• 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.

  • May10

    Yesterday while in Manhattan with my family, we took a minute to take a fun photo.

    First, an abbreviated back story: A few years ago when I started researching my great-grandfather Michael Tierney and family in earnest, I obtained his work records from the New York City Police Department. While working on that information and finding them in the various censuses under any number of poorly enumerated spellings and transcriptions, I also began scanning all of our family photos. In my brother’s album I found a single photo of Michael, standing on a rooftop in uniform circa 1904.

    A few days later, I experienced an amazing instance of serendipity – browsing in my local library I flipped open a copy of The New York Irish and saw an 1887 photo of a group of policemen standing in front of the spanking new precinct on 67th Street.

    One of them looked familiar.

    To find out more, see my first two posts on great-grandfather in Michael Tierney – NY Policeman, Part 1 and the creatively titled, Michael Tierney – Policeman, Part 2.

    Below is the result of our photo expedition. A surreal experience to stand in exactly the same place as your ancestor 127 years later.

    For those of the historical architecture mindset, I suggest this interesting post about the precinct house at the Daytonian in Manhattan blog: The 1887 19th Precinct Station House — 153 East 67th Street.
    For more detail, you can read the 1999 NYC Landmark Preservation Commission Report here – it is actually much more interesting than you might think! (It is for the 19th precinct, but was originally the 25th.)

    Police Station.1887 Opening.67th Street.FADE

  • May7

    Baby Racing!

    Posted in: Fun, New York

    Today, my friends, a reminder to get your babies in shape since baby racing season will soon be upon us. And be aware that with 18 children under he belt (so to speak), your baby will need to get up VERY early in the morning to beat Mrs. Minafo’s 7 month old.

    Of course, babies tend to get up early anyway.

    If you read the article, you will find that these are indeed actual baby races (to some extent at least) with prizes up to $50 for each of the three scheduled runs. er, toddles. um, crawls?

    But, it was all in the name of teaching young mothers the importance of helping children build their bodies, and all of the babies were given doctor checkups prior to the race. Plus, there were apparently “milk stations” along the route.

    Anyway, enjoy. AND I’VE GOT A SAWBUCK ON THE MINAFO KID.

    BABY RACES! 1913
    You can read the original stories on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper site here:
    The evening world., July 17, 1913, Final Extra, Image 3

  • Apr15

    NY Times Article, The Census Taker
    While looking for articles on census enumeration in the 1890 time frame, I found what I thought might be an interesting article on the social aspect of answering enumeration questions.

    However, I quickly realized that it degenerated into a long, verbose advertisement for the health benefits of drinking Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey.

    Sláinte!

    Works Cited
    “THE CENSUS TAKER.” New York Times (1857-1922): 3. Jun 02 1890. ProQuest. Web. 15 Apr. 2014 .

  • Feb14

    I was playing around with massaging my 23andme me DNA match data at lunch, and always find it interesting how far flung we all end up. I have 1,053 matches in 23andme’s “Countries of Ancestry” tool (previously aka Ancestry Finder), which is populated with answers your DNA matches provided on the location their grandparents came from

    Of the possible 4,212 grandparents, 1,508 locations were “Not Provided”, and 891 were listed as “United States.” The cousins range from 3rd to Distant.

    My maternal grandparents both came from small towns near to each other in Czechoslovakia, my paternal grandmother came from County Offaly in Ireland, and my paternal great-grandparents also came over from Ireland. All ended up in New York City.

    I can take the paper trail back to the early 1800s on most of my ancestral lines, so it is interesting to see various hotspots in some countries. Obviously, people travel, so my having one match with 4 grandparents from Iran, for example, doesn’t mean I have Iranian ancestry – someone in my line (or a descendant) could have traveled in that direction in the distant past.

    But, I am left wondering with so many Russian, Ukranian, and Scandinavian grandparents listed – did someone head down to the Czech Republic from there, or the other way around. Vikings? (One can hope.) Hopefully one day I’ll find out!

    In any case, the real reason for my post – below is a fun way to view these matches using Batchgeo mapping. I created a spreadsheet that counted up all the grandparent countries, then pasted the data into their page. After a few tweaks of the advanced settings – Voila! A map of the locations using color to indicate the grandparent counts by country.

    View Ancestry Finder Grandparent Country Matches in a full screen map

    Interestingly, when I mapped my wife’s matches in this way, I noticed that she has more matches with grandparents from Poland and Russia than she does the United States! Considering she has no known Polish ancestors at this point, and all of her emigrant ancestors are at great-grandparents and several beyond that, that is kind of interesting. (As I mentioned, I have 3 emigrant grandparents, and 2 emigrant great-grandparents, yet I have more US grandparents in my matches by far. ) Are her Ashkenazi matches from her Russian great-grandfather’s inherited DNA skewing the results?

    I also am wondering if 23andme has published just how many people have been tested with listed ancestry from each country when looking at their entire database. If, say, many more people have been tested in Russia than in Croatia, is that large number of Russian grandparents in my matches’ results showing up because of the larger testing pool in that location, or via a true ancestral connection in my DNA? Hmm. To be continued, I suspect.

    Finally, one thing I noticed with the BatchGeo mapping tool – the grouping of results by color is kind of skewed, and there is no way I see to change it. For example, the lowest color coded grouping is “1-3″ and my highest is “124-891″ – I would like to even out those groupings to make it more honest to the eye.

    My wife’s map, below:

    View Map of 23andme Match Grandparent Countries – LT in a full screen map