Sunday, September 21, 2008

Filling in the gaps on the Irish side of my family tree

One of the best exercises that I have done with regard to researching my family history has been to create a timeline of each family. Once I had amassed various notes, documents, photographs, etc. about a family, I found myself overwhelmed with everything that I had collected. It was sometimes difficult to remember what information I had and what I might need in order to fill in the gaps in the family's history or further solidify proof of my conclusions.

Creating a family timeline was my solution. Taking a step back from all of the minute details of the individual lives of my ancestors, I laid out the basic facts in chronological order for each branch of the family. Listing important life events, residences and historical events that impacted the family, I found that I had created a picture of their lives that I was not able to see when viewing the various notes and documents that comprised my genealogical research.

It has been awhile since I went back to the timelines that I have created for several families that I am currently researching. Inspired by the
"Back to School" edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, I've been doing some thinking about goals I'd like to set and gaps I'd like to fill in on my family tree. Revisiting those timelines again will be my first step in taking a good look at what information I am missing.

In the meantime, I have a few clear gaps in my research into my Irish side of the family tree that I hope to address soon. Here are the goals that I've set for various branches. I hope you, my readers, will keep me accountable to these and check to make sure that I'm doing my homework throughout the school year!

The Cowhey Family

This is the family that I've focused the most on within my Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania research. It's hard to miss the Cowheys: they have an unusual surname and there were so many of them!

Where in Ireland was the immigrant ancestor and patriarch of the Cowhey family born?


Arriving in New York in 1823 via the Ship William from what is now the port of Cóbh, Patrick Cowhey was the earliest arrival in America that I've discovered thus far within the Irish side of my family tree. Records related to him are hard to come by, so I was very excited when I found his ship's passenger list from April 1823. My next step: to search for naturalization papers, birth or baptism records, or other documents that might lead me to the family's original townland in Ireland.

What about his trans-Atlantic voyage? Why and how did he emigrate?

I'd like to get more information about the actual voyage that brought Patrick Cowhey to America. I have some good ideas about where to start, including searching newspapers for information about the ship's voyage and circumstances surrounding its arrival at port. I'm also interested in what specific events were happening in Ireland at the time that might have encouraged his departure.

Just where did the Cowhey family reside before arriving in Pennsylvania?

Patrick Cowhey's ship passenger list and census records listing his children's birthplaces have told me that the Cowhey family spent some time in New York before settling permanently in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. I have yet to find other proof of their New York residence, census or otherwise. My task is to finally hunt them down in New York. My challenge may be overcoming the many unusual spellings of the family's name. I've seen Cowhey, Cowhy, Cowey, Cowie, Cowy and many more. We'll see what other unusual spellings turn up as I search for this family in New York in the 19th-century. I plan to refer again to Your Guide to the Federal Censusby Kathleen Hinckley and Finding Answers in the U.S. Census Records by Szucs and Wright for tips as I revisit the various census resources available.

The Foley Family

Margaret Foley might not have known what she was getting herself into when she married William Cowhey and instantly became mother to the children William had with his former wife before her death. William and Margaret went on to have many children of their own before William's tragic death in a train engine explosion.

Margaret's ancestry is one line that I have not yet focused on much. I was told many years ago that her father's name was Patrick, but have yet to find him in the census or any other records. Her mother, Margaret (Graham) Byrnes-Foley became known to me through a handwritten family tree that I received from a distant cousin. Aside from a few census listings including her, I have nothing yet to go on regarding her life either.

My plan to find my elusive Foley ancestors: the no-holds-barred genealogy approach.

For Margaret and her parents, I plan to search for obituaries, death records, marriage records, special Pennsylvania census records, directories and others. Thanks to a tip from Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Female Ancestors, I plan to search for orphan/guardianship records for Margaret's children after her husband William's accidental death and to seek out land and property records for the couple.

The Donnelly Family

The Donnelly branch of my family seems to have quite an aura of mystery about them. Many families have neglected to pass down family stories to the younger generations. This branch of my family seems to have taken this to the extreme. Here are a few goals I've set to dig into the past on this branch of my family tree:

Did my great-great-grandfather John Donnelly die of a mine explosion in Schuylkill County in the late 19th-century?

At this point, I have some newspaper articles, mine inspectors' reports, and death records indicating that a John Donnelly died of a mine explosion at Bear Ridge Colliery. Is this my John Donnelly? I plan to do further research, beginning with searching for my John's grave, that will help to evaluate whether or not I have the right John.

Just who were my great-great-grandparents, John & Mary (McGonigle) Donnelly?

I have little information about this couple, in fact their daughter was always very averse to sharing even little bits of information about them with her children. I would very much like to find John and Mary's parents and extended family members. Census records have not helped much in this area. I'll have to branch out and research other records, including directories.

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So many family members, so little time! By stepping back and taking a look at each branch of the family and getting an overview of their lives in history, I hope to get a bird's eye view of what I've learned thus far and be able to focus on making further progress.

It is always rewarding to make new discoveries in family history research, but the hard work has to come first! Here's hoping that I have the persistence to continue with some of the challenging branches of my Irish family tree.

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