Monday, September 5, 2011

The Research Trip

Well, I am still wrestling with computer issues.  I picked up my new one yesterday, but with only four icons on the desktop, it looks very bar. . . almost undressed.  I was told that they were able to copy the data from my old failing hard drive, but  have not found my old emails and address book yet.  My copy of Microsoft Office seems to have evaporated from my well organized filing drawer (stop laughing Dahl) because I cannot find it anywhere. How can I function without Word? Buying another is not in my budget.  There is still so much to do before it feels comfortable.  To be continued. . .

 Saturday morning Days later:   My computer is beginning to feel a bit  more comfortable and I have found my old email thanks to a remote operation by the person who built the computer.  That was really interesting.  Now for a real blog post.

I have thought quite a bit recently about the term "research trip".  It sounds so cerebral and organized and . . . and . . . boring! It conjures a vision of a lonely academic with her glasses perched on the end of her nose sitting in some dusty dimly lit corner surrounded by ancient texts. (For those who know - picture the stacks at the Purdue Library) Well . . . maybe this is partially correct but I cannot imagine her shouting out loud, "Aha, I found you!!!" like a family historian would.  And after all we don't spend all of our time looking through books.  We enjoy the outdoors, walking through manicured lawns or knee deep in weeds looking for headstones, we follow maps and drive unknown roads looking for ancestral property, we knock on the doors of strangers to ask if we can take a picture of their house and tell them all about our ancestor who lived there long ago, and the best part is when we meet relatives who reminisce about other family members who have passed away, and the times we only read about.   I think we need a new name for these exciting, emotional, family journeys we take through time. 

My brief visit to Clinton recently was a good example.  I was by myself, I wasn't prepared, I wasn't organized, and yet to me it was a wonderful experience. For a year I had intended to return to Clinton, but you know how time can slip away from us.  Then, through an online connection with a second cousin once removed, I found out that I had a 90 year old first cousin twice removed who still lived in Clinton.  Do you suppose he would let me visit, I asked?  Bless her, she made inquiries and voila! I had his phone number and address.  Now there was nothing that would keep me from this trip.

With my GPS plugged in I navigated the construction around Chicago and endured the "recalculating" admonishment that I received multiple times as I ignored the suggested route.  Arriving a bit after noon, I decided that the library would be a good choice for my afternoon and allow me to relax from the drive.  Since I did not bring along a list of death dates to look for  obituaries, I decided to concentrate on city directories.  That kept me busy and allowed me to feel successful as I printed off one after another.  Taking a break from city directories, I pulled out a film reel of wills.  Whoopee, I found the original will of Zelphia Guilfoil.  Zelphia was the wife of Michael Guilfoil  who was the brother of my g-g-g grandmother, Ellen Guilfoil Gilshannon.  It was Zelphia's will that had connected the three siblings, Michael, James, and Ellen.  I had a transcription but I do so love an original. I continued scrolling through reels for several more hours until my no line bifocals made me dizzy, and I decided to find a motel, check in, and have some dinner.  I returned to the library after dinner until closing.

The motel had issues and as I looked at the cost, I reasoned that if I went home a day early, I could use that money toward the FGS conference.  Decision made.  I checked out and planned to go home late afternoon.

Now I had to decide how I would use my one remaining day.  Mary, my angel in Clinton, had given me so much information before I left.  I printed out the addresses, phone numbers,  and contacts . . . but one stood out.  The Catholic Historical Center at St. Boniface church which was only open on Tues morning from 9-12.  This was new to me, and so I thought I should check it out since much of the information I was seeking was sure to be in church records and, conveniently, today was Tuesday!  Churches had records of baptisms before birth certificates were required.  Following my GPS, I easily found St. Boniface, but the front door was locked. I called the number Mary had sent me for the consolidated Prince of Peace church, but the woman on the other end of the line didn't know how I could get in to the Center. She was sure that was where I needed to go because "they didn't do genealogy" at the Prince of Peace location.

I drove around the church, and suddenly I saw a sign by a door at the top of a flight of outside stairs.  Pulling into the parking lot, I quickly jumped out, grabbed my stuff and climbed the stairs squeezing around the fan that was in the doorway surprising the men inside. Later I learned that this was the back door. I explained my connection to Clinton and asked if they could help me.  It turns out that they had just received an index with the consolidated church information on it but hadn't received any training yet.  I was their first "customer" and they would give it a try.  Bill Foley stepped up and offered to help me. He fired up the computer and opened the program containing the records index.  There were folders for each closed church and inside those there were folders for baptisms, marriages, etc. Within those folders the information was listed in a file similar to an excel file, with columns for child's name, parent names, date of birth, date of baptism, and sponsors. "Okay," Bill said, "What church?" There were several churches but I decided to start with St. Irenaeus. As Bill scrolled through the information for the St. Irenaeus records, I was frantically writing.  Every record we located at first had errors, due I am sure to the difficulty of reading old handwriting.  After several records I looked at the screen and saw the last name McDonald instead of McDonnell for a record that was definitely my g-g grandparents.  It was the 1865 baptism record for Mary Winifred McDonnell daughter of Owen William and Bridget O'Callahan McDonnell.  All of the records had the mother's maiden name making identification easier.  This record listed  Bartholomew McDonnell as one of her sponsors.  Wow! I have been searching for Bartholomew and suspected that he might have died in the Civil War, but here he was still in Clinton in 1865.  We continued and now I looked for alternate spellings (McDonald, McDonogh, McDonough, McDonnell) as Bill scrolled through the information.  Finally, near closing time, he clicked on a different column and the information was suddenly listed alphabetically by sponsor. At this point I realized that this would allow a cross reference of family names, but it was too late to do much more. I was elated with the information I had and knew the Catholic Historical Center would need a return visit. But wait, I asked, "Where are the originals since there are so many mistakes on the transcriptions?  Could I get a copy of the original documents?" "You'll have to call Prince of Peace because they have the original documents."

Rev. J.A. Murray married my g-grandparents
At the beginning, while I was waiting for Bill to load the program, another man brought over a stack of pamphlets dated 1908 and beyond for St. Patrick's church.  As I flipped through the pages, I paused when my eyes spotted the name Ed Moldt, my gr. grandfather. It shows that he paid $10 pew rent and $2.50 for the union (???)  This was news to me.  I didn't know my gr. grandfather had converted to Catholicism, who knew you had to pay pew rent and what did Union refer to.  Looks like he didn't support the rosary though.  Another page near the back of the booklet listed the baptism of my favorite uncle Harold Leonard Moldt, fondly know as Uncle High.  Neither the scanner or printer was connected yet at the Catholic Historical Center so Bill generously  offered to scan it at home and email it to me.  I didn't discover my uncle's name in the back till I looked at the scans he sent.
I thanked Bill for everything, slung my purse over my shoulder and went to my car.  As I sat in the church parking lot, I called John Brown, my first cousin twice removed.  His mother, Augusta Allen Brown, and my great grandmother, Mae Allen Moldt were sisters. A photo of the family is here.  I reasoned that I had time for a visit before I had to head for home.  John was a dear and told me that his son had told him about a relative who might get in touch with him.  "No problem at all, come on over."  he told me.

John lived outside of town.  He had been a farmer all of his life so I am sure his current few acres seemed small by comparison.  Even though he was 90 there was nothing old about John.  He could easily have been mistaken for a man twenty years younger.  I love the photo of him above because on the counter beside him is a photo of John and his wife when they were young.  We had a lovely visit, and he told me how he had a flood in his basement about four years ago and had lost a lot of family photos.  It broke my heart, and I thought of those boxes in my basement at home. We talked about the family bible, and he thought he knew who might have it.  He would investigate!!  From my computer, I shared with him some of the photos I had, and he talked about his mother and her sisters. I think we both enjoyed the visit.  So with a hug and a kiss, I left my newly discovered cousin and headed home.

It was only a little over 36 hours from when I left to when I arrived home.  A short time by most standards for a research trip, but it felt longer.  I had lots of new information as well as a new resource in the Catholic Historical Center, but best of all was my visit with John.

Post Note: I called Prince of Peace when I returned home, and the flustered lady on the other end of the phone said that she couldn't make a copy because she would have to cut off the other people on the page for privacy.  Really . . . I asked for a copy of an 1865 baptism record!! "Besides", she said "We don't do genealogy."  My question is, then why do you keep the records?  Later I received a letter attesting to my gr. grandmother's baptism, with an ending statement of "We don't do genealogy at Prince of Peace."  My hope is that someone will digitize these records before they are lost.


  1. That sounds like a very productive 36 hours.

    And a very confused record keeper...

  2. Hi Margel, Next time you go to Clinton you can go to St Irenaeus cemetery. We buried mom's ashes on Aug 6th. We placed her between OJ and Margaret McDonnell (my grandparents) There is a big pink annual plant on top of where we placed her box. I did not have time to order a marker but I will do it next visit. FYI...we buried her ashes without letting the cemetery actually know so if you inquire about gravestones and how to find her ask where Owen James McDonnell is buried as they will have no "record" of Mary Margaret Petersen.Eventually, I will be getting a "memorial" marker to place there. Baby June is also buried in this cemetery along with other McDonnell relatives but not sure which ones. Take care, Julia Breuer

  3. Julie-
    I drove right past St. Irenaeus on my way home from John Brown's house. I am so happy to know where your mom is. I will be visiting Clinton again and look for her. Baby June is next to Nettie and Owen Jerome. I was told that there is a homemade cross for her that was made by a family member.