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Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

Trip Planning

Most years we try to take a genealogy research trip. Some trips can be one-day jaunts, but this year we will take a lengthy one. We plan to drive through the American Midwest to see the places our families lived and to visit a few repositories. This takes some planning.

Where will we go?

  1. Farm locales. My family lived in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. We are compiling land descriptions for all the farms.
  2. Repositories. The big stop will be the Allen County Library in Indiana. We may visit the Ohio Genealogical Society Library. Various county and city libraries are possibilities, too. I need to comb through the online catalogs for all these places to identify which ones are worth a stop.
  3. Courthouses. So far, I have not identified one I need to visit, but I am open to the possibility if I find I still need some document that is not available online.
  4. Cemeteries. These are a low priority because most of the information is now available on FindAGrave. If one of the repositories can give me a clue as to where someone not on FindAGrave is buried, I will take time to search for the grave and photograph it. I am talking to you, Jane Lawless and Caleb Reed.
  5. Historic sites. We need to break up all the genealogy with some visits to local historic sites. I want to see the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Kansas, the Lincoln cabin in Coles County, Illinois, and the historic district and canal in Hudson, Ohio.

They always say that planning for a trip is half the fun. Maybe it is fun, but it is sure taking a long time. I am ready to be finished and move on to something else. Let’s hit the road!

My First St. Patrick’s Day (since I learned I am Irish)

After years of searching, last year I learned that my mystery great-grandfather was a full-blooded Irishman. It took DNA testing to reveal his identity. Today is my first St. Patrick’s Day since discovering this family bloodline.

Even though my family did not know in previous years that we were part Irish, we joined the community in recognizing St. Patrick’s Day each year with food and garb. I grew up surrounded by Irish neighbors who celebrated day, so we did, too. My brother and I always took care to wear something green to school on St. Patrick’s Day so as not to be pinched for failing to wear the appropriate color for the holiday.

Over the years I have often put up a decoration or two in the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. We have enjoyed following the Irish-American tradition of serving corned beef and cabbage on March 17th.

And now another St. Patrick’s Day holiday has arrived. Knowing that I have some bona fide Irish heritage, do I feel more of a sense of ownership in the celebration? The answer is, not really. I have not found myself doing anything more that I always did to mark the occasion. Despite the DNA test, I feel no connection to Irish culture.

My Irish great-grandfather may have fathered my grandmother, but he was not part of her life. He never acknowledger her as his child, and he did not contribute to her support. She was not raised with any awareness of her Irish ethnicity. She told me that she had no idea who her father was.

Irish culture never figured into my family background, and a DNA test has not made a difference in how I think of myself.

So today, I am wearing a green sweater, as I always have. A corned beef is cooking in the Crock Pot. The celebration stops there.


The Story of Bridget

These newly discovered Irish relatives of mine did not leave many footprints in the records. I have turned more and more to collateral family members to fill in the family story.

My second great-grandfather Daniel Ryan (1829-1863) died in the Civil War. For my sake, this was a blessing because his second wife filed for a widow’s pension. That file contained a lot of information I cannot find elsewhere about Daniel’s family.

This week I gathered whatever information I could find on the second wife, Bridget Murphy (1820-1896).

The pension file told me that she and Daniel married at St. John the Baptist Catholic parish in Springfield, Illinois in 1854. The following year they had a son, James, who was baptized in Springfield.

The file mentions my great-grandfather Richard Ryan as Daniel’s son from his first marriage. His first Guardian was John Kilkenny, but no relationship between Richard and Kilkenny was given.

I wanted to find out what happened to Bridget and James after Daniel’s death. Did they stay in Springfield? Did she remarry? Did James have a family that would be related to mine? Who was John Kilkenny, and why was he appointed as Richard’s Guardian?

Using Ancestry and Family Search, I discovered the following information about Bridget and her life:

  1. 1850 U. S. census for Springfield. This census was taken before Bridget’s marriage. Thirty-year-old Bridget Murphy, born in Ireland in 1820, lived in the household of Catherine Latham and several Latham children. I found that Catherine’s maiden name was Taber, not Murphy. I have yet to learn the relationship between Bridget and Catherine.
  2. 1860 U. S. census for Springfield. Bridget was now 40 years old, and she was not enumerated with Daniel. She was listed as Bridget Murphy, not Ryan, although she and Daniel were married and had a child by then. She resided in the John Kilkenny household with his wife Mary and several children. One was a five-year-old named James Kilkenny. Was he actually Bridget’s son, James Ryan? Bridget’s entry records her as a servant possessing $4000 in real estate and $100 in personal property. These values may be an enumerator’s error because she was the last person named in the household, and the family immediately following was not credited with any property value. Their holdings may have been misattributed to Bridget.
  3. 1866 Springfield City Directory. Bridget Murphy is listed as a domestic for R. Hockenhull.
  4. 1880 U. S. census for Springfield. Here Bridget Ryan appears as a 60-year-old widow who could not write. Her age was consistent with other census years, and the 1820 birth year makes her 9 years older than her husband Daniel Ryan.
  5. Estate of Bridget Ryan, deceased, 1896. Her will was filed for probate in Springfield on 10 March 1896, ten days after it was written. It tells us she was the widow of Daniel Ryan. It leaves her real property to her Kilkenny niece and nephews and her personal property to her sister Mary Kilkenny. It does not mention her son James or her stepson Richard.

From these records I learned that Bridget did indeed remain in Springfield without ever remarrying. Her son James may have pre-deceased her without issue because no descendants are mentioned in her will.

The will reveals that John Kilkenny was Bridget’s brother-in-law and perhaps her closest male relative. Maybe that is why he was the first Guardian for Bridget’s step-son, Richard Ryan. A few years later, Richard’s uncle William Sullivan took over as his Guardian. I have not found a record of Richard ever living with Bridget. Instead, he lived with his own mother’s relatives, including the Sullivans.

Interesting as I find all this information, it tells me nothing more about the Ryan family. The only additional fact I found about Daniel Ryan is that he was not living with his wife in 1860.

Where was he? That is the next question.


A Wartime Visit to Russia

Russia commands the news headlines these days. Yet again, they invade Ukraine, as they did when they seized Crimea in 2014. Because of the unrest at that time, We were apprehensive about making a genealogical visit to Russia that spring.

Knowing that the country had mobilized, we wondered whether it would be safe for Americans to visit Vyborg, a city northwest of St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. I wanted to see the place my Finnish ancestors had lived in the early 20th century when Vyborg was part of Russia’s Duchy of Finland. At the time, the city was called by its Finnish name, Viipuri. Today, only ethnic Russians live there. The Finns left after being compelled to transfer ownership to Russia after WWII.

My great-grandfather’s Finnish family lived in the Vyborg area and worked at various occupations, including undertakers and carpenters. My great-grandparents Ada Alina Lampinen and Alexander Mattila were married in Viipuri in 1904. They emigrated to the United States in 1905.

As I eyed the news reports in 2014, my genealogical curiosity to see the place won out. Ukraine seemed far away, so we decided to make the stop in Vyborg during a longer trip through Finland. We learned we did not even need a visa to enter Russia provided we gave advance notice, arrived by water, and stayed in Russia no longer than three days.

Finland leases from Russia the Saimaa Canal (which the Finns had built in 1845) connecting their city Lappeenranta with Vyborg. They conduct regular boat trips between the cities.

We booked our passage and exchanged some American dollars for Russian rubles.

On the embarkation day, we left most of our belongings, particularly our electronic devices, behind in Finland. We packed a backpack with only what we needed overnight and hopped on the canal boat.

These 5-hour canal boat rides to and from Vyborg were some of the most delightful excursions we have ever taken. The scenery was beautiful, and the Finns were fun-loving travel companions.

An accordion player provided entertainment, and everyone sang along. Finnish is a phonetic language, and with a song sheet it was easy to chime in.

When we arrived in Vyborg, we lined up to present our passports. Everyone ahead of us was casually waived through. When my husband/tech advisor handed his American passport to the border control agent, her head snapped up, and she gave him a long look. Then she stamped it and sent him on his way. I was next, and I, too, stepped into Russia.

Vyborg seemed like a step back in time. The vibe of the city seemed unchanged from the days when Finland owned it in the 1940’s.

Our hotel, purportedly the nicest one in town, was a throwback to another era. We received one room key on a large fob. The tiny elevator could accommodate only one person at a time, so we took the stairs to our room. There we found bedding neatly stacked on the twin beds. Guests were expected to make their own.

When we presented ourselves for dinner at the hotel dining room, no one came to seat us. Our tour director noticed our plight and explained that the staff was frightened to serve us. He soothed them, and they agreed we could eat there.

Rather than seating us in the common dining room, they opened an opulent special room just for us and proceeded to serve us a magnificent multi-course meal. We wondered if they thought this is how Americans are accustomed to eating. When we paid our bill, the total came to the equivalent of $35.00.

They next day, we were free to roam the city provided we did not leave the city limits. Vyborg is a walkable city, beautifully laid out long ago by the Finns, so we stayed on foot. We looked for the neighborhood where my great-grandparents had lived. Nearby, we found the revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s house marked with a commemorative plaque.

A highlight of our walking tour was Vyborg Castle. This medieval fortress was built by the Swedes in 1293. We bought tickets to go inside and climbed the rickety stairs to the top. We could barely see the harbor through the dirty windows.

Back on the ground, my husband/tech advisor was sorely in need of a rest room. We had no idea how to read the Cyrillic directional signs. He could not seem to get the staff to understand his request. Finally, he resorted to the potty dance that all parents recognize. Broad smiles broke out as they understood what he needed. They graciously showed us the way to a primitive bathroom.

Late that afternoon, as we awaited the arrival of the canal boat for our return trip, we stopped in our hotel bar for a shot of superb Russian vodka. Then we boarded the boat without incident.

During this trip into Russia, we had interactions with only a few people. Although they seemed reserved and suspicious of us, they helped us when they understood what we needed. No one bothered us during our walk around the city. They were happy to sell us merchandise at the market and tickets at the castle. With an intervention from a trilingual Finn, we had a fine evening meal at the hotel.

We felt like we had a glimpse of the real Russian population during this trip. They were conducting their businesses and going about their everyday lives, just as we do. We imagine we were watched while we were there, but it was not obvious if we were.

These people did not seem like warmongers. It is heartbreaking today to see these same people feeling compelled to invade their neighbors.

The Crimean takeover back in 2014 was non-violent. We felt we could take the risk to enter Russia for a brief visit. We would not make the same decision in 2022.

Genealogy Trip Planning

Since the pandemic began, we have cancelled two annual vacations. Only once during the past two years have we spent the night away from home, and that was on a camping trip. Now we have begun to look forward to a couple of genealogy getaways scheduled for later this year:

  1. Palatines to America National Conference. The 2022 PalAm conference will be held at the Doubletree Hotel in Denver on June 16-18. I am already registered. I need not fly anywhere for this because Denver is within easy driving distance. Conference attendees will hear two full days of lectures on German research by Dr. Wolfgang Grams from Germany and Daniel Jones, AG, from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Other events will include a banquet and a bus tour of “German Denver” hosted by well-known local historian, Dr. Tom Noel.
  2. Upper Midwest Research Trip. My husband/tech advisor and I will take a road trip later this year to visit many of the states where our ancestors lived during the 19th century. We will drive through the towns they knew and visit repositories that might hold information we cannot find online. Special stops will include Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa; the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana; the Lincoln Log Cabin historic site in Coles County, Illinois; and the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Kansas.

Trips like these require some advance preparation. Already we are getting in the mindset to do some networking with other German researchers at the PalAm conference. We are putting together maps, lists of records to seek, and cemeteries to visit for the Midwestern driving trip. We are hoping to accumulate much new family information and break down a brick wall or two.

After waiting so long to take another genealogy trip, taking two in one year presents a real treat. I want to make the most of each opportunity. Planning well ahead is the key to genealogical success this year.

A Presidential Connection

On this President’s Day weekend, I like to think about my connection to one American President in particular, Abraham Lincoln.

My family lived near his more than once:

  1. 1650’s, Hingham, Massachusetts. My Lincoln and Dunbar ancestors settled in this community 20 miles south of Boston. The Dunbars arrived from Scotland about 1653. The President’s ancestor Mordecai Lincoln was born in Hingham just 4 years later in 1657. The population of this early town was small then, so perhaps the Dunbars and the Lincolns knew one another.
  2. Early 1800’s, Nelson County, Kentucky. My Reed and Kirkham ancestors moved to Nelson County from Pennsylvania after the Revolutionary War. Nelson is the parent county for Hardin County, where Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.
  3. 1829, Coles County, Illinois. My Reeds became original settlers in Coles County when they moved north and settled there in 1829. The President’s father moved the Lincoln family to the same county the following year. Although the future President was nearly grown by then, he moved along with his family, and Illinois became known as the Land of Lincoln.

Common places may not be the only link I have to President Lincoln. I believe I am related to him.

People from the English town of Hingham, Norfolk, England founded Hingham, Massachusetts. Both the President’s family and my Lincoln family were from Hingham in England.

I have not done the research myself, but I think our most recent common ancestor was Robert Lincoln, jr. (1525-1556) who lived in Hingham, Norfolk, England. He was my 12th great-grandfather and the President’s 8th great-grandfather. This makes us 8th cousins, five times removed.

Some of Robert Lincoln’s descendants migrated to the New World, including both the President’s family and mine. Although the family relationship is very distant, I enjoy being able to claim it.

Who Was Nellie?

Richard Ryan (1852-1925), an ancestor of mine, was raised in the La Salle County, Illinois household of his aunt and her husband, Rose and William Sullivan. The Sullivans had a large family of their own with eleven children. Some of these offspring have been difficult to distinguish from one another.

According to U. S. census records, the Sullivans had several daughters, including Elizabeth, Rose, and Sarah. Other records refer to Nellie and Sadie, nicknames that must have belonged to two of these three girls. Which nickname went with which daughter, and what happened to the third girl?

One of the three probably died young because only two are mentioned as survivors in obituaries for the parents and siblings.

A cursory internet search confirmed my hunch that Sadie was a common nickname for Sarah. Additional census records and family obituaries confirmed that Sadie was Sarah Sullivan (1873-aft. 1941).

That left Nellie’s identity in question. Was she Elizabeth, or was she Rose? Nellie is usually a nickname for girls named Ellen or Eleanor, not Elizabeth or Rose. I needed more information to figure out who Nellie was.

I began collecting more evidence:

  1. The girls’ brother Thomas A. Sullivan passed away in 1941. He was survived by a sister, Mrs. William Ahern. Elizabeth or Rose?
  2. The Illinois marriage records include a record for Rose Helen Sullivan, daughter of Rose and William Sullivan, marrying William Ahern in 1918. Rose Sullivan became Rose Ahern.
  3. Find A Grave provided the Illinois cemetery markers for the Aherns. Their inscriptions identified them as William and Nellie Ahern, who passed away in 1960 and 1961.

So it was daughter Rose who was known as Nellie. Why? Perhaps the family needed a nickname for her when she had the same proper name as her mother. Her middle name Helen may have become Nellie.

The nicknames found in some records have now been applied to the proper Sullivan sisters. Sadie was Sarah, Nellie was Rose, and Elizabeth remains unaccounted for.

Winter Genealogy Classes from Home

Some of my ancestors present unique research difficulties. When a class focusing on the problem becomes available, I try to participate.

This wintery month, I am lucky enough to find two:

  1. British Isles-Family History Records. Until last summer, I did not realize I had any recent Irish ancestry. Then I learned that a branch of my family came from Ireland in 1849. I needed a crash course in Irish research, and my local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society came through. This month, a Family History Library volunteer spoke to us on the British Isles records they have available. His presentation was sprinkled with history, especially of Ireland. Armed with his wonderful syllabus, I am ready and eager to get started.
  2. Wanted! Dead or Alive: Researching Criminal Ancestors. I hope this upcoming webinar by American Ancestors will give me some new ideas for learning about some unsavory ancestors—the one who served time in Michigan for larceny, and the group of Illinois counterfeiters who were said to believe in homemade money.

Instead of requiring attendees to appear in person for these presentations, both groups offered them online. The American Ancestors class was always planned that way so that people across the country could participate. The local genealogy society was forced to switch to Zoom at the last minute when a snowstorm moved in.

Regardless of the reason, I am glad to have the option to get some continuing education from the comfort of home. Next up is RootsTech (, a free virtual convention scheduled for March 3-5.

Mystery Margaret

My newly discovered Irish ancestors liked to name all their women Margaret.

This week I began trying to pick apart the threads of several of them:

  1. My second great-grandmother Jane Lawless had a stepmother named Margaret (Mrs. Thomas) Lawless. The baptisms for this Margaret’s children give her maiden name as Margaret Lawless, same as her married name.
  2. Jane also had a sister named Margaret Lawless, and they were stepdaughters of the above-named Margaret Lawless.
  3. When the Lawless family settled in Peoria, Illinois, they joined two other Lawless families there. Both had wives named Margaret—Mrs. James Lawless and another Mrs. Thomas Lawless.

We have, then, four women named Margaret Lawless. Two of them had a maiden name of Lawless. Three of them had a married name of Lawless. Two of them had husbands named Thomas Lawless.

I believe I have the profiles of each of these four Margaret Lawlesses distinguished from each other—The stepmother, Jane’s sister, and the neighbor ladies.

A problem arises when I try to apply pieces of evidence to the correct woman, particularly the stepmother and the sister of my Jane:

  1. Ship passenger list for the USS Home, New York arrival on 1 May 1849. My Lawless family included only one woman named Margaret. She was 50 years old. If she was Jane’s stepmother, where was the older sister Margaret? The youngest child in the group, Michael, was just two. Was a 50-year-old his mother?
  2. Thomas Lawless household, U. S. census, 1850, Peoria County, Illinois. This record again includes only one Margaret. This woman was 25 years old, likely Thomas’ daughter and Jane’s sister. The household also includes an infant, John. Where was the 2nd wife Margaret? Was she a 51-year-old mother of this baby?
  3. St. Patrick’s Cemetery marker, Kickapoo, Peoria County, Illinois for Margaret Lawless (1809-1853). The marker states she was the wife of Thomas Lawless. This woman was too old to be the wife of the neighbor Thomas Lawless, so was she Jane’s stepmother, the wife of my Thomas Lawless? She was 10 years younger than the ship passenger Margaret Lawless, but much older than the Margaret Lawless named on the 1850 census.

Right now I cannot reconcile these pieces of information. The stepmother and stepdaughter will remain mysterious until I can locate more documentation on the lives of all the Peoria women named Margaret Lawless.



Decluttering the Genealogy Office

December finds me taking a hiatus from active genealogical research. I devote the time instead to finishing up my research project for the year and cleaning up my office.

Now that January has arrived, I have a less cluttered workspace. Over the holidays, I worked to get rid of some materials I no longer need:

  1. Our office worktable had several stacks of work in progress. I admit they were all mine. I discarded or filed most of them, and now we have some clear space available.
  2. Many years ago, I joined a couple of genealogical societies that published monthly or quarterly newsmagazines. I saved them all. Last year I realized that much of the material in these magazines was time sensitive and of no use today. I went through these back issues, preserved the articles worth keeping, and discarded the rest. This freed up some valuable shelf space in the office.
  3. Several years ago, I inherited a cousin’s research library and work. The books sit on shelves, and file cabinets hold her research papers. And then there is The Box. Full of miscellaneous material, it sits on the office floor. I have begun working through it to file or discard its contents. Before long, I will be able to remove the empty box from our office.

My office remains stuffed with genealogical material despite this effort. I simply have too much, and many things from the cousin relate to her family, not mine. I need to get rid of it, and I have a plan to deal with that.

Instead of waiting until next December to resume the decluttering, I plan to go through the office systematically. Taking one drawer, one shelf, or one notebook at a time, I will work on purging something of the contents every day.

I wonder what my office will look like next December.