- Posts for Family History Friday category
Navigating the FamilySearch Catalog | Our Prairie Nest
Navigating the FamilySearch Catalog

While we know FamilySearch is one of the best free genealogy resources available, most people aren’t making the most of what they have to offer. If you’re going to FamilySearch.org and searching from there, let me show you what you’re missing out on and how to dig deeper!

Start with the Catalog Search

Many of FamilySearch’s records are not accessible from the front page search, so how do you access them? Go straight to the Catalog and input a location. For example, I’m interested in probate records for Woodstock, Windsor County, Vermont. As you type in the village, town, or city of interest, you will get a menu of possibilities:

Select the country, region, state or province, and city, town, or village that’s applicable to your search, and click the blue Search button. You will get a list of available records. Some will be microfilm-only and some will be online databases. Click the small gray arrow to the left of each category to see what’s available:

Click the record set to dig deeper. At the top, you’ll see the title of the film and what’s (probably) on it, the film number, and other pertinent information. Make note of this either on your research log/spreadsheet or wherever you track your research. This ensures that you A. don’t duplicate your work by returning to the film or database again and again and again and B. that you have a full source citation if you do find something in the collection.

The picture of the camera tells you this database is accessible online, so it’s time to get searching!

When you click the camera for the record set you want to browse, it will bring you directly to the images. Each set is organized differently, so you might have to get a feel for the best way to navigate through it. In this instance, the set is alphabetized and I want to jump straight to a specific name, so I’ll probably experiment with inputting an image number to move around more quickly, rather than clicking through image by image.

I want both this record and the one immediately preceding it, so I choose the download option to save the image:

Now that I have the probate docket on the 2 individuals I was seeking, I want the actual probate file. It’s time to go back to the Catalog search page. However, instead of searching for Woodstock, I’m going to look for holdings for Windsor County. Why? Because probate courts in New England are on the county level. As you can see, I have 3 different options here:

Unfortunately, the record set I need to view has a little key above the camera, which means I can’t access at home. However, I may access it by visiting a Family History Library (FHL) or FHL Affiliate Library. The two FHLs closest to me have odd hours, so I can either try to work around their schedules or another option is to visit the Omaha Public Library, which happens to be an affiliate, and view these databases:

I haven’t struck out entirely, though, because I’ve been able to access a treasure trove of Italian records from home in the meanwhile, records that aren’t available from the FamilySearch.org main search page!

What have you been looking for that you haven’t found from the main search page? Try the catalog page and you might be pleasantly surprised!

The Eventful Existence of Edward Callaghan: How DNA Testing Bridged A Life Lived Across 3 Continents

Edward Callaghan lived quite an eventful life and the funny thing is I never knew that not only was he the ancestor of an elementary school friend of mine, but would also become the ancestor of one my children. I’ve tried for months to sum up his life. We’ll see if I succeed this time.

My husband’s dad’s 1st cousin has done extensive research on Edward and uncovered all the known facts about his life. Edward is my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather and was born about 1820 in County Fermanagh, Ireland. His arrival in America coincided with the onset of the Great Famine. He settled in Galena, Jo  Daviess County, Illinois, and married Mary Riley, another Irish immigrant.

Pretty typical story, right? Irish immigrant boy meets Irish immigrant girl, gets married, makes Irish-American babies, and lives happily ever after. But the questions Edward’s descendants have contended with for many years are pretty darn interesting! 

You see, Edward’s wife died on 31 August 1859, a mere 13 years after they were married. They had 5 children, the youngest of whom was only 3 months old when her mother died. And how did Mary (Riley) Calla(g)han die?

Well, Edward might have killed her. Hubby’s cousin dug up The Galena Gazette newspaper article that reported Edward was arrested on suspicion of murder. However, a Coroner’s Grand Jury Inquest rendered a verdict of “death from causes unknown.” With no evidence that Mary’s death was caused from violence, Edward was released from jail.

The story is that Mary possibly died from being beaten by her husband while he was drunk. Supposedly, he hit her over the head with a leaf from a black walnut table, she remained “insensible” throughout the night, and died early the next morning.

Did he or didn’t he? We will probably never know, but in 1860 Edward went to the courthouse in Galena with two of his brothers, gave them Power of Attorney to take care of his children and sell his property, and then disappeared.

No one knew exactly where Edward went after that, but he returned to Galena in April of 1863 and immediately got into more trouble. The Galena Gazette is the source of reports that Edward was injured by a gunshot from the Sheriff. The newspaper article also mentioned that Edward was previously in Pikes Peak, Colorado, possibly chasing the gold rush. Again, we don’t know if this is true, but Edward was in trouble once again. He and two of his brothers were arrested, went to court, paid fines, and went back to being fine, upstanding citizens. Well, not exactly. 

Edward disappeared again, only this time it looks like he headed home to County Fermanagh, Ireland, where he married Catherine McCaffrey, his second wife. We have conflicting years for the marriage, but it appeared that Catherine and Edward were in Bacchus Marsh, Australia, of all places, by 1864, where their first daughter was born. There, they had 3 daughters, 2 of whom lived to adulthood.

At some point before 1870, Edward must have abandoned the family or Catherine decided to get away from him. Because, next thing you knew, Catherine and her daughters were in Massachusetts, while Edward returned to Ireland. Catherine remarried to a David Guthrie and life went on for her. But what about the Callahans back in Galena, Illinois? Did they know about their nieces/half-siblings born on the other side of the world and now living over 1,100 miles away in the U.S.?

Surprisingly, yes! Probate documents back in Galena, Illinois for Edward’s brother named both daughters! What communication ensured the family was aware of them, we do not know. As far as Edward, the story ends there, as he appears to have died in County Fermanagh in 1895 and that, as they say, is that. Maybe.

For years, my husband’s cousin has worked diligently to piece together exactly what Edward’s life was like. Considering the trouble Edward got into and his travels around the globe, this has been easy in some respects, thanks to plenty of newspaper articles, vital records, and probate records that left a paper trail, but difficult in others.

This is where I got involved. As I was working on my husband’s ancestry and communicating with his dad’s cousin, the cousin brought up a question: was their ancestor, Edward Callaghan, who’d come to Galena, Illinois actually the same as the one who lived in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia, or were they two different men with the same name? This happens and even with the 2 daughters from his second marriage named in probate records back in Illinois, there was no proof that the girls named were those particular Australian-born girls. A darn good question, not to mention a tricky one, too. One, however, that DNA could potentially resolve.

Edward Callahan | Our Prairie Nest
Photo of Edward Callaghan courtesy of John F. Callahan, Jr.

The cousin briefed me on the DNA testing he’d done, gave me access to his results, and I got to work. First, it was pretty easy to determine that the descendants of Edward Callaghan of Galena, including my husband, his father’s first cousin, and other cousins, matched the Callaghans in County Fermanagh. Without a doubt, they were the Callaghans of Rosslea (or Roslea), and matches and in-person meetings with living cousins back in Ireland helped substantiate that. Yes, my husband’s cousin has also been a busy guy – but genealogically, not criminally!

What we needed to do next was determine whether or not the Edward Callaghan who’d lived in Bacchus Marsh, Australia had living descendants today. I started building out a tree for them and determined that they absolutely had great-great grandchildren living. But had any already tested their DNA?

As I mentioned, it turned out I’d gone to school with a descendant of Edward Callaghan of Bacchus Marsh, Australia, without knowing it. How odd to come to her 30 years later and ask if she was willing to share a DNA sample, to prove she was related to my husband! With her help and her willingness to spit in a tube, we worked out the ancestry of the 2 Australian-born, Massachusetts-bound Callahan girls. This gave my husband’s cousin a test to control for a descendant of the Edward in Australia and once he shared the results, I started going through the matches.

While my husband’s cousin and our Australian-Edward test subject were not a match, we found plenty of Galena descendants who matched Australian descendants, and vice versa! With three DNA test subjects proven by the paper trail to be descendants of Edward, we went on to confirm an entire family network connected by DNA and spanning the globe through many generations. We were able to determine that, yes, “our” Edward from Galena and County Fermanagh was the father of both the Galena-born children with Mary Riley and the Australia-born children with Catherine McCaffrey! DNA testing proved that the Fermanagh-to-Galena and Australia-to-Massachusetts Callahans were all the descendants of the same Edward Callaghan.

It was both exciting and satisfying to answer the question definitively for my husband’s cousin, considering he’d worked so long to put together the details of Edward’s rather messy life! Of course, we’re still left with oh-so-many questions, such as:

Did Edward kill his first wife? Did he leave Galena, not for the Gold Rush, but because he was fleeing the law? Or did he actually join the Gold Rush and have untold adventures? Did he ever feel guilty over what happened to his first wife, and depriving his young children of both their mother and father? Did he ever have contact with his children or just his brothers?

And why come back to Galena, only to leave again? Why go back to Ireland? Was Australia meant to be a place where he could begin anew or did his possibly terrible temper result in a disastrous second marriage, as well? Did Catherine leave him or vice versa? Why did Catherine choose Massachusetts? Is he the Edward who died in 1895 and is buried at St. McCarten’s Aghadrumsee Cemetery, Magheraveely, County Fermanagh, Ireland?

There are still so many unanswered questions about the man himself, but DNA has at least given us a “map” of Edward Callaghan’s eventful existence across 3 continents!

Witch or Bitch | Our Prairie Nest
Witch or Bitch?

In 1997, the song Bitch by Meredith Brooks came out and many women embraced it. You probably still remember dancing around to it, thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m hella edgy!” But how many of you read the book Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel, published in 1998?

Elizabeth Wurtzel died today, but I think her work went out with the 90s and that’s just as sad. When Prozac Nation came out, it was highly praised by readers and critics. How many non Gen-Xers have read that book, though? Or Bitch? If you haven’t read any of her work, I urge you check it out. Very little has changed since either book was released and I think they remain relevant today.

Bitch came at a time when I needed to read it. I’d spent the first 5 years of my adulthood apologizing for being the person I was and trying to be something different. But as 1998 came around and I was circling back to the things that mattered to me – instead of to someone else – Bitch was like a call to action.

In particular, I was re-embracing my Pagan beliefs. For a time, I’d set them aside to explore monotheism and found that none of it made sense. How could it, when everything about the Abrahamic religions is merely a retread of the Pagan beliefs that came long before? Why follow a copycat religion when I could look deeper and further back, when I could connect with humanity and nature instead of some abstract idea of divinity?

My ex-MIL did not take that well and she specifically informed my husband at the time that “The devil is in your (our) house.”

So Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book “praising difficult women” came when I needed it the most, when I needed someone to understand me and accept that, yes, I am a Witch and that’s not going to change. Most of us have the same need – to be understood, to feel accepted just the way we are, to be allowed to live and let live. Something in Bitch gave me that, as well as the strength to continue on my own path, not worrying about someone else’s judgments about me.

Fast-forward a few years into the future, when some officer whose name I don’t even remember informed my now-ex-husband that he could never vote for him to be president, because of my religion. Hey, random officer whose name I’ve forgotten? This is for you and everyone who thinks like you:

I think Elizabeth Wurtzel would approve.

Rest in peace.

Releasing or That night Daniel saved me from prom | Our Prairie Nest
Releasing (or the night Daniel saved me from prom)

Blame the New Year, blame 2020, blame the eclipses, but here’s the truth: it’s not them, it’s me. And I realized I tried to do and be too much last year.

Late last year, I started getting headaches, something I don’t generally suffer from. I had more sleepless nights than ever, and I lost about 10 pounds because… Well, I don’t know why, but it happened and I know it’s not a good thing.

The first weekend of December, I went to Midwest Furfest with my husband and son. We’ve gone in previous years, but not the past couple because A. it was getting a little stale and B. renovations took priority. But this year I had a little bonus from doing some editing work on the side, so off to Chicago we went for MFF 2019 and I am so glad we did. We chilled. We laughed. We raved. It was fantastic and it was eye-opening.

What I realized that first weekend in December was that there were things I didn’t miss back home. Things I was doing because I did have an interest at first, only to find out they brought on more stress than satisfaction.

Maybe some people are stubborn and will push through that, but not me. It took another month to realize my body was telling me something: to stop, fall back on what I truly care about, and let the other stuff go.

I want to spend time with my family and my birds, get back to writing (which has been going slower than I want), focus on genealogy again, spend more time gaming (we’re going weekly with D&D), go out with friends for coffee, and have the freedom to sit down and watch TV at the end of the day. I’ve actually been pining to watch Turn since I saw the first episode, but every weekend I think I’m going to get back to it, something happens.

The entire month of December was full of highs and lows, which is pretty normal. However, the lows of 2019 were some of the worst. I’m burned out on the things I’ve tried, from socializing at the Mom Prom to being a Girl Scout co-leader. They’re all great things and I’m glad they exist, but they aren’t my things.

This sense of burn out has been acute since October, when I lost someone who meant a lot to me. It hit hard and there are times the grief still makes me feel incredibly alone in social situations. But that compelled me to drop the things in my life that don’t do me any good or stress me out, and spend more time smelling the roses (so to speak… it is winter, after all). So I’m in the midst of releasing physical things, commitments, and other things that literally cause headaches.

Last year, I found a job outside the home that I love, and am back to working in a law office, like I did for the first 15 years of my adulthood. I’ve committed myself to writing fewer books per year, but that’s still a priority because I love doing it. And, of course, I’m as passionate as ever about genealogy. I want to get more into the family history aspect of it, and I still get so much satisfaction and energy from teaching writing and genealogy classes at the local community college!

This year, I also want to make more time for doing what I want to do. Like taking an impromptu trip to Carhenge. Or spending a day cross-stitching with my daughter. Or finally visiting an archive in Nova Scotia.

The thing is, we’re in a place that isn’t permanent for us. I don’t just mean Nebraska, but life. So we ought to live our lives, our way. Yannowhadimean? Yeah, you do.