My grandmother Anne (Cassidy) Dwyer never met her father, Patrick Cassidy, who was killed in a Fall River (Massachusetts) mill seven months before her birth, but from the Cassidy side of the family, she knew a dozen or more Irish-born first cousins. Six sisters from one family alone came to Fall River to escape the grinding poverty of rural Ireland. Agnes Horan, a favorite cousin, arrived at age 20 in 1908. Agnes’s elder sister, Annie Driscoll, paid for her passage. Agnes, in turn, brought over the next sister. In 1919, after working ten years as a domestic servant, Agnes married Joseph Bento, son of Azorean immigrants. Agnes died in 1930, leaving her husband and four small children. For the rest of her life, Nana Dwyer nonetheless maintained contact with Agnes’s children. Long after my grandmother’s death, I renewed acquaintance with the Bento family, sharing genealogical information and photographs. Continue reading Cousin confusion
Of my four grandparents, it is my maternal grandfather whose background seems most mysterious. He and his parents duly appear in Norfolk (Virginia) city directories and censuses, but much of the personal – the quirks and the quotidian – seems missing from the life he led before he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1919.
His father, J. Frank Bell (John Francis Bell, 1878–1944), has, if anything, been more of a cipher. It was his father, also John Francis Bell (1839–1905), who appears out of thin air, hailing from Isle of Wight County and establishing himself as a contractor in Richmond. Frank Bell went south to Norfolk, where he met and married my great-grandmother, Minnie Estelle Jackson (1876–1935). Frank Bell seems as solid as Estelle’s father, the roguish O.D. Jackson, proved transient, and he became a leading figure in Norfolk, managing hotels, winning election to the City Council, and helping to found the Rotary Club. Continue reading The weekend farmer
As I mentioned in my last Vita Brevis post, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Europe this past March. Like any good vacation, my travels were filled with historical and genealogical research. After a wonderful stay in Rome and having thoroughly (re)explored its ancient history, I made my way to the Tiburtina Terminal in the northeastern part of the Eternal City to board a bus and pursue what historians and genealogists alone would consider recent history: nineteenth-century records.
As any Italian genealogist knows, many records that have been digitized are available on FamilySearch.org and the Italian Antentati (i.e. “ancestors”) site. The digitization process is far from complete, however. Continue reading Coming home
Discovering details from the past that bring events to life is one of my favorite parts of genealogical research. Finding a passenger arrival record is great, but it doesn’t give you any idea of what the journey was like. I always want to know more. Recently, my quest for additional information turned up more than I could ever have hoped for. It all started with a Boston Pilot newspaper notice for the ship Thalia, which arrived in Boston from Cork, Ireland, on 14 April 1848. Continue reading ‘A short allowance’
When researching the paternal side of my family, I was intrigued by my great-grandfather, Frank Healy. He was born to Irish Catholic immigrants who settled in Hudson, Columbia County, New York, and the St. Mary’s baptismal record in Hudson identified his birth date as 14 June 1864. This warmed my heart, because I was born 100 years to the month after him. Somehow knowing this made me feel a bit closer to the man my father was named after, but whom neither of us had ever met.
The statistical probability of sharing a birthdate with anyone, even one’s own child, is 1 in 365. These are not bad odds, and certainly significantly better odds than holding a winning Powerball ticket. But what is the likelihood of multiple generations of parents and children, on both the maternal and paternal side, having shared birthdays? Continue reading Shared birthdays
Something happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t wanted to say anything to you about it, as, well, it’s tough to admit one’s own genealogical shortcomings. And, yes, I haven’t wanted to appear more naff than usual, but the truth is that I recently had to “do” genealogy the old-fashioned way, and I was a bit (no, really, quite) unsure whether or not I was still capable of doing just that. You see, for the last couple of years or so I’ve been whisking around my genealogical exercises a lot like George Jetson, and the thought of getting back to basics – and maybe even using some of those old SASEs – was a bit daunting. Continue reading Legwork