Posted by: downtothesea | July 11, 2009

Maine, rain, potato blight, and genealogical delight.

This has been two months of constant motion for us.  We are (mostly) moved in to our new country, new state, new city, new apartment, new places of employment.  Contributing to the surreal feeling of starting a new life has been the bizarre weather that has plagued New England this “summer.”  We had less than a week of sunshine in June, and many, many days when the temperature barely scrabbled out of the 50s.  I had the coldest birthday I have ever had in my 33 years:  on July 8th our high for the day was 58 degrees (a new record for our city). 

Driving home from work with the radio tuned in to Maine’s public radio station last week, I listened with equal parts of fascination and horror as the news report announced that the cold and wet weather, coupled with a batch of infected seedlings sold in local big-box stores has brought about a resurgance of the crop disease known as “late blight.”  This is the self same fungus that triggered the loss of the potato crop during the Famine in Ireland in the late 1840s.  Because my mind works in odd ways, it occurred to me that in a strange way I owed my very existence to late blight, as it brought my Irish ancestors to the States and into each others’ company. 

That was all the inspiration I needed.  That night I was back messing around on my favorite, long-neglected genealogy websites.  Isn’t it curious that we sometimes don’t realize how much we’ve missed something until we encounter it once again after a long hiatus?  And in my case, a great surprise was waiting in a source I felt I’d scoured months before.

I was watching the Red Sox on TV and enjoying the freedom of our fancy new wireless internet connection by paging lazily through the 1865 New York State Census on Family Search’s pilot site.  I became engaged in the game and failed to notice that I had advanced through to the end of all of the census pages available for the first election district of the town of Niagara, New York.  When I turned my eyes back to the computer, I was confounded.  The final page on the screen read that the census was of all inhabitants living in Niagara on the first on June, 1875.  Huh?  I jumped to the first page of the district and read 1865.  Perhaps the microfilmer had added a few pages from the next decade’s state census by mistake at the end of filming the 1865 census.  I paged through again, carefully, to check.  As it turned out, this was more than a few pages worth of snafu.  To my elation, I discovered the entirety of the 1875 state census for the first district appended to the end of the 1865 census!  This is mentioned nowhere in the description of the source on the site, which lists it only as the 1865 New York State Census.  And sure enough, the second district yielded the same results.  Abandoning the ballgame, I went on a hunt for the Gavins and McCabes in 1875, and found them all, waiting patiently for me to cop on to the extraordinary genealogical good fortune that had fallen into my lap(top).

The moral of the story?  We have heard so many times that reexamining an old source may open up new avenues of research.  In this case, that genealogical adage proved more true than I could ever have hoped.  You can be sure I will be reading my way through the entirety of my sources from now on.



  1. Very interesting entry. I’m in Pennsylvania and this damp weather is odd this year! I never thought of the Famine connection.

    I was interested in the Pilot Family History Site. Thanks for letting me know about it. I’ve been busy moving my website to and setting up a blog at . I haven’t kept up with the Family History sit so this was a good reminder to look at it. Unfortunately they do not seem to have the 1892 census for New York County read yet.


    • Hi Jack–thanks for reading and commenting!

      Month by month I get more and more excited about the LDS Family Search Pilot site…its’ turning out to be an amazing resource for us all!


  2. What an awesome find – reminds me of the time I was just browsing through mailing list archives and found the connection that led to pushing one of my lines back another generation. There must be some Zen thing about genealogy – when you aren’t trying very hard, the information will come of its own accord. Glad to hear you have made the move and are back blogging – you were missed. There have been a number of stories down here about the blight, too, and how it’s affecting local tomato producers.

    • I love that heart-skipping-a-beat feeling when unexpected browsing leads to discovery! Sometimes I wonder if our ancestors purposefully “let out” a little information at a time for us to “discover.” I joke with my mother that after I pass on there will probably be a big family confab in the afterlife during which my ancesters will reveal the solutions to all the genealogical brick walls I have pounded my head against in this world…and we’ll all have a good laugh that I missed such OBVIOUS connections! 😉

  3. Hello, I’m wondering if we share a Gavin ancestor or two. My great-great grandfather also was a Michael Gavin, arrived in this country probably in the 1850s or 1860s, and in the later years of his life (until his death) a denizen of Dayton, Ohio. Probably not your Michael Gavin … His son Thomas turned up in Colorado, and there we have been ever since. I too have been checking out all sides of my family for about three years, and it’s great fun. You have a very nice site here and excellent links. Thanks!

    • Hi Jennifer! So nice to meet a Gavin “in the flesh!” My Gavins hailed from County Clare, so if yours did too, I’d say there’s a good chance we share a drop or two of common blood!

      Welcome to my (these days sadly neglected) blog, and thanks for reading! Do you have any of your research posted online anywhere?

      • Not yet … I need to take about a week off and organize it! When that happens, I’ll drop you a line.

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