Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New Haven Dead Rises...Literally

Just before Halloween, and as a result of Frankenstorm Sandy, an old skeleton was discovered on the New Haven, Connecticut town green after partially "rising."

Probably thousands of remains are buried under the New Haven Green, which was used as a cemetery until the early 19th century.  The headstones were all relocated to New Haven's Grove Street Cemetery, but the bodies were not.  Sandy's strong winds apparently caused an old oak tree to fall over on the green, revealing  parts of a skeleton that the tree had been planted over.

You can read more about the finding (as well as see photos!) and the New Haven Green's history at the following sites:


Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trying Out FamilySearch's New Family Tree

Thanks to an incredibly helpful blogpost at Genealogy's Star, I learned how to gain access to FamilySearch's new Family Tree feature.  Eager to see what all the fuss is about, I immediately began exploring the how-to videos and then the feature itself.

My personal family tree

FamilySearch Family Tree allows you to build up your own personal family tree, much like Ancestry at first glance.  I'm not comfortable using this though, because it seems like the privacy offered by Ancestry is lacking here.  Although you cannot search for an individual who is marked as living on the Family Tree site, you can navigate to them and at the very least see their full name, date of birth, and birthplace if you search for and find a deceased relative of theirs.  So, if you enter this information into your own tree, it is not actually private.

Searching the new FamilySearch Family Tree

The search feature is what I'm most interested in because right now, I pay to see researched family trees that include my older French Canadian ancestors and help me piece together families.  While I intend to find the church records myself, it's nice to occasionally reference a guide in order to verify my findings or see if there are any facts I should double-check.  On my "American" side, I hope this tree can help me get past brick walls and fill my families in more fully.

I started by testing the information available via search.  I searched for Jean Bouffard and included his spouse, Marguerite Leportier, in the query.  They are my 8th great-grandparents.  I haven't yet looked into them because I believe they lived in Rouen, Normandy, France, which is where their son, Jacques, was born about 1655.  I got 6 "strong" hits back that appear to match, and a series of not-so-strong results, some of which also may match, but with mis- or alternate-spellings of Marguerite's last name.  The results for each match were as follows:

  • Born 1613. Married 1638. Two sons listed: Jacques and Martin, whose genders listed as unknown. No source citations.
    • Dates make sense, but I don't know where they come from.
  • Born about 1613 in Rouen. Baptised about 1615. Died and buried after 1655 in St. Martin, Rouen. Married first to Marie Laferriere about 1635 in St. Martin and had Jacques and Martin with her. Married Marguerite Leportier in 1639 in St. Martin. No source citations.
    • I have never come across this supposed first marriage before and found in my own research that Jacques and Martin are Marguerite Leportier's children. The dates and locations fit, but again, the reliability is in question.
  • Two other hits list no details about Jean other than he was married to Marguerite and had Jacques as a son. No source citations.
    • Martin is missing as a child.
  • One other hit lists no details about Jean other than he was married to Marguerite and had Martin as a son. No source citations.
    • Jacques is missing as a child.
  • The final "strong" hit lists no details about Jean and no children. No source citations.
As for the not-so-strong search results that seem to match:
  • Born about 1630 in Saint-Pierre, Île-d'Orléans, Québec. Married Marguerite Le Poithier about 1654 in Saint-Paul, Île-d'Orléans. Listed Jacques as a son. No source citations.
    • Jacques was actually married in Saint-Pierre, which is why I think this mistake was made. Jacques, however, I believe was born in Rouen. Therefore, his father wouldn't have been born in the New World. I also don't know where the information for birth and marriage years and the marriage location came from.  Marguerite's last name appears to be mispelled. Martin is missing as well.
  • Born about 1638 in Rouen. Married Marguerite Leperbier about 1658 in Rouen. No source citations. No children listed.
    • This may be another misspelling of Marguerite's last name.  Again, where are these years coming from? And where are the kids? Rouen would probably be correct.
For the sake of comparison, I then tried searching for my ancestors on my Irish/English side of the family. Despite trying numerous ancestors, I was unable to find a match until I searched for my 3rd great-grandmother's second husband's sister.  There were fewer duplicates, but otherwise the problems appeared consistent with those listed above.  Overall, there was a serious lack of information available, which can probably be attributed to a much smaller pool of descendants, and thus a smaller number of individuals researching those ancestors of mine.

Fixing the family tree

I first wanted to correct the gender of Jacques and Martin in one family listing.  They're males and should be listed as such.  Doing this was easy enough.  All I had to do was edit the gender through the child's individual page.  Note that FamilySearch won't allow you to do this if the person whose gender is incorrect is in a relationship indicating that the gender is correct (I guess it's taking into account the lack of same-sex marriages back in the day).

Next, I decided to examine the possibility of merges.  I had 8 matches for my ancester, Jean Bouffard.  Based on the listed relatives, locations, years, and my knowledge/the nature of French Canadian genealogy, I know these Jean Bouffards are the same person.  I clicked the first Jean that came up in my search results to see what I could do with him.  On the right-hand side of his detail page, I clicked "Possible Duplicates."  Only 3 out of my additional matches appear, so these are the only records I have the option of merging with my first match.  Because I have so little information on these particular ancestors, I opted NOT to merge them.  The process seems simple enough, with a "Review Merge" button for each potential match that brought me to a side-by-side comparison of the two entries with accept/reject fact options, similar to the side-by-side comparisons on Ancestry when you're adding a new source to a person on your Ancestry tree. I may play around with this feature later, as you can undo merges.


I've read on other blogs that duplicate people seem to be a problem on FamilySearch's new Family Tree.  Based on my search for Jean Bouffard and Marguerite Leportier, this would seem to be very true.  I think it would take an incredible amount of time and effort to eliminate the duplicates.

Furthermore, I'm concerned about the privacy issues related to living people added to the Family Tree.  I like being able to block any information about living people from being visible to the public.  The privacy of living (and recently deceased) persons is  incredibly important in this day and age.  If people want to put their own information online, then no one can stop them, but I worry about people who also put all of their living relatives on to build their tree.

I've worked so hard on my family trees on Ancestry that I feel like I don't want to redo it all through edits of the FamilySearch Family Tree.  My Ancestry trees are generally well-sourced; people just don't necessarily pay attention to them and will copy wrong information that's copied on ten other trees rather than look at my information and my sources.  While I want to share my information, I'm not sure that I want to put more work into it than I already am, especially if someone can just come along and undo what I've done.  Because this new Family Tree is completely edit-friendly, anyone can add to, change, or delete the information you put into it.  I'm more than willing to work things out with other researchers, but I'm afraid others may not be so willing.  I suppose that's more of a lack of faith in other people than in the site itself.

I think the new Family Tree needs a lot of work to fix the errors and duplicates.  Maybe the solution is to set aside an hour or two a week to working on FamilySearch so that I can contribute without feeling like I'm wasting time that could be spent finding more ancestors.  I think over time it will improve with everyone's contributions.   For now though, I don't think it's of much use because of all of the errors that need to be worked out.

For a detailed guide of how to use the FamilySearch Family Tree, see FamilySearch's official guide here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

(Belated) Tombstone Tuesday - Charles Cody & Bridget Hennessy

I know it's a few days late, but this headstone photo could not wait until next week!

On Sunday, I took a trip with my father to Saint Lawrence Cemetery in West Haven, New Haven county, Connecticut.  I found it interesting how sections of the cemetery were clearly segregated into Italian and Irish family names.  The cemetery was actually quite "busy" with people, but we were able to locate my great-great grandparents' headstone.  My dad had seen it a very long time ago and vaguely remembered its location in the vast cemetery, so it didn't take too long to find.  Also, the cemetery office is closed Sundays, so we would've been out of luck if we needed directions to the headstone.  I was really impressed by the size and style of the headstone.  Hopefully it will stick around for many more years to come.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
Charles Cody
1867 - 1953
Bridget M. Hennessy
His Wife
1868 - 1936

Both Charles John Cody and Bridget Mary Hennessy (sometimes spelled Hennessey) were born in Ireland.  They came to Connecticut and spent most of their lives in New Haven.  Various records indicate Charles arrived in 1885 or 1890, while Bridget arrived in 1886 or 1892.  They had 5 children together of whom I'm aware, 4 daughters and 1 son, all born in New Haven I suspect.  I have photos of their son in WWI attire and one of a daughter in high school.  I've been told by family that the symbol between Charles' birth and death years is the symbol of the company where he worked for many years.  I haven't done as much research into this family branch as I intended yet because the relatively recent immigration from Ireland feels like an early brick wall, but seeing this stone was just the inspiration I needed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun - Genealogy Posters

I'm home for a change on a Saturday night so decided to participate in Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge at GeneaMusings!  Using, I created the following poster, because we all know at least one genealogist who will copy hundreds of people from other family trees without citing sources or verifying the facts, and I love Lord of the Rings:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Canadian Citizenship - Part 1

Even if you never lived in a particular country, you could be a citizen under that nation's laws.  In April 2009, changes to Canada's Citizenship Act automatically granted citizenship to many individuals, including but not limited to, those who were born outside of Canada to a Canadian parent.  The changes also limited citizenship to only the first generation born outside of Canada to a Canadian parent.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada advertised this change in a cute Youtube video (also available in French).  As a result of the legal changes, on April 17, 2009, I "[woke] up Canadian."

I was born in the United States and have lived here my entire life.  My mother, however, grew up in Canada and was still a Canadian citizen at the time of my birth.  The changes in Canada's Citizenship Act therefore granted me Canadian citizenship.  Canada has since not only been my ancestors' country, but one of mine as well.  Knowing that I am a citizen gave me fresh meaning to my family history research.  I have a deeper connection to the research because I don't feel like so much of an outsider.  Any actual history I learn is MY history, not just my ancestors'.

The one snag in my new dual nationality status as both an American and Canadian citizen is my complete lack of PROOF of Canadian citizenship.  As far as border guards are concerned, I am an American only.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada provides all Canadian citizens with the opportunity to apply for a Citizenship Certificate, which serves as proof of your Canadian citizenship.  In August, I finally got around to gathering up all of the evidence I need to prove my Canadian citizenship and mailing it in to obtain a certificate.  Today, I finally received a letter from the CIC acknowledging receipt of my application.

If you or any of your relatives have close family ties to a country you weren't born in, look into that country's citizenship laws.  You may be a citizen and not even know it!

For information regarding Canada's citizenship laws and the Certificate of Citizenship, visit the CIC website.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Odile Lessard

Photograph Copyright 2012.

Died March 15, 1954
at the age of 78 years


Odile Lessard was the sister-in-law of my second great-grandfather, Théophile L'Heureux, and the mother of Rosario L'Heureux from my earlier Tombstone Tuesday post.  She was born about 1876 to Louis Octave Lessard and Marie Odile Bilodeau, probably in Saint-Ferréol, Québec, Canada.  On November 3, 1896, she married Alfred L'Heureux (1867-1936), whose name appears on the bottom of this stone.  They had about 15 children together, but only about 5 of those children tops lived to reach 2 years of age.  The first to not die in his infancy was Rosario, who was their sixth child to my knowledge.  Odile Lessard, according to this headstone, died on March 15, 1954, probably in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, where she is buried.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Mary/Frances/Ellen Downey

Mary Downey was born on September 4, 1875 in Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts to John Francis Downey (1854-1885) and Mary E. Showler (1857-1914).  She died on July 17, 1876 in Springfield and was buried with her maternal grandparents in Saint Michael's Cemetery in Springfield.

Photograph Copyright 2012.
Mary is the given name of baby Downey on her headstone, as shown above.  However, her birth record in Springfield lists her as "Frances Downey," and her death record lists her as "Ellen Downey."  Baby Downey was a single not multiple birth.  Her death records lists her as 10 months and 13 days old as of the date of her death, which, if you count backwards, matches the date of birth on her birth record.  Mary/Frances/Ellen Downey is a prime example of the age-old "What's his/her name?!" problem in genenalogy.  I've personally favored Mary as her first name because I assume her headstone would be engraved with the name her family called her, even if it isn't her legal name.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fall Plans

Okay, okay.  As much as I'm grasping onto what I can of summer, with tank tops and iced vanilla chais, I will finally admit that Fall is here.  I'm wearing long sleeves, occasionally day-dreaming about snow (it did come early last year in the northeast), and strongly considering trading in my summer Starbucks drink for a hot pumpkin spice latte.

It's also time to start planning my genealogy work for the next few months and set a few goals:

  1. Completely rework my approach to my Québec genealogy.  I want to treat my French Canadian family history more like a drawing than my other half of the family.  I've generally been using the same approach in all of my family trees, and it just doesn't work for me when it comes to Québec.  Usually, I go generation by generation, making sure I have all of a direct ancestor's siblings and in-laws before I go back another generation.  This works just great in my Irish/English half because those ancestors didn't have nearly as many children as my dutiful Catholic French Canadian ones.  I found myself getting completely bogged down in infinite cousins and siblings who I don't really care about, unable to move back in time.  It was like I was playing oozeball and getting stuck in all this mud.  Instead, I want to treat my French Canadian genealogy more like a drawing; I want to start with a sketch and then come back and fill in the details later.  I want to trace as many lines as I can back to their immigration to Canada (since the Drouin collection and other sources makes doing so awfully easy if you can read enough French), and just stick to my direct ancestors.  When I've done all I can, then I will worry about every ancestor's 10 siblings, and each of their 10 children, and each of their ten children...I realize actually sketching out my tree will take much longer than a few months, but I want to get it started.
  2. Take a trip to the State Archives.  I haven't gone to the Connecticut State Library since I was a child.  The problem with that is there are no Connecticut vital records available online for a good portion of the 19th century.  My genealogy research in Connecticut thus hits brick walls relatively early.  Sure, I have the work others have done and family knowledge to get me past it, but genealogy is about the hunt for me, and I've learned that even the most careful person can make errors.  I want to find some of this information myself.
  3. Read a history book relevant to a direct ancestor.  When I was a kid, I read the history of the 27th Regiment of Connecticut during the Civil War.  I want to read more now that I "know" some of my ancestors, in order to learn what they went through and what their lives were like.  Recently I learned I have an ancestor whose family moved from England to Canada with the Royal Artillery and fought at Fort George during the War of 1812.  I'd like to read about his military service, or at least about this one battle, for instance.
  4. Get a friend (a little) hooked on genealogy.  If anything, this is probably one of my loftier goals.  People who don't do genealogy just don't seem to get it!  My boyfriend at least admits that he unintentionally tunes out when I start on a genealogy-related ramble.  But, there's hope yet!  A few months ago I sent him the link to Find-A-Grave, and he found his grandfather on there.  Then I started asking questions, which led him to finding his great-grandparents' separate passenger list records.  He was (temporarily) hooked!  I want to help him out and see him get that excited at least one more time (I hope you're reading this-- you've been warned!).  I've brought it up a few times, but this may take the season to actually accomplish.  Admittedly, it's also a little self-serving; I don't have any ancestors of my own who came to the U.S. when the passenger lists were rich with information in the early 20th century, and I've never had the chance to work on Italian family history in particular.
So, I have some pretty big goals, but overall, I think they're doable.  What are your own goals or hopes for the coming months?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mystery Monday - Mabel Frances Downey - Part 2

Last Monday I wrote a post detailing my 2011 discovery of a mystery (presumed) relation and the brick wall I hit when trying to figure out who she was.  Aside from that one census record and the not-really-a-match directory record from the same year, I could find no trace of a Mabel Frances Downey.  You know the saying about how you only find something you're missing when you're not looking for it?  That proved to be the case here when I accidentally stumbled across Mabel again just a few weeks ago.

Here's a quick overview of the family involved: Mary Ann Keegan had a child, Mary E. Showler, by her first husband.  Mary Ann later married John Mullett.  Mary E. Showler married John Francis Downey.  After John Downey's death, Mary E. married George Tootill.
In September of this year, I was tracking George Tootill through the U.S. census records and picked up one record I hadn't seen before, 1910 (above).  I found a George Tootill, born in Connecticut, living in Springfield, Massachusetts with Carlton R. Merry, his wife Mabel F., and their children.  The name Mabel F. stuck out; maybe Mabel F. Downey from 1900 had gotten married and that's why I hadn't been able to find her!  The Merrys were listed in 1910 as being married for only 10 years, so Mabel F. Downey could have gotten married sometime after the 1900 census was taken.

Looking more closely at the record, other pieces fell into place (besides approximate ages).  Mabel F. Merry was born in Massachusetts, like Mabel F. Downey.  George Tootill's listed relationship to the head of household, Carlton R. Merry, was father-in-law.  If Mabel F. Downey was in fact one of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey's children, George Tootill would have been her step-father and probably recorded in a census as the father-in-law of her husband if they were living together.

Furthermore, Mabel F. Merry's father was listed in 1910 as born in Maine, and her mother was listed as born in England.  As discussed in my previous post, John Francis Downey was born in New Brunswick, Canada, and Mary E. Showler was usually recorded with the birthplace England.  So the mother's birthplace matched.  Although Mabel Merry's father's place of birth was listed as Maine and not New Brunswick, a few things kept my hopes up that this was the mystery Mabel from 1900.  Census records are notoriously unreliable because only one person in the household provides all of the detail for everyone else.  So, there are often errors.  I normally wouldn't try to force a connection with such a glaring difference  in locations, but
I had one other piece of critical information up my sleeve; the marriage record for Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey, who were married in Springfield (above), listed John Downey's residence at the time of the marriage as Portland, Maine.  I thus had a plausible explanation for that particular error in the 1910 census record.

Armed with this new find and feeling like this connection was more than a hunch, I added Mabel F. Downey to my family tree as the daughter of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey, with Carlton R. Merry as her husband, noting that this was all still theory.  I still couldn't find any record of her birth or marriage on Ancestry or FamilySearch.  However, Ancestry started shaking a little green leaf at me, and for once, the hint it had for me cracked the case.  When I clicked the hint, I got a "California Death Index, 1940-1997" record for Mabel F. Merry.  California?!  Not likely.  I read the record anyway.  This Mabel's birthday was January 31, 1878, and her birthplace was Massachusetts.  Actually, this looked like my mystery Mabel so far.  This woman died on June 4, 1965 in Los Angeles.  Unlikely for my family, but there was one more line to the index record: "Mother's Maiden Name: Schoular."  Say "Showler" out loud; now say "Schoular" (with a little bit of a German twist on the "ou" part-- the marriage record indicates Mary E. was born in Bremen, Germany, not England).  BINGO!!  Not only was this my Mabel F. Downey, but I have my first piece of unambiguous evidence that she was in fact the previously unheard-of daughter of Mary E. Showler and John Francis Downey.

I can't answer why Mabel Frances Downey's siblings have Massachusetts birth records on FamilySearch while she doesn't.  I can't answer why she previously was unknown to my family (although later finding that she was already in Los Angeles in the 1930 U.S. Census as "Frances M. Merry" indicates she wasn't close to the rest of the family who stayed in southern Connecticut).  What I do know, however, is that her son's Massachusetts birth record says she was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, where one of her other siblings was born.  I also know that one of her sisters, Margaret Ann Downey, used the surname Downing in her own marriage record, which would explain finding "Mabel F. Downing" in the 1900 Springfield City Directory.  Lastly, there are just way too many connections for this to be a mistake.  After more than a year of wondering who this mystery Mabel was, I finally uncovered a new sibling, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew to my great-grandfather.  An entire branch of the family had moved away and been forgotten, and I found them.