Friday, February 1, 2008

Genealogical mystery: When did John Horgan die?

I have in my possession the clipped obituary of my 3rd great-grandfather, John Horgan. It reads: "On April 10, John Horgan, beloved husband of the late Julia Murphy and father of Mary E. Gorry, native City of Cork, Ireland. Funeral from his late residence, 352 E. 16th St., on Sunday, April 12, at 2 p.m."

The clipping is helpful in many regards - lists his late wife along with her maiden name, lists address, lists where he was born, lists date of death. Doesn't list year of death. Leaves out that one very important detail. And it's very, very difficult to find a death certificate without that bit of information.

The clipping is of that one obit, too small to show what newspaper it came from much less what date it ran. I let it slide for a little while, before I finally put my Nancy Drew cap on and decided there was just too much information there, too many clues, to just give up on ever knowing the date.

I went with the obvious first: he had to have died after 14 Aug 1890, because that's when his daughter Mary was married, and in the obit she's listed with her married name. Going a step further, I realized it listed his funeral as being *Sunday*, April 12. April 12 only falls on that day of the week every couple of years and luckily my genealogy program, Personal Ancestral File, has a date calculator on it. Starting with the year 1890, April 12 falls on a Sunday in the years 1891, 1896, 1903, 1908, 1914, 1925, 1931, 1936, 1942, and 1953. Ten years is certainly much more doable than 60.

But could I narrow it down even further? I decided to flip the obituary over and see what was written on the other side of the newspaper page.

It happens to be a headline: "Griffo beats William in fight between 'Kids.'"

A Google search turned up the information that Young Griffo was an Australian boxer who came to the U.S. in 1893 and was pretty much retired by 1911, dead by 1927. That left me with the possible years of 1896, 1903, 1908, or maybe 1914. Looking for the date of the actual fight turned out to be next to impossible, partly because I didn't know the exact name, Kid Williams (not William), that Young Griffo was fighting. But 4 years is a much easier search than 10.

As it turns out, sending away for a death certificate to the Municipal Archives still proved fruitless and I think the one time I traveled there myself there were still too many microfilmed records to scroll through (I was looking for other records as well and after a few hours, my head feels like its going to explode and I just have to go home, to continue the search another day.) It was my father who actually got his hands on the death certificate and I don't think I ever asked how he found it. But even though my legwork proved to be unnecessary, it also proved to be correct.

John Horgan died on 10 April in the year 1908.

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