Category Archives: Technology

Uncertain immigration

I do a lot of lectures, courses, and online webinars about immigration, with my favorite period concentrating on the 1882 to 1924 period. This isn’t so much because of the improvement of the passenger lists, but more as a result of the many changes to the immigration laws in this period that began to limit what was considered an “acceptable” immigrant. Physical limitations, inability to get a job, and certain “loathsome and contagious” diseases were just some of the reasons an immigrant could have traveled all the way from their old country to America only to find that they wouldn’t be admitted. Continue reading Uncertain immigration

Devil in the details

Two hundred eleven years ago today, on 6 August 1810, Assistant Marshal Ebenezer Burrell set out to make a full and accurate count of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts. He was instructed to make a formal inquiry at each dwelling house, or with the head of household, to count the number of free white males (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), free white females (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), and free persons of color (no gender or age designator) living at the residence. He was also told to make two copies of the enumeration, placing them both in two public places for verification. After the enumerations were confirmed, one of the copies was sent to the District Court for safe keeping, while a summary of the statistics was sent to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. Continue reading Devil in the details

Irish deeds? Yes, indeed

David and Margaret Mackelroy to James Warick. Click on image to expand it. Courtesy of the Family History Library

Deeds are wonderful sources for genealogists, but Irish deeds? One of the most voluminous collections of Irish records is also the most underappreciated and underutilized: more than 2,000 volumes of recorded “memorials” (detailed abstracts) of deeds, conveyances, and wills spanning more than 200 years can be found in the Irish Registry of Deeds (ROD). Like many others with Irish roots, I was long put off by the low likelihood of finding my poor rural landless ancestors among landlords and other people of means who had property and assets to protect in wills. Continue reading Irish deeds? Yes, indeed

A short history of beer

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

When I first started working at a brewery and learning about beer, I heard someone telling a story about Ninkasi, the goddess of beer in ancient Sumerian religious mythology.[1] As a historian I knew how important beer was in early America. Many water sources were often polluted and unsafe for drinking, so low-alcohol beers and ciders were brewed for everyday drinking. “Americans drank an average of thirty-four gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine per year in 1790.”[2] I had not given much thought to the beginnings of beer, or to brewers and the ingredients they used. This story about the goddess of brewing sparked my interest to learn more about brewing and beer history. Continue reading A short history of beer

The fate of William Moroney Jr.

Joe Smaldone’s recent three-part Finding Irish relatives provided some great information about using Irish Catholic church registers and civil vital records. That got me to thinking about one of my husband’s Irish family lines. I realized I could use the civil vital records transcribed on RootsIreland.ie to learn more about that family.

The family in question, William Moroney and Honora O’Grady, were married in 1871 in the Catholic parish of Glenroe and Ballyorgan in County Limerick. Continue reading The fate of William Moroney Jr.

Narrowing the field

Interest in genealogy has increased dramatically since the introduction of DNA testing. With the United States long being considered a melting pot society, Americans have turned to DNA testing to discover what other ethnicities they can claim. DNA testing has also played an instrumental role in solving decades-old crimes, such as catching and prosecuting the Golden State Killer. However, what a lot of people probably don’t realize is that DNA can help solve genealogical mysteries, as well. Continue reading Narrowing the field

Parish boundary maps

One of our newest tools, launched last year, is the Archdiocese of Boston: Parish Boundary Map. It was created by the Archive Department of the Archdiocese of Boston. This interactive map is a visual tool that can help you understand which Catholic churches existed in a particular neighborhood or town in the greater Boston area. It should be used in conjunction with our Historic Catholic Records Online project. Continue reading Parish boundary maps

Timekeepers

Once rumored to have been Aunt Jennie, her image has gazed back at me for years. Certainly she was Jennie Sage – or so Nana had said before several strokes took hold of Nana’s memories and clutched them tight within her. Jennie gazed out from her oubliette of a broken pocket watch, watching us as if we were playing that age-old genealogical game of Can you guess who I am? Indeed, she’s ‘stayed’ Aunt Jennie for years now, though at the time how my grandmother knew this with any certainty was lost on me. Yes, lost, not unlike Nana’s evaporated memories, and with the question of how my grandmother had come to have the old pocket watch in the first place never resolved. Continue reading Timekeepers

Philippian mysteries

With Prince Philip’s recent death, several colleagues shared with me the story that recalled how in 1993 the Duke of Edinburgh had helped solve a Russian Romanov murder mystery. This was one of the earliest high profile uses of mitochondrial DNA to confirm historic remains, and something I frequently talked about in my early talks on using DNA in genealogy.[1] I gave two lectures at NEHGS while I was still in college in the early 2000s, the first one on Abraham Lincoln’s maternal ancestry (which I also discussed as having a possible mtDNA component, utilized nearly two decades later) and the other on DNA. These were also the only talks I made using overhead projector transparencies, before finally switching over to PowerPoint. They also both showed how designing charts has always gone hand-in-hand with my genealogical interests. Continue reading Philippian mysteries

Finding Irish relatives: Part One

John Ryan arrives in New York. Click on images to expand them.

In a previous Vita Brevis piece, I discussed the challenges faced in finding the immigration record of my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated to New York City in 1887 from the town of Potenza, Italy. In retrospect, that was a cinch compared to the search for the immigration of my Irish grandfather John Joseph Ryan.

I did find him after a daunting and tedious search, earning an unexpected bonus: his Ellis Island record revealed that an older sister was already here: Winifred Ryan had married Michael H. Spellman and had six children, with another on the way, when John arrived in late 1904. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part One