harbor were topped with the next stop in their separate journeys. Each traveled to Chicopee, where they secured lodging at the boarding home of a "Mr. and Mrs. Carrigan of Dwight street." It was at that place where they met and undoubtedly compared stories of their harrowing crossings from Ireland.

Mark and Bridget were eventually the proud parents of six children, three of whom—Jeremiah, Mary Ann, and Catherine—survived to celebrate their parents' 1911 milestone anniversary. Apparently, after Mark and Bridget had welcomed their firstborn Jeremiah into their family, their hosts from those early immigrant days, the Carrigans, also welcomed a child into their own household. For the Carrigans, it was a daughter they named Bridget—whom the Carrigans eventually saw become wife to the Falveys' son Jeremiah in a wedding ceremony on February 14, 1899, tying the knot on a story in the next generation which began at the Carrigan home with the meeting of the two immigrants so many years before.

The Daily News article provided a few more clues about the Falveys. Though no one divulged the exact location where Mark originated in County Kerry, Ireland, I did notice some helpful leads. For one, the article revealed, "Mr. Falvey is the oldest of a family of seven, and Mrs. Falvey the oldest of a family of eight."

From this, if we can depend on the old Irish naming tradition holding true in the Falveys' case, as the oldest, Mark would have been named after his paternal grandfather. Thus, if Mark's father's name was Jeremiah—as the Falvey siblings' records have already revealed to us—that means Jeremiah's father must have been Mark, if that is what he named his oldest child. While that may be the slightest of hints—after all, I've yet to find any documentation in County Kerry piecing together any of this family line—it does align with the family traditions of yet another DNA match connected to this extended Falvey family.

Admittedly, newspapers are not the most reliable of documentation sources for piecing together family history, but they can provide us with unexpected leads. Sometimes, that means reading between the lines, or extrapolating from inferences rather than outright statements. I had, for instance, been concerned about Mark Falvey's statement, in his naturalization records, that he had entered the country via New York City, and yet, the newspaper article provided corroboration through the vignette of the couple's similar sailing experiences.

Despite newspapers' reputation for editorial errors, it always pays to look not only for milestone articles, but to search through collections using the dates of an ancestor's entire lifespan, as we saw yesterday. I certainly was reminded again of that practicality.  After all, I wasn't the one who discovered this wonderful article at first; it was thanks to a comment by reader Kat that alerted me to check those newspaper archival subscriptions to see what she had found.

While examining every document we could find for the three Falvey siblings who arrived in Chicopee, Massachusetts, from County Kerry, Ireland, did not blaze a shining path to lead us back to their homeland, their descendants are not the only Falvey relations among my husband's DNA matches. His second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey, had other relatives whose descendants also are matches. We have yet another family to examine after taking leave from these three Falveys in Massachusetts, whom we will introduce tomorrow. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"Local Experts in This Common Frailty"


When it comes to livening up family history, you've just got to hand it to newspapers: they can provide the best stories—if you can find any. When I search in archived newspaper collections for ancestors, besides focusing on the predictable dates of birth, marriage, or death, I always make a second sweep of possibilities on a given ancestor's name by formulating search parameters wide enough to capture those stray mentions of the individual anywhere in the midst of his or her lifespan.

Some lives, of course, are boring and predictable, and not much can be found to add any color to such biographies. In the case of Mark Falvey, ancestor of one of my husband's Falvey DNA matches, he did merit a few appearances in the Springfield, Massachusetts, newspapers of his time.

Even though we can find a mention of an ancestor, though, the news articles mentioning our ancestor may not provide much in the way of substance. Still, we may be able to glean inferences, or compile details to assemble a clearer picture of day to day occurrences and attitudes about life for our relatives of previous generations.

Take this one article I found about Mark Falvey from page six of the Springfield Republican on January 27, 1890. Not much about the family can be gleaned from that particular entry in the Monday edition, other than the name of the street they lived on, and that the Falveys had been attending a church event the previous Saturday. Yet this brief paragraph provides a snapshot, a "day in the life of" moment to give a sense of what life was life for this particular family in the community they called home. 

In the Republican's review of events from Hampden County on that day was this brief paragraph:

A young man, who gave his name as Albert Smith of Holyoke, was captured Saturday morning under suspicious circumstances in Mark Falvey's house on Dwight street, which he had entered while the family were attending the mission in progress at the church of the Holy Name. One of the family returned unexpectedly and caught Mr Smith in the act of dodging under the bed in a chamber where he had been going through a bureau drawer, and the interloper was promptly delivered up to the police. No stolen property was found on his person, but a pocket-book which had been in the drawer was found under the bed, and it will probably go hard with young Mr Smith in the police court this morning. When taken to the police station the culprit tried to play the part of a drunken man, but the local experts in this common frailty declare his imitation poor.

If nothing else, reading our ancestors' newspapers can give us a sense of how their newspaper represented daily life in their community—and, in some cases, a humorous twist in that editorial point of view.

There are, of course, other times when the fortunate researcher can locate an article on an ancestor which provides much more than a wry chuckle. The occasion of Mark and Bridget Falvey's fifty-first wedding anniversary, which we'll review tomorrow, was such an example. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

O, Where Did the O Go?


When you trace the lines of descent of an ancestor through multiple generations, be prepared to observe the evolution of the family's surname. In the case of Johanna Falvey, American immigrant from County Kerry, Ireland, to Chicopee, Massachusetts, that is indeed what became of her married name.

With Johanna's 1875 marriage in Chicopee, the local registrar chose to record her husband's name as O'Reiley. True, we've already learned from subsequent census records that Johanna could neither read nor write, and it's almost certain that her husband-to-be, an Irish immigrant laborer, could do no more, so it's unlikely that either of them would speak up to correct a spelling "error."

This, however, was an era in which the spelling of surnames was far more in the control of the record keepers than the information givers, so I was quite prepared to see the surname morph, at least to the "common" spelling variation used at the time.

That was, indeed, what happened, come time for the 1880 census, where we found Johanna and her young son Frank listed with the more usual spelling as O'Reilly.

If I hadn't noticed any examples of the next aberration in my previous wanderings through the various Sullivan lines connected with this extended family, I might not have been prepared for the next variation in Johanna's married name. Searching online for any sign of the roots of these extended families, I had noticed the Irish vacillating between names with the "O" prefix and the same surname, minus the "O." I'd see Sullivan as the mother's maiden name in one baptismal record, and a couple years later in the same County Kerry parish, encounter everything the same, except now that same mom had become an O'Sullivan. Methinks the Irish see that "O" prefix quite differently than their Irish-American descendants do.

My first clue that this might be the case for our Johanna was in viewing her brother's obituary. Mark Falvey had died in 1912, long after his sister Bridget, but quite a few years before Johanna's passing. Thus, we have a record of Johanna's mention in Mark's obituary.

Clue: the "O" was missing.

Though Mark's funeral notice included his nephew Frank "Reilly" as one of the pallbearers, his actual obituary also reported Frank's mother's name in an entirely different rendition: as "Mrs. Patrick Riley." Indeed she was, albeit merely phonetically—though she wouldn't have known any differently.

Gone, by the 1910 census, was that arbitrary "O." Indeed, Johanna's entry then was already being listed as Riley, not Reilly, same as in the 1920 census

At that point, there were no further entries that could be found in census records for Johanna. Her obituary in the December 15, 1927, edition of the Springfield Republican was perfunctory, stating the date of her death, her address, and details on the funeral and burial. The address given for the late Mrs. Riley agreed with the record we had found in the 1920 census, ruling out any possibility—a rather likely one, given the common surname—that it was announcing the passing of another woman by the same name.

Though the sole announcement of her passing listed no survivors, we already know that Johanna had a son. What had become of him? It was once again because we had traced the evolution of that family's surname that I could locate any record of Frank, who himself had a paper trail strewn with variations on his given name as well as his surname.

As it turned out, to insure I followed the trail of the right Frank Riley, there was another constant to guide my path: Frank's occupation. Frank Riley was apparently a lifelong employee of the postal service, so every time I found a document with that very common name, I checked to see where that Frank Riley worked. Following the trail of Frank Riley, postal clerk, I could piece together the story of his own life, as well.

Though Frank remained single, living at home with his mother through the 1920 census, after her passing, Frank did get married. One simple photo of their headstone at Find A Grave told almost the whole story, listing Johanna Riley's dates, followed by those for "Frank P." and then "wife Helen." Frank's date of death led me to his own obituary in 1941, which, in its one paragraph, provided not much more information than I had gleaned in his mother's notice and through the other records I found concerning him.

One item I noticed missing from that entry answered my final question: did he have descendants? If Frank Riley and Helen Shea Riley had any children, they did not survive him, for Helen was the only family member listed in Frank's obituary.

Despite the wild ride to persevere in tracing this Falvey line of descent through its various name permutations, in the space of one additional generation, that genetic signature disappeared from the ranks of future generations. 


Monday, September 28, 2020

Tracing Another Falvey


I'm beginning to wish it was customary to list cousins among the survivors in a family member's obituary. Not only would that, for instance, help me identify the wider family circle for my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey Kelly, but it could help every struggling family history researcher to untangle the knot of common surnames and namesake repetitions, especially within that Irish heritage.

It wasn't much of a surprise to discover that my husband had DNA matches with other researchers pursuing their Falvey roots. Learning that there was a Johanna among the ancestors of the one particular Falvey family I'm tracing right now—that of siblings Mark and Bridget Falvey who settled in Chicopee, Massachusetts—was not a complicating factor. In fact, it was quite a welcome sign, considering the Irish tradition of adhering to naming patterns. Besides, our Johanna Falvey immigrated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, far from Chicopee. And our Johanna came to America over a decade after the Massachusetts siblings. It was quite evident that these were two separate identities.

Since Mark Falvey and his sister Bridget both had descendants who turned out to share DNA segments with my husband, I decided to see what I could learn about their sister Johanna, in hopes that she, too, might have a descendant who provided a DNA match. Remember, my goal is to see if any of these other matches might have any family traditions concerning just where in County Kerry, Ireland, the Falveys originated. So far, no one has been available to divulge that secret.

Looking at this Johanna's story, just as we had seen with her siblings, the Chicopee records provided a great start to her immigrant story. We first find her in the 1870 census, living in the O'Brien household of her by-then married sister Bridget. At the time, she stated she was twenty eight years of age, and that she was employed by the local cotton mill. That birth information, as we'll discover, was a fluid estimate and changed over the years—as did a few other details we normally rely on to track our ancestors.

Within five years, Johanna was married. According to the local register for 1875, her April 18 ceremony was to a man for whom this was his second marriage. Her husband-to-be was Patrick O'Reiley, the thirty five year old son of Timothy O'Reiley and Catherine Higgins. Johanna, by this time, had managed to age a mere two years since the 1870 census, but hopefully her full disclosure of her parents' names—including, for the first sighting, her mother's actual maiden name—was a bit more reliable.

Numbers were not the only recorded details which seemed to morph in this family's timeline; spelling was just as fluid as well, inviting us to think creatively to be able to track the newlyweds through their future. As for "future," there apparently was not much to that for the newlyweds' life together, for by the time of the next decennial record, Johanna was recorded living with a four year old son, but with no husband to be found.

The widowed Johanna O'Reilly—for that was how she reported herself in the 1880 census—was by then living in a boarding house with her son, Frank. Unable to read or write, Johanna still held a job at the cotton mill to support her small family.

As it turns out, having Frank as a second family member helped trace this particular Johanna through subsequent decades, by then claiming the more common O'Reilly surname. But seeing Frank join the family unit also triggered the hope that perhaps there might be a descendant who could show up as a DNA match—another person who might also be keen on discovering his or her roots, back in County Kerry. As many other genetic genealogy enthusiasts might have done, I decided to trace Johanna's household through as many decades as I could, just to see where the generations might lead. 


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Working on Theories of Relatives


Stuck on how to tie together all those Falvey DNA matches I'm following, I was encouraged to see that MyHeritage has released an update to the research aid they dubbed their Theory of Family Relativity™. MyHeritage heralds this feature as "game-changing," and when they first released it over a year ago, it certainly was a game changer for my paternal grandfather's mystery Polish ancestry. 

Now, however, my challenge is to tie together the several DNA matches my husband has with unidentified distant cousins who all claim an ancestor from the Falvey family in County Kerry, Ireland—but which Falvey family that might lead to is still the question.

Right now, my behind-the-scenes task is building a private, unsearchable tree which diagrams how each DNA match traces back to County Kerry through their original immigrant ancestor. In this case, it involves reversing the path that Falveys traveled from Ireland not only to the United States, but also to England, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The only drawback to this diagramming exercise: each line leads back to a different root person. And I still can't figure out how all of them are connected.

Despite this dilemma, it still helps to visualize the path from each DNA match through their ancestral generations, so I'm left with a quite disjointed tree, leaving some ancestors in place in the tree marked with a warning sign and identified as a "hypothesis" rather than an assertion. Other ancestors are left in the online tree, detached from any connection to the rest of the Falveys, as a "floating" ancestor. Someday, somehow, maybe I'll discover the key to re-attach those lines back to the rest of the family.

Or not.

Any one of these lines could lead back to the answer I seek. Only problem is: I don't know which one. So I keep diagramming, attaching documentation in support, and then move on to send a message to the next DNA match and draw the next family tree.

Sometimes, utilizing DNA can lead to instant answers, but in the cases I've worked on, the answer seems to be much more muddled. Perhaps it's just because the people related to us aren't the DNA test-taking type. In cases like ours, it becomes clear that finding the answer may need to be a team effort rather than a solo performance. That's why I have always liked the genealogy research model developed in the earliest days of the Internet: forums where people could come together to share information on joint research projects.

I'm tempted to see how many Falvey researchers would be up for collaborating on this puzzle. After all, there are several trees out there—not to mention, Falvey descendants who have already tested. Hopefully, someone has been gifted with some oral history of their ancestors' homeland in answer to my questions. Otherwise, all we're left with will be theories.


Above: Warning icon I attach to those "theories" added to my family tree—a bright sign that though the entry is based on an educated guess, it is simply that, and no more: a guess. This is an idea inspired by Connie Knox of GenealogyTV in her episode "DNA Cousin Matches: Next Steps."

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Getting Possessive About "My" Johanna


When researching ancestors with puzzling matches of almost identical particulars, do you ever get possessive about the one you feel is surely "yours"? 

Next week, when we delve into examining an Irish immigrant named Johanna Falvey, keep in mind that the only reason I am doing so is that I'm trying to trace the origin of my Johanna Falvey. See? I'm already getting possessive about this.

The Johanna who got me started on this wild chase was my husband's second great-grandmother. I already know quite a bit about her: that she was born in County Kerry, Ireland; that she married John Kelly at the same location; that she and John had at least two children, possibly three, before emigrating from their homeland about 1868; that she left behind siblings in her homeland; and that, while she headed to the United States, she had at least one sibling who went in the other direction, ending up in New Zealand.

While the lack of Irish documentation leaves me without any verification of her birth, based on reports given in her adopted home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we can estimate that she was born about 1826. Thanks to the paper trail in America, we know for a certainty that she died in Fort Wayne in 1903.

Now that we've stumbled upon this other woman with the same name—Johanna Falvey, whose sister and brother are ancestors of two of my husband's DNA matches—we will begin examining the particulars next week. Right away, I can see that this Johanna was born later than "my" Johanna. She certainly ended up in a far different location in the United States than our Johanna's Indiana. And we'll even be able to see from her marriage record that she married a man who was not named John Kelly.

Still, tracing the narrative—and especially considering the reason I'm pursuing this other Falvey—it might be easy to assume otherwise. So I revert to that very possessive-sounding phrase, "my Johanna," when I talk about my husband's second great-grandmother. While I certainly don't mean to sound exclusionary, it is important to delineate just who is who—and who is connected to which line. With these Falveys—and their ever-present relatives, the Sullivans--it is apparently important to make that distinction.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A Bit About Bridget


Pursuing not one but three Falvey siblings in my quest to discover anything more about my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey, has meant relying on DNA matches to help guide my way. Though at least I know that Johanna came from County Kerry, either there are not enough complete record sets still in existence, back in that Irish homeland, or I have yet to find them. Thus, my delight in discovering my husband's DNA match with descendants of two Falvey siblings who immigrated to Chicopee, Massachusetts more than ten years prior to our Johanna's arrival in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Of those two Falvey siblings, we've already discussed the brother, Mark. Today, let's see what we can find about his younger sister, Bridget. Fortunately, with the record-keeping penchant in Hampden County, there were quite a few documents to lead us through her life's timeline—a short one, unfortunately, as we'll see today.

Because women, at that time, did not usually apply for naturalization, we don't have such a record available to us for Bridget. It is unknown, at this point, whether she traveled with her brother, or followed him to Massachusetts after he found employment and sent for the rest of the family.

So far, my first sighting of Bridget Falvey in America was courtesy of the marriage register for Chicopee. On October 11, 1862, Bridget Falvey and James O'Brien, both residents of Indian Orchard, had their marriage vows solemnized by the Catholic priest at Chicopee. He, the son of John and Hannah O'Brien—women, again, appearing without mention of their maiden name—was twenty seven at the time; Bridget was seven years younger.

From that point through the next decade, Bridget's name appeared with regularity in Chicopee records. In 1865, it was to welcome the O'Briens' firstborn son, Thomas, on April 5. By that time, the couple had settled in Chicopee Falls, presumably to live closer to James' factory work.

Again, in 1867, the O'Briens' second son, James, was recorded as arriving on February 5. That, however, was a life not destined to last long, for the child was gone before his second birthday, dying on September 26 of 1868.

Following almost immediately afterwards was the arrival of third child Margaret—at last echoing the old Irish naming pattern with the first daughter receiving the maternal grandmother's name—born on November 8. The 1870 census reflected the recent rearrangement of the O'Brien household, showing parents James and Bridget, as well as surviving son Thomas and his baby sister Margaret—along with a bonus to Falvey researchers of the arrival of Bridget's younger sister Johanna, now a part of their household, since she had obtained a job at the cotton mill nearby. A final child—at least, that I can find—arrived after the census was taken, on August 15, 1870, and was given the name Mary Ellen.

Not long after that came what might have been the not-uncommon tragedy which befell women of childbearing age in past years. Bridget, at the approximate age of thirty three—as we have no documentation to pinpoint her date of birth—died on January 29, 1875. Because of her young age, I tried searching for any record of a pregnancy which might have caused her demise, but could find no listing of another O'Brien birth in Hampden County.

Looking closer at the death register, the record stated that the cause of death was neuralgia. Just to see what people of that era might have meant by using that word as a diagnosis, I checked three resources online for definitions.

One mentioned, much as we might have assumed by the word's usage in current times, that the diagnosis of neuralgia signified a "pain in a sensory nerve"—miserable, perhaps, but hardly something which could kill a person. A second resource amplified that description a bit, explaining that the term was "described as discomfort, such as 'headache' was neuralgia in the head." Granted, I have heard people complain that their headache was "killing" them, but still, I wasn't convinced. The third resource I consulted seemed to come closest to what might have ailed the unfortunate Bridget, describing neuralgia as "sharp, severe paroxysmal pain extending along a nerve or group of nerves."

With that, the O'Briens—at least, what remained of the family—disappeared from census records for the rest of the century. One might have presumed that Bridget's sister Johanna might have stayed on as an aunt to raise the young children, but it turns out that Johanna had quite a story of her own, before she arrived at the 1880 census, herself. Additional research will undoubtedly reveal more about the O'Brien children—of which at least one became an ancestor of my husband's DNA match—but in the meantime, let's take a look, tomorrow, at what became of the third Falvey sibling, Johanna.


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