Wednesday, December 22, 2010
But First - Some Shameless Self-Promotion - The Article
The current issue of “American Ancestors Journal” – the annual supplement that appears in the October issue of the “New England Historical and Genealogical Register” and deals with “non-New England” families – is now out. (That’s “Volume 164 - October 2010” of the “Register” for those who have electronic access to the journal on www.americanancestors.org)
My article, titled “The Shanley Family of Steuben County, New York in the Nineteenth Century” starts on page 352. In the style of a narrative genealogy, it treats an extended Irish Catholic immigrant farm family who migrated from County Longford to central New York shortly after An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger).
The goal of the article? To provide the documentary evidence that (1.) there were three full brothers (Bernard, Patrick and Michael Shanley) and one half-brother (John Shanley) – all adult children of Alexander Shanley - who all arrived in Steuben County from County Longford, Ireland in the decade after 1845 and that (2.) their widowed mother Honorah (Cosgrove) Shanley also joined them in Steuben County.
The problems? There is no single document that connects all the Shanley brothers to each other and to their mother Honorah Shanley. They apparently arrived in Steuben County at different times. There are no probate records for Honorah Shanley that identify her children. No obituary marked her death and her grave has not yet been located. Her sons’ administrations do not reference their parents or their any of their siblings. To further complicate matters, the half-brother John Shanley, who arrived in Steuben County with a wife and four adult children of his own, was closer in age to his father’s widow Honorah Shanley than to her three sons (who were his half-brothers.) Finally, it’s 19th century New York we’re dealing with - so official vital records are non-existent and church records are spotty at best.
Unlike the vast majority of their neighbors in Steuben County (who were mostly Protestant farmers born in New York, New England or New Jersey), the Irish Catholic Shanleys were part of a distinct, very small minority and near the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum, especially in the early years following their arrival in central New York. At times, they worked as part of the servant class that staffed the houses and farms of their more affluent neighbors. References to the Shanleys in published histories are very few and very far between. There are no Shanley diaries or Shanley letters. In a word, finding the proper documentary evidence of the Shanley family relationships and their life in Steuben County was “challenging.”
In other words, it was a great opportunity to dust off the Genealogical Proof Standard.
Plus, sometimes, even things carved in stone that genealogists normally take for granted can be incorrect. For example, Bernard ("Barney") Shanley, the first of the brothers to arrive in Steuben County, was a Civil War veteran; his government-issue headstone in Hammondsport’s Elmwood Cemetery has him dying on 9 September 1885, nearly a full year AFTER the Steuben Courier in Bath published his brief obituary – on 12 September 1884.
This headstone error of course gives new and personal meaning to the old saw – “Good enough for government work.”
The article is by no means the definitive work on this family; in fact, I intended it to be both a point of beginning and a point of departure, perhaps for a future article on the other immigrant members of the Shanley family - including two married sisters and possibly another brother in another county - who could not treated in depth because of space concerns.
After writing about 5500 words with 68 footnotes – not to mention numerous trips to both Steuben County repositories and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – I know that I’ve still only scratched the surface of Shanley family history. Moreover, I have new-found respect for all those who labor in the fields of "published genealogy", producing the articles that appear in those journals we all rely on for our facts, our reasoned opinions and our occasional inspiration.