Addressing My Past

If you know anything about me, you will know I like to research and discover things about my ancestors.  I do because, until a few years ago, I did not know all that much about them.  Either side of the family was pretty much a mystery except for the O’Connells. For me, the O’Connells were my maternal grandmother, Regina, and her brothers Edward and James.  Edward was her twin and James was my godfather.

I have spent a lot of time looking through sites like Ancestry.com, FindaGrave.com, and Newspapers.com  for names and dates of family events. I have also researched the family homes in Brooklyn. This week I plugged in an address to see what would turn up. The house at 164 Dean Street is in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.  During my lifetime it was “Uncle Ed’s house.”

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164 Dean Street, circa 1940, NYC Municipal Archives

It came into my family in March 1907 with the deed going to John Boyle (my third great-grandfather).  With the death of John Boyle, it passed into the hands of the O’Connell family, specifically my great-grandfather, Edward F. O’Connell.  It passed to my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell in 1941 and James O’Connell was added to the deed soon after.

It was common for multiple family units in the immigrant Irish community to fill these venerable old Brownstones. From 1907 through the late 1980’s, 164 Dean Street was the home of many of the Irish names that run in my family; Boyle, Cooke, Mahoney, and O’Connell.

I went into Newspapers.com and found The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the daily paper for Brooklyn for 114 years from 1841 to 1955.  What I found was a little bit of a revelation.  I caught some of my ancestors living their daily lives.  The first thing to catch my eye with the Dean Street address was a letter written by my, then 10-year-old, grandmother to the children’s page published in May 1917 seeking admission to the Humane Club.  It seems to have been a column written by someone who went by “Aunt Jean.”

The newspaper did a lot of society reporting and it actually reported on parties on Dean Street.  Mary Boyle Cooke (my second great-grandmother) celebrated her 81st birthday:

Mrs Anthony Cooke Birthday

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Nov 14, 1937 – Page 18

There were parties for my cousin William “Billy” J. Mahoney, Jr. (1st cousin, 2 X removed)  The first was his 21 birthday party, the second announced his return home on furlough from the army.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Dec 14, 1941 – Page 20

With all those “Misses” invited, I think his mother, my second great-aunt “Gertie”, may have been trying to marry Billy off in 1941.

Billy would, like so many young men during that time, join the Army.  He went to boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  Either during a break in training or before heading over to the European theater he came home on a furlough and his mother threw him another party.

Billy Mahoney home on furlough

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Thu, Jun 10, 1943 – Page 4

I think the second event was a lot more bittersweet than the 21st birthday celebration.  Billy would go on to fight in Europe where he was wounded in action.  He came home to Dean Street and took care of his mother.  He never did marry.

My great Uncle Ed (Edward A. O’Connell) was an interesting character.  He was a banker,  a talented artist and a bit of an amateur historian of the Fire Department in New York City.  In his study on the third floor of the brownstone on Dean Street he had painted a borough map of Brooklyn with the locations of all the fire houses, call boxes and graphics of some of the equipment.  I don’t know if any photographs of the wall were ever taken.  If there are any out there, I would love a copy.  On 24 October 1948 his work appeared in the Old Timers section of the paper.  Both the graphic and the write-up were his work.

Graphic.png

Text FDNY

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 24 October 1948, page 24

I was originally looking for information on births and deaths. I found the life in between.

Revelation

The names have been changed to confound the researcher…

It has frustrated me that, while doing genealogical research, I have been unable to make the leap across the pond to Ireland with any of the many family lines in my pedigree that should lead me there.  I have been working the Flood, Kelly (seemingly heading to the Isle of Man), O’Connell, Cooke, and Gaynor lines trying to find that leap back to an actual location in Ireland.

My break came in January with a clue that my Aunt Maureen had in her possession.  She has a certified birth registration for her maternal grandfather, Edward F. O’Connell.  The record, from the General Register Office in Dublin,  was dated 15 May 1940.  We are assuming that the verification of the date of birth was for the purpose of registering for Social Security benefits in 1941.  The most interesting thing about the record was the name on his birth registration was not Edward F. O’Connell.  The name listed was Edmund Connell. I had the reason that my search could not get me across the Atlantic.  There was a name change somewhere along the line.

Edmund Connell, aka Edward F. O’Connell, was born in Earlshill, in the district of Ballingarry, County of Tipperary to Edmond Connell and Mary Connell (formerly Morris) on 23 July 1874.  Mr. Connell, the elder, had his profession listed as a Sawyer.  The informant to the birth was Bridget Connell.  I am still trying to sort out Bridget’s relationship to Edmond and Mary.

Armed with this information I was able to connect with a volunteer at Ireland Reaching Out who provided the following information:

Earlshill townland (place-name database) is in Ballingarry civil parish, and also the Catholic Parish of the same name. The townland is located about 10km (~6 miles) south-east of the town of Littleton Co. Tipperary. The baptism for Edward/Edmond took place in Ballingarry Catholic parish the same day he was born, on the 23rd July 1874 (NLI RC Register images – right hand page near the top).

A warning from the volunteer on searching for references to Ballingarry, there are several parishes named Ballingarry in other counties in Ireland.  Take care, if you are doing research, that you have the correct parish. The civil registration district where the birth registry is entered is Callan, which although based in Co. Kilkenny, also covered part of Co. Tipperary.

Edmund O'Connell

Edmond Connell

Mary O'Connell

Mary (Morris) Connell

As for Edmond and Mary, the parents of young Edmond, there is a promising possible marriage for Edmond and Mary in ‘Gurtnahoe and Glengoole’ Catholic parish (see left hand page), which is immediately north of Ballingarry. The date is 24th October 1858 – unfortunately early Catholic marriage records don’t include as many details as the equivalent civil records, so no father’s name, occupation etc. I am reasonably comfortable that this is my maternal great grandparents’ marriage documentation.

 

All of the children for Edmond and Mary for whom I could find civil documentation are:

Catherine – 22nd February 1866
Richard – 3rd March 1868
John – 6th Jun 1870
Mary – 2nd Jul 1872
Edmond (23rd July 1874)
Anne – 23rd March 1878 
Margaret – 13 Mar 1880

Of these birth registrations, all with parents Edward/Edmond Connell and Mary Morris mention Earlshill with the exception of Anne.  The place of birth on Anne’s birth looks like Ballyphilip.

Edward and Ellen O'Connell June 1934 (Nana and Pa)

Edward F. and Ellen O’Connell

On the U.S. Naturalization Record indexes filed with the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York,  Edward F. O’Connell indicated that he arrived in the United States on July 12, 1880.  The port of arrival is lined through.   He would have arrived here eleven days before his sixth birthday.  If he arrived in New York, he would have come through the immigrant inspection station Castle Garden in lower Manhattan.  Castle Garden was the facility used before Ellis Island opened in 1892.  I have not been able to confirm that date or locate a ship manifest that could give us a clue on when the name was changed to O’Connell through records online for Castle Garden.  

Edward F. O’Connell grew up in New York.  He became a naturalized citizen on 2 August 1895.  He listed his occupation as “bartender”. He married Ellen Cooke and raised his family on Dean Street in what is now called the Boerum Hill Section of Brooklyn.  On his draft registration card in 1918 when he was 44 years of age, he listed his occupation as “chauffeur”.  Edward and Ellen  had four children, Regina and Edward (twins), James, and Helen (who died at age 5 as a result of contracting polio.)

Edward F. O’Connell died in 1959 and is buried in the family plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn.

I will keep researching the name change and try to determine the arrival date of the O’Connells (Connells) in the United States around 1880.

 

A note on Irish surnames…

Irish patronymic surnames often feature the prefix O’ . As surnames developed in Ireland, they were formed by adding the Gaelic words O, Hy or Ui denoting “descendent of” to the original bearer’s grandfather or to that of an earlier ancestor.  The prefix Mc denoted “son of” to the original bearer’s father.

 

 

 

The Perils of Disproving Family Legends

I am knee-deep in genealogy paperwork this weekend.  A package from the National Archives containing the military records of my great-grandfather, Sidney J. Kelly, Sr. spilled over 100 photocopied pages across my table that probably have not been disturbed since the 1920’s at a time when his widow was seeking assistance with pensions and death benefits.  I spent most of Saturday pouring over the documents and creating a transcript of the many handwritten logs contained within.

The danger in the research I have been doing for the past few years comes in when I discover that a family legend is not really true.  We all have them, celebrated skeletons in the closet.  They could also be whispered secrets through the generations or notes in the margins of family histories left to us from those who came before us. The names Baumann, Boyle, Cooke, Flood, Gaynor, Kelly, and O’Connell get tangled in the vines on my family tree.  greetings-from-gowanus-a

Did John Boyle, Jr. drown in the Gowanus Canal in 1875? (If you are not from Brooklyn, you could not possibly understand just how horrible it would be to drown in that body of “water”.) In World War I, was PVT Thomas Kelly of Company “G”, 106th Infantry Regiment gassed by the Germans on the battlefields of Belgium?  Was Michael H. Baumann guilty of manslaughter in the 1910s?  Was his victim, a man with the last name of O’Connell from Brooklyn,  another relative on the other side of my family tree?  It reads like a Penny Dreadful.

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Sidney and Emily Kelly, circa 1918 Courtesy of Norman McDonald

What do I know now that I did not know last Thursday?  I know that Provisional Ensign Sidney J.Kelly, USNRF, died of disease in March of 1919 while on home leave due to illness.  His medical discharge, signed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels days after his death, had to be revoked so that benefit and pension issues could be dealt with by his widow, Emily.  I also have found that Ens Kelly’s son, Private Thomas M. Kelly, served with the 106th Infantry Regiment in the European theater and most likely did see combat in the 2nd Battle of the Somme in March and April of 1918 fighting alongside the British Third Army.  He returned to the United States in 1919 and was discharged when the 106th was demobilized in June 1919.  His name does not appear on the casualty lists from the battle.  I am still looking into his unit history and am waiting for the National Archives to provide his records.  The story of him being gassed is still unproven.

Whatever I uncover, I think it is best to stick to what I can prove through research and documentation.  The truth will find a way to come out.   Some the legends may continue as legend, others may not stand up to scrutiny.  For now, I will go where the records and,  hopefully, the truth take me.

 

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