Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Genealogy Genie

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One mission of LowellIrish is to collect your stories.  How many have been lost because no one has written them down?  Every tour I lead ,or talk I give, inevitably one or two people tell me a great story of a relative's experience.  Some of the stories are humorous accounts of Catholic school education.  Others are stories of loss and pain.  And some are about success amidst adverse conditions.  If we are to succeed with our task, we need you.  Share your family's story.  We thank a reader, Pat Coleman, for this week's entry about discovering your past.



I am Patrick L Coleman, great great grandson of James and Margaret Coleman. I have fathered the next generation of Colemans and grandfathered the one after that. I am a retired research biochemist, a gardener, and in the midst of writing both a family history (not Coleman, but Melloys from Donegal) and a mystery story where the protagonist is a biochemist. I live in Minneapolis where, even as I write this on April 30th, there is still snow falling, not enough to shovel, unless one shovels the lawn, annoying nonetheless.


My Coleman ancestor, James, lived in and near Lowell from the late 1830s until about 1850.  While I knew his wife's maiden name, Margaret Walsh, and where each came from in Ireland, I knew nothing about their siblings or parents.  This is how the story stood through thirty years of genealogy research.  Then the Genie of Genealogy granted me three wishes in my search for my Coleman ancestors, based on the “Missing Friends” columns of the Boston Pilot.  But first some context.


My immigrant ancestor James Coleman made his appearance in American rather early, as Irishmen go.  He traveled from Ireland to St Andrew, New Brunswick, thence through Passamaquoddy, Maine, arriving in America on October 1, 1835.  He was single and listed himself as a farmer.  However, when I found traces of him in the Northeast over the next fifteen years, he was always a laborer working with other Irish to build the infrastructure for the first wave of American industrialization—canals, bridges, factories.


He met Margaret Walsh/Welch, also born in Cork, and they married in Hallowell, Maine in 1837.  Judging from the birthplaces of their children they traveled between Lowell, Mass., Maine, and Canada over the course of the next decade.  Margaret indicated on their marriage documents that she was a resident of Lowell at that time, and they returned there during 1845-48, and probably at other times, too.


They left Lowell and the Eastern seaboard in 1851, stopping in Sandusky, Ohio, for the winter as well as for the birth of son James in November that year.  Now with four children, they arrived in Dubuque, Iowa in 1852, where James became a naturalized citizen, and, for the next several years the family resided, while James commuted to a hilly farm in Allamakee county, Iowa.  His place was six miles from the Minnesota border and thirty-some from the Mississippi River.  He continued working as a laborer in Dubuque, one summer as a gardener, while periodically visiting his farm putting in crops in the spring and harvesting them in the fall.


This was the status of the Coleman story when the Genie appeared.  With respect to “wishes” there was a caveat: isn't that always the way?.  I don't get to make the wishes (a small detail about Irish Genies that they never talk about).  Rather my ancestors planted clues more than a century ago which I had to find.  It was akin to the TV quiz Jeopardy, guessing the question that gave the discovered answer.


I was to learn that the first question the Great Green Genie wanted me to ask was about Margaret's voyage to America.


From Missing Friends, 23 July 1842:
Of MARGARET WALSH, who is married to a man named James Coleman, a native of Spring Hill, parish of Glanmire, county of Cork, Ireland, who sailed for America in March 1840, and landed in St. Andrews.  Any information respecting her, will be most gratefully received by her father, Edmund Walsh, who is now living in the city of Lowell, Mass., by letter in care of Richard Walsh.


It seems that her father Edmund, later called Edward, had now come to America and couldn't find his daughter.  She and James and family (one month old John Patrick) were in Canada or Maine, judging by the various birthplaces John P. listed for himself over the next 70 years.  In the years since their marriage record, shipping and census records showed that James had been living in Maine twice, Canada, and Massachusetts in the intervening years; sometimes with Margaret and the growing family, sometimes not.


A puzzling element in that ad is the father claiming the daughter had left only two years before when she had been married five years ago.  You would think he knew.  Or is that pointing to more story than we imagine?


Not two years ago I stumbled upon the Genie again, but only through the serendipity of doing a search on the digital version of Missing Friends.  I searched “Allamakee” rather than “Coleman” or, heaven forbid, “Welch/Walsh/Welsh (and sometimes Walch).”  By using the county name I managed to by-pass the typo that was made more than 130 years ago, where the typesetter wrote “Cleman” instead of “Coleman.”  Margaret Coleman, now over sixty and with an empty nest, had time to consider the past and wonder about her siblings.  She wrote:


From Missing Friends, 13 Mar 1880
OF JOHN, WILLIAM, PATRICK, EDWARD, CORNELIUS, also MARY, ELLEN, HANNAH, and SUSAN WALSH, sons and daughters of Ellen and Edward Walsh.  Information of all, or any of the above named will be received by their sister. Address James Cleman, Quandahl P. O., Allamakee county, Iowa.


What a goldmine!  Mom and Dad and all the siblings.  Still the problem was they were cloaked in the surname Walsh, a problem even if the name had but one spelling.  The best tool I had from this clue was “Cornelius,” but, even though it provided many candidates in the US during the last half of the 19th century (but not too many), none had a tell-tale attribute that I could pin to the scantily defined Ed & Ellen Walsh family.


However, as unlikely as it might be, I have made some progress through the Ann Walsh connection, despite her marrying a man with a surname as popular as her own, William Fitzgerald.  So now I know that Ann Walsh married William Fitzgerald, a butcher in Troy, NY, (later Coxsackie, NY) and that they had ten children from 1870-1885, all with the standard-issue Irish names (Thomas, Michael, William, Anna (aka Hannah), Nellie, Ellen, Mamie, James, Mary, Frank), not even one Cornelius, Fergus, or Deirdre.


At this point the story-teller should have the readers in the palm of his hand waiting for the voila of the third wish.  Alas, I'm still trying to figure out the question I'm supposed to ask.  This is not to say I've made no progress, just that I'm still waiting for the great leap forward that the first two wishes provided.


Maybe this blog post will provide a clue to help me ask the correct question for the answer the Genie has in mind.


PHOTO CAPTION: The fellow with the hat and the watch chain is John P Coleman, the first born of James and Margaret. He was a prosperous businessman in Dubuque, Iowa in the second half of the 19th century. He owned a saloon, restaurant, and hotel on the levee of the Mississippi River.

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