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.

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