Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OT: Blarney

I've posted a few things about my (supposed) ancestry here in the past, not that anyone is particularly interested, and during the last few days while I have had some time and have been completely bored with the so-called Health Care Reform "debate" and most of the rest of politics as well, I decided to look into some of the documentation of my father's side of the family.

Quite a tale was told when I was young about castles in Ireland seized by the perfidious English, most of the clan then decamping for America, first to settle in Maryland starting in the late 1600's, more ancestors coming over soon after 1714, the final wave about 1740.

Some of them became very, VERY prominent in Colonial affairs, filthy Papists though they might be, and a few were deeply involved in the Revolution and the subsequent creation of the country, its Constitution and all the rest.

My own branch, supposedly, was collateral to the Founder-branch but important enough in its own right that, for example, the Capitol of the United States of America stands on land that was donated to the government by a direct ancestor. I had tried in the past to make the connection from him to my own great grandfather whose father I had been told had come over the Alleghenies and eventually into the Ohio Valley where the family stayed until moving on into Iowa in the mid-1850's. But try as I might, I couldn't quite make a connection I was certain of. I could find and trace names that were connected, but either dates or locations were off sufficiently for there to remain some doubt in my mind that what I'd been told was the truth.

So while I had some time, I signed up to and looked through some of their records, specifically Census records for 1850-1910 to see what I could find.

Hm. Well. It wasn't hard at all. I was searching on my grandfather's name. He was born in 1869, and there he was in the 1870 Census, complete with location (which is not where I had been told the family farm was, but at least it was in the same county). My great grandfather and his wife and their two other children were also listed in the household, names and ages matched the names and ages I knew and expected, so this was I was sure, the actual record of my great-grandfather's household in 1870. Only... it said my great-grandfather James was born in Ireland, as was his wife Alice. No. This couldn't be right, I thought. Alice O'Brien, my great-grandmother, I had been told was born in Ireland and emigrated with her parents in 1848 or 1850, and the Census record said she had emigrated in 1850, and so had her husband James.

I looked back into the 1860 Census, and there was James and Alice again, only one child, but living and working at the same farm in Iowa. Both were listed as having been born in Ireland, emigrating in 1850.

I checked the 1850 Census and there was nothing in Iowa or Ohio for either of them. So. I'd been lied to. Or rather, I'd been told a tall tale, one that apparently was universally told (but perhaps not believed) among my relations as a form of one upping the neighbors. Or something.

But then, when I looked at the 1880 Census, I found James, but he'd moved to a different farm, in the same county but several miles away from his previous farm, and he was now married to Margaret. My grandfather and his younger brother were listed part of the household, but the older children were now gone. I had never been told of Margaret at all.

In the 1890 Census, James and Margaret had moved to town, and were now living on the same street as my grandfather, who now had a household of his own several doors down. James was now listed as retired. In the 1900 Census, my grandfather was still at the same house -- married to my grandmother Elizabeth, with one son, my uncle Vincent; James was still down the street but he was now alone, no Margaret. I could not find James in the 1910 Census, though I had been told he died in 1916, and I've seen pictures of him looking pretty hale and hearty around that time. So I don't know what happened to him.

He was declared dead by the Census in 1880, but the enumerator appended a note stating that his "widow" Margaret had misinformed her and that he was found alive on some other page of the Census, so the enumerator had added him back into the household. Must be some story there.

If I get some more time for this sort of thing, I'd like to research James and Alice back to Ireland, though now I have no idea where they came from. What I had been told about the Irish origin of the clan puts them in Co. Tipperary and Co. Offaly, but I have no idea where James and Alice might have originated. James would have been 19 years old when he emigrated from Ireland, Alice would have been 16. She came with her parents, I was told, but I don't know their names (O'Brien is pretty a pretty common Irish name!). James's father, supposedly, was named Alexander, the same as his oldest son. I wonder what happened to him.

What a time sink!

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