I have been working on various genealogical projects since boyhood, with – as I hope – increasing research ability. Happily, there are times when a lucky Google search cuts through years of dead ends: as yesterday, when I went looking for my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Getty of Belfast, who died in Baltimore, Maryland 11 February 1839.
Both Elizabeth and her husband, Dr. John Campbell White (1757–1847), have tantalizing if mysterious backgrounds: both came from Belfast, and Dr. White had professional credentials. As I’ve mentioned, he was the son of an esteemed minister in Templepatrick, not far from Belfast – but who were Elizabeth’s parents? Continue reading Hiding in plain sight→
I was lucky enough to take a trip to Ireland with my brother over our spring break, March 10–18. The two of us were not in charge of the itinerary, and our daily travel to churches, monasteries, and other tourist spots left little time for genealogy. Nonetheless, I tried to connect in person with a relative I knew was still there: Gerard O’Callaghan.
A common story among Americans is that their immigrant ancestors changed their names (or had their names changed) upon arrival to the United States in order to make their names sound more “American.” This can make researching immigrant ancestors difficult, especially if you aren’t sure under what name to look for your ancestor. This challenge is prevalent in Irish research, as surname and given name spellings can vary widely from record to record, making it difficult to determine if you’ve located the right person. Continue reading ‘More American’→
A common rule for genealogists is that spelling does not count: usually, entering an alternate spelling of a surname into a search engine will point you to records for the ancestor you seek, as long as you know his or her parent(s), an approximate birth year, and a birthplace. However, while doing my own research, I have been hindered by the issue of variant spellings.
My grandmother Eleanor (Forry) McManus was a granddaughter of Patrick J. Forry and Hannah M. Crotty, both of whom emigrated to Boston in the 1880s from Ireland, from County Sligo and County Waterford respectively. The Crotty branch has not been hard to fill in, as I contacted an Englishman who is married to a granddaughter of Hannah’s niece. He has already made a family tree, from which I obtained information. The Forry branch, though, has been a different story, since the surname can be spelled so many ways when recorded phonetically. Continue reading ‘Undoubtedly the same family’→
Before the internet and the digitization of some Irish records, one needed patience, persistence, and problem-solving skills to connect the lives of Irish immigrants here in America to the world they left behind. Guessing someone’s true age and their birth order within their parents’ household amounted to a shot in the dark.
In January 1941, the death certificate of my great-grandmother, Catherine (Dwyer) Dwyer, recorded her age as 76 years and ten months. She had lived in Newport, Rhode Island, for sixty years, and in that time knowledge of her specific birthplace had vanished from her children’s memory. One of her sons, who acted as informant, also misremembered his mother’s maiden name! Catherine’s obituary mentioned no siblings.
Today marks the one-thousandth Vita Brevis post since the blog launched in January 2014. The blog’s pages have been accessed more than one-and-a-half million times, and by my (not very scientific) count the following eighteen posts have led the field, read by more than one hundred thousand readers.
By far and away the most-read post at Vita Brevis is Chris Child’s August 2014 account of Robin Williams’s maternal ancestry. The circumstances of Williams’s death, and the affection he had inspired in millions of Americans, made the post a place to stop and reflect about what he had meant to members of the genealogical community. Continue reading The thousandth post→
Recently I was researching my Holland surname line and ran into an interesting problem. I found two men named William Holland, each of whom married a woman named Ellen Fleming, in the same parish around the same time. Which was the right William Holland and Ellen Fleming for my family? Were the couples related? How was I going to tell their children apart?
These two Irish couples were from Barryroe parish in County Cork. One couple married in 1820 and the other in 1839. I found baptismal records for children with these parents born between 1820 and 1845. Luckily, the Holland child I was tracing was born in 1828, so I knew he belonged to the older couple who married in 1820. Continue reading Double trouble→
Inspired by the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, Horace Walpole gave us the word serendipity. The following three tales shine among my past treasures as extraordinary encounters that would have been lost to history had I not been in the right place at the right time.
In the fall of 1983, I drove to West Wareham, Massachusetts on a mission to find my great-grandfather’s grave. As I searched in vain for the stone, an elderly man who lived across the road from the cemetery spied my Vermont license plate and asked for whom I was searching. “Millard Morse, father of Emory,” I said. He retorted, “Who ARE you?” Continue reading Serendipity→
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 27 November 2015.]
For the last several months, I have been trying to determine the origins of each of my mother’s Irish ancestors. In a previous post, I mentioned my success in locating the origins of my Kenefick ancestors; however, I have been having trouble with some ancestors with much more common surnames.