Sunday, July 5, 2015

Matrilineal Monday - Finding Nancy

We all have brick walls and brick walls with female ancestors can be particularly painful especially if you don't know their maiden names. A maiden name wasn't the issue with this particular ancestor though. Neil and Nancy Brown nee McCoy were born in Ireland (although I don't know where) and were the parents of six children....eight by some accounts because it appears they may have adopted two boys, Patrick Timmoney and Michael Brown. When I couldn't go farther back in this line than Neil and Nancy I did as much research as I could on their children. Who did they marry? When did they die? What children did they have? It was this lateral research that helped me eventually find out more information on Nancy. That and a little help from others.

My cousin, Nancy O'Donoghue nee Brown, helped me with why I couldn't find Nancy in records and why this "Annie" chick was living my 2nd great grandfather...Nancy's husband. Who the heck was this "Annie"!?!?! Nancy explained to me that Ann or Anna or Annie was a common nickname/diminutive for Nancy and that it was the same person. Sort of like John = Jack, James = Jim, Richard = Dick/Rick/Rich. That small bit of intel really helped my sanity. Nancy and I collaborated on our family trees up until she passed away. Just before she passed I was able to share with her the location of Neil and Nancy's tombstone. It was in Saint Gabriel's Cemetery in Hazleton, Pennsylvania where we knew it must be. We just hadn't been able to find it until we got some more help.

The caretaker for the cemetery, Rick, was on the premises when my mother and I visited in 2010 so we got to ask him if he could confirm if they were in the cemetery and where their tombstones were located. He was able to do both. There were several tombstones for various Browns and Neil Browns in the cemetery. He pulled out his binder and we were able to see when someone was buried. I knew Neil died before the 1900 census. There was someone that matched and he walked us right to the tombstone.

She was listed as Nancy on her tombstone, but not her death certificate!
The tombstone helped to confirm what I knew. Neil did pass after the 1880 census and before the 1900 census. Nancy passed after the 1920 census. So I (eventually) went to the Pennsylvania Death Certificates that were online to look for her.

If you have family from Pennsylvania and you haven't used this resource you really need to...and it's free! Well, from what I can see it's free to Pennsylvania residents here (start by entering your zip code at the bottom of the page) and is included with an Ancestry membership here. Either way with how much I've discovered it's paid for the membership I have many times over. Moving on....

So after seeing the tombstone (and unless there was a mistake on the stone) I knew Nancy/Annie died in 1926. Move a head a few years and being able to access the Pennsylvania death certificates online and I came up with a possible match:

Excerpt of Nancy/Anna Brown nee McCoy's death certificate
It was even the top hit. I didn't search for "Nancy" or "Annie" but I did search for the surname Brown in Luzerne county with a death year of 1926. This Anna Brown had a husband named Neil, was born in Ireland, and died in the right year. Was that proof enough for me that it was her? Not necessarily. She is listed as being married on the certificate and I know Neil died many years before she did. I also know that putting married instead of widowed is a common mistake on death certificates as well as census records.

I looked further into the death certificate and saw that she was buried in Saint Gabriel's Cemetery which was one of my family cemeteries, but it's a huge one and that wouldn't confirm much. Then I saw the informant on the death certificate was Owen McElwee. Now that's a name in my family tree! Owen was the husband of her oldest daughter, Bridget. I went on to look at the 1920 census to check out the address and found that she was living with Bridget and Owen before she died. 

Excerpt of Nancy/Anna Brown nee McCoy's
death certificate
Now how correct is the rest of the information on the death certificate? It wasn't given by her daughter, but by her daughter's husband. The information could certainly be wrong, but so many of these records for my ancestors simply state "unknown" for the person's foreign-born parents that seeing something at all makes me very hopeful. I'll have to verify it in some way, but it's information I didn't have before. Finding Nancy's death certificate didn't give me an exact date of birth, but it did give me her death date and possible parents. 

This is the point in my blog post where I would normally say that the next time I'm in Pennsylvania I'll pull her obituary, but I can't. There is no microfilm for the Hazleton newspapers at the public library for that year. The Hazleton Standard Speaker has some of the years missing at the library in their vaults, but I don't have access. I'm hoping that will get them to share at some point in the future and maybe I'll find the obituary, but it's not happening yet. I'll still enter it onto my research calendar, but with little hope of finding it any time soon.