Saturday, July 25, 2015

About the Whole "Ancestors Hiding" Thing...and How It Relates to My Research

The title of this blog is a little unfair to many of my ancestors, particularly my father's. So I figured that I should explain, as it has affected my research planning.

My father's ancestors are cooperative


Truthfully, my father's ancestors have been fairly easy to find, especially given how little energy I have spent looking for them. (There are a number of fascinating mysteries about them, to be discussed another time.)

Recently, as referenced here, I have been in touch with a man in Poland who appears to be my third cousin, Jerzy Kolakowski. His tree goes back to the early 1700s, although I have not been able to verify 99% of what he has listed and so I am taking it with a bag of salt.

Still, I have found the ship manifests listing all four of my father's grandparents, and I have confirmed the birth villages of three of them and have a 19th century document reporting the fourth.

So all in all, they are pretty good sources for researching my paternal ancestry, and I may be able to track most of those lines to the 1700s with enough time and patience - records are in Russian, Polish, German and Latin, sometimes mixed in the same document, and I speak none of those languages.

I have paid less attention to my father's ancestry because my mother wants answers and my father seems only mildly interested.

My mother's ancestors are difficult


The Bradys


My maternal grandfather's family all are of Irish Catholic descent. His father, James Brady, was the subject of one of my first posts.  James Brady was born in Oldham, England just northeast of Manchester, to Thomas Brady and Margaret McCue.

The family moved to the United States when he was a young boy, right after the 1880 U.S. census and quickly settled on the border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts, moving back and forth over the 1880s and early 1890s. Sadly, it appears that whenever one place was doing a census or other reporting, the family was in the other place. There are huge gaps in the records, and what little I know is from tracking down things like birth records for his U.S. born siblings.

Thomas Brady was born in Ireland. That is all any record ever reports. His father was named Thomas Brady as well. He also had a son named Thomas Brady. He moved to Tiverton, Rhode Island and neighboring Fall River, Massachusetts, where there were at least three men about the same age named Thomas Brady. I believe that all of them eventually had sons names Thomas, several about the same age. At least two of them had wives named Margaret. At least two had fathers named Thomas.

The family eventually moved to New York City, the other place in the world outside Ireland that was overrun with men named Thomas Brady. He died in his mid 50s, and his widow Margaret McCue Brady remarried. I have located most of the records of James' siblings through their proximity to her.

James Brady eventually married and went to live on a boat, as I mentioned in my earlier post.

The Cowells


My maternal grandmother's family were immigrants from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hricz Kowal and his wife Anna Hoszowski moved to a small mining town in Clearfield county, Pennsylvania.

Although Hricz Kowal would translate literally into English as Gregory Smith, he Anglicized his name based on the spelling to Harry Cowell. At least, he eventually did. Every record of this family has the name spelled differently. I have found records with different spellings ON THE SAME PAGE!

My grandmother identified as Austrian or as Ukrainian, and said they were from Galicia. U.S. records call them Ruthenian. They attended a Ukrainian Catholic church. The church says it has no records.

Harry came to the United States around the age of 30, and quickly became a citizen. I wish that he had taken more time, because the early citizenship forms had very little information. They do list the date of his arrival in the United States, but I have had no luck in locating a ship's manifest (some are damaged and so the record may never be found).

Many people in the surrounding towns in Pennsylvania came from the same area in what is now the very southeast tip of Poland. Records are kind of confused from that area, because these towns have been in Poland but the records aren't Roman Catholic and the people were ethnically different, so records have bounced between countries over the past century or so.  All of the local Ruthenians were forcibly relocated during the Cold War years, and there is nobody local to ask.

Although Harry and Anna had a large family of children, there are a fairly small number of descendants, and most have no knowledge of the family history beyond garbled stories handed down.

I have found all of the easy documents, and most of the less easy ones. I have been to Clearfield county. I have seen Harry and Anna's grave in the church cemetery. I have gone, page by page, through the records of the local funeral home from the era.

It will take some serious effort to break through this brick wall.

The Point of All This


 As I have been trying to develop a research plan for the Genealogy Do-Over, I have struggled with setting priorities.

The most promising areas of research are not the ones that will lead me to answer the questions about my mother's family, and finding those answers is one of the prime motivators for my doing this work. My desire to find this information outweighs my desire to document thoroughly.

However, I believe that doing the research right is the best way to ensure that I follow every lead, verify every point so that I do not waste effort or cause confusion.

That is what prompted me to try the Genealogy Do-Over. The low hanging fruit have all been picked. Now it is time to get things together and make some real breakthroughs.