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→
This year, January 22 marked the beginning of the Lunar New Year, a holiday that is celebrated by millions of people from many Asian cultures around the world. The lunar calendar is based on the moon’s twelve phases, so the starting date changes from year to year. Each year is represented by an animal—2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. In honor of the Lunar New Year, I decided to write about my Chinese heritage.
My maternal grandparents were originally from the Kwangtung (or Guangdong) Province in China. My grandfather emigrated to Jamaica as a young man in the 1930s. He was part of a large wave of people who migrated mainly from the southern and southeastern parts of China between 1900 and 1940. 1 He first married while living in Jamaica, but his wife and their child sadly died during childbirth. He returned to China, where he met and married my grandmother. They moved to Jamaica shortly after and remained there for the rest of their lives. Continue reading Rediscovering my Chinese Roots→
When I was watching the recent World Cup, and the various countries playing, I found myself considering genealogical connections I have found within the competing nations—to my own ancestry, to my wife’s, or to projects that I have worked on. My recent post on the Van Salee family focused on a family with connections in the present-day United States, Netherlands, and Morocco, and at the time of that post, all three nations were still in the tournament.
The two countries from which most of my ancestors derive are England and Germany, and the top three countries for my wife’s ancestry are Spain, Portugal, and Senegal (this is according to her AncestryDNA results—I suspect most of the claimed Portuguese ancestry is probably also Spanish, although I have not traced any of her ancestors to the Iberian peninsula or a specific place in Africa). All five countries, except Germany, made it to the round of sixteen of the World Cup. Continue reading Trace Amounts→
When Scott Steward told me about his forthcoming departure from NEHGS, he asked if I could send him one more Vita Brevis post “for the road.” The posts I have written have largely been when I need a mental break from whatever genealogy I am working on or go down a rabbit hole on a minor problem within a project; they are sometimes inspired when I am engaged in other forms of entertainment outside of work. While I had one such post “in the cupboard” for Scott to publish, I thought a more appropriate final post under Scott’s editorship would be reminiscing about the many projects we have worked on together for more than fifteen years! Continue reading One more for the road→
“The thing that interests me most about family history is the gap between the things we think we know about our families and the realities.” – Jeremy Hardy
Remember that children’s game of Telephone (or Gossip) in which a message is passed on in a whisper to each of several people, so that the end version is often distorted from the original? Family stories are like that old game and can be even more distorted depending on how many narrators related the story to how many listeners. I recently found one example in Husband’s maternal family history concerning (ahem) One Child Left Behind.
The story was that Husband’s maternal grandmother, Catherine (Hrabal) Samson (1906-1987), had emigrated in 1910 as a child with her family from Czechoslovakia (or Czechia, Bohemia, Austria, or Moravia, depending on which U.S. Census you want to believe and what the international politics were at the time). Continue reading Bessie’s story→
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?”
Throughout my childhood, I was frequently asked if I was related to the famous chef Julia Child. Until I was in high school, my family had a summer home in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard. Our driveway from the main road, which was out of sight of the house, had an unassuming white sign saying “Child” and a similarly identified mailbox. While we lived there, my father learned that tour buses would occasionally claim that our home was that of Julia Child and her husband Paul, who had a house somewhere else on the island! Continue reading Child cooks→
As Irish researchers, we are obsessed with place. What counties were my ancestors from? Where were they baptized? What townlands did they live in? In our drive to identify these places, we often overlook the place itself. Today, there are two wonderful sources that can help us learn more about the places where our ancestors lived – The Placenames Database of Ireland (Logainm.ie) and Townlands.ie. Continue reading Irish places→
After my son was born, I developed an interest in finding out more about his father’s surname, Sadler. Not much was known about the origins of the Sadler line, since my boyfriend and his siblings did not grow up knowing their father. From time to time I would get asked to explore this family line. At some point, there was even a tale that perhaps the Sadlers were related to James Thomas Sadler, of Whitechapel district in the east end of London, who was accused of being the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper! Continue reading Family lore→
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→