Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Civil War hero's memorial a surprise to his descendants

What a surprise a Michigan resident had when she opened her local newspaper and found her great-great-grandfather's portrait on the front page! It turns out that he was being honored for his outstanding service during the Civil War with a granite monument in front of the local county courthouse. (Wouldn't this be a dream day for any genealogist with an ancestor in the Civil War?)

You can read the full article at this Grand Rapids Press webpage.

Thanks to Miriam at Ancestories for this interesting article.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Noisy, dirty, bouncy & subject to temperature extremes"

In many ways, William Cowhey's life paralleled the life of the railroads in America. As I mentioned previously, he was born in New York in 1834 at the dawn of those railroads. According to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania's Railroad History Timeline, this was the same year the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad opened in Pennsylvania. It included an inclined plane, rail and canal route stretching 395 miles across the state.

By 1842, when William was 8-years-old, the Philadelphia & Reading Railway began shipping hard coal from mines in Schuylkill County's southern anthracite field directly to Philadelphia.

Sometime before the 1860's, the Cowhey family had moved to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. By the time 27-year-old William served as a volunteer in the Civil War during 1861, the railroads were part of daily life. They played their own role in the war between the states.

During the heyday of the railroad, the lives of the men who ran the trains were surely never easy.

We know several jobs on the railroad that my great-great-grandfather held, thanks to U.S. Census records and newspaper articles.

At the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, William Cowhey was working as a brakeman at age 36.

Ten years later at age 46 the 1880 U.S. Census shows his occupation as fireman. In this role he would have performed many different tasks, according to a page on the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania website. These included:
  • Making sure the engine's fire stayed hot enough by shoveling coal into the firebox
  • Adjusting the stoker to keep the steam up
  • Keeping the boiler supplied with water
  • Verifying signals with the engineer
  • Filling the tender with water at the water tank
  • Oiling the valves, rods and fittings between runs
  • Working closely with the engineer to keep the train running efficiently and on time
After many years of hard work as fireman an employee of the railroad might eventually receive a promotion to engineer. William Cowhey received such a promotion. The Pottsville Daily Republican newspaper article of November 14, 1892 documenting the account of his fateful accident on the railroad lists his title as engineer.

The job of the engineer, according to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania webpage, required much skill and stamina. I quote:
"Steam engine cabs were very noisy, dirty, bouncy and subject to temperature extremes."
A tough day's work, but one that helped William Cowhey to provide for his wife and their large and growing family.

(Lacking a photo of my great-great-grandfather and his fellow railroaders, I've posted a photo of this Gordon Steam Engine and its team of railroad men from Schuylkill County. )

William Cowhey's life came to an ubrupt end one night on the railroad. The heyday of the railroad itself had a more gradual ending, but it would eventually lose ground to other modes of transportation. The Pennsylvania Railroad ended its use of steam locomotives in 1957. Ironically that was the same year that William's son Charles (also a railroad man) passed away. The heyday of the trains that the Cowhey men had lived their lives in and around was now a part of the history books.

For more information about the history of the railroads in Pennsylvania, see the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Railways, or the Reading Company Technical & Historical Society.

Thanks to Margaret Ringenary for posting the steam engine photo of her great-great-grandfather and his fellow railroaders at the Schuylkill County Scrapbook website.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Everyone loves a good Irish story

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture!

This, our 1st edition, includes stories of the Irish and takes us across several time periods in history and across continents and oceans. I've chosen to place them as close to chronological order as possible (going backwards in time).

Enjoy reading the stories posted by these bloggers with the "gift of blarney" and plan to join us for the upcoming 2nd edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

Now for some good stories...

Apple's Tree takes us to an Irish-American neighborhood in Syracuse, New York. Her story features rock-throwing and a one-of-a-kind upside-down traffic light. Her post, Tipperary Hill, will give you an understanding of the pride of the Irish people and make you look at traffic signals in a way that you never did before.

On Steve's Genealogy Blog, which is usually all about his Polish heritage, you can find a story about an Irish branch of the family - related by marriage. Steve's story, Dennis Valentine O’Connor’s Fateful Trip to Ireland, reminds us how one little trip to Ireland can be life-changing.

Next take a step back into the mid-19th century and the American Civil War. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to tell the story of the men of the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry who fought for their new country with the fervor of good Irishmen and the patriotism of good Americans. Read The Fighting Irish in America's Civil War here at Small-leaved Shamrock on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address for the story of the 69th and a tribute to these men and others who fought at the famous battle at Gettysburg.

Jump a few states over and a decade or two earlier with Janice at Cow Hampshire. Her post focuses on Irish immigrants in New Hampshire in the 1840's and 1850's and the not-so-warm-welcome that they received. Paddy Whacking in New Hampshire provides a reminder of the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations that often faced the Irish people as new immigrants to America. Janice also warns us about one particular children's song which we would be better off not teaching to our children. Janice's post also includes many interesting links to sites with Irish history in general along with information about incidents in New Hampshire in particular.

During the same time period one young Irishman was enjoying life as a boy on the east coast of Ireland. The events of his life eventually took him unwillingly to Australia, where he escaped with the aid of a Catholic priest on a whaling ship to the United States. A poet and journalist, he became influential in Boston in the 19th-century, eventually becoming editor and part-owner of The Pilot, the well-known Boston Irish newspaper. Take a look at the full story I wrote about John Boyle O'Reilly's amazing life, entitled The Dreamer, over at A Light That Shines Again.

Go back to the time of the Romans through the 7th century for these next stories: Jessica at Jessica's Geneajournal highlights a book on early Irish history that she is currently reading. Her post, An Interesting Irish History Book, provides a nice introduction to Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Hope you enjoy your little introduction to Irish history through the posts of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

The 2nd edition of the carnival will feature Irish research & resources.

Here's the specific topic:
As genealogists and historians, we're always trying to get the facts. What was the world like during a certain time and place in history? Who was there - what were their names and where did they live? What role did they play in the world around them?
Please share with us your recommendations for books and resources on Irish genealogy and history. What is your favorite (or most frustrating) database of Irish records? Can you recommend a favorite book or resource for Irish research? How about sharing your favorite Irish history books? Any online resources that have helped you in your search for Irish ancestors or your attempt to gain an understanding of Irish history in general?
I'm looking forward to receiving your recommendations via carnival entry by December 28 and publishing them on January 1, 2008 at Small-leaved Shamrock just in time for a fresh start on our projects for the new year! Even if you've never participated in a blog carnival before, please consider joining us. And if you have any ideas for topics that you would like to see on future editions of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, please send them via email. Your ideas and suggestions are welcomed!

In the mean time,

Beannachtaí na Féile

(Happy Holidays) and

Nollaig Shona Daoibh

(Happy Christmas to all of you)!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The fighting Irish in America's Civil War

In keeping with my recent focus on the Civil War here at Small-leaved Shamrock, and in light of the fact that there is very little written about the role that William & Thomas Cowhey's regiment played in the Civil War, I thought I would share with you another Civil War story. It focuses on a brave and dedicated Union regiment made up of Irishmen who fought to defend their new nation with the fervor that they gained from the land of their birth.

The men of the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry were mostly from Philadelphia (a few of the members were actually from Schuylkill County). All were "solidly Irish", according to John Sears, author of the book Gettysburg. "...so much," writes Sears, "that next to the National Colors was displayed the emerald flag of Ireland rather than the usual regimental flag. Colonel Dennis O'Kane had sternly reminded his men that they were defending the soil of their native state and should any man flinch in his duty, he expected, 'that the man next to him would kill him on the spot.'"

Strong words. But these were strong men. Many of these men of the 69th had been born in Ireland during the period surrounding one of the most trying times in Ireland's history: the Great Famine. They were not strangers to tough times, back in Erin or in their new homeland. According to a summary of Don Ernsberger's book At the Wall, these men were "at the bottom of the social strata". Their occupations included day laborer, dock worker, canal digger, etc. But all were in the category of "'last-hired; first-fired".

It was no different when, in 1861, at the start of the Civil War, these men volunteered to serve their country in time of need. According to Ernsberger, "their services were not always welcomed" at the beginning of the war. But they volunteered anyway. Although some were fairly new arrivals here in the United States of America, they fought as patriotic citizens. And they fought throughout the entire war. By the time the war was over, the men of the 69th had fought in every major battle of the Civil War, many of them, to their deaths. One-thousand-and-seven men left Philadelphia in September 1861 with the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry. By the time the regiment arrived at the Appomattox Courthouse, only 56 remained. Some had been killed or died of disease. Some had been wounded and/or discharged. Some had been taken prisoner or deserted. From the start of the war in 1861 to it's final culmination in 1865, the men of the 69th had played their part.

It was at Gettysburg, however, where they made an impact that would be most remembered in the history books. The Irish 69th Infantry succeeded in holding back the center of the Union wall and pushing back the Virginian soldiers as Pickett's division attacked.

On this, the 144th anniversary of Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, we remember and honor all the soldiers that he spoke of when he referred to the "brave men...who have struggled here". Included among them were these Irish soldiers of the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry, new to the United States but not new to patriotism and bravery.

Here in their honor, we remember Lincoln's incredibly brief yet famously eloquent words. We rise to his challenge to "be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought [there] have thus far so nobly advanced." That at Lincoln's suggestion, "we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion...that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

November 19, 1863

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."


The image of the 69th Pennsylvania at Gettysburg is a detail from Don Troiani's Rock of Erin and is courtesy of Historical Art Prints.

See Small-leaved Shamrock's Related Reading sidebar for links to the books mentioned above.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Worth remembering

About a century and half had passed. No one in today's generation of his family even knew his name, and certainly had no idea of what he had done. William Cowhey's memory had been lost to history. Or so it could have been.

It was a thrill for me to find the name of my great-great-grandfather in the U.S. Census records a few years ago. I carefully entered his name into the family tree, then over time, as I found more of the pieces of the puzzle of his life, I entered them.

The more I learned, the more I was amazed. He became a hero to me, and I wanted others to know his name and remember his life.

So on this Veteran's Day 2007, I remember with honor the life of my great-great-grandfather, William Cowhey (1834-1892). A railroad man who died in a train accident while heading home from his shift one night, William was surely a hero to his wife and many children.

He was also a hero to our nation. Serving as an early volunteer from Pennsylvania to help counter the "Rebellion", as they called the Civil War, he and his brother Thomas and their Company I-16 of Pottsville (the "Anthracite Guards") bravely set forth to protect their nation.

William and Thomas' three-month military careers were short but important at this turning point in 1861. Their company was recruited at Pottsville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania on April 26, 1861. Twenty-six-year-old William and 21-year-old Thomas and their company did not see too much action before they were discharged on July 25, 1861. But they played a role in one of the most important parts of our nation's history: a role that I hope will not be forgotten.

On this Veterans' Day, Small-leaved Shamrock honors all veterans and all military personnel currently serving their country. Though the words may seem inadequate: Thank-you.

For more information about the Anthracite Guards of Company I-16 see the History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers by Samuel Bates at Pennsylvania Civil War website or the History of Schuylkill County, PA by W. W. Munsell online. You can also find an index to Munsell's work online.

If you are interested in learning more about Schuylkill County's contribution to the Civil War, you might be interested in the
Schuylkill Civil War Round Table.

Additional Civil War posts on Small-leaved Shamrock may be found about William Cowhey's Civil War pension file, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a PBS History Detectives episode on the GAR, and the Pennsylvania State Monument at Gettysburg honoring Civil War soldiers.

Note: The United States flag pictured above is a 34-star flag used during the time of the Civil War.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Birth announcement!

The Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture has arrived and is calling for entries. If you have a blog about your own Irish genealogy or about Irish heritage and culture in general, you are invited to participate.

Our first edition will be about something everybody loves: a good story. What is your favorite Irish story? Show us that you've got the gift of blarney. Here's the specific request:

Of all of the colorful Irish characters that you've learned about throughout your search for family history or your study of Irish heritage in general, surely you've come across some good stories. Share your favorite story about an Irish ancestor or other Irishman or Irishwoman with us on this, the inaugural edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

I'm looking forward to receiving your entries by November 19 and publishing the 1st edition of our Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture on November 22 here at Small-leaved Shamrock. Even if you've never participated in a blog carnival before, please consider giving it a try. Hope you'll join us! In the mean time, may God bless you: Go mbeannaí Dia duit!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Now's your chance - free access to Ancestry.com

Want to try your hand at a little family history research? Take advantage of three free days of access to Ancestry.com. Free access to Ancestry is usually available at many local libraries (although there is no remote access for library patrons). Subscription prices for personal access, however, are quite steep. And personally, I prefer burning the midnight oil when my library's doors have long been closed.

Take advantage of this opportunity and take a look at some online records, including:

  • U.S. Census records
  • City directories
  • Immigration records
  • Marriage records
  • Old newspapers
  • Military records
  • More, more, more...

Have fun! And please let me know if you make any exciting discoveries.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Where science meets family history

Have you read about genetics in the news? Ever asked yourself, "How does this apply to me?"

The study of genetics and DNA testing in particular has now become not just a newsworthy topic, but a practical and meaningful tool for personal use. Family historians, in particular, stand to benefit greatly from the use of DNA testing.

Now a simple cheek swab test can be used to provide information that can confirm previous family history research or provide new clues to a family's heritage, both familial and geographical. On the flip side, genealogy is aiding the study of genetics by providing an avenue for further study of current findings.

If you are interested in getting an introduction to DNA testing and genetics and how they apply to genealogy and perhaps your own family history, check out the Carnival of Genealogy: 35th Edition. Hosted by Blaine Bettinger, otherwise known as the Genetic Genealogist, this "blog carnival" is a series of articles posted on various blogs about the topic of genetics and genealogy.

Included in the series of carnival posts are my own entries:

Also check out:

Happy reading! As I learn more about DNA testing and its application to the Cowhey family's heritage and that of other related families, I will post more information.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a little introduction to genetic genealogy thanks to the 35th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Calling all Ó Cobhthaigh, Cowhey, Coffey cousins!

Thanks to my discovery of the original Gaelic version of the Cowhey surname and a link on the Coffee/Coffey Call genealogy blog, I've found the DNA project for the Ó Cobhthaigh surname and all of its derivations.

Knowing that Cowhey was such an uncommon name, I never thought I'd find a group like this, yet here it is!
Why am I so interested in this project?

As I mentioned on a A Light That Shines Again, a blog about the related Tierney family's genealogy, I've been tracing the various branches of my family tree for a long time. My efforts, however, have gotten me back only a couple of centuries. Genetic genealogy, however, offers the opportunity to learn about a family's deep ancestry, and enables others who share the same surname within their genealogy to determine just how they might related.

A simple cheek swab test can provide information about your patrilineal family tree many generations back, particularly with regard to where the family originated. It can also provide you with connections to other descendants of the same family line that are living today - distant cousins who share the same heritage. This information can be shared with others through a Y-DNA surname project like the one mentioned above.

Because of the nature of patrilineal genetics (identical genes passed down from the father to son, father to son, father to son, and so on...), you must be male to test Y-line DNA. (The other type of frequently used DNA test is matrilineal or mitochondrial DNA, otherwise known as mtDNA. For more information see the Ireland Heritage mtDNA project.)

Take a look at the frequently asked questions section (under the For Newbies tab on the left sidebar) on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy website for more information about how DNA testing works and what information it can provide.

If your name is Mr. Cowhey or Mr. Coffey (or if you use the Gaelic surname Ó Cobhthaigh), and you are interested in learning about your genetic heritage, contact the Coffey/Coffee Y-DNA Surname Project.

Similar projects are available for other Irish surnames (not to mention surnames of other backgrounds). You can find more information on some Irish surname projects at Irish Heritage DNA Project and the Ireland Heritage Y-DNA Project Family Tree DNA, although the list is by no means exhaustive. (Tierney and Kennedy, for example, surnames for which I know that there are projects available, are not listed on Irish Heritage.) It's exciting to be researching family history now that technology is aiding us in so many amazing ways, including the area of genetics. Genealogy has never been as easy or as rewarding.

For further information about genetic genealogy see the Carnival of Genealogy on genetics at The Genetic Genealogist.

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