Close Up

We don’t always know what we think we know.

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The Internet can be a wonderful place. It corrals huge amounts of information (and sometimes misinformation!) for us, making it instantly retrievable–as long as my Comcast connection doesn’t go down. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always have the answers, and sometimes we have to get closer to the records, or closer to where the event occurred, to find the information we need. Or to correct the misinformation we acquired. That was the case with my husband’s grandfather, John Joseph Carmody (Where There’s a Will). I knew a bit about him:

  • he was born in Ireland and emigrated to Canada
  • he had two wives; my husband descended from the second–Mildred B. Fitzgerald
  • some of his children with Elizabeth (1st wife) were born in Canada, the rest in Michigan
  • in Canada he worked for a railroad, and at a later point, he ran the “travel camp” near the lighthouse in Port Huron.

But it was the late 1980s, and with small children, I couldn’t actively work on genealogy. We were also 6 hours away from Port Huron. However, my brother-in-law made contact with the Carmody family, and was invited to a reunion an hour or so away. He went, had a good time, and reported back to his mom (my mother-in-law), who shared the information with me. Best case scenario, I was getting 3rd hand information, none of it written down. We all know how the game of “telephone” goes. The story I heard was:

  • John Joseph’s first wife died, he remarried a younger woman with a couple children
  • they had more children, Jerry, my father-in-law, being the last
  • Mildred (2nd wife) died shortly after Jerry’s birth and he was adopted by an Aunt–Anna Carmody Bauman (Where There’s a Will).

From documents Mike inherited from Jerry, I knew Anna’s parents were Michael Carmody and Mary Whalen (Anna’s Irish birth certificate), and those matched the parents’ names on John Joseph’s death certificate (http://cdm16317.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16317coll1/id/1463050/rec/93) . So the two documents tied together with the story I’d heard. Anna was born a Carmody, so if she was an aunt, she was John Joseph’s sister, meaning the two of them needed the same parents. Everything was peachy, and I blithely continued looking for Carmodys in County Clare, as well as the US and Canadian census records, as they became available. There were just a few unresolved issues:

  • John Joseph was 20 years older than Anna. That’s not necessarily a “real” issue, since we are talking about an Irish Catholic family. My grandfather’s oldest full sister was 20 years older, and they were Alsatian and Lutheran! I could live with that age gap for siblings.
  • I didn’t have a birth or death date for Michael Carmody. We had the note Anna received from someone in Ireland (no signature or return address) informing her of her father’s death, and enclosing a newspaper obituary. The clipping has no date, and the stamp and postmark were torn off the envelope. Michael was 68 years old, but without some sort of date, his death can’t be placed properly. I don’t think the Irish census records were online, yet.
  • John Joseph and Mildred’s marriage information lists his parents as Andrew Carmody and Mary Callereny. However, that came from a volunteer lookup for us, and the register itself was a transcript of the original records. Ample opportunity for possible errors there.

So with other, seemingly solid, evidence, I deferred those doubts–particularly the last one. Then we decided to visit my husband’s aunts in Detroit. Mike suggested we could drive to Port Huron, so I could research for a day. He and the kids would do something else while I was at the county library. I jumped at the chance, and made use of the obituary card file, and whatever else I could find (one branch of his mom’s side was also from that area). Then I requested the microfilm to look up John Joseph’s actual obituary. Since I had a death date, it wasn’t hard to find.

I learned he left the railroad job because he “didn’t like trains cuttin’ buttons off my coat.” I learned more about his involvement with harness racing–using trains to transport the horses from one track to the next. Then came the bombshell. In the survivor list, there she was: “. . . his nieces, Anna Bauman, Lena Haynes . . . ” Niece. Not sister. My jaw dropped to the floor. The room started to spin. My brain scrambled frantically, trying to fathom how much damage this caused in my data file. Even worse–that file was 343 miles away, on my desktop computer at home! It would be days before I could access it and see where everything stood. When my husband picked me up, I was raving like a madwoman how that whole branch was totally messed up.

You may be thinking, “Big deal. You made a mistake.” Not quite. A “mistake” is a typo, a wrong date or place (usually because the record(s) have it that way), or misunderstanding what the record or document is actually saying. However much a genealogist tries to prevent it, we make mistakes–and hopefully correct them. This was a MISTAKE. Connecting people together correctly is the most important task. When that’s wrong, the research we do is based on a faulty relationship, sending us down incorrect paths and wasting time.

Of course I detached John Joseph from his “father,” Michael, when I got home. But it was important that I understood how I got it wrong, and specifically which record or piece of information. I needed to leave an explanation about what part of that information was incorrect, so someone else didn’t make the same mistake.

Obviously the bit about being adopted by an aunt was wrong–Anna was Jerry’s older cousin. I can’t say for sure if “aunt” was what was told to my brother-in-law, or if it was garbled on its way to me. I’ll never know, but I do know it’s incorrect.

John Joseph’s marriage info is probably correct, after all. People getting married are providing their own information, and most people know who their parents are. So I am comfortable with Andrew and Mary Callereny being his parents.

How did the death certificate get messed up? That’s because John Joseph, Michael, and another (probable) brother, Patrick, each named a son after their father, Andrew! One was still in Ennis, Ireland, but the other two–close in age–lived in Port Huron, Michigan. Apparently Michael’s son, Andrew (a nephew), was the informant for the death certificate, not John Joseph’s son, as would be expected. His relationship isn’t stated, only an address. That might have helped me realize he wasn’t John Joseph’s son, but the 1940 census wasn’t released, yet, so I couldn’t use that as a cross-check. I drew the most logical conclusion at the time, which unfortunately was wrong! Of course, if Andrew had understood the question, and given his uncle’s parents, instead of his own, he’d have saved me a lot of angst!

I still feel stress when I think about this episode. If I hadn’t decided to get “close up” and look for that obituary, I’m not sure if or when I would have realized my error. As more census records have come available, I have been able to confirm my new conclusions. But would I have believed them if I hadn’t found the obituary clearly identifying Anna as a niece? I’m not so sure. I’m just glad I didn’t settle for, “His obituary is not going to tell me anything I don’t already know!”

#52Ancestors

2 thoughts on “Close Up”

  1. The important thing is that you realized the error and corrected it. There are some people who are so tied to their errors that they simply refuse to see the evidence that contradicts them. Good for you on doing the work!!

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