Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Nation of...

I enjoyed previewing the new Ken Burns series "Prohibition" at Greenfield Community College this week. It has given me a better understanding of the immense impact the 18th Amendment had on American society. Up until now, I had only my mother's statement that most of the important people in Cooperstown, NY had preferred her father's home brew during Prohibition.While performing a newspaper search for items relating to my grandmother's family, I found the following Advertisement in the Otsego Farmer newspaper dated Friday, June 24, 1932. It encompassed almost 1/4 page. It contains the names of her three sisters: Anne, Kate, and Mary Meeneghan as well as over 300 other locals.

We, the undersigned, believe that the Eighteenth Amendment should be repealed for the following reasons:
1. It is not enforceable.
2. It has increased lawlessness.
3.It has diverted millions of dollars each year from legalized businesses into the hands of the racketeers.
4. This situation has so reduced Federal revenue that, in order to balance the National Budget, increased taxation is necessary.
5. It is an infringement on the rights of the individual.
6. It retards the cause of true temperance.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flood Damage

Our flooding in Western Massachusetts this week, resulting from Hurricane Irene, is eliciting comparisons to historic storm events.

My father was born in Easthampton, MA on 1 August 1925 of Polish immigrant parents. He and his twin brother were the youngest of seven children who lived to adulthood.

Through my research, I was able to show him a few things that he hadn't known: the house where he was likely born in Easthampton, a death certificate of a brother in Poland, a baptismal certificate for his oldest brother Bennie in Poland.

As is often the case, some family stories were not proven by the record evidence, but there was a kernel of truth. My uncle Henry thought that there was a baby who had died on the voyage to New York. Instead, we learned that the first child of Piotr and Walerya Szymanowicz had been born in their village of Drohiczyn in eastern (Russian) Poland in 1907 and died just short of his second birthday. Their second son, Boniface, was born a few months after the death of the first. It was the second child who took, and survived, the trip aboard the SS Finland, arriving in New York 23 August 1910.

Piotr and Walerya had six American children in Easthampton, MA and both became citizens themselves. Often the case among immigrant families, the oldest son left school early and began working to supplement the family income. Bennie also began the citizenship process as a young man, filing a Declaration of Intent in the Hampshire County Court. We know he worked in a gas station and had shares of Cities Service Company.

In March of 1936 torrential rains fell on the Connecticut Valley, which had seen an unusually large snowfall in previous months. The thaw, the rain and the ice breaking up in the river combined to produce record flooding. The Szymanowicz family had a small neighborhood grocery store adjacent to their home at the corner of Holyoke and Hawley Streets in Northampton, MA. The flood waters rose, filling their basement and the store at street level. Dad remembers eating "mystery meals" from the cans that lost their labels on the shelves.

Pleasant Street, Northampton - Photo from WGBY

When the water receded, river silts were left behind. Bennie developed a skin infection from contaminants that were deposited with the river silts as he attempted to clean up his parents' property. These were the years before common use of penicillin, a wonder drug that we take for granted 75 years later. Bennie died at age 27, on 14 April 1936 in Northampton. His pall bearers were Knights of Columbus, of whom he was a member. He was buried in St. Stanislaus cemetery in Easthampton beneath an Italian marble statue of Immaculate Mary.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Civil War Research - Holyoke's Richard Wall

My research goal is always to personalize the individuals and gain an understanding of their lives beyond the bare dates and places found in the records. After developing a profile of this family for a talk at the Chicopee Library in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I have 'adopted' them and want to know more.

The Wall family was enumerated in the 1860 U.S. census of Holyoke on June 29th, 1860. The family consisted of Richard, age 32; Mary A, age 30; David, 24, Edmund, 20; Austin, 6; Caroline, 8. They lived in a multi-unit dwelling and had a personal estate estimated at $50. All of the adults were born in Ireland, and the children were born in Massachusetts. Richard’s occupation was listed as a “Card Grinder” and the younger men were noted: “Cotton Mill.” From the ages of the household, we can surmise that Mary and Richard were married with two children, living with two of Richard’s brothers. We then set out to see if this assumption was true.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also took a census in 1855, giving another “snapshot” of this family. The Massachusetts census is available to view on line at In 1855 Margaret Welsh, age 55, was a member of the household, as well as the others enumerated in 1860. Margaret’s age was noted with question marks, as were Richard and Mary at 25 and 26, respectively. Edmund and David are listed as two years apart in age instead of four years, as in 1860. Richard’s occupation was listed as “Laborer,” David as a “Picker Tender,” and Edmund as “Mill Hand.” Mary’s place of birth is listed as England. There could be several reasons that the data doesn’t match the 1860 census, the most obvious reason being that a different household member, or even a neighbor gave the information to the census taker inaccurately. Could Margaret be the mother-in-law?

Checking the 1865 Massachusetts census, the household had shrunk to include only Margaret Wall, age 65; Caroline, 13; Austin 10; and David, 33. Is Margaret a Wall or a Welsh? David’s occupation is “Laborer” and Margaret is a “Housekeeper.”

Some of the events that took place between 1860 and 1865 are illuminated in an application for a Civil War pension in the National Archives, available to view at The minor children, Caroline and Austin, were represented by their Guardian, David Wall, in the application, dated 1864. It acknowledges the death of their mother in 1862 and states their birth dates. It confirms the death of Private Richard Wall of Company B of the 46th Massachusetts Volunteers, who died on December 18, 1862 of wounds suffered the previous day at Goldsboro Bridge, Wayne County, NC. According to the National Parks Service database, only one man from the 46th died as a result of battle injuries, although 250 died overall. The campaign is also known as Foster’s Raid, an advance westward in North Carolina to disrupt railroad supply lines to Virginia. The 46th had left Hampshire County in November.

The Vital Records of the towns of Chicopee and Holyoke verify the family’s births and deaths as stated in the pension file. First, the marriage of Richard and Mary is registered on November 19, 1849 in Chicopee. He was 19; she was 21. That would indicate Richard’s birth year was 1830 and Mary’s 1828. Their fathers are listed: Patrick Wall and Edmund O’Keeffe. The marriage was performed by James A. Strain, Catholic priest. Richard was a laborer, and both were born in Ireland. Since Mary was not a Welsh, we can assume that Margaret was not her mother. Was she Richard’s mother?

It was two years later that their daughter Caroline was born on Exchange Street in Chicopee, on April 1, 1852. Austin’s birth is in the Holyoke records on March 20, 1855. Both records indicate that the parents were Irish, and Richard was a laborer.

Another death record for a child of Richard and Mary is found in the Holyoke records. Richard Wall died of “lung fever” on December 18, 1859, aged one year, eight months and 2 days. That would put his birth about April 16, 1859. The birth record was not found on but may be available elsewhere. The three known children were born almost exactly 3 years apart.

Mary Wall died in childbirth on February 6, 1862 in Holyoke. Her parents were stated to be Edmund and Bridget O’Keeffe. Soon after, Richard enlisted in the Army on August 19, according to “Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War.”

Edmund Wall is not found in the records after 1860. He does not appear in the Civil War NPS database. An Edward Wall family was enumerated in Holyoke in the 1880 census.
The unfortunate history of this family does not improve during the remainder of the 1860s. David Wall, the legal guardian of the children, died on November 2 of 1866. His parents are listed as Patrick Wall and Margaret Welsh, clarifying Margaret’s relationship to the family. Margaret died on Christmas Day, December 25, 1866 of old age, a widow. Her parents listed on the death record were Richard and Mary Welsh.

Young Caroline died June 11, 1869 at 17, of consumption. She had no occupation listed. Was she too ill to work, and was the pension of $8/month adequate to support her and her brother?
At 14, Austin Wall had lost his parents, two siblings, uncle and grandmother in ten years. In the 1870 census he is listed in a boarding house in Holyoke at 15 with 23 others, primarily of Irish birth. He was working in a cotton mill, and had attended school within the past year. By 1883 he had enlisted in the Army. The enlistment record states he had blue eyes, brown hair, fair complexion, and was 5 ft. 5 ½ inches tall. His enlistment records exist for each 5 year period after that. In 1900 the census reveals he was a soldier at Fort Totten, Queens, NY. In 1910, 1920, and 1930 he was a resident of the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC. He died September 25, 1939 and was buried in the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery. It does not appear that he ever married. His grave stone lists his service in the Spanish American War. The Spanish American War took place between April and August 1898. The rest of the Walls were likely buried in Holyoke. I will continue to search for their final resting place.

Where did the Walls originally come from?
A likely record of Richard’s immigration is found in Boston passenger lists for the Robert C. Winthrop arriving in Boston November 2, 1848. His age of 20 matches our Richard’s birth in 1828 as stated on the 1860 census. He traveled with a Mary Wall, but he did not marry our Mary until 1850 in Chicopee. This may be a younger sister of 18. Another fact gives weight to the assertion that this is the Richard we are seeking: the passengers listed above him on the manifest are the Keeffe family, including a 22 year old Mary. She is accompanied by John, 21; Cornelius, 20; and Edmund, 18. Did they meet on the ship, or did they emmigrate from the same village? No further information of their origin is in the manifest. The ship sailed from Liverpool, England.

The younger Wall brothers are likely those listed on the manifest of the ship Benjamin Adams arriving in New York on October 21, 1853. A footnote to that voyage on reports that 15 of the 620 passengers died of cholera during the crossing from Liverpool.

There is a family of Edmund and Bridget Keeffe in Chicopee in the 1850 census of an age that could be their parents, however, they have a large family, including a daughter Mary, and our Mary was already married to Richard Wall at that time.

On my last trip to Washington, DC, I was able to find Austin's grave!  I let him know he is not forgotten.