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

The Good, The Bad, and Dad

DadonrightThe photo above featuring my father always caused amusement and curious interest when it was viewed in the family photo album, particularly after his untimely death at the young age of 54. The snap was christened “The Good, the Bad, and Dad” by his irreverent sons, more in recognition of their liking for Spaghetti Westerns than any comment on my dad’s colleagues. You see, my dad is on the right, and we don’t know the identity of the other two young men. We don’t even know where the photo was taken, except that my Irish dad was conscripted into the Royal Navy upon resettlement in England, and he once told tales of sailing around the world, with stop-offs on exotic islands in SE Asia. Perhaps this photo was taken in Borneo, or somewhere like that.

So we don’t really know if the tall handsome man on the left was “Good” or if the shorter streetwise lad in the middle was “Bad” – but thankfully we do have a single picture of Dad as a cool-looking bachelor boy exploring the world. I have learned from interviews with Dad’s old Irish school-friend, Eddie Moran, that my father was an accomplished horseman. My grandfather Ned Neary kept horses and donkeys at the old farm in Tullinaglug, and Eddie and my dad rode them bareback-style whenever Ned was occupied elsewhere.

My dad’s life was not fully appreciated until he was gone. His strife involved escaping from poverty in rural Ireland, living in a tiny run-down old two-roomed Irish cottage with a thatched roof, but Dad ended up providing a spacious six-bedroomed detached house with attractive gardens for his large family, of which I am one. Not a bad return for a poorly-educated manual worker … and he saw more of far-flung Asian destinations than I’ll ever see.

The short poem written on to the image is courtesy of Linda Goetsch, a fellow genealogy fanatic. “Remember Me” is rapidly becoming the genealogist’s equivalent of the Lord’s Prayer. The words just seemed 100% appropriate to accompany The Good, The Bad, and Dad.

Genealogy-itis

There can only be one explanation for the unsavoury behaviour displayed below.

Archives are closed today

Yes – the genealogy pox virus is getting out of control. A recent survey of the most searched-for keywords on the internet concluded that genealogy is the most popular hobby in the world – according to Google robots assessing our every move, of course. I don’t suppose that Google et al have devised a way to tell whether lovers of the great outdoors, or regularly active sportsmen and women, etc, like their pastimes more than bashing away at a computer keyboard.

Regardless, I am not ashamed to admit that the never-ending search to fully understand why I exist, and why I live where I do, and why I am like I am – and more importantly – why I should be so grateful for my comfortable existence – occupies my mind every day.Genealogyitis

Passion and disease are very similar, except that in the latter case the subject wants to get better … and never go back in time. A passionate genealogist wants to get better by travelling back in time in order to understand his or her true self.

A passionate successful genealogist exhibits a warm, empathetic glow as he or she observes the travails of less fortunate souls. This is WISDOM.

 

Enjoy your illness – if that is what it is.

 

There ain’t no sanity clause

It was Chico Marx who came out with this memorable play on words, way back in 1935 in the Marx Brothers film “A Night At The Opera.” Chico was playing his usual street-wise Italian-American immigrant character when conniving Groucho asked him to sign a contract containing a “Sanity Clause.” In Chico-speak, the full reply was:

“You can’t a fool a me; there ain’t no Sanity Clause”

Decades ago, mental illness was not understood, and thus assessed and treated in bizarre ways. There is still lots to learn about brain diseases and their triggers, but thankfully the general condition is now accepted as biological fact and not some sign of weakness of character. Without wishing to belittle the sufferers of modern-day mental illness (or their admirable carers), I found the detailed analysis of the inmates of a Lunatic Asylum in 1882 [shown below] to be both amusing and illuminating.

1882 Insanity ReportMy observations are:

  • The death of a wife does not make men mad.
  • Domestic trouble can sometimes lead to a sex-change.
  • Prison life can be exciting for some men.
  • Too much study is bad for boys, and over-taxing the brain can lead to death.
  • You can recover from working too hard – or die.
  • Women can be excited by the Religious Orders, but men can get over this.
  • Do not worry about being diagnosed as insane or you will stop worrying forever.
  • Men cannot suffer from amennorhea – period.
  • In 1882, brain disease only affected 1 in 228 Lunatic Asylum inmates.
  • The “Change of Life” is as bad as amennorhea – period.
  • The “Change of Life” is as bad as the climate in India.
  • Congenital brain diseases have nothing to do with genitalia – fact.
  • Male heirs are only half as mad as female heirs.
  • Don’t let hyperlactation get on your tits – both made a recovery.
  • Don’t get mad drunk too often; you could end up in the Salvation Army hostel.
  • I think it says that you can recover from masturbation. My eyesight is bad.
  • Some old women are plain daft … well, one was.
  • If you are predisposed to thinking you are insane, you probably are.
  • Premature Conservatives are infantile, and harmless.
  • The Puerperal State is full of crazy women.
  • Sun-beds are safe for females.
  • After all of this analysis, we are clueless about 40% of the asylum’s inmates.

In 1882, only a quarter of this selection of institutionalized mental patients died in their sanatorium; a better survival rate than hospitals of the day dealing with chronic diseases. And this study group stood a better chance of recovery than their peers diagnosed with purely physical symptoms in the Workhouses. Madness? Even the Victorians knew that mental ailments were not contagious. Perhaps it was wiser to feign insanity than to be incarcerated alongside really sick people … a bit like the Public Health Service today.

A Family Tragedy (and a valuable genealogy lesson learned)

Many years ago, when I started researching my Family Tree, I did not have a clue about my grandfather Ned Neary‘s birth family. After some time, I eventually discovered that Ned was the youngest of twelve siblings; there were six boys and six girls. I knew nothing about any of them, except for Ned, and even he was referred to as Edward or Ted in my lifetime. It appears that “Ned” dropped his Irish nickname after leaving County Sligo in the late 1930’s in favour of the more Anglicized abbreviation of his baptismal forename. Ted Neary moved across the Irish Sea to England, and I suppose that the Irish immigrants of the day had to “fit in” and grudgingly accept the monikers which their new neighbours and workmates applied. However, back in Sligo, everyone remembered Ned as Ned, if you get my gist.

Anyway – I was not long into my ancestry research project when I set myself the challenge of tracking down each of grandfather Ned’s deceased siblings, and finding out about their lives. Both Ned and my father (Ned’s oldest child) were dead too, so they could not help my quest.

When researching the six Neary sisters, my new-found great-aunts, I soon learned that three of these ladies had got married in New York City, and had their own families, thereby introducing me to many second cousins. Three of my new cousins had an interest in their family history, and so they could recall passed-down tales about the three Neary sisters who lived their adult lives in the Bronx, and kept in regular touch with each other as an extended family. There was also mention of a fourth sister who emigrated to NYC in her youth but returned to Ireland broken-hearted when one of her siblings stole away her boyfriend – and married him! This sister was identified to be Bridget, and her return to the homestead led me to more fascinating ancestral tales – but more about this saga will be saved for another day.

So, I was left trying to trace the lives of just two Neary girls, amusingly called Annie and Fanny. I was getting nowhere until my oldest “new” cousin advised that there was a vague family lore tale about a Neary sister who died in a house fire in America, aged in her 20’s (he thought). Another cousin added some more detail: this Neary girl used to work as a domestic servant at a big house, somewhere in upstate NY. Which of Ned’s sisters burned to death? Was it Annie or Fanny? If only Ned was still alive to tell me about this “secret” tragedy.

Back in Ireland, I set about getting the first and main part of the jigsaw in place. Fanny was the youngest of the Neary sisters, and she appears in the 1911 census of Ireland, living alongside even younger Ned at the family farmstead in Sligo. I had an inkling that Fanny was not our fire victim because she would have had to have emigrated just after 1911 (to have died on American soil) and there was no sign of Fanny boarding or disembarking from a transatlantic ship during the 1910’s. My uncles and aunts (and elderly Sligo neighbours) were not aware of a Fanny Neary, so what happened to Fanny? A long search culminated in the discovery of Fanny’s death record. She died in the old Sligo town Asylum Hospital aged just 24 after contracting a form of TB. Poor Fanny – it seems like no-one could remember her time on this earth almost 100 years later. She is remembered now.

The Neary fire victim now had a name – Annie – if the fire story was true. My NY-based cousin Patrick Reilly became fascinated with the “Annie Neary Fire” story as well. As he said (with his legal training), the accidental death of an American would lead to an Inquest, and a house fire resulting in fatalities would be reported in local if not State-wide or national newspapers. Patrick decided to pay a visit to St Raymond’s cemetery in the Bronx where he knew that Neary and Reilly family graves existed. His hunch proved to be very wise. Patrick came across a weather-beaten old gravestone in the Catholic burial ground, sandwiched between newer grave markers of non-family members, which had been overlooked before. The faint but distinct name of Annie Neary was all that could be clearly deciphered from a long inscription. Patrick attempted to retrieve more data by “stenciling” the remaining characters of Annie’s memorial stone. The month of death was April, but the day and year were less clear. After close scrutiny, Patrick insisted that the date began with a “1” [of course!] and ended with a “9”. The second and third digits also looked like nines, but obviously this could not be. Patrick was aware that his Neary ancestors do not show up in Bronx registers until after 1900, and so a logical conclusion was drawn that Annie must have died in April 1909.

We now had a name, a date indicator, and a primary cause of death: FIRE. It couldn’t take much more research to unearth the truth …. could it?

Well … two years later, every reasonable research avenue had been investigated without success. Patrick visited Historical Societies and Vital Records Offices in counties to the north of New York City where the wealthier American families once had country retreats serviced by domestic staff. No sign of Annie – and no notable house fires in the first half of 1909. I searched accessible US newspaper archives, from NY and surrounding states. Still no sign of Annie – but (worryingly) a lot of fire fatalities in the papers in the 1900’s decade, and a lot of US history learned along the way.

Something was clearly not right. Maybe the dramatic “house fire” story was an over-exaggeration. Maybe Annie did once suffer minor burns, and then contracted an illness, and passed away without any great newsworthy fanfare.

A new and final, last-chance saloon research plan was devised. “Let’s retrieve any NY death certificates which feature a female called Ann Neary (or similar) whose year of death ended with the figure 9”, I suggested to Patrick. Whilst we are at it: “How about any deaths that end in the year 8 or 0, just in case the monumental engraver’s etchings have been misread.” As a (by that time) experienced researcher, I also confounded Patrick by proposing that matching namesake deaths from the 1880’s or 1890’s should not be ruled out. Weather-battered carved digits can play havoc with the logic of the human brain, I opined. “And don’t take it as ‘carved in stone’ that April was necessarily the true month of death. The headstone might after been erected years after the death, when accurate recollections had faded.”

We found that there were more than quite a few death certs which met the revised search criteria. Okay – let’s narrow it down to namesake death victims who were teenagers, or aged under 40. That’s better – a handful – and so Patrick ordered the documents for collection from the NY State archives within a few days.

I was staggered when Patrick sent me a copy of the last NY Death Certificate he had added to his list, shown below:

1899 NYC death cert (Annie Neary)

My great-aunt Annie, and Ned’s sister, had died in a fire on the night of 7th April 1899. She was aged 21 years. Back in Ireland, Ned was just five years old. We can only imagine the heart-rending grief in the tiny Neary cottage in Tullinaglug, days or weeks later, when the news filtered through.

The death cert gave us all the answers we needed. Annie was burnt to a cinder in the attic room of a multi-storey Manhattan home overlooking Central Park in New York City; a room reserved for the servants of the wealthy Andrews family. I am somewhat relieved and grateful that Annie’s employer, Mr Wallace Andrews, repeatedly tried to rescue his domestic staff trapped in their upstairs rooms. These rescue efforts cost him his own life. Annie’s oldest sister Mary was called to the Fire Station House in order to formally identify the charred remains. God knows how this task was completed, technically and emotionally.

The full story about the 1899 fire in central NYC is recalled in this initial New York Times article: 1899 THIRTEEN PERISH IN DOUBLE FIRE

I was shocked to learn that dramatic fires in the dry timber homes occupied by American city dwellers at the turn of the 20th century were frighteningly commonplace. A fire in one house often spread to a whole block.

So what’s the genealogy research lesson? Well, everything, really.

A family lore tale says that a relative died in tragic circumstances. First, identify the NAME. What happened? It’s probably based on the truth. Why would anyone make this stuff up. When did it happen? Focus on relative’s ages (at the time) rather than calendar years. If your family suffered a tragedy, say 20 or 30 years ago, you are more likely to say something like “I was aged about 25” rather than “it happened in 1989,” for example. Annie Neary was said to be in her twenties when her life ended in sheer terror and panic, far from home. She was only 21 and this tale got told to her sisters’ young grandchildren, who only half-listened, years after the event.

Where did the event happen? The grandchildren retained some memories of the oft-repeated obituary. Annie worked in “big houses” owned by ultra-wealthy NY families. In the summer months, she worked in second homes (mansions) located north of the city, around Westchester County, where the Andrews millionaires liked to escape to a cleaner environment. Not quite “upstate” but “up the State” for an Irish immigrant unfamiliar with American geography. But for most of the year, Annie Neary would be found cleaning out fireplaces and re-lighting fires in the 67th Street town-house of her employer. Annie’s brothers and sisters were very proud of their sibling. She was a much-loved and trusted member of the renowned Andrews [domestic] household.

ANgravestone1909#8And finally, rely on the eyes of your on-the-ground research colleagues. I was sent a photo of Annie’s tombstone which according to Patrick asserted a date of death ending in 9. I agreed, from long-distance, but I eventually started to question Patrick’s interpretation of the inscription. I put doubt into his mind, which was wrong. This error cost us unnecessary time and expense. We have since learned that Annie was buried in the Bronx in 1899 because she had an uncle (John Stenson) who was settled into this booming Irish neighborhood – but the death year always did end in 9.

When the dust had settled, Patrick and I re-visited lessons learned. Why did the clerk with the burial register at the Bronx cemetery never inform us about Annie’s burial in 1899? Answer:  …. because we kept saying that she died after 1900, and most likely in 1909. As it happens, when we specified our burial date, the clerk could tell us who else shared the grave and who paid for the burial plot. Priceless (early US) family history information which was almost lost forever.

And why did we never find the name of Annie Neary in newspaper reports of the many fires in New York city and state which occurred just over 100 years ago? Answer:  …. because some indexing systems only list the names of the primary fatalities (e.g. Andrews), and other automated scanning systems do not pick up “unfamiliar” surnames of American immigrants, especially if the newsprint is faded. Poor little Annie, the chambermaid, all the way from Tullinaglug; there she was on the bottom line of this New York Times front page article, all along: 1899 NYC fire (NYT)

So when investigating initially obscure ancestral events, maybe the research mantra should be:

  • Trust your experienced intuition. You know the family better than anyone.
  • Focus on the facts, and only the facts, however vague and irrelevant they may sometimes seem.
  • Disbelieve what your ancestors recalled at your peril.
  • Keep an open mind, but do not introduce unnecessary doubt.
  • Most of all – stick at it. Answers, or extra clues, can be found in the strangest of places.

The Discovery of my 1st Irish Great-Great-Great-Grandparent

Being a professional Irish ancestry researcher, it may come as a surprise to some that it has taken over 5 years to positively identify my first Irish GGGGF, i.e. the oldest person in my Family Tree. Other, more experienced, family historians will realize that verifying direct Irish ancestors (who remained in Ireland) from the 18th century takes a lot of knowledgeable craft and a dose of circumstantial good fortune. Many amateur researchers jump to unwarranted conclusions about the identities of their earliest Irish ancestors, just because a few preserved names sound familiar (even when the geographical location of extant record sources makes the associations ridiculous). Usually, frustrated amateur historians adopt wild assumptions because no ancient parish records have been preserved to properly validate the vague ancestral relationships which they attach to the verifiable section of their family tree. Only recently have several new sources of genealogical data become accessible and readily searchable which enabled me to achieve my personal goal of extending my lineage by one further Irish generation.

It was a complicated process, but my tale might encourage others to persist, and to always think laterally and “outside of the box.”

My breakthrough moment came at the end of a holiday weekend in which I dedicated my spare time to re-visiting my ancestral loose ends, instead of spending every waking hour helping clients to expand their particular family histories. I started off trying to find the “missing” dates of a few vital events which had eluded me in the past. First up came a search for my paternal grandparents’ wedding date. I knew where Ned Neary & Ellen Durkin got married, but the church has poorly preserved registers, and Ned’s wedding details could not be found at local level. The marriage was also missing from national civil registers, and my mum insisted that Ned was so unconventional that he probably never got around to formally registering his union with Ellen. With my father being born in 1925 as the eldest child of Ned, I often wondered (and worried) if this omission made my dad “illegitimate” in the eyes of the law. Using new software which permits a search of ALL Irish civil marriage registrations filtered by matching bride & groom names, I finally tracked down Ned’s “missing” marriage certificate. It turns out that Ned did not bother to register his memorable 1924 Wedding Day with Ellen for over three years. My mother was right – Ned was indeed unconventional, if not controversial.

So Lesson One: never assume that a marriage was registered before the birth of the first offspring of the union. I have found many examples where the parents of a specified research subject did not officially tie the knot for years after conceiving children. Technically, these children were born illegitimately; however my dad and Uncle Iggy were conceived within wedlock – but before their dozy father bothered to venture into town to tell the local Civil Registrar that he was a married man.

Buoyed and relieved by this news about dear old grandfather Ned, I set to work on two more of my ancestry conundrums. These were interlinked problems, involving Ned’s oldest brother [John] and oldest sister [Mary], with Ned being the youngest of 12 siblings, most of whom emigrated from Sligo to New York City. I had previously tracked the life of each of my great-uncles and great-aunts, but John remained as a “lost” enigma. As the eldest son of Tom Neary & Kate Stenson, born over 19 years before Ned, he remained at the Neary farm in Tullinaglug as the 20th century dawned, presumably on the understanding that he would eventually inherit the homestead. John features in the 1901 census of Ireland as a 26 year-old farmer’s son, but by 1911 he had left home and could not be located in Ireland. None of my American cousins could recall any stories about John being present in NYC, whereas all of Ned’s other siblings were accounted for in either NY or Sligo. At first, I reasoned that John had realized that Ned would be better-placed to care for their elderly parents, and as such he forfeited his inheritance rights to the youngest male sibling. Free of an Irish mother’s apron strings, John would have ventured overseas, and I assumed that he must have traveled to England for work, and then lost contact with “home” if no elderly cousins in NY had ever heard about him.

I had one lead though which resurrected possible NY connections for John in adulthood. In April 1902, a John Neary namesake disembarked at Ellis Island NY claiming that he was intending to reside with his uncle John Stenson at an address in the Bronx. Ned’s mother (and my GGM) was Kate Stenson, and the Bronx address was close to where other Neary cousins eventually settled about 100 years ago. However, the John Stenson in question, when identified, was 20 years younger than my GGM Kate – and none of my Bronx cousins were remotely aware of a relative called John Neary. Furthermore, John Neary could not be located on Bronx census returns and our John Stenson candidate moved out of the Bronx soon after 1902 and was also unfamiliar to my American cousins. This research trail went cold and was put on the back-burner, for years.

So I decided to resurrect the search for the only other bit of missing data about my extended Neary family members. This involved the tragic death by drowning in New York of a child of Mary Neary who was Ned’s oldest sister. I had been made aware of this incident by my elderly cousin (now deceased) Fr Matt O’Rourke. He told me that his first cousin Johnny O’Rourke had drowned while swimming off a beach in Long Island, and passed-down family lore always stated that Johnny died “before his tenth birthday.” We knew that young Johnny was born in 1912, so I searched and searched the NY newspaper archives for drowning incidents circa 1920, without success, on many occasions. Recently, indexed editions of more obscure NYC regional papers have come “online”, so I tried the search for Johnny’s sad death one more time. Ironically, by accident, I found a brief mention of his swimming accident. Johnny was actually aged 14 when he drowned, and he was one of many NY and NJ drowning victims on a hot holiday weekend which coincided with stormy US East Coast seas.

Having established the exact date of the accident, I was instantly able to retrieve several more accounts of the Long Island drownings. One longer report stated that poor Johnny O’Rourke’s body was not washed ashore for many hours, by which time his holidaying family had returned to the Bronx, devastated. The police contacted a local Queens relative of Mrs Mary Neary O’Rourke to identify the deceased teenager, and this man was described as “the boy’s uncle, John J Stenson.” This was the same John Stenson who had been tracked down as the most likely receiver of my immigrant great-uncle John Neary when he landed at NY Harbor in 1902. In actual fact, John J Stenson was Mary Neary’s uncle, but we can understand the newspaper reporter’s confusion about family relationships on a weekend of numerous tragic deaths in local seas. So, John Joseph Stenson, by 1926 residing in Queens NY, was indeed my GGM Kate’s much younger brother.

A coincidental review of yet more John Neary namesakes living in the expanded search area including the Queens borough of NYC resulted in the discovery of John Joseph Neary, a bachelor with the exact same birthday as Ned’s oldest brother. It appears that JJ Neary born in 1875 was probably named after his uncle JJ Stenson who was less than 5 years his senior. The two John Joseph’s obviously formed a bond which was re-established after their separate emigrations to New York, and thus they lived and worked in the same district. The first wave of my Sligo family emigrants were aware of relatives living on either side of Long Island Sound, but the next generation and offspring were not. This fact was verified when I finally found a copy of John Joseph Neary’s WW1 registration card. Ned’s oldest brother from Port Washington listed his oldest sister from the Bronx (Mrs Mary Neary O’Rourke) as his “next of kin” contact, in case of emergencies.

Now, all of Ned’s siblings were accounted for, but the verification of JJ Stenson as my GGM Kate’s brother opened up a new line of fruitful research. Kate was born in 1852 within the same RC parish where my grandparents Ned & Ellen got married in 1924. As mentioned, the parish registers from the local church in question are spasmodic in terms of preservation. Nothing at all has been preserved dating from 1860 or earlier, and this meant that my verifiable Stenson lineage ground to a halt … until now. John Joseph Stenson was born in November 1870, meaning that he had a retrievable birth certificate and baptism record. Inter alia, my GGM Kate’s parents were discovered to be Edward Stenson & Maria Donlon. Alas, no marriage records for this union are extant, so my Stenson heritage trail was in danger of hitting a road block once more. I had to be satisfied that dear old GF Ned Neary had been named in honor of his own grandfather, Edward [aka Ned] Stenson.

Except that … I noted that JJ Stenson was born in the townland of Ballincurry. A search of the 1901 census returns from Ballincurry revealed that Edward & Mary Stenson were still alive and living there as 80 year-olds BUT so was a second married couple named Edward & Mary Stenson, aged in their 80’s. Unbelievable! These were the only Stensons living in remote Ballincurry – but they shared the same names. Even more remarkable, they were still around in 1911, entering nine decades of living in an agricultural wilderness. Who was who?

I was determined not to be beaten. I noted two things from the Ballincurry census returns which gave me a fighting chance to distinguish which couple were my great-great-grandparents. One of the Edwards was referred to as Ned (Chas.), and the other was plain old Edward or Ned. Secondly, one of the Stenson farmsteads had a visiting married son in 1901, and he was called John. Could this be John Joseph from NYC, or a different John? I had to thoroughly search many cross-Atlantic sailing records to verify that JJ Stenson never returned home to Ireland. Therefore, by elimination, my GGGF had to be Ned (Chas).

As an experienced researcher of Irish records, I immediately had an inkling of what the “Chas” reference meant. Two Edward Stensons lived side by side, so one was known as Ned Chas because this one was the son of Charles [aka Chas]. I guessed that the other must have been the son of Edward/Ned, but the Irish don’t tend to use the same double-forename as a distinguishing nickname. Calling someone Ned Ned Stenson would be just daft, wouldn’t it? Especially when all the locals back then knew that Ned was not Ned Chas!

To prove my hunches I had to revert to Irish property records because (as most readers will be aware) no complete 19th century census returns exist due to a fire at the Dublin archive repository during the Civil War of 1922. Detailed maps of Ballincurry dating from the Griffith Primary Valuation of the townland in 1857 proved that the two Edward Stensons of similar age were direct neighbors. I was willing to place a bet that the two Neds were first cousins, hence Edward Snr and Charles/Chas must have been brothers who both called their first son Edward.

I dug out the patchy 1827 Tithes Applotment Book for County Sligo. This is the oldest comprehensive listing of land tenants in my ancestral county. I found the Ballincurry page … darn it … no Stensons! Wait! Over the page … a continuation of Ballincurry residents … yes!

Edward and Charles Stenson were taxed on a shared landholding of over 10 Irish acres. There he is … my great-great-great-grandfather in black and white (third name down).

1827 Tithes (Ballincurry) Stenson

And so, a search for a lost great-uncle born in Tullinaglug in 1875 took me all the way to New York City and back to another townland in south County Sligo, less than 5 miles away, where my GGGGF Charles Stenson [born circa 1790] once resided in 1827.

In reality, many family history facts worked in my favor to achieve this research result. The fact that Ned and his brother John Joseph Neary were born 20 years apart, plus the fact that JJ Neary’s best friend, JJ Stenson and my GGM Kate were also born 20 years apart. Even the fact that there were two Edward Stensons born and raised in the same place and era did, on reflection, enable the two ancient but different Stenson lineages to be clearly distinguished.

My great-grandmother Kate Stenson lived to the admirable age of 92 years, passing away in September 1944. The story of my search for her resting place, and the incredible family history revealed by a close inspection of her graveyard headstone (shown below) will be saved for another day.

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

There’s two “L’s” in Tullinaglug

Hughie insisted that there was “two L’s in Tullinaglug.”

Morris retorted that he should look at the old maps. “There’s definitely three L’s in Tullinaglug.”

“Bollix!” shouted Hughie. “There’s Molly Moran’s well, and there’s Neary’s well. Behind the cottage, by the cow shed.”

There’s no answer to that. It’s true.

John's cottage and his auld Raleigh bike

The well’s round the back

Where’s Merrill? …. where’s the novel

The e-book version of Where’s Merrill? [A Genealogical Thriller] was published on 28th February 2013 and subsequently released in paperback during 2014. It is available to purchase for just a few dollars from:

© AMAZON or

© LULU or

© SMASHWORDS

WM manuscript cover blog #1 copy

          #1 AMAZON Best-Seller 2014

Go on …. read it and try to help solve some lingering mysteries

All-Ireland Inquest

Dear Danny,

Went to the Roaring Cock yesterday lunchtime for a pint and the post-All-Ireland inquest discussions. I overheard this bar-room conversation between two locals:
“What time did you leave on Sunday?”
“I dunno. I woke up in Charlestown, early hours Monday. Why – what time did you leave?”
“I dunno.”
“So – did I see you on Sunday?”
“I think so.”
The Irish really know how to celebrate big sporting events.

Gearoid, Ha ha, brilliant ! I was really sad to hear The Green and Red had been beaten again; I thought they might have done it this time around. I’m sure mighty craic was had whatever. Did you watch it in the Cock ? I was wondering if the Killybacside gang were for Mayo or Donegal.

Danny, as you should know – Mayo & Sligo are in the Connacht province, and even though Mayo “bet” Sligo in the Connacht final, healthy local tradition says that you support your neighbours – even after defeat. I know it’s the opposite in Lancashire. Could you ever support Burnley in the FA Cup Final if they beat Blackburn Rovers in the semi!! Then again, this FA cup final could only ever be played on Fantasy Island.

Donegal play in the Ulster Championship. They are close neighbours but they’re separated by a small strip of Leitrim. We were glad that the GAA final involved two teams from the West for a change, but the Green & Red flags were flying in our parish on Sunday. My great-grandmother was a Mayo lady, so I cheered them on too. I was first in the Roaring Cock on Sunday morning (before the bar officially opened), escaping early from yet another midday funeral mass. I even beat old Hughie O’Gara to the bar, and he is a permanent fixture on the bar stool by the turf fire. I took my car home when I was only 1 or 2 jars over the limit, and vowed to return if Mayo got off to a good start. They didn’t. Two goals down in no time. Game over – barring a miracle. So I got sozzled at home, channel-hopping between Premier League soccer, GAA & Formula One.

I think Mayo’s failure just contributed to excess partying in the Cock for no good reason at all. Many say they cannot remember the second half – or the next few hours – or the closed door session after midnight, etc. Where do they get the stamina? Years of practice, I suppose.

Gearoid, I am so happy. I slept ! I went out for dinner with the Dublin/Nottingham girls and had a few beers before I leave Pamplona; I put the earplugs in to drown out the phantom snorer and was dead to the world. Today’s another day. I woke at 6.00am today pleasantly surprised to have slept so well. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that ”Foghorn Leghorn” had kept half the dorm awake again. In the spirit of the Camino, I gave a spare pair of earplugs to an Australian pilgrim who looked like she was more in need than I was.

Early start for me too, today, Danny. Got to research some Dubliners called Costello, a typically Irish surname – but they turn out to have been the Costa family originally from Lucca in Tuscany 200 years ago, and then they started to appreciate their Italian heritage in the 20th century and they start calling themselves Castello after further emigration around the world. Irish genealogy is never straightforward, especially as many Irish folk “adopt” forenames in adulthood which were never mentioned on their baptism records. I have Irish three aunts; my dad’s sisters. They were always known to me in Lancashire as Maureen, Eileen & Doreen. It turns out that they were born as Mary, Attracta & Joan ….. and even Hughie O’Gara (Cock fixture & fitting) was never christened as Hugh or anything like!

Danny, as you’ll appreciate, drink-driving around our parish involves keeping your vehicle in the two well-worn ruts in the single track lanes separated by the green strip of overgrown grass which has sprung up from the ancient tarmac last laid decades ago. It is impossible to leave the road, but meeting a fellow drink-driver coming the other way is a difficult challenge. And if the approaching fellow traveler is perched upon a rusty old red (unlicensed) tractor, then take evasive action. My shiny new motor now has the scars of one of these encounters.

But a bump or two on the family car is like a badge of honour around here – as is the 12 months driving ban for those heroes daft enough to venture into town after a few pints in the village “shops”. Liver complaints are unheard of – but bowel cancer seems to be the price you pay in old age for a lifetime of living off nothing more than Guinness soup. The recommended local medicine for bowel cancer is more Guinness, so that’s alright then.

By the way – Happy Arthur’s Day! Will you find a pint of the black stuff beyond Pamplona – if you dare venture off today.

Arthur’s Day is a great Irish invention which now ensures that the 12 month wait for Paddy’s Day is halved. It’s always better to have a reason to get totally “locked” as the Dubs say. But with Arthur’s Day falling midway between the GAA Football Final and the All-Ireland Hurling replay this year, there won’t be much turf cut this week ……

Which reminds me – a great headline in the Western People this week, as follows:No sun, no silage, no turf, no Sam – a Bad Year for Mayo.

Up Galway, in the replayed hurling final. Might venture out for a drink.

Gearoid , that cracked me up. You should write a book. Oh I forgot , you already have! Did you see the news? Rioting in Pamplona by Spanish austerity protesters.

The Spanish are mid-table rioters as far as I can see on the TV news. Be thankful you’re not passing through Athens. The Greeks really know how to trash the place.

Meanwhile, in parallel to your long trek, the 9-Day West of Ireland Drinking Olympics reached midway on Arthur’s Day. I gave up work early and ventured into the main stadium (aka The Roaring Cock) at about 4pm to check on progress. After patiently waiting for landlord Con’s middle daughter, Mae O (from Sligo), to set me up the perfect pint of Guinness, I jokingly asked whether I was too early for the Happy Hour free black stuff which I knew officially commenced at precisely 17:59. Hughie O’Gara in his familiar corner piped up that in Charlestown they had free drinks for two hours. Now Hughie has an odd Sligo accent which combined with the effects of a mild stroke makes him speak in a strange Dalek-like tongue. To me, it sounded like Hughie said that our Mayo neighbours were offering “free drinks for chihuahuas” – so as my pint settled right on cue, I was able to raise my glass to the regulars and exclaim (as per the Guinness TV ad) –
Chihuahuas!
Hughie didn’t get it. He just said, “I’m not kidding ye. Two hours.”
The session had been re-invigorated. Mae O gave everyone a free pint ahead of time as we giggled like kids and saluted our hero – “TWARTA!”

Next up, Matt The Truth explained that a new word had been invented locally. He told us that the definition of the word is – “to fall into a drunken stupor whilst watching your sporting heroes not unexpectedly let you down yet again in the biggest match of the season.” He advised that this word is DEJAVOODOO.

And then we saw the story in the Irish Independent newspaper on the bar top, wherein a Hong Kong business tycoon is offering $50 million to any man who will “woo his lesbian daughter”. This headline gave ample scope for a prolonged debate about different folk’s interpretation of the art of wooing, especially if the lady prefers to bat for the other side. As you might expect, the conversation degenerated and made young Mae O blush, and cannot be repeated here. Pious Peter was cringing, and said with his lisp, “Now, that’s what I call wooed [rude]” – so I retorted with “as the Chinese millionaire said to his spread-eagled dyke of a daughter.”

My drinking companion, innocent 89 year-old bachelor ‘uncle’ John asked his usual question when female homosexuality is raised. “What do lesbians actually do?” he enquired. Matt The Truth gave him a subtle clue when he said that there’s two lesbians who live on his lane, and they grow a lot of courgettes. John was baffled and advised us that he prefers cabbage.

Sore knees are nothing. My guts are starting to ache this week. Is it the porter, the side-splitting craic, or both?

Keep going Dan. You’ve progressed about 1.5 inches along the Camino map on my 12″ screen.

camino de santiago

Where’s he heading?