Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he is a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist and The American Genealogist. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, 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.
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Observance of Memorial Day always compels me to think about the members of my extended family from Block Island who served in the Civil War, and the long-term effects of the war on their lives. This carte-de-visite photo of eighteen-year-old George Albion Paine, taken in the spring of 1866, belies his turbulent experiences.1
In September 1862, when he was not quite 15, George volunteered to serve for nine months in the 12th Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. Patriotic fervor must have swept over the island, because George’s paternal uncle, Alvin Hollis Paine, his maternal uncle Lewis N. Hall, and his uncle-by-marriage, John Thomas, all joined him in the same regiment.2 Barely two months into his service, George was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, spending time in hospital. Comparison with later records shows that George had not yet reached his adult height at this time. He was discharged from the army in July 1863 and re-enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a landsman on ships Savannah and Constitution until discharge in 1866. Continue reading George Albion Paine: A Teenage Civil War Veteran→
I recently solved a long-standing family mystery after discovering a new DNA match to other descendants of my mother’s Irish great-great grandparents, Dominick and Bridget (Flynn) Counihan. One of their children, with the surname “Cronan”—who I long thought to have moved to Clearwater, Nebraska—actually lived in the Boston area for forty years. Understanding how I (literally) misplaced Dominick and Bridget’s daughter, Jane, baptized on 21 July 1839 in Abbeydorney, County Kerry, and failed to connect her to husband Daniel Cronin, requires some unfolding of previous research.
The Counihans present a fascinating study of global migration from poverty-stricken County Kerry, Ireland in the 1860s. Baptismal records of their seven known children show movement among four townlands within a radius of thirty miles. On 21 March 1863, daughters Margaret and Ellen Counihan, among 600 passengers, sailed aboard the Beejapore from Cork to Keppel Bay, Queensland, a journey that took 140 days. Their passage, undoubtedly funded by the Catholic Church, was granted with the expectation that they would marry and raise Catholic children. They did indeed marry, and between them produced twenty children! Australia’s records of birth, marriage, and death document these families in extraordinary detail. Of course, Margaret and Ellen never saw their parents and siblings again. But, as revealed below, Ellen kept track of her relatives in Massachusetts. Continue reading Finding Jane Cronan: The Missing Counihan Sister→
Over fifty years ago on an autumn Sunday, I met formally with Chief BlackHawk of Tiverton, Rhode Island. My visit had been arranged through the chief’s sons, Algoma “Goma” Clarke (1926–1980) and Watacee “Tecee” Clarke (1934–1975), master carpenters who built my father’s office in 1964 and remained family friends. Tall and spare, with graying hair combed straight back and hazel eyes, Chief BlackHawk looked like he could have stepped out of an Edward Curtis photograph. He presented me with these booties, which I kept atop my bedroom dresser ever since, until they made their way into a display case with other cherished mementoes. Continue reading Booties from Chief BlackHawk→
Anyone who lived in Fall River, Massachusetts more than fifty years ago would recognize the Brayton name as a power family from the city’s glory days. A block away from my childhood home, the boundary of the baronial John Summerfield Brayton estate was marked by a substantial granite wall with a pointed cap, stretching along Highland Avenue and bending the curve to New Boston Road. What a great place for kids to play, imagining we were behind a medieval fortification. Not even in my flights of fantasy would I have contemplated kinship with this wealthy family. Continue reading A Tale of Two Brayton Descents→
My father, Frank Dwyer, spent three happy years as a fellow in cardiology at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. It was a special treat when my mother brought me there for a visit. I remember being fascinated by the ashtray behind Dad—press a button and the cigarette butts disappeared! Continue reading Inside the cap→
A few weeks ago, after presenting a talk (“Adventures in DNA”) at the Shrewsbury (Vermont) Community Meeting House for the Ann Story Chapter of the Vermont DAR, I stopped in the kitchen and asked longtime acquaintance and former regent Julanne Sharrow for a drink of water.
She asked, “Do you think DNA results can really knock down brick walls?”
The slides my father took on my First Communion Sunday, 15 May 1966, in Fall River, Massachusetts, serve as a colorful time capsule of a bygone era. Sacred Heart Church, now closed, once covered the largest geographical parish in the center of the city. On that morning, more than 60 children, girls in white and boys in black, having fasted for twelve hours in preparation for communion, processed into church with disciplined precision. We returned to church in the afternoon to receive scapulars, prayer books, and rosaries, and then processed out of the church east along Pine Street for the May crowning. Continue reading A fresh look at Linden Street→
Forty years ago, my grandfather’s first cousin “Burgess” Morse took pride in pointing out the gravestones of our ancestors, Simeon Morse and his wife Sylvia Fish, and the nearby grave of Levi Fish (1754–1837). Findagrave.com photo #118544184, at left, is much clearer than the one of Levi’s stone I took at that time (and shown below). When I asked Burgess if he thought Levi Fish was Sylvia’s father, he quipped, “Who else would he be?”
Old Style, the designation applied to dates before the calendar change in 1752, may also represent the way we conducted research before the advent of the internet, digitization of records, and DNA evidence. In the absence of definitive evidence, building circumstantial cases for identifying an ancestor evolved slowly. Take, for example, this story of a once-assumed but-now-proven great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Levi Fish. Continue reading Old Style→
At first glance, the terms alien and alias hardly seem applicable to my father’s beloved aunt, Mary Ellen (Cassidy) Clynes of Fall River (1890–1960). Her name, however, is listed among the National Archives Alien Case Files #10897934. This bewildering status only came to light in the spring of 1955, when Mary’s daughter Eleanor attempted to assist her mother in signing up to receive her first Social Security check. The city clerk said, “I am sorry, Mrs. Clynes, but you are not eligible for Social Security because you are not an American citizen.” What a puzzle for a woman born only a mile-or-so from the city center! It took months and a lawyer’s help to unravel the tangle. Continue reading An alien and an alias→
Rhetorical question for persistent (obsessive!) genealogists: how long do we persevere in attempting to solve a mystery? This case study illustrates the complexity of French-Canadian surname variants, the imprecision with which people reported their ages and birthplaces, as well the difficulty in tracking migrant farm families who moved frequently.
“Mercy Mercury” smoldered in my unfinished file for almost 20 years. Finding her parents did not seem imperative because she was the wife of my nephew-by-marriage’s great-great-uncle Alexander Mercure (1855–1936) — yet my inability to solve the puzzle nagged at me. Continue reading The search for Mercy→