Saturday, October 31, 2020

Zoom is not a Bicycle Built for Two


Years ago—alright, nearly a lifetime—I had a college friend who thought it smart to make his way around town on a moped. On occasion, he would invite me to join him at events just far enough removed from campus as to make his option of transportation a shared necessity.

I realize hardly anyone has a word like "moped" on their lips nowadays, so just think of it as a bicycle built for two—only no one is pedaling. The economical advantage of that mode of transportation may have been the only benefit it offered, I discovered after only one ride-sharing experience. I clearly was not cut out for being a back seat passenger on such a device. I wanted to lean into a curve earlier and farther than my driver would have preferred.

Let's just say I cultivated a far more charitable attitude toward the motivation of back seat drivers.

That was then, this is now, and I am far removed from that episode in Life's vignettes. Still, something happened this past week to cause me to flash back to those white-knuckled moped-riding moments: I conducted yet another Zoom class.

Word of explanation: when I am teaching a session, whether in person in a classroom or online via video conferencing, I often use a combination of live demo of websites plus PowerPoint presentations. The only downside to that option for instruction—as we all have realized, moving into this new era of online contact—is the screen-sharing minimization (to almost zero) of facial and audio input from the audience. This week, I missed that. Like, I really missed that.

Just as I learned, long ago, that everyone's internal balancing system is different, I learned last week that each of us has many different sets of mechanisms through which we take in our world. A week ago, I couldn't have told you how much I rely on input from the micro-expressions of faces in an audience far removed from my stage, but apparently, my radar is now sorely missing that input. When I walk into a Zoom meeting, I feel like I've walked into a room, blind.

How could I have missed that, all my life? How incredible it is that we don't know ourselves any better—or, perhaps, that is only me. But with Zoom on PowerPoint, I am cut off from a lifeline of facial feedback. Those nonverbal signals have no way to complete the message circuit that cues the recipient to make adjustments in pacing, let alone content.

My partners in learning and I have somehow become detached from this symbiotic process, this give and take of education. I can broadcast what I have to say, and as many as care to attend can listen, but though they can speak out with their comments, I am nothing more than a blind witness to the signs on their faces of how they are processing the information. While the partners riding a bicycle built for two are intricately involved in each other's well-being—safety in traffic being the potential hazard that it is—there is no such precarious balancing act on the virtual two way street afforded us by Zoom or other videoconferencing channels.

While I am certainly appreciative of the opportunity to connect in at least this one way—given the current, limited alternatives—I keep puzzling over how, if at all possible, we can bridge that gap of connectivity I didn't even realize I was missing, until I remembered the dance we once had in the up-close-and-personal partnership on a (motorized) bicycle built for two. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Where We're Left Standing


It's been a long journey through all the DNA matches who share both roots in County Kerry, Ireland, and the family surname Falvey. After this whirlwind around-the-world tour, we can at least say we are still left standing, but if so, we stand at a crossroads with our empty research pockets filled with null-set answers. Each ancestral Falvey pointed us back to County Kerry—no matter whether from Massachusetts, Indiana, Michigan, or around the world in New Zealand or the other lands I researched but didn't mention (Canada and Australia)—but not one Falvey descendant could elaborate on just where in County Kerry their family originated.

Nor could I determine that these DNA matches all descended from the same common ancestor. It seemed they clustered into at least three different groups. One group might have an ancestor with a given name Mark or Marcus. Another group may have originated from a Michael. A third group may have been connected to someone named Daniel—although whether each Daniel root was the same as the other by that name, I'm still in doubt.

One observation which gave me pause was the several times in which it seemed other surnames intertwined with these Falveys. On my husband's own Kelly-Falvey nexus, it was the Sullivans who kept appearing among the in-laws. In New Zealand, I wondered about the Barry surname. Cementing that concern was a sequence of correspondence between another New Zealand Falvey researcher and myself, in which this researcher pointed out examples in one tree yielding instances of "double cousins." These family strands keep weaving in and out of the pedigree picture.

To look at the DNA results for all the Falvey matches, that may be evident, just from observing how many segments were shared between some of the matches and my husband or his siblings. Some matches, even at relatively larger centiMorgan counts (up to about eighty five), were contained within just one sole segment. Others seemed to share genetic material in three separate segments.

With the possibility of repeated intermarriage—instances of "pedigree collapse"—it is sometimes more likely, within a given total centiMorgan count, to see a higher number of what turn out to be smaller segments of shared genetic material. Indeed, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy observes:

the common historical tendency to marry those within walking distance, due to the relative immobility of the population before modern transport, meant that most marriage partners were at least distantly related.

While that observation may hold for remote islands in far-flung locations, it is a perfect explanation for social interaction between those of our Irish ancestors of marriageable age in Ireland, and not unlikely in the earliest years of British settlement in New Zealand, as well. Perhaps the constant reappearance of specific surnames in the Falveys' timelines, no matter where the founding immigrants landed, is a telltale sign that, at least for our Falvey matches who share more than one segment, there was indeed repeated intermarriage of families.

With that, we have to realize that pedigree collapse can tamper with the typical assumptions in genetic genealogy: that shared genetic material halves with each step we take away from the founding generation. While it may be true that we share half of our father's genetic inheritance, and thus our children claim approximately one quarter of that same man's genes, pedigree collapse seems to amplify certain parts of that chromosomal inheritance. Thus what seems, by the numbers, to be a third cousin match, by virtue of intermarriage, may be a cousin much farther removed than we assumed.

If that is the case with our Falvey cousins, the most recent common ancestors may be a farther stretch than the reach back through the generations we had originally assumed.

In the meantime, as I set aside this Falvey DNA puzzle in the hopes that further Irish documentation may materialize in future years, I have to remember that, with the close of this month, only two more remain in which to attend to those New Year research resolutions I had set for myself. I need to move to the last set of surnames to squeeze into these two remaining, holiday-laden months.

With that, we'll begin anew with some ancestors from my mystery paternal grandfather's roots: Anna Zegarska and her husband, who might or might not have been named Thomas Puchała. While the amount of time devoted to struggling with those two identities has not yielded me much in past years, perhaps one more try will be worth the effort.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Quest for Collateral


When stuck on the line of a direct ancestor, a suggested work-around is to examine what can be found on that individual's collateral lines—the lines of siblings or other relatives. Our quest seeking the roots of our many Falvey-surnamed DNA matches has led us from Ireland to New Zealand to, in this instance, the in-laws of Mary Falvey O'Leary.

Apparently, some people's obituaries are more equal than that of others. For all the accolades we could find for Mary Falvey's spouse Humphrey O'Leary in New Zealand newspapers, there are comparatively few for the father-in-law of his daughter, an immigrant by the name of Garrett Barry. So much for my idea of tracing that Barry connection back to Ireland, where a possible baptismal record for Humphrey also included a mention of that second surname, Barry.

Still, for the record—and since I went through the steps to find this—here's what we can learn about the direct line of a DNA match whose Falvey ancestor was connected by marriage to relatives with that Barry surname.

The nexus is Mary and Humphrey O'Leary's daughter Ellen. The third of the O'Leary daughters, Ellen was generally known by the nickname Nellie. In 1914, Nellie said "I do" to a young man by the name of Patrick James Barry—that Barry surname echoing the name of a sponsoring relative named in a possible baptismal record of the bride's own father, back in County Kerry. Could Nellie have married a cousin? Could that connection help us confirm whether we had identified the right record? 

From her untimely death in 1937, we can glean from Ellen O'Leary Barry's several obituaries the details of her life. For one, we can verify that we are indeed talking about the right Nellie Barry, for her siblings are mentioned in reports of her death. Other details of her history come out in, for instance, this 23 August, 1937, insertion in the Wairarapa Daily Times, which mentioned that the late forty seven year old woman was once a "noted Wairarapa hockey player" active in many tournaments with her champion team.

For our genealogical purposes, though, we are keenly interested in any listing of her children, and find them in an obituary dated that same day in the Manawatu Herald: surviving were daughters Joan, Molly, and Helen, plus sons Frank and Pat. But for our pursuit of the origin of that Barry connection, we need to push still further.

A Foxton cemetery transcription shows us not only the inscription for Nellie's headstone, but indicates that a contiguous plaque provides the date of death for her husband, Patrick James Barry, in 1950. That later date, of course, makes it difficult to obtain any records or even newspaper reports, but there were still some details I could glean on the Barry family tree. 

Let's see what can be found for the new son-in-law of Humphrey O'Leary. Turning to New Zealand birth records, which fortunately are available for the beginning of his life's story, we discover that Nellie's husband, Patrick James Barry, was born to Hannah and Garrett Barry in 1883. That documentation of a New Zealand birth, of course, requires us to push back another generation before we can find the Barry family's origin in Ireland. 

Unfortunately, I was unable to locate any passenger record for a reasonable date range for the elder Barry, but lack of such record was nearly compensated by the discovery of a mention in a newspaper of Garrett Barry's arrival in New Zealand. Though not as much could be found of newspapers mentioning the senior Barry man, the Marlborough Express on May 10, 1894, reported, following his sudden death, that Garrett Barry had lived in Blenheim in the South Island for the past thirty years, and that he first arrived in Nelson in 1859. His origin in Ireland? No other detail but County Kerry.

Interestingly, the newspaper article also mentioned his brief business partnership with a "Mr. Humphrey O'Leary of Redwoodtown," likely the other Humphrey O'Leary I had found in passenger records. Whether that was strictly business, or a hint of a family connection, I can't tell.

From this point, it was to searches of records in County Kerry in which I tried, in vain, to locate a reasonable document indicating Garrett Barry's own origin. Based on his 1894 death record and mostly brief newspaper reports, he had died at age fifty, pinning his birth date around 1844. Once again, however, tracing a collateral line has failed us in leading to the vicinity of the extended Falvey, O'Leary, and Barry families' origin.

That said, though it may still be possible that Nellie O'Leary chose as her spouse a cousin—if the Barry line were indeed connected to her father's line, back in County Kerry—we have no way to document such a possibility.

With all that exploration, we now need to step back, dust ourselves off, and reassess the research situation. It's possible that, for now, we may need to set aside this pursuit of New Zealand Falvey connections and await further availability of documentation.


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Relentlessly Circling the Drain


Does it seem, in some genealogical tasks of identification, that the effort seems to repeat, ad nauseam, the same iterations with only the slightest of variation? We test one hypothesis, then another ever so slightly updated, and then still another—and are still left with the same doubt. Perhaps this is the fate of anyone attempting to circle the specific family origin of their Irish ancestor.

Yet, with the case of Mary Falvey—whose descendant is a DNA match to my husband, leading us back to County Kerry, Ireland, from Mary's final resting place in New Zealand—she may have left us some sturdy hints with the identity of her own children. If that is so, we may also be able to confirm the identity of her husband's parents through a possible baptismal record for him—Humphrey O'Leary—back in that same County Kerry location.

From Humphrey O'Leary's 1934 obituary, the listing of his surviving sons provides their birth order: John, Joseph, Humphrey, and Mark. While we are unable to place the deceased son Patrick in that sequence, based on what I can find from other online trees—I know, a risky proposition at this point—he may have fallen into line as the second of the sons, between John and Joseph.

As for the daughters in this O'Leary family, their birth order may have been Margaret, Mary, Ellen, Kathleen, Annie, and Ella Josephine—the anonymous "Mrs. J. Brophy," whose given name surfaced after I located her record in the New Zealand database of marriages prior to 1940. I emphasize "may have been" as the previously-deceased daughter Mary was not included in the obituary in birth order.

Now that we have this data laid out in an order we can study, a few details surface. Recall that there were two possible baptismal records I could find for Humphrey O'Leary back in County Kerry, Ireland. One was from a digitized copy of the actual parish record for a son born in December of 1854—a bit late for the details gleaned at the opposite end of this man's life—citing "Dionysii Leary" as the father and Anna Sullivan as his mother, with two "Leary" relatives listed as sponsors. The other baptismal record was a transcription for a Humphrey O'Leary born in September of 1853, agreeing more closely with the date suggested by later reports.

Admittedly, there are difficulties with assuming that our choice lies with one or the other of these two records. The possibility is there that other baptismal records might also have existed at that time for someone with that same name in County Kerry, but which unfortunately did not survive to the present day, or have not yet been included in either scans of documents or transcription projects. Who knows? Perhaps another such record does still exist, but because of abysmal handwriting, the details were incorrectly transcribed or indexed, and thus will not come to our attention without a deeper search. We cannot simply assume there are no other choices.

However, given these two possibilities, we may have enough information solely from the names of Humphrey's own children to deduce which of those baptismal records might be the more reasonable choice. It all comes down to the question of whether Humphrey and Mary, being immigrants in a new land, chose to carry forward to a new world the naming traditions of their Irish origin.

One cannot help but notice that Humphrey's obituary featured as his oldest son a man by the nickname of Jack—typically a substitute for the more formal John. Likewise, the transcribed baptismal record from the parish at Tralee declares the father's name to be John.

Granted, this naming pattern does not always hold fast, as one website devoted to researching Irish ancestors explains. If we turn to the listing of Humphrey's daughters, we now know that the oldest daughter would appropriately receive the name of her mother's mother—which in this case would indicate that Mary's mother was named Margaret, not Humphrey's. And yet, that same article on naming patterns in Ireland explains that sometimes the sequence is set aside for extenuating circumstances; the recent death of a close relative might call for the naming of the next child in that relative's memory.

All that to say, it is not lost upon me that Humphrey's mother's name in that transcribed baptismal record—same as for his oldest daughter—was Margaret.

The other troubling detail about that possible baptismal transcription is that the mother's name is listed as Margaret "Leary," not O'Leary, which would be her married name. Baptismal records generally used a woman's maiden name. Was hers actually Leary? Or was the priest—or the transcriber—in a rush, inadvertently substituting the wrong surname?

Looking at the names of the sponsors to this baptism brings up another question: how are they related to the parents? According to that same Irish naming tradition article, each godparent was either a sibling to one of the parents, or a sibling-in-law. With this Humphrey's sponsors listed as James Barry and Elizabeth Hurley, we wonder how each of these were related to the parents. James Barry would either be the husband of Margaret's sister, or the husband of John's sister, for instance. Likewise, Elizabeth Hurley would need to be an in-law, as her name as given in the record would have used her maiden name.

The curious detail is that, looking back to Humphrey O'Leary's obituary, we spot that same Barry surname echoed in the married name of one of his daughters. Could she have married a cousin? Can we trace the roots of daughter Ellen O'Leary's husband, Patrick James Barry, back to County Kerry, as well?

And, once again, we take another lap around the question of where, exactly, Humphrey O'Leary and his wife Mary Falvey originated. Perhaps, in circling this research problem one more time, we will find a clue to lead us to answers.

Or not. 


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Sketching a Tentative Tree for Mary


When working with DNA matches for whom I only have the vaguest of theories of family connection, I've taken to plugging their founding ancestor in to my family tree—anywhere, just pick a place—and then "detaching" her from the tree. I just need a toe-hold to get started—say, part of the Falvey family branch of the tree—but no choice in the current tree will be quite right.

Having found the obituary—make that several obituaries—for Humphrey John O'Leary, husband of the mystery Mary Falvey who somehow is related to my husband's second great-grandmother Johanna Falvey, we now have a listing of the couple's descendants. Though I am an American researcher stepping tentatively into the world of New Zealand genealogy—Mary's descendant, my husband's DNA match, came from ancestors who immigrated to New Zealand—there are a few similarities in the records we rely on. Thankfully, the birth order listing of children is a common thread between the two countries' obituaries.

Thus, from Humphrey O'Leary's 1934 obituary, we learn that his sons, in likely birth order, were Jack (probably John), Joseph, Humphrey, and Mark, with the already deceased Patrick left out of the sequence. 

Finding the details on Humphrey's surviving daughters was not the same one-step process as for the sons, as each was listed under her own husband's first initial plus married surname. To piece this together took some searching through the New Zealand government's Births, Deaths and Marriages Online website. This, of course, meant that only marriages prior to 1940 would be revealed in this listing—of which I was certain to have no hindrances, given the O'Leary children were all born before 1900.

Then, from those O'Leary women's marriage records, I cross checked names with the birth records, to ensure we had gleaned the daughters of Humphrey and Mary O'Leary and not another O'Leary couple. Based on that two-step process, I determined the following from the married daughters listed in their father's obituary:

  • Mrs. T. Peters was Margaret O'Leary
  • Mrs. P. Barry was Ellen O'Leary, nicknamed Nellie
  • Mrs. A. Ascott was Kathleen Elizabeth O'Leary
  • Mrs. J. McKenna was Annie Agnes O'Leary
  • Mrs. J. Brophy is still unidentified
  • the deceased Mrs. P. Griffin was Mary O'Leary

All but the deceased daughter were listed in order of their age, though when I checked for birth records, Mary appeared to be the second-born of the daughters.

This brings up a couple research questions. First, knowing that Humphrey and Mary were emigrants from County Kerry, Ireland, how likely would it be that they kept their homeland's naming pattern tradition—and if so, can we extrapolate anything from this particular listing? The second question considers the surnames of these spouses: were any of them also born in Ireland? If so, could there be any connection between them and the parents of either Humphrey or Mary?

This latter thought was prompted by my exploration of baptismal records, back in County Kerry. There is, after all, this other hint about baptismal records: that the sponsors for the child were likely siblings or in-laws of either of the child's parents. Could that Barry name from one of Humphrey's daughters be related to the godfather listed for Humphrey, himself? 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Connecting With County Kerry


How hard it seems to be to connect the generations of Irish descendants with their origin in famine-era Ireland. Especially for those with Catholic roots, the question is always there whether records have even survived over the generations—or, for those few which have been preserved as transcriptions, whether the records were accurately reflected in the process.

To search for the Falvey line among our DNA matches has been straightforward on one point: these Falvey ancestors claimed their heritage as County Kerry. But where in County Kerry? For my husband's second great-grandmother, the best we could find was a newspaper article at her passing which credited the location as the Lakes of Killarney. While that may seem helpful, it is nearly useless as such a generic label.

Tracing the generations of my husband's Falvey DNA match in New Zealand—one match of many, though the closest to date of the tests at—I chose not to trace Mary Falvey, the actual ancestor, but her husband, Humphrey O'Leary. There were several reasons for this, not least of which is the difficulty with searching not only a married woman—who most likely would be listed in the few public mentions I'd find as Mrs. H. J. O'Leary—but a woman with a name as common as Mary.

Fortunately, Mary's husband was held in high regard at the time of his 1934 death. Correspondingly, there was much to be gleaned from New Zealand newspapers concerning the man and his personal history. In one memorial, however, I couldn't help but notice a treatment similar to what I had found for our Johanna Falvey in Indiana at the time of her passing: that he was "born near Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland."

There was much to learn about the life of this Humphrey O'Leary from this August 6, 1934, article in the Wairarapa Daily Times. Although the date of arrival in New Zealand given in the newspaper does not agree with the passenger record we've already examined, the Times article also mentioned the age at which Humphrey arrived in New Zealand. Whether we rely on the data provided in the newspaper or that from the passenger record, either combination of dates leads us back to an approximate birth year of 1853.

Now that we have a likely birth date, what are the chances that we can find a baptismal record for this particular Humphrey O'Leary? With a surname like O'Leary, I figured the chance would be slim, indeed, but that didn't stop me from looking.

Just in case everyone had that year of birth miscalculated, I searched with a two year range on either side of the 1853 date extrapolated from Humphrey O'Leary's date of death. Though the baptismal date for one finding—December 9 of 1854—was a bit later than I felt prudent in accepting, it was still within a reasonable range. That digitized record of the actual baptismal entry showed a "Humphreus," son of "Dionysii Leary" and Ann Sullivan—yes, another Sullivan—with sponsors listed as John and Julianna Leary. An encouraging detail was that the baptism occurred in a location in which I've found other family records: Molahiffe.

While not wishing to discard this entry prematurely, I also wanted to see what other records might be available. Although not a copy of the actual parish record, there was a transcription for a baptismal record for another son named Humphrey O'Leary. The entry was copied from the parish record for Tralee, and gave the residence for the family as Cahirleheen (likely a misspelling of Caherleheen, townlands which span two civil districts in County Kerry).

This transcription extrapolated a date of birth—"based on other date information"—as 22 September 1853. The parents were listed as John O'Leary and Margaret "Leary," leaving questions as to whether that was her maiden name or a poorly copied married name. Still, the listing of baptismal sponsors caught my eye. The godparents were listed as Elizabeth Hurly and James Barry.

With the surname Barry, we stumble upon our first sign of what may become yet another difficulty we'll confront with researching the families related to our Falvey line. From Humphrey O'Leary's own obituary, we can see that one of his daughters happened to marry a man by that same surname, Barry. Could that be coincidence? Or did that Barry also arrive in New Zealand from County Kerry, Ireland? It was not unusual for settlers in the early years of colonization in North America to marry cousins; perhaps that was not an unlikely scenario for those emigrants from the British Isles, headed in the opposite direction to the shores of New Zealand. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Thinking About Thinking


I've been busy reading a book about thinking. I've mentioned it before—the Cal Newport volume entitled Deep Work—but like any book which grabs my mind, it inevitably entices that mind to stumble upon and scamper down rabbit trails.

So much for "focused success."

In my defense, I've been mulling over the book's content as the rest of life unfurled itself. Concurrent with the concentration I have been devoting to the book this past week, the opportunity came up to teach two genealogy classes in which I used as case studies some of the articles published at A Family Tapestry in past years. Reviewing the stories I had gleaned so long ago from research reminded me of my intention, years ago, of expanding those details and perhaps publishing them in book form.

For one—the story of a wayward descendant of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, whose international crime spree led that safecracker to be charged with murder—to complete the story would require much more research than I've been able to accomplish from home. Particularly helpful would be the ability to access family letters and recollections from others involved in the case, as well as legal documents from the capital of neighboring Canada. In short, not only would the task require time and travel, but it would require depth of concentration to synthesize the disparate strands of that story.

For the other story—admittedly more charming in content—there is also much more to dig up in resources than I've been able to access so far. Once again, many of those records are retained in a specialized archive collection on the other side of the continent.

Each of these stories, I've been reminded this week, need to be properly told. There's one detail standing between me and such an end goal: concentration. Or, as author Cal Newport might put it, "deep work." As he observes in Deep Work, this 

thinking about thinking points to an inescapable conclusion: To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work.

Likewise, I might add, composing a book weaving the many strands of a person's history would be a task requiring that very level of learning.

What do we do when we are synthesizing the many points in an ancestor's history? Genealogy expects us to correctly document points on a timeline—birth, marriage, death, for instance—but a comprehensive family history must provide a sense of the whole, not just pinpoints and episodes in generation after generation. Our stories can bring to life a multi-dimensional recounting of the subjects of our research. But to discover, condense and deliver the essence of an entire life lived will take the input of many reliable resources, the skillful blending of many themes and variations, and the art of judicious representation—none of which can adequately be delivered without the aid of deep concentration.

It all starts with thinking about thinking. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Diving In:
Can't Swim Without Risking Sinking


When I first came to college—mind you, a trip of over three thousand miles from the only place I ever called home—one of the introductory exercises our small student body was immersed in was an experience which likely wouldn't pass muster in current accreditation circles. In small groups, our newly-arrived freshman class was driven far from the university to a place on the back side of the city's harbor with the instructions: find your way back to the campus any way you can.

We did, obviously, succeed in that challenge. In the meantime, that set of strangers not only mounted a geographical learning curve quickly—we were, after all, teenagers approaching mealtime—but we did it without aid of cell phones, motorized transport, or even maps. We had no idea where we were, or where that location was in relation to our target to complete our task. The way to resolve the issue was to put one foot in front of another while problem-solving our dilemma with our suddenly-new teammates.

We learned, in other words, by doing. By testing out theories, comparing notes, observing what was surrounding us, and adjusting our course based on feedback. But above all, by taking action.

Of course, we ran many risks. But to take no action would be an unacceptable failure. We had no choice but to dive in. Like learning how to swim, we were engaged in a type of learning by doing. And much like swimming, we discovered ways to swim without being taught. But we couldn't have done that without concurrently taking the risk that we might, figuratively, sink.

It's been a week now since I committed to mounting a steep learning curve which, to an American, means exploring a totally foreign world of documents. It's been awkward. It's certainly an experience for which I couldn't just sit and wait for an online class to be developed and offered. I mean, how many customers are out there on my side of the world, clamoring to learn about New Zealand genealogy?

Granted, there are a few details about New Zealand genealogy which may be familiar to the American researcher: that we both speak the same mother tongue, that we both share similar legal and governmental roots, and that we each comprise a composite national heritage which embodies both native and immigrant populations.

From that commonality, the requisites for search techniques in each country go their own separate ways. While I know fairly well how to find the records I need when searching for ancestors in any given state of our Union, I have little to rely on when trying to find my way through document sources in New Zealand. But in the past week of my flailing attempts at delving into the Irish roots of my husband's DNA cousins in New Zealand, I have learned a few things about learning.

The first lesson I've stumbled upon echoes that saying, "It takes a village." Maybe not an entire village, but a helpful genealogical community which is willing to share what they know with others who are just starting out. That can go a long way in helping the new-to-this-region genealogical explorer get on her feet and pointed in the right direction. Resources like Cyndi's List, the end result of people-helping-people by sharing online links, provided the way markers for my first research steps in that far-away country. I'm grateful, also, for other bloggers who were willing to share the resources which helped them the most as, through their writing, they serve as trailblazers for other researchers on the same path.

The second lesson I'm seeing has to do with my thoughts last week on learning by osmosis: sometimes, the only way to learn—especially lacking any official resources we're accustomed to, like instructors and pre-packaged classes—is to jump right in and see what can be seen from the vantage point of that milieu. 

Yep. Just dive into the water and see if you can swim. Once you get over that initial shock of the cold and the wet and get accustomed to what you can see right at eye level, you'll find you can make quite a few discoveries. And you know what? One small discovery leads to another one, until what once seemed a foreign experience sheds its strangeness and takes on a more inviting aura of familiarity. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Far More Than Just a Toe-hold


Newspapers may not always "tell all"—and sometimes can be counted on to get the story wrong—but they often can be relied upon to guide us in our pursuit of family history.

Yesterday, I took the advice given in a comment by reader Lois and tried finding Mary Falvey and her husband Humphrey O'Leary in New Zealand newspapers. Despite Mary being the actual relative connecting my husband with his Falvey DNA matches in New Zealand, I began instead by searching for Humphrey. My reason was simple: women in that era were expected to stay out of the public eye—and even if they were mentioned in newspapers, it was far more likely they would see their given name replaced by their husband's initials.

To ensure that I didn't follow the wrong Mrs. O'Leary, I first oriented myself to reports of the family constellation by searching for her husband's name. Thanks to yesterday's discovery of Humphrey's probate file, we already were advised of his date of death: August 5, 1934. What could be easier than searching the local newspapers around that date to find his obituary?

Sometimes, of course, obituaries are not available in online archives, or cannot be found in print at all. For all I know, speaking from my uninformed point of view as an American mounting the steep learning curve of familiarizing myself with research resources half a world away, perhaps the custom in New Zealand might be to not mention any family members' names at all.

As luck would have it, some of the first entries I found for Humphrey O'Leary following his death seemed to indicate such an unfortunate result. One article waxed on about the many qualities of the deceased, and shared some details about his personal history—but nary a word was offered about his bereaved family. Though we learned that through his many years of public service, he was considered "always a radical in his views" though one with "a heart so large," published eulogies such as the one appearing in the Wairarapa Daily Times just a few days after his death didn't tell the genealogists among us anything we wanted to know.

Fortunately, that August 8, 1934, entry was only one of many. There were entries brief and to the point—such as the blunt death notice printed the day after his passing—and, thankfully, flowery remembrances in an obituary which did not neglect to name at least his descendants.

While his widow remained nameless, we learn that the couple were parents of five sons and six daughters, including a Marist priest and a barrister who later was appointed as King's Counsel. These details will come in handy when we attempt to locate an obituary for the right Mrs. H. J. O'Leary after her own death a few years later.

True to form, though, the many newspaper reports at the passing of Humphrey O'Leary conflicted each other in some of the details researchers like you and I consider important—age, for instance. Depending on the publication, Humphrey was reported to be eighty, eighty two, or "in his eighty third year." Take your choice. And though his arrival in New Zealand was confirmed to be aboard The Ocean Mail, it was said to have arrived in Nelson in 1871—not the 1874 date we located in records—and his age at the time said to be eighteen, not the record's twenty one.

All that said, could a transcribed baptismal record back in County Kerry for a Humphrey O'Leary born about 22 September, 1853, be for the right Humphrey O'Leary? How hard it is to make these connections across oceans and continents.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

One Rood, One Perch,
and Nine Tenths of a Perch


I give, devise and bequeath to my son Michael Joseph O'Leary all that piece of land situate in Bunny Street Masterton containing One rood, One perch and Nine-tenths of a perch....

It is only in family history, I suppose, that we meet people in the most backwards of ways: from the end of life we move toward the beginning. Thus, for one potential Falvey relative who emigrated in the 1870s to New Zealand as a near-invisible female subject of the Dominion, it is through the very end of her husband's life that we gain our first glimpse of this branch of the family.

Mary Falvey, assumed ancestor of one of my husband's DNA matches, must have arrived in the South Island by 1875, for October 30 of that year was when she was married at the Catholic church in Blenheim. Though I have no documentation—yet!—for either of those events, my research collaborator on the New Zealand side of the Falvey family assures me that was the case.

Mary Falvey's intended apparently also hailed from her native County Kerry, back in Ireland—if, that is, I've located the right emigration record. Arriving in the Marlborough region August 17, 1874, on the Ocean Mail, there were actually two men with the same name as that of Mary Falvey's future husband.

One was twenty one year old Humphrey O'Leary, the blacksmith from County Kerry, and the other was nineteen year old Humphrey O'Leary. Not that their surname is making this search any easier for us, but at least the second Humphrey, despite coming from the same county in Ireland, was labeled a mere farm laborer.

Both Humphreys had arrived in Marlborough region as part of an "Assisted Emigration" program and, as can be seen from the record of their arrival, were listed as if they were two in the same party—perhaps relatives?

Finding any record of Mary and whichever Humphrey O'Leary ended up being her husband was challenging. Though there are ample online research opportunities for other regions of the world, not much is available currently to Americans wondering about their distant cousins in New Zealand. 

I did find, however, two possible records for the O'Leary family's oldest child, a daughter our Falvey DNA matches assure me was named Margaret. One was for a birth in Wanganui in the third quarter of 1876. The other followed right afterward, in the fourth quarter of the same year, but was reported in Wairau. Of course, neither transcribed record included the names of parents, and neither location was quite in the region of either Falvey family's later residence. For all I know, neither of these two documents could be the one representing our collateral Falvey line.

So much for my attempt to trace Mary Falvey's life forward through history. Fortunately, there was more to be said about the family of Mary Falvey and Humphrey O'Leary, if we started our search from the end of his life. There, following Humphrey John O'Leary's death on August 5, 1934, his last will was filed in the Wellington Judicial District. 

First encouraging note was to see that the man was clearly labeled as a blacksmith, allowing us to determine which of the two arrivals from County Kerry was the one destined to marry Mary Falvey—who, incidentally, was provided for in her husband's will.

Then, too, the listing of family members, though limited, allows us to connect other names to this family tree of Falvey descendants. According to Humphrey O'Leary's will, there were two other relatives beside his wife whom he wished to name. One, of course, was his son to whom he gave his property, Michael Joseph O'Leary. Though Humphrey and Mary had several children (according to others researching this particular line), only one other name was recorded in Humphrey O'Leary's will: that of his grandson, Edward Humphrey Peters.

With that last record of the husband of our Falvey DNA match's ancestor, we now have a toe-hold to enable us to walk the line of the right Humphrey O'Leary and, by extension, the descendants of a collateral Falvey line which is somehow connected to Falvey descendants in America, as well.


Above: Excerpt from the Assisted Emigration Passenger List to Marlborough, New Zealand, dated 17 August 1874, showing the entries for two single men named Humphrey O'Leary; image courtesy   

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Scoping out the Spots


To scope out the spot where our distant Falvey cousins from Ireland once settled in far away New Zealand, we not only need to familiarize ourselves with the places where they lived, but to follow the timeline of the changes in each location. History has a way of tampering with place names.

Of my husband's DNA matches connected to his second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey Kelly of County Kerry, there are several who currently live in New Zealand. Of those several, most were found through his test at Ancestry DNA, but others, leading us both to North America as well as New Zealand, were through Family Tree DNA.

Keep in mind, also, that I not only asked my husband to do his DNA test, but reached out to his two sisters who agreed to test, as well. Of those three siblings, we've found some branches of the family tree seem to resonate more with one sibling's test results than another's. I saw that clearly when I was working on their family's Tully roots in County Tipperary, and we will see that again in this Falvey exploration. 

The DNA matches from our Falvey line seem to lead back to two Falvey immigrants to New Zealand, but I cannot yet tell for certain. The confounding issue is that, being that we are considering family which settled in a land with a rather small population, there have been intermarriages yielding double relationships among some of the New Zealand matches.

Of the family trees I am examining, it seems our matches sort themselves into two camps. One camp settled in the North Island, in a region known as the Masterton District near the capital city of Wellington. The others' families could be found in a region which at first was part of the Nelson Province in the South Island, but eventually split to form a second district, the Marlborough Province.

While it is likely that the Falvey ancestors who settled in these two islands are closely related, it may seem strange to find each family on islands separated by what some have dubbed "one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world." However, that water passageway—Cook Strait—is only fourteen miles wide at the point between Masterton and Blenheim, the most populous town in the Marlborough region. Perhaps it wasn't as much of a separation for the Falvey family members as it might seem to us, examining the lay of the land from our vantage point half a world away.

Still, though we are now somewhat familiarized with the two locations in the two islands of New Zealand, we need to meet the immigrant ancestors. At best, they will be Falvey siblings—a brother and a sister. If not, we can likely assume they would be at least cousins. The one DNA match, still boasting that Falvey surname, is obviously descended from a male immigrant of that line, and shares a range of sixty four to eighty two centiMorgans between his match with my husband and one of his sisters. 

That, according to DNA Painter, could theoretically yield us a match as close as third cousin, though my paper trail rules out that possibility, even for the stronger of the Blenheim matches. As for the Masterton match, originating from a line in which the woman carried the Falvey name, the smaller amount of genetic material shared may indicate the relationship may be pushed even another generation farther away—though at thirty five centiMorgans, it is still a viable connection.

Now that we've oriented ourselves to the geography of the region and the main locations for settlement of each immigrant ancestor, let's dig in and see what can be found for some Falvey ancestors from each of those locations in New Zealand.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Following the Immigrant Trail


We've arrived! We, the newbie arrivals in the genealogical world of research into our distant New Zealand cousins, that is. We're ready to begin. And we have a lot to learn.

Don't suppose for a minute that you, not having any roots in New Zealand, won't someday find this immigration information necessary. If you have ancestors claiming long-ago residence anywhere in the British Isles, but who had long since left that island residence, even if their progeny from your direct line went that-a-way, you still have a good chance that some of their siblings went this-a-way.

For instance, take those descendants of English-speaking immigrants to Australia. Did they stay in Australia? Some, as it turns out, may have made a temporary stop in Australia—say, to take in the Victoria gold rush there—and then moved on to more reasonable life down-to-earth in New Zealand. That, according to one New Zealand genealogy blogger, was a route followed by "a surprisingly high proportion of immigrants to New Zealand."

In cases like that, the good news is that some New Zealand ancestors' records might actually be found, not in New Zealand, but in various online databases in Australia. The less stellar news is that, of those who traveled directly to New Zealand from the British Isles, not as much information was preserved concerning passenger lists. The most likely resources to be found will be for those emigrating under "government sponsored schemes" and before 1875.

Since our Johanna Falvey—my husband's second great grandmother from County Kerry, Ireland—married her husband and then moved to the United States before 1870, chances might be in our favor to find her sibling in such passenger records, if that unnamed sibling moved to New Zealand at about the same time. 

The problem is: according to my husband's closest New Zealand DNA match, her Falvey ancestor arrived in New Zealand about...well, about...I don't know. There is no documentation attached to that DNA match's tree. Nor in any other trees which contain the same family unit. We are on our own to trace this line. Which brings me back to this same predicament of not knowing my way around online documentation resources for New Zealand.

Fortunately, the New Zealand blogger I mentioned earlier has organized that website by categories. Thankfully, there was a handy collection labeled "Research Guides." You can be sure I'll be studying those websites closely. A second resource was one I found via the current website for GeneaBloggers, which in its current iteration allows visitors to search blogs by categories. I searched "New Zealand" and found this blog with the straightforward name, "NZ Genealogy"—and this specific post which included several helpful links.

As my own post published here yesterday, one kind reader made several suggestions for helpful resources, right in the comments. It's encouraging to see there are others in the same boat, so to speak: at the least, searching for distant cousins whose immigrant pathway led them to a different new homeland, and at best, researching their own ancestors who moved to New Zealand.

Still, that doesn't mean we are ready to dive right into the search. There is more preparatory work, before we can rightly judge which resources would help us find our own particular relatives. Though Falvey, as a surname, is no Smith, there were several listed with that surname in New Zealand resources. Some I found in the North Island, others in the South Island. Others I found, listed by city name. How can we tell whether we have the right ancestor if we don't know much about the whereabouts? 

With that, we'll devote some additional time tomorrow to orient ourselves to where these ancestors of my husband's Falvey DNA matches lived in New Zealand.


Above: Twenty two year old Michael Falvey arrived from County Kerry, Ireland, on the British Queen in 1883, according to this FamilySearch entry  from the Archives New Zealand collection. Heading to Marlboro as an agricultural laborer, he could possibly be the Michael Falvey linked to one of our New Zealand DNA matches.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Welcome to New Zealand —
Now, Register or Pay Up!


Now that we've mounted the steep learning curve to prepare for researching those distant DNA cousins who ended up half a world away, I thought I'd test the research waters to see what I could find. Despite access to a genealogy portal with worldwide ambitions——and proudly possessing a World Explorer Membership subscription at, there is really very little documentation I can access from New Zealand providing me any level of genealogically significant data.

Realizing that, I thought I'd do a little exploring to see what, within the subscriptions I do have, would be of help in my latest foray into New Zealand genealogy. Since my purpose is to trace my husband's Falvey DNA matches back to their origins in County Kerry, Ireland, I thought I'd try a test run in one of the newspaper subscriptions I currently keep.

Long ago, when all I concerned myself with was family history of an American variety, I made a mental note that included newspapers in their collection from all sorts of unusual places around the world. I mean, how many people do you know who are researching their roots in Kyrgyzstan? And yet, there are editions of Kyrgyzstan newspapers accessible through

With a track record like that, surely they would include a humble location down under like New Zealand, right? Thankfully, I guessed correctly. Doing a quick check of their collection, I searched for the surname Falvey, limited the date range, and clicked, "do your thing."

Not really. It said a much more sedate "Search." And I was off and running.

Who knows what I found, but there were several entries for people surnamed Falvey in New Zealand. My next challenge was to guess whether I wanted to find articles published in the North Island or the South Island. Alas, my lack of geographical knowledge hindered me there, despite knowing that this DNA match had ancestors living in Masterton, and another DNA match with roots in Blenheim. So I took a look at a little of everything. And found this:

A little indiscretion on the part of a young man, named Michael Falvey, led to his being fined £3 by Mr. S. E. M'Carthy, S.M., in the Magistrate's Court on Saturday. Falvey came to New Zealand about six months ago, and failed to register under the Military Service Act. On Friday the police were called to a house to eject Falvey, and on being asked by the constable for his registration papers he said he had lost them, and then said he had no papers. The alternative to paying the fine was fixed at 21 days' imprisonment.

This is learning-by-osmosis at its finest. What I don't know about New Zealand can fill the volumes in a vast archive. But I'm learning. Whether this is my DNA matches' relative, Michael Falvey, or another hapless immigrant, I can say I've just acquired one new fact about researching my distant cousins in New Zealand: somewhere in all their archives must be a collection of records known as the Military Service Act registration papers. Wouldn't that be a grand resource to be able to access?!

Image above: Excerpt from the April 29, 1918, edition of Wellington's newspaper, The Dominion, under the page four column heading, "Local and General," from the collection.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Invisible Progress


It's Sunday, and one of those days I set aside for checking my biweekly research progress. Only today, we will see that all the progress I've made in the past two weeks will mostly be invisible. This is for a variety of reasons, chief of which is my work on speculative family trees which, due to my doubts about what I'm finding, I've chosen to hide behind a shield of privacy. There is, however, another reason my biweekly count will seem off.

While I don't often mention this aspect of my genealogical progress, not only do I count how many individuals I've added to my four family trees, but I also keep track of how many matches have been added to the count at each of four different DNA companies for my test and for my husband's test. In the past two tallies, however, something has been off. For our DNA tests at 23andMe, while the count generally inches up by two to six matches for each two week period, suddenly our numbers jumped up to 1,500. And stayed there. Why?

For instance, on September 6, I counted 1,451 DNA matches at 23andMe, an increase of five over the previous period. Strangely, on September 20, my DNA match at that company was exactly the same: 1,451. And yet, on October 4, after weeks of single-digit-only advances, I suddenly had a DNA match count of 1,500. Exactly.

My husband's case was even more curious. His, on September 6, had dropped by one, giving him a DNA match list comprised of 1,379 matches. He did gain one match back by the next biweekly report—and then suddenly, in the space of the next two week period, rocketed up to 1,500 matches. Exactly—and more, incidentally, than any increase he had ever had in any biweekly change since first testing at 23andMe.

Curious turn of events, I'd say—until I noticed a post by genetic genealogy blogger Roberta Estes who, in her October 8 post at DNAeXplained, mentioned an abrupt change at 23andMe: to a "subscription model" (currently by invitation only). A concurrent change is the capping of DNA matches at 1,500. 

For Roberta, that meant a loss of over two hundred of her DNA matches at 23andMe. For me, well, invisible progress. Somehow, I now have 1,500 matches, too, but the forty nine I apparently "gained" since October 4 are likely ghosts to round out my numbers to that 1,500 cut-off point. Somehow, I didn't quite measure up, while others lost some real numbers.

Roberta and I are not the only ones witnessing those funny numbers. Blogger Margaret O'Brien of Data Mining DNA noted many customers complaining about their losses, as well, in what she called a "surprise purge."

As aggravating as the data loss may be, that is not the only cause of my invisible progress these past two weeks. Work on those private, unsearchable trees I have hidden at, while useful as I muddle through this Falvey family DNA puzzle, has kept me from making any progress on my four public Ancestry family trees.

For instance, the best I did in the past two weeks was the work on my mother's tree. Now at 23,548 individuals, that tree only gained forty five new entries in the past two weeks. That, however, was much more reassuring than the puny three names I added to my mother-in-law's tree—which still hovers at 19,257. And it certainly was more encouraging than the two flat-lined trees for my dad and father-in-law, stuck at 731 and 1,813, respectively.

That secret, hidden Falvey tree may have gained quite a few new entries, but since I haven't been tracking my progress there, I can't say how much they've grown. Besides, I hardly can vouch for some of the entries. While each branch grows in step-by-step research-based accuracy, the premise which attaches each branch to the main Falvey tree is tenuously held there by nothing more than reasoned arguments. I may—or then again, may not—be correct in my theories.

We'll take a bit longer to explore the last of the DNA possibilities for connections to the Falvey line down in New Zealand, but the time will soon arrive to set aside that exploration for a later time when more documentation may become available to those of us researchers who ply our tasks half a world away from the proof we require.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Off the Shelf: Deep Work


Think of yourself as celery. Now, think of yourself as celery, cut and placed in a glass half full of cool water. Now, see tiny blobs of deep blue food dye dripped into that clear water. Wait just a while, and see that same color echo its vibrancy in your own being as it infuses you with the same hue. That's what I think when I imagine the idea, Learning by Osmosis.

Turns out, my style of learning-by-soaking-up-everything has both a corollary and an antithesis. I've found it in a book—a book I stumbled upon while looking for something else. But let's save that thought for just a bit.

As background for that statement, let me explain. In learning style, I've found at least two variants. One I call the Outline Style. You know how this thinking goes: main points equal Roman numerals. Sub-points are subordinate to their corresponding Roman numeral and garner capital letters, while minor supporting facts merit Arabic numerals. Next main point: repeat. This is a learning discipline guaranteed to keep you on the path straight and narrow—but leaves much to be desired for those whose brains simply do not work under such organizational restraints.

The other learning style, one which seems more naturally designed for what our culture now calls "creatives," is what some have called the Mind Map style. Interestingly, when British author Tony Buzan first introduced the idea in his book and television program back in the 1970s, he used a diagram to organize information into key points—a diagram looking much like a tree. This may be a concept which will help genealogists feel quite at home.

The downside to that style of omni-directional thinking is that it can, alas, lead the undisciplined learner down rabbit trails.  Strangely, such digression is where my latest reading has brought me.

The book I'm concentrating on this month—and I do mean concentrating—is a four year old volume by a Georgetown University computer science professor. I found this book, true confessions, while I was looking for something else. Not that I'm anything close to a computer geek, but I find the call of this book's title resonating with me: Deep Work. It's a book about being able to "focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task."

And there's the rub, the reason why I think, within its pages, I'll find both the antithesis, as well as a corollary, to my style of learning. Author Cal Newport maintains that the distraction brought on by a newly hyper-connected world "has fragmented most knowledge workers' attention into slivers." What he advocates, in its place, is what he calls "Deep Work":

Professional activities preformed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push...cognitive capabilities to their limit.

I wouldn't be surprised if most people, thinking of such a deep level of concentration and given the choice of which thought-organizing style would best diagram such a state, would choose as representative the outline form of thought organization over the mind mapping version. Outlines, after all, are what our teachers trained us to do to keep our notes organized and, of course, get an A+ for their course. Mind mapping seems so undisciplined, so whimsical, so scatterbrained.

Yet so thorough, at least for the people whose brains capture wisps of thought missed by the otherwise organized outliners. Can it be possible for someone to concentrate so well as to fully absorb a topic and yet not rope it in by the linear, sequential thinking method of outlining?

When I think of getting so deep into a subject I am studying that all else is shut out to the exclusion of my learning goal, I think of one word: immersion. And yet, for those of us who have spent any time submerged in water, we find that experience to be one in an omni-directional world. That water surrounds us in every direction, not just Step I, Step II, Step III.

The hazard in that learning water, we realize, is to stay the course: to not allow ourselves to become distracted by any curiosity which happens to float by any sensors of our awareness. Is it possible to engage in an open learning style such as that typified by mind mapping—everything coming at us from every direction—and yet resolutely maintain the discipline necessary to prevent trespassing inappropriate barriers to "deep work"? 

I believe, in what I call Learning by Osmosis, in a strange marriage of concentration—think the dye in the celery's water cup—and the freedom to fully explore the diffusion of the "water" in which we live, we take on the essence of both elements. We adapt to the dye, we thrive on the water. We process both. We need the discipline of "Deep Work" to help hone our learning environment and protect us while we explore the freedom of the topic in which we are submerged.



Friday, October 16, 2020

Learning by Osmosis


How does one go about learning something new, when there is no handy pre-fab class developed to hand the hapless researcher everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-in-a-box? You don't just sit there and bemoan your fate. None of this "woe is me" stuff, here. You simply stumble on ahead, opening yourself up to an experience I like to call "Learning by Osmosis."

Immersing yourself in a topic, seeing what others are doing and comparing the unknown with already-established protocols and proper methodology, can be one way to lift yourself out of the pit which has strategically been placed in front of your research brick wall. After all, if you don't gain any traction on your research dilemma, all that is left is...nothing. And nothing will never do.

I learned a long time ago the key is in finding the finding aids. Some are obvious. Others take some searching to uncover.

Of the former, while I sometimes have my doubts, I have learned to graciously allow that Google might be my friend—at least when it comes to searching the Internet. I also learned, from those years spent researching Irish resources in preparation for my trip to the Emerald Isle, that Google comes in many flavors: the Irish turn to Discovering that little local detail leads me to conclude that, if I want to search the Internet like people in New Zealand do, I best learn the appropriate suffix to attach to the Google address for those as-yet-undiscovered resources in this new-to-me country.

Second order of business: check out what Cyndi's List has for New Zealand resources. Prepare to read up on a lot of new information. Some processes and record sets will be vaguely familiar to anyone researching ancestors in the English-speaking universe; others may seem totally unexpected.

Just perusing entries in one particular New Zealand blog, for instance, I stumbled upon this detail

We have some fairly robust privacy laws in New Zealand and most of the official records that genealogists are interested in, particularly the records that contain personal information, are sealed for around 100 years from the date of their creation to protect the privacy of living persons.

While that may also be the case in other countries, it's important to keep that detail in mind while going through the typical genealogical research process. What works in your country may not be how it's done in the residence of your distant cousins.

Stepping off the beaten path of go-to resources often used by family history researchers may mean setting aside down time to read up on background information. In my case, I don't know much more about New Zealand than the name of some main cities, and the fact that there is a North Island and a South Island. I clearly need to immerse myself in some familiarization of my research plan's new target country.

Not only is geography necessary when researching this new-to-me land of distant cousins, but so are customs and general way-of-life. Those pinpoints on our ancestors' timelines make more sense when viewed not only in the context of historic events, but also within the understanding of local customs and culturally-defined norms. Just because your ancestors spoke English doesn't necessarily mean that all their descendants live a life filled with the same assumptions and expectations as yours.

With those thoughts in mind, I'm off to explore just what it meant for some of my husband's fourth cousins to narrate a life so vastly different than his, yet told in the same language with which he tells the story of his own.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

If . . .


Sometimes, when we are stuck on a research puzzle, we need to take a step back and re-assess the situation. I feel as if I am going round and round in circles with these DNA matches to the Falvey family from County Kerry, Ireland. From three different DNA testing sites, my husband has found matches who claim the Falvey surname in their own ancestry's direct line—but they are widespread geographically, and connected only by the most distant of relationships.

We've already reviewed several such matches whose descendants now live in the United States, without finding anyone whose documentation can point us back beyond my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey Kelly. Admittedly, we've come close with the presumed sister of our Johanna—a woman with a version of the Irish given name Gobinette—but all the other American DNA matches are much more distant relationships.

Even so, in the aggregate, perhaps we can discern something. Take the Irish naming tradition, for instance. If it holds true in this family history, perhaps we can use that as a guide to lead us back to a possible previous generation. Admittedly, it was not a pattern that was religiously adhered to, especially after Ireland's sons and daughters, by necessity, left their homeland for better lives elsewhere. But if we can review all those DNA matches we've already studied, here is what we can infer from the naming of their own children.

From my husband's second great-grandmother Johanna, we see that she and her husband named their second son Patrick, which infers the name of Johanna's own father. They named their eldest daughter Catherine.

From the Massachusetts siblings Mark, Bridget, and Johanna—a different Johanna than ours—we learned from a newspaper feature article on the occasion of Mark's fifty-first wedding anniversary, that he was the oldest child in his family. Since we already know, from those helpful Massachusetts town records, that Mark's father's name was Jeremiah, we can presume that Jeremiah's father was also named Mark.

From the other Massachusetts DNA match I found, we saw that the connection was through a female ancestor, that woman of many given names due to her Irish given name, a version of Gobinette. Of the children I can find listed for her, it would be the second son whose name replicates that of her father. In this case, though, that child's name was listed as James. However, I can't find any record for him beyond his birth. While that is not surprising, considering how difficult it is to locate Irish records from that time period, if the child did not survive for long, the parents could have named the next son after his paternal grandfather. That son, in this case, was named Patrick, same as Gobinette's supposed sister Johanna had done with her own second son.

Just from these few lines, we can see that the last Masssachusetts match is the closest to our line, with Gobinette and Johanna likely sisters of a possible father named Patrick. The three others—the siblings who ended up in Chicopee—would, of course, be removed by at least another generation, possibly more. It is hard to tell when the centiMorgan count gets that low.

However, one thing that catches my eye is the possibility that those three siblings may have come from a paternal grandfather named Mark Falvey who might have had other children or siblings who also chose to emigrate—but in this case, headed not to North America, but in the other direction, to New Zealand. For three of our DNA matches who currently claim their home as New Zealand, they each descend from a man named Mark Falvey.

In the case of the closest Ancestry DNA match to my husband from the Falvey line, there are not many key events in the immigrant ancestor's record accompanied by actual documentation. In this case, we are talking about an ancestor named Mary Falvey. According to this DNA match's tree, Mary was born in County Kerry about 1853, barely a decade before our own Johanna's children were born.

Once this Mary Falvey arrived in New Zealand, she married a man by the name of Humphrey O'Leary. The information for this 1875 event is sparse, having been drawn from a microfiche of an index held at Provo, Utah, called New Zealand Marriage Index, 1840 - 1937. Of course, I much prefer viewing actual documents than transcribed records, but for now, this is all we have.

Of the few New Zealand records available to me, here on the other side of the world, I could only find her 16 January, 1937, date of death memorialized in a typewritten transcription of headstones, and a Find A Grave memorial (sans headstone photo) listing the names of her children.

One of those children became grandparent to this New Zealand DNA match. Now to place that match within a tree and see how the line connects back with County Kerry in Ireland.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Meanwhile, on the
Other Side of the World . . .


With all the angst over Irish immigrants in America who all seem to claim the same name, we need to remember I've been chasing a DNA match who, through his Cullinane ancestor, shared only twenty six centiMorgans of maternal Falvey DNA in common with my husband. While an amount that size puts them right in line to claim a relationship of fourth cousin—an excellent position to help guide us to the parents of my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey—it could just as well be a sign of a lesser relationship. For that, plus the lack of helpful documentation from the other side of the Atlantic, we will move on to another DNA connection in our pursuit of those Falvey roots in County Kerry, Ireland.

For this move, though, we finally have to bid adieu to our American matches and move halfway around the world to those matches who currently live in either Australia or New Zealand.

We'll start first with an Ancestry DNA match who shares thirty five centiMorgans with my husband—all contained in one solitary segment of genetic material. While that may seem like a small amount, keep in mind that, other than known cousins from my family's immediate line, this match is actually the closest of all Falvey matches I've found so far. It's just that I wanted to begin the search with those candidates for whom place names and genealogical records are more familiar and accessible. Now, we launch into the deep unknown.

A match sharing thirty five centiMorgans in common could be a relationship as close as third cousin—at least on paper. A match like that would mean the most recent common ancestor would be a second great-grandparent. We already know that can't be possible, because the tree I've drawn up already includes all descendants of Johanna Falvey and John Kelly, my husband's second great grandparents—of whom all either immigrated to or were born in the United States. This DNA match, apparently, has a family tree mentioning place names in both New Zealand and Australia.

The key point about this DNA match's family line is that the original immigrant ancestor from the Falvey line arrived in New Zealand some time before the 1890 birth of her daughter. That ancestor arrived in New Zealand from somewhere in Ireland. At best, because of what I know of our family's Johanna Falvey, we have learned that Johanna had at least one sibling who did travel from Ireland to settle in New Zealand. If that is how close this relationship is, we are talking about a most recent common ancestor for this DNA match who would have been Johanna's parent. With that third great-grandparent connection, the closest we could calculate the relationship would be at the level of fourth cousin.

That number, of course, is quite possible, according to the charts provided at the DNA Painter website, but at a much lower probability—fifteen percent, to be specific, as opposed to thirty percent. Of course, among the other probabilities, there are half relationships and cousin-removed options in the mix, as well. Those can only be counted for sure, once we do a side by side comparison of the two families' pedigree charts.

And that's the rub. The tree posted online by this DNA match contains few references to actual documentation, but to properly draw conclusions as to relationship, we need to ascertain that the line of descent from that Falvey ancestor is adequately supported. However, it is quite one thing to research family lines for adequate documentation in a country one is thoroughly familiar with; it means far slower progress when approaching a research project in a country one has never even visited. 

Translation: steep learning curve, here we come!

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