Divorce, Abandonment, and Family Secrets

There has always been some secrecy surrounding the Heisinger side of my family. My grandfather did not know anything about his paternal grandfather, Charles Heisinger, because my great-grandfather, Walter Heisinger, never spoke of his father. We were not even sure of his first name, only that we all had inherited the Heisinger surname from a mystery man. Undoubtedly there was some painful history that my great-grandfather did not wish to share with his children, but it left us with a hole in our family history.

John Kugler Household, 1900 U.S Federal Census, Brooklyn Ward 28, Kings, New York; Roll 1066; Page 7A; Enumeration District 0502, accessed at familysearch.org.
John Kugler Household, 1900 U.S Federal Census, Brooklyn Ward 28, Kings, New York; Roll 1066; Page 7A; Enumeration District 0502, accessed at familysearch.org.

Continue reading Divorce, Abandonment, and Family Secrets

Immigration of the Slapshot

Letter from the Black Hawks seeking authorization to import three players.*
Letter from the Black Hawks seeking authorization to import three players.*

While my personal ancestry does not have anyone who immigrated later than the 1700s, I have long been intrigued by the experiences of those who came in the latter 1800s and the early 1900s, such a time of concern about the influx of immigrants and what they might do to the country. Over the years I have acquired many published volumes and hundreds of digitized documents about immigrants and the immigration process. I am the only person I know who actually owns E. P. Hutchinson’s Legislative History of American Immigration Policy, 1798-1965, published in 1981.

Among the many laws that have been enacted since the first major immigration act in 1882 is the Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885, which was amended in 1887. This law specified that immigrants to the United States needed to show that they were capable of working, but they could not already have a job lined up. Some immigrants were exempt from this rule, including actors, artists, singers, domestic or personal servants, and skilled laborers—provided that no one else with their skills lived in the United States. In Massachusetts, for instance, mills could import seamstresses who did intricate and specialized embroidery because they could not find anyone in the United States who possessed that skill. In viewing case files of individuals deported upon arrival or later, I have come across many that invoked this law. Continue reading Immigration of the Slapshot

Finding the Fahys in Ireland

Grandmother's house
Grandmother Fahy’s house, County Galway.

I recently went to Ireland to visit my dad’s family. Having investigated my grandmother’s ancestry on a previous trip, I wanted to focus this time on learning more about the Fahys.

Thomas Fahy, my paternal grandfather, died in 1983, when my dad was 23. Beyond that, I was able to glean a bit more from my dad, grandmother, and uncles: Continue reading Finding the Fahys in Ireland

An Ancestral Connection with Prohibition

Two men with a whiskey still, sometime between 1920 and 1930. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Two men with a whiskey still, sometime between 1920 and 1930. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Recently I uncovered some interesting information about my husband’s great-grandfather, Peter Consigli. According to the 6 September 1930 Boston Herald,[1] federal agents from Boston carried out several raids in the town of Milford, Massachusetts, and arrested three men, including Peter, for the manufacture of liquor. According to my husband and father-in-law, no one in their family had ever mentioned this incident.

Continue reading An Ancestral Connection with Prohibition

Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?

John J. McDermott, winner of the first Boston Marathon. Boston Sunday Journal, 1 May 1898.
John J. McDermott, winner of the first Boston Marathon. Boston Sunday Journal, 1 May 1898.

As a lifetime Bostonian who has seen her share of snowstorms (especially this year), I always look forward to Patriot’s Day (April 20 this year). It’s the official anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord—which is re-enacted very early in the morning—but it’s also the unofficial first day of spring, signaled by the running of the Boston Marathon.

In honor of my favorite state holiday, I decided to research the life and family history of the first Boston Marathon winner, John J. McDermott. I assumed it would be easy— he won the first Boston Marathon, for goodness’ sake; there must be tons of literature about his life, right? Wrong! After he won that first Boston Marathon in 1897, John J. McDermott seemed to disappear from records. I searched newspapers and obituaries, read histories of marathon runners, and contacted local libraries, but I could not uncover evidence of what happened to him. Continue reading Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?

Finding Revolutionary War Ancestors

Frederick Wingdorf's record in the Index to Revolutionary War Service Records.
Frederick Wingdorf’s record in the Index to Revolutionary War Service Records.

Patriots’ Day—the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord—is fast approaching here in Massachusetts. This particular holiday makes many of us a little reflective. Was my ancestor involved in the American Revolution? If you have ever been curious about that, here are some great resources to jump-start your research.

One of the best places to start looking is Virgil D. White’s Index to Revolutionary War Service Records. Available in the NEHGS research library, this particular series is a transcription of the General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers, Sailors, and Members of Army Staff Departments, also known as M860, housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. White’s transcription lists the rank, regiment, or company of each soldier, and is a fantastic resource because it includes every state of service. Consider yourself lucky if your ancestor had a rare name, such as Frederick Wingdorf. Frederick was a drummer in the 3rd Massachusetts Regiment, and—not surprisingly—was the only Frederick Wingdorf in the index. If you are not so lucky and your ancestors had very common names like Samuel Jones or William Moore or, worse, John Smith, you might need to consult secondary sources to help whittle down the long list of candidates. Continue reading Finding Revolutionary War Ancestors

Read the problem; Trust, but verify

Click on Register page to enlarge.
Click on Register page to enlarge.

My father, the MIT graduate, used to try to tutor me in math. His most frequent frustration was getting me to remember to “read the problem.” All the answers were there, he claimed, if I understood the problem. Alas, I never conquered math, but the advice is applicable to genealogy.

When I was writing the Early New England Families sketch on Hilliard Veren, whose wife, Mary, was remembered in the will of her mother, Jane (Slade) (Conant) Searle, I cited the abstract of the will published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 52 (1898):271 (at left), which gives the date of the will as 1 May 1665. Apparently, I neglected to read the entire abstract and note that the date of probate was given as 20 June 1658. ­­­­ Continue reading Read the problem; Trust, but verify

Indexing your family history

Penny at podium_croppedIf you’re writing a family history, you’re ultimately going to index it, right? If you’ve ever consulted a printed genealogy in hopes of finding an ancestor . . . only not to find an index to help you, you’ll know the importance of creating an index for your own work.

In pre-computer days, you’d have used index cards to make your index, making a card for each entry and then painstakingly writing the appropriate page numbers on the card. Then you’d have typed it up into a manuscript. Now you can just start typing index entries in a word-processing or spreadsheet program, later alphabetizing them. (If you’re producing your book completely in Microsoft Word, you can mark entries in your file and Word will generate the index.) Alternatively, you can use indexing software such as SKY Index or Cindex. Continue reading Indexing your family history

Finding Uncle Morris

Family Tradition versus Fact, and a few shades of Gray

Gravestone of Morris Larned Healy. Findagrave.com.
Gravestone of Morris Larned Healy. Findagrave.com.

One story often repeated in my family concerned the mystery of my grandfather’s uncle, Morris Larned Healy, who reportedly had died of “lead poisoning” at a bordello in New Orleans . . . or Atlanta. My grandfather, who told the story, was known for his vivid imagination, so I decided to see if the story had any validity. Continue reading Finding Uncle Morris

Twin Pastimes: Baseball and Genealogy

David's signed Bill Henry baseball card.
David’s signed Bill Henry baseball card.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved baseball. My father would tell me stories about his own childhood, recalling Ted Williams batting at Boston’s Fenway Park, and Warren Spahn pitching at the former Boston Braves field. My father’s idols, they became mine. At age 12, I started researching baseball old timers and Hall of Famers—and then started writing letters to the players of the 1910s to 1930s. I wrote almost a dozen times to “Smoky” Joe Wood (1889–1985), the last surviving member of the team that christened Fenway Park in 1912 and won the World Series the same year. Each time I received a letter back, it contained answers to my questions about Smoky Joe’s playing days, as well as a signed piece of baseball memorabilia I had sent him. Continue reading Twin Pastimes: Baseball and Genealogy