Thursday, January 31, 2008

Worlds apart, but part of the same family: pooling information with the gene pool

At home, I can talk genealogy with my grandmother and my father. That's about it. They're the only ones who get my excitement over some new genealogical discovery. My friends just look at me like I have two heads. And you can discuss genealogy on message boards and stuff, but it's likely that no one's really going to share your excitement unless the information you're gushing over is info that concerns them, too (my father tries, but unless I'm jumping up and down over something I discovered about his side of the family, he's not too invested in sharing my excitement...)

But chances are, you're not the only person researching your particular tree. And that's where discovering long-lost relatives comes in. My Raynor side of the family is up to the gills in long-lost relatives - they're easy to find because the Raynors have their own genealogy association you can join. They're not cousins, they're not second-cousins, and more often than not they're not even third cousins - sometimes, the relationship you share goes so far back, you really can't even consider yourself family. Except that you both call Edward your 9th great-grandfather. Which can't help but kind of make you feel like family anyway. Especially when one of you has a copy of a will or a family Bible that lists relatives that pertain to you both. Or when her great-great-grandmother saved and gave her photos of cousins that are your direct ancestors. So these relatives can be a valuable resource. But it can also be nice to just get to know them as "cousins" and as people.

Two examples for ya: about 7 months ago, I was contacted by Milton H. from Georgia. Milton is 75 years old and my 2nd cousin 3 times removed. We were both researching Barbara Reinhardt Haase, born in New York in 1841, my 4th great-grandmother. He sent me a number of very nice e-mails, and we spoke on the phone several times. He was the one who shared with me that his cousin remembered my 3rd great grandfather, Edward Haase, and his fruit stand. He shared with me a number of stories, we exchanged the respective Haase genealogy we had gathered, and most valuable to me was a photo he possessed and shared with me of Barbara and 2 of her sisters, which must have been taken somewhere at the turn of the century.

I used to only focus on my own direct genealogy, but as I became frustrated by the number of brick walls I was hitting (do enough research and you will end up hitting a brick wall. Finally get through that one and you're guaranteed to find another), I decided to branch out my research into the cousin realm. So when Milt e-mailed me, I already had him on my tree! To put a voice to the name was nice, and his information on his siblings, aunts and uncles, and children, helped me in really filling in that Haase cousin line.

Around the same time I heard from Milt, I got an e-mail from April E., my 6th cousin once removed. We were both equally frustrated with the brick wall we had hit with Jacob Raynor, her 6th great-grandfather and my 5th. Because she lives in Baldwin, the next town over, we've been able to meet up several times to share info, talk, and strategize. What's nice in this situation is that we're close in age as well, and so can commisserate with being young researchers in a field that seems to be filled predominantly with people of an older persuasion. I don't think I've been much help to April in the sharing arena, as she is kind of an expert researcher, but she's been invaluable to me, sharing copies of wills and estate lists among other things. I think maybe I've been helpful though in being someone who gets her excitement over a find...or frustration over the lack of one. We went to a local archives to look over all the estate holdings they had microfilmed in the hopes of finding anything on Jacob or his wife Rebecca's family, only to both be horrified that not only were they not indexed but they were not in any kind of chronological or alphabetical order. She is much braver than me, as she is planning on going back. I still get a headache just thinking about that day.

But overall, the genealogy pool makes me think about the human family: we're all much more closely related than we think. There are people living in this world who are so different from me, who lead lives that are completely alien to me, and we are as closely related as 3rd or 4th cousins: a retiree in Germany who was a pilot for Nazi Germany during World War II and who spent several years in a Russian prison camp; young Mormons living and teaching in Hawaii; a young Southern Baptist girl who was home-schooled, only wears dresses, and doesn't believe in dating; we are worlds apart, but we're part of the same family.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ancestor profile: Mary Ellen Horgan Gorry

Mary Ellen Horgan Gorry, my 2nd great grandmother, is one of those people for me. Despite several trips to the Municipal Archives in the city, I haven't been able to find her birth certificate, but my father found in my grandfather's basement a record of her baptism on 11 Aug 1873 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in New York that gives her birthdate as 6 August that same year. As far as I can tell, she was born in New York. According to her father's obituary (also found in my grandfather's basement - packrat extraordinaire!), he was born in Cork, Ireland, and I think I have found a ship passenger manifest that shows Mary's mother, Julia Murphy, was also born in Ireland.

I have also had trouble finding Mary in the 1880 census - I have a theory that I've found them in Manhattan under the last name "Holgan" but that's still just a theory. As far as I can tell, Mary was an only child. Thanks to the destruction in a fire of the 1890 census, there are a lot of holes in a lot of family histories, something that continues to frustrate me in my research, but according to a marriage certificate, Mary married James Gorry on 14 Aug 1890 at Immaculate Conception Church. According to his death certificate, he was a brass finisher.

James and Mary had four children: Joseph Francis on 11 Nov 1891, twins Mary and Ellen on 4 Jun 1893, and Elmer Anthony (my great-grandfather) on 28 Jul 1896. Both of the twins died the same month they were born. James and Mary were married for only 7 years. After falling ill in October of 1897, he died on 1 Dec 1897 at about the age of 29, leaving Mary a 24 year old widow with two young sons. The cause of death is somewhat illegible on his death certificate, but its possible that one of the words is "pulmonale." "Cor pulmonale" is a problem with the heart resulting from a respiratory disorder. But the heartache was not over. Her son Joseph died of acute endocarditis less than a year later, 3 days short of his 7th birthday.

Back then, there was no Social Security. Women couldn't vote. Most women did not have jobs outside the home. Most 25-year-old widows would remarry, not only to ensure their own livelihood but to ensure the livelihood of their children. Mary was young; she could have had more children, started a new family. But she didn't.

I don't know where her father is all of this. I can't find him in the 1900 census. He died in 1908 and Mary is listed in his obituary. But in 1900, Mary and Elmer were living with her husband's family - her mother-in-law, Mary Corr Gorry; her two spinster sister-in-laws, Mary and Hannah; and her bachelor brother-in-law, Michael.

By 1910, the situation had changed. Michael, Mary, and Hannah Gorry had moved to Brooklyn and taken their 13 year old nephew Elmer with them. Mary Horgan Gorry had lost everything - her husband, her father, her 3 children, and I imagine it broke her heart to not have her son with her, but I think maybe she knew she couldn't hold down a job and care for her son, too. In Brooklyn, Michael was an ironworker and Mary and Hannah were dressmakers, maybe from home, maybe able to work and care for Elmer at the same time. In Brooklyn, Elmer was able to go to school, almost all the way through high school. In Manhattan, Mary was living with her cousins, the Hallorans, and working in a pencil factory.

During World War I, Mary corresponded with a soldier named R. Morrow, who from his photo (letters and photo courtesy, again, of my grandfather's basement), looks African-American. In 1920, Mary is still living with the Hallorans and working at a pencil factory. Ten years later, she and her cousin Jeremiah Halloran are still at the same address, but she was working as a launderer at a branch of Bellevue Hospital. By that same year, 1930, she was also a grandmother to Elmer Anthony Gorry Jr., my grandfather, living across the river in Queens. She died 31 Aug 1955 at the age of 82.

I imagine Mary as a strong woman - maybe the tragedies that plagued the early part of her life left her broken, but she survived. She did what she needed to do to make sure her son had his own chance at a good life. She didn't rely on a man to take care of her; she didn't remarry because she had to. I imagine she was probably very lonely at times too. Maybe James was the love of her life. Maybe she couldn't bear to marry again. Life was probably a struggle. But she had her son. And she had her two grandsons. And she lived to see two great-grandsons, one of which is my father. She inspires me when I feel like my own tragedies in life are too much - I have her blood in me, and I have her name, so maybe I have some of her strength, too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ancestor profile: Charles Haase

Sometimes, as our family trees grow and the information we find paints a fuller and more complete picture of individuals, there are certain people who jump out at us. As in all things, some people have more compelling stories than others. I offer these ancestor profiles as examples of the kinds of stories you can find, the kinds of people you can discover, and also to illustrate what resources I used and how I pieced their stories together.

Charles Haase is my 4th great grandfather, on my paternal grandmother's side. I first learned about Charles from his son's birth certificate. I went through a whole convoluted journey to paint his picture, but there was a lot of information there to be founded - I used U.S. census forms, I ordered his death certificate, I visited his grave where I learned he was a Civil War veteran, I got his pension records from the National Archives in Washington D.C., and successfully tried out the New Jersey archive system to get his marriage record.

Charles was born in Germany, in Saxony according to the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census. Those census years as well as his marriage record put his birth somewhere around 1838-1839. According to his death certificate, he emigrated from Germany about 1855. I have a record in the 1860 census that I've gravitated toward as possibly being him living in Manhattan with a mother named Louisa but I can't prove it...

He's listed in the New Jersey Marriage Registry as marrying 20-year-old Barbara Reinhardt, daughter of John and Catherina, on July 12, 1861. They were married in New York but resided in Union Hill, Hudson County, New Jersey. His occupation was as a hatter.

When I visited his grave in Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn, I discovered that Charles was a Civil War veteran. According to Civil War records, he enlisted as a private on 22 September 1864, and was drafted into Company H of the 33rd Infantry Regiment New Jersey. He mustered out 1 June 1865 in Bladensburg, Maryland, same rank, company, and regiment.

Looking up Company H of the 33rd Infantry Regiment online for the time period of September 1864-June 1865, I found out it was part of the Army of the Cumberland. While Charles was with them, they took part in the occupation of Atlanta (Sept. 2-Nov. 15), Sherman's march to the sea (Nov. 15-Dec. 10), the siege of Savannah (Dec. 10-21), the Campaign of the Carolinas January to April, 1865, the advance on and occupation of Raleigh April 10-14, among others. The regiment lost during service 6 Officers and 72 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 85 Enlisted men by disease for a total of 163. This immigrant hatter from New Jersey saw more of the country than he probably ever would have dreamed (and probably more bloodshed and gore in more time away from his young family then he ever wanted) during the war. He was only about 26 years old and besides his wife, he had a young daughter, Louisa, at home.

In 1870, Charles and Barbara were still living in Union, New Jersey and things appear to be back to normal - Charles is still a hatter, and besides daughter Louisa, they now also have a son, Edward (my 3rd great-grandfather). In 1880, Charles has moved his family to Brooklyn, and all but one of his six children are born. His mother-in-law is living with them, he is still a hat maker, and his son Edward is listed as being a "fruit huckster" (according to Milt Haase, another descendent of Charles, his cousin vaguely remembered Edward, and that he grew up to be a grocer, which became the family business).

Sadly, Charles Haase died on January 10, 1891 at the age of about 53. While his death certificate lists his cause of death as nephritis or kidney inflammation, more information is provided in the Civil War pension records for his wife from the National Archives. In December of 1890,Charles Haase applied for a pension on the grounds that he was unable to work due to "rheumatism, asthma, heart trouble, kidney troubles and several complications of diseases (that produce) general disability." He died a month later, after which his widow applied for a pension to support herself and her three minor children: Louis, Jacob Frederick, and Josephine.

Genealogical resources: cemeteries

I love cemeteries. Yeah, I know...weird doesn't even begin to describe it. Even before I developed an interest in genealogy, I used to love going to the cemetery with the Girl Scouts on Memorial Day to place flags on the graves of veterans. I find them to be very peaceful. And I remember getting really excited when I realized I had family buried in one of the cemeteries we went to. I should've realized then what my future held for me.

Anyway, cemeteries are another source of genealogical information, especially if you're lucky enough to live in the vicinity of ones where family members are buried. Sometimes, like in the case of your parents or grandparents, you already know where to find them - my mother is in St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, my grandfather is in Holy Cross in Brooklyn, his parents are in Greenfield in Hempstead. Other times, a death certificate can provide this information - that's how I discovered family plots (and in one case, a mausoleum!) in Evergreen and Lutheran Cemeteries in Brooklyn.

But why visit the actual cemetery? From personal experience, being able to see and touch a family member's name on a headstone makes me feel closer to them and makes them feel more real. But headstones carry a lot of important information - other family members buried in the plot that you might not have known about or who you did know about but needed dates for. I visited my 4th great-grandfather's grave in Evergreen Cemetery and discovered he was a Civil War veteran when I saw it engraved on his headstone.

Sometimes there isn't a headstone, like in the Gorry family plot in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside. They were just too poor to afford one. But the cemetery office can still provide you with a list of names for most if not everyone buried there.

I have always found the cemetery offices to be extremely helpful. In most of the cases of my cemetery visits (Calvary, Holy Cross, Lutheran, and Evergreen are all in the same general area, so sometimes I would make a day of it and visit two or three in one trip), I had never been there before. Sometimes they need a name, sometimes they need a death date, but usually they can find your family member in their index and locate their burial site on a map for you.

I have had mixed results when trying to get the names of those buried in a plot with no headstone - for that, there is usually a fee. One cemetery (can't remember specifics but it was definitely one of the Catholic cemeteries...) wanted to charge me close to $100 for all the names. All he would tell me for free was how many people were in the plot and when they had died. But the people at Lutheran Cemetery were very helpful with that and the price was reasonable (I think maybe $20 for what turned out to be 4 or 5 names).

If you don't live near a cemetery where you have family, many cemeteries will give you this information over the phone - of course, policies and prices vary, but you can find a lot of that information, as well as phone numbers to call, online.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Genealogical resources: archived records

For the most part my ancestors came to New York and through the years, stayed in New York. Up until my dad and my maternal grandmother, those lines pretty much stayed in the vicinity of Queens-Brooklyn-Manhattan, which has made the New York Municipal Archives a great resource for me. I first found them online at Among their holdings are microfilmed birth (prior to 1910), death (prior to 1949), and marriage certificates (prior to 1930) for the five boroughs of New York City. The services aren't free, but the fees and wait period are extremely reasonable. I found many valuable records by sending a search request online - I discovered the names of once nameless parents, I found addresses by which to look up the family in a corresponding census record, I found birth dates and maiden names. But I didn't find everything I was looking for. As exciting as it was to receive a new record in the mail, it was equally disappointing to get a nearly empty envelope saying the search had been unsuccessful.

Well, I only live 40 minutes from the city. If I couldn't rely on others to do my search for me, I would do the search myself.

Open weekdays from 9-4:30 (1 on Fridays), the Archives are located in Manhattan right by the Brooklyn Bridge. For $5, you get access to a microfilm machine for the entire day. I went armed with paper, pen, and a list of names, dates, and places I was looking for and spent the whole day there on more than one occasion.

Sometimes I was unsuccessful. But sometimes, I had pay dirt. It's convenient and easy that the Archives have a search request online, especially for those people looking up New York records who don't live in the New York area. But for those who can get into the Archives to continue an unsuccessful online search, it can make all the difference. The search itself can be tedious - I think microfilm machines are hard on the eyes to begin with, and it's not long before your eyes start to cross and every birth certificate blurs into the next.

But doing the search yourself lets you work with variables - when you order a search online, you get to look for one name. In my case, maybe the name was of my ancestor James Gorry. But Gorry is a tricky name - on James' birth certificate, did they spell his last name Gorry, or was it one of the many versions I've seen on census forms and other documents - Gorey, Gory, Gaurry?

As it turns out, it was spelled Garry. And his birth certificate is issued to "male Garry." I never would have found that online.

Another person I couldn't believe I couldn't find was my great-grandfather, Elmer Anthony Gorry. Records that are more recent tend to be easier to find - record keeping in earlier years was spotty at best, but Elmer was born in 1896. That record was practically brand new! Each record type is indexed several different ways, and since I had his birthdate, I think that's the index I used to find him. Turns out he, too, was listed as a Garry, not as "Elmer Garry," but as "Anthony Garry."

There's another fee to print out any records you find and the whole experience is usually very taxing and exhausting, but the point is, birth, death, and marriage certificates can be an invaluable resource, not only to continue your search but to discover an interesting family story (like the marriage certificate I found that proved my great-grandmother was born only seven months after her parents were married), and sometimes you are lucky enough to be able to go that extra step in a search and that the chances of being successful by doing the legwork yourself may be worth it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Genealogical resources: one person's junk is another person's treasure

When I started doing genealogy, it was just a hobby and it was just for fun. It had to be for fun, because I started a lot of my research in college, where my main resource, due to convenience and lack of funds, was the Internet. The great thing about the Internet is people can post information about anything from anywhere. The bad thing about the Internet is people can post information about anything from anywhere. What you find on the Internet can give you a place to start - a name to look for, a date to find - but there's a lot of bad and just plain wrong information out there, and it's meaningless unless you can back it up with facts.

A couple of years ago, my dad brought home his grandmother's death certificate and funeral bill, which he'd found in the basement of my grandfather's house (as it turns out, sometimes being a pack rat ends up being a good thing - you may save lots of useless junk but occasionally you might save something valuable and useful.) He also found lots of old photos, an old diary of one of his great aunt's (who, if she were alive today, I would take real issue with because, being sensitive about her age, she erased any dates and mentionings of her age in everything she owned!), a datebook his grandfather kept for the entire year before his father was born, and a 100-year old family Bible with the names of all the children and their dates of birth listed on the inside cover. These were facts. These were things that could back up and prove (or disprove) any information I found on the web.

The Internet is a good place to start, like I said. But unless you're using a site like where you have access to primary sources, it's only good enough for the most part for speculative, "fun" genealogy. Family records and heirlooms like the ones that apparently filled my grandfather's basement for years can provide proof. And they can provide information with which to further your genealogical search - death certificates can give date and place of birth, parents' names and place of birth, mother's maiden name, addresses, places of burial. My father found clipped obituaries, letters written to my great-grandmother by a soldier pen pal of hers during World War I, a baptismal certificate for his grandmother, another funeral bill for another members may be holding onto resources and not even know it! For someone who isn't a genealogist, a funeral bill is just a bill. It doesn't matter if it's 100 years old. It's just junk taking up space. But everything is a clue, a part of the story. If you can find it, you can not only fill in pieces of the puzzle, you can find more spots that need pieces filled in.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Wild, Wild East

They had to settle and build towns from scratch. There was nothing but wilderness and Native Americans, both of which could be inviting or could be hostile. 200 years later this landscape would be the wild, wild West but in 1634, when 10-year-old Edward Raynor sailed to America with a group of English settlers that included his uncle, his aunt, and his cousins, he was greeted by the wild, wild East.

Edward Raynor was the reason I became interested in genealogy. I remember seeing the actual family tree drawn out by Gerald Van Sise Raynor and other family historians, showing each branch through the years, from Edward's grandfather, all the way down to where my mother's name was scribbled. I remember having to do a family tree project in school and being told we should consider ourselves lucky to be able to get all our grandparents names and possibly any of their parents and thinking to myself that I wished I could go back further than 15 generations.

Anyway, Edward. My direct ancestor, the man who started it all. He was orphaned before he was 10, and sailed to America with his uncle Thurston and Thurston's family on the Elizabeth, landing in probably the Boston area. The European settlement of America was still very, very new. Jamestown had been founded only 27 years earlier, it had been only 14 years since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth on the Mayflower, and only 13 years since the first Thanksgiving. Thurston appears to have been a leader among his group, and like the wagon trains and prospectors who 200 years later would migrate west across the continent, Edward and his uncle spent the next 10 years migrating south, helping to found, build, and settle towns such as Wetherfield and Stamford, Connecticut, along the way. Sometimes I tend to romanticize it the way life in the Wild West is often romanticized, but I can't imagine it was an easy life - Thurston's first wife apparently died somewhere along the way and he remarried, water mills washed out and had to be rebuilt, lawlessness had to be dealt with, and Indian attacks occurred, such as during the 1636-1638 Pequot Indian War. Around 1644, now 20 years old, Edward was uprooted again when Thurston was among a group of English settlers who were granted land in the middle of Dutch territory on Long Island (present-day Suffolk County was English land, but Nassau County, which is where the group settled, was part of the Dutch colony). They settled what is now Hempstead, where they farmed, fished, and raised animals that grazed on the Hempstead Plains, the only prairie east of the Mississippi River. Thurston eventually got itchy feet again and moved his family east to Southampton, while Edward elected to remain behind, settling the Great South Woods on the South Shore of Long Island where he founded what would become known as Raynortown and eventually Freeport, which is where my family still lives today.

Edward Raynor was where it all started. But as I began to become a more savvy genealogist, realizing I could take other's work as a place to start but shouldn't rely on it as fact unless I could back it up, I realized there was still a lot of work to do. Primary sources needed to be found. The Raynor family had done a great job of tracing the Raynor family name, but what about the mothers? My name is Gorry but I am just as much a Raynor as I am a Gorry - to me, the female lines were equally as important. And I had three other grandparents whose genealogy I knew little to nothing about.

But I often still think about Edward, who had lost both his parents, spent three months on a ship crossing the Atlantic, then spent the next 10 years continually starting over, struggling to survive, exploring virgin territory, learning and creating and not even realizing that he was changing the landscape of history. I often think that those Europeans who came to America for whatever reason possessed a more adventurous spirit than those who stayed behind, and following that logic, that those Americans who headed West were more adventurous than those who remained on the East Coast. But at least in the case of the Raynors and those like them, there was no civilization to escape...the East was wild enough.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why we tell the story

Genealogy, for me, is not just about gathering facts. It's not just a person's name and important dates. Genealogy is writing a story - where did a person come from, what did they do for a living, where did they live, who did they live with, getting the fullest picture possible and then trying to figure out their motivations for the things they did, putting their life in context of that time and place in history and wondering what their everyday life must have been like. Why did my great-grandfather leave Ireland? Why did my grandfather's grandmother, widowed in her 20s, never remarry? What was it like for Edward Raynor, not even 20-years-old, to settle in the heart of Dutch territory on Long Island with nothing but trees and streams and Native Americans around?

I'm a reader. I'm always interested in a good story, a well-rounded story, a true story (a story can be "true" even if it's fiction). And I don't believe in destiny, but I believe that everything that happens - every decision we make and every action we take - leads us to the point at which we find ourselves. I wouldn't be the person I am today or where I am today if not for everything my ancestors did and were before me. And I can honor them by remembering what those things were and helping future generations remember what those things were.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Becoming Nancy Drew

This blog is about genealogy, in case that isn't obvious. But I'll get to that soon enough.

When I was younger, I discovered my mother's complete collection of Nancy Drew books and being an avid reader, I devoured them. A detective who was a high school girl? How cool was that? I was quickly hooked on mysteries and soon decided I wanted to be a detective.

When I was a little older than that, my family went out to eat at a seafood restaurant in Freeport, the small village on the South Shore of Long Island where I lived. When I opened the menu, I saw the first page was the story about the founding of Freeport by a man named Edward Raynor. It immediately caught my attention and kept my interest because my mother's maiden name was Raynor. Coincidence? Could this Edward be a distant relative? How might they possibly be related? What would Nancy Drew do to solve this mystery?

As it turns out, this first case of mine would have made a very boring book, as the Raynor family, one of the first English families to settle Long Island, had already been extensively researched and my maternal grandmother, the keeper of our family tree, had given my mother all the information in a handy-dandy binder. Edward was an nth-grandfather. Mystery solved.

But my interest was piqued. And over the years, it only grew. And I soon realized that my Nancy Drew days, pathetic as they had been, were not over. What about my dad's family? Where had they come from? What was their story? And my mother's mother? Her dad was born in Ireland and claimed to have seen a leprechaun (a story that even today my superstitious Irish side is reluctant to entirely dismiss), but that's all I knew about her family. And what of these women who had married into the Raynor family - the Seamans, the Pearsalls, the Smiths - all early important Long Island families in their own right...what were their stories? The mystery was far from over. There was still a lot of work for Nancy Drew to do.

For me, doing genealogy is doing detective work. It's starting with names and places and photos and stories and looking for the facts to not only back them up but to connect the pieces of the puzzle. Geneology is like having a haystack full of needles, and not only looking for the individual needles, but also the threads to tie them together.

Since those beginnings, my family tree has grown many more branches, and I have become its keeper. But with each needle discovered, there's another one to look for. The mystery only continues to grow.

I'm not an actual detective. I'm just a lowly newspaper reporter. But turns out I get to be Nancy Drew after all.