Welcome (Céad Míle Fáilte!) to Small-leaved Shamrock

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

All I Really Needed to Know About Genealogy I Learned in Kindergarten

Well, not exactly. But it got me off to a great start!

If you are in the Philadelphia area on Thursday, June 18, please join me at the Third Thursday meeting of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. I'll be presenting a back-to-basics look at the genealogical research process using Robert Fulgham's well-known essay and examples from my search for my Pennsylvania roots.
3rd thurs jun
"And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK." - Robert Fulgham
We’ll step back and look at some genealogical basics, with a light-hearted but serious eye toward improving the quality of our research process, and finding joy in the genealogical journey as we do! I hope you’ll come out and join us!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

News for Smallest Leaf: a new website and a new book!

This week I celebrate my eighth anniversary of blogging here at Small-leaved Shamrock, 100 Years in America and A Light that Shines Again. It has been slow-going at times, but I've stuck with it and look forward to many writing years ahead.

I am thrilled today to announce my brand new website and blog at smallestleaf.com. I have decided to pair my interest in genealogy with my other favorite hobby - poetry! - and use my website to share both.

Many of you have known me as a genealogy blogger for many years, but you may not have known of my love for poetry. Tales from my family tree are a regular source of subject matter for my poems, along with world history, nature, faith and the writing life.

I have just announced the upcoming publication of my first collection of poetry: winner of the Eakin Book Award given by the Poetry Society of Texas. You’ll find the title familiar. I feel a bit like the Irish mother who gives her firstborn a name that has been in the family for generations. My poetry collection is entitled (surprise!): Smallest Leaf. You can read more about my new book on the Poetry page at my website.

Thanks to all of you readers who have followed me over the years! I hope you'll stick around for what's to come. Happy reading!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

When it is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and you discover that your ancestors' unit served at Gettysburg

Bells will be ringing across the nation this afternoon at 3:15 Eastern time as we commemorate the re-union of the United States of America with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ullyses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse 150 years ago today on April 9, 1865.

But bells are ringing for me this morning! I've just made an exciting genealogical discovery: my 3rd-great-grandfather James McGonigal's unit (162nd Regiment, 17th Cavalry) served at the battles of Chancellorsville and ...Gettysburg!

Private Levi F. Hocker of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment (in which my 3rd-great-grandfather served) in uniform with pistol and sword. Image from collection of Library of Congress.

It's a long story, but James McGonigal is on a branch of my Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania Irish family tree that has been more difficult than others for me to trace. Until recently, I have focused on his daughter and grand-daughter and their families, and have still not been successful at finding key documents about their lives.

Because of this difficulty, I had all but ignored the little research I had done on Irish immigrant coal miner James McGonigal and his wife Mary of St. Clair, Pennsylvania, preferring instead to work through the more recent generations until I was satisfied with my conclusions there.

A month ago I delved back into this family and made the discovery that James was indeed a Civil War soldier, serving at the senior age of 43. (Two of his neighbors aged 44 were denied the opportunity to serve due to being "over age". See St. Clair Civil War registry below) .

Civil War registry of the residents of St. Clair, Pennsylvania. James McGonigal (spelled McGonegal) is listed last.

I ordered James McGonigal's pension file from the National Archives in Washington D.C. four weeks ago. It arrived pretty quickly - just a few days ago. I was eager to learn more about this branch of the family, and was very disappointed when I opened the digital file on the NARA CD and found that they had sent me the pension file for the wrong soldier.

Knowing that I would have to wait another month for James' file to arrive, and eager to know more about this man's service as I was thinking of today's 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, I did a little digging online this morning and learned the name of and the actions engaged in by James' regiment.

The History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65 by Samuel P. Bates tells the details of the activity of the 162nd Regiment, 17th Cavalry. The book speaks glowingly of their efforts during the war, including their four hour resistance of the advance of the Confederate troops into Gettysburg on July 1, 1863 under the command of General John Buford as they awaited aid from additional Union troops. Their efforts were critical to Union success at the Battle of Gettysburg, as they had arrived before the Confederate Army became well organized, and were able to establish a solid presence on much-desired high ground south of the town.

As Cavalry General Alfred Pleasanton later wrote in Conduct of the Civil War, Supplement, Part 2Pleasanton's Report, page 9:
"To the intrepidity, courage and fidelity of General Buford and his brave division, the country and the army owe the field of Gettysburg." - General Pleasanton
It is inspiring to learn more about the valiant efforts of these cavalry men in the face of what would become such a grievous battle and one of the turning points of the Civil War. I look forward to learning more about my ancestor James McGonigal's role in the cavalry during those historic days.

And as the bells ring today throughout the nation - in Appomattox, in Philadelphia (the Liberty Bell), at the Statue of Liberty, and in national parks, cemeteries, battlefields, municipal buildings, schools and churches throughout the nation this afternoon, I'll be ringing my own bells - and thinking of James McGonigal and his brave companions.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A St. Patrick's Day tribute to the Church of St. Patrick, Pottsville, PA

As early as 1827, its parishioners were meeting in each other's homes. By 1838, they had moved into their first real church structure - a log cabin, and then on to building a conventional church. This structure would serve the parish well, but would last only fifty-three years, when it was torn down to make room for the larger limestone exterior Church of St. Patrick that still stands today.

I wrote about the history of the parish previously within my article Coal region Catholics: The story of Pottsville's Church of St. Patrick. There was no shortage of photographs of the current church for me to choose from, and I decided to use some that I had taken myself during my visit to Pottsville the previous year. I was particularly interested, however, to see the church building that had served the parish from 1838 to 1891, since my family had arrived in the area in 1840 and so many of the rites of passage of those early ancestors and their families and friends had taken place in that church.

Church of St. Patrick, Pottsville, 1838-1891
(This church was torn down to make way for the current structure)
I was able to find and include a photo of the 1838 church's exterior within my article (see above), but what I really wanted was to see the inside - the interior of the church in which my great-great-great-grandparents had stood when they baptized their children, the place that was the center of family worship - where they prayed at Mass each Sunday, where they said their final goodbyes at Requiem Masses prior to making the walk up the hill to St. Patrick's Cemetery to bury loved ones who had passed.

I was thrilled when I discovered that there was, indeed, a photograph of the interior of that second Church of St. Patrick! The photo, dated sometime in the 1880s, was taken by renowned "photographer of the mines" George M. Bretz who worked in Pottsville from 1870 to the year of his death in 1895. His photographic images of the interior of the second Church of St. Patrick along with many photos of Schuylkill County mines and other scenes, can be found online within the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Digital Collection. (Start at the landing page for the George Bretz Collection if you are interested in viewing these images.)

Below is the interior of the Church of St. Patrick as it looked sometime during the 1880s. It is a beautiful church and the parishioners must have been sad to see it torn down, despite having a new, larger and also beautiful church built on its site.

It was before this altar in the second Church of St. Patrick that my great-great-grandparents Margaret Foley and William Cowhey were married in 1878. It was a second marriage for William, age 43 (who had lost his wife Catherine to consumption, and brought five children into his second marriage with Margaret). The young bride, at age 21, was embarking on a life as a mother to William's first five children and later ten more of their own.

I was very happy to find the details of William and Margaret's marriage within William's Civil War pension file. Among the many pages within this file (circa 1890s), was a Record Proof of Marriage of Widow to Soldier. Signed by then pastor Rev. F. J. McGovern, it attested to the extract from the registry of St. Patrick's Church indicating that William and Margaret had been married by Rev. A.J. Gallagher on February 23, 1878, witnesses Maurice Ryan and Clara Kitchen. This is a true family treasure, particularly since the church itself has been unable to provide access to the listing of this couple's marriage within their registry. Below is the page documenting that day 137 years ago when my great-great-grandparents were joined in marriage at the altar of the second Church of St. Patrick in Pottsville.

William and Margaret (Foley) Cowhey
Marriage at a Glance

  • Married: 23 February 1878 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Pottsville, Schuylkill Co., PA 
  • Children of William and Catherine (Regan) Cowhey: Anna (b. 1866), Margaret, (b. 1868) William F. (b. 1871), John J. (b. 1874), Richard (b. 1876)
  • Children of William and Margaret (Foley) Cowhey: Mary (b. 1878), Ellen (b. 1880), Elizabeth (b. 1881), Thomas (b. 1883), Ambrose (b. 1884), Clara (b. 1886), Charles (b. 1887), Blanche (b. 1889), Lena (b. 1891), Isabella (b. 1892)
  • Duration of Marriage: 14 years ending at William's death on 17 November 1892

William Cowhey
Life at a Glance

  • Name at birth: William Cowhey
  • Parents: Patrick and Ann Cowhey
  • Siblings: John (1832-1836), William (1834-1892), Ann (1837-1864), Ellen (1840-1898), Thomas (1842-1899), Elisabeth (1844-1845), Johanah (1844-1846), John (1846-1920), Michael (1846-1855) 
  • Born: 29 April 1834 in New York City, NY
  • Died: 17 November 1892 in Cressona, Schuylkill Co., PA at age 58*
  • Buried: St. Patrick's No. 3 Cemetery, Pottsville, Schuylkill Co., PA

Margaret (Foley) Cowhey
Life at a Glance
  • Name at birth: Margaret Foley
  • Parents: Patrick Foley and Margaret Graham
  • Born: 10 August 1855 in Port Carbon, Schuylkill Co., PA
  • Died: 5 October 1912 in Mount Carbon, Schuylkill Co., PA at age 57
  • Buried: St. Patrick's No. 3 Cemetery, Pottsville, Schuylkill Co., PA

This article is included as part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge organized by Amy Johnson Crow. The theme for Week 11, in which this article falls, is "Luck of the Irish". [Note: Hat tip to Donna Pointkouski of What's Past is Prologue for the summary format I've used at the end of this article.] Find more stories of my family's ancestral churches visit my Churches of My Ancestors Pinterest board.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mother to 15, Widow at 38: My discovery of the photograph of my quietly heroic great-great-grandmother

Margaret Foley was 21 when in 1878 she married William Cowhey, age 43, at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania and walked into the world of motherhood. She immediately inherited his five children: Annie, Margaret, William, Joseph and Richard. The children were ages 11 down to 2, and had lost their mother, Catherine (Regan) Cowhey, to consumption the previous year.

Margaret and William went on to have ten children of their own together: Mary, Ellen, Elizabeth, Thomas, Ambrose, Clara, Charles, Blanche, Lena and Isabella. In all, there were fifteen children born to William within a twenty-six year span - a very big family.

Margaret has long been one of my personal heroines. Not only did she become an instant mother of five at a young age, but she also suffered the grief and loss of her husband in a terrible accident, and the loss of several children who died young. By the time she was only 38, she was a widow left with eight children to care for under the age of sixteen. Margaret and William had been married only fourteen years.

It is only fitting that in March - Women's History Month and the month of St. Patrick - I would take the time to honor this brave Irish-American great-great-grandmother of mine. I was pleasantly surprised to realize, also, that today the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. Matilda, patroness of large families, widows, and the death of children. She is perhaps the best patron saint I can think of for Margaret (Foley) Cowhey.

Five years ago I wrote a draft for a blog post which I never published. It started out:
"No photograph is known to exist of my great-great-grandmother, Margaret (Foley) Cowhey, yet I have an image in my mind of what she might have looked like.  I picture her wearing the black uncomfortable shoes and long skirts of women of her generation.  On her feet for many hours each day, she feels the constant pull of little hands on her skirt - little ones needing attention.  Her hands are worn by the toil of 19th-century women's work..."
I was thrilled just a few days ago when I made a discovery: a photograph of Margaret circa 1901! A cousin had posted a Cowhey family photograph on her Ancestry tree (thanks, Linda!), labeling a few of the family members. When I compared her photograph with one taken thirty-plus years later, I was able to make some conclusions about family members in the 1901 gathering, and have determined with great certainty that Margaret is pictured. I believe Margaret (Foley) Cowhey is the woman seated in the black dress.

Here she is, widow and matriarch of a huge family (only a small portion of whom are pictured) at the ripe old age of 46. Margaret would live only one more decade, dying of kidney disease at the age of 57. Her obituary reads:
Death of Mrs. Margaret Cowhy 
Mrs. Margaret Cowhy, a well-known and highly respected resident of Mt. Carbon, died at her home, at that place, Saturday afternoon after a long illness, death being due to a complication of diseases. Deceased was a former resident of Pt. Carbon, that town being her birthplace. She is survived by three sons, Thomas, Ambrose, and Charles, and four daughters, Mrs. Julius Stockel of Georgetown, Del., Mrs. A. Brown of Phila., and Mrs. Wm. Rodgers of Jersey City, N.J. and Miss Blanche at home.

Margaret (Foley) Cowhey
Life at a Glance
  • Name at birth: Margaret Foley
  • Parents: Patrick Foley and Margaret Graham
  • Born: 10 August 1855 in Port Carbon, PA
  • Married: William Cowhey 23 February 1878, St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Pottsville, PA
  • Stepchildren: Children of William from first marriage to Catherine (Regan) Cowhey: Anna (b. 1866), Margaret, (b. 1868) William F. (b. 1871), John J. (b. 1874), Richard (b. 1876)
  • Children: Mary (b. 1878), Ellen (b. 1880), Elizabeth (b. 1881), Thomas (b. 1883), Ambrose (b. 1884), Clara (b. 1886), Charles (b. 1887), Blanche (b. 1889), Lena (b. 1891), Isabella (b. 1892)
  • Duration of Marriage: 14 years ending at William's death on 17 November 1892
  • Died: 5 October 1912 in Mount Carbon, Schuylkill, PA at age 57
  • Buried: St. Patrick's No. 3 Cemetery, Pottsville, Schuylkill, PA

This article is included as part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge organized by Amy Johnson Crow. The theme for Week 11, in which this article falls, is "Luck of the Irish". [Note: Hat tip to Donna Pointkouski of What's Past is Prologue for the summary format I've used at the end of this article.]

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"The long and stormy passage": The 1823 sea voyage of Patrick Cowhey and a spirited Irish priest

"In early nineteenth-century Ireland, the Reverend Jeremiah O'Callaghan refused the sacraments to a dying man until he recanted his alleged usury, an incident that eventually got the priest banished to the wilds of northern Vermont," writes Charles R. Geisst in his book Beggar Thy Neighbor: A History of Usury and Debt.

Fr. O'Callaghan was a strong-willed priest on a mission. His determination to rid society of the sin of usury (monetary loans that he thought the church should consider unethical) led him to leave Ireland where he took up his cause first in New York, then in Rome. The end of his efforts, which were not taken seriously, resulted in him being sent to act as first pastor to a remote group of Catholics in Vermont.

My interest in Fr. O'Callaghan began not because of his campaign against the errors of capitalism, but because of the description he wrote of his first voyage to New York. It turns out that the priest made the same journey on the same ship in 1823 as my great-great-great-grandfather Patrick Cowhey, and the difficulty of the voyage led him to write about it. Fr. O'Callaghan makes mention of the experience within his 1824 book explaining the reasons behind what became his life's campaign Usury or Interest Proved to be Repugnant to the Divine and Ecclesiastical Laws and Destructive to Civil Society.

The 1835 printed edition of Fr. O'Callaghan's book
Here is the priest's description of the voyage:
"In expectation that America, the garden of liberty, would grant what had been denied me in Ireland, that is, power to pursue my clerical office, I sailed from Cork by the ship William, on the 6th of March, 1823, [some texts indicate the 8th of March] and after a boisterous passage, made New-York the 23d April. Visiting my old friend, Rev. John Power, of Skibbereen, Ireland, who for some years dignified the pulpit of this city. Several days elapsed in recounting our mutual adventures, putting and solving spiritual questions, and grieving for the distress and gloomy prospects of mother Erin. As soon as my constitution, that had been broken down by the long and stormy passage, was retrieved at his hospitable table, he presented me to Dr. Connelly, bishop of that city..."
A famine ship during a storm
It was a great surprise to find this description of my ancestor's voyage to New York, particularly since I have not even been able to locate a picture of the Ship William. After discovering Fr. O'Callaghan's words about his negative experience on the ship, I took another look at the passenger list. There was the familiar document that I had viewed many times, with its arrival in New York from Cork, Ireland on April 26, 1823. But now I saw something I had not noticed before. Listed in the second row, several names above 15-year-old Patrick Cowhey, was another name now newly-familiar to me: "Rev. Jer. O'Callaghan".

Passengers on the Ship William arriving in New York, April 23, 1823

Patrick Cowhey
Abt. 1807-1871
Life at a Glance
  • Name at birth: Patrick Cowhey (possibly O'Cobhthaigh)
  • Parents: Unknown
  • Born: About 1807 in Ireland
  • Siblings: Unknown
  • Immigrated: Departed Cork aboard the Ship William between 6 and 8 March 1823; arrived in Port of New York on 23 April 1823
  • Married: To Ann (unknown maiden name) about 1831, probably in New York City
  • Children: John (1832-1836), William (1834-1892), Ann (1837-1864), Ellen (1840-1898), Thomas (1842-1899), Elisabeth (1844-1845), Johanah (1844-1846), John (1846-1920), Michael (1846-1855)
  • Duration of Marriage: About 40 years ending at Patrick's death on 7 March 1871
  • Died: 7 March 1871 in Pottsville, Schuylkill, PA about age 64
  • Buried: probably at St. Patrick's Cemetery, Pottsville, Schuylkill, PA

This article is included as part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge organized by Amy Johnson Crow. The theme for Week 10, in which this article falls, is "Stormy Weather". Most of this article was previously published here at Small-leaved Shamrock. [Note: Hat tip to Donna Pointkouski of What's Past is Prologue for the summary format I've used at the end of this article.] Find more stories of my ancestors' journeys on my Voyages of My Ancestors Pinterest board.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

It's official! My PA roots go back prior to the Civil War

It's official! The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has accepted my application for their First Families of Pennsylvania lineage society. My Keystone State roots go back to 1840. That makes me a "Keystone and Cornerstone" member.

I've always been proud of my PA roots. I've never lived there, I wasn't born there, and I've not spent nearly enough time visiting, yet I love the state of Pennsylvania and now I have the official certificate showing one reason why!

As I mentioned in my earlier post at the time I mailed my application, I combined all my research into this line of my family into eighty-three final pages, including sixty-five pages of documentation and a sixteen-page summary of the generations and sources I used to document them. All in all, I compiled documentation for six generations of my family spanning 174 years back to 1840 in Pennsylvania. Not bad for a spare-time genealogist!

Documentation for the two earliest generations of my Cowhey family members in Pennsylvania.
Above is a screenshot I took of the pages within my application including genealogical documentation for just the earliest two generations of the Cowhey family in Pennsylvania:

If you are a cousin of mine and we are connected through Patrick & Ann's family tree, please contact me and I'll give you details about making your own application to the First Families of Pennsylvania.

Good news! I've done the hard work for you (finding proof back to our earliest ancestors in PA). Now you just have to connect the pieces in later generations, send in your application and - voila! - you, too can be an official First Families of Pennsylvania member. Please let me know if you'd like help with the process. I'd love to have some cousins join me in celebrating our Pennsylvania roots in this way!


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