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  • 2003 Archive

  •  Edited by Lynn Betlock and Rod D. Moody

    Greetings from the New England Historic Genealogical Society! This free newsletter has been sent to NEHGS members and friends who have subscribed to it, or submitted their email addresses on various membership and sales department forms and website notices. NEHGS recognizes the importance of its members' privacy, and will not give away, sell or lease personal information. If you would like to unsubscribe, please click on the link at the bottom of the page and follow the instructions provided.

    © Copyright 2003, New England Historic Genealogical Society


    • New Databases on
    • New Research Article on
    • A CD Burner in the Microtext Department
    • Upcoming "Genealogy in a Nutshell" Lectures at the NEHGS Library
    • From the Volunteer Coordinator
    • Second Annual NEHGS London Genealogical Study Tour, Sept. 23–Oct. 4, 2003
    • O's By many Other Names: Common Myths About Irish Surnames
    • Favorite — and Black Sheep — Ancestor Feedback
    • NEHGS Contact Information

    New Databases on

    Little Compton, Rhode Island, Wills

    According to Little Compton Families, published by the Little Compton Historical Society, the earliest settlers of the Plymouth Colony, seeking to expand their boundaries, discovered a "garden spot" called Sogkonnet, meaning "haunt of the black goose" in the language of the inhabitants, the Sogkonitte tribe of Indians. The land was known as Sakonnet until 1682, when it was incorporated by Plymouth Colony and renamed Little Compton. In 1747, the town, along with Barrington, Bristol, Cumberland, Tiverton, and Warren were ceded by Massachusetts to Rhode Island, and Little Compton became an incorporated town of Rhode Island.

    These wills were abstracted from the probate records of Taunton, Massachusetts, where they are recorded through the year 1747. Also included are all wills from the Little Compton probate records from 1747 to 1875. These records were abstracted by Little Compton resident Benjamin F. Wilbour in 1945. He notes that "All names of persons, relationships, places and dates are given and many of the gifts are mentioned, but not all gifts are given, as this is not a verbatum [sic] copy."

    Search Little Compton, Rhode Island, Wills at

    Massachusetts and Maine 1798 Direct Tax

    Berkshire County, Massachusetts (Division 9, Volume XX), is the final addition to this database. Towns included in this update are:

    Adams, Alford, Becket, Bethlehem, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Dalton, Egremont, Great Barrington, Hancock, Lanesborough, Lee, Lenox, Loudon, Mt. Washington, New Marlborough, New Ashford, Partridgefield, Pittsfield, Richmond, Sandisfield, Savoy, Sheffield, Southfield, Tyringham, Washington, West Stockbridge, Williamstown, and Windsor.

    The Massachusetts and Maine 1798 Direct Tax may be used as a companion to the 1800 U.S. Federal Census, and to track the movement of individuals between the 1790 and 1800 censuses.

    Search the Massachusetts and Maine 1798 Direct Tax at

    Cemetery Transcriptions from the NEHGS Collections

    This week we have added transcriptions from three cemeteries in the town of Wales, Massachusetts. Wales, Hampden County, Massachusetts was established in 1762, but it was known as South Brimfield until 1828. Transcriber Grace Olive Chapman noted in 1945 that there were at least four cemeteries in the town:

    Number 1 Cemetery [1763] - "overlooking the lake: inscriptions copied and a typed record in the N E Hist.Gen. Library in Boston"

    Number 2 Cemetery [aka Old Baptist Cemetery, 1823] - "beside the main road, in sight from the lake, beside a white church, not far from # 1"

    Number 3 Cemetery [aka Laurel Hill Cemetery, 1826] - "at the opposite end of the town from the lake"

    Number 4 Cemetery [aka South Laurel Hill Cemetery, 1883] - "near # 3, and practically an annex to it"

    Included in this database are Mrs. Chapman's transcriptions of cemeteries 2, 3, and 4. The transcriptions for the Number 1 Cemetery can be found at the NEHGS Library [call number MS70/WAL/1 and in the Corbin Collection] and may be added to this database at a future date.

    Search Cemetery Transcriptions from the NEHGS Collections at

    Master Search

    Master search all databases at

    New Research Article on

    Hot Topic
    Making Optimum Use of the IGI
    By Helen S. Ullmann, CG, FASG

    Since its inception in 1969, the International Genealogical Index (IGI) has been a marvelous finding tool — not a source in itself, but, as its name indicates, an index to records from all over the world.

    It has always been a good idea to understand the nuances of this database in order to make full use of it. While it is a great resource for locating people, one must not be misled by the many duplications and errors it contains. Now that the IGI is online, there are new ways to search it. But you will not be making optimum use of it unless you make some effort to go behind the individual entry and find the paperwork and sources associated with many of the entries. With this knowledge you will have a much better idea of when you will find information, how reliable that data is, and whether to pursue an entry that interests you.

    Read the full article at

    A CD Burner in the Microtext Department

    NEHGS is pleased to offer CD-ROM technology for your copying needs in the Microtext Department. Recently NEHGS purchased equipment that will allow patrons to convert microfilm and microfiche images to digital images (TIF format) and then burn them onto CD-ROMs. Patrons may sign up for a one hour time slot each day. Instructions on how to use the CD burner will be provided. If you have used the Canon microfilm reader printers in the Microtext library you will find this process very much the same. You can purchase blank CD-ROMs for $1 each, or bring your own blank CDs from home to use.

    If you have any questions, please call the Microtext Department at 617-536-5740, ext. 239, or email David Lambert at

    Upcoming "Genealogy in a Nutshell" Lectures at the NEHGS Library

    The 2003 "Genealogy in a Nutshell" series continues with:

    • "Researching Your Civil War Union Ancestor" by David Allen Lambert on Saturday, May 31

    • "Maine Lines: Finding Your Downeast Ancestors" by David Dearborn on Wednesday, June 4 and Saturday, June 7

    • "Best Sources for Mayflower Research" by Gary Boyd Roberts on Wednesday, June 11 and Saturday, June 14

    All lectures take place at 10 a.m. Advance registration is not necessary.

    For more details about NEHGS education events, please visit . If you have questions, please call Member Services at 1-888-296-3447 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern time), Monday through Friday.

    From the Volunteer Coordinator

    We now have volunteers who are working at home on a Plymouth records project. They are doing a wonderful service for NEHGS in a hurry. We have a tight deadline, and I am grateful to those who put aside other projects to concentrate on this one for a short period of time. Other volunteers are working just as effectively on the Corbin Collection transcriptions and proofs, and that project is also being processed at a very rapid pace. What would we do without our volunteers!

    We also appreciate our regular volunteers in Boston and Framingham. We had a "brown bag lunch" at the Framingham location last week, and we all enjoyed it. New volunteers and two additional computers there make the workload easier. At 101 Newbury Street in Boston, all is going efficiently, and we are pleased to report new volunteers in the Manuscripts department and the Research Services department. I find everyone so willing to help whenever they can, and it is something I am always so thankful for.

    Susan Rosefsky
    NEHGS Volunteer Coordinator

    Second Annual NEHGS London Genealogical Study Tour, Sept. 23–Oct. 4, 2003

    NEHGS will sponsor its second annual London Study Tour from September 23 to October 4, 2003. The first tour, held in the fall of 2002, was a great success and the program is back by popular demand. The NEHGS group will stay in the Bloomsbury area of London and will visit a host of research repositories, including the Society of Genealogists' Library, the Public Record Office at Kew, the Institute of Historical Research, the Guildhall Library, and many more. Leading the group will be noted genealogical author John Titford, and from the NEHGS staff, assistant executive director D. Brenton Simons. Each member of the group will receive personal tutorial assistance from three English research experts: Michael Gandy, Paul Blake, and Geoff Swinfield.

    In order to provide highly personalized assistance to researchers, this tour is limited to twenty participants. Please register as soon as possible in order to reserve your space on the tour. Participants will be expected to make their own flight arrangements to and from London's Heathrow Airport, arriving before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 23, and departing after 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 4.

    For more information about this tour, please visit If you have questions, please email or call 1-888-286-3447 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern time), Monday through Friday.

    O's By many Other Names: Common Myths About Irish Surnames

    by Marie E. Daly, director of library user services

    "All serial killers drank milk as children. My neighbors drank milk as children. Therefore, my neighbors must be serial killers. Or, all milk drinkers are serial killers." Some might have extended the argument to say, "Therefore, milk causes homicidal tendencies." Anyone who took Logic 101 in college knows about this fallacious argument, which erroneously applies the characteristic of a small subset (serial killers) to another subset (neighbors) or to a large population (all milk drinkers). But similar errors of logic sometimes appear in genealogies. Many myths about surnames have been generalized from observations about particular families. Genealogists err in relying on these myths or assumptions instead of searching for evidence, in making omissions while searching for surnames, or in discarding bona fide ancestors from the family tree. The following is a far-from-exhaustive list of myths and assumptions that sometimes lead the beginning genealogist astray.

    Many of the Sullivans came from the Beara peninsula in County Cork. My ancestor is named Sullivan. Therefore, my ancestor came from the Beara peninsula.

    While the Sullivan ancestor may have originated from Beara, there were still plenty of Sullivans elsewhere in Ireland — Kerry, Limerick, Galway and Tipperary, for instance. Genealogists cannot look at a map showing the distribution of surnames in Ireland and deduce that their ancestors came from a particular place. Records providing the origin of an Irish immigrant ancestor most often are found in the New World country, so genealogists must focus their initial research there rather than in Ireland.

    This person spells his name Matthew Dailey. My ancestor spelled his name Daley. Therefore, this person cannot be my ancestor.

    Irish surnames were recorded by hurried and careless bureaucrats who misspelled and even made up names. The literacy rate among nineteenth-century Irish immigrants fleeing hunger and privation was low. As a result of their indigence, many were poorly educated and could not write their names. They signed documents with the letter X. Matthew Daley's surname was spelled Daly, Daley, Daily, Dailey, Dayley, or Dally in various nineteenth-century records. By 1900, his son had changed his name to Daly. By searching for this individual under a single spelling, a researcher would not find many valuable sources. The problem of variant spelling is so common to surname indexes that a special indexing system called "soundex " was devised to lump similar sounding names together. Thus, the surname Daly in all its forms would be found under D400 in a soundex index. Unfortunately, not all indexes use soundex codes, so genealogists must search under many different spellings of a surname. Genealogists must also remember to search to include the possibility of the O' or Mc being added or dropped. For instance, McCarthy should also be researched under McCarty, McCartney, Carty and Carthy. A perusal of the O'Sullivan surname should include Sullivan as well. So researchers must extend their scope to include any and all variant spellings of surnames.

    All MacDonalds are Scottish and all McDonalds are Irish.

    This maxim is useless to the genealogist since there are so many exceptions. For example, in Prince Edward Island, records of the Scottish clan spell the name McDonald. Furthermore, in the face of prejudice, our ancestors may have changed the spelling of their surnames to acquire some advantage or avoid some stigma. Thus an Irishman named Owen McDonnell may have changed his name to John MacDonald in the New World. Walsh might become Welch, Mahoney become Matthews, and so on.

    Many people with the surname Mullin are Irish. Therefore, the Mayflower voyager Priscilla Mullins was Irish.

    Actually no one knows where Priscilla Mullins was born, but her father was most certainly English. In a misplaced quest for status, some Irish-Americans have claimed national icons as their own. (Their energies might be better spent drawing attention to the real heroism of Irish immigrants.)

    The surname Kelley indicates a Protestant family, while the surname Kelly indicates a Catholic one.

    The particular spelling of a surname can result from the choice of a bureaucrat, the illiteracy of an ancestor, changing customs over time, or the preference of one family member. Members of the same family do spell their names differently, and orthography has nothing to do with religion. The presence of a variant spelling within a town may, however, sometimes — but not always — help distinguish one family from another. When using census records, genealogists should be aware that the information within a particular town may have been gathered by different census takers who used their own idiosyncratic spelling system. Analysis of handwriting is one way of determining that more than one census taker was at work in the same area.

    Neil McGuigan cannot be the brother of James Goodwin.

    Before the nineteenth century, most people in the west of Ireland spoke in the Irish language. Surnames and given names had not been anglicized. We had ancestors named Grainne O Maille, Diarmuid MacCartaig, Eilis Ni Feargail, Murraid O Flaitbeartaig, Sile Ni Suileabain, and Concobar O Docartaig, instead of Grace O'Malley, Jeremiah McCarthy, Elizabeth Farrell, Morgan Flaherty, Julia Sullivan, and Cornelius Doherty. Anglicized surnames often appear remarkably different from the original Irish name. The name McGuigan became Goodwin or Goodfellow. One brother may have chosen the Irish spelling, another the English. Thus a Neil McGuigan could very well have had a brother named James Goodwin.

    A man named James Mickey Owen could not be a member of the Kelly family.

    In some areas of Ireland, certain surnames were so common, an informal naming system based upon extended family relationships, called patronymics, were used to distinguish families. In the parish of Ballinascreen, Co. Derry, the Kellys were "Mickey Owens" and "Johnny Pauls," after grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Other common names in certain places developed patronymics: Dohertys in Inishowen, Co. Donegal, Mahoneys in Bandon, Donovans in Clonakilty, and Sullivans in Castletownbere, Co. Cork, and so on. In other cases, a word referring to a physical description was added to distinguish the person: Roe or Ruagh, Dubh, or Bán for red, black, or light hair, respectively. In the nineteenth-century land census, Griffith's Valuation, one may see words like "hernish" or "more" in italics after a surname. The name, John McDevitt (hernish), in the parish of Lower Fahan, Co. Donegal, indicates his family had been the herenach or church wardens in medieval times. "More" meant the individual was large. Local and parish histories often provide information about the patronymics of the area's leading families.

    This exercise in Logic 101 was presented to help genealogists focus on the true work of tracing their families. Easy assumptions about ancestral surnames cannot substitute for basic research and hard work. Nevertheless, some knowledge about an ancestor's clan or surname may help identify variant names and spellings. The following list of books and websites may provide some information regarding particular surnames.

    A number of books dealing with Irish surnames and clans have been published over the years, and many of these can be found in local libraries and LDS branch libraries. The first three books were written by the Chief Herald of Ireland, an early expert on Irish family names. Books can be purchased from bookstores in Ireland or the U. S. The website Irish Internet Hub provides a list of online bookstores.

    Irish Families: Their Names, Arms and Origins, by Edward MacLysaght (Dublin: H. Figgis, 1957).
    Available from the Circulating Library.
    Supplement to Irish Families, by Edward MacLysaght (Dublin: Helicon, 1964).
    More Irish Families, by Edward MacLysaght (Blackrock, Dublin and Portland, Oreg.: Irish Academic Press, 1996). Available from the Circulating Library.
    Irish Names and Surnames, by Rev. Patrick Woulfe (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1923, reprinted 1993). Available from the Circulating Library.
    Irish Family Histories, by Ida Grehan, Knight of Glin, and Donal Begley (Boulder, Colo.: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1993).
    Book of Irish Names: First, Family and Place Names, by Ida Grehan and P. W. Joyce (New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 1989). Available from the Circulating Library.
    The Clans and Families of Ireland: the Heritage and Heraldry of Irish Clans and Families, by John Grenham (Goldenbridge, Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1993). Available from the Circulating Library.
    The Book of Irish Families Great and Small, by Michael O'Laughlin (Kansas City, Mo.: Irish Genealogical Foundation, 1992).
    Families of County Clare, by Michael C. O'Laughlin (Kansas City, Mo.: Irish Genealogical Foundation, 1994).
    Families of County Kerry, by Michael C. O'Laughlin (Kansas City, Mo.: Irish Genealogical Foundation, 1994).
    Family Names of County Cork, by Diarmuid O'Murchadha (Dun Laoghaire, Dublin: Glendale Press, 1985).
    Available from the Circulating Library.

    The websites of a number of clan associations publish a general history of the surname, host clan gatherings, and provide Internet bulletin boards for people to post queries. The bulletin boards are particularly helpful, since they narrow the field to people interested in that surname only.

    Clans of Ireland, Ltd.
    Usenet Newsgroup for Irish Surnames: soc.genealogy.surnames.ireland

    —This article was originally posted on on January 3, 2000. Over one hundred other articles are available to NEHGS members online at

    Favorite — and Black Sheep — Ancestor Feedback

    Here is the latest reader submission to the questions "Who is your favorite ancestor? Who is your favorite black sheep ancestor? Why?" If you would like to contribute information on your favorite and/or black sheep ancestor, please send your story in 300 words or less to Lynn Betlock at Thank you to all past and future contributors!

    Saul S. Davignon: From minor league baseball player to French count
    by Paul Keroack of Stratford, Connecticut

    My "black sheep" relative was the only surviving son of French-Canadian emigrants Louis Davignon and Josephine Kerouack, the latter my great-grandfather's niece. Their son Saul Samuel Davignon was born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1896. He was given these Old Testament names by his father, a trolley conductor who had converted to Methodism. His mother remained Catholic and was able to send her son to a secondary school in Québec where he encountered the passion for genealogy popular among educated French- Canadians.

    Returning to the U.S., Saul played minor league baseball for several years before World War I. In 1917 he enlisted in the Navy and was injured when his ship was torpedoed in 1918. Unable to return to a baseball career and unwilling to labor in the textile industries that employed most of his fellow Franco-Americans, he found himself in New York City in 1919. Working as a butler, he married a young woman from Minnesota working as a domestic, Thyra Kjell Levander

    Perhaps envying the new wealth of the Long Island elite in the 1920s, and armed with the family tradition widely believed in Québec that the Kerouack family was descended from the noble Breton Kerouartz line, he and Thyra passed themselves off as Count and Countess D'Avignon. A handsome couple, they dabbled in real estate — until the Depression intervened. Reduced to living back in Norwich with Saul's mother, a priest's housekeeper, Saul and Thyra solicited funds from family members to make a voyage to Paris in hopes of substantiating his claims.

    Although they returned with papers proving nothing, the naive couple carried on with their delusions of grandeur. Saul struggled the rest of his life to project the image of impoverished nobility, much to the derision of his mill-town neighbors and to the delight of the local newspaper. His wife and mother were his only supporters for many years. His obsessions and increasing agitation were finally too much even for his wife, who had him placed in the Norwich Hospital for the Insane, where he died at age fifty-three in 1949. He was buried with veteran's honors alongside his mother's numerous cousins in Wauregan, Connecticut.

    Though I was too young to have met him, stories of his pretensions inspired me to begin my genealogical research. Ironically, in 1996, the centenary of his birth, the Kirouac family association of Québec uncovered the story of our emigrant ancestor in Brittany. A wayward but educated son of a notary and village gentry, Urbain-Francois LeBihan de Kerouac's life may have inspired the tales of lost nobility that fueled Saul Davignon's romantic imagination centuries later.

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