Making a House a Home

Read more

Breaking Down a 26-Year Brick Wall

Read more

Happiness: A Witch's Perspective

Read more
Home & Garden
DIY, Cooking & More
Goddess Path
Witchy Things
Snow Day | Our Prairie Nest
Snow Days

What are your memories of snow days in your youth?

Mine is of listening to WBCN Boston 104.1, hoping for the snow song. It was a parody of Monty Python’s “Spam,” except it went, “Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow…” When you heard that, you knew there was a possibility of a snow day!

If Bridgewater schools came up, we’d get giddy with excitement and prepare for a day of fun. Staying home, reading books, watching HBO, or playing on our Nintendo was fun, but it was even better if we could go sledding.

We had two favorite places for sledding. One was Tower Hill, behind Bridgewater State College (now Bridgewater State University). This was long before the commuter lots and MBTA parking, before the T Station, when the college was just a college. You’d walk up the hill to the tower for the best sledding in town, and what a walk it was!

We’d trudge up there through the snow, sled in hand, all the way to the top of the steep hill. It was lined on either side by trees and, at the bottom, the brick building now used for the campus police posed a potential threat if you picked up too much speed and didn’t stop in time. It was a good 4 or 5 minute walk just to get to the top of the hill, but well worth it. Because once you reached the summit, you had a view of that part of the campus and one heck of a trip ahead of you!

That was probably our favorite place to sled, because the hill was steep, smooth, and fast. With the campus building at the bottom, there was just enough potential danger to make it extra exciting. Would you crash into the building or avert calamity? That’s all any kid wanted when they were sledding – the wind in their face and the thrill of the ride.

The other place we’d go occasionally was informally known as Strawberry Hill at the Strawberry Valley Golf Course in Abington. It wasn’t as smooth, steep, or fast as Tower Hill in Bridgewater, but it had the added excitement of more bumps and potential jumps. The photo below shows my sister (in purple) joining many sledders on the hill for a day of fun.

I would love to take my own children to these places someday, or somewhere similar. In eastern Nebraska, we have beautiful rolling hills known as the Loess Hills. There are some unexpectedly sharp peaks and steep inclines. Most people think of Nebraska as flat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth along the east coast (yes, they call it a coast because of the Missouri River; technically, it’s a bank, but that’s neither here nor there; “Coaster” pride is all that matters).

Despite these glorious hill views, I’ve yet to find the perfect sledding spot. Our backyard is unsafe for sledding and I have to act as catcher to keep my daughter from ending up in the icy pond! We’ll do that from time to time, but it’s not at the top of my list of snow day activities. The front yard also isn’t that great. The incline is much too gentle.

About 2 lots up the street from us is a pretty good hill on another property. If the snow falls just right on this east-facing incline (and that’s not always a guarantee), it offers good sledding with an effortless climb back up to the top. The property owner built a workshop/garage at the bottom of the hill, so we have to be mindful of that, but otherwise it’s convenient and pretty safe.

We went out last weekend for some sledding in our backyard, since the hill up the street didn’t have any snow on it. Of course, with so little snow, our playtime turned into us basically flinging powdery white stuff at each other. That’s another thing about Nebraska snow – it’s just powder most of the time. Not wet enough to build anything or make a proper snowball, unlike wet, heavy New England snow.

But we still have fun and love a good snow day!

Ernesta Maddalena Bergamasco
Transcripts vs. Original Records

It seems I’m on a roll with sharing my thoughts in 2020! As it turns out, I’m also on a roll with finding Italian records. You see, I have two “sets” of Italian ancestors, both maternal. My mom’s parents each have one Italian parent. And those Italian parents are from completely opposite “ends” of Italy.

This year, my focus is on my mother’s mother’s – or Nana’s – family. We have some neat photographs of my great-great grandparents, Bartolomeo Giovanni Michele Galfré and Ernesta Maddalena (Pedemonte) Bergamasco. There is also a fantastic family history my Aunt Espezzia put together with two of her sisters. However, there are tidbits of misinformation in the family history, and it’s still only part of the story of the Galfré and Bergamasco families.

After two solid weeks of research, I’ve learned so many new things that none of us knew, like the fact that my great-great grandma Ernesta had 3 sisters we weren’t aware of, and that her parents actually weren’t married until after they’d already had 8 children together. Thus, Ernesta often went by her mother’s surname, Pedemonte. After her parents married, she then went by either her father’s surname of Bergamasco or her husband’s surname of Galfré, but only in U.S. records.

Furthermore, her mother was previously married to a man named Giacomo Spiazzi and Ernesta’s eldest siblings were Spiazzis. We’d also been told that Ernesta had an uncle who was a bishop. Well… I’ve yet to find such a person, but through her half-brother Bartolomeo Spiazzi, she’s the aunt of Catholic theologian Raimondo (born Aurelio) Spiazzi.

Of course, all this research has involved digging deep into Italian records, using a combination of the FamilySearch catalog to find non-indexed records and the Antenati website, for those records to which FamilySearch currently restricts access.

Here’s a small reminder about why genealogists always strongly recommend you look for an original record or image of the original, instead of relying on transcriptions.

Transcriptions can be handy, but incomplete, such as this one for the birth of one of my distant uncles from the Italy, Imperia, San Remo, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1805-1910 database on FamilySearch:

Name: Vittorio Galfrè
Event Type: Birth
Event Date: 20 Oct 1895
Event Place: San Remo, Imperia, Italy
Gender: Male
Father’s Name: Bartolomeo Galfré
Certificate Number: 402

I’m glad FamilySearch has this available, however they currently restrict access to the image of the actual record. Fortunately, the Antenati has the record, which looks like this:

Nati (birth) of Vittorio Galfre, 20 October 1895, San Remo, Imperia, Liguria, Italy.

Why is the actual handwritten birth record superior? For starters, my Uncle Vittorio’s birth record shows that his father (my great-great grandfather Bartolomeo) was 30-years-old and worked as a porter. From what we understand, he worked at the train station in Ventimeglia.

This record also tells you Vittorio was a “gemello” or twin. His brother, Emanuele, is on the next page. I’m sorry to report that both Vittorio and Emanuele died as infants. This seemed to also be a sad trend with their mother’s mother, who had twins, one of whom died in infancy.

Another interesting tidbit is that Vittorio’s parents, my great-great grandparents, weren’t yet married! As I mentioned, the same thing occurred with Ernesta’s parents. They took a good 20 years after her birth to finally marry one another.

I hadn’t yet located a marriage record for Bartolomeo and Ernesta over weeks (actually years) of researching. Now I knew why. They weren’t married in 1894, as we were told. I’d also put a great deal of time into trying to find a marriage record for them in their native towns/villages of Cuneo and Moneglia, respectively.

Now that I knew they were married sometime after the birth of the twins in 1895, I decided that perhaps they were married in San Remo, simply because of this record. After all, how far might they have gone between 1895 and 1896, when their next son was born, also in San Remo? Not far, it turns out, because I found their marriage in San Remo within about 30 minutes of finding the images of the birth records for their 3 sons born in Italy.

I never would have known from the transcription that Bartolomeo and Ernesta weren’t yet married. Thanks to the original image, I was able to refocus my efforts and find what I was looking for!

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 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 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!