Not too long ago, I shared my experience of joining American Ancestors’ recent Scottish Heritage Tour. In that post I briefly introduced you to an intriguing ancestor of mine—John Lynch Breslin, Jr., who was imprisoned for attempted arson. Today I want to discuss how I discovered him, how I learned more about his story, and how I went about emotionally confronting such a noteworthy skeleton in my family’s closet.
It is important to acknowledge that understanding Scottish records is relatively straightforward, particularly from the 1800s onwards. Records are organized in a clear and manageable manner, including information such as register number, sex, admission date, prosecuting court, previous incarcerations, name, age, height, birthplace, current residence, occupation, health status, committed offence, trial date, conviction sentence, and release date. This absolute wealth of information can provide a comprehensive view of an individual—the depth of which I struggle to match for the non-criminal members of my family tree, which unfortunately includes many individuals who are remembered only by a series of names and dates.
I consider myself a west coast woman. Five of my great-grandparents were born on the west coast (three in Southern California, one in Oregon, and one in Washington). A sixth great-grandparent was born in Ohio, but moved to Southern California as a young boy. As for the final pair of great-grandparents, this year marks the centennial anniversary of their arrival on the West Coast…along with their six biological children, plus my great-grandmother’s first-cousin-once-removed, whom they took in during their first year of marriage.
Before moving to a farm outside The Dalles, Oregon in the fall of 1923, Mathias and Ellen (Litherland) Kortge had to sell their farm in Illinois, along with pretty much everything on it. They did this by having a public auction on Monday, August 27, 1923—exactly one hundred years ago today! I know this because they kept a copy of the advertising poster printed by the auctioneer. Continue reading A Family Auction One Hundred Years Ago Today→
In 2017, my Uncle Lyman visited me in Northfield, Minnesota, while I was attending Carleton College. It was the summer before my junior year, and this was the first time anyone from my family had visited me on campus since freshman move-in day, so I was eager to give him the tour. Of course, the highlight of the tour was our walk around Lyman Lakes—two small, manmade lakes on the east side of campus. Lyman joked that they were named after him. It’s not the first time he’s made a similar joke—Lyman placenames tend to pop up everywhere we go. There’s a Lyman Lake in Washington, and a Lyman Lake State Park in Arizona. There are two Lyman ponds in Greater Boston, one of which is attached to the Lyman Estate in Waltham. When my uncle visits later this year, I’m sure we’ll visit both.
While these are just jokes, I have a feeling that there could be a touch of truth to them. If my uncle and I really have a familial connection to the picturesque lakes on my college campus, or the man who commissioned their construction, I’d like to know. A quick stop to my alma mater’s information page on the lakes supplied a good starting point for my research. The lakes were built around 1916-1917 in honor of George Huntington Lyman (1882-1902) of Minneapolis, Minnesota.1 A campus viewbook from 1926 named Lyman Lakes as the “George Huntington Lyman Memorial Lakes.”2Continue reading Yes, the Lakes are My Cousins→
My interest in genealogy sprouted at an early age, when my father would tell me stories he heard as a child about my great-great-grandfather, Christopher McNanny. He recounted that Christopher served as a drummer boy during the Civil War, and endured the amputation of both his legs due to wounds sustained during battle. As I got older and more serious about genealogy, I found out that Christopher was not actually a drummer boy, but a private who served in Company G of the 106 th New York Infantry Regiment. He also only had one of his legs amputated.
Before enlisting, Christopher resided in Madrid, New York, and was the husband of Margaret White. Christopher and Margaret had four children before the Civil War, including my great-grandmother Sarah McNanny, who eventually came to Brookline, Massachusetts in the 1870s. According to Christopher’s pension file, he mustered into Company G on 19 August 1862, at Camp Wheeler in Ogdensburg, New York. Company G was composed of men from Madrid as well as nearby Stockholm, New York, and took part in battles such as the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Cold Harbor, the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Battle of Summit Point.
My fascination with Christopher grew, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about his service to the country. I scoured various websites dedicated to the 106 th Regiment. However, while many of these websites detailed the campaign and battles of the 106th, I yearned for more specific information on Christopher’s personal experience. One of my first sources was Christopher’s obituary, published in The Madrid Herald on 8 April 1909, which provided a high-level overview of his service, though with some errors.
I decided to try to connect with experts on the 106th, to see if they could offer any information or steer me in the right direction. I found an expert through a website I discovered via a Google search, and sent an email requesting any information on Christopher. Later that same night, I received a bizarre response that left me astounded. Continue reading The Tale of Christopher McNanny’s Left Foot→
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→
When I was growing up, my father would sometimes solemnly remind me to remember Francis Ward Lewis. I would just nod absentmindedly in response. I don’t recall him explaining who this man was or why he was important—I’m not sure that he even knew himself. But for some reason, it was vital to him that I remember and honor this name.
Later, when I was in my forties, my paternal grand aunt Em causally mentioned that Francis Ward Lewis (17 July 1817¬-9 November 1906) was her grandfather. Finally, I knew how he and I were linked. She recounted that on the Fourth of July, he would march in his uniform in the local parade in Concord, California, and then return home to set off a canon from the roof of his home. He did sound like an interesting individual. So, when I began my genealogy research, he was naturally the first relative I sought out.
As I researched my paternal great-great-grandfather, I was surprised to encounter some of his other descendants, previously unknown to me, who had also been told to “remember Francis Ward Lewis.” Despite the shared family mythology, none of us knew much about him. Together, we eagerly shared our clues and combined our research to discover his identity and his importance in our lives. Cousin Paul shared a note that his mom had written, stating that at one time he had sailed on the brig Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she did not list a source for this information. Pam Lewis, a cousin by marriage, uncovered his “Reminiscences” in the California State Library, which he had written shortly before his death in 1906. The fourteen-page memoir recounted his life following his 1846 arrival in California. Lucky for us, it included his photograph as an old man. As we read his thoughts, it seemed as though we were sitting at the knee of a fascinating, kind elder as he reflected on his adventures and times past. Continue reading Finding Francis Ward Lewis→
When I began researching my family history, I initially focused very little time on the Dunn family. The Dunn line had already been almost completely traced back to Ireland by cousins of my grandmother, and I had been given numerous notes and write-ups from over the years. The family was descended from Thomas Dunn and Mary Eagan, who lived in John’s Well and Kilderry in Kilkenny County. Thomas and Mary had the following children:
James Dunn (1817-1873), my 3rd great grandfather
Michael John Dunn (1820-1901)
Patrick Dunn (1823-1869)
Thomas Dunn (1826-1918)
John Dunn (1829-1864)
Mary Ella Dunn (1832-1906)
Catherine Dunn (1835-1911)
Richard Dunn (1838-?)
Lawrence Henry Dunn (1840-1888)
Most of the research on the early generations of the Dunn Family (Thomas, Mary, and their children) came from the Dunn Family Bible, which had been owned by James Dunn and contained numerous notes on the family’s arrival in America and whereabouts thereafter. Curiously missing from the bible was Richard—it was assumed he died young in Ireland. This story centers on this entry written by James Dunn about John Dunn (1829-1864):Continue reading The Curious Case of John Dunn→
I was on the phone with my father, talking about connections to relatives we had discovered through our Ancestry DNA testing. My father is from Yauco, Puerto Rico. He came to live in New York during his early teen years, but he always talks about his relatives and his memories of Puerto Rico.
I grew up knowing about Cayetano Canchani, my father’s maternal great-grandfather, a jeweler who came from Naples, Italy, and settled in Puerto Rico. I also knew about my father’s maternal grandmother, Maria Canchani y Ramirez, Cayetano’s daughter. Maria “cooked for rich people” in Yauco and every day would bring her family leftover food to eat.
A recent series of posts on lodgers who are possibly relatives hit close to home in my search for information about my wife’s great-grandfather. In three consecutive Scotland census reports he is listed first as boarder, then as son, and finally lodger. It took some digging to sort this out.
John Faulds (1870-1951) emigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1893. The passenger list for his arrival in New York from Glasgow shows that he was a baker. No doubt he entered that profession when he settled in the Chicago area. However, his interests soon turned to the equipment side of the baking industry, and he went to work for the Middleby Marshall company, which was founded in 1888 in Chicago to make commercial bake ovens and equipment.1 Credited along with John Marshall, a licensed engineer, John Faulds received U.S. patents for improvement in bake oven designs in 1900 and 1909. The first patent was filed in 1899, only six years after John arrived in the United States. In 1932, he used his expertise in equipment and mechanical design to launch his own company, the Faulds Oven and Equipment Co. His continued oven improvements resulted in five more patents, in his name only, for bake oven designs. The company stopped making ovens in the 1970s, but as of 2016, there were at least eleven Faulds ovens still in use in Chicago, and several in Washington State.2 Many of these in are in pizzerias due to the fact that they can hold thirty pizzas at a time, using a stack of revolving oven trays similar to a Lazy Susan. Continue reading Identifying Another “Boarder”→
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→