52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Julius Tobias

The ancestor I spend the most time thinking about by far is Julius Tobias, my great great great grandfather. I admit I’m biased; as a Civil War buff, I have a tendency to focus on my Civil War ancestors. Julius was a 2nd Lieutenant from Connecticut until pains from a supposed old war wound sidelined him (son Herman would take over the good fight for his dear old dad eventually, but that’s a story I haven’t quite fleshed out yet).

I’ve been lucky so far in my research in that I’ve managed to find at least one distant relative for each branch of my tree who can help pick up my slack when my free time for genealogy slows. The Tobias line is no different. Recently, a distant cousin shared this picture she discovered with me:


B’Nai Brith – Horeb Lodge presidents from 1856 – 1885

It ends up that Julius was President of the New Haven Horeb Lodge branch of B’Nai Brith in 1864. Not all of the presidents from 1856 – 1885 are pictured, unfortunately (with two presidents per year, the numbers just don’t add up), but it stands to reason that Julius could be one of the men pictured. With no names, though, and this being the highest resolution available, there isn’t really a way to tell.

I guess the positive takeaway from this is that brick walls can seem impassable, but you’re never truly out of options. Julius might be one of the men pictured, or he might not, but the important thing is that we were able to locate this unknown resource from a place we never thought about looking. Who’s to say there aren’t others?

The search continues…

This post is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.

This post is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge over at No Story Too Small.

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52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Bridget McGovern

I wrote about Bridget (McGovern) Kiernan once before, my great great great grandmother who came to America with her children after her husband, Philip, had died. What I omitted from that post was that basically up until that day, I had been laboring under the impression that McGovern was her married name and not her maiden. I had read the letter from Alice Galvin years ago and had either misunderstood or misremembered. I could never find any information on this branch of the family tree. Suddenly, I understood why.

The day after I wrote that post, I edited my Ancestry family tree with the correct last name. Within 10 minutes, I was serendipitously linked to the family tree of Thomas Galvin, the son of cousin Alice who wrote my Pop Pop all those years ago. There was loads of information that I hadn’t known before, but most importantly there were pictures: the genealogist’s holy grail.

Bridget McGovern Kiernan

Bridget McGovern Kiernan

So there she is, my 3rd great grandmother Bridget. She looks like members of my family in the way that all Irish people look like members of my family – it’s the facial features, really, the eyes and the mouth and the shape of their face.  She looks sad, and maybe she was. She had lost a husband, after all.

Pictures weren’t the only things I discovered, though (and there are more, to be shared at a later date). I messaged Thomas Galvin, who in turn sent me about 20 pages of his mother’s typed recollections of her family. They are quite possibly one of my favorite things ever – stories, loads of them, told by someone who either lived them or was told firsthand by those who had. I plan on sharing all of those stories here eventually, but for today it’s just the photo. (And what a photo it is, hm?)

This post is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.

This post is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge over at No Story Too Small.

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52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Herman and Julia Erlanger

I read this article on Slate recently about the origin of Jewish names, which got me thinking about my own last name: Erlanger. It’s one of the only indicators of the German heritage that peeks its way through the branches bundled with Irish Catholic leaves.

My last name wasn’t on their list, but I remember looking it up once and reading that Erlanger most likely comes from the town of Erlangen. Thinking about this inevitably led me to the earliest known bearer of my name, Herman Erlanger. I know literally nothing about Herman apart from the name scrawled on son Susmann’s marriage license by some unknown New York City clerk. His wife’s name was Julia; she exists in perpetuity on the line next to his with one subtle difference – mother, not father, and with no last name. These are my fourth great grandparents, the oldest (un)known originators of my name.

Susmann was born around 1821 in Germany. His parents were likely born around the turn of the century, depending on where Susmann fell in the birth order (I don’t know if he had any siblings, so it’s hard to tell). He immigrated to New York around 1846 for reasons and with family ties unknown, and in 1847 he married Schanette Neuzeit (forever known in US censuses as Jeanette Newcity, the misunderstood American translation of a very foreign name). After that the Erlangers are very easy to track, from the 1850 census on through the Civil War, up into the 1900s where we eventually land on me. I had some trouble there around 1920 due to a sneaky great grandparent who decided to change his name (and his religion, but I’ve told this story before), but it’s all pretty standard. It’s easy to track people when they continue to exist within a few miles of the same place they’ve been for 100 years.

Herman and Julia might have lived right down the road from the house built by their own fourth great grandparents, but the answer to that question requires a lot more time and money than I currently have. I used to know some German, but not anymore, and either way my knowledge didn’t extend to the reading of 19th and 18th century germanic texts.

I admit that having a family largely comprised of people from Ireland and England has made me spoiled. Everything is so accessible! Plus my distant Irish relatives are not so distant – they’re my friends on Facebook. Previous ventures haven’t prepared me for this level of difficulty. I need to do a few more push ups, lift a few more weights, before I’m able to vault myself up and over this brick wall.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your genealogy research? Inquiring minds want to know.

This post is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.

This post is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge over at No Story Too Small.

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DNA Revisited

Long time, no post.

You might recall a little over a year ago that I got my DNA mapped by Ancestry. It was cool and exciting and I was probably one of the only people who didn’t cry outrage at the mysterious Scandinavian DNA that peeked it’s way into their results (vikings!). I was 93% British Isles, a number I have proudly shared with anyone who indicated a passing interest in genealogy or, you know, an interest in families in general. If you have a family, I have probably told you about this. I have told everyone.

There have been a few updates to AncestryDNA since last year. Most notably, they’ve done a lot of mapping of native populations’ genes to help us poor, immigrant souls learn more specifically what “93% British Isles, 7% Uncertain” might mean.


It ends up that this is what it means for me!

The Ireland and Great Britain parts are unsurprising. Most of my ancestors come from that part of the world. Same with European Jewish, since I’ve already established that line of my tree (although it was very exciting to see it validated by actual science). Native American was surprising, but once I realized that encompasses ALL of the Americas, I assumed that the 1% is my Cuban ancestors. My thought on the “trace regions” is that Iberian Peninsula comes from the Cubans, Europe West is probably the Germans and Scandinavia is… vikings? Guess I’ll have to go angrily complain on the Ancestry facebook page like everyone else now. Dammit.

For anyone who hasn’t had their ethnicity analyzed, I would highly, highly recommend it. Especially if you’re like me and find this sort of thing fun (and I have to think you’re like me, reading this blog and all).

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“She won’t be long after me.”

March 14 — Newsmakers? Did you have a female ancestor who made the news? Why? Was she famous or notorious? Did she appear in the social column?

The Emmens (or Emmons, depending on who you ask) branch of my family show up almost daily in the Brooklyn Eagle. They threw parties, raised money for Cuban refugees and the Red Cross (two of the Emmens daughters married Cubans – one being my great great grandfather), and generally made news just by the fact that the family lived in the same section of Brooklyn for over 50 years. Henry, the patriarch, is affectionately referred to as the “mayor” in his obituary, so you can kind of get a feel for the family’s notoriety. They were locals in a small town that seems utterly foreign to me, having spent time in the bustling borough that is Brooklyn today.

There are a lot of great newspaper articles featuring the Emmens, but by far the most interesting is Catherine (Killeen) Emmens’ obituary.

Catherine was born in Ireland September 19, 1826 to James and Catherine Killeen. The family immigrated to New York around 1841 (I haven’t been able to find records of this, so I’m not sure which family members immigrated). September 1, 1847, Catherine married Henry Emmens in Brooklyn. They had at least 12 children and seemed to live relatively comfortably. I always have the impression that they were “rich,” but I’m not sure if that’s factual, or if it’s due to the juxtaposition of the rest of my family tree, which is composed of poor immigrants living in tenements. Either way, I’m pretty sure they were well-to-do. My grandmother’s cousin, Noreen, says that Emmons Ave was named for the family, but I’ve never looked into it.

Anyway, back to the obituary.

Henry died on December 19, 1899 of pneumonia. Being locally famous, his obituary shows up in a lot of papers. Catherine died shortly after her husband on January 26, 1900. Her obituary shows up frequently as well, both for her popularity, but also due to the cause of death attributed by her physician.

Catherine Emmens obituary

Headline of Catherine’s obituary in the New York Post

From the New York Post, January 28, 1900:

In a quiet corner of Greenwood Cemetery there is this morning an open grave. But a short span away there is a mound, the sod of which was laid but six short weeks ago. Before dusk to-night all that remains of Mrs. Catherine Emmens, seventy-four years of age, of No. 114 Second place, Brooklyn, will be lowered into the open grave by six sorrowing sons, who six weeks ago performed the same sad office for their father. The physician who attended Mrs. Emmens says she died of a broken heart. The death certificate states in a matter of fact way that it was pneumonia. Mrs. Emmens had been united with her husband for fifty-three years of happy wedded life. They were separated only six weeks by death.

Mrs. Emmens was born in Ireland on September 19, 1826, but she came to New York city when fifteen years old. When she met Henry Emmens only two years older than herself, they fell in Love at first sight and were married.

The couple celebrated their golden wedding on September 15, 1897, and a year later Mr. Emmens celebrated the semi-centennial of his business career. At their side during these happy events were six sons and three daughters, nine children living out of thirteen born to Mr. and Mrs. Emmens.

It was only six weeks and three days ago that Mr. Emmens contracted the cold which developed into the pneumonia that caused his death. He had frequently said that he wished his wife would die first, and almost on his deathbed he told one of his daughters, “She won’t be long after me.”

Mrs. Emmens took her husband’s death much to heart. Before that she had been ailing only with the troubles common to her more than three score and ten years, but immediately after the funeral she began to droop. Day by day she pined away and, a slight cold settling in, developed into the same disease that parted her husband from her.

I saw one of the daughters in the Second place home last night.

“I suppose that mother had pneumonia,” she said, sobbing, “but the doctor said that she died of a broken heart. After father’s death we had to carry her downstairs every day to the parlor, where the large picture of father hung, and when she would look at it and say ‘That’s Henry’ the sight would comfort her. She wanted to go to him and died.”

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Crossing the Irish Sea

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

As you might recall from this post, I have a bit of Irish ancestry running through my veins (93%!). Most of my direct ancestors are Irish and those who weren’t often married an Irish man or woman. As such, today has always kind of been a big deal for my family, heritage wise. I am named for an Irish county, after all!

March 13 — Moment of Strength: share a story where a female ancestor showed courage or strength in a difficult situation.

Told you I’d be skipping around with these prompts haha. Anyway, today I’m writing about my 3rd great grandmother, Bridget (McGovern) Kiernan. Regretfully, I don’t know much about the Kiernans. That branch of my tree has always remained elusive to my amateur sleuthing skills (plus, you know how it is with Irish records). Her daughter, Kate, my 2nd great grandmother, has been easier to trace. She lived in New York and can be found with her husband, a lawyer, who shows up in the paper from time to time. Poor Bridget, though, cursed with a common enough name (an Irishwoman named Bridget!) and no relatives to help pin point her. I haven’t been able to trace most of her children either, with the exception of Kate.

The one thing I do know about Bridget, however, is the story of her immigration, which has been passed down to me. In 1987, my Pop Pop (Charles Wills) was visiting Ireland and wanted some information about his family before he went, which a distant cousin in Florida happily supplied. Below is an excerpt of the letter:

They came from Barru (phonetic) in Cavan in what is now Eire. It was there that Philip and Bridget (McGovern) lived with their eight children: ANN; MARGARET; BERNARD; ALICE (my grandmother); KATE (CATHERINE) (your grandmother) and JAMES (twins); ELIZABETH (LIZZIE); and PHILIP.

As is the Irish custom, the family farm had gone to Philip’s older brother, Owen. Philip was a blacksmith, and skilled in making things of forged iron. It would appear that he had a fair education, at any rate he was literate. Every one of his children went to school in Ireland, and the older ones completed their education before coming to America. In the late 1850s when they came to America, Dickens had a great vogue, and they had read all of his that had been published up to that time.

Philip had his own business, and their comfortable home had a lovely garden (when Aunt Kate was an old lady she described it – there was a well and tiger lilies grew around its base. It was so lovely when they were in bloom that people used to come to look at it.) Philip began to ail. When he realized it was terminal, he talked to Bridget and they agreed that when he was gone, she would sell out and with the proceeds take the children to America. Philip died and Bridget carried out his wishes.

By this time, two of her children were already in America. Ann, the oldest, had accompanied Bridget’s mother when she went to join two of her children in New York; and Margaret who had married one Fitzpatrick, a tailor by trade. They had left their little son, who was called Feefee (Philip) with her parents, when they set out for America.

So Bridget with the six of her children that remained in Ireland and little Feefee crossed the Irish Sea, and sailed from Liverpool. They did not go steerage, and had a reasonably comfortable voyage. At any rate, Grandma Alice had a pleasant time, for when they were nearing the port of New York, the ship’s doctor proposed, but she declined.

It’s always remarkable to me that, in the wake of her husband’s death, Bridget had the strength to pack up all the kids and make the journey across the ocean to America.  To be sure, it was easier knowing family would be there to greet them. Still, it couldn’t have been easy leaving everything you’d known for a new life. Perhaps one day I’ll discover where life took her once she reached America?

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Eight lives for the men and nine for the women

I’ve talked about this before, but genealogy has the misfortune of often being male-focused. Blame it on our fascination with soldiers added to the unique privilege men enjoy of never having to change their last name. Take this blog, for example: I’ve almost exclusively talked about my male veteran ancestors (and not on purpose!).

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because March is National Women’s History Month and The Accidental Genealogist has some great prompts to encourage you to write about your female ancestors. March is also Irish American Heritage Month, so I’m thinking I might try to focus on my Irish American female ancestors, if I can help it. Obviously, I’m already a bit behind (what with it being March 8), but there’s no sense in not trying! I’ll probably pick and choose prompts, anyway.

On to the post!

March 2 — Post a photo of one of your female ancestors. Who is in the photo? When was it taken? Why did you select this photo?

I’m going to cheat a bit and combine this prompt with the March 3 prompt (Do you share a first name with one of your female ancestors?), because the person applies to both:

Ann Connell

Meet Ann Cecilia Connell, my great great grandmother. This picture was taken for Ann’s Confirmation; the dress was most likely made by herself, as Ann was an “excellent dressmaker and sewer,” according to her granddaughter, Noreen. Indeed, she’s listed on several censuses as a seamstress, so the sentiment probably isn’t far off the mark.

Ann was born May 1, 1865 to John and Maria (Scully) Connell. Her parents were both Irish immigrants, but met and wed in New York City. Ann married my great great grandfather, James Nolan, in February of 1890 at St. Mary’s Church in lower Manhattan (which still exists today). The two had nine children, though three died very young.

St. Mary's Church

I’ve passed by it a few times while I’ve been in the city, but have never gone in. I really should someday.

James is an interesting character: an Irish immigrant who was in the ice business before becoming obsessed with cars, thus altering his career path for the rest of his life. That’s a story for another day, though.

Ann died on November 22, 1937, sixty years to the day before my youngest sister would be born. I don’t know much about Ann beyond the facts, but I’d like to someday.

March 3 — Do you share a first name with one of your female ancestors? Perhaps you were named for your great-grandmother, or your name follows a particular naming pattern. If not, then list the most unique or unusual female first name you’ve come across in your family tree.

My first name comes from County Kerry, the homeland of my paternal great grandfather. It’s unique – I haven’t run across another family member who shares it.

My middle name, Ann, however, is somewhat of a family heirloom. Several of my female cousins share the middle name Ann, as does my mother and all three of her sisters, and my great grandmother, Margaret (Ann Connell’s daughter). There might be more that I’m not aware of too. I’m not really sure why we all share this name, or why our ancestors saw fit to name so many of us after the first Ann. Why has no one ever had that as their first name? As always, so many questions and few answers.

So, there it is: Kerry for my ancestral county, Ann for my great great grandmother.

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