All posts by Michael Dwyer

About Michael Dwyer

Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he edits Vermont Genealogy. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, The American Genealogist, The Maine Genealogist, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. The Vermont Department of Education's 2004 Teacher of the Year, Michael retired in June 2018 after 35 years of teaching subjects he loves—English and history.

Philatelic genealogy

All stamps from the author’s collection.

While watching the recent broadcast of “Atlantic Crossing,” it took me a minute or two to remember the parentage of protagonist Crown Princess Martha of Norway as well her siblings. Making those connections began with stamps. My childhood world blossomed when a family friend gave me a postage stamp album for my eighth birthday. The package came with an assortment of world stamps, and stamp hinges with which to fix the stamps to the illustrations in the album. A new hobby soon became an absorbing passion. Continue reading Philatelic genealogy

Marion’s genes

Marion Sylvia at his farm in Marion, Massachusetts in 1917.

In 1982, when I discovered my mother’s great-grandfather, Azorean immigrant Marion Sylvia (ca. 1847–1924), Mom asked me, “How much Portuguese ancestry do I have?” Marion remains my only identified maternal forebear without any links to the British Isles. Long before DNA analysis, I calculated Mom’s Portuguese ethnicity at 12.5%, with her mother at 25%, and her maternal grandmother, Marion’s daughter, at 50%. Now, we all know these percentages may not match the amount of atDNA after four or five generations. Continue reading Marion’s genes

A different path

William Henry Rhodes, photographed in 1911.

More than fifty years ago, when I first saw the musical Oliver!, I could not have imagined the discovery of an ancestor living in a Victorian-era workhouse in England. Robert Rhodes, my great-great-great-grandfather, died of “old age” on 23 May 1873 aged 78 at the Newton Abbot Union Workhouse. The same day, Robert’s grandson William Henry Rhodes (1854–1941) embarked on a journey that took him to the United States. Juxtaposing these events clearly demarcates two different life stories and the events that set them in motion.

Robert Rhodes’s entry as a pauper in the 1871 England Census provides a snapshot of life in this institution, a place of last resort where he was counted among 306 inmates, slightly more men than women, ranging in age from 4 to more than 80. Continue reading A different path

Parallel Patricks

Three generations, 1937: Patrick Dwyer, grandson Francis Dwyer (my father), son Michael F. Dwyer. My grandmother captioned this one “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

My father’s Irish-born grandfathers, Patrick Dwyer of Newport, Rhode Island, and Patrick Cassidy of Fall River, Massachusetts, had much in common besides their first names. They left behind parents, emigrated in their early twenties, arrived in New York within a year of one another, quickly became United States citizens, joined fraternal organizations, and purchased homes. Their exact birthdates are approximated because although baptismal records have been found for other siblings, records for the two Patricks fall in the gaps of Catholic registers. And in another coincidence, they were married by brother Roman Catholic priests, Thomas and Philip Grace.[1]

Patrick Cassidy, ca. 1885

Paternal grandfather Patrick Martin [middle name added later] Dwyer (ca. 1862–1945), a native of Dreenauliff, County Kerry, had a lifetime job as a blacksmith with the New England Steamship Company in Newport. Past 80, he died from injuries sustained from crossing a busy street without looking. By contrast, maternal grandfather Patrick Cassidy (ca. 1862–1891), a native of Cloonierin, County Mayo, dead at 29, supports the chilling statistic that about one-fifth of Irishmen died in their prime, usually from work-related accidents. Continue reading Parallel Patricks

Mitochondrial prospects

My mother’s great-grandmother Mary Bethiah Paine (1848–1933).

With the new start of a new year (and decade), I always make genealogical resolutions. Often these renewed exercises in persistence focus on long-standing unsolved puzzles. At the top of my list, my mother’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Jane Durin. Inspired by several articles in Nexus almost twenty years ago that outlined various contributors’ matrilineal ascents, I worked out my own matrilineal line that hit the brick wall with Jane’s marriage in 1667. My documentation for each successive generation looked reliable, especially since most of the marriages were recorded in town vital or church records: Continue reading Mitochondrial prospects

‘Struggle with a vixen’

“Paternity Concealed & Revealed: The Case of Julia Smith of Rutland, Vermont,” published in American Ancestors, recounts one of my wildest rides in Vermont research.[i] Why did Julia Smith of Rutland hide her true identity? My investigation proved that Julia was the daughter of English convict Emanuel Abrahams, a London Jew, who spent two decades in Queen Victoria’s prisons. After emigrating to Vermont in the late 1870s, Emanuel assumed the name John Smith and married Mary Dougherty, an Irish Catholic, twenty-five years his junior—theirs an unlikely union for that time, with disparities of culture, religion, and age. Continue reading ‘Struggle with a vixen’

ICYMI: A rehabilitated marriage

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 July 2019.]

Eva Rhodes Clancy, posed in a photo booth.

My great-grandfather John W. Rhodes lived in Wareham, Massachusetts for most of his life. Though I remember him well, I knew nothing of his extended family. His 1966 obituary named Eva (Rhodes) Clancy of Westerly, Rhode Island, as a surviving sister. Sixteen years later, I hoped some members of the Rhodes family still lived there as I prepared for my first of many trips to Westerly. Continue reading ICYMI: A rehabilitated marriage

Return to Cloonduane

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Click on image to expand it.

My discovery of a letter, almost five decades ago, marked the starting point for exploring the Irish roots of my father’s maternal grandmother, Annie Flynn Cassidy (1856–1919). Annie and her sister Ellen Flynn emigrated to Fall River, Massachusetts, around 1881.[1] On 16 December 1885, their father John Flynn wrote this letter from Cloonduane acknowledging money the sisters sent home and the news of Annie’s recent marriage to Patrick Cassidy. Presumably Cloonduane was near Castlebar, County Mayo, the town cited as Annie and Ellen’s birthplace in their obituaries from Fall River newspapers. Continue reading Return to Cloonduane

Anne Cassidy, district nurse

Annie and Anne Cassidy in 1916.

The coronavirus crisis has inspired me to think of past health heroes. My paternal grandmother, Anne P. (Cassidy) Dwyer (1892–1964) of Fall River, Massachusetts, immediately comes to mind. As a first-generation American, daughter of an Irish widow, Anne overcame adversity through drive and determination. She worked ten years in the cotton mills to put her brother through school before she enrolled at St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Providence. When she graduated in the spring of 1917, the United States had entered World War I. Some of her classmates volunteered for service in France, but Anne’s mother vigorously dissuaded her from going. One of those nurses, Henrietta Drummond of Pawtucket, perished in a mustard gas attack.[1] Continue reading Anne Cassidy, district nurse

Lost in the census

Bethiah (Phinney) Hall (1795–1884), full-plate ferrotype, ca. 1860.

Recently, as I completed my Census 2020 information online, I wondered how many people like my elderly mother – who has never been online – would bother to complete their questionnaire if they did not have someone to do it for them. Without the personal contact of past censuses, how many people will be missed?

Right after the release of the last two censuses, 1930 and 1940, I asked friends and family recorded in their youth if they would like to see how they appeared. Sometimes what they saw was expected; other times it jogged a long dormant memory: “Oh, I had forgotten that Uncle Henry was living with us at that time.” Nonetheless, we all have our own examples of lost relatives in censuses. Were some of our ancestors truly not recorded? Did they slip through the cracks? Or is it that we just have not looked hard enough? Continue reading Lost in the census