My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Crossing the Pond!

There is definitely a trip to Ireland brewing here!  

My cousins and I have cracked a mystery -- we now know that our Flynn family came to America from the town of Doonour, in the parish of Muintervara, civil district of Durrus/Kilcrohane, county Cork.

Awhile back I wrote about how DNA evidence connected me with a second cousin whose branch of the family had lost touch with mine over the years.  Well, that contact has expanded via Facebook to include many more cousins -- and we have created a virtual community there.  I'm so excited because for so long I've felt like the lone voice in the wilderness, and it's nice to find others who are just as excited about the family of John Joseph Hill and Julia Mary Flynn as I am.

My last blog post was a summary of my findings about our Flynn family, including the fact that I had just discovered their origins in County Cork, Ireland -- a huge breakthrough for this "brick wall" family! Flynn is a very common name and it was a daunting task to find our Flynn's in all of Ireland, but at least narrowing it down to a county was helpful.

I was so used to being the lone genealogy wolf in my family that I was thrilled when one of my Facebook cousins found Irishgenealogy, a website run by the Irish Ministry for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.  They have digitized Catholic baptismal and marriage records for several regions.... including Cork!  A simple search on the name of the child together with the name of the parents yielded a goldmine for our family, but I was excited as much for the community that discovered this, as for the discovery itself.  So three cheers for cousin Louise!

From assorted records generated in the United States, we know that Margaret Kelly (b. ca 1830) married John Flynn, and they had seven children in Ireland -- five of whom were still alive in 1910; two had died prior to 1900.  We can identify four of the five living children: 
  • James E., b. 9 Oct 1861
  • Julia Mary, b. Jun 1864
  • Margaret (or Maggie), b. Jul 1872
  • Agnes (or Aggie), b. Jul 1874
The records of Muintervara parish, in the southwestern part of county Cork, indicate that John Flynn and Margaret Kelly had five children, listed in black below.  If you probe a bit more, you will find that a John Flynn and a "Margaret Re-" had a daughter, Anne, baptized 2 Sep 1866. Further, a John Flynn and a "Margaret Reilly" had a daughter Abby, baptized on 12 July 1874. When you look at the original parish records, it looks like the transcriber made an error.  In both these cases the mother's maiden name in the original text looks remarkably like "Kelly" to me, and "Abby" is surely the priest's misunderstanding the name "Aggie"..... Adding these two records brings the total children born to this couple up to seven, all known children matching their American counterparts.  Unfortunately the church records do not include burials, so we don't know more about the other three children, whether they died in Ireland or after emigrating.  

Here's the proposed listing of John and Margaret Flynn's family, with the addition of the two likely candidates in blue :
  • Patrick, baptized 28 Feb 1858
  • James, baptized 20 Oct 1861
  • Julia, baptized 27 Jun 1864
  • Anne, baptized 2 Sep 1866
  • Denis, baptized 3 Jul 1870
  • Margarita, baptized 14 Jul 1872 (this priest wrote everything in Latin)
  • Abby (Aggie?), baptized 12 July 1874
The icing on the cake is the discovery of a marriage record for John, age 40 and Margaret, age 26. They were married on 18 September 1855 in Muintervara parish, and it was a second marriage for John.  Their parents were identified as Edward Flynn, farmer and Timothy Kelly, laborer.  Just for fun, I looked to see if I could find a marriage for either of the parents.  Nothing came up for Edward Flynn in this parish, but "Timy Kelly" married Julia Leary in Bantry on 29 April 1830, and were the parents of Margaret Kelly, who was baptized on 22 May 1831.  Julia was a common name in Ireland at the time, but still, if we find corroborating evidence for the relationship of Julia Leary to Margaret Kelly, the fact that Margaret named her daughter "Julia" would add weight to that conclusion. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Trust but Verify...

I still have the notes I took the first time I interviewed a relative about our family history.  I was around twelve years old and saw myself as quite the detective, with my small spiral notepad in hand and a pencil behind my ear.  My grandfather told me that his parents were immigrants.  His father came from England and his mother from Ireland -- and that she had come to America alone, on a cattle boat.

Of course, I asked all the wrong questions and left out the most important ones, but those notes are precious to me because my grandfather died before I had the chance to sit down with him again and do it right.  So the notes I took as a twelve-year old were all I had to direct my research.  

But..... as we all know well:  you can't take any evidence at face value, even from the best of sources.  For years I assumed my great-grandmother Julia had no family in America, because her son told me that she came over by herself.  If I had just accepted Granddad's statement as literal fact, I would still be staring at that dreaded brick wall.  

The secret is to keep asking questions about your hypotheses, play devil's advocate...and please, don't assume the records are all 100% accurate! (I've got another blog post coming up about how an "official" city marriage record is dead wrong....)  So follow that old Russian proverb from the cold war and "trust, but verify!"  

For those who are interested in the family of Julia Flynn and John Joseph Hill of Geneva, New York, here are some details on my research process:

The first evidence I found for Julia Flynn was her 1896 marriage to John Joseph Hill in Geneva -- the marriage record gives us a link to an earlier generation by including the names of their parents (Julia was the daughter of Margaret Kelly and John Flynn; John Joseph was the son of Thomas Hill and Elizabeth Scott).  After that, Julia and John Joseph appear in the 1900 and 1910 federal census of Geneva (Julia is also found in all other census enumerations through 1940).  The only other records I have for them are John Joseph's 1916 death certificate and both of their burial records from St. Patrick's Cemetery in Geneva.   As recent immigrants, they didn't leave much of a trail.
John Joseph Hill, Julia Flynn Hill and son Robert, ante 1916
Not too long ago, FamilySearch digitized many of the NY State censuses, which provided the break I needed.  The 1892 state census was taken four years before Julia's marriage, so I searched for her under her maiden name, "Flynn" and, as expected, found her in Geneva:

One problem with the 1892 NY census was that it did not list people by household; it is just one running list of individuals.  You can only guess about the composition of the households by seeing who is enumerated next to whom.  In this case, Julia appeared at the top of the page, but if you look at the person directly before her in the list, you find this:

 Margaret Flynn..... hmmm.... I know from her marriage record that Julia's mother's name was Margaret.  I wonder if this could be her??????

So next I went back to the 1900 census of Geneva, and found a Margaret Flynn of about the same age listed as "mother-in-law" in the household of Agnes and William O'Brien.  And, applying genealogy rule #1, I went back and rechecked my earlier sources:
  • I found that an Agnes Flynn had witnessed Julia and John Joseph's 1896 marriage.
  • My grandfather had said that his mother had two sisters and a brother:  Aggie, Maggie, and Jim.  Somehow, over the years (since I was 12...) I had forgotten that detail!  It just reminds me how important it is to reexamine your sources every now and then.  Facts that you overlook one time may jump out at you when you look at them later.

Certainly Agnes must be "Aggie!"  I checked to see if there were any newspaper articles about her on  Old Fulton Postcards, and found a 1948 obituary, which included information that she left a sister, Mrs. Julia Hill, and five nephews.  Score!
Geneva (NY) Daily Times, 3 March 1948

Julia's sister Margaret's story is more poignant.  In the 1910 census, the O'Brien household included a widowed Margaret Fitton, identified as William O'Brien's sister-in-law.  This household also included his wife Agnes C., a 7-year old nephew John V. Fitton, and his mother-in-law, Margaret Flynn.  By the 1915 NY state census, both the O'Brien and Fitton families had moved to Rochester, and the younger Margaret had remarried.  Her second husband, John Culhane, was a widower, and they had a blended household  consisting of his two children, Margaret's son, and her mother.  So with that outline of their family structure, I then went back to the newspapers and discovered her story.

On 27 September 1898, the Geneva Advertiser reported that John Fitton had become totally blind, saying: "It came on him very suddenly early in the summer.  He was at work, and at first he says spots seemed to float before his eyes, then everything seemed to turn yellow, then dark, and he hastened home while he was able to get there."  Doctors gave him very little hope of regaining his vision, and the paper editorialized: "Brethren, this is tough.  He is a young man, with a wife but no children, and the future cannot be bright for him." According to the census records, their only son, John V. Fitton, was born ca. 1903, after his father became blind.

The Geneva Daily Times carried this story in its edition of 27 April 1905:

The article continues on, describing John's last moments in great detail. To me, the most interesting thing about it is that it ends by naming the parents, siblings, and child of the deceased, but notes only that he left "a widow," without naming her.  Am I being paranoid to think that this might be an example of anti-Irish sentiment?  The article also ties together several clues from other sources -- it confirms that John A. and Margaret Fitton lived on Burrall Street, the same street as Julia and John Joseph Hill.  It also confirms that John A.'s father lived on Main Street, as did a Dr. Hopkins, who treated him after he took the arsenic.  In the 1900 census, a Margaret Fitton was enumerated as a married servant in the household of a Dr. William Hopkins, residing on Main Street in Geneva!

The underlying theme of this entire research project is to find Julia's origins in Ireland.  Once I knew Julia's sisters and mother were in America, too, I did a few searches on, and found the following passenger record from the port of Philadelphia, dated 12 August 1888, which looks suspiciously like our family:

Unfortunately, no record was made of their home town, so the search continues.

Still, out of all the Flynn siblings, I really knew nothing about Julia's brother Jim.  The notes I took when I interviewed my grandfather all those years ago suggest that he died in St. Louis.  That was good luck, because the Missouri state archives has placed a wealth of data online, and I was easily able to find this:

This was a major breakthrough -- the first documented evidence I've found so far of this family's place of origin in Ireland.  (I'll leave the ensuing happy dance to your imagination!)

As you can see, this is ongoing research.  I still need to find the death certificate for the matriarch, Margaret Flynn, as well as birth and marriage records for Julia's sisters and their families.  This is high on my "to do" list for my next visit to the National Archives in Manhattan, which is the closest repository for the NY birth/marriage/death index.  Another open question is when and where were they all naturalized?  As early as 1892, the Flynn women appear as "citizens" on the census.  Sometimes this was just the census taker being lazy, but it was consistent enough to make me think that they had a male relative who was naturalized and through whom they automatically became citizens.  Was this James, or did their father, John, come over as well?  The latter doesn't seem likely because the mother didn't arrive in America until 1888.  Maybe now I know where to look, I can find records for the family in County Cork!

Click this link to see a spreadsheet summarizing all the documents I have found for this family.  I find it a really useful way to see all the data I have for one person at a glance. By examining the consistency of the data, together with the reliability of each data source, I can more readily assess the accuracy of my evidence.