Irish Pride Today and Every Day Tuesday, Mar 17 2015 

A view from atop Blarney Castle

A view from atop Blarney Castle

The Irish blood flows through my veins though I’ve never visited the actual villages or hometowns of my ancestors.  I traveled to Southern Ireland about ten years ago, but at the time, I hadn’t started my genealogy research. As such, I didn’t know that my Deenys originated from the Donegal/Derry counties of Northern Ireland.  That just gives me one more reason to return to the stunning Isle and walk the paths that my great-great grandparents did.

Though there were Deenys (and Deeneys) aplenty in Philadelphia and Boston during the time of my great-grandparents immigration, I have yet to find a direct link to the ones who were here before my relatives arrived.  Many of us remained in England and Ireland and some Deenys made Iowa their home. *Sidenote: I haven’t connected the Philly area Deenys to the Iowa Deenys as of yet.*

I love the language, land, and mystic history of the Celtic people though I must admit that my taste buds were the last to adjust during my trip.  I grew up with a solid pride for my Irish heritage even though I knew quite little of the country my ancestors once called home.

As Americans celebrate “St. Patrick’s Day” I join in by wearing green, listening to my favorite Celtic music, and adorning myself with a flashy shamrock necklace.  The celebration doesn’t end there, because my journey to find my Irish roots continues.  I’ve lived over thirty years as a proud descendant of Irish immigrants and know that my pride will only grow the moment I understand the ones who came before.

Unlocking Doors in My Genealogy Research Monday, Feb 9 2015 

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland - circa 2004

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland – circa 2004

My genealogy search stalled once again due to employment necessity, or a lack thereof. Given the fact that I cannot quickly look something up without it turning into a few hours of family history research, I pushed it aside until I had ample time to focus on this project.

DOORS

If you’ve read some of my earlier blog posts entry, you know that I’ve encountered one locked door after another with the Smith side of my family tree.  I have yet to find substantial proof of our rumored Native American lineage and the numerous marriages/remarriages of my great-grandfather and his father leave me searching for months on end.

OBITUARIES

So, you can imagine my elation when I found an “unlocked door”! Thanks to new documents available on FamilySearch, I found numerous obituaries for some of my Smith relatives in Michigan; my great-grandmother and her mother-in-law being two of the findings. I have not found my great-grandfather’s obit nor that of his father, but my search continues with renewed hope and focus that with a little determination, patience, and refocus, I’ll find those whom I seek.

 

Have you encountered similar struggles? If so, how did you overcome them?

 

Happy searching from one family detective to another!

3 Tips for Genealogy Info Overload Tuesday, May 20 2014 

Overwhelmed with the amount of information in front of you and which branch of your family tree to focus on first? You’re not alone!

Before you stop the search altogether, take a breather and try the following:

  • NARROW YOUR SEARCH: Starting broad can lead to an overload of information.  Pick one branch and keep the search focused on that individual and their immediate relations.  Try alternate spellings of the last name and re-examine the records you already found for them.  You might just find a new connection in a census record that you overlooked the first time through.
  • BE NEIGHBORLY:  When you hit a roadblock in your search for a common surname (talking to you Smiths and Millers), step back and research a neighbor listed on a census record.  They could likely have been an in-law, cousin, or friend.  For example, it turns out the witness on my great-great grandfather’s Naturalization record was a neighbor.  In searching the name of the witness I found new details on my direct ancestor.
  • CHANGE IT UP: Don’t use only one website or genealogy software program.  When you rely too heavily on one, sometimes you can get frustrated at seeing the same records again and again.  Move over to a different site, like one with more specific type records.  For example, search a cemetery records/grave listing website or one that stores a collection of newspapers.  I’ve found this tip very helpful in my own searching.  I found an obituary listing in a 1899 newspaper that contained my ancestor’s address and listed him as a member of a fraternal organization – the former a confirmation and the latter information to me.

In summary, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with information overload.  Instead of getting frustrated, try a different tactic.  You just might create a crack in that roadblock!

 

HAPPY SEARCHING!!

My Brave Immigrant Ancestors Sunday, Mar 9 2014 

Picking up and moving from a place you call “home” to a land filled with wonder and uncertainty had to be both daunting and freeing; scary and exciting; lonely and friendship-building.  Nothing brought that idea to fruition more to me than visiting Ellis Island.

Ellis Island

During my roughly 5 years of ancestry research, I found wondrous records that provided insight into my ancestors’ lives.  How many children did they have?  Where did they live?  What were their occupations?  I started looking at them as more than just names of deceased relatives.  I wondered what sort of experiences they had and how they compared to present day. Sure, the modern word has it’s own share of joys and sorrows but so did 1899.  How did my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Deen(e)y, manage to raise her children after her husband died so young?  Then her five-year-old daughter, Mary, dies only a month after her husband.  The pain, grief, determination that must have swirled within her.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I yearn to know about Elizabeth Burke Deen(e)y.

As I stood in the Great Hall at the Ellis Island museum I gazed in awe at the enormity of the situation.  What entangled web of emotions did the newcomers experience?  Standing amidst a plethora of strangers all with the same hopes of a new life must have been both terrifying and comforting.  “Will they let us all in?  What kind of questions will they ask?  Will I understand what they’re asking me?  Why are they separating members of the same family?”  My heart ached just thinking of the possible scenarios my ancestors, and yours, would’ve likely encountered upon arrival.  That’s not even taking into account the image of leaving home ingrained in your memory and the long passage it took to get them to America.

I have been unsuccessful in locating the Immigration records for my Irish ancestors.  From family stories, I believe Elizabeth Burke came over first and Thomas Deen(e)y followed her, an action that was apparently quite scandalous at the time.  However, I can’t find a marriage record in either Ireland or the State for Thomas and Elizabeth.  My search continues to learn more about their lives in Ireland and when they arrived stateside.  In the meantime, they are not the only immigrants in my family tree. {2018 UPDATE: They married 1885 in Philly}

The majority of ancestors on my maternal branch emigrated from Europe, Eastern Europe to be more specific.  Some came from Germany but another lineage called Austria/Hungary/Czechoslovakia home. Helen (Helena/Ella/Ellie) was born in Sasova, Czechoslovakia in 1858.  She married and had  her first child by age twenty, remarried my great-great grandfather in 1882, and immigrated to the States around 1890 with her husband and daughter from 2nd marriage. According to the 1900 census, Ellie had 10 children but only 6 were living, five of those 6 were living with her.  While I do not have records proving or disproving that Ellie came through Ellis Island, my thinking is that regardless or where she arrived, the trepidation and motivation would have been quite similar.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

Elizabeth and Thomas settled in Philadelphia while Ellie and John made Luzerne County, PA their new residence.  The struggles they encountered in the states (i.e. discrimination) I can only speculate about.  Despite any hurdles in the new country, were they glad they made the brave choices they did?  And, did they ever look across the Atlantic towards the land they once called home?

In contemplating the life-changing choices my immigrant ancestors made, I wonder about my own.  Would I have had the courage at such a young age to pick up and move away from a place I considered to be home?  Even if poverty, political oppression, or starvation plagued the region, would I have been brave enough to seek out a better life for myself and my loved ones?  And, if they can do it then why do so many people today agonize over moving from one state to the next given the ease of transportation and online career networking available?  I’m not claiming it would be easy in today’s time, but by standing in the Great Hall I gained some much-needed perspective.

Click here for more information on Ellis Island.

Deenys: So close, yet so far Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

A ride through Killarney

A ride through Killarney

When I found out my paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Smith, I laughed and prepared for an uphill challenge in this ancestry detective work.  A 3rd great-grandfather named John Smith, that threw me for a loop but only momentarily.  I got on that genealogy “train” and headed straight for Michigan, in computer land that is.  However, I never expected to find so many of my own surname living in close proximity.

Growing up, the only people I knew with the surname of Deeny were related to me.  In all my schooling I never once met anyone else with the same last name.  I felt unique and special in knowing that my name was different.  Not that it was easy to spell or pronounce apparently.  We frequently got “Denny” or “Deeney”, so I picked up the habit of spelling it out for the ease of both parties.  Since starting along the family history path, I’ve since learned that the Deeny name has had many spelling origins.  My great-great-grandfather, Thomas, spelled it “Deeney” – and he was the one who immigrated from Ireland sometime prior to 1886.  However, turns out the Deeny/Deeney name traces much, much further back in Ireland.  From research done by distant cousins a few generations older than me, I learned that Deeny is linked back to Dhuibhne.  I am in the midst of learning more about that connection and added Northern Ireland to my list of must-visit places.

Turns out there were many Deenys and Deeneys living in Philadelphia around the same time that my 2nd great-grandparents called Philly home.  However, connecting those Deenys with MY Deenys has proved unsuccessful.  Whether they were cousins or of no relation, I just don’t know.  In doing further research of present day Deenys, there are many of us not only in the States but a great number back across the ocean, in Ireland and England.  Thanks to the wonders of social media, I’ve found some international Deeny relations and hope one day to return back to the land my ancestors emigrated from so many years ago.

In the meantime, I’m busy tracing the lines and connecting the dots of just which Deenys are branches or leaves on my family tree!

Happy searching,

Kelly

Hazleton, Pennsylvania: My Second Home Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 

I was not born nor raised in the Hazleton area, but I spent so much time there during my childhood that I consider it a home away from home.

It was the place my mother grew up, and her parents and grandparents before her.  In fact, generations of her family called the Hazleton area (or West Hazleton, Sugarloaf, and Conyngham to be specific) home.  Most of my ancestral relatives on this branch of my family tree were coal miners or truck drivers.  They made an honest living out of grueling work that kept them away from their wives and children for long periods of time.  Not only was it time-consuming but dangerous.

My 2nd great-grandfather, Elmer Karchner, died in a coal mining accident at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous young children.  This was a man who seven years prior listed his occupation as Musician on his marriage license.  What heartbreak!  How many of those young men and boys lost their lives not only on the job but developed illnesses as a result of their treacherous working conditions?  The very notion of such tragedy leaves an imprint on my spirit to know so many suffered so much.

My maternal grandfather died when my mother was just fifteen years of age.  Ten years prior, he suffered an accident on the job.  While fixing an issue on his tractor-trailer, the rear wheels rolled over both of his legs.  As a result, my grandmother went to work to help support the family and a hospital bed placed in the family’s dining room.  My mom tells the story of how a tree was planted in the empty lot near the house, allowing my grandfather to watch from the window as the tree grew. My grandfather eventually regained use of his legs and returned to work, albeit not every day.  He eventually died of a ruptured colon, likely caused by the accident a decade earlier.

Though the employment options were not the safest, it was home.  There were open spaces.  Relatives lived near one another.  You walked down the main street and knew the local shop owners.  One of my great-grand uncle’s even ran a furniture store, employing some of his brothers. Though my parents moved down to Bucks County once married, we frequently returned to Hazleton to visit my grandmother and other relatives in the area.  I recall those times as some of the most vivid and memorable of my childhood.  Here are just some of the memories that have stuck with  me:

  • MOM-MOM’S HOUSE:  My grandmother’s house in Hazleton would not be considered large by standards of the time or now, but it was the perfect size.  This was a home that welcomed family and friends.  She had 3 bedrooms upstairs, ideal for her young grandchildren to spend the night. Downstairs you’d find the living room that melted into the dining area, a place filled with guests during the holidays or celebrations.  The kitchen was small yet adequate.  The backyard included room for a garden and had a sandbox for the kids to play.  I have so many vivid memories of staying at MomMom’s house.  I can visualize my uncle lifting us up to hang on the push-up bar in the kitchen entryway.  I remember playing with my grandmother’s shoes and costume jewelry in her bedroom.  I recall extended family seated around the dining room table during a Thanksgiving meal.  I loved my grandmother, and I adored the house she called home.

My dad loved his mother-in-law's cooking!

  • FAMILY AND FRIENDS:  My mom had the luxury of growing up near so many cousins.  They  were her playmates, her confidantes and friends.  When we went to Hazleton, many of her cousins still remained in town.  As such, their children became our playmates.  I think of them not as my second cousins or first cousins once removed but I simply call them my cousins.  Now that we’ve all grown, I am so very thankful to have had them as part of my childhood.
  • AUNTS AND UNCLES:  Once my grandmother passed, we continued to visit family members in the Hazleton area.  My Uncle Lenny and Aunt Betty had the BEST house I’d ever seen: hidden passageways (storage area), an indoor pool (watch out for the sliding glass door), and a split-level.  My uncle would take us for drive around the yard and quiet street in his golf cart.  I have so many fond memories of not only the house but my time with my aunt, uncle and cousins.Scan-140128-0003

Though times have changed and residents found new places to call home, the Hazleton area will always hold a very special place in the hearts of many!!

Foor-Score and Many Years Ago Monday, Oct 28 2013 

While I knew my paternal relatives lived in Philadelphia and her suburbs, I thought only my mother’s side of the family had roots in upstate PA.  Turns out, my paternal third great-grandfather was born in Bedford County, PA.  Who knew? Not me!

Apparently, the Foor’s have a rich history in Bedford – and many still call it home.  Noah Foor was no exception.  Sometime between 1860 and 1870, Noah’s family moved from Bedford County, Pennsylvania to Lenawee County, Michigan and that’s where my lineage knowledge strengthens.  Michigan became home for Noah’s daughter, Nina, her daughter, Margaret and ultimately my grandmother.  Then off to Bucks County, PA my grandmother went, returning to her hometown at different points throughout her life.

Noah R. Foor was never a name I heard growing up, but it’s one that greatly intrigues me now.  I still don’t have much information on Noah, other than residence and census data.  I know the name of his wife, Estella Emma Craft/Kraft, and his children.  I know that he was a farmer as of 1900 then a teamster in 1910 and 1920 and only a hint of what industry he specialized in.  The 1920 census record lists Noah as head of household and 8 lodgers living in his home, all laborers for a cement company.  That detail leads me to assume that Noah worked in the cement industry or involved in the railroad system, but I’ve learned not to assume anything when researching my lineage.

What happened between 1900 and 1910 that took Noah from being a farmer to skilled labor?  Why did he move his family?  Was it a positive achievement or could he no longer afford to sustain a livelihood on the farm?  So many questions that I don’t know will/can ever be truly answered.  However, that doesn’t hinder my desire to ask.  If anything, my interest is piqued all the more!

History-Itis Tuesday, Oct 15 2013 

A severe case of “history-itis” – that’s what I have! Never really caring much about learning dates of pertinent events or what states are where on the US map, my level of “Social Studies” knowledge is quite low. Reading the textbooks and learning about moments that since passed was always done from one perspective. As such, it was merely a story…and most times, one not told very well.

However, give me a great Victorian novel, and my mind opened to understand the plights of others. When Charles Dickens described the deplorable surroundings and class structures, he did so through story. By creating characters that you cared about and situations that led you on an adventure. He didn’t just lay out a series of dates and facts. Instead, the brilliant author used the inspirational power of art to connect.

All these years later, my severe lack of history knowledge makes for minor hiccups in my genealogy search. It would be most helpful to understand why my great-great grandmother’s origin of birth varies by decade. If I knew the history of how her homeland changed owners and names then I’d have a clearer picture of where she came from. Now, I rely on Internet research to learn about Hungary/Austria/Czechoslovakia history.

That information matters to me now precisely because I’ve put a face to the place, so to speak (write). I want to know what her home was like as a child. What sort of environment did she live in? Was it a hostile time? Were the people struggling for food, money and shelter? Why did she choose to leave home and move to America? What did she think about the change of name/ownership of the land in which she was raised? Did her loyalty to her homeland remain firm?

All of the above leads to thoughts of “How difficult was it for her to acclimate to her new home? Did she ever want to learn English? What did she miss most about her former country? Were there fellow immigrants nearby that she befriended?” I wonder about her life and the choices she made. I care about her history because her path led to mine.

I’m making it a personal goal to study both American and European history. To familiarize myself with not only facts and statistics but to understand and appreciate the environment in which my ancestors lived.

The Cost of Ancestry Research Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

I consider myself a family history detective, finding enjoyment and excitement by piecing together the puzzles in my genealogy.  Sometimes it’s highly frustrating hitting a roadblock but most times I’m challenged to keep digging.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the cost of ancestry research.

MONEY:  There is absolutely a financial cost associated with genealogy research.  There are plenty of helpful family history sites online that do not charge you to search their collection of records.  One I find extremely beneficial is http://www.familysearch.org.  The range of records available includes marriage, birth, and census documents.  I have found a great many marriage records that helped connect the branches of my tree, especially when those records include the mother and father’s names.  I found half-siblings of my great-father that I never knew about and was able to verify the connection through other sources, on other ancestry search sites.  The other sites I primarily use in my search charge a fee.  However, the value outweighs the cut to my budget.

TIME:  I spend A LOT of time researching my family tree, more than I anticipated I would when I started.  It’s so easy to sit down at the computer and find one hint that leads you to another and another…before you know it, 3 hours have gone by and you’re so close to putting the piece in place!  As much fulfillment as I get from genealogy research, I  have a twinge of guilt when I think about the other projects I have in the works – my Young Adult fantasy novel, for instance.  Why am I not spending all of my free time to get my book done and published?!  That’s where my focus should be.  Shouldn’t it?  Do I spend a few hours learning about those who lived before me or use that time to write about an entirely fictional character?

SCANDAL:  Am I being selfish by asking the questions that makes family members uneasy to talk about?  What is the point of pushing for questions when the truth may reveal a path that you never intended to walk down?  Scandal, mysteries, long-buried truths – you’re likely to find any of the above if you go back far enough.  The question is…What do you do with the information once you have it?  Do you stuff it down until the subjects of said scandal have passed on?  Do you approach them with the knowledge and gently ask for their recollection of the events?  What is it that you seek to gain from prodding for the ‘truth’?  I haven’t encountered any jaw-dropping secrets so far in my search; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Perhaps, some of what I found out (like remarriages and half-siblings) were considered significant drama and scandal to those who lived it at the time period.

One of my goals with this ancestry journey is to actually take a journey.  To visit the key places in my lineage and write about them.  Document what it means to me to be present in a place that once held meaning to my ancestors.  For a brief time, to stand where they stood.  Of course, in order to take that trip I need both time and money. Who knows what kind of scandal I might find!

The Value of Music: A Timeless Discussion Saturday, Dec 8 2012 

Every time I think about the tragedy of my second great-grandfather’s (Elmer Karchner) death it’s now amplified at the knowledge he once labeled himself as a musician yet died a coal miner.  While the necessity of an occupation change is understandable it only aggravates the frustration I have about my own choices.

As a writer I welcome constructive feedback.  I want to know what my strengths are and what areas need improvement.  If a story leaves you confused or moves you I want to know.  I thrive on honest yet helpful criticism.

As a singer, if you tell me I was off-pitch, lagging behind the accompaniment or just plain okay I’m likely to internalize that criticism into “I am not a singer, no matter how much I may want to be.”  I often wonder why there’s such a drastic shift between writing and music, and how I define myself.

Is there some part of me that is terrified of actually defining myself as a singer?  I call myself a writer without hesitation – without doubt of truth.  Plenty of family and friends commend my writing.  They champion my desire of pursuing writing as a career choice.  But, no one has ever told me, “Why aren’t you singing professionally?”  I’ve been told I have a beautiful voice and people are surprised that such a powerful voice comes out of such a tiny individual.  Yet, those around me aren’t apt to tell me to give up writing and pursue music.

I don’t blame them, after all there’s a part of me that believes it too.  Or else I would’ve found the strength and determination to pursue a career in music if that’s truly what I wanted.  Is it enough just to enjoy singing on a smaller scale?  To see the smiles on my niece and nephews’ faces when I sing to them.  To burst out into song with my car windows rolled down on a perfect Spring day.  To blare a musical theatre soundtrack and sing along with it when the house it empty.

I get fulfillment from both writing and singing.  The difference is…I earn money with the prior.  Even though Elmer Karchner may have found just as much passion for music it wouldn’t have earned him enough money to support his family.  Not at the turn of the 20th century anyway.  I hope that he shared his love of music with his children.  That they gathered around on a Sunday afternoon in Hazleton and played.  Whether he played an instrument or sang I like to imagine Elmer, Miss Mattie and their children joined in song during the holidays; their family and friends surrounding them with love and appreciation.

Your life ended too short Elmer, but your love of music has not died!

Love,

Kelly

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