Sunday, November 21, 2010

When the Pieces Fall Into Place -- Toppling the Brick Wall

I first became interested in my family history nine years ago.  Recovering from hip replacement surgery, I was frustrated with my temporary lack of mobility and was suffering from “cabin fever” due to the cold, gray days typical of Cincinnati in December.  My daughter suggested that I “do something” with the family information my mother had left me as a way of coping with my confinement. My husband picked up on the suggestion and had some genealogy software he had not yet used.  I started entering the information and within a month, I was hooked.

Anyone who has taken that first step can identify with the social aspects that naturally arise from this hobby.  Soon I was contacting aunts, uncles and cousins for help in understanding the material I had and seeking additional information for the material I was missing. The first person I contacted was a cousin who is 16 years older.  She offered to send me some documents, but then told me “not to be surprised if the person I had always been told was the father of my grandmother was NOT her father.” What??

Norine Dailey Cronin
My father’s mother was Norine Jones.  Norine, who I referred to as “Jan” was known to be a bit secretive. She never discussed her age or the date of her birthday or wedding anniversary.  There were even whispers that perhaps my grandparents had never married.  A trip to the Hamilton County Court House in Cincinnati was all it took to verify that my grandparents had been married for 59 years!  So why the secrecy?  

Family records have always identified Norine’s father as John Cronin.  Norine was the youngest of six children born to John Cronin and Lucy Probert.  John, Lucy and their four oldest children are living in Mt. Sterling, Montgomery County, Kentucky and are listed in the 1880 Census. Another sister, Addie, was born in November 1880. 

Norine was not born until 1884, a time when birth registrations were not yet required.  As all genealogists know, there are no 1890 U.S. Census Records to consult.  There was other evidence, however.  John Cronin was listed as Norine’s father on her Death Certificate.  Her maiden name was “Cronin” in the Death Notice published in the newspaper.

With all of this evidence, I waited anxiously to see what kind of contradictory evidence my cousin would provide.  She sent me two documents.  One was a copy of her mother’s baptismal record.  Norine’s last name was recorded as “Dailey”.  Later, when my aunt got married, her mother’s name was listed as “Norine Dailey”.  I reviewed her application for a Marriage License and was surprised to find out that my grandmother listed her name as Norine Dailey Cronin but then listed her father as William Dailey – not John Cronin.

I was able to get a copy of the marriage record for St. Rose Church.   Their record claims that the wedding was between Jones and Dailey.  A little understanding of Latin proves that once again, her father’s name was listed as William Dailey. 

Thus began a nine-year quest to solve this mystery.  Why would she use both Dailey and Cronin as surnames?  There had to be a simple explanation.  My first breakthrough came when I was able to verify that Norine’s five older siblings were placed in an orphanage in northern Kentucky.  I was able to get a copy of their intake record and found that their father’s status was listed as “dead”.  They were placed in the orphanage in 1884, 22 days before Norine was born.  My theory went something like this – John Cronin died sometime between 1880 and 1884.  Her mother remarried William Dailey.  Norine, however, chose to use the last name of her older siblings when she moved to Cincinnati as a young adult, at times living with her half-siblings.

To confirm this theory, I needed to do one of two things:  1) prove that John Cronin was already dead at the time of Norine’s conception, or 2) find a marriage record for Norine’s mother, Lucy, and William Dailey.  For years I used all of my research skills to prove one or the other.  Unfortunately, Death Certificates were not required in the 1880s and deaths were only generally recorded in the larger cities.  In addition, I was not able to locate a marriage record for Lucy and William.  Multiple visits to the Montgomery County Court House, the Mt. Sterling library “Kentucky Room” and the Kentucky Archives in Frankfort did not help solve the mystery.

Only fellow family researchers can understand how frustrated I was at not being able to trace my paternal line beyond my grandmother.  Was my great-grandfather a Cronin or a Dailey?  Which path should I follow?

William Dailey was a resident of Mt. Sterling.  According to Census documents, he didn’t live far from the Cronins.  He was living with his older sister, Ellen.  The Cronins and Daileys appeared to be close friends.  Ellen was listed as the Godmother in the baptismal record for Charles Cronin, John and Lucy’s third child.  My theory seemed to be more and more plausible.

Just as I was becoming content with my explanation, I found the Death Certificate for William Dailey.  He was 65 years old when he died in 1921 of tuberculosis and liver cancer.  His occupation was “Dancing Teacher.”  His marital status was single, never married, and his body was returned to Mt. Sterling for burial.  That shot part of my theory – he and Lucy had apparently never married.  At the time of his death, he was living in northern Kentucky.  Norine would have been 36 years old.  Did he not have a relationship with his daughter?  How could my grandfather, in his role as “informant” for my grandmother’s death certificate, be confused about who her father was?

The answer would not come easily – but the answer would turn my theory upside down!

About a year ago, I was able to make a connection with a third cousin through Ancestry.  We share the same gg-grandfather, Thomas Probert.  Thomas was Norine’s grandfather, but he was not alive at the time of Norine’s birth.  We were comparing notes on this family when she asked me why I had not considered traveling to Lexington to see what clues might be available there.  

In the family notes passed on to me by my mother, it said that Norine was born in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky but that she went away to school in Lexington because her mother (Lucy) had been “sick a long while.”  I had always assumed that Lucy died not long after Norine’s birth and that Norine, like her older siblings, had been placed in an orphanage.  I felt there was little hope of finding some kind of information on a child and was already aware that there was no death certificate for Lucy.  Lexington was, however, the one place I had not searched for information.

Imagine my delight when a search of the 1890 Lexington City Directory had a listing for Lucy Cronin, widow of John!  Finally!  For the first time I could verify that Lucy had relocated to Lexington and that my grandmother’s mother was still alive (but perhaps ill) when Norine was six years old.  It was her address, however, that confused me.  Her residence was listed as Madame Sue Green’s.

A second search of the City Directory for Sue Green found her listed in bold print as a “business”’ Sue Green was a widow, residing at 35 Megowan.  I called the librarian over for her interpretation and she did not want to share with me that Megowan was the well-known “red-light district” in Lexington, often referred to as “The Hill.”

The Lexington Public Library has a wonderful collection of digitized old newspapers from the area.  A quick search of this collection came up with the following article published in the Press on February 2, 1895.

Wow! Things were certainly turning out differently from what I had anticipated! 

After letting this new information sink in, I returned home and started searching the newspapers to read everything I could about the “resorts” and “bawdy houses” of the time.  One name kept recurring.  Belle Brezing was a famous Lexington Madam with a national reputation.  She ran a very “high-class” house.  Newspaper articles referred to both a book and a play that had been written about Belle.  The Friends of the Lexington Library were offering a copy of the currently out-of-print book for sale.  I ordered a copy. 

Several parts of the book held particular interest for me.  Belle had a little girl by the name of Daisy May.  Belle arranged for Daisy May to live with a woman in the neighborhood, Mrs. Barnett.  When Daisy was about six years old, Mrs. Barnett and the family doctor had the unpleasant task of getting Belle to accept that her daughter was “retarded” – a fact Belle had refused to accept.  Although the doctor suggested an asylum for Daisy May, Belle would not agree.  

Finally, from the church, she (Belle) found out about a school and institution run by nuns in Newport, Kentucky, where Daisy would be taught what she was capable of learning.  And so, when she was about six years old, Daisy May was sent to northern Kentucky to live in the school where Belle was assured she would have love and care and be with other children her age. She was enrolled under the name Daisy Barnett.  Since Belle was widely known by then, it is quite possible that Mrs. Barnett took the child to Newport and used her own name and to avoid any connection to Belle.

Mrs. Barnett and the doctor were the only ones other than Belle who knew where Daisy May went. A story of Belle’s choice was leaked to explain Daisy May’s departure.  “Belle Brezing’s girl is in an expensive girls’ school in the East.” (p. 46)

When Madam Sue Green (mentioned earlier) was charged in 1888 with “running a disorderly house” and fined $300, several letters were sent to the governor by irate men who considered this a “travesty of justice.”  One such letter stated:

She (Sue Green) has two children, a boy eleven years old, that is off at school and a daughter at the convent, being educated, and I am reliably informed that she is raising them as they should be – It necessarily takes a good deal of money to maintain and educate them, and she has a hard struggle to do this and to support herself. (p. 60)

Daisy May was now eighteen, and her mental condition was obviously not going to improve.  Once again through the church, Belle arranged for Daisy’s transfer to the House of the Good Shepherd on Fort Street in downtown Detroit, Michigan.  The home had 345 inmates.  Its stated purpose was to “restore fallen women to the path of virtue and to protect young girls who are liable to temptation from unfavorable surroundings.” (p. 73)

With these clues, I started investigating the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  Sure enough, they had a home for girls in Highland Heights, Newport, Kentucky.  This particular order of nuns takes an additional vow in addition to the usual poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Their fourth vow is “zeal” which was defined as making every effort to convert or save the souls of the women and girls they rescued.

Once again, I searched the 1900 Census for Norine.  I had never been able to find her in the census even though her name was not common and she was 16 years old and should have been listed.  This time I noticed something that had been meaningless to me in previous searches.

There it was – the Highland House of the Good Shepherd, Campbell, Kentucky!  The book about Belle Brezing cited several cases where the daughters of these women were sent “away to school” or were living in a convent.  All of the information within the census document matched what I knew to be true about Norine.  The only discrepancy was the first name of this 16 year old.  My grandmother was not named Augustine. Was it possible they changed her name? Once again the book about Belle gave a clue.  “In order to protect the girls from identification and possible embarrassment, they were all given assumed names.” (p. 73)  Although I felt I had solved the mystery, I still wanted official confirmation.

I contacted the archivist for the Diocese of Covington to see if they were in possession of any records that would answer my questions.  The archivist confirmed for me that they had a baptismal record for my grandmother and offered to send me a copy of the microfilmed image and a transcription.  I had provided him with both the names “Norine” and “Augustine”.  Unbelievably, the record contained both names.  Most importantly, the record listed the parents of Norine as William Dailey and Lucy Probert!

"Cronin: Norine Cronin, aged 7 years, Daughter of William Daly & Lucy Cronin was baptized in the Convent of the Good Shepherd on the 1st of  December, 1891. Sponsors Rev. Father Meyers & August Garn. She received  the name Augustine (maybe Augustina).  Baptized by Rev. Father Meyers."

The archivist went on to say, “I'm only making a good guess at the names Norine & Augustine because you gave me those names, but what is written on the record looks like those could be the right names. It looks like the first name of one of the sponsors was August (Garn is just a guess at his last name), which would seem to confirm that her baptismal name was Augustine if she was named after him. Also, the month is probably December since this was the last entry for 1891.”

Lucy Probert Cronin
I still have a few questions.  How old was Norine when she went to the House of the Good Shepherd?  What happened to her mother?  Why did her biological father not marry her mother?  But the answers have been many.  My grandmother was a devout Catholic all of her life.  In hindsight, no surprise there.  As mentioned earlier, she was secretive.  I can see where it would serve no useful purpose for her to be forthcoming about her difficult family past.  She loved to sew – a skill acquired by all girls in the convent as part of an effort to provide them with employable skills.  A family record lists her name as “Norine Augusta” in contradiction to all other records that listed her name as “Norine L.”, the “L” most likely for her mother Lucy.  Augusta probably referred to the name given to her at the time of her baptism.

I do not stand in judgment of my great-grandmother, Lucy.  The reading I have done over the past month has provided me with insight into the limited choices women had at the end of the 19th century. 

“There were a number of roads that led to prostitution.  Some women found themselves without money or the skills to earn it.  Some were left stranded by husbands who died or deserted them.  Others were turned out of their homes for transgressions.” (p. 96) 
Lucy’s husband died leaving her with five children.  Her parents were both dead, her mother dying at the age of 29.  She eventually became pregnant by a man who for whatever reason did not marry her.  A woman who was able to find employment could expect to make 10 cents an hour and work a sixty-hour week – hardly conducive to raising children.  The choices Lucy made resulted in my very existence – and so I am grateful to her. 

Lucy’s daughter, Norine, married, had five children, 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren by the time of her death.  (Pictured is the family before the fifth child was born). She was a “soul mate” to my grandfather who obviously knew her history and was able to protect her.  I am thankful that in the 21st century, most women in the United States are not confronted with such difficult “non-choices.”

Irish Landscapes

I just couldn't move on without sharing a few pictures of Ireland.  The landscapes are breathtaking in a pastoral sort of way.  I want so much to return and spend more time around the area of Pallasgreen, viewing what my ancestors viewed.

Pictured above is the town of Doolin in County Clare, close to the Cliffs of Moher. It is famous for its pubs where locals perform authentic Irish music and members of the audience volunteer to recite poetry and sing songs.
These are pictures from the Dingle Peninsula.  It is beautiful partly because it is still pretty much in its natural state.  The road around the Slea Head drive has been improved, but is largely one lane.  There is very little commercial activity other than the tour buses that travel the roads each day.  Since we were there in September, even this traffic was minimal.

I can't possible do justice to the beautiful landscape of Ireland with just a few pictures.  I put together a photoshow with a couple of hundred pictures of Ireland and Scotland.  It is set to Irish music.  I warn you -- it is 23 minutes long.  However, you can stop it at any time. I hope some day that all of my readers have the chance to go to these two countries.  Ireland and Scotland Photoshow

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nicker Church and Cemetery

Pallasgreen or Pallasgrean (Irish: Pailís Ghréine, meaning "stockade of Grian") is a village in East County Limerick, situated on the Limerick–Tipperary N24 road. The name means "the Stockade of Grian," referring to an ancient Irish Goddess of Love, whose is associated with the a nearby hill of Nicker. Wikipedia

As mentioned in an earlier post, our new friend, Bill, directed us to the Church located on Nicker Hill. The geology of the hill is interesting in itself, and a grotto was dug into the hillside.  After the gothic churches I had become so familiar with in Germany and in the cities of Ireland, I was initially surprised by its overall simplicity.

Near the grotto and to one side of the church yard were the graves of several priests who had served this church.  The church was not open, but we were able to get in the vestibule and see that parts of it were undergoing restoration.  A couple of men working on the landscape told us that the church had a new pastor, and he encouraged them to really work on fixing up the church, its surroundings, and the cemetery located a couple of miles away in Old Pallas.

Right across the street was a field with very pastoral views of the surrounding countryside. It really was very rural.

We followed the directions given to us to find the old cemetery in Old Pallas.  One of the things I found most interesting was that most of what we would call grave markers, appeared to be memorial markers instead.  A marker would be engraved with the names of several family members and often more than one generation.  They would say that they were erected "In Memory Of..." The parishioners told us that until the new pastor arrived, the cemetery had become quite overgrown.

It was clear that the cemetery had originally been placed alongside a church that was now in ruins.

Many of the grave markers were dedicated to Ryans and Dwyers. I got really excited when I saw a grave marker that listed Matthew Ryan, father of Jeremiah.  "Our" Matthew allegedly died in 1855 and I believe he had a son named Jeremiah.  Upon closer examination, I noticed that this Matthew died in 1955.  I'm sure they were all related, as all of the Ryans and Dwyers in the area were "cousins".

                                                                It reads:  Erected by
                                                                JEREMIAH RYAN
                                                              In memory of his father
                                                               MATTHEW RYAN
                                                             son of DARBY RYAN
                                                               and MARY KELLY

I love old cemeteries -- just ask my sister, Karen, and my niece, Julie.  If you want to see more of the grave markers, click on this link to the Pallasgreen Photoshow.  You can pause on the grave markers and watch them 'til your heart is content.  Pallasgreen, County Limerick

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Irish Homeland

"Bill" a local, and Kathy, discussing "Ryans" outside of Chasers Pub

Two months ago Bill and I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland and Scotland. One of the items on my bucket list was to visit the town of Pallas Grean (also commonly spelled Pallas Green), the hometown of my Ryan ancestors. Pallas Green (and you should see the Gaelic spelling) is located in County Limerick, right on the border with County Tipperary.

Earlier in this blog (see posts dated March 29th and 30th) I posted pictures of what Pallas Green looked like in 1920 -- right after the Republic of Ireland became separated from Great Britain. Now it is a modern-day town located on a newly-paved main thoroughfare paid for partially with European Union funds. Talk to anyone who went to Ireland 10 years ago and who returned again recently and you will always here about the improved roads. Some are so recent that the GPS we rented did not acknowledge the new roads.

In the United States we describe small towns as places with one traffic light. In Ireland the traffic lights are replaced with "roundabouts". Pallas Green is such a small village that there is not even a roundabout in the town center. However, we counted three pubs at one intersection.

Records indicate that our "Ryan" married a "Dwyer" or O'Dwyer. Interestingly, the pub that is on the opposite corner from Chasers is O'Dwyers.

Here Bill asks for a "second opinion" from another local. Both assured me that if we didn't know the "nickname" of our Ryans, we would not have a very fruitful search. I had to be content with the work completed for me by a County Limerick genealogist. At least Bill could give us directions to the church and cemetery.

I put together a three-minute photoshow that contains these and pictures of the nearby church and cemetery that serves the area of Pallas Green. They are labeled. Click on this link to view: Pallas Green The church and cemetery will be discussed in the next post.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cousins in Germany

Alois, Heinrich, Kathy, Bill, Mathilde, Hubert

In an earlier post, I told you that our friend and local genealogist, Werner Honkomp. Werner met us where we were staying in Holdorf and took us on a full-day tour of the area. In the afternoon, he had a special surprise. He took us to the home of Alois von der Heide. Alois lived in a home that had once belonged to a von der Heide who married a Borgmann. His brothers Heinrich and Hubert, and his sister, Mathilde also came. Werner suspected that we might be related.

There is no way to describe how much we enjoyed this. We suffered from a bit of a language barrier, relying on Werner to translate. They explained to us that in this region of Germany, even German is a second language. They grew up speaking Plattdeutsch (often referred to as low German). Alois had prepared numerous pictures and documents for us to take with us. The family verified for us that the family plot we had photographed in the cemetery was their family plot. We were given copies of correspondence to their Borgmann family that had relocated to Cincinnati. Upon return I was able to verify that this branch of the family was related to Jim Borgman, editorial cartoonist. In addition, we are (as suspected) distant cousins sharing a ggggg-grandfather.

Alois gave me a picture of the house and identified the people in it. I know the picture is hard to make out, but the picture is the family of Heinrich von der Heide and Joanna Borgmann. Their daughter, Mathilde, is looking out of the window on the left. Son, Heinrich, is on the horse with his brother, Franz, standing nearby.

Alois, Mathilde, Heinrich, Hubert, Werner and me sharing family documents.

Alois shared two additional pictures that had been in his family. We were told that the first picture was of the Borgmann/von der Heide family and I recognize the man in the upper left as a August Borgmann who came to Cincinnati. The woman to his right is his wife, Bernardina Von Wahlde. I think this picture may have been taken in Cincinnati in 1905 and returned to the family in Germany.

I am unsure of what occasion is reflected in the next picture. Unfortunately, Alois did not know the names of those pictured. He did, however, circle one face on the back of the picture. It jumped out right away. I don't know who it is, but recognize that "von der Heide" look.

Look at the pictures of five von der Heide men below. Is it just me or do you see similarities in facial structures. Post your answer in the comments section.

By the way -- the identities of the von der Heide men are as follow: Hubert (a Catholic priest), Heinrich (holds a position in Cologne similar to a city councilman), our g-grandfather August, August as a young man, and unknown von der Heide in Germany.

I want to acknowledge Werner, pictured on the left, without whom none of this would have been possible. He has patiently answered my questions and those of many others tracing their genealogy in this region. I will forever be grateful to him.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Earlier Generations

Hermann Henrich "Henry" VDH was born on March 17, 1839 in Holdorf-Ihorst. I've included a map that shows how close the farming communities were in relation to each other. He was the son of Gerhard Henrich VDH and Maria Catharine Ortmann. (It was traditional in that part of Germany to give a child several names. They were typically "known by" the last name in the list. Gerhard Henrich was born in 1802 in Dinklage and Anna Catherine was born in 1802 in Damme. Damme is a few miles southeast of Holdorf and just off the map.

The earliest records I have for the von der Heides has them living in the Dinklage area. Since all of these towns were within a few miles of each other, we visited each of the communities and the churches where they were probably baptized. The church pictured on the left is the one in Dinklage. The one on the right is St. Victor in Damme.

Once again the baptismal records list the family as "Heuerleute" working as hired hands on the farms of others. The book on the history of Holdorf included pictures of farm families in the early 20th Century. This generation worked the farms a century earlier. They generally had large families and just surviving was a full-time job.

Henry's Uncle Hermann, brother of Gerhard Henrich, emigrated to Cincinnati a generation before Henry and Elizabeth came with their young family. His uncle probably paved the way and made the transition easier. My Vonderheide g-grandparents are buried in St. Joseph Cemetery Old -- the German cemetery located on the west side of Cincinnati.

This is the grave marker for Hermann "Henry" Vonderheide, father of August, Joseph and Henry.

This is the grave marker for Catherine Elizabeth Kamphake Vonderheide, mother of August, Joseph and Henry. They were the first Vonderheides in my direct line to come to America.


When you return to the homeland of your ancestors, you want to try to understand as much as you can about their lives. Ironically, that often means learning as much as you can about their deaths.

Armed with great documentation of my German ancestors I wanted to visit the farms where they lived, the towns where they worked and shopped, the churches that were the center of their lives, and of course, their graveyards.

The Germans have different traditions about burial and graveyards than we do. It wasn't hard to find the "current" cemetery where residents of Holdorf are buried. Yet when we asked Werner where it was likely that my ggg-grandfather was buried, he pointed to the paved terrace surrounding the church. At one point, the graveyard for church members occupied the area just outside the church which had been surrounded by a rock wall. Werner remembered the graveyard being dug up when the church updated its heating and air conditioning systems. The rock wall came down and brick pavers now surround the church. If you look carefully at this wedding picture from 1938, you can see what was the church cemetery beyond the far wall.

In Germany, gravesites are not "permanent." Often they are rented for a period of 20-30 years. In the Holdorf area, many of the plots are family plots. Family members are expected to maintain the site. There is no such thing as "perpetual care." If descendants move away or emigrate, it is not long before the plot is "recycled" for use by another family. The goal of burial is for the body to decompose as quickly as possible and the science of decomposition is studied. There has been some concern lately about "waxy" bodies that have resisted decomposition and the Germans are looking for solutions to this problem. for an interesting article on this issue, click on this link: Waxy Bodies

Even monuments are not permanent. Bill and I spent about an hour in the Neuenkirchen Cemetery looking for a monument that had been placed in honor of his cousin, Fr. Joseph Duerstock. He was the long-time pastor of Old St. Mary Church in Over-the-Rhine. Another genealogist even sent me a picture of this large memorial. It has now been removed.

Going through the Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery, we saw many family plots with surnames that are common in Cincinnati. These include: Rehling, Borgerding, Wolkerding, Ortmann and Hilgefort. Bill has Hilgeforts in his line. We found that descendants of the von der Heides and Hilgeforts lived in the same farming community in the 1850s.

I started this post with the family part for "Heinrich von der Heide" -- one of our family names. Little did I know when I took the picture that we would later meet the family who owns this plot. Better yet -- we are "cousins"!