• History
  • May20

    3 Comments

    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.

  • Jan8

    3 Comments

    Today I spent some time perusing the wonderful newspaper resources of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper archive looking for possible articles relating to my great-grandfather in New York.

    I did find one article referencing a Policeman Tierney that may be about him – the article mentions a chase to the rooftops and we have a single photo of him that has him in uniform and posing on a rooftop. (See my previous blog post Michael Tierney – Policeman, Part 2 for more on him.)

    While that was exciting, I stumbled on an unrelated article from the March 9, 1913 edition of The Sun that was even more so! I tweeted a link to it before I even read much of the article, since it seemed interesting.

    As I read onward, I learned that the Modern Historic Records Association

    “…sent two envelopes of imperishable paper to each of its members. In these envelopes each family was requested to place a message to its descendants 100 years from the present date, to be opened in the year 2013. this message might consist of photographs of the family, a genealogical history going as far back as practicable, or anything else deemed worthy of transmission.”

    That is quite interesting on its own, but I then found there was a further wrinkle to the plan:

    “Duplicate copies were to be placed in the envelopes. The two sets of envelopes so collected were to be placed in an indestructible box. One of these boxes was to be deposited in the New York Public Library, the other in a chamber in one of the pyramids of Egypt. Both were to be opened just 100 years from the present date and the envelopes turned over to the descendants to whom they were addressed.”

    NYPL TweetAs that plan sunk in, I began to get more excited. What could these men have written of? Where are their descendants now? Do others know of this plan still?

    My tweet was then replied to by the @NYPL account (“whoa!”) and cc:d to their other historical collections tweeter accounts. Looks like I’m not the only excited one here.

    I do hope something is found in relation to this project – and am left wondering what pyramid was supposed to be involved and if the plan was carried out fully.
    Updated on January 8, 2013 at 22:23:

    I have done a bit more more digging on the Modern Historic Records Association, and was able to find a listing in the book that may reference the items given to the New York Public Library for this project:

    Bulletin of the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations , Volume 17 (1913), Page 118

     

  • Dec13

    4 Comments

    While researching my grandmother’s family, I thought it would be interesting (and important) to learn more about the religious order her sister Kathleen had joined in Ireland.

    Sister Attracta (the name she chose when taking her vows) is recalled fondly in our home via her letters to my parents and a New York visit in the 1960’s.

    Sister Attracta Photo CollageLast year I posted a photo collage of Sister Attracta , and over the last year I’ve learned a bit more about her from a cousin in Ireland as we compared research.

    After many years of service in China and Hong Kong, she retired to the Columban Sisters home in County Wicklow Ireland.

    I found a bit of history on the Columban Sisters site that begins…

    “The first group of Sisters set sail on September 13, 1926 from Cobh Harbour in County Cork. The 13,000 mile journey ahead of them would eventually take them to China. After many weeks travelling the Sisters finally arrived in China at a place called Hanyang.”

    The small family stories I’ve heard of her mention the sisters being taken captive during the war, and their status as doctors and nurses was the one thing that saved them from certain terrible experiences.

    Maybe a Second Spring - book coverThe history page references a book entitled “Maybe A Second Spring: The Story of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban in China”, which they will send you for free if you pay shipping. (I purchased mine at Kennys.ie)

    I received the book last night and am looking forward to start reading it tonight – but I couldn’t resist a flip through right away. Near the beginning it describes “…dozens of (missionary) women would, in time, go to the heart of China. They would face a civil war, bandits, war lords, Communist Geurillas, and Japanese invaders, to say nothing of opium addicts, lepers, floods, famine, and plague.”

    Photo: Sister Mary Attracta with patient in NanchegAnd what do I find in the center section of the book? A cache of photos, including one of Sister Attracta! Quite exciting – I also see her mentioned in at least one section where the sisters are heading off to found the mission at Nancheng.

    Once again, reading is good.

  • Nov21

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    In a previous post entitled WWI Army Pay Card I spoke about using the veteran burial record for my great uncle to find his Army Serial Number (ASN). I used that info to finally successfully order his WWI records from the National Archives.

    The source I used was the U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962 database on Ancestry.com. Great uncle Michael died in 1936, so I was very glad when that database went online- I had every other piece of information on Michael short of his ASN and his shoe size, but NARA kept replying to my records requests with “not enough info.”

    Just a month or so later, a researcher in Ireland contacted me about my grandfather’s first wife, Sabina Gilroy, whom he found in my tree. This cousin of my cousins has shared a great deal on a part of our tree that was bereft, which has been wonderful.

    It turns out Sabina’s brother Michael was also a WWI veteran, but he died in service a few weeks before the war ended.

    So, you’d think the Interment Control Forms database would be out since he died 10 years before 1928, no?

    No. It turns out that groups of veterans were disinterred from their original burial places overseas and reburied back in the US.

    Michael Gilroy was moved from a cemetery near the battle in Meuse-Argonne back to Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn some time after 1928.

    So, now we have his interment card, his ASN and a way to now find his records at NARA.

    National Veteran's Cemetery Interment Card for Michael Gilroy

  • Nov9

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    During this interlude of post-Hurricane Sandy getting back to normal and trying to find gas without running out of gas and school JUST re-opened 11 days later and many neighbors still have no electricity and then we had a Nor’easter and 7 inches of snow and I can’t stop typing here is an interesting post from the New York Public Library entitled Blizzard! The March Snowstorm of 1888.

    By the way, we fared very well in the storm and got our power back after 6 days. So many people on the south shore of Long Island and other places nearby were absolutely hammered by the storm and lost everything. Absolutely everything.

    You can donate to the Red Cross effort for Hurricane Sandy here.