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Friday, July 12, 2013

Seeing double! Twins in the family and the need to study genealogical records with a careful eye

About fifteen years ago I was thrilled to connect with a Cowhey family cousin who sent me a typewritten family tree that another cousin had created. It listed, among other names, our shared immigrant ancestor Patrick Cowhey and his wife and children. At the end of the list of nine children: twins! 

This typewritten family tree provided valuable clues to the
Cowhey family's story but turned out to have many errors.
I had heard the rumor through my grandmother that twins supposedly "ran in the family", so this was an interesting bit of information. I had also heard about the existence of a Cowhey family Bible. How I would love to find that someday! What clues it might hold to our family's history!

Fast-forward to a couple of years ago, when I had the chance to meet the son of the cousin who had sent me the family tree. We had corresponded for quite a few years, so it was a joy to finally meet in person. As he walked up the path to meet my family and I on the grounds of the guesthouse where we were staying, I noticed that he was carrying something under his arm. It turned out to be a dream come true for me: the supposedly long-lost family Bible. We took some photos that day, and after our visit he took the Bible home and scanned the record pages for me.

Ann Cowhey's Bible: this treasure has been in the family since the 1840s
Births, deaths, marriages, even the date of naturalization of our immigrant ancestor! This family Bible was more than I could have hoped to find! What a family treasure.

I've looked over the images of those pages many times since I received them, and have intended to write a series of blog posts about them and the Bible itself. With my excitement for this discovery, you'd think by now I would have each page memorized! Imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I realized that I had missed a very important piece of information that was hiding right before my eyes on the page listing the births of Patrick and Ann Cowhey's children.

I had read this page many times, but as I transcribed what I read there I made a new discovery. If you look at the list of the children's names and birth dates, you can see that beginning with the second child, William Cowhey, the birth year is listed on the line below. In some cases, this makes it look as if the birth year for the previous child actually applies to the child listed below. When I had input this data into my genealogy software, I must have accidentally put the wrong birth year for daughter Elisabeth Cowhey.

Patrick and Ann Cowhey had nine children.
Sadly, only five would live until adulthood. 

When I looked more closely as I transcribed the entire page, I realized that Elisabeth and Johanah were born on the same day of the same year: twin girls born two years before their twin brothers John and Michael!

By not taking the time to transcribe the Bible's list of births in its entirety,
I had completely missed the fact that two sets of twins had been born
within a two year period. 

The creator of the handwritten family tree had made a similar mistake and missed this fact also. Partly because we weren't looking for another set of twins (and would never have imagined it!), and partly because we didn't take the time to carefully transcribe the complete record at one time, we had missed this amazing discovery entirely.


Sadly, Ann Cowhey never had the chance to see her two sets of twins playing happily together. By the time the twin boys were born, both twin girls had passed away. Elisabeth died at age 6 months in April 1845. Johanah died at age 1 year in October 1846: two months before the births of her twin brothers, Michael and John. Of all four twins, only John would live past childhood. After the deaths of several of her other children in adulthood, and the move out of state of one of her daughters, John was the only one of her children remaining with her at the end of her life. He never married. He and his mother Ann shared a home in the years before she passed away in 1893.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg's 150th: "Every name a lightning stroke to some heart"

On my first trip to Gettysburg several years ago I was struck by the incredible number of monuments: tributes to men who fought to save the Union during the south's first (and only) invasion of a northern state.

Gettysburg now lives in our memories as a field of death: a place where 11,000 men lost their lives and another 40,000 were wounded, captured or missing. Spend time poking around this small Pennsylvania town today and you'll see:

Large, towering monuments -

Small, humble monuments -

Monuments on roadsides -

Monuments on walking paths -

Monuments tucked within forested hideaways -

The military units and men of all titles who fought on what is today considered hallowed ground around this little Pennsylvania town are memorialized in numerous ways. It is touching and sobering to drive and walk around Gettysburg, trying to gain a grasp on what this place must have suffered during that horrible battle 150 years ago today.

I had long admired the towering State of Pennsylvania monument: the largest stone tribute on Gettysburg's battlefield. It was an honor to be able to see it up close and climb to the top. 

It was at the end of a long day of driving around the battlefield and reading many stone inscriptions, that I found on this large monument a tribute that touched me in a special way. Under the archway, just to this left of the statue of General Andrew Curtin (below)...

is this plaque -

It reads:

As a wife, mother, sister and daughter myself, I can only imagine the suffering that the women in my own family must have undergone as the watched their sons (and brothers) go off into service in those early days of April 1861, and waited anxiously for their return. (In the case of my great-great-grandfather, that return would come almost four years later). It was gratifying to see this meaningful though humble tribute to the women in my family and to countless other women who stayed behind as they watched the men in their family go off to serve their country.

As the Gettysburg Compiler newspaper wrote so eloquently about those killed and wounded during this horrific battle:
“Every name… is a lightning stroke to some heart, and breaks like thunder over some home, and falls a long, black shadow upon some hearthstone.” - July 7, 1863
For the men who died 150 years ago on Gettysburg's fields, and for the women who felt "a lightning strike to their hearts" and the falling of "a long, black shadow upon their hearthstones", let us always remember July 1 through July 3, 1863, and the war for which they gave so much.


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