August 28, 2012

MA vitals from 1916-1920: reason #678,875 why is my favorite genealogy go-to site

For those of you who have Massachusetts relatives and ancestors, you may have noticed that vital records for that state are available online only up to a certain year. I was of course very familiar with the Massachusetts Vital Records Up To 1850 database, and with the ones on American Ancestors (New England Historic Genealogical Society) that go up to 1915.

I also know that you can order vital records online, for a fee, from 1921 on.

The question this left me with is: how/where can one access records from 1916-1920?

I recently discovered that you can find them-- if you already know the date of the event-- on Yep, I've been going to this site for over a year, and just now discovered this.

The thing is, the records aren't archived, so you're not going to find them by doing a basic name/date search. And you will have to already know the place and date of the event; I'm going to find the death record of my great-great grandfather Thomas RYAN, who passed on 9 August 1916.

1. You first go to's home page, and then scroll down to the "Browse by location" links. Click on "United States", then "Massachusetts."

2. Click on "Massachusetts" from the list of states. Then choose the last listed database, titled "Massachusetts State Vital Records, 1841-1920."

3. Click on "Browse through images." Select from births, deaths, or marriages. Here, I'm looking for a death, so that's what I'll click on.

4. Thomas died in Boston, so using the scroll bar on the right (easy to not notice it), I'll scroll down till I come to "Deaths 1916" for Boston-- here are two volumes. By digging around, I realized that they were in chronological order, by day, for the most part, so I had to do some searching to get to August.

5. Voila, I found Thomas's death record on page 152 of the second volume of 1916 deaths for Boston, and saved it to my puter.

Discovered much from this record: his exact birthdate (25 July 1831), his parents' names, including his mother's maiden name (I could now change "Johanna Unknown" in my tree to "Johanna LYNCH"), and his cause of death: myocarditis and mitral regurgitation (5+ years), and secondary cause/contributing factor was heat exhaustion (2 days).

August 25, 2012

A you're-getting-older moment

Today I experienced the same phenomenon I did while teaching high school, when I realized that, gradually, the students ceased having personal memories of 9/11.

I'm in the checkout at the grocery store, having had to pick up a few things, and noticed that one of the tabloids had Princess Diana's picture on it, along with a headline intimating that her death was not an accident.

I shook my head and commented about it to the cashier: "Honestly, do they have nothing else to write about than Princess Diana, when she's been dead for 15 years?"

"How exactly did she die again?" the cashier asked.

I looked at her, thought "seriously?"-- and then realized that she was probably only about 18. It hit me that, being only a toddler in 1997, she would have no personal memory of Princess Di's passing.

Still, it was surreal to have to explain to this girl that Diana was killed in a car wreck in Paris while being chased through a tunnel by paparazzi. I could only imagine that this is how people my parents' age feel telling someone of a younger generation that John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

Strange to have vivid memories of a major world news event , and to encounter people who don't.

August 15, 2012

Following wrong lines: the (not so) Kennedy connection

I've had a couple of examples within the past year where I have found that I'd been following wrong lines. One example of this is my great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth FITZGERALD.

I had been told that she was a first cousin to Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy; when I found a Mary E. Fitzgerald, born in 1883 who was the daughter of James Thomas Fitzgerald (a brother of Rose's father John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald) I thought I had confirmed this.

I was a cousin of the Kennedys! Never mind that I can't stand this family, I had famous relatives that I don't have to go back 7 or 8 generations to get to.

Well... not so much.

You see, the Mary E. Fitzgerald who was the daughter of James Thomas Fitzgerald was not my great-grandmother. I came across a marriage record, courtesy of, of James T.'s daughter to someone not my great-grandfather. I then found, at the same source, another marriage record there for my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth's marriage to my great-grandfather, and her parents are listed there as being Thomas FITZGERALD and Rose KILEY*. Her death certificate also gives the same names for her parents.

Thus far I can find nothing else on Thomas and Rose (Kiley) Fitzgerald.

Mary Elizabeth may well be somehow a cousin of the Kennedy Fitzgerald family, but if she is, it's through some other connection.

* Update: the name "Kiley" is actually "Connelly"

Ancestry chain:

Mary Elizabeth FITZGERALD (1879-1954) m. David Thomas RYAN 
Clare Regina RYAN (1911-2001) m. Bernard KRANTZBERG 
My father (living) m. S. HOWES 
Me (b. 1974)