Our trip to Ireland....

We just returned from our 1st ever trip to Ireland.  It was a long time coming as we’ve been planning on going for years, but this year finally was the year.  It was bittersweet, however, since our Irish Dad just passed away this past June.  He knew we had the trip planned and was very excited for us to be going, since he himself never got to travel there.

And, we felt our Dad lending his usual loving, helping hand in things the whole week.  For example…….

My sister missed her connecting flight in London, but by some miracle was able to get rebooked on another flight to Dublin, even though they told her that flight was sold out.  She was only  2 hours late in meeting me in Dublin…..thanks, Dad!

When we checked into the hotel, they had upgraded us to a Jr. Suite.  It was bigger and nicer than the 1st 4 places I lived in as a young, married person……thanks, Dad!

Her luggage was lost and the airline told her they had no record of it once she connected through Washington, DC.  All her research paperwork for our trip was in her luggage, as well as all her clothes and most importantly, her hair care products!  But, at 2 in the morning, she received a text from the airline saying her luggage had been found and was now at the front desk of our hotel….thanks, Dad!

The weather this past summer in Ireland has been a record year for rain, yet for the 6 days we were there, we only had ½ day of rain……thanks, Dad!

We easily found the church of some of our ancestors, which is still an active Catholic parish.  It was unlocked and when we walked in, there were bottles of holy water at the back of the church, as if they had been filled  and were just waiting for us to walk in and collect 2…….thanks, Dad!

One day, as we sat in our rental car at the side of the road, detoured by road construction and completely lost, a woman named Eva came walking down the road out of nowhere and guided us successfully around the road construction to the next town on our itinerary…..thanks, Dad!

Driving on the interstate in the middle of nowhere there suddenly appeared an unmanned tollbooth.  We dug through our belongings for Euro coins and came up with only $1.80.  Guess what the exact amount of money that was necessary at this tollbooth was?  You guessed it, $1.80.  Thanks, Dad!

A beautiful rainbow at the end of the day, which ended right at the edge of our hotel……thanks, Dad!

The whole country felt friendly and almost familiar to us.  Never once did we feel like strangers or outsiders.  We were welcomed everywhere we went and made several new friends.  I would urge anyone who has the least bit of Irish blood in his or her family tree to visit this country.  And even if you don’t, you should add visiting Ireland to your bucket list.

My sister and I flew from different parts of the U.S. to Ireland separately,  drove our own rental car (remember they drive on the wrong side of the road & on the wrong side of the car.  And, ok, my sister did all the driving!) planned our own itinerary, drank Hennessey, ate some pretty suspicious-looking food, picked hotels in towns we’ve never heard of and did this all on our own.  Some people think we were really brave for doing it this way………..

We’ll write about the differences of being brave today vs. being a brave Irish person way back when, in next month’s blog.   There’s NO comparison!

The Scary Side of Your Family Tree

For those of you that don’t quite share my addiction to family research, let me assure you that the emotional roller coaster ride I have been on in my quest to figure out where I came from has been amazing.  Yes, finding out my ancestors came over on the Mayflower is remarkable.  Or how about the fact that my ggg Grandfather was a Doctor that served in the Civil War.  I barely paid attention in history class and now I find myself to have an interest in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.  My dad would be so proud.

And if I go really far back in the family tree, I am actually related to Adam and Eve.  Yep, it’s true.
However, I say roller coaster because not every story is the happy awe-inspiring fairytale that you expect to get along the way.  Behind my fascination with genealogy are life-realities that can be a little frightening to face, much less talk about.  And I guarantee there is a story in your tree as well.

Imagine my fear when a cousin pointed out to me that in the 1880 census, my gg Irish Grandmother Ellen was listed as living at an Insane Retreat.  I think I stared at that one for several days, not fully understanding the word retreat.  Sounded like she was spending a day at the spa, but I’m pretty sure the word insane wasn’t going to lead to anything good.

My heart bleeds for her as I write this because nothing I uncovered was good news.  Of course, my obsession made me keep searching until I unearthed the full story.  That’s the least I could do for her. Give her life some dignity, and give me an understanding for what she endured. 

Is it fair to say that having 12 children could make you crazy?  I would say a big fat yes, considering I never attempted to have even 1.  Well, Ellen was a typical Irish Wife living with a typical Irish Husband following the traditions of the Catholic Church in Connecticut in the mid 1800’s.  Women must be subservient to their husbands, have sex for procreation only, and endure the racial stigma of being Irish in the US during that time.  Ellen was also very fertile, and had at least 12 children in a span of 20 years (from 1853 – 1873).  I believe there was also a 13th child born in the 1850’s that died without a trace.  In fact, her first 3 children (probably 4) died within 5 years of each other, and before the 1860 census was even taken.  By 1871, she had lost another daughter, and was pregnant again in 1873 at the age of approximately 44.  I’m exhausted for her.

I never did find Ellen again in any census record after 1880, yet she lived until 1916.  Oh god, where was she for 30+ years?  With the help of a knowledgeable genealogist from Connecticut, I found her 1880 record at the Connecticut Valley Hospital.  It didn’t tell me much other than confirming which hospital she went to.

Being pulled by the serious weight of curiosity for her life, I made a trip to the area in my search to find Ellen’s parents and siblings.  Instead, what I found were her probate records ordering her into the hospital in 1873 (the year of her last child’s birth).  That’s not what I came to find out, but it was the direction I was meant to go.  So I got in my car and drove down to the hospital, which still exists today. 

To say this hospital is a creepy place is being nice.  It sits atop a bluff, overlooking a river, with beautiful views.  There are a series of red brick buildings that clearly were built over 130 years ago.  And because of some upcoming renovations, many of the older buildings sit empty, abandoned and decrepit, broken windows and all.  

As creepy looking from the outside as this hospital was, the current administration was kind enough to humor me and dig into the archives for any records of Ellen’s visit in 1880.  I can honestly tell you that of all the “aha” moments I’ve had in my family research, I would have been fine without this one coming true.  

The medical records that showed up in my mailbox consisted of 13 years of doctor’s notes.  Amazing when you consider this was from 1873 thru 1886.  The records show that Ellen suffered from melancholy with a diagnosis that it was from having too many children.  I often wonder if maybe she didn’t want to have sex any more for fear of getting pregnant with #14.  So she used this as an excuse to get away?  That’s a dumb thought, but it would be very creative of her if true.

So what do I do now with this new-found information?  I use it to keep the fire under my feet to further my research into her lineage.  I still need to find her parents.  They are missing and buried in CT somewhere. I also need to find out where exactly in Ireland she was born.  Hopefully one day I can unlock her past.   

In conclusion, I am a passionate believer that Everyone needs to understand their roots so they can pass this knowledge onto their living descendants, warts and all.  We all have ancestors in our tree with a scary story that may include criminal behavior, divorce, abandonment, mental health issues, or worse.   But don’t turn your back on their lives, understand them and celebrate the fact that they gave you life.  We need to enjoy the fascination of discovering where we came from.  Bumpy ride and all.

The Importance of Researching Siblings

His name was Valentine, and he was the younger brother of my great-great grandmother Eliza.  Well, happy Valentine’s day to me because his death solved one of the weirdest mysteries in our family tree and ultimately found a missing loved one.  Ok, so it took me 2 years to figure it out, but my gut knew it all along, I was just slow in following thru. 

Let’s back up.  My gg grandfather Henry was born in the small town of Grombach, Baden, Germany in 1841.  I am fascinated by Henry.  He immigrated with his entire family and has been fairly easy to trace. I have a picture of him and will say he looks like a cocky, I mean confident, gg grandpa.  I guess you had to be confident when you are the type of person that would travel by wagon to the state of Nebraska in 1875, without a home, set up camp in a cave, and eventually become a wealthy farmer with hundreds of land acres at the time of his death in 1919.

But Henry had 2 wives.  It wasn’t until I uncovered a tattered letter from 1942, packed away in a box at my mother’s house, that I discovered my gg grandmother Eliza was actually Henry’s first wife who died at the young age of 24 in 1872.  My line wasn’t 2nd wife Margaret after all.  First wife Eliza was the mother of my great grandfather Fred.  In the letter, it told us where she was buried, along with a baby daughter that nobody knew about.   I reached out to the cemetery caretaker and he helped me locate the headstone, which my sister visited and photographed last year.

It turns out the cemetery is in this dinkly little Illinois town of maybe 400 people today, so probably 20 people 142 years ago.  Mystery solved, sort of.  I had Eliza down, now I began work on her mother Martha.  Crap, instant brick wall.

For almost 2 years, I searched for GGG Grandma Martha.  She was born in Missouri and lived most of her life there until I found her living as a widow with Eliza and Henry in the 1870 census, near the town of Eliza’s burial location in Illinois.  But I never found Martha again - ever.  I searched the 1880 census so many times it was almost ridiculous.  No death record on file at the archives dept for the state of Illinois.  I assumed she went back to the state of Missouri and where her 2 sons were living, but nothing.  So I started chasing everything I could think of including her son Valentine and another son George.  I also searched for their children, their children’s children, etc.  I chased what I think (but I’m not sure) are a few brothers, a probable father, and a couple sisters, but no luck.   I even called the caretaker of the Illinois cemetery back to ask if he had a record of Martha’s burial.  Nope.

Eventually, I obtained the death certificate for Martha’s youngest son Valentine in 1918.  Here’s where it gets weird.  Valentine died 47 years later in the same dinky little Illinois town that his sister is buried at, even though he lived all of his life in Missouri.  His death certificate said he had only been in town for 3 days, a coroner’s inquest was performed, and they could not determine cause of death.  

What’s that about?   I will secretly admit I feared maybe he suffered from dementia, went to the grave of his sister and took his life.  But I desperately hoped that maybe his mother Martha was actually buried there after all, and he was there to pay his respects. 

Here’s another fun fact - Valentine died on my birthday.  Maybe the universe was sending me a sign?   Keep digging, Ellen.

It finally dawned on me that even though Valentine wasn’t from this dinky town where he died, the suspicious nature of his death might lead to a newspaper article about the circumstances.

Ding Ding.   His death made 2 newspapers in the area.  It turns out he really was visiting his mother’s grave.  While trying to fix her broken headstone, he had what was most likely a stroke and fell over onto a pile of rocks.  His body wasn’t found for 24 hours. 

I’m sorry Uncle Valentine, but I will be forever grateful to your stroke.  Hallelujah, GGG Grandma Martha has been found.  Now if I could only figure out where Martha’s parents are.  The hunt truly never ends.

Don't be afraid of the cemetery.......

Have you ever just walked around a cemetery?  If not, you should!  And, no, we are not ghost busters, devil worshipers or into being scared silly. 

Here’s the thing; it will be what you make it.  For us, it’s almost always a peaceful, thought-provoking, spiritual, educational and beautiful place to wander about. 

Every year around my birthday, I go visit a friend who passed away shortly before his 40th birthday. I’m now well over 40.   Cemeteries also provide perspective…..lots and lots of perspective!  Suddenly, things like your slow internet connection or a long line at the grocery store seem relatively unimportant. 

The real estate for almost every cemetery we have been to, is usually the best in town, with the best views to boot.  Your relatives’ final resting place may have expansive ocean views and sweeping mountain views, or  even 360° city views. 

You can wander about and see actual pictures of the deceased (thank goodness for modern conveniences, i.e. hair dryers, curling irons, lip waxing, etc.), very interesting names, entry gates with incredibly ornate detail, decades- old magnificent shade trees, and sometimes, if you are lucky, you may even learn a little something from a headstone.  At one particular cemetery, we even saw a bullet hole shot straight into the face of the deceased, the picture of which was on the headstone.  What the heck is the story behind that?!

If you haven’t visited your relatives’ final resting place, get going!  Of course, it’s understandable if this is a hard thing emotionally for you to do, but it doesn’t have to be a sad, morose place to visit.  You can make your visit a happy and spiritual trip, believe it or not! Mother Nature is really the only thing that should keep you from visiting.

Where is  the most beautiful cemetery you have ever visited?  Share with us your stories.  And, a special shout out to anyone who can identify the cemetery in the picture at the top of this blog………

Ancestry Sisters

Why The Irish Drive Me Crazy, and Why I Love Them So Much (From a Genealogist’s perspective)

They Drive Me Crazy

  1. They were so NOT creative when naming their children.  The # of Irish families with children named Mary, John, Patrick, Margaret, and Michael makes searching for them often impossible.  Good luck finding the right John Driscoll from Cork Ireland in 1840 – there are only 100 of them to consider. 
  2. They can’t add.  Every single record from their past has a different year of birth.  Sometimes they get younger.  It’s quite maddening.  How is it possible that my gg grandfather was the same age in the 1850 census as he was in his 1848 passenger ship record?  Aaah, what’s a couple years??
  3. Sadly, the Irish Catholics were seriously discriminated against in the 1800’s.  Many US and Ireland records were sporadic because townspeople didn’t bother to record their vitals.
  4. Their poverty was epic.  The Irish Potato Famine of the 1840’s took the lives of a large number of our ancestors.  How heartbreaking for a mother to lose half her family, like my great-great grandmother, who lost 5 of her 10 kids.
  5. The food is all about Potatoes.  My diet makes me think I am Italian.

Yet I Love them So Much

  1. They had a tradition of naming their first-born son after the paternal grandfather and the 2nd born son after the maternal grandfather.  This has been a huge help in figuring out the correct families.  For example, my gg grandfather was John O’Connor.  His first-born son was David, who died 5 years later.  Then he named his next son David.  That was my clue to know his father was David.  This led me to find 3 of John’s brothers in Massachusetts – all with first-born sons named David.  Currently, we have 10 David O’Connor’s in our tree just from this one branch.
  2. They were extremely loyal.  Family and friends lived together in packs making it very easy to locate loved ones.  Either by living in the same house or as next-door neighbors.  Fast forward to today.  Who wants to live next to their family? Anybody????
  3. Their bravery makes us proud.  They ultimately survived the Potato Famine, and crossed the ocean as stowage, all for the sake of finding a better life for their families, including me. 
  4. Their religious conviction leaves something to be desired in the 21st century.  That left us with a wealth of church records to hunt for including baptisms, marriages and burials.  Baptism records identify sponsors.  Sponsors were usually siblings, and siblings help us connect the dots to the correct family.
  5. They gave us beautiful redheads, porcelain skin, green eyes and lots o’luck.  For that, we thank you!!


Knight, Night and Nite....names that drive us crazy

For all you genealogists out there, I know you feel my pain when I talk about how census takers and/or the family speaking to the census takers,  drive us crazy with the misspellings of names.

Take for instance the last name Knight.  Seems simple enough, right?  In this day and age, yes.  Back in the day, no way.  I’ve seen it spelled so many different ways, I sometimes forget the correct way to spell it.  Was it the fault of the census taker and his/her lack of spelling education or lack of ability to hear, or the fault of the person speaking the last name?  Or…….did the person, who actually had this last name, know the correct spelling?   We will never know exactly  how it was delivered and received, but it remains a thorn in the side of all genealogists, trying to piece together a family tree.

Here’s another good one regarding the last name of Knight.  In my own personal family search, the last name currently is Knight, but this name was just arbitrarily and randomly changed from NITZ to KNIGHT, back around 1860 sometime.  Family members traveling away from Ohio and the Nitz family,   suddenly somewhere along that journey, changed the last name to Knight.  Was there a conversation in the covered wagon about how the last name Nitz (Nitze, Nits, Nitse…you get the point), reminded them of a bedbug?  Or, was the family fleeing the Nitz family and in a desperate attempt to be unreachable and never again found, just decide to change the last name?  And why Knight?  Because it’s noble?  Because it kind of sounds like Nitz and maybe a small child wouldn’t be so confused when Mom and Dad told them their last name is now different?  So many questions, and absolutely no knowledge of the answers, or will there ever be.   It’s all just speculation.  And, it drives us all crazy!

And then there’s the spelling, or more accurately, the misspellings of names.  Knight is Night is Nite and so on and so on.  Nitz is Nits is Nitse is Nitze and so on and so on.  When I came across the last name of another family member of Neighbors, I thought to myself “wow, it’s such a unique name it will for sure be easier to find records with this name!”  Oh boy, was I wrong!  Neighbors is Nabors is Naghbor and so on and so on!

And of course, there’s the issue of naming several of your kids the same name?  You rarely, if ever hear about a family in today’s world, naming more than one child the same name.  But back in the day, it happened all the time.  How many times have you seen a child born and named, only to pass away at an very young age, and then the parents’ next baby was named the exact name?  Crazy, right?  Or was it?  Did they do that to honor their now deceased child?  Or because they just really loved that name?  Or because that’s what everyone did back then?  Or because the slew of names available then were limited and  weren’t thought up like they are today, what with all the made up names and all.   Maybe we should be grateful for the simple names like Mary, Daniel, Ellen, etc.  Again, so many questions, and absolutely no knowledge of the answers!

It forces us (or me at least) to become creative, trying to put myself in these people’s shoes and figure out why and how.  How many different ways can I spell Knight, Nitz or Neighbors? 

I must confess, those census takers were much more creative than I am.

Stay patient, think outside the box and happy hunting! 

Feel free to share your crazy name stories with us!

Ancestry Sisters

Everybody has a story..........

Let us help you discover yours!  Ancestry Sisters are your Go-To source for writing your family history.  We love the hunt, & are ready to help you uncover your roots! Our unique personal experience even includes the discovery of our Mayflower Ancestors and uncovering the birth parents of our adopted grandmother in the year 1900! 

In addition to our own stories, we have researched and built trees for dozens of other families.  Now, we want to use our top notch skills to help you uncover your roots.

Ancestry Sisters has the technical expertise to do complex genealogical research on your family, and we have access to many subscription websites to aide in this task. Here is a small sample of the many different records and reports we can gather for you:
  1. Detailed Family Trees - Pedigree Charts, Descendant Charts, Relationship Charts
  2. Genealogy Reports - Register Report, Ahnentafel Reports
  3. Census Records
  4. Town Records
  5. Vital Records - Birth, Marriage, Death
  6. Naturalization Records
  7. Probate and Wills
  8. Military Records - WW2, WW1, Civil War, War of 1812, Revolutionary War 
  9. Church Records
  10. Cemetery Records & Photos
  11. Newspapers - Obituaries
  12. City Directories
  13. Other - Orphanage Records, Mental Hospital records, and more.

Our own personal research has made us knowledgeable in the following Nationalities:  

  •  French Canadians
  •  Irish
  •  Mayflower Passengers
  •  Germans
  •  Bohemians

We've also established strong contacts and are very knowledgeable in the areas listed below:

  • Chicago
  • Illinois
  • Missouri
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Nebraska
  • Iowa
  • Connecticut
  • Seymour, Derby and Ansonia, Connecticut
  • New York
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  • California
  • Arkansas
  • Ireland
  • England
  • Canada....just to name a few

To begin your journey, please contact us at:   ancestrysisters@gmail.com

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Connecticut Ancestry Society, Inc
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Illinois State Genealogical Society

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