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.


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Checking on Another Sullivan


After what I discovered yesterday about the possible mother's maiden name for my latest research quest—finding the parents' names for Mark Falvey of Chicopee, Massachusetts—I am beginning to wonder whether I have uncovered a new rule: that all Irish immigrant family trees must include the surname Sullivan.

And yet, I didn't wish to be too hasty about that. After all, we need to put ourselves in our ancestors' shoes whenever we encounter a puzzling outcome in our research. The place where I found that Sullivan maiden name was in a death certificate. Think about it: what is farthest from one's mind, upon learning that a loved one has just died? Correctly reporting the maiden name of the long-gone mother of the deceased.

In a spotless hand, an official someone in Hampden County had drawn up the death certificate for Mark Falvey, ancestor of my husband's DNA match. There is no way I could fault that impeccable handwriting, or claim I had misread the entry. Sure enough, in researching all these members of a very extended Falvey family from County Kerry, Ireland, it is time to add yet another Sullivan to the mix. Mark Falvey was born to a woman named Margaret Sullivan—if, that is, we can believe that cool heads prevailed when his son stood in as informant for the official report.


Just in case a stress-induced mistake was permanently captured for generations of genealogy researchers to perpetuate, I decided to take a look at other records to see whether the report could be replicated. Unfortunately, even though Mark Falvey's naturalization paperwork claimed his arrival in the States was when he was twenty two years of age—arriving in New York City, which I not only find odd, but can't trace through other records—there was no mention of his parents' names.

However, there are other documents. And, as documents of that era went, they often omitted some detail about the women in a man's life. Thus, Mark's marriage record reported that he was son of Jeremiah Falvey—but omitted any mention of the mother.

Fortunately, Mark was not the only Falvey to settle in Chicopee. Remember, my husband has another DNA match who traces back to one of Mark's siblings who also lived in that city. Those who are researching that area in Hampden County have ample access to additional records online. So, I took that same record set which included Mark's marriage entry, and searched for any Falvey who was married in that county. 

In the search results, I could spot other possible candidates. That was the good news. The down side was that the transcription of the entries was less than optimal. Someone at Ancestry had indexed the parents' names for Bridget Falvey as Janey and Margaret. Obviously, something was lacking there. A similar result occurred for the marriage record of a woman named Johanna Falvey, whose parents were noted to be Samiah and Margaret.

Thankfully, the search results led me to actual copies of the documents, so I took a look at the real deal. Maybe my ability to read dreadful handwriting might tune up those previous attempts.

Sure enough, the actual register entry for the October 11, 1860, marriage of Bridget Falvey to James O'Brien could loosely be translated to read Jerry and Margaret Falvy. Of course, that record didn't include a mother's maiden name, either. And the other Falvey entry that could be found? Perhaps her much later wedding date—April 17 of 1875—did the trick, for this time, the bride's mother had a full identity: yes, although somewhat difficult to decipher, it looked like Margaret Sullivan was the wife of Jeremiah Falvey and the mother of Johanna Falvey.

Another Sullivan. All together now: groan.

What we have, with this exercise in seeking the mother's maiden name, is very possibly the link to tie these three Falvey weddings together. Thus, we can assume that Mark, Bridget, and Johanna were three siblings—or at least half-siblings—who somehow made their way to Chicopee from County Kerry, Ireland. We'll double check on that assumption tomorrow, as we get to know a bit more about Bridget, the sister of Mark Falvey (as opposed to his wife of the same given name). After that, we'll confirm what else can be found about Johanna Falvey's mother through the documents she left behind, as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Meet Mark


The benefit of DNA testing for genealogical purposes is to use genetic matches to infer details lacking due to missing documentation for our ancestors. I already know I am stuck researching my husband's Falvey line. All I know from his second great-grandmother Johanna Falvey Kelly's paper trail is when she was born in County Kerry and when she died in her adopted American home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Any details which could help me push the family history narrative back another generation cannot be found in her native Ireland through the traditional research routes.

There are, however, several DNA matches whose connections to my husband bear two weak links: each of those people shares the slightest significant viable stretch of genetic sequences with my husband and they each claim a Falvey ancestor in their direct line. 

The dismaying aspect is that none of those Falvey connections leads to a common ancestor. I have no idea how those Falveys connect, other than that they all were born in County Kerry. One by one, I push back through each match's line until I reach that distant Falvey ancestor, then try to figure out any connection. So far, I've found no "smoking gun" in the form of a specific document, be it baptismal, marriage, or records from the closing years of those Falvey ancestors' lives. It doesn't matter whether I've traced that line in Michigan or New Zealand.

There are, however, two DNA matches who descend from Falvey ancestors who settled in the town of Chicopee, Massachusetts. We'll start today with one, and then continue later with the second of these two matches. 

With that, I'd like to introduce Mark Falvey. Fortunately for us, Mark's choice of American town in which to settle, once he arrived from Ireland, was a beneficial one—at least for research purposes. Chicopee was established as a town in 1848, long before Mark Falvey arrived on the scene. Even if he had arrived earlier, neighboring Springfield had been keeping records for the prior two centuries. Those records have since been digitized and are easily accessible online, so Mark can be found in some of the key record sets genealogists seek.

One of the first records I could find for Mark Falvey involved his 1860 marriage to Bridget Gibbons, daughter of Miles. In that marriage register, we learn that Mark claimed he was twenty four years of age and that his intended was two years younger than he was. They were married, predictably by a Catholic priest, on January 15.

While I haven't been able to find Mark and Bridget in the national census records for 1870 or 1880—and not even for the year in which they were married, despite the claim that both bride and groom lived in Chicopee—the family did show up in the Massachusetts state census in 1865. By then, two year old son Jeremiah and infant daughter Mary have joined the Falvey household, along with two other residents by the names of Morris—more likely the Irish spelling as Maurice—and Mary Creon.

The most exciting find, among documents mentioning this Mark Falvey of Chicopee, was his naturalization record, in which he was declared an American citizen on May 29, 1874.

A document from the Hampden County probate court in 1912, appointing Mark Falvey's son in law, Joseph M. Grisé, as executor of his estate clued us in to the next document to seek in this review of Mark's life. Interestingly, there were three different newspaper announcements detailing Mark Falvey's passing on September 12, 1912—all containing useful information, though none providing the type of details on his place of origin or parentage that I had hoped to find.

From a death notice published in the Springfield Republican the day after his passing, we learn that Mark "came to Chicopee when he was a boy, having lived there over forty years." Not one word, however, on just where in Ireland he might have come from.

Yes, the notice provided the names of his children—well, sort of. We learn that his son was named Jeremiah, and that he worked for the town's fire department. And we at least learn who each of his two unnamed daughters married, from the listing of Mrs. John Moss and Mrs. Joseph Grisé. And while his widow was listed simply—and predictably—as "his widow," we do gain the benefit of the partial identity of a sister: Mrs. Patrick Riley, who also lived in Chicopee.

Published on the same day, the Springfield Union repeated that notice almost verbatim, although amending the subject's age upon arrival in Chicopee to be as "a young man." Though the wording change is ever so slight, it restrains me from what might have been an unproductive search for a young Mark in the Chicopee household of his parents.

The funeral notice appeared in the Springfield Union a few days later, and from that paragraph the unnamed writer attempted to describe the service itself. As it turns out, the listing of the names of the six pall bearers, all nephews of the deceased, was helpful in tracing the next generation, and naming the two musicians who sang may also become pertinent in assembling a "FAN Club" listing for the Falvey family.

However, the announcement that Mark Falvey was to be buried at the Catholic cemetery in Chicopee, Calvary Cemetery, did not lead to any further information—at least not at Find A Grave.

Perhaps it was no surprise to learn from his death certificate that this Irish immigrant was a son of a man named Jeremiah Falvey, for that is the very name Mark gave to his firstborn—and apparently only—son.  

While I was glad to see the thoroughly-completed document didn't throw us any surprises like "unknown" for a parent's name, there was one detail that had me somewhat dismayed: we are in for another tangle with a surname which, among Irish immigrants of the Falvey kind, seems ubiquitous: Sullivan.

Above: The signature of Mark Falvey, drawn from his petition to become a citizen of the United States of America in 1874.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Falvey Family in Massachusetts


Irish immigration to America has been a story which spans the entire timeline of our nation's history. Yet, there have been certain time periods in which that particular ethnicity bulged in proportion to arrivals from other countries. The years of the Great Famine, in particular, brought well over one million Irish immigrants to our eastern shores. While it is understandable to see why they left their homeland, there were also compelling reasons for their arrival here. Although many were refugees from the rural areas of Ireland and thus poor, unskilled laborers, the attraction of larger cities impelled gatherings of Irish in places like Boston. In a city setting, immigrants could gather to form their own neighborhoods and thus establish a supportive network among themselves.

There was a second factor attracting the Irish to America: the diversity of job opportunities calling for unskilled laborers. Projects throughout our nation's history from the Erie Canal to the building of transcontinental railroads relied, over the decades, on the efforts of immigrants such as the Irish. Massachusetts, in particular, benefited from laborers in their many manufacturing endeavors.

Such was the case with one town in western Massachusetts where we find the ancestors of two Falvey descendants who happen to be DNA matches with my husband—possible relatives of my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey. The town, Chicopee, near Springfield, eventually claimed eight industrial giants situated on the Chicopee River whose businesses boasted international reach.

It was the cotton mills in which some of these Falvey relatives once labored, remaining from their earliest working days until their last. As it turns out, tracing the family trees of these two DNA matches back to their Falvey roots and the immigrants who left County Kerry for America, show us that there were at least three Falvey siblings who came to Chicopee. One DNA match descends from a brother, the other from one of two sisters.

Fortunately, records throughout Massachusetts' history being what they are, it has been quite possible to trace these Falvey immigrants, once they arrived in Chicopee. We'll take some time this week to get to know all three of these Falvey siblings while outlining a family tree of their descendants. After all, for those accustomed to tracing genealogical records, the most helpful way is to actually sketch out those relationships through a pedigree chart. And we'll do just that in our introduction to Mark, Bridget, and Johanna Falvey of Chicopee, Massachusetts.

Above: 1844 engraving of the manufacturing center called Cabotville, once part of Springfield, which in 1848 became part of the new town of Chicopee, Massachusetts. Image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Whatever Became of Mary?


What does a researcher do with the challenge of tracing a name as common as Mary Sullivan? Not much, apparently. But at least I tried.

With the closing chapter of the life of the immigrant ancestor of one of our Sullivan-Falvey DNA matches, the only remaining chance of tracing that line back to Ireland rested upon Timothy Sullivan's widow, Mary. And yet, given a name repeated so much in records from the vicinity of their adopted home, Detroit, it would be hard to track what became of Mary. 

It would have been nice, of course, to locate a death record for Mary—a fully completed death record, mind you, including provision of the names of her parents and their location of birth. Silly me, of course, as the deceased's parents were as likely to be named "unknown" as any more reasonable moniker.

Keeping in mind that Mary's husband was buried at Mount Elliott Cemetery in Detroit—Timothy's will even specified that location—it would seem logical to look for Mary's burial in that same place. However, in a quick search through Find A Grave, no less than thirty seven women with that name were buried there, including one whose husband was named Timothy. Careful cross-checking, however, revealed that even that tempting possibility needed to be ruled out.

It was possible to narrow the date range for the death of our Mary. She was still among the living in time for the 1880 census, which showed her living in a household that included her as-yet-unmarried son Jeremiah and her daughter Mary. Yet, none of the Mary Sullivans who died after that point—within a reasonable age, of course—seemed to match our Mary's details: widow, born in Ireland any time from 1810 to 1815.

There was one aberration that I stumbled upon, in trying to learn a bit more about Mary. It was a notice inserted in the proceedings of her husband's probate. After her son Cornelius had been appointed as executor of his father's will in 1871, and following the process of attempting to sell his father's properties to settle his debts, there was an insertion in the court's records on August 31 of 1872.

Mary Sullivan the widow of said deceased this day appeared in Court presented to the court her written renunciation of the will of her said husband and of her election under the statute which was duly filed


And just like that, widow Mary Sullivan renounced her legal right to benefit from her inheritance—an option also called a disclaimer of interest. Why would a woman of her age in a time like that choose to do so? There had to be a compelling reason, but try as I might, I could find no trail to follow. 

One guess might be that she had chosen to marry again, but being able to insure that we found the record of the right Mary Sullivan in such a situation would be so challenging that we need to remember to go back to our original research goal for tracing this family: the hope that following the line of one DNA match back to Ireland would help us pinpoint the specific location in County Kerry where the whole family originated. 

Though it seems unlikely that we'll achieve our goal with this latest twist and otherwise disappearance of Mary, we do have another recourse in our quest to trace that original Falvey line: another set of DNA matches. This time, though, the matches lead us far from Detroit, to a town in Massachusetts where the roots of two DNA matches immigrated in the late 1800s. Perhaps with this second attempt, we'll find more complete records to lead us back home to Irish soil.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Weather or Not :
Keep the Progress Coming


The heat wave is gone. The smoke is gone. Even the clouds that we couldn't see, hidden above the smoke, are gone. The sun is out, and suddenly, I can think more clearly again. Perhaps fall being just a couple days away isn't such a bad thing, after all.

In the meantime, what do I have to complain about? It's time for my biweekly research checkup, and it turns out that being cooped up indoors with two air filters running constantly (in addition to my air conditioner) has a positive side: I got a lot more genealogical busy work done than I had counted on.

Let's see: 234 names added to my mother's tree, and another sixty to my mother-in-law's tree. I even managed to add one more name to my father-in-law's tree, although it was a speculation calculated to induce Ancestry's Thru-Lines to come up with some relationship suggestions. I am, after all, still stumped with my father-in-law's great-grandparents, John Kelly and Johanna Falvey; I'll try every DNA match trick I can find.

The extra sixty names added to my mother-in-law's tree was penance done over my realization, two weeks ago, that I haven't been evenly distributing my research duties among the four family trees I'm constructing—so I deliberately chose to allot some time this past week specifically to spruce up her tree. And it helps to know I am attending to a variety of branches that need attention.

Even though my most recent research project is technically aligned with my father-in-law's tree, that's precisely where I am stuck. No forward motion means no progress, and thus no increasing numbers, despite hours and hours of work. I'm on the verge of putting a hold on the project and waiting until someone unearths more Irish documents that include our County Kerry kin. But I'll hold fast on this challenge for one more sequence.

Though it is really completeness and thorough research that we are after, it does help to keep tabs on tallies. It does show that we are making progress—something which, in and of itself, can encourage further forward movement. That said, right now, my mom's tree includes documentation for 23,384 individuals. My mother-in-law's tree is nearly as robust, including 19,163. While my father's tree is still tiny, at 716 names, and my father-in-law's tree has only 1,813, there will be a time scheduled this fall to focus specifically on those branches. There are some DNA matches waiting in the wings to be carefully considered and entered in their rightful place in the extended family diagram. After all, we wouldn't want a lopsided family tree, all focused on only one branch.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Off the Shelf: Non Obvious Megatrends


Perhaps a book designed to help business leaders capitalize on emerging trends might not be exactly the prescription for genealogists stymied in the search through history's pile of papers for that missing third great-grandmother's maiden name. But stay with me here. I've spent a lifetime learning to think differently, and while it often branded me as weird or offbeat, it does inform a researcher who is otherwise muddling through unanswerable questions. I've finally found a different drummer who put that beat I've been marching to into words: Rohit Bhargava's Non Obvious Megatrends.

Face it: when we think exactly like the next guy, we come up with answers exactly like the conclusions that didn't work for everyone else. What's needed is some guidance on honing our question-asking abilities. Even though this book answers questions for people in vastly remote fields from genealogy, we may be able to cross-apply the author's suggestions to problem solving in family history brick walls.

It may all come down to the types of questions we try to ask when we are stumped with an ancestor's identity. Yes, there are set details genealogists seek to unearth—but when those documents are missing, then what?

In the business world, author Rohit Bhargava starts out with the concept of "mindset"—but he doesn't stop there. He observes, "some people are able to see what others miss while others remain stuck doing things the way they always have."

Pretty rudimentary, admittedly. But after a decade of studying the thought processes of business leaders and creatives worldwide, he came up with five skills the best and brightest seem to hold in common. From that, his advice:

  • Be observant: see what others miss
  • Be curious: always ask why
  • Be thoughtful: take time to think
  • Be elegant: craft beautiful ideas
  • Be fickle: learn to move on

To start with, Bhargava recommends that you train yourself:

to pay attention to the little things. What do you see about a situation that other people are missing?

Isn't that what we need to do when the usual genealogical resources elude us? How many times do we need to think outside the box in order to infer the genealogical answers that aren't conveniently handed to us in a digitized, searchable website collection?

While the bulk of the book does focus on what it promised to deliver—Bhargava's techniques for discerning upcoming megatrends—there are several concepts embedded within the pages of this book to inspire new approaches to solving research problems, even in genealogy.

The author brings up the idea of the "Curse of Knowledge." A term first coined by economists in 1989, the concept describes the difficulty sometimes experienced by subject experts when explaining a complex concept to novices. If we find we know a great deal about a particular subject, that fact itself may hold us back by keeping us from thinking outside the box of our own expertise. Bhargava's remedy? Learn to see the world through others' unfamiliar eyes, learn to "ask questions constantly," and "consume content and experiences that fuel your curiosity and make you think."

While the concept behind this advice is the author's observation that "the unfamiliar opens our mind and helps us become more innovative," his method—read magazines you wouldn't normally read—can be easily adapted to our genea-blogging universe. Stuck on an Irish research problem? Why not read a blog post by an Irish genealogist on how she handles research in her own country? It certainly has, for instance, opened my eyes to more possible approaches to my usual brick wall dilemmas, and has taught me to think outside my American research box.

The author had me with his observation on what he calls "wandering." He is a proponent of meandering through the unfamiliar and then cross-applying it to our own situation. Though I can't blame him for my penchant for disappearing down research rabbit holes, how wonderful it feels to have a thinker like this validate my own experience:

The unfamiliar opens our mind and helps us become more innovative. Wandering helps us approach those experiences without a rigid agenda.

Anything to help unhinge those stuck research techniques when they don't produce the answers we seek. Yes, adhere to the proper directives for sourcing and citing our material, but when we can't find the answer writ bright in black and white, we need to have the courage to explore other resources innovatively, and then construct our reasonable proof argument. This book provides the advice to develop that thinking mindset.


Friday, September 18, 2020

A Will, But No Way


If the newspaper reports at the end of life for the two successful Sullivan brothers, James and Jeremiah, neglected the opportunity to wax eloquent about the two self-made men and their Irish heritage, perhaps if we take a step backwards to the generation of their immigrant father, we might glean a bit more information about their heritage.

Timothy Sullivan, according to census records, had been born in Ireland any time between 1807 and 1813. Based on the birth dates of the two Sullivan children bridging the gap between life in County Kerry and life in Michigan, the Sullivan family could have arrived in North America no earlier than 1848, nor later than 1852.

While all those dates are devised from reports in various census records, one thing about Timothy Sullivan was sure: his eldest son, Cornelius, showed up at court in the county of Oakland, Michigan, on behalf of his mother and siblings, to present his father's will on September 9, 1871.

There were no surprises in the listing of names of the interested parties—although, given our difficulties determining Timothy's origin in County Kerry, I halfway hoped there were. Wish as I might for any clues to lead us back home to Ireland, though, this is what we learn about the family in 1871.

Gone was son John, who likely died before the 1870 census, where his name was already missing. In no particular order, the remainder of the family was listed: Timothy's widow Mary, his sons James, Timothy, Jeremiah, and the petitioner, Cornelius; and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. No mention of any other relatives, though Timothy did specify his wish that $2,000 be set aside by his family for a charitable donation to an unspecified cause.

Cornelius, acting on behalf of his family, was appointed to settle the estate. In the process, it was determined that his father's accounts were not sufficient to satisfy the debts against them, and Cornelius was authorized to sell off his father's various properties in and around Detroit.

By August of the next year—introducing note of a procedure for which I wish we could read between the lines—Cornelius' mother, widow of the deceased Timothy, presented to the court "her written renunciation of the will of her said husband and of her election." That being given on August 31, 1872, and "duly filed," the record drops off with the turn of the page, leaving us to wonder, despite realizing we were not going to glean the details we first had come to find, what turn of events that might have signified.

Another search. Perhaps, another unproductive lead. But one we can't just not follow.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Going, Going, Gone


What can be learned about our ancestors from hundred-year-old newspaper reports? In some unfortunate instances, barely anything.

Take this example of how, in four chances to provide useful information, the local newspaper failed to say much of substance concerning the family of one of the city's well-known businessmen.

In the afternoon edition of The Detroit Times on Friday, June 7, 1912, the paper noted on its front page: "James Sullivan Ill With Appendicitis." Most of us having suffered through such an attack would probably have been better suited, had that news not been noised abroad by the local newspaper, thank you very much. But this was James Sullivan, founder of the Sullivan Packing Company of Detroit, thus apparently a successful businessman.

The article didn't provide much further information—not, at least, what a genealogical researcher might have been seeking. After the headline, the brief article shared more personal information, including that he:

was reported, Friday morning, to be resting easily after a good night in Harper hospital. He submitted to an operation for appendicitis late Thursday, and complications that ensued made his condition so serious that not even members of his family were permitted to see him.

That family, incidentally, would include his wife Catherine who, as a former Falvey, is the likely DNA connection that links my husband, through his own Falvey second great-grandmother, to descendants of this line. While I have yet to identify the most recent common Falvey ancestor in either of their trees, the only detail I'm gleaning from this series of articles on Catherine's husband James is the very public sharing of his most personal medical conditions.

That, however, was not all. There was an update in the same paper, the very next day. After the previous afternoon's cliff-hanger, The Detroit Times was quick to inform their reading public that

James Sullivan...was reported, Saturday morning, by the hospital authorities, to have passed a good night with normal temperature obtaining.

Don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet, for ten days from that brief news report, The Detroit Times cut to the chase with the abrupt headline: "James Sullivan to be Buried Wednesday." Other than the barest of details, the straightforward paragraph failed to supply those important details a family historian would be seeking, a century after the fact. The newspaper declared him to be fifty six years of age, and revealed that he had been born in Birmingham, Michigan. Giving the date for the funeral and its location—Saint Leo's Church—followed by burial at Mount Olivet, the article mentioned only that James was survived by "his widow, four daughters and three sons."

As a recap—in case their readers missed that detail about the passing of James Sullivan—on the afternoon following the funeral, The Detroit Times ran another minuscule insertion on the front page of its June 19, 1912, edition. Under the heading, "James Sullivan Buried," the article recapped the morning's events, taking care to list the names of all eight of the active pallbearers, but again saying not one word about who the bereaved family members might have been. Different times, different world. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"A Great Expert in This Line"


Our Irish immigrant ancestors may have arrived on America's eastern shores, penniless and starving, but that didn't keep them from employing a native cleverness to advance their cause in the years ahead. And that may be a fortunate thing for those of us researching our roots, for the successful sometimes garner more public attention than the merely destitute.

As for our Sullivans in Detroit, any detail which could serve to connect them with their specific homeland—wherever it might have been in County Kerry—has escaped our notice. So far. But the glimmer of a hint that some of Timothy and Mary Sullivan's sons rose above their humble beginnings has me hoping for a breakthrough with a different resource: newspapers.

While the newspaper-issued obituaries and memorials of past centuries sometimes lacked for the specific details a genealogist seeks, they did, however, sometimes provide a more colorful portrait of the deceased. Perhaps as a last resort, let's look at what can be found about that Sullivan family we've been researching in Detroit, Michigan.

My first discovery of the possibility that the Sullivan sons might have achieved some success was when I found the first notice of Timothy Sullivan's fifth-born son's passing. Jeremiah, born about four years after the Sullivan family arrived in Michigan, had been the next to youngest child in the family—until baby brother Peter died as a young boy.

Jeremiah appeared in his family's household as a four year old in 1860 and, predictably, as a fourteen year old in 1870. Long before the 1880 census, though, Jeremiah and his entire family was faced with the loss of their father, as according to his will, Timothy died on September 3, 1871.

Perhaps it was such a start in adulthood that Jeremiah received from his apparently successful farming father that could explain my next encounter with Jeremiah: a notice of his own passing. It was a modest insertion in the death notices in The Detroit Free Press on Thursday, May 10, 1923, that provided a clue that Jeremiah had met with quite a bit of success in the years since his father's passing.

SULLIVAN—May 3rd, at his winter home, Sawtelle, California: Jeremiah, beloved husband of Myrtle Sullivan, son of the late Timothy and Mary Sullivan, dear brother of Timothy Sullivan, Mrs. John Gleason and the late Cornelius and James Sullivan. Funeral Friday morning from his residence....

While the listing of family members might have sufficed some researchers, one word caught my eye: "his winter home." Despite living in California myself, I had no clue where Sawtelle was, and had to attend first to my insatiable curiosity. That taken care of, the next order of research business was to learn something more about this Jeremiah. What had he devoted his life to that provided the liberty to maintain a second home more than two thousand miles from his main residence?

Further searching didn't reveal much, though I did encounter a black and white version of his likeness in a news article in that same day's edition of the newspaper. Under the heading, "Packer who Died in West, Buried Here," the only additional details provided were the accolades heaped upon the recently departed: "one of the pioneers in the meat packing industry in Michigan," and that he was associated with the Sullivan Packing company "since its incorporation."

The next day, under the "Market Notes" section of the paper, a long article reviewed Jeremiah Sullivan's business accomplishments, including that he was in "the live stock business," specializing in buying hogs from various midwestern cities and shipping to Buffalo. According to the notes in The Detroit Free Press, he was "a great expert in this line" and "one of the best known men in the live stock business in the state of Michigan."

He had worked in partnership with his brother James—husband of the Falvey connection I'm tracing—but the news mentioned that that partnership had been dissolved at the time of James' passing.

Thus, while this series of newspaper articles on Jeremiah Sullivan didn't wax as poetic as I might have hoped, when it came to the opportunity to say where his parents originated (as some other such obituaries have done in this time period), it did direct me to look one step further: to any news reporting for the other partner in this Sullivan family business, Jeremiah's older brother James.    


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Different Records, Conflicting Realities


We can always hope, can't we, that the record of our ancestors' foreign-born siblings might lead us back home to the village from which they began their immigrant journey. Chances are really good, however, that no matter how hard we struggle with the possibilities to bring our Sullivans back home to Ireland, we will come up empty-handed.

There is a good reason for this: while many Irish church records have recently been digitized and posted online, there are still many more which are, so far, unaccounted for. Apparently, that includes the four Irish-born children of County Kerry residents Timothy and Mary Sullivan: Cornelius, John, Mary, and Elizabeth.

Of course, it would help to have a correctly-spelled maiden name for Mrs. Sullivan. Depending on which record we use, her maiden name was either a spelling variant of Monaghan or Minahen. Of all their Irish-born children, the only one I could find back in County Kerry might have been Elizabeth. According to the U.S. Census for 1860, Elizabeth was born around 1848. I could find one Irish baptismal record for an Elizabeth Sullivan, daughter of Timothy, baptised in August of 1847, but her mother's name was listed as Moynihan. Not quite the same.

Then, there was an Elizabeth, daughter of Timothy Sullivan, baptised in County Kerry at a date much closer in agreement with that census report—May of 1849—but while her mother's name was indeed Mary, the surname was not even close to Monaghan. It was Herlihy. Not a likely candidate, despite appearing in the parish records for Kilcummin, a locale featured in my searches for the Sullivans' shirttail relatives who later connected to my Kelly and Falvey lines.

The same story developed as I searched for those other Irish-born Sullivan offspring. Not much to find, when looking at records back in Ireland. So what about looking forward and relying on another record set to answer my question about their origin? Taking a look at the death certificates I could locate for any of Timothy and Mary Sullivan's children, I came face to face with another drawback to relying on death certificates: people say the most unpredictable things when faced with the stress of losing a loved one. The last thing anyone is thinking of, at that point, is correctly reporting the maiden name of the deceased's mother.

Case in point: these discoveries that can be found for the Sullivan descendants. The drawback in locating any information subsequent to the death of Timothy Sullivan's eldest—son Cornelius, born in County Kerry about 1842—was that he died at a fairly young age. At the time of his death in Michigan in 1877 of "d[r]opsey of the heart," his parents were named, thankfully, but his and their location of birth was simply noted as Ireland. And even though I've seen some ornate memorials placed at the grave sites of those who died during this era, Cornelius Sullivan's marker did not gush on, when it came to stating place of birth.

Looking to some of his siblings who lived to a much later age, even then the revelations are straightforward. Cornelius' brother James, the second of his siblings who were American-born, had the straightforward report of both parents—with Mary's name shown as Minahen—born in Ireland. No help there. Same for their sister Mary, in whose 1931 death certificate her mother was listed as Monaghan, but both parents were stated to be born, simply, in Ireland.

Despite the misfortune of every Sullivan, so far, following exactly the stated protocol of such reporting requirements, it always pays to look a little further. As it turned out, there were a couple other Sullivan descendants who could not restrain themselves from stating the exact origin of their Sullivan forebears. It is the little reporting errors such as these which inspire me to keep looking. And it is their continuance, in like manner, to buck the system that turns out to aggravate me no end.

Recall that while eldest Sullivan son Cornelius died at a young age, he did not die childless. We are gifted—well, at least partially—by the reports on the death certificates of two of Cornelius' own children. Keep in mind that, even though these are death certificates for Cornelius' children, each of those documents were required to also report where those decedents' father was born. Thus, we glean the following for Irish-born Cornelius from two of his children's death certificates.

From Cornelius' youngest child, son Timothy Paul Sullivan, who was not quite three years of age when his father died, we gain the following.


It is the little gifts like this which seem to help our research cause so much. Here, on this son's record, we gain the report that his father—the elder Timothy Sullivan's firstborn son Cornelius—was born in Killarney, Ireland.

On the other hand, with young Timothy's sister Elizabeth, we see the following about Cornelius from her 1928 death certificate:


Same Cornelius, different reality. Just the opposite of what was given in her brother's document, this one has her father the American-born parent—in Pontiac, Michigan—and her mother born in Ireland. So much for the "gift" of Elizabeth's brother's certificate, showing their mother being the one born in the states—in that case, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. If we find reversals like this, how certain can we be in that report about the Sullivan origin being in Killarney?

What does that say about the people those Sullivans left behind? Could the fact that Timothy Paul Sullivan himself once served as an undertaker boost our confidence to rely on his family members to uphold the career-based care he surely had to take with records, himself? Or, checking to see who the reporting party was in each case, does this tell us anything about whether women or men tend to provide more reliable answers? Or that sons would remember less about their deceased mother's origin than they might about their father? 

In looking for any records of the Sullivan family's origin, whether factually accurate or more wistfully fanciful, I can't simply accept that report about their origin being in Killarney. After all, I ran across that same situation in Johanna Falvey's own obituary. Johanna, the one who started this whole research chase, had family who declared she was from the "Lakes of Killarney"—a romantic notion, but not necessarily accurate. It may be possible that the same dynamic was operating here with this other family from County Kerry. A lot of people may have heard reports about Killarney, but hardly anyone could pinpoint with accuracy any locations with names such as Firies or Kilcummin.

There is, however, one more avenue to explore. As it turns out, some of the Sullivan children turned out to become successful businessmen in their own right. With success comes wider networks, and thus, higher possibilities of being featured in articles in newspapers—perhaps, even, meriting a wordy obituary or two. We'll take a look at what we can find on that front, tomorrow. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Sullivans: Let's Try This Again


Why, considering the prevalence of a surname like Sullivan—especially coming from County Kerry—would I attempt finding the ancestors of someone with a name like that, if it wouldn't even be the line of the family I'm seeking? Because the name I am seeking—Falvey or O'Falvey—is nearly as popular, back in the Irish county of the family's origin. Remember that five-fingered fit into the genealogical glove? I'm going for a perfect ten: one hand for Sullivan, the other for Falvey. Perhaps combining two common names—and adding all facets of their specific families—I will sort the right Sullivans and Falveys from the misleading ones.

It's a descendant in this particular Sullivan-Falvey line who happens to be a DNA match through my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey. All twenty nine puny centiMorgans this DNA match has in common with my husband fit into just one tiny segment, but it's enough to pique my interest in tracing this match's ancestry to see whether those roots lead me back to the relatives of our own Johanna Falvey from County Kerry.

While this match's Falvey ancestor was born in the United States—shortly after her family arrived in Michigan in the early 1850s—at least I have been able to glean her siblings' names as well as the same detail for her husband. It is, in fact, on account of her husband that I'm even trifling with those frustrating Sullivan kin again at all. It was their family story, you see, which mirrored Catherine Falvey's tale almost exactly—except with one helpful key: her husband James Sullivan was part of a family with several older siblings who were born not in America, but back in Ireland. Tracing that line, hopefully, will help me zero in on just the right Falvey connection, as well. So let's take a look at what we can discover about this Sullivan line, once they settled in the farm area outside Detroit, Michigan.

Catherine Falvey, born in Detroit about 1853, according to the subsequent census record in 1860, was the second-born child of immigrants Daniel and Mary Falvey. In due time, she married James Sullivan, second child born into the Sullivan family after their arrival in Detroit, but all told, sixth child of Timothy and Mary Sullivan.

Because of extensive records left behind by each of the Sullivan children, it was not hard to gather that James Sullivan's mother's maiden name was something like Monaghan—the spelling varied according to which report was given for her children's own death records. But finding any records of what became of James' father, Timothy, was more of a challenge. As you can imagine, Timothy was a popular given name to attach to that ubiquitous Sullivan surname, and the possible options for his own death record didn't leave enough information to clinch the right one.

Along with Mary Monaghan, though, Timothy Sullivan gave the world at least four children who were born in Ireland—two sons and two daughters. Their oldest they named Cornelius, born approximately 1842, thus providing us a possible clue to determine his parents' own wedding date. Following Cornelius, the couple baptised son John around 1844. After that, they welcomed in two daughters: Mary in 1846 and Elizabeth in 1848, after which point the family made arrangements to leave Ireland for a new continent.

An additional benefit of having the first four Sullivan children born in Ireland is that we can be slightly more sure that the family might have adhered to the traditional Irish naming pattern. From this, we can garner the notion that Timothy's own father might have been named Cornelius, and that his mother might have been Elizabeth. This, however, will be only modestly helpful in locating any further information on Timothy's own birth, as his age given in later census records leads us to believe he was born any time from 1802 to 1813, an era from which not many Irish baptismal records survived.

However, if we are fortunate—and that is a big if—at least one of these children of Timothy and Mary Monaghan Sullivan will appear in Irish Catholic baptismal records, leading us back to their point of origin in County Kerry. 


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Who do you Think you are This Time? has updated their ethnicity estimates once again. Those estimates and the tools with which they are developed are, as Ancestry likes to put it, "constantly evolving." While many of my students seem genuinely amazed—or dismayed, as the case may be—at what their DNA results reveal about who they should think they are, some of them seem to have a hard time grasping one key detail: those results are simply estimates. Scientifically calculated, yes, but still estimates.

Still, I was curious to see what the updated results would yield for my own account. I wasn't really impressed with the last version. While I still have much to learn, for instance, about my mystery paternal grandfather's origins, I have been able to come to the conclusion that if he wasn't, after all, Polish like his wife, his was still a heritage from somewhere east of Germany. Yet, the last AncestryDNA version slighted his percentage, no matter where it should have been placed.

With this latest update, it is encouraging to see the increase in number of reference populations. When AncestryDNA first launched, their offering included populations representing a meager twenty two regions. Now, they compare customers' DNA with samples from more than one thousand regions worldwide. Their reference panel includes nearly forty five thousand DNA samples which "divide the world" into seventy overlapping groups, as demonstrated in this chart provided in Ancestry's explanation of reference panels.

Unlike other bloggers who were keen to compare before-and-after snapshots—I'm thinking of you, Randy Seaver, as well as my Canadian go-to resource at Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections, John D. Reid—I was not quick to snatch a screen cap of the results that were replaced. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance to the former estimate—out with the old, in with the new! 

In case you don't share my sour grapes attitude, you can always recapture your former stats by following this advice from Ancestry

  • Go to your AncestryDNA home page
  • On the "DNA Story" box on the left of the screen, click on "Discover Your DNA Story"
  • On the top right of the next "Ethnicity Estimates" screen, click "Learn More About This Update"
  • On the next screen, click "View previous estimate"

You can download the previous numbers in a .pdf version, if you wish, by clicking on that option on the last screen of the series listed above. Don't delay, though; the previous numbers will be available to you for ninety days following rollout of your updated estimates. Hopefully, though, you'll find the newer estimates far more agreeable to your own research.


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Now Indexing:
More U.S. Naturalization Records


Finally! It's back to indexing digitized documents again, and it feels so good to find something I can work on. Incredibly, I haven't been able to do any volunteer indexing since last July when, coincidentally, I worked on the same record set I'm tackling right now.

"Tackling" is probably too harsh a word to use for this session. Once again, it was the U.S. Naturalization Records I was indexing—and again, from New Jersey, close enough to perhaps help some shirttail relatives of my New York City immigrant kin. This time, though, the dates were more recent—in 1941—and the records I was viewing benefited from the use of such modern conveniences as the manual typewriter. Oh bliss! No more struggles with impossible handwriting!

While I skipped my monthly tour of duty in August, mostly due to a combination of stressors here at home in drought-stricken, fire-ridden California, the other reason I just couldn't sit and concentrate on any indexing tasks was that, for some reason, the choices for projects seemed too complicated, or different, or not in alignment with my own research goals. After all, my selfish reason for helping with the FamilySearch Indexing Projects is to help make more documents searchable in the areas where I'm already researching. See? I have not one altruistic bone in my body; I'm afraid I'm too cold and calculating for that.

Indexing does require a volunteer to invest time in absorbing a sizeable amount of instruction on how to handle any given record set. Thus, it is far more efficient for a volunteer to focus on the same type of record set, once those instructions have been absorbed. That way, rather than taking even more time to read yet another set of instructions, one can blast through batches after batches of documents without the down time investment.

For motivation, though, I find I am more keen to help out if I know I am also furthering my own cause. Since many of my direct line immigrant ancestors came through the port of New York City, I like indexing immigrant records in that vicinity. However, it does my heart good to see the wide variety of immigrants coming into our country from so many locations. All ages, all origins—it is fascinating to read the details on who these people were and where they came from. I often wonder what their stories must have been, whatever it was that caused the upheaval that prompted them to leave home and family to come to a new land with a strange language. There is something about the stories of immigrants that is so compelling to me.

For this time, I spent my brief tour of voluntary duty documenting the arrivals of young and old from places familiar—like England or Ireland—and not so familiar, like the farther reaches of war-torn eastern Europe. Hopefully, when I return to my task next month, there will be more of the same to tackle, which I'll gladly take the opportunity to continue processing. So many records yet to complete!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Kate's Sullivan Beau


When we research the relatives we've never met—those ancestors whose life story ended long before our own time—we need to take care that we don't superimpose our assumptions about everyday living upon people whose reality didn't include telephones or cars, let alone computers. When we think of alarm clocks, we need to think more along the lines of roosters or hungry cows in the barn. And when we think of weddings, we most likely need to think "arranged" more than star-crossed.

Thus, despite my dismay in discovering that the ancestor of my husband's Falvey DNA match was married to yet another Sullivan, there may be a silver lining in that surname challenge. Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason Catherine Falvey married another Michigan-born child of Irish immigrants wasn't because they fell in love in high school. Perhaps it was because Catherine's family once knew James Sullivan's family back in County Kerry, Ireland.

That, of course, would be the optimal outcome. Then, I could trace yet another Sullivan line and hope it would lead me to the townland these folks once called home. In the meantime, though, we need to paper our trail back home with solid documents to support our case.

Here's why James Sullivan's circumstances have such a tempting draw on me. For one thing, we can find him in the 1860 census records, just as we did for Catherine Falvey's family. There he was, with his seven siblings, all living with their Irish-born parents Timothy and Mary Sullivan in the former township of Greenfield, Michigan, now part of Detroit.

Unlike Catherine Falvey's family, however, not all of James' siblings were born in Michigan. For some reason, Timothy and Mary stayed in Ireland long enough to bring four of their children into the world: eldest son Cornelius, second son John, and daughters Mary and Elizabeth. It was after Elizabeth's arrival around 1848 but before the birth of their fifth child Timothy, about 1851, that we can mark the family's arrival in North America.

While having the names of four Irish-born Sullivans may help me isolate that family constellation back in Ireland, the pattern of their immigration makes me wonder yet something else: could it be that they came to Detroit specifically because they had other family or near neighbors already settled in Detroit area? Or, seeing the Falveys' own family pattern in the 1860 census—their first child after their arrival here was also born in Michigan in 1851—could it be that the Sullivans and Falveys traveled together from Ireland?

I'm eyeing research cues such as these for one unfortunate reason: though it is clear that Catherine Falvey's father was named Daniel Falvey, I've already discovered that it will be a challenge to trace him back from his adopted home in Detroit to his origin in Ireland. Though I can find news on Daniel Falvey's family in America, there is not much to go by, once we jump back to the place where life began for that earlier generation of Falveys. Once again, my hope rests on finding details about yet another Sullivan family—one which, hopefully, guided the marriage of their son to a Falvey daughter for reasons beyond our modern-day approach to weddings.  

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