Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quirks in common - the ice chewing connection

I chew ice.

It drives my brother, who inherited super hearing from somebody, up a wall. He can hear me from another room. The way other people chew gum (and, for the record, I also chew a lot of gum), I chew ice. Where other people might fill a glass with water and add an ice cube or two, I fill my glass up with ice cubes and sometimes add some water, if there's room. I find it refreshing. And soothing. My friends, like my brother, find it annoying. My best friend has been making fun of me for this quirk for more than 20 years now.

For awhile, I tried to break the habit, but my brother and friends will be disappointed to know that it's become something I kinda cherish, as it turns out my ice chewing quirk is something I have in common with my grandmother, Helen Stutzmann Gorry.

I never knew she did it, but I was chewing a glass full of ice in front of my father one day, when he turned to me and said, "Are you chewing that ice?" Expecting to be lectured, I nonetheless told him that yes, I was, to which he replied, "My mother used to do that."

I have since discovered that this is a quirk I also share with two of my cousins on that same side of the family. And it reminded me of another quirk of mine, sleeping with one leg hanging off the side of the bed, which my father said is something somebody in his family used to do (and reminds me that I should ask him if he remembers who that person is).

I think we all want to be unique. We don't want to be just like everybody else. But I think we all want to feel connected to other people, too. Just like my physical features or the photos I have in my album, personality traits connect us to the people in our families. Whenever I chew ice, I think about my grandmother, who died 7 years ago, and I think about who in her family tree she might have been like with that particular quirk, and I make sure I write this connection down, so that someday it won't just be a connection to past generations, but will be a connection to future generations as well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

They're somewhere out there: The Alien Files

In today's New York Times, page A12, "A Treasure on Paper Goes Public: U.S. Bares 'Alien Files' Kept on Immigrants."

As most of my family was here by the turn of the (last) century, I wasn't even aware these files existed, but they sound like, for those who have more recent immigrant ancestors, a possible wealth of primary sourcei information. That's half the fun of the research, even just the possibility of that elusive treasure trove of information. While apparently you can access these files now through the Freedom of Information Act, it might be worth the wait (and lack of aggravation) to request them from the National Archives - I had no problem getting Charles Haase's military records from them four years ago.

You find out something new and exciting all the time. The downside to the burst in genealogy's popularity is the loads of misinformation passed around as fact, but the upside is people having the interest and power in preserving these valuable documents.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Losing (or finding) my religion

Religion has always been an interesting component of my family tree research, I think because, if religions were like nationalities, I would only be half-Catholic. I think it started when I realized when I was very young that my mother's father wasn't Catholic. I was raised Catholic, as were both my parents, and my grandfather, whenever he would visit, would come to church with us, but when it was time for Communion, he would stay seated. We had an old photo from my grandparents wedding reception in 1946 and I remember asking my mother why Grandma wasn't wearing a wedding dress and she explained to me that because Grandpa wasn't Catholic, they had to get married in the rectory, and if she couldn't get married in the church, she didn't want to wear a wedding dress.

As a Catholic, I'll be honest that I'm both fascinated and confounded by how easily people seem to be able to move between Protestant denominations. My grandfather was technically Baptist, but his Raynor (Protestant English) and Berg (Protestant German) roots were both Methodist and Episcopalian. All of my first cousins are Catholic, but all of my second cousins on Grandpa Raynor's side of the family are of one Protestant denomination or another. If you go out one branch further, to my third cousins, it gets really interesting, where several of my grandfather's cousins' families are Biblebelt born-again, evangelical Christians. I have more than a few cousins who are evangelical ministers, and several third cousins who were home-schooled and don't believe in dating but rather, in's all extremely fascinating. A branch further out, I have a line of cousins about three generations long at this point who are Mormons. A few of them attended BYU and several of them have been or are currently on missions.

My dad's side doesn't miss out on all this religious fun, either. I think his mother was Catholic, but her parents were not - her German ancestors were stand-up, Catholic-hating Lutherans. My father recently told me that my grandmother used to have to sneak out to see my Irish Catholic grandfather, but I'm not sure if it was her father or her grandparents that she was hiding it from.

The thing is, with Lutheran, Mormon, evangelical, and Methodist cousins, and a whole family line back through the years that's half Catholic and half not (with a possible Dutch Muslim thrown into the mix for added fun way back when), I don't understand how people can hate each other for their religious beliefs. My Mormon cousins and I might disagree on points of theology, but from their social networking Web sites, I know that we all have an artistic streak and that we like the same movies. And if anybody traces their family back far enough, all Christians were Catholics, all Muslims were Christians, all Christians were Jewish, and all humans are family.

Carbon copies and the odd man out

I'm always fascinated by how families can look like, or not look like, each other. Obviously, our physical features are passed to us by the combination of genes that came down to us from our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents, and everyone before. So when both my parents have dark hair, I wonder how my sister turned out a strawberry blond? Someone somewhere along the line had to have been a redhead. I actually have three redheaded cousins, although two of them got it from their father, who I am not related to. We are half Irish, so having redheads in the family is not a total surprise, although an interesting fact (to me, anyway...I'm not sure I've ever found anyone who agrees with the assertion of "interesting") is that red hair was introduced to Ireland through the Scandinavian Viking invaders, so while other people call my sister Irish, I call her the Viking in the family...

Anyway, I am a brunette, like my parents. My brothers are both blond. By hair alone, people usually aren't surprised that my sisters and brother are related. They usually call me the odd man out.

Then there's my parents. When people see me with my father, they say I look like him. When they would see me with my mother, they'd say i looked like her. The older I get, the more I think I am turning into a carbon copy of my mother. At the same time, I have a cousin on my dad's side of the family who has always looked exactly like me, except I'm half a foot taller than she is. (I call her my Mini-Me). But I'm fascinated how I can look exactly like my mom and also exactly like my paternal cousin.

When my grandmother was talking to me and my cousin the other day, she told us about a trip to Ireland that she took with my Aunt Ellen several years ago to go find the village where her father was born. They got lost in the vicinity and ended up at a business called Cronin's, which is her maiden name. The man who owned the shop, she said, was the spitting image of her father. She didn't know how they were related but it was obvious that somehow, they must be.

My cousin Keith, as he got older, was definitely turning into my dad's doppelganger. One of my favorites is my cousin Christina and our grandmother's sister Faith. There's a photo of Faith when she was about 12 years old where she looks so much like Christina that it could've easily been a photo of Christina. But three generations and a branch removed from each other, how were they identical? Christina's genes had input from my grandfather and from her mother, people Faith wasn't blood-related to, yet except for the age difference, they could've been twins. It makes me wonder who of my relatives from way back when I might look exactly like. For people like my sister, whose hair makes her the odd man out, it's actually a connection to an unknown someone from generations past. But for both her and for those, like Christina and Faith, who have family carbon copies, whether we know who we look like or not, the way we look is a tangible connection to someone and someplace we came from.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Latter-Day Saints: genealogical phenoms

For anyone doing genealogy research, one of the best places to start is with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Mormons are genealogical phenoms. I imagine the basis for that is two-fold: one reason being that when plural marriage was the norm for them, there was a very real need to keep family ties straight, to know who was related to whom by marriage or by blood - when someone can end up being their own stepgrandmother, things can get confusing if records aren't kept. The other reason is that the Mormons seem to be just generally very family-oriented. Members of the LDS are sealed to their families for all of eternity, so it's probably important to them to know who their family is.

In any case, the LDS emphasis on genealogical records extends beyond the Mormon church. They have made huge contributions to recording and preserving all things genealogy. The very first death certificates my father found for his side of the family came from research he did at a LDS Family History Center. There are dozens of these centers scattered around the country, with a huge selection of microfilmed records or access to said microfilmed records. The family tree program I use on my computer is the free one provided by the LDS. And their Web site,, has been extremely helpful to me in finding available family records, such as Edward Haase's and Eva Meinberg's birth certificates, and John Ricklefs and Meta Tiedemann's marriage certificate. There is some user-generated content on the Web site that is inaccurate, but if you know which databases are trustworthy, Familysearch can provide you with a wealth of genealogical information, or at least a place to start.

So this is a thank you to the Mormons, who fostered my father's interest in genealogy, who provided me with some important inroads in my own research, and who realize that whether we love them or hate them, and whether we know them or are separated from them by hundreds of years, that family, who we're tied to forever, is the most important thing.

Daughters of the American Revolution: Loyalist Edition

On my maternal grandfather's branch of the family tree, many of my ancestors' arrival to this country pre-dates the American about 150 years. By the time Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and the like all decided they no longer wanted to be British, my family had been American-born for several generations. They were well-entrenched on Long Island. So it's not odd to assume that it should be a breeze to get membership into the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I personally have never had much interest in pursuing that opportunity, but I have a cousin who has recently decided that she would, and so my grandmother volunteered my services to try to find a connection that would open that door for her.

But ah, those Raynors...even after 150 years on the other side of the pond, they were still very happily British...

In my Loyalist family's defense, the entire Hempstead area of Long Island was apparently a hotbed of British support. I have long been aware of the stories of the Raynors being Tories, so I figured I'd take a look at some of the other long-standing families they married into - the Seamans, the Ackerlys, the Storys, the Spragues. has a lot of military records in their database, which is how I first discovered my Civil War veteran ancestor, Charles Haase, but for the Revolution, I was turning up big fat nothings...till Zachariah Story, turned up a couple of hits in a book entitled "Loyalists in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War Volume III." He had military service in the Revolution, all right...fighting for the British.

If you look up St. George's Episcopal Church in Hempstead, where many of my ancestors were baptized and married, on the Web, you find out that after the Battle of Long Island, British soldiers used the church as a headquarters. By the 1770s, not all Americans were descended from British immigrants, but in Hempstead, they were, and for whatever reason, they felt no need to make any changes. what is interesting is that I have several branches of my family based in Canada - when you trace their migration pattern, it comes back to people who lived on Long Island who either chose to leave the country as the Revolution was brewing and spilling over because they were loyal to England, or who were forced to leave in the years following the end of the war because they were loyal to England.

Which brings me to my point that I'm not sure I'll be successful in helping my cousin with her DAR ambitions. Besides the fact that the generation who would have fought in the war is where my actual hard evidence of relation starts to break down, I just don't think the "yay America" attitude was there. I did go to the DAR website to see what they took into consideration for membership and was interested to learn that it doesn't necessarily have to be a veteran ancestor - it could be anybody who supported the independence movement, such as a doctor or nurse who tended to American soldiers or someone who served in a pro-America governmental role. So there's still the slim possibility of finding that elusive relative, but I really think I'll probably just end up suggesting that my cousin look into whether or not there is a Loyalist version of the DAR that she could join instead.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Casey connection: Talking with Grandma, Part Tres

While my cousin Cliff was trying to paint a broad but detailed picture of my grandmother's life three-quarters of a century ago, I had one specific question for her - what did she know about her grandfather, Peter Casey?

The reason I asked was because I had connected with someone on who had a family tree posted that seemed to match up. I had an approximate birth date for Peter based on census records (1858-1863), I had a possible origin (Longford, Ireland) based on hearsay from my grandmother, I had the names of his parents (Thomas Casey and Margaret McCarthy) based on his death certificate, and I had the names of two, possibly three brothers (Edward, John, possibly Thomas) from other people's research. I found a guy on Ancestry from County Longford, now residing in Boston, who was researching his Casey ancestors and inadvertantly researched the wrong Casey family - wrong for him, but quite possibly right for me. Because he had grown up in the town where these Caseys lived 150 years ago, he had access to cemeteries and baptismal records that would take me much time and much money to find on my own. Sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways... Anyway, in this family he had researched that was not his but was quite possibly mine, there was a Thomas Casey married to Margaret McCarthy, and of their several children listed, there was an Edward, a John, a Thomas, and a Peter, born about 1856. Several other siblings included a Kate, a Francis, and an Elizabeth.

So that July afternoon in my grandmother's kitchen, I asked her to tell me everything she knew about Peter Casey. She only had one personal story to tell, one that included her brother almost getting a beating from him because Peter's wife, Mary Enright, dared Dan to pour water on his grandfather's head. She knew other things, like he was uneducated - he couldn't read or write and he couldn't count - so he depended on his wife and children to help him with his carting business. He apparently also was quite impatient, cutting the legs off a piano he was supposed to be moving because it was taking too long to get it where it needed to go. But she didn't know when he was born or the name of the town where he came from, and she only knew about his parents because I had passed along that information to her. But she did know about some of her mother's Casey aunts and uncles, like Uncle Edward. And an Aunt Lizzie. And her mother's godfather, Uncle Frank, whose birth name was Francis.

Like Nancy Drew, I don't believe in coincidences. And when it comes to genealogy, I get a Spidey-sense that tingles down my spine when I don't have 100 percent verifiable proof that one and one equals two, but when I'm pretty sure that everything adds up. And usually down the line when I do get proof, everything does, in fact, add up. I get that feeling with my Caseys and the Caseys researched by Sean of Boston, formerly of County Longford. Unfortunately, his research also goes no further back that Thomas Casey and Margaret McCarthy, but siblings and dates and the name of the town may be helpful in tracing the Casey line to other descendents, descendents doing their own Casey research with documents and records and stories I don't have, which they'll be willing to share with me once I find them.

For the record: Talking with Grandma, Part Deux

So, my cousin Cliff Raynor and I sat down with my grandmother, Mary Cronin Raynor, on Sunday July 19th to talk about genealogy. My cousin, who is just beginning to get sucked into the genealogy vortex, had a lot of questions for my grandmother about what it was like growing up during the Depression, how she and my grandfather met, what Freeport was like when she was a little girl, etc. etc. Some stories I already knew, some I was hearing for the first time. I knew that my grandparents weren't married till my grandmother was 31 (I used to think that was way old, and back then it probably was, but now that I'm almost 30, it seems almost too young, ha ha...), but I didn't know she had a bunch of boyfriends before my grandfather. In fact, apparently, at one point she was dating three of them at the same time, going on all sorts of dates to the city. My grandmother, playing the field!

The conversation wasn't just for our own edification, though; yes, we were curious, but we are also, apparently, genealogists, so before we sat down and talked with Grandma, I told her I was going to record it. Memories can be tricky, and I didn't trust that I would remember everything she said if I went back and wrote it down later. I thought a video camera might have been a little much - I didn't want her to be nervous or self-conscious, but I had a voice recorder, and I was able to record much of the conversation. That will now become another record in my ever expanding collection of records, and one day when I show my children photos of their great-grandmother, I'll also be able to let them hear what she sounded like.

Talking with Grandma

My grandmother is the person who got me started on the genealogy road, so for anyone who ever gets annoyed when I suddenly get excited by something you find mundane at best, like finding a family headstone, blame her. (While true, this strategy deflects annoyance from me to my grandmother, and my grandmother is adorable, so how can anyone stay annoyed with her?)

My cousin recently started getting into genealogy, starting his mother's side and catching up on his father's (my mother's brother's) side, and knowing I do a lot of research, he had a lot of questions that I couldn't answer (he's my kind of genealogist - he doesn't just want to know the facts. He wants to be able to place a person in a place in a time and know the details about that person's life but also how it fits into the larger world historically. Time consuming, to be sure, but fascinating. Obviously, nerdiness runs in the family...) Anyway, there were questions like, when did Grandma move to Freeport? What did Grandpa do when he was in the Navy during World War II? How did they meet? So instead of guessing, I decided to set up a meeting so we could get it straight from the horse's mouth.

My grandmother is 94 years old. On my mom's side of the family, she's the last of her generation, both of the Raynors and the Cronins. She might live to be 100, but she might be gone tomorrow. If we were going to get her stories, now was the time to do it.

The great thing about my grandmother is she's very with it for a 94 year old. She goes out with her friends and she still drives. She can't hear very well and she can be forgetful, but ask her about the family tree, and she knows the answer, or if she doesn't know it, she's written it down somewhere. And sometimes I'll be chatting with her about one thing - something normal like, say, work - and she'll suddenly be off on a tangent about her days working at the telephone company as a young woman. Or we'll be talking about my brother taking up skydiving, and she'll suddenly start telling me a story about how she remembers when the thrill was actually just going up in an airplane (because they were so new), and how if you had the money, you could buy a ride out at Mitchel Field.

So I knew she had stories. Which was good, because my cousin had a lot of questions. A lot of it, I already knew - like how Grandma grew up across the street from Grandpa, and Grandma's brother Dan and Grandpa grew up as best friends. But there were lots of things I'd never heard, things that might not ever be genealogically significant but that humanized people I mostly knew as names and dates, like how my grandmother's father, Timothy Cronin, came to New York and went back to Ireland several times because he got into too much trouble and his older sisters here couldn't handle taking care of him, or how Grandma's mother, Ellen Casey Cronin, would take the train back to Brooklyn every now and then because she missed living in the city. Grandma's the only one left who actually knew these people. And, for example, I only have one photo of my great-great grandparents, but now thanks to my grandmother, I have a bit of a clearer mental picture of them and what they were like.