• Books
  • Mar3

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    Using my patented (it’s not really patented) process of scanning the Interwebs to find things hidden in dark corners (but nothing too scary), I recently found the confirmation of a story a cousin of my wife had passed on regarding the brother of their great-grandparents. The neat thing is the story goes back to the 1880s – a boy named Angus Keigan had begun working in the mines when about 14, as many did. But, sadly he was killed within a few weeks of starting.

    Report of the Department of Mines, Nova Scotia, 1883


    I had made a note in the family tree of the story, but Google Books filled in the story with terrible clarity via two books “Report of the Department of Mines, Nova Scotia, 1883” and “Journal and Proceedings of the House of Assembly of the Province of Nova Scotia, 1884.”

    Apparently Angus was rolling a coal tub in the mines and decided to walk in front of it, lost control, and was crushed.

    It is often the case that family and historical research can have very sad things to tell us. But truth can also help clear up many things, and at the very least help us understand a little bit more of the hardships of our ancestors, and often feel very much for them.

    Don’t forget to look for books on all sorts of topics – the trade in which your family worked, the local, state and federal government reporting, and of course old newspapers. It is something I try to remember – but wouldn’t have thought of looking for a mining report.

    By casting a wide net using a blanket Google Books search for “keigan sydney mines” uncovered another bit of the past for my wife’s family.

  • Jun25

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    What do you do when your family history research has hit a brick wall and you’re out of ideas? How about filling in some historical background on the locations and times of your ancestors? One very good resource for those with New York City connections is Kings Views of New York City, 1903.

    It contains almost 100 pages of photos and when paired with The Google Maps Street View can make a fun way of touring Manhattan past and present.

    This particular book is both viewable, clippable, embeddable and possibly some other -ables Online, as well as downloadable (see! I knew there was another -able!) in PDF format for your Offline enjoyment.

    One nice example – a north-looking view up 5th Avenue at 44th Street from the time – a very different look now on Street View – although you can still *just* see the spire of the church several block north…


    View Larger Map

  • May20


    I have been going back over some of my research lines lately and working on a few dead ends to see if I could revive them. One of my mysterious ancestors is my 2nd great-grandmother Margaret Tierney, whom I first learned about when I found her living with my great-grandfather and family in Manhattan in the 1900 US census.

    It took a fair bunch of research and microfilm spinning to find her death certificate as filed a few years after the 1900 census, and since then I have been trying to find her crossing from Ireland to New York.

    The 1900 census info for my Tierneys is particularly wonky, so is not of great help in providing a date I trust for her emigration. So I have been casting a wide net, logging all of the even-marginally possible records, and hoping I can trim them down to find the most likely one for her.

    Margaret Tierney, Grass WidowFrom a few clues, I find it likely that Margaret arrived before Ellis Island was operating, so have been looking through Castle Garden records. During that process, I found an interesting Occupation listed for one Margaret Tierney: Grass Widow.

    Well, that was a new one to me, so I began digging a bit more.

    Over on The Google Books I found an 1873 book entitled Long Ago, A Journal of Popular Antiquities, (Edited By Alexander Andrews, Volume 1, Issue 1 – Volume 2, Issue 17) with a few references to the phrase.

    In fact, I find the book as a whole very interesting, as it contains queries by researchers that are answered by other fellows in subsequent volumes. Kind of like an early Twitter Lazy Tweet asking for help from the masses.

    Grass Widow Inquiry, Pages 120-121 Beginning on page 120 of the book there is a request to others for more information about it by a Mister J.L.C.

    As you can see, he found burial entries, such as “1615-6, March 15. Anne Houghton, an oulde grass widow

    Good old JLC notes that in America, it is a slang term for a “widow of light character”, which is a description I love.

    He also references a work (by John Taylor, whom I am unfamiliar with) implying that a grass widow might be a woman left by a husband because she is unable to have children.

    Grass Widow - Responses
    Happily, in the next volume (Page 150 in this same compilation), a few learned gentleman provide responses.

    I leave you with the full responses at right, including the idea that a grass widow is a wife temporarily parted from her husband, some saying for innocent reasons, others not so much.

    Also, another description of the meaning that might apply to my great-grandmother – she is here in Manhattan, but I do not know what has become of her husband John. Did he remain in Ireland? Is he alive? Is she “a widow, whose husband is abroad and said, but not certainly known to be dead?”

    Perhaps one day I will find out. For now, I’ll just put the phrase “grass widow” in my pocket.

    For extra credit, a pre-published, postscript:

    After I had finished writing most of this post, I happened upon a short entry in the Irish Genealogicial Society International blog that also mentions the phrase.

  • Sep12

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    For those researching family in Ireland, the book Illustrations, Historical and Genealogical of King James’s Irish Army List, 1689 might be useful in your trek back in time. (In an 1861 updated second edition, by John D’Alton.)

    The AskAboutIreland site says of the work:

    The work contains a vast wealth of family history, including information outlining the lineage, honours and achievements of families connected with Ireland, either through birth, rank, title or alliance. As many of the sources used in compiling the two volumes are now lost they stand as a highly valuable tool for Irish family research.

    Visit their site for a bit more description of the content and links to PDF versions of the two volumes.

    You can also find variously formatted versions of the books on Archive.org. Click here for one version although the header pages differ from the Ask About Ireland versions, so I’m unsure if they are earlier versions or some other form.

    But, the Archive.org version does have searchable text formats, so you can look for the surnames you hope to find more easily…

  • Apr30

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    For those who like to research the history and social aspects of their immigrant forebears (or fivebears even), Google Books is a great place to hang around. And they don’t get annoyed when you break out the snacks.

    Image from The Čechs (Bohemians) in America One book I have been reading through is The Čechs (Bohemians) in America, A Study of Their National, Cultural Political, Social, Economic and Religious Life, By Thomas Čapek.

    While the style of this circa 1920 writing is a bit dated and the perspective could be argued as slanted in Czech favor, there is quite a bit of dimension to be had on the experiences of Czech immigrants, their reasons for leaving home, and how they fit in after arriving in the United States. Read More | Comments