Where in Ireland Are Your Irish Ancestors From? Search Newspapers

Newspapers recorded every day of our ancestors’ lives – and that is a good thing for genealogists.

Time and time again old documents, from death certificates to the census, simply state that someone like John Clifford was born “in Ireland” – and never tell us where in Ireland. Often it is newspapers that are critical to our finding the name of the community or the county in Ireland where our Irish immigrant ancestors were born.

For example, this old 1800s obituary for John Clifford tells us where in Ireland he was from.

obituary for John Clifford, New York Herald newspaper article 4 November 1880

New York Herald (New York City, New York), 4 November 1880, page 8

Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, we know that he was born in Killeshandra, County Cavan, Ireland.

Government and other official passenger lists routinely list that the waves of Irish immigrants were born in “Ireland” without any further details – but it is in newspapers that we can find two other key facts (origin and destination) that were not recorded in the passenger lists genealogists are familiar with.

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I am just amazed every time I read these Irish American passenger lists in online newspapers and see that they tell me where these new arrivals had lived in Ireland, and where they were going to live in America.

How in the world did the editors of New York City’s Irish American newspapers find the time to interview and document the incoming Irish immigrants, and keep doing it for over a century?

Irish immigrants passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 27 May 1882

Irish Nation (New York City, New York), 27 May 1882, page 8

Irish American newspapers were diligent about reporting the great migration of Irish immigrants to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Newspapers like the Irish Nation and Irish World regularly published lists of Irish passengers that came over on the passenger ships each week.
These published ship passenger lists did not include every Irish immigrant – but for the tens of thousands that were interviewed and documented by the newspapers, these lists give us the critical place of origin and where they were heading after their arrival in America, valuable information that is just not found in any other genealogical source.

One of my colleagues, Duncan Kuehn, closely compared some of the passenger lists published in newspapers to the corresponding federal passenger lists. She found that for the passengers interviewed and listed by the newspapers, their names were often more complete – and often, additional names of accompanying family members were given in the newspaper account that did not appear in the federal lists.

It would be even better if the newspapers had interviewed every single passenger, but we’re grateful for the excellent job they did on the ones that were documented.

Genealogists must use these newspaper passenger lists to learn more about their ancestors’ stories.

Start searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and begin documenting and recording your family history. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

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Free Guide for Irish Genealogy to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Got Irish roots? Since March is Irish American Heritage Month and we are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today, everyone is feeling a wee bit Irish this time of year. For Irish Americans, however, that sentiment is year-round, as feeling connected to Ireland is part of their family history.

photo of a pasture near Ballyieragh, County Cork, Ireland

Photo: pasture near Ballyieragh, County Cork, Ireland. Credit: Pam Brophy; Wikimedia Commons.

Have you been tracing your Irish genealogy, looking for good research sources for Irish genealogy records? If so, here is a free research guide to help you discover and document your Ireland genealogy.

Simply click the link below to download your PDF.

Free Irish Genealogy Research Guide

Irish Genealogy Brick Wall

The brick wall that most Irish American genealogists hit is: trying to figure out where in Ireland your Irish immigrants came from. There are a lot of free Irish genealogy records available online, but first you need to know where in Ireland to concentrate – and that exact location is often hard to discover. Most U.S. census records, for example, only state that someone was from “Ireland” without specifying exactly where.

This free Irish Genealogy research guide will help you.

Irish American Newspapers

For one thing, it offers links to online Irish American newspapers, which published birth notices, marriage announcements, and obituaries that often give exact Irish locations. These newspapers also published Irish vital statistics years before official civil registration began in Ireland in 1864.

Ireland Civil Registration Records

The guide also provides links to these online collections of Irish vital statistics:

  • Irish Birth & Baptismal Records 1620-1881 (Church & Government)
  • Irish Marriage Records 1619-1898 (Church & Government)
  • Irish Death Records 1864-1870 (Church & Government)
  • Records from the General Record Office in the Republic of Ireland
  • Records from the General Record Office in Northern Ireland

Additional Resources for Irish Genealogy

In addition, the guide has links to these genealogy records:

  • U.S. Federal Census 1790-1940
  • U.S. State Census Records
  • 1901 & 1911 Irish Census Records
  • Tithe Applotment Books from Ireland
  • Griffith’s Valuation and the Ordnance Survey Maps

So download your free copy of the Guide to Research Sources for Irish Genealogy Records today and get a big boost for your Irish family history research! Just click the link below to start your PDF download:

Free Guide for Irish Genealogy Research >>

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Irish Ramsey Family – Descendants of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II?

In 1922 Irish American Ramsey descendants from all over the northeast gathered for a family reunion in Flemington, New Jersey.

Ramsey Family in Annual Gathering, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 August 1922

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 August 1922, page 2

According to this newspaper article:

The reunion was the largest the family has yet held.

The attendees must have been stunned to learn, during a family history presentation given at the reunion, that their Ramsey family originated with the Egyptian pharaohs named Ramesses. Apparently their family historian thought that they were related because the pharaoh’s name, Ramesses, sounds like Ramsey.

Wow – I thought I’d heard of everything.

photo of a statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II

Photo: statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II. Source: Wikipedia.

Just as Irish American genealogists quickly learn that not all Kellys are related and not all Moriartys are related, so too, it is not likely that the Ramsey family is related to Ramesses II – but…

There is a way to learn about who your ancestors and relatives are. Start digging in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and begin documenting and recording your family history. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

If the Luck of the Irish is with you, you just might be descended from the pharaohs.

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Why I Subscribe to GenealogyBank: Family Stories

I am a subscriber to GenealogyBank and use it all the time because it has the stories of my family – millions of stories I can’t find anywhere else.

I want to find these stories and make sure they are preserved and passed down in the family. I want them remembered.

I have been working on my family history for more than 50 years – and yes – I have found my ancestors’ names, dates of birth, and places of death. That’s fundamental – core to compiling an accurate family history.

But GenealogyBank gives me much more.
It gives me the chance to find my ancestors’ stories: big ones, little ones – all kinds of stories that bring their lives to life.

montage of newspaper articles about family events

For example, I didn’t know that my Grandmother had worked as a bookkeeper in another state; that my Dad got married dressed in his World War II uniform (he was back from Europe, but hadn’t been discharged yet); or that my 2nd Great-Grandfather was expelled from the Methodist Church for praying too loudly.

I first thought that my family stories just wouldn’t be written up in a newspaper. I come from a long line of nobodies. But – after looking in GenealogyBank, I found out that I was wrong. I learned that newspapers wrote about regular people all the time – your ancestors and my ancestors.

I make it a point now to research every person in my family tree by searching old newspapers.
Do I find all of them?

No.
But – I am finding hundreds of articles: news stories that add color to the fabric of their lives.

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I have surnames in my family for which I have found that nearly “everyone” with that surname is related to me. Names like Garcelon, Fernald and Rutledge. Knowing that, I pull every newspaper article and look to see how the person connects to my family.

I want to document and pass down our family history.
I want to get to know my ancestors and relatives – not just their basic facts (their name, rank and serial number, so to speak) – but the stories of their lives.

That personal life information is pure gold – and it is only found in newspapers.
GenealogyBank is the essential tool in every genealogist’s arsenal.

Make full use of the historical archives.
Find your family’s stories – document them and pass them down.

GenealogyBank can help you learn more about the members of your family tree; see what’s inside the online archives on your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

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The Bible: It Just Might Save Your Life – Literally

The Word of God has been known to save the lives of many on a daily basis.

And then there is John Brotherton, 1729-1809 (MD4H-4T5). The Bible saved his life – literally.

In the mid-1700s Brotherton was in fierce hand-to-hand combat when a bayonet pierced through his belt, several layers of clothing, and 52 pages of his pocket Bible. That Bible slowed down the bayonet and saved his life.

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

According to Brotherton’s obituary in the Hampshire Gazette, when he left “his native cottage” to join the British Army, he “took with him a small Bible, determining to make it the companion of his marches.” Faith made Brotherton a better man. His family was deeply religious and John himself was described as a man of “boldness and intrepidity” with a demeanor that was “gentle” and “without offense,” setting him apart from his fellow soldiers.

John Brotherton served with his regiment during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). (In America this is called the French & Indian War.) While we don’t know the specific battle when that pocket Bible saved his life, John’s newspaper obituary tells us that he fought in Germany against the French at the Battle of Minden in 1759.

Painting: Battle of Minden, 1759, by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855)

Illustration: Battle of Minden, 1759 – by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855). Source: Wikipedia Commons.

This battle illustration gives us a good idea of the fierce, hand-to-hand fighting that John Brotherton experienced during the Seven Years’ War.

Enter Last Name

Brotherton served in the military faithfully, returned home, and lived to be 80 years old.

Thanks to GenealogyBank, John’s gripping war survival story is passed on to us today.

According to his obituary, one of Brotherton’s brothers was given this special lifesaving Bible at the time of his death.

Does the family still have this heirloom Bible? Do they know why there is a large gash in it? Do they know the details of John’s military service and how this Bible saved his life?

Obituaries showcase our ancestors lives. While some obituaries may only give us a line or two about our deceased relatives, many include important personal stories. Brotherton’s miracle inspires us all to value life, and be thankful for the things that keep us alive. Family history helps connect us to the stories of our past.

GenealogyBank lets us dig deeper into the times our ancestors grew up in, and find the details of their day-to-day lives. We all have a John Brotherton in our family tree. We only need to do the genealogy research to find their story.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive of over 1.7 billion records holds story after story about the people who built America, along with their births, marriages, and deaths. Find your ancestors’ stories today to discover who they were, what they did and what they lived through. Find your John Brotherton.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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Antonia Novello: First Woman, and Hispanic, Surgeon General

On 9 March 1990 President George H. W. Bush appointed Antonia Coello Novello, M.D., to be surgeon general of the United States. With this appointment Dr. Novello achieved the honor of two historic firsts: the first woman, and the first Hispanic, surgeon general. She served with distinction until 30 June 1993.

photo of Vice Admiral Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. (USPHS); 14th Surgeon General of the United States

Photo: Vice Admiral Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. (USPHS); 14th Surgeon General of the United States. Credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Wikimedia Commons.

While surgeon general, Dr. Novello, a pediatrician, worked hard to improve the health of women, children and minorities. Her primary emphasis with children was on preventing smoking, drinking, drug abuse, and AIDS. She also focused on immunization campaigns and injury prevention. She became a fierce critic of the tobacco industry, accusing them of specifically targeting minors with such advertising campaigns as “Joe Camel.”

The following four newspaper articles are about Dr. Novello, her accomplishments, and her career as surgeon general. The first article reports on her appointment, and the second article profiles her and some family members. The other two articles discuss some of the health campaigns she undertook, including her first major address on smoking.

Surgeon General (Antonia Novello) Sworn In, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 March 1990

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 March 1990, page 46

According to this old newspaper article:

Novello declared her motto would be “good science and good sense,” and thanked President Bush for an appointment she said should be an inspiration to women and minorities.

“The American dream is well and alive,” Novello, the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as surgeon general, said at a White House ceremony. “Once a dream, it is now my pledge: to be a good doctor for all who live in this great country.”

This next newspaper article reminds us how much fun genealogy can be – and provides a valuable search tip. The Novello family lived in Lorain, Ohio, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, and so the Plain Dealer newspaper published a profile of the family. Not only did the family have three doctors spread over two generations, but it also featured Surgeon General Novello’s brother-in-law: Don Novello, better known as Father Guido Sarducci of Saturday Night Live fame!

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And the genealogy search tip? Remember to do a wide geographic search for news articles about your ancestors. Although Surgeon General Novello was sworn-in and served in Washington, D.C., articles about her were published all around the country – including Lorain, Ohio.

article about Surgeon General Antonia Novello's family, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 March 1990

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 March 1990, page 10

According to this news article:

[Antonia’s husband Joseph] Novello takes his family’s prominence in stride, a product of his upbringing. His parents were always “more proud of accomplishment than celebrity.’ These days they have both.

This next historical newspaper article reports on one of Surgeon General Novello’s primary campaigns: warning young people about the dangers of smoking.

article about Surgeon General Antonia Novello's anti-smoking campaign, Mobile Register newspaper article 1 June 1990

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 1 June 1990, page 5

According to this article:

She [Novello] quotes an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association as saying an estimated 1 billion packs of cigarettes are sold annually to children under 18 years of age.

This next news article reports on Surgeon General Novello winning a case against a brewing company that offended Native Americans by calling its beer “Crazy Horse.”

article about Surgeon General Antonia Novello's case against a beer company, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 7 November 1992

According to this article:

“It is time we clamp the lids down on profits made at the expense of people’s pride and dignity,” Ms. Novello told a meeting of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

“I probably feel better about this victory for all of us than almost anything else that has happened while I’ve been surgeon general,” she said.

Come search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, offering more than 6,700 newspapers online, and find your own ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

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An Irish Immigrant’s Obituary Tells Her Coming to America Story

Ellen Canning O’Rourke (1910-2011) was born in Anskert, near Mohill in County Leitrim, Ireland. She died in Hamden, Connecticut, on 16 December 2011 at age 101. As a little girl she lived through the “Irish Troubles” in County Leitrim, and had keen memories of those events – and her coming to America and finding work here. Her recollections were recorded in her obituary.

obituary for Ellen O'Rourke, New Haven Register newspaper article 17 December 2011

New Haven Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 17 December 2011

She and her family emigrated in 1930 and she went to work as a “domestic live-in.”

“Ellen stated that before her job she had only seen money” – not actually had any of her own.
Think of that.

She “viewed coming to America to work as a gift.”

Enter Last Name

As a ten-year-old, “she remembered the names of the dead neighbors and the ballads to their memory” from the Battle of Selton Hill, 11 March 1921. According to Wikipedia, British troops had “surrounded and then attacked the IRA camp on 11 March. Six IRA volunteers were killed. The RIC suffered no losses. The IRA dead were Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne (or Beirne), John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. ME Baxter.”

You owe it to yourself and your family to dig through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the obituaries and news stories about your family. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

Document them.
Don’t let your family’s stories be lost.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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Love & Marriage: Newspaper Engagement & Wedding Announcements

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements in old newspapers provide a wealth of genealogical information to help with your family history research.

What should you be searching for when conducting family history research in newspapers? Vital record events are some of the most common newspaper articles about our ancestors, such as birth notices and obituaries. There’s another broad category of newspaper articles that is extremely helpful to genealogists: engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements. Falling in love and getting married can result in multiple articles rich in genealogical data.

Whether you are tracing an ancestor’s courtship, marriage, or wedding anniversary, you can find it in the newspaper. And once you find these news articles, make sure to carefully note mentions of family members, dates, places and other information that you can follow up with additional research in newspapers and other ancestry records.

Researching Courtship & Engagement

Engagement notices are a good example of newspaper articles with surprising information in addition to the names of the happy betrothed couple. Street addresses, former city residences, parents’ and other relatives’ names, occupations, alumni information, and pending nuptial dates can be found in these announcements. This engagement notice titled “News of Engagement Interests Society Folk” from 1914 would interest present-day descendants of these couples.

engagement announcements, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 3 May 1914

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 3 May 1914, page 14

20th century engagement announcements often included a photo of the bride-to-be. One good weekend project would be to find the engagement notices for more recent generations in your family to include in your genealogy.

engagement announcements, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 4 October 1931

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 4 October 1931, section III, page 3

A bridal shower for one friend may also be the perfect place to announce another’s wedding engagement. This unique event provides the researcher with information about those closest to their ancestor.

engagement announcement for Elizabeth Metzger, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 August 1932

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 August 1932, page 33

Genealogy Tip: If you know the marriage date for an ancestor, don’t narrow your search to that date. You may miss an engagement notice printed months or even a year prior to the big day.

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Tracing Marriage Licenses & Weddings

Don’t forget that you may be able to use newspapers to follow your ancestral couple from engagement to marriage license, and then from wedding to milestone anniversaries. In this 1927 San Francisco newspaper article listing vital record events, names of those applying for marriage licenses as well as those being issued licenses span San Francisco and nearby cities.

marriage license announcements, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 28 September 1927

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 28 September 1927, page 10

Genealogy Tip: Don’t assume that a marriage license means the couple went through with a wedding.

Newspaper articles about weddings can be full of surprises. They may include not only the names of the couple, their respective families, and details of the day – but they can also provide information about occupations and future residences. In this 1900 recounting of the wedding of Edmond Hughes and Edith Wakeman in Bismarck, North Dakota, we not only learn about the wedding but the character of the bride (“charming, accomplished and worthy”) and groom (“a young man of integrity and ability”), as well as where they will honeymoon, and then reside.

wedding announcement for Edmond Hughes and Edith Wakeman, Bismarck Tribune newspaper article 13 June 1900

Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota), 13 June 1900, page 3

Your Ancestors’ Wedding Anniversaries

How long was your ancestor married? If they stuck it out for the long ride, that accomplishment might be found in the newspaper. Typically, milestone wedding anniversaries like 25th, 50th or even beyond can be found.

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What’s interesting about the following historical newspaper article is that it not only marks the occasion of the 25th wedding anniversary of Rev. E. N. Maynard, but notes that it’s the second time he’s been married 25 years. His first marriage “nearly 60 years ago” lasted 25 years and ended with the death of his wife. The Reverend then married again to Susan Paine “considerably his junior” and that marriage was now at the 25-year mark. What I love most about this article is all the great genealogical information found for both wives – including their names and who their fathers were – as well as the age for Rev. E. N. Maynard. Notice too that the article mentions that Maynard had no children from his first wife, but now has two daughters, a son and a grandson.

wedding anniversary announcement for E. N. Maynard and Susan Maynard, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 29 May 1895

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 29 May 1895, page 5

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers may include articles about parties given to honor a couple for their milestone wedding anniversary. Search for these news articles to find mentions of out-of-town family members in attendance.

Some couples make 25 years of marriage look like child’s play. Consider this couple, Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Lay, who were 100 and 99 years old at their 75th wedding anniversary in 1924.

wedding anniversary announcement for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lay, Repository newspaper article 20 January 1924

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 20 January 1924, page 68

And of course once you’ve successfully been married for such a long time, people are going to wonder what your secret to marital bliss is. This anniversary notice from a 1938 Kentucky newspaper may sum it up best.

wedding anniversary announcement, Lexington Herald newspaper article 13 June 1938

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 13 June 1938, page 4

Be sure to search old newspapers for engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements when researching your ancestors – one more reason why newspapers are an essential genealogy resource for finding your family’s stories.

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Remembering Genealogists Charles & Edna Townsend

I thought about Charles and Edna Townsend today – they were pillars of the genealogical community.

a collage of genealogical records including the obituary for Charles Townsend

Source: GenealogyBank.com and eBay, Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Florida), 16 May 2002

I first met them in the 1960s when they stopped by the library where I worked. Charles Delmar Townsend (1911-2009) and his wife Edna Carolyn Waugh (1908-1989) were prolific genealogists, writers and publishers. They were good people dedicated to family history research.

They are best remembered for their two journals: Ancestral Notes from CHEDWATO (1954-1968) and the Car-Del Scribe (1964-1988).

The name of their publishing company – CHEDWATO – is an acronym from their names.

CH – Charles
ED – Edna
WA – Waugh
TO – Townsend

They had deep New England ancestral roots. We were distant cousins, so I decided to look up their online family trees to remind myself of our mutual ancestors.

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I quickly realized that they had never created an online family tree. Digging deeper I located Charles’s obituary in GenealogyBank in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Florida). Within minutes I started pulling together his family tree running back several generations, and found that I am related to both him and his wife multiple times over.

Here were two of America’s important genealogists, but their time was mostly before the current era of instant family history online. I took the time and added their details to several of the online family tree sites.

Don’t let your story be lost.
Find and document your family in GenealogyBank and put your family history permanently online.

Do it now.

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The Nelson Shipwreck & Captain Hagney: Name Research Tips

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about Captain Hagney and the sinking of the schooner “Nelson” on Lake Superior in 1899, using various search tips to get good results.

Searching newspapers for an ancestor’s name that doesn’t seem to have a standard spelling can be a challenge for family historians. Here is an interesting case study about the captain of a sunken ship that may help you research those difficult ancestor names. Recently this ship, the schooner Nelson, was found under more than 200 feet of water in Lake Superior. There were several newspaper articles about the shipwreck discovery, but they had various spellings of the captain’s name – including “Haganey” and “Hagginey.”

The Story of the Sinking of the Nelson

The shipwreck story goes like this. On 15 May 1899, the schooner Nelson was overloaded with coal, in addition to the 10 people on board. There was a terrific storm on Lake Superior and ice accumulated on the ship, causing it to sit even lower in the water. The waves began to crash over the edges of the ship. The Nelson was being towed by the steamer A Folsom along with the Mary B Mitchell. At some point the towing line either broke or was cut. Shortly after, the Nelson tilted and the stern popped up out of the water as the entire vessel almost immediately went under. The captain placed his crew, his wife, and his toddler son into the lifeboat. Then he dove into the water to join them. Unfortunately, the lifeboat was still tethered to the Nelson and it was dragged down to the bottom of the lake by the sinking ship. The captain, who never reached the lifeboat, watched helplessly as his ship and family were lost. He clung to a piece of the wreckage and was found unconscious along the shore. The storm’s violent 50 mile-per-hour winds prevented any rescue efforts by the other two ships. Nine lives were lost; only the captain survived.

My Search for the Captain

This is a compelling story of a heroic effort by the captain of the Nelson that just wasn’t enough to save his family or crew, and I wanted to learn more details.

As always, I searched for contemporary records to find out more. I started by looking into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I ran this search:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for the schooner "Nelson"

I entered the name of the ship in quotation marks as a keyword. You do not necessarily need to use a person’s name to search on GenealogyBank – a keyword search is often effective. I also entered a date range from the date of the accident to several months after the event. When the search results came back I sorted the results with the oldest article first, as I prefer to read articles in chronological order.

I found many newspaper articles from all over the United States telling the story of the accident. Here are three of those articles.

This article refers to Captain “Haganney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 17 May 1899

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 17 May 1899, page 1

This historical newspaper article refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Anaconda Standard newspaper article 15 May 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 15 May 1899, page 1

This old news article also refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Bay City Times newspaper article 15 May 1899

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 3

Using these old newspaper articles, I discovered that much of the information in the present-day articles about the discovery of the shipwreck reflected the information given in those 1899 articles. However, I found some inconsistencies as well. Perhaps most importantly, the old articles make no mention of the captain’s heroic effort to save his family and crew. A typical comment from those 1899 articles is that “The Nelson disappeared as suddenly as one could snuff a candle,” suggesting that the captain did not have time to do anything. I also find that Captain Haganey/Hagginey (as spelled in the modern newspaper articles) is spelled differently in the 1899 articles:  “Haganney” and “Hagney.”

Enter Last Name

After learning about the shipwreck, I now wanted to know more about the captain himself – but there were so many spellings of his name I wasn’t sure which was correct. A quick search of census records on FamilySearch.org told me that he was the son of John and Mary Hagney from Oswego, New York. He also had siblings: Ellen, Thomas, William, and Mary.

Going back to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I narrowed my search using the name as it appeared in the census: “Hagney.” This search turned up several articles that told me a great deal about the captain.

One of the first I found was this very sad newspaper article. It appears that on the same day the Nelson when down with Captain Hagney’s entire family, his friends from New York were frantically trying to reach him with the sad news that his mother had just died. The unfortunate man lost his one remaining parent and his wife and child.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 15 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 6

The Captain Searches for His Family

Immediately after the Nelson accident, Captain Hagney refused to give up hope. As this old news article explains, he wasn’t willing to give up on his family – and spent hours and days combing the beach for any sign of his loved ones:

Capt. Hagney is now engaged in patrolling the beach with the help of the crews of life saving stations here and at Deer Park. The broken yawl, some parts of the cabin, a lady’s hat, a man’s cap and a mattress are all that have yet been found.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 May 1899, page 10

Hagney was understandably distraught, as reported in these next two newspaper articles. This Ohio newspaper article’s headline, “Capt. Hagney in Bad Shape,” says it all, and reports that he had been hospitalized:

The doctors class his trouble as nervousness and insomnia.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 24 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 May 1899, page 8

This Michigan newspaper article reports that Hagney’s condition is serious.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 24 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 24 May 1899, page 2

The Previous Life of Captain Hagney

The 1900 census shows him safely ensconced at the home of a family member in Toledo, Ohio, where he was working as an agent for the seamen’s union.* As tragic as all of this was, I still wanted to know more about Hagney. He had a life before the shipwreck of the Nelson and one after, so I ran some more searches. I started with changing the spelling from Hagney to Hageny. I figured this would be a common misspelling even though I hadn’t seen it in any of the records so far. This search did produce results, and I found a series of articles about his life back in New York a decade before the accident.

Enter Last Name

Ten years previously, in 1889, Andrew got into some difficulty with the law. As this New York newspaper reports, there was a trial after some union trouble involving strikes, “scabs” and violence:

Andrew Hageny, William Putman, and Michael Donovan were charged with a murderous assault upon Jesse Josephs, mate of the schooner John Scheutte of Toledo, at the dock in this port…Josephs was dragged a mile into the suburbs, pounded with belaying pins and thrown into the cellar of a burned house; he managed to crawl to an adjoin house.

They were all found guilty of assault in the second degree, with a second, upcoming trial for coercion and conspiracy in forcing some “scabs” to leave another ship.

article about Andrew Hagney being convicted for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 20 July 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 20 July 1889, page 5

This “Andrew Hageny” seems to be the same man as the later Captain Andrew Hagney of the Nelson, based on location, occupation, and name, but more evidence is always wanted – so I kept searching the archives. I found this earlier newspaper article about the assault on sailor Jesse Josephs, and learned that Andrew Hageny’s brother Thomas was also involved. This lends credence to the belief that this Andrew Hageny is the same as the later Captain Andrew Hagney, since I knew from my earlier research on the census that Andrew Hagney had a brother named Thomas.

article about Thomas Hagney being charged for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 17 May 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 17 May 1889, page 3

But how did Andrew become a ship’s captain with this background of conviction for assault, especially when we find that he had been sentenced to four years in prison?

Intrigued, I kept searching for answers – and found this newspaper article two years into Andrew’s prison sentence, indicating that Governor Hill had promised to pardon him.

article about Andrew Hagney being pardoned by Governor Hill, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 25 November 1891

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 25 November 1891, page 8

And that was indeed what happened – Governor Hill pardoned him. So that was how he got out of prison early, and presumably set about setting his affairs in order. I was unable to find any newspaper articles reporting Andrew getting in trouble with the law again. He must have worked hard and stayed out of trouble, because in a few years he was entrusted as a ship’s captain.

The Post-Shipwreck Life of Captain Hagney

But what happened to Captain Andrew Hagney after the shipwreck of the Nelson? Was he able to recover from the trauma? It took some searching to find a newspaper article to answer this question. I had to go back to the other spellings of his name, and eventually found his obituary by searching under the spelling “Haganey.”

obituary for Andrew Hagney, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 23 February 1912

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 February 1912, page 10

Captain Andrew Hagney appears to have remained in Toledo for the rest of his short life. He remarried and fathered three more children. He died at age 52 in 1912, while visiting his in-laws in New Mexico.

Captain Hagney’s life was full of tragic and challenging experiences. While it must have been difficult to live, searching for his life story provides an opportunity for us to learn about ancestor name search tips, and demonstrates how much we can learn about the lives of our ancestors simply by continuing to dig in the archives..

Genealogy Tips:

Many of us have ancestors with unusual names, or names that appear in records with different spellings. When searching on GenealogyBank, the search engine will look for exactly what you type. Therefore, if you know of an alternative spelling of your ancestor’s name – or if you can guess at one – you may end up finding even more articles. And if you stumble across an article that seems to be about your ancestor, but the name was spelled differently than you thought, it could still be them. Keep searching for additional information to help you determine if that record or article is the right person.

Another thing you might notice is the location of these articles. They appear from places all over the United States: Cleveland, Ohio; Saginaw, Michigan; Watertown, New York; Elkhart, Indiana; Anaconda, Montana; and Bay City, Michigan. While some of these locations make sense because Andrew had a connection with them, some do not – such as Montana and Indiana. Keep in mind that news travels, and reports about the ancestor you are looking for could be in any newspaper in the country. If you don’t find what you are looking for in your ancestor’s local area, don’t hesitate to search nationwide. This is always a good approach to take, even if your initial searches do find articles in your ancestor’s hometown, because many more articles might be out there. Best of luck in your family history searches!

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* “United States Census, 1900,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMD2-KFQ: accessed Dec. 2014), Andrew Hagney in household of Robert V. French, Port Lawrence Township, Precinct F Toledo city Ward 10, Lucas, Ohio, United States; citing sheet 8A, family 159, NARA microfilm publication T623, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; FHL microfilm 1241298.

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