Monday, July 11, 2016

A Moment in Time with Rubella

Recently, I told my mother how I had accidentally fallen asleep next to my son's crib waiting for him to fall asleep, and had a stiff neck in the morning as a result. Convinced that we are overindulging him, she replied, "The only time anyone ever slept next to my crib was when I had German measles! Grandpa slept on the floor next to my crib because I was so sick!"

I asked how old she was when this happened, and she said she was really young - obviously still in a crib - and that she thinks it's her earliest memory. 

As a parent, I'm not terribly concerned that she thinks we're Doing It Wrong (TM). As an historian, I am very interested in the historical moment that this memory represents, one that probably couldn't be repeated today.

It was probably around 1961, assuming my mother was around 2. A vaccine for rubella (German measles) wouldn't come out until 1969. My grandfather was not exactly a modern man, in the sense of doing much of the care-giving work of parenting. My first instinct was an "Awww . . ." at the thought of my tough-as-nails grandfather being so concerned about his sick toddler that he'd sleep on the floor. But then I remembered something about rubella; it's not typically very dangerous for the kids who have it; it's dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies. According to the CDC,

Rubella is a contagious disease caused by a virus. Most people who get rubella usually have a mild illness, with symptoms that can include a low-grade fever, sore throat, and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. Rubella can cause a miscarriage or serious birth defects in an developing baby if a woman is infected while she is pregnant. 

Grandpa was sleeping on the floor because Grandma couldn't. She was likely either pregnant with my uncle, or was keeping away out of an abundance of caution in case she was pregnant. Perhaps limiting contact with women of child-bearing age was just a general recommendation for kids with German measles.

That was 1961.

This is 2016. Old-fashioned men like my grandfather are a vanishing breed. Rubella is a vanishing disease. Men sleeping on the floor next to their toddlers' crib provoke fewer "Awwws" and more "You're Doing It Wrongs." Even pregnant mothers don't have to worry about getting rubella from their sick kids, when both mother and child have been vaccinated against it.

The moment has passed.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Top 10 Genealogy Faux Pas

Thinking about those times when, as genealogists, we rub the "normal" people in our families (or the genealogist at the next microfilm reader) the wrong way, I present this list of the Top 10 Genealogy Faux Pas:

10. Hoarding the family heirlooms.
9. Not citing your sources.
8. Taking over the comments on a #TBT post with questions about the precise dates and places of those old family photos.
7. Doing all your research on the one microfilm reader with print capabilities.
6. Interrupting every family story with, "Well actually, according to my research . . . "
5. Sharing the secret family recipe.
4. "So you're saying you were born in August, and your parents were married in March . . . Let me just do the math here, just to be clear . . ."
3. Taking notes on the biographical data on a memorial card . . . at the funeral.
2. Skipping the family reunion to go do research at the Family History Library.
1. Asking a lady her age.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Poor Law Union Board of Guardians Minutes

My Rothwells and Mulvaneys lived in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, and immigrated to Brooklyn, NY, sometime in the early 1850s. In an effort to learn more about their story, I ordered the microfilm of the Board of Guardians Minute Books for 1851.

I had no idea what I was going to find. I don't actually know if the Mulvanys or Rothwells were in the workhouse, but I know they were poor, and that sometimes people ended up there until they could immigrate. I also didn't know whether there was much if any chance that they would actually be mentioned in the minutes if they were.

So far, having spent only a couple hours on these records, I haven't found my ancestors. But I thought I'd share a few of the things I have come across, so you know what kinds of gems may be found in these records.

By far the vast majority of inmates of the workhouse are not included in the minutes by name. Every week's meeting begins with an accounting of the number of inmates. The week ending Saturday, 31 May 1851, there were about 1300. Most weeks pass without any naming of inmates, but occasionally, there are notes like these:

"The master reported that a pauper named Betsy Gearty fell into a boiler of hot water in the laundry on the 29th Instant and was severely burned."

"Letter from the Clerk of Trim Union noting that the Board of Guardians discharged Margt Soraghan from Trim Workhouse as they assert she belongs to Kells Union."

"Moved by Mr. Dyas
Seconded by Mr. Arthur Radcliff
That James Hopkins Shoemaker, get a suit of Clothes on his going out of the Workhouse . . . . . . .Passed."
"Moved by Mr. John Christie
Seconded by Mr. John Radcliff
Resolved That John Brady, Edward Brady, and Catharine Brady, Inmates of this House, be allowed a suit of Clothes each to enable them to proceed to America, as their passage has been paid by their Mother . . . . Passed."

There's even some follow up on the Bradys: letters from the Poor Law Commissioners asked how much was spent on their clothes, and then expressed approval of the amount, and finally an order approving spending a sum of money to defray the cost of their travel.

"The Clerk was directed to write to the Commss. to call their attention to the case of Paupers named Plunkett from Oldcastle Union, and also to the case of Soragham from Trim Union, and the request they will give directions to the Guardians of these Unions to admit these paupers."

"Letter from the Poor Law Commissioners [???], 28th June '51, stating with reference to a case of a Pauper named Thomas Divine from [???] Union, that the Attorney General has given it as his opinion that an Indictment by [???] a Board of Guardians for causing Pauper to be removed from said Union to another."

"Letter from the Poor Law Commissioners No. 40,518/57 - 1st August 1851 stating with reference to a pauper named Sarah Soraghan that according to the minutes of Proceedings of the Trim Board of Guardians on the 5th Ultimo, this Pauper was residing four years with her mother in the town of Kells."

If you determine that your ancestors were in the workhouse, these minutes have plenty of information about their lives, even if they're not mentioned by name. In Kells in 1851, the minutes talk about a scarcity of water due to broken pipes, about the Master's absence from the schoolroom due to travel and illness, about where the dead are going to be buried, and list what food and other provisions were purchased. You may also be able to find your ancestors here if they weren't in the workhouse, as the Board of Guardians is listed by name, and everyone who won a contract to provide food or fuel or build a storehouse was named. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Genealogy Blog Party: Time Travel to an Ancestor!

I may not understand many of the Dr. Who references in the party invitation, but I'll take an ancestor time machine any time! These days, I'd go back to the late 19th century to meet my enigmatic 3x great-grandfather Richard Toner.

He could answer lots of questions for me:

I certainly would not tell Richard Toner who I am. There were times when he seemed a bit psychologically unstable, and I'm not sure a visit from 2016 would be in his best interest. This is part of what makes him such a fascinating ancestor; there are a lot of interesting things going on in his life, a lot of different jobs, activity with different organizations (police, fire, Democratic party, just to name a few), a roller coaster of financial fortunes (in 1877, he was "formerly worth considerable money") and some apparently very difficult personal relationships. I'd love to get to know this complicated individual. Even without revealing myself, though, I'm still going to have to deal with disrupting the future, because the best way I can see to help him with a problem would be to teach him to boil water during a cholera epidemic, in hopes of saving the lives of two of his children, Julia and James Thomas, who died during NYC's 1866 epidemic.

By Sanatory Committee, under the sanction of the Medical Counsel, in New York City - New York Historical Society. "Plague in Gotham! Cholera in 19th-Century New York." New York Historical Society. April 04, 2008 - August 31, 2008., Public Domain,

Since the official cholera prevention advice of the time wouldn't do much to save my 3x great aunt and uncle, I'll have to step in and do it.

What impact would this encounter have on the future? None of Richard's sons lived to have children, as far as I have been able to determine. If James Thomas had survived to adulthood, there might still be Toner men in this family to test for Y-DNA! If Julia had lived, wouldn't be another Julia Toner. My 2x great-grandmother, the second Julia Toner born into this family, would have had a different name. That is, of course, if she had been born at all. Who really knows whether Richard and his wife Mary would have gone on to have a 9th child in 1868 if they hadn't lost 2 - the oldest and the youngest - in 1866? (Another boy, Richard Joseph, then the youngest, had died in 1863.) If Julia hadn't been born, I wouldn't be here today, and neither would something like 50% of the people I know and love. And if I weren't here, I wouldn't be around to travel back in time to save the elder Julia and potentially wipe out our entire line. (Then what?)

But when I think about the heartbreak of the Toners, losing two children in two days, I'm convinced that going back in time to institute a boil water advisory is a risk I'd have to take. (Plus I really want to find out what happened to the money!)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Scenic views of my ancestral homelands

I used to commute to work by bike, from my home in Queens, through Brooklyn, and into Manhattan, a route which took me across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. This bridge separated the two most harrowing parts of my commute, connecting a poorly marked bike lane and heavy truck traffic with no bike line, heavy truck traffic, and an excess of double parking. The bridge itself has no bike lanes, and the incline is enough that once you've crested the hill on a bike, you're pretty invisible to cars coming up behind you. As a result, I usually walked my bike on the sidewalk, and took advantage of the delay to take in the scenery.

Newtown Creek from Greenpoint Avenue Bridge 02
Newtown Creek from Greenpoint Avenue Bridge 02
Postdlf from w [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
By Jim.henderson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Inspiring, isn't it? It's not exactly the most picturesque part of Brooklyn, and certainly bears little relationship to Park Slope's brownstones or Williamsburg's trendy boutiques. And yet it never failed to move me, on some level. This industrial Brooklyn is my Brooklyn, my ancestors' Brooklyn. They didn't live in Greenpoint, of course; they lived in Red Hook. But here on the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint is where I felt the most connection to the gritty, industrial Brooklyn that they would have experienced.

I was once out with friends in Brooklyn Heights, and as we walked past the building that had been the Hotel St. George, I mentioned that it was where my grandparents had been married. A Brooklynite friend asked me, slightly exasperated, "Seriously Kathleen, why don't you live in Brooklyn?" As nice as it is to walk past the place where my grandparents were married, though, those special-event, one-of-a-kind locations are not what connect me the most to my family history. It's there on the Newtown Creek, where I wouldn't dare touch the water. It's when I got stuck in growing lines of automotive and bicycle traffic as they raised the Greenpoint Avenue drawbridge to let some industrial, waste-bearing barge pass beneath. It's the sight of sewage treatment plants, shipping containers, and storage warehouses that line both sides of the creek. These are today's equivalents of the shipyards and grain elevators that employed my Mulvaney and Toner ancestors along the Red Hook waterfront, the modern counterparts to the industry that would have been the backdrop to their daily lives, and these are the elements that make me feel the closest to them.

Friday, April 8, 2016

*Brand New* Online Resource: NY City Clerk Marriage Index, 1908-1929

I am a big fan of the non-profit group Reclaim the Records, which is fighting to get public access to the public records genealogy depends on. Their first case, and first success, won the release of copies of the microfilmed indexes to the NYC City Clerk's Marriage Indexes for 1908-1929. These were put online at the Internet Archive today, and I got right to work!

The records indexed here are distinct from the Health Department records already indexed by the Italian Genealogical Group and available on its website, as well as at Ancestry and elsewhere online. Reclaim the Records says,

"These marriage records were kept by the New York City Clerk's Office, not the Health Department. And they are not the two-page certificates. Instead, they are a three-page document set, consisting of (1) the application of the couple wishing to get married, (2) the affidavit from the couple stating that they are legally allowed to get married, and (3) the marriage license granted to the couple so that they could go get married at a date in the near future. Therefore, the dates of the documents listed in this index were usually several weeks before the marriage; the date is not the same date that the wedding took place."

It seems that these records should cover the same couples covered by the Health Department Records (plus anyone who applied for a marriage license and then didn't actually get married), but they may contain additional information. What additional information, or how much of it, I'm not sure of.

I picked a couple to use as a test case - my trickiest set of great-grandparents in this time period. My great-grandmother, Maria D'Ingeo, was born in a still-undetermined location, and my great-grandfather, Domenico Gatto, was married once before, but I have no information on his first marriage. These seem like great records to possibly provide some information about one or both of these topics, so I wrote to the NYC Municipal Archives to request the record. Once I receive it and see what it contains, I'll be able to evaluate whether to pursue this set of records for each set of my great-grandparents who married in NYC.

Bonus Tip: Check the end of each section of the index! Apostrophes are tricky. The index is arranged by year, then by first letter of the last name, then by quarter, then by first two letter of the last name. So to find a Maria D'Ingeo who was married in October 1919, you would expect to go to 1919, then to the letter D, then scroll through to the last quarter of the year, and then go to the Di section. If you did this, you would read through every name that starts with Di and not find her. You have to then scroll through an extra 1.5 blank pages of pre-printed DIs to find "D'Ingea, Maria" at the very end. Always check the end if you don't find your subject where you expect to.

genealogy, reclaim the records, vital records, family history, marriage records, public records access
Screenshot: Index to NYC City Clerk's Marriage Records
1919 - D - Sep-Dec - Di
D'Ingea, Maria

Monday, March 21, 2016

A living heirloom is better than a dead one

Does a family tree grow better in potting soil or perlite?

Am I mixing up my hobbies?

Or just combining them?

Wait, there's an "heirloom vegetable" pun to be made here somewhere!

My late grandfather's house is for sale, and with it, of course, the various improvements he made on the property as a life-long gardener. And since a living heirloom is better than a dead one, my mom and I recently made cuttings of his fig tree, in hopes of keeping its descendants in the family.

I'm not sure that anyone is positive about where Grandpa's fig tree came from, but the consensus seems to be that he probably got it from my grandmother's cousin Mike Rossano.

I spent weeks reading up on how to root fig trees from cuttings, and what I gathered was:

It's so easy, anyone can do it!

Everyone who's ever done it has used a unique method.

And everyone's method is the only method that works this well!

The house will be sold by the end of the month. These cuttings are my only chance to have a piece of this tree. I was terrified of committing to the wrong method and losing them forever. (I do not respond well when you threaten my heirlooms . . . of any variety.) My mom? Her cuttings are still in the damp paper towel she put them in over a month ago! She keeps meaning to do something with them . . . If only I could be that relaxed about heirloom plants.

I took four cuttings for myself. I live on a teeny tiny piece of property with no room for four fig trees, but I was leaving room for error.

I put one cutting in a plain jar of water. I had read that rooting cuttings in water leads to weaker, more delicate roots, but I figured I'd give it a try, as that's the only method of rooting cuttings that I'm familiar with.

I put two cuttings in pots of perlite.

I put one cutting in a 50-50 mixture of perlite and potting soil. This mostly because I ran out of potting soil and had to cut it with perlite.

Several weeks out:

I'm lucky enough to have an active toddler in the house to rip my cuttings ("BIG stick!") out of their pots every so often so I can check whether they have roots or not. The one in potting soil and one of the ones in perlite have been subject to this treatment. Neither one had roots yet when last we "checked," prior to moving them out of reach.

At least they still look alive. The other one in perlite, safely on the dining room table out of harm's way, looks positively dead, and may in fact be rotting from the bottom up. I'm days away from resigning it to the compost pile.

And the one in a plain old jar of water has nice little white buds under the water where roots should be forming, and - get this - green leaves showing up on top! But its roots seem to have stopped growing once the leaves appeared, so I need to troubleshoot before my only thriving fig gets too big to sustain itself.

heirloom plants, genealogy, family history, gardening, figs
Figs, Day 1
heirloom plants, genealogy, family history, gardening, figs
Figs, week 8ish

Do you keep any living heirlooms?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Accentuate the Positives Geneameme 2015

I have not had a lot of time or money for research or writing in the past couple of years, but I thought I'd give Jill Ball's perennial Accentuate the Positives meme a shot and see if I can rustle up some things I may have managed to accomplish in the last year.

1.  Elusive ancestors I found were Patrick King and Bridget Fadden. They were elusive because they were being hidden by impostor 3x great-grandparents (in other words, I was looking at the wrong record). I'm still working on corroborating their names. 

2.  A precious family photo I found was of my 2x great-grandmother, Pasqua Occhiogrosso

4.  An important vital record I found was Mary King O'Hara's 1949 death certificate

7.   My 2014 2015 blog post that I was particularly proud of was RootsIreland and Latin Parish Registers

8.   My 2014 2015 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was Trust but Verify; or There goes 1/16 of my family tree

10. A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was Facebook. After many years of keeping my genealogical activities off of Facebook, I finally joined a couple of geographic and surname groups and have enjoyed them immensely. 

14. I taught a friend how to Find Italian vital records free online at Antenati

17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was On Doing Local History by Carol Kammen

19. A geneadventure I enjoyed was exploring the newly released Irish Catholic parish records through the National Library of Ireland. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Family History Gifts: Oral History

I've been giving a lot of thought to how to give thoughtful, budget-conscious Christmas gifts to the 52 members of my maternal family this year. With a family like that (and a budget like mine), it can be quite the conundrum. I had aspirations of using the products of my garden to make everyone something homemade and herbal-y, but my experiments in making herbal vinegars turned out a little lackluster.

Finally, just before Thanksgiving, I realized that my best bet, as usual, was family history.

I have recordings of several interviews with my late grandparents, and my idea is to burn them onto CDs and slap a bow on the jewel case. Awesome present, reasonable price!

Despite having 50 blank CDs in my living room, my plan is currently more aspirational than anything else.

The Plan
1. Edit the interviews
2. Burn the CDs
3. Design an attractive and informative insert
4. Bows

1. The Interviews
Interview 1, with Grandma, is actually fully complete, edited and ready to be shared. Because I e-mailed it to everyone several years ago. So Interview 1, on its own, does not a present make.

The recording of Interview 2, with Grandpa, begins with several minutes of unrelated conversation in the background. While I don't think any of my relatives has entirely forgotten how drunk my cousin was at that wedding in 2009, I'd like to edit out the gentle scolding she got from cutting, if only as a courtesy. I am confident that this simple cutting is something I can manage, I just haven't exactly learned how to do it yet. (The cousin in question will get the unedited version. I think she'd love to hear herself taking with Grandma again, no matter the subject matter.)

Interview 3, with both of my grandparents, was recorded close to a decade ago, on my college laptop. That laptop was so loud that everyone from my roommate to my professors commented on it sounding like "a rocket." What I did not realize at the time was that the dull roar of that exceptionally loud fan would become part of the recording. (Duh!) I am not at all confident that I (or anytime) can fix the sound quality on this one. If I can't, I have to figure out whether it's worth sharing anyway. (I think the answer is yes, but will have to listen to it again to make sure it's not more frustratingly to listen to than rewarding.) A sample track is currently with my musician cousins, who will hopefully tell me if there's anything that can be done.

2. The CDs
I purchased these Verbatim CDs from Amazon. (Archival Gold CDs for everyone were unfortunately not in the budget, although they're the gold standard of CD preservation.) I had to do some investigating to remind myself what the CD specs referred to. They are labeled as "700 MB 52x 80 minute." But what on Earth does that mean?

  • 52x refers to the speed at which the CDs can be written.
  • 700 MB refers to the amount of data that they can hold.
  • 80 minutes refers to the length of recorded audio that they can play. 

Since the recordings that I have take up far less than 700 MB of space, but run far longer than 80 minutes, I was a little confused. Would one CD hold all three of the interviews I want to burn, or would I need 3 or more CDs for each gift? I had to do a little more research to find out, and eventually learned that it depends on the format in which the tracks are burned. Audio files are much larger, and will take up more space. The CDs can hold 80 minutes worth of audio files. Data files (e.g. MP3s) are much smaller, and so 700 MB of data may hold far more audio. However, data files may be incompatible with some CD players, especially older ones. They will play on computers but some people may not be able to play them on their home or car stereo systems.

I chose to keep these gifts compact and burn the files as MP3s, so that I only needed to use one CD per recipient. All of my relatives have computers, so even if some of them cannot listen to the CD elsewhere, they will still have access to the files.

3. The Insert
I have a brand new printer, but it doesn't print in color. Even though I really wanted to get the color printer so I could print nice color inserts for these CDs, I don't usually have any need to print in color. I knew that this one project couldn't justify spending the extra hundred dollars or so that it would cost. I'm googling "attractive black and white design" to try to figure out how to make these inserts a little more eye-catching than just black text on white, but graphic design is not where my skills lie. If it happens that I am able to put together something that I'm proud of, I will post a follow up.

4. The Bows
I'm just going to buy some bows.

How are you incorporating your family history into your gift-giving this holiday season?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase from Amazon after clicking one of these links, I will receive a small portion of your purchase price as a commission. The price you pay doesn't change! I personally make a point of starting my Amazon shopping through the affiliate links of bloggers and friends whenever possible, so that large corporations are not the only beneficiaries of my purchases, and encourage others to do the same, regardless of whether they use my affiliate links or another blogger's. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Labeling Photographs: Memory and Mourning

Have you ever wondered why some of your inherited family photographs are impeccably labelled, and others are unfortunate blank canvases?

My maternal grandfather recently passed away, and I inherited a handful of photographs. Not the real old kind, just a few pictures from my parents' wedding through approximately my 8th grade graduation. Almost all were unlabeled, and the ones my grandmother had labeled were vague or incomplete. "Gail's wedding" or "July 16, 1997."

Luckily, I was able to identify the people and places in almost all of them, and could give at least an educated guess as to approximate dates. So when I got home from my mom's house the other night, I set right to labeling the pictures.

I found myself being more specific than usual, with places in particular. I realized that the impending sale of my grandparents' home, the home where my mother grew up and where my cousins and I spent so much of our childhood, was driving me. Scribbling the street address, over and over, on the backs of 4x6 prints, somehow made me feel like I was doing my part to keep the memory of Grandma and Grandpa's house alive. (I was there only days earlier. The race to "keep memories alive" can be premature or even irrational.)

But this influenced my labeling throughout the collection. I added street addresses to pictures taken in my current house, in my parents' house, anywhere I recognized. I was aiming for consistency, yes, but I was also imagining a future where we've moved out of the home we love and have only pictures to remember it by. A future where I've passed away and my children struggle to remember the address of the apartment in NYC where we spent the first years of our marriage. Or where my kids - who will only ever know the apartment my in-laws downsized to - can't picture them living in the big house in the suburbs where my husband spent his happy childhood. Will addresses on the back of photographs change any of that? Not by much. They can't bring back a grandfather, unsell a house, or give my son any real memories of the apartment where he spent the first 10 weeks of his life. But they can make me feel like I tried.

I wonder what my kids, my descendants, the strangers who find my albums in a thrift store will think when they see how well-labelled some - but not all - of my pictures are. I can't imagine that they will even begin to follow my thought processes.

Have you ever though about what motivated the people creating the records you use?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Family History through Song: Abbatte i manine

My grandfather, Frank Gatto, passed away on October 7, 2015. He was 88. My son was 17 months old. I'll be forever grateful that they had the chance to know each other.

Grandpa was a bit of a one-trick pony when it came to babies. He sang the same Italian clapping song, to every baby, every time he saw them.

These days, whenever my son sees a picture of his "Pop," he starts clapping his hands. I love that there's such a physical way for my not-quite-verbal toddler to tell us he remembers. (Of course, I had to run out of the wake in tears the first time he did it at the funeral home.)

As far as we could tell, the song was mostly nonsense. After spending 8 years studying Italian and a semester abroad, I could pick out a few words here or there, but couldn't make sense of the whole thing. Neither could any of my other relatives, no matter how much Italian they'd studied. (Grandpa was the last native speaker in our family, but spoke a Brooklyn-ized dialect.) Grandpa translated the lyrics as "Clap your hands/Daddy's coming home/He's going to bring you candy."

As best I could pick out, Grandpa's song went like this:

Abbate i manine
Cadame ne tata
Annuzhe a lica bette
A do e da li da!

Clearly, that translates to:

Clap your little hands
Something Something [papa?]
Something Something Something
Something Something Something

But in the past month, as we've spent a lot of time clapping hands in memory of Grandpa, I finally googled, and learned that there are apparently dozens of variations on this song sung in Italy. They typically mean pretty much what Grandpa claimed: "Clap your hands/Daddy's coming home/He's bringing candy/And [Baby's name] is going to eat it all!"

The last line, where you sub in the child's name, appeared consistently in the versions I found online but is missing from Grandpa's. This may explain why the last line of Grandpa's song sounds so particularly nonsensical.

The online version that I liked the best came from Yahoo Answers user Antony96, who says that he is from Bari (as is my family) and gives the lyrics to the song he knows as:

abbatte i manine
ka vène papé
annushe i bonbon
è tutte è tutte è tutte ( u nome d'a menénne) l'ò mangé!!

It's the closest version I've found to my grandfather's version. The second line starts with "ka," which isn't, to my knowledge, an Italian word, but which is what I always heard when Grandpa sang. Same goes for "annushe," a word I'm not familiar with but which my grandfather clearly sang. It is, somehow, incredibly validating to know that all these years, we were wrong when we thought Grandpa was making up or mangling the words.

A few of my cousins have talked about trying to learn how the song "really" goes, but I will proudly sing it the way I always knew it, and I will teach it to any future kids and grandkids I have that way, too.

Grandpa wasn't singing nonsense, he was singing dialect.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The death certificate of Mary King O'Hara: examining the document that changed everything

My 2x great-grandmother, Mary King, died on 5 November 1949 at the White Nursing Home in Brooklyn. This seems to have been a type of long-term care facility, and yet her "usual residence" is given as 505 Sixth Street, the Brooklyn row house where she had lived for many years. (A bit of newspaper searching yielded very little information about the facility, besides the fact that it was advertised as "Cheerful rooms, home atmosphere, excellent food and care. Licensed." That was a classified ad that ran frequently, maybe daily, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle during the 1940s.) The Department of Health won't release the cause of death to anyone who can't prove that they have a reason to need it and the right to have it, so I cannot glean any information about her last days from her final illness.

NYC Department of Health, death certificate, vital record, New York City, 1949 death certificate, New York City death certificate
Death Certificate of Mary King O'Hara. 5 November 1949. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 
The informant on this death certificate is my great-grandfather, Mary's son John J. O'Hara. He lived in the same building; he had rented an apartment from his parents, the owners, until the building was sold in 1946, and now both mother and son were presumably tenants of some other landlord. The O'Hara family had spent several years in Ireland when John was a boy, and it seems safe to say he would have met his parents' Irish relatives. He could have known the grandparents he named on this certificate. All in all, John is not the least reliable informant a death certificate could have.

Which is why it really gums up the works when the grandparents he names are not the ones I expected.

One piece of information, though, makes me wonder whether John was a truly reliable source, or whether he might instead have been confusing dates. Or was it that he had an excellent reason to get them right? Mary's date of birth is given as 3 December 1875. Her husband, also named John, had died 3 years earlier on 3 December 1946. Did John Jr. provide a date that was familiar for the wrong reason, giving his father's date of death rather than his mother's date of birth? Or was it a date he was sure to get right, forever in his mind after having lost his father on his mother's birthday just a few years ago?

Beyond the issue of her parents' names, the only slightly surprising piece of information on here is Mary's middle name, which I hadn't known, although she was routinely "Mary E." on records.