Posted by: downtothesea | January 15, 2010

All In the Details.

It’s truly amazing what you can learn from four lines of type.

Take this want ad from the Niagara Falls Gazette, August 30, 1912.  I found it while killing time on the internet this afternoon.

“Mrs. Gavin” was my great-great grandfather Michael Gavin’s second wife.  Michael had been deceased for seven years when his widow, Annie, placed this advert.  The address, 352 Third Street, Niagara Falls, NY, was one door up from Michael’s younger sister, Mary Gavin Callinan.

The item that is of particular interest to me is the directional instruction that refers to Annie Gavin’s living quarters:  “over Hannel’s.”  I am assuming that “Hannel’s” is some manner of fairly well-known business establishment in the area–certainly well-known enough to be used as a point of orientation for the average person.

This opens up the exciting possibility that there might be a photograph of “Hannel’s” somewhere out there, which would provide me a handy peek at the building in which the Gavins made their home.  Exciting!  Time to write another email to the Local History Department at the Niagara Falls Public Library…

And to think:  a brand new lead from four lines of type!

Posted by: downtothesea | January 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Postcard from Niagara Falls, NY

Falls Street, Niagara Falls, NY. Street on which Patrick Gavin (c. 1845-22 July 1893) owned several properties. His family would fight over the ownership of these properites for decades.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 13, 2010

Ooh! Shiny! New computer!

Warning: this post contains very little actual genealogical content.

So, I broke down and bought a new laptop.  I’m giving my trusty HP Pavillion ze4800 to my mother.  It’s just too slow for what I’m doing, and seeing the Blue Screen of Death three times in one year while doing something as innocuous as using two applications and the internet simultaneously was enough to scare me into shelling out for a new machine.

So now I am the proud owner of a blazingly fast and awesome HP Pavillion Dv5 1234us…or something like that.  It’s about 9 months old, which I know makes it practically geriatric for some of my friends, but it was wicked on sale ($450!) and it has all the bells and whistles I want.  Very smexy machine, methinks.  Also, Windows 7 is pretty fun.  Kinda Mac-ish, with all its easy-read icons and stuff, but fun just the same.

So that’s what I’ve been up to the last couple days…transferring files, bookmarks, GEDcoms, my iTunes library (still in process)…messing around with the RootsMagic 4.0 upgrade I treated myself to, and generally trying to find my way around the new ‘puter (whose name is Jack, for those of you who understand the importance of naming your stuff…for the record, my car’s name is Dante).

So far the biggest bugbear has been deciding how to view my blog feeds from Firefox.  I feel like it was so much easier to handle with IE.  I settled on using Google Reader, and that’s been satisfactory so far.  Far from ideal, but it’s the best solution yet.

Off again to mess around with some more GEDcoms.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 10, 2010

The Life and Death of Charles Gavin (1880-1910)

“And then there were the twins, Florence and Charles,” I can remember my grandmother telling me, reciting the litany of her maternal grandfather, Michael Gavin Jr.’s seven children, all of whom grew up in Niagara Falls, New York. 

Of all the Gavin brood, I know the least about Charles.  Directly, anyway.  Indirectly, I know he was 5 years old when he faced the death of his mother (almost certainly due to complications from the birth of her last child Alice).  I know he was around 8 when his father remarried.  In 1894, when Charles was 14, his stepbrother George was born.  One year later, in 1895 Charles watched both baby George and Charles’ younger sister Jennie die, Jennie most poignantly at the tender age of 12, of “brain trouble.”  In the same year, Charles’ father Michael was arrested for what we would know today as domestic abuse of both his wife and children.  Hard times.

By the age of 17, Charles was working.  All the Gavin children worked.  He was first an elevator operator, then a worker at the Carborundum factory.  At the turn of the century, Charles had followed the lead of his older sister Nellie (my great-grandmother) and his twin sister Florence, who were telephone switchboard operators, and found a job at Bell Telephone, working as a “telephone setter.” 

Then Charles drops off the map.  He is missing from the 1910 census.

When I discovered the Gavin family plot last February, I learned why Charles had not been in the 1910 census:

But it was only when I gained access to the Niagara Falls Gazette for 1910 that I learned the full extent of the misery of Charles’ final weeks.

From the Gazette on April 22, 1910:


Charles Gavin was down and out due to an overload of intoxicants last night in the alley back of the Temperance house.  This morning Gavin pleaded guilty to a charge of public intoxication and was sent to the Niagara County Jail for sixty days.

Poor Charles.  Looking back on the many losses he suffered in his life, it wasn’t surprising to me that he turned to the bottle…and/or whatever else the term “intoxicants” implied.  But the next and final mention of him in the papers threw me for a loop.

It is from the Buffalo Morning Express, dated May 15, 1910:


Electrical Shock Supposed to have caused Charles Gavin’s Death.

Special to The Buffalo Express

Lockport, May 14–Charles Gavin, 30 years old, who was serving a 60-day sentence at the county jail for intoxication at Niagara Falls, died this morning in the hospital ward of cerebral hemorrages.  He became ill yesterday and became unconscious, remaining so until death.

Gavin had served three weeks of his sentence.  He was burned three weeks prior to his confinement by an electrical shock at a Niagara Falls plant.  The burn was on the leg, and it is believed by Dr. Bickford to have been the direct cause of death.”

You led a difficult life, and died a strange and tragic death…I sincerely hope you rest in peace, great-grand uncle Charles, and that the next world is miles better to you than this one was.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 10, 2010

SNGF: My Genealogical Superpower!

A bit belated, as this is Sunday, but how could I resist this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun prompt at Genea-Musings?  Especially since I then read Amanda Acquard’s SNGF post that featured an image of her superhero alter ego created at a cool graphics site, called The Hero Factory!  What a hoot!

Here’s Randy’s prompt:

Do you have a genealogical “superpower”? (i.e., a unique research ability or technique that helps you track down records or assemble conclusions that others can’t?) If so, what is it?

I have two genealogical superpowers–lucky me!  Pay close attention as The Mighty Spectacled Splinter (who brandishes a branch of her family tree to beat down any evil genealogical brick walls that stand in her way) flagrantly toots her own horn…

First, I have a preternatural ability to remember names I have seen in print.  This is an offshoot of my odd capacity to recall text I have read as if it was a photograph and “reread” it within my mind’s eye.  I wouldn’t say I have a true photographic memory, as eventually I am no longer able to recall the image, but good heavens is it ever helpful in the short run, especially for genealogical purposes.  As an aside, my dad readily recalls the scores and plays of every baseball game he’s ever attended, so clearly I get this handy-dandy trait from him.  Thanks, Dad!

Second, I have a knack for deciphering handwriting and recognizing a specific individual’s hand.  In my former job as a retail manager, I could go through hundreds of return slips and pick out the ones with the same handwriting in order to figure out who was making fraudulent returns under a number of different names.  Because of this ability, old census records are a snap for me, even despite poor-quality microfilm.  Crappy photocopies of handwritten wills?  Not a bother!  Hastily-recorded WWI draft cards?  Pshaw!  This is one genealogical superpower I am deeply, DEEPLY grateful to have.

Hark!  What is that sound?  Is it the faint cry of a source that hasn’t been fully analyzed or a defenseless photograph waiting to be scanned?  Fear not, for the Mighty Spectacled Splinter cometh!  Up, up, and ahnentafel!

Posted by: downtothesea | January 9, 2010

Surname Saturday: BREHENY, CANDON and BEIRN of Sligo?

This afternoon I was convinced I had busted through a brick wall genealogy problem with all the enthusiasm of the Kool-Aid Man…”Ohhhhhhh yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!” 

Tonight I am feeling a bit more reserved about my findings because:

1)  I am, by nature, a pessimistic optimist.  Or is that an optimistic pessimist?  Let’s just say Murphy’s Law tends to apply doubly to me, and so I proceed with caution in all things.

2)  I was partially drawn towards my shaky conclusions with help from’s OneWorld Tree, which is, as Ancestry admits, a place to root about for hints regarding one’s genealogy but certainly NOT a spot to secure hard and fast facts. 

3)  My conjectures depend on transcriptions of documents, available through the (reputable, as far as I understand) Irish Family History Foundation.  And until I find someone willing to give me plane fare to get to Ireland, chances are I will have to rely on these transcriptions for a little longer still.

But, as we all know, so much of genealogy depends on serendipity, so here goes nothing…or perhaps something…or maybe even everything:

New names and places that have popped onto my radar screen today:

BREHENY/BRAHANY, or its English equivalent, JUDGE–used seemingly interchangably during the early part of the 19th century in Co. Sligo, Ireland.

CANDON/CONDON, also from Co. Sligo

BEIRN, again from Sligo

The connection: I have reason to believe my 4X great grandfather, Thomas MCCABE‘s (c. 1805-1880) parents were called James MCCABE and Winnifred CANDON.  Thomas may have been born in the parish of Riverstown, Co. Sligo

Thomas’ wife, my 4X great grandmother “Ellen,” (c. 1807-1884) may have had the given name of Eleanora (though it might just be the Latin form on the baptismal record–I have no way of knowing right now), and the maiden surname BREHENY or JUDGE (both names appear in the records for the same woman…BREHENY is apparently Irish for JUDGE, according some quick side research).  Ellen/Eleanora’s parents may have been Maurice BREHENY/JUDGE and Winnifred or Jennifer (again transcription problems I can’t solve yet) BEIRN.

All of these families were found in the Riverstown parish of Co. Sligo in the first three decades of the 19th century.  Now, I would be over the moon to narrow the McCabes and their associated surnames down to a single parish in Sligo, but I cannot let my excitement allow me to make mistakes.  Thus, at the moment, I am just sending out feelers. 

And so I humbly impose on your good will and expertise, o fellow geneabloggers, to ask:  If these surnames or locale are familiar to you in your genealogical research, would you drop me a comment?  I’d be most obliged…and who knows?  I might even be on the right track “home.”

Posted by: downtothesea | January 7, 2010

Follow Friday: a tree grows…in the basement

For this, my first Follow Friday, I offer a post, a blog, and a site for the delight and education of my fellow geneabloggers.


For Memory Monday, Greta Koehl of Greta’s Genealogy Bog, with her usual lovely and compelling prose, tells a charming tale of an interloping black walnut shoot growing in the basement of her house, whose sheer determination to survive compelled her family to care for it and adopt it as the unofficial mascot of their basement.  An all-around delightful read.


Katrina McQuarrie, a self-described “Gen-Y genealogist” and the blogger behind Kick-Ass Genealogy, has a mission: to help YOU make YOUR family history and genealogical projects as kick-ass as possible, one info-packed how-to post at a time.  Katrina’s got a knack for taking old topics and making them brandy-new and exciting again.  Check out her suggestions for “batching” genealogy tasks for greater productivity.  Also, she’s working her way through a degree in medieval studies (as yours truly did), and that makes her automatically awesome.


Scotland’s People has been a favorite site of mine for several years.  Using a “pay per view” fee schedule, genealogists can download a vast amount of Scottish statutory and old parish registers as well as census records and some wills.  This site was instrumental in helping me sort out my Miller/Hislop lines.  However, several of my Irish lines (McCabe, Kelly) also spent years working, marrying and raising their families in Scotland.  As they were Catholic, I couldn’t find them in the old Scottish parish registers.  I had come to accept this.  Imagine my surprise when I logged on to the site in October of this past year and discovered they had added birth and baptism records from the Catholic parish registers of Scotland!  According to the site, this is the first of several installments the site will add over the next few years, encompassing many thousands more Catholic parish records.  The Catholic births and baptisms have already helped me to break through a brick wall I thought would stand until the end of time.  Well done, Scotland’s People.  Thank you!

Posted by: downtothesea | January 7, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: Gram’s Christmas Present

My wonderful Gram and me in 1999.

My beautiful grandmother Jean passed away in February of 2008, her mind ravaged by the same dementia that stole away her own mother’s mind some forty years before.  It was a particularly cruel end for a woman who prided herself on her excellent memory and who had delighted in storytelling.  Gram had a repetoire of hilarious family tales she had perfected and never tired of telling–nor did we tire of listening to them.  It was an unspoken custom, whenever the family came together, that we would end each evening–inevitably–at the dinner table, laughing until we couldn’t breathe as Gram rolled out story after story of our favorite family mishaps.

Gram also had a wonderful memory for faces and names.  As a young girl I would beg her to pull out her old Sibley’s Department Store box full of photographs of her own youth, and listen rapt as she narrated the stories of the long-ago friends and family she found within.  I loved our time together with the Sibley’s box.  I felt in a way that the stories belonged to me, too…even though I had never known the relatives in Gram’s photos, they seemed familiar, comfortable to me.

When the time came in 2004 for my grandparents to move from the house in which they had lived for 50 years and into an assisted living community, we did our best to help them pack.  But Gram was already showing signs of uncharacteristic forgetfulness, and the process of moving seemed to shake her usually unflappable personality to the core.  When the dust settled it became clear that not every important item had survived the move.  Heirloom furniture pieces from my Gram’s family had been axed from the “keep” list by my grandfather, who, not understanding their importance, merely saw them as dead weight during the move.  My father’s insistence had spared Gram’s Scottish tallcase clock, but only just.  In the end, to appease my grandfather, the clock went home with my parents in the back of a Ryder truck.

And when, settling in to her new home, Gram went to find her Sibley’s box of photographs, she discovered to her horror that it was nowhere to be found.

She only spoke of the loss of the box once to me, and through tears.  Her entire record of her family, she said, was lost forever.  She found one dog-eared copy of a photo of her parents among her things, which she treasured until the end of her life four years later.  It was the only picture she had left to remind her of her parents’ faces, she told me.  But all the photos of her beloved brother Billy, who drowned in Lake Ontario when he was 15 and she was 4, were gone, and that absolutely broke her heart.  I never mentioned the Sibley’s box again.

My heart was broken, too.

This past Christmas, my folks and I traveled up to Rochester, New York, to visit my grandfather.  His health wasn’t good, and he seemed eager to have me go through my grandmother’s things and pick out anything I wanted to have.  My mother and I spent the better part of a day looking through Gram’s things and uncovered many treasures we could take to remind us of her.  I was looking through Gram’s books when Mum announced she was going to try to find Gram’s wedding gown which Gram had kept at the top of my grandfather’s closet.  Ten minutes later, Mum returned from the next room carrying three boxes.  One contained Gram’s gorgeous lace wedding gown from 1943, one contained my great-grandmother’s breathtaking silk wedding blouse from 1902, and the third box…oh.  Oh Lord.

The third box read: “Sibley’s.”

I had eyes for nothing else as Mum pulled off the cover.  There they all were:  my great-grandfather and great-grandmother Will and Nellie, my great-grand-aunts Kate and Mary, my great uncle Billy, and my great-great grandmother Bessie.  I couldn’t help myself: I sat on Gram’s bed and cried.  I wasn’t able to collect myself for a good two minutes.  I cried for all of Gram’s pain at losing the pictures, I cried out of relief at finding them again.  I cried thinking that Gram wouldn’t ever know the Sibley’s box had never really been far from her at all.  And then a thought occurred to me that made me smile through my tears.

“Do you know what this is?”  I asked my mother, who was sitting quietly beside me, sifting gently through the treasured box of memories.  She raised her head to hear my answer.  I was laughing and crying at the same time now, and I had a vague notion that I was starting to speak the like script of a Lifetime movie, but I didn’t care.

“Can you believe what a hot ticket she is?”  I laughed, “Mum–this is our Christmas present…from Gram.”

Mum grinned.  “You know, I think you’re right.”

Scanning this treasure trove of photos will take weeks, perhaps months.  It will keep me occupied well into the Spring, and I couldn’t be happier.  My heart is light now.  My family and my history have been returned to me.

Thanks, Gram.  You always give the best presents.

A treasure from the Sibley's box: my great-grandfather, William Hislop Miller, in 1900 at the age of 24.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 3, 2010

Genealogical Resolutions for 2010

I am a disaster at keeping up with New Year’s Resolutions.  Like everyone else, everywhere.  I have already begun my resolution to lose my ten “oh my God how did I gain that much in the last year?!?” pounds…and we’ll see how long that enthusiasm lasts.

I do think it’s worthwhile to set down a few genealogical resolutions, though, and to check back at my progress every once in a while.  Not too many, but enough to accomplish and enough to move me ahead in my research–or at least to secure the research that I’ve already accomplished.

Resolution 1):  I will purchase a scanner and scan in all the newly discovered photos from my grandfather’s closet

Resolution 2):  I will purchase some sort of external hard drive on which I can back up all of my genealogical information

Resolution 3):  I will preserve my newly-acquired stash of family textiles

Resolution 4):  I will stop researching for as long as it takes me to enter what I already have into RootsMagic (yeah right!)

Resolution 5):  I will make one trip to Niagara Falls to find land deeds and naturalization records.

There.  That felt better.

Postcard image from Northern Neck of Virginia Postcards Page

Posted by: downtothesea | January 2, 2010

SNGF: Best Genealogy Moment of 2009

It’s Saturday night, we are in the throes of a blizzard here in Maine, and my star of a spouse is busily scanning old family photos for me in the other room.  I have half a bottle of New Year’s champagne left and the ancient radiator on full blast.  What’s a girl to do?  Why, Saturday Night Genealogy Fun with our host Randy Seaver, of course!

Randy’s prompt for this week: “What was your best Genealogy Moment during 2009?”

This is tough, because there were so many delectable moments.  2009 was my very first “in the field” year, genealogically speaking.  I finally felt as if I had amassed enough information to make worthwhile trips to Niagara Falls to seek out cemeteries, City Hall, and the knock-out local history collections at the Public Library. 

In light of that, I have to say my best Genealogy Moment for 2009 was locating the neglected cemetery in which my Irish ancestors were laid to rest, and simultaneously discovering the counties of their birth on account of the inscriptions on their tombstones (the Gavins from Clare and the McCabes from Sligo).  I blogged (rather giddily) about my discoveries here and here.  I now felt I had a real, tangible connection to Ireland.  Though I’d always been taught to take pride in my Irish heritage, it was somehow more “legitimate” now–I knew my ancestral counties! 

Furthermore, several months on, knowing where my ancestors are buried has given me a tremendous sense of peace.  I know where they are, I know where to find them.  I can literally sit beside them and be with them in a very real way.  For that, I consider myself tremendously blessed.  Thanks, 2009!

The church of my Irish ancestors: St. Mary's (Our Lady of the Cataract), Niagara Falls, NY

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