1865 – Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession through NYC

I know … it’s a tenuous link – but if this newly-discovered quad photo really is the work of famed American Civil War photographer, Mathew Brady, then here we have the only known photograph of the momentous funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln’s corpse as it passed through New York City en route from Washington DC to Springfield, Illinois, for burial in April 1865.

And … if … this photo was taken outside of the magnificent Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway, then surely my distant ancestor, Patrick Reilly from County Cavan is in the photo. You see, Patrick worked as an Irish immigrant NYC stonemason on the building of the Grace Church, and he lived nearby in 1865. Four years earlier, Patrick answered the call of Civil War recruiting sergeants and enlisted in the 15th Regiment of the New York State Volunteers. He went on to become a Union Army Engineer, building crucial temporary bridges prior to Union advances into Confederate territory. His President, Abraham Lincoln, personally inspected some of Patrick’s handiwork.

So … there he is … somewhere in this historic snap created by using a four-lens camera and developed on to a large plate glass negative.

1865 April - lincolnfuneral

I think that’s him – 14th from the right, in the Union Army uniform

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Are there any other genealogy jokes? Not gynaecology; ha ha

Is this the best that the comedy industry can do:

How many Genealogists does it take to change a light-bulb?

Answer = Six (no, seven Einstein!)

1879 Edison bulb

1879 – a very old bulb – possibly belonging to Uncle Edison

One to travel to the factory to record the exact age and unique identifying number of the bulb.

One to check whether the bulb’s socket lineage is “live” or deceased.

One to trace the power line back to the pole.

Two to argue over the name of the original pole where the line started.

One to screw in the new bulb and write a detailed biographical account of the experience, complete with verifiable research sources, of course.

And one more to track the subsequent lives of the photons which emanated from the bulb.

It’s so funny, I almost chortled in the library. Sorry.

Is your Irish ancestral name ‘cast in stone’?

The spelling of ancient Irish surnames evolved over time. Originally, they were written in the unique Irish language; a strain of the Gaelic tongue spoken by ancient Britons. During more recent centuries, these names were converted to the Anglicized versions in common usage today. In reality, the accurate spelling of a family name was of little importance to most members of the family, as they were invariably illiterate or semi-literate at best. Our Irish ancestors were more concerned with the pronunciation of names because heritage tales were passed down the generations by word of mouth, rather than in written text.

The situation regarding phonetic genealogy can become more confused by the influence of local dialects in many parts of Ireland. My own surname of Neary is only pronounced as Neary in the east of Ireland, as well as in England and America where family branches re-settled after emigration. In the west of Ireland, where the Neary clan has its roots, the family name is spoken as Narey or even Narry using the local accent. As a consequence, this is how the name appears in many old documents. The record-keepers of the day simply wrote family names as spoken by informants with very little concern for spelling accuracy.

This scenario must be borne in mind by family history researchers when delving into Irish ancestry. Often, quite bizarrely, the first step in the research process is a reassessment of “your name.” Could it be that your Irish family name, as used by every forefather in living memory, was not your name at all?

An example of this genealogy conundrum is demonstrated in the images below. A large extended family in Massachusetts, descended from Irish immigrants, were always known as McKay, McKey or Mackey – but which surname was correct. The answer was proved to be “none of the above”!

I found that my particular research subject, Irish-born John McKay, adopted and used the McKay name in America for over four decades. Most of his siblings also accepted Americanized names when establishing their own families near to Boston. As a result, when John McKay died in 1913, his US death certificate notifies the world that John McKay, originally from Tipperary and son of Patrick, died in Chatham MA, aged 95.

1913 MA death (John)I had to use many unconventional research techniques before I was able to verify that John McKay was not really a McKay, or a McKey, or a McAnything! In this case, a strange but delightful twist in the tail permits me to reveal John’s true name by displaying it “in stone” via his grave marker. It would appear that the surviving offspring of John McKay knew all along that he was not a McKay, even though the male American lineage continued to be known as McKay! As shown below, John’s real and ancient surname was respectfully engraved on to his tombstone. Note that the dates of birth and death match up perfectly with the death cert of John McKay.

John Mulcahy & Ellen Donovan HeadstoneAs you might appreciate, it is difficult to interrogate computer databases to investigate a chosen ancestor’s background if you unknowingly have the incorrect surname. Doubly so in this project … because John Mulcahy’s father was not called Patrick, as written clearly on his death certificate. His father was Perry, an Irish nickname for Peter – but that’s a story for another day.

Merrill was obviously not the only person who left a confusing background trail to bamboozle researchers, generations later. In Merrill’s case, it was deliberate.

St Patrick’s Day – Breaking News

I cannot be the only person in the world that marvels at the marketing expertise of the Saint Patrick of Ireland corporation. Somehow, during the mists of pagan times, an immigrant holy man wandered across our ancient (wet and multi-dull coloured) isle of Ireland. Our forefathers liked what he had to say. He came across as an alright-sort of fellow, on good terms with the heavens above, but his name was a bit of a mouthful – so we called him Patrick, and he didn’t seem to mind.

Our Patrick got a big following (before the days of Twitter) and so we called him a Saint, particularly for walking up big mountains without decent hiking boots. We could spot him a mile off because of his distinctive clothing … which was never green.

So let’s all raise a glass of the British-owned, world-renowned, unique black beer called Guinness …. and celebrate the life of a Welshman who wasn’t called Patrick and didn’t wear green. This is the definition of “Irish” yes? Party. What the hell.

saint-patrick blogBy the way, you can get my novel for free via Smashwords for this St Patrick’s Day weekend by entering this code: PM77U at St Pat’s Thriller

Editorial Book Review

By Joseph Spuckler of Author Alliance:

Where’s Merrill? A Genealogical Thriller by Gearoid O’Neary is a cross between a research paper and a mystery. I really did not know what to expect with this book initially, but was won over fairly quickly. Trying to find Merrill in a family history reminded me of my days as a history major and searching for minor historical figures. In fact, my classmates and I had done this sort of thing so often in so many Latin American history classes that this research took on its own name. No matter who we were researching, the joke was his name is Juan Obscuro. So reading about someone searching down a person using historical records was not that intriguing to me. The author, as the main character, searching for someone else’s Juan Obscuro really seemed monotonous to me.

But, my initial thoughts were wrong. Jed, the main character, was a former engineer riding high on the building boom in Ireland when it crashed. Corporate backlash and Jed’s feeling of duty to his people, left him out on the street. He, in turn, turned a hobby into a career: Genealogy. Well, here was something positive I could relate to. I was a project manager riding high on the telecom wave when it crashed, and likewise, I found myself unemployed. I turned my hobby into a career: Bicycle mechanics. I was surprised that someone could earn a good living researching people’s past as I am sure that people are surprised a bicycle mechanic can earn a good living. Anyway, that sealed my bond with Jed, and his wife Susan. No high-life, but real hard working people and a reasonably good life.

Tim is the American, who asks Jed to help find his past. Tim’s mother, when she was alive, hid her family’s past. Now that she was gone, Tim could discover his past without upsetting his mother or going against her wishes. Here too, I was pleasantly surprised. Jed and Sue had a far more interesting time researching Tim’s family than I ever did researching Juan. The history crosses the American Midwest, from Iowa and up in to Minnesota. It spreads to California and Washington, D.C.. There are several twists and turns in the research too. What is expected and reported is not always what happened. Merrill, is a particularly difficult subject to track and not always by accident. The story jumps back and forth between Jed and Susan and the search for Merrill. The Jed’s and Susan’s story runs chronologically. The genealogy part of the story jumps back and forth as new pieces of information are found and new family members are found and traced, but it does flow very logically.

I was expecting a novelization of a dry research paper when I started this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the actual story. It was far more than I could have expected; interesting is an understatement. The writing is very well done, although at the beginning chapters the conversation seemed a little forced, but that impression also disappeared as I read further in the book. I also found the process of the research interesting too. I never realized that there was that much of an infrastructure for records going that far back. I had expected many records to be lost, destroyed, forgotten, or just simply no longer worth keeping by the local government. A very interesting read whether you are interested in genealogy or not. The story resulting from the search is definitely worth the read as historical fiction — the research is real — the names have been changed and conversations inserted. Very well done. Joe Spuckler

Joe awarded “Where’s Merrill?” four out of five stars – but as he readily admits, the Evil Cyclist does not toss out his review stars willy-nilly.

Joe’s twitter handle: @Evil_Cyclist