Tag Archives: International genealogical research

A ray of light

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One of the places I have been researching is the townland of Kilcruaig in Kilflyn parish, County Limerick. My husband has ancestors from Kilcruaig who were born there in the early 1800s. However, it has been difficult to learn much about these families. The local Catholic records did not begin until 1853 and the people I want to research were born much earlier. And almost all died before civil registration began in 1864. The area felt like a bit of a black hole. Continue reading A ray of light

In praise of church records

In Berlin in 2011, while I was studying abroad in Germany.

Like most genealogists, I have a few brick walls in my family tree. I’m resigned to living with some of these mysteries after fifteen pretty solid years of work. One brick wall is a great-grandfather who seemingly appears out of nowhere in 1916 at age 21 when he enlists in the Army. Another big brick wall was, until recently, learning the town of origin in Germany for my paternal line. My research, which I had believed was thorough, came up empty time and time again for anything more specific than the “Kingdom of Hannover.” Continue reading In praise of church records

The search for Mercy

This stereopticon view of the “natural bridge” in Bolton, Vermont, would have been familiar to Mercy Mercury in the two decades she lived in the town. Items of Bolton news published in Burlington’s Free Press became the key to identifying relatives who visited Mercy and her husband.

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

ICYMI: Research strategies for 2021

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 January 2021.]

A new year offers a new chance to look at old problems with a fresh eye – and to consider fresh methods for breaking through well-established brick walls. Here is a chance to put the word out: What are your favorite approaches to beginning new research or to resolving long-standing problems?

As the editor at Vita Brevis, it is my job to write up my own research successes (and failures), and to edit the similar – but invariably different – accounts of travails and victories from the blog’s 100+ contributors. Over the years I have recommended a variety of hints and how-tos, starting with pointers on how best to utilize Google searches. Continue reading ICYMI: Research strategies for 2021

ICYMI: A problem in perspective

Culter Kirk. Courtesy of Wikipedia

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 March 2021.]

Sometimes one loses perspective on one’s researches, so when I say that the identity of Master James Livingston, a younger son of the 4th Lord Livingston, is a problem for the ages – a quandary for which many await resolution – I may be overstating things a little. Still, he is one of several men in the ancestry of the American Livingston family whose life, and whose marriage(s) and child(ren), has long been a puzzle. Continue reading ICYMI: A problem in perspective

2021: the year in review

“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be a curse – it’s certainly an exhausting way to go through life. As 2021 rolls over to 2022, here is a look back at 2021 in Vita Brevis:

In January, Ann Lawthers urged genealogists visiting cemeteries to apply some of the insights garnered from their research, in this case about how the changing cultural norms around death translated into stone: Continue reading 2021: the year in review

It pays to share

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This time of the year is all about sharing … sharing our time and exchanging visits and gifts with family and friends, perhaps including family history projects. As genealogists, we are always seeking and exchanging information as part of our never-ending quests to find elusive ancestors and learn about their lives, and to share our discoveries with family and other researchers. The opportunities to share – and benefit from – our genealogical research have never been easier in this age of the Internet. The more we share, the more we can help others who may find something big or small in the fruits of our labors. The reverse is also true – the more we share, the more likely it is that others will share with us. Continue reading It pays to share

Learned Larneds

Geraldine, Queen of the Albanians

Years ago, Jeff Record sent me an ahnentafel report on his ancestry, curious to see if we had any connections back in Kansas. While we identified several common ancestors in New England, I was curious about his great-great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Neff) Young (1864-1898) of El Dorado, Kansas. Neff is not in my own ancestry, but it is the surname of some distant cousins I remembered from my childhood. I frequently went to Kansas over the holidays as a child and would stay at my grandparents’ farm in Sedgwick, Kansas. Most often my mother’s siblings and their children would also be there; sometimes there were more distant cousins present, and at the time I had no idea how they were related to me. The Neffs were some such cousins that would occasionally visit as two of their boys were the same age as myself and a few of my first cousins. Later, as I got interested in genealogy, I learned that they were my third cousins: their mother’s father’s sister Carrie Etta (Wright) Learned was a sister of my matrilineal great-grandmother Daisy Alice (Wright) Horton. Continue reading Learned Larneds

Marriage-go-round

Anna of Bohemia, Queen of Hungary. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Sometimes – as Chris Child and Jeff Record know – one gets drawn back to the same subject matter only to find new patterns. (I would venture to say many other genealogists know this dynamic well.) For me, in this example, it is an interest in matrilineal lines, a favorite subject of my colleague Julie Helen Otto; lately, this interest has taken shape around the progeny of Anna of Bohemia, Queen of Hungary, whose husband later succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor. To look at her daughters’ daughters (and daughters’ sons) is to enter a thicket of queens and kings, empresses and princes. Famously, both Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great descend from Anna through the female line – a subject for another post, perhaps? Continue reading Marriage-go-round

Finding Anastasia

The Mack family of Holbrook, Massachusetts, ca. 1925, with matriarch Bridget (Mahoney) Mack (1845–1927) at its center. Her granddaughter Therese (Mack) Doherty (1928–2020) helped me re-establish ties among lost branches of our family in Newport, Rhode Island.

This tale began with a headline – “Fatally Stricken While in Bank” – in the Newport Daily News on 5 January 1965 that described the sudden demise of Anastasia Dwyer, age 76 [sic]. A reserved, quiet, unmarried woman, “Stacia” always came to family wakes and sat alone. My Newport Dwyer relatives, with roots in County Kerry, Ireland, assumed she belonged to our clan but did not know any details. Stacia’s death certificate presented the first of many puzzles, beginning with the names of her parents: father — Dwyer, Patrick later inserted, and mother Abbie Mahoney [sic]. Informant: Patrick Mack of Holbrook, Massachusetts. Who was he? It struck me as odd that none of the Newport Dwyers supplied that information. Stacia had lived with her mother, Abbie Dwyer, until the latter’s death in 1946. Abbie Dwyer’s death certificate indicated her maiden name was Sullivan, the names of her parents unknown. A death notice in the Newport Mercury offered no additional information, but her funeral notice disclosed Patrick Mack as one of her pallbearers. Continue reading Finding Anastasia