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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is this where my love of poetry comes from?

I was excited about my discovery that Cowhey derives from Ó Cobhthaigh, the Irish Gaelic surname which is most often anglicized as Coffey. It appeared that our Cowhey branch of the family was more than likely from County Cork, according to Irish Families: Their Names, Arms, and Origins.

Now a new discovery, thanks to a Griffith's Valuation index in the Irish Ancestors section of The Irish Times website: County Cork is only one of several places to look for our Cowey/Cowhey ancestors.

According to the site, Griffith's Valuation, published in between 1848 and 1864 to provide accurate information for tax purposes, lists every landholder and householder in Ireland. Supposedly Patrick Cowey arrived in the United States before this, around 1820, but relatives that he left behind in Ireland would more than likely be listed.

According to The Irish Times' index of the Cowhey surname in Griffith's Valuation, there were 10 total Cowheys at the time in Ireland - 1 in Cork and 9 in...Limerick! That's right, the birthplace of the famous satirical Limerick poetry, and also a place well-known for love of poetry in general. (You've got to love a place that loves poetry this much!)

Looking down the list of similar surnames, I learned the following about residences of possible related families in the mid-nineteenth century in Ireland:
  • Cowhey - 10 total households (1 in Cork, 9 in Limerick)
  • Cowey - 4 total households (1 in Clare, 3 in Galway)
  • Cowhy - 18 total households (14 in Cork, 1 in Limerick, 1 in Limerick City)
  • Cowhig - 20 total households (17 in Cork, 3 in Cork City)
  • Couhig - 5 total households (5 in Cork)
So it looks like the origins of our Cowhey family will most certainly be found in Munster, the southernmost of the four provinces of Ireland. An Old Gaelic dinnseanchas poem poetically describes Munster and the other kingdoms of Ireland (the dinnseanchas genre is poetry about Irish place names). Here is the English translation of the description of Munster in the poem Ard Ruide (Ruide Headland):
Munster in the south is the kingdom of music and the arts, of harpers, of skilled ficheall players and of skilled horsemen. The fairs of Munster were the greatest in all Ireland.
A wonderful place to claim as an ancestral home!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Breathing a sigh of relief for Great-Great-Grandmother

Margaret (Foley) Cowhey's husband had died in a train accident and she was left with finding a way to care for and support their seven youngest children. Why had she or William not applied for a military pension for his service in the Civil War? I couldn't understand why I could not find a pension file for William. His brother Thomas had one, and I'm sure that he appreciated the income, even though he had no wife or children. It perplexed me that I could not find any proof of William's pension.

Now, thanks to Footnote, I've found it. And I breathed a sigh of relief for my great-great-grandmother Margaret. Thank goodness she had at least one source of income to help support her large family.

It's interesting how different databases and other indexes can turn up different information. I had looked several places before - who knows why I never found this information? But there it was this time - William Cowhey's pension file information.

Another lesson learned about the search for family history - a lesson that surely Margaret (Foley) Cowhey could relate to:

Never give up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


After many years of researching our Cowhey family heritage, one thing is very clear to me: it is a very uncommon name. I have often wondered where the name originated and why so few Cowheys exist. I also wondered, having seen similar last names in English families, if possibly Cowhey could have originated as an English last name. Vaguely I remembered reading somewhere that the Cowheys were related to another larger family branch of Ireland, the Coffeys, but could not remember where I had seen it.

Thanks to an old book I picked up, Irish Families: Their Names, Arms & Origins by Edward MacLysaght (1957), I have the answer. (Cover of current edition at left.)

MacLysaght, at the time of publication, was the Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission and also formerly Chief Herald of Ireland. MacLysaght's book is very well researched and indexed.

As I often do when I find a book on Irish surnames, I opened immediately to the index in the back, bracing myself for the fact that my Cowhey surname wouldn't be there. (I've had this experience many times.) But, surprise, there it was! One small page reference, but happily, Cowhey was mentioned in the index.

I turned to the page and found the following:

O'COFFEY, Cowhig.

In Irish this name is Ó Cobhthaigh, pronounced O'Coffey as in English: it is probably derived from the word cobhthach, meaning "victorious". Coffey is one of those surnames which have not resumed the prefix O, dropped during the period of Gaelic submergence. Several distinct septs were prominent in mediaeval times, of which two are still well represented in their original homeland. These are O'Coffey of Corcalaoidhe in south-west Co. Cork, where local pronounciation often makes the name Cowhig or Cowhey, as in the place name Duncowhey, called after them. This sept is the same stock as that of the O'Driscolls...
So Ó Cobhthaigh it is! Below is the family's coat of arms, bearing a green background and three Irish cups.

After finding the Cowhey family in Irish Families, I found another source with similar information. According to The Surnames of Ireland, Cowhey is Gaelic for "descendant of Cobhthach (victorious)". Our particular Cowhey branch is probably a sept of Corcu Lóighdhe in west Cork related to the O’Driscolls. The family was seated at Dun Ui Chobhthaigh (Duncowhey) in the barony of Barryroe.

After so many years of wondering, it is a good feeling to have an indication of the area in Ireland where the Cowhey family probably originated: County Cork.

But as all new family history discoveries do, this one opens up a whole new set of questions. Where in County Cork did our Patrick Cowey come from? What records would have this information? I need more information before I can determine our own Patrick Cowey's connection to the county. And before I can plan that trip to Ireland...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bad genes - discovered!

As I mentioned earlier, my daughter and I went on a Civil War treasure hunt for documents in our ancestor's file at National Archives in Washington D.C. Not only did we find family history treasure about my Great Great Grand Uncle Thomas (a huge file of his paperwork circa 1890's), but we also made an interesting discovery. Thomas, whose life and times were so far removed from our own, shared a familiar characteristic with his modern-day relatives: bothersome varicose veins.

It looks like this one particular little health concern is nothing new to Cowhey descendants. Thankfully, not all of us have inherited these bad genes. However, for those who have, they can be quite an annoyance.

My question for The Genetic Genealogist during the Carnival of Genealogy with a genetic twist:

Knowing that you descend from a family with a certain type of ailment (whether it is varicose veins, more serious heart problems, a type of cancer, etc.), what are your options with regard to knowing what the chances are that you have inherited the wrong family gene?

Thomas Cowhey never married and had no children. His brother, William Cowhey, on the other hand, fathered at least twelve children. And they had lots of descendants - a family reunion for this tribe would be a large event. Although I've have not found any of William's medical records, my assumption is that he, too, may have shared the same "bad gene" that his brother did, and therefore many of his descendants are probably suffering from the same ailment or may unknowingly be awaiting its arrival into their lives.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

"The War to End All Wars": Cowhey draft registration

After doing the research on William and Thomas Cowey's contribution to the Union forces during the Civil War, I wondered if any descendants of William in later generations had served time in the military.

The answer that I found: apparently not.

I did, however, find some interesting documents during my search. It turns out that all men of appropriate age were required to register for the draft during World War I. Whether or not they ended up serving or not, they filled out some paperwork for the government. The forms filled out by the men who ended up not serving may not have had too much value for the military in the long-term. However, thankfully, these documents were filed away for safe-keeping. Now researchers like me have another bit of family history in their hands.

In this case, I found the World War I draft registration cards for Charles William Cowhey and his brother Ambrose Paul Cowhey. Here is my great-grandfather Charles' card:

It is difficult to read, but I was able to decipher the following information about Charles (much of which I already knew):

  • He resided at 68 Main Street, Mount Carbon, Pennsylvania
  • He was born on August 21, 1887 in East Mount Carbon, Pennsylvania and was 30 years old at the time this document was filled out in 1917
  • His occupation at the time was Foreman for the Atlantic Refining Company, Pottsville, Pennsylvania
  • He was married and had one child (we know that this was his wife Agnes and their daughter Annie, age 3 at the time of this document)

And perhaps the most interesting information on the card, Charles' physical description:

  • Short
  • Medium-build
  • Gray eyes
  • Dark brown hair

Charles' brother Ambrose' World War I draft registration card was also interesting to find. Here it is below:

Ambrose' card states:

  • He resided at 68 Main Street, Mount Carbon, Pennsylvania (He shared a home with Charles, Agnes & little Annie, and his sister Blanche - hopefully a happy arrangement)
  • Ambrose was 34 years old at the time this document was filled out in 1918 - his birthdate was September 22, 1884
  • His occupation was Flagman for the Pennsylvania & Reading Railroad Company, Pottsville, Pennsylvania
  • Nearest relative: Blanche Cowhey (his sister), also residing at 68 Main Street

Ambrose' physical appearance is described as follows:

  • Short
  • Medium-build
  • Blue eyes
  • Light brown hair

Probably my favorite part of these documents is seeing each man's signature at the bottom. It makes me wonder when I see their names scrawled at the bottom of the forms if they knew that they would not be drafted into military service, or if they were concerned about the possibility of going overseas to fight for their country.

Either way, I'm sure that they probably kept a close eye on The Pottsville Republican and the news of world events that were transpiring so far from their close-knit community in Mount Carbon and Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Monday, October 8, 2007

What's new at Small-leaved Shamrock

I've added some new features to the sidebar of Small-leaved Shamrock. If you are a regular reader and don't scroll down the page every time past the most recent post, you might want to take some time to do so now.

If you don't want to miss a new post, don't miss:
  • The opportunity to subscribe to new posts via email

  • The opportunity to subscribe to new posts in a reader (RSS feed is the term, if you want to get fancy)

  • The opportunity to bookmark this site (Heard of del.icio.us?)

Also take a look at:

  • The new surname list, Our Schuylkill County Surnames (thanks to the reader who suggested this - hopefully it will help new readers to quickly determine whether or not they have a connection to our family)

If you want to learn more:

  • Check out the Related Reading sidebar, with links to books of interest about Ireland, Pennsylvania, the railroads, the coal mines, genealogy, etc.

I'm glad to see that many of you are enjoying Small-leaved Shamrock. If you are a regular reader and you are enjoying this blog, please drop me an email if you get a chance. I'd like to hear your comments and suggestions.

In the meantime, here's an Irish blessing for you...

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door.


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