Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

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Recognizing the Irish in Me

Mom always made me wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day when I was growing up in recognition of my Protestant Irish roots. And because her mother made her do it when she was growing up. According to AncestryDNA, I’m 29% Irish. Mom was 56% Irish, and Dad is 15%.  Of course, ethnicity estimates are only really accurate to the continent level, but today is St. Patrick’s Day and I’m celebrating my Irish roots.

William Cooke (1829-1912) and Eliza Leighton (1838-1916), two of my maternal g-g-grandparents, came to New York City between 1854-1857 from Belfast, Northern Ireland. They may have been already married when they arrived, as no marriage record for them has been found in New York. William was a shoemaker and he and Eliza raised their family in Brooklyn, where they were members of South Third Street Presbyterian Church. Only five of their 13 children lived longer than one year. Their son Robert Thomas Cooke, the second child of that name, was my great-grandfather.


More maternal g-g-grandparents were also Irish. Alice Heginbotham (1842-1927) was born in Dublin in 1842 to her Irish mother Anna Cairnes (1820-1878) and her English father, Thomas Heginbotham (1816-1892). Thomas was a hatter as was Anna’s father, William. The Heginbothams arrived in New York City from Dublin on 22 August 1853,  traveling in steerage on the Freja and bringing Anna’s widowed mother Alice (1789-1876) with them.  They lived in Manhattan where Thomas worked as a hatter. In the 1870 census, Thomas and four of his children were working in the hat trade.

Alice’s husband Peter McCormick (1842-1898) took a less direct route to New York City. We don’t know where in Ireland he was born, but on 14 May 1856 he was indentured as an apprentice to stone mason James Galloway in Glasgow, Scotland. His father, Patrick McCormick, signed the agreement. James died in bankruptcy before the terms of the agreement were completed and in 1861, Peter was with Patrick and the rest of his family in Liverpool, England; Peter, Patrick, and his brothers Francis and John were all stone masons. Peter arrived in New York in September 1867 and worked as a mason or contractor until his death in 1898. He and Alice married in May 1875 at St. Ignatius Loyola parish in Manhattan. Their daughter Charlotte was my great-grandmother. Peter was naturalized in New York on 15 October 1886.

Charles Morrison (1837-1895) and his wife Margaret Brookmire (1845-1939) were born in Scotland.  What little we know about Charles indicates his parents were also Scots. Margaret’s parents were Robert Brookmire (b.1821) and Isabella McAusland (b.1817). The McAuslands are also an old Scots family, but in Robert and Isabella’s marriage record, it was noted that Robert’s father John Brookmire was in Belfast. They were married on 3 July 1840 in the Church of Scotland Parish of Campsie.

Brookmire McAusland Marriage

Robert worked as a Calico Printer, an occupation that was thriving in the Belfast, Ireland, area with many workers coming to Scotland to work in the same trade. It’s quite probable that he was actual Irish rather than Scots, upping my total.

My father’s Irish roots are a complete mystery, as I have yet to figure out how any of them even got to North Carolina much less where they came from. Sometimes I think they were dropped by aliens. But DNA doesn’t lie and there is Irish in there somewhere!




Et Tu, Shrewsbury?

There are way too many people on my family tree named William, Elizabeth, John, and Sarah. Oh, there’s the occasional Charlotte, Cleopheous, and Jabez, but honestly, I have four generations of William Flanders who married someone named Elizabeth. It’s ridiculous.

Shrewsbury Flanders would be different, I was sure of it. I mean, Shrewsbury wasn’t something you see every day, right?  The Shrewsbury Flanders in my tree was born in 1817 in Little Downham, Cambridgeshire, England, and was the younger half-brother of my g-g-g-grandfather William Flanders (b.1811).  Yes, another William.  They shared their father, Smith Flanders (1777-1846), but had different mothers. William’s mother was Smith’s  first wife, Elizabeth Reed (1784-1815), while Shrewsbury’s mother was second wife Sarah Lee (1786-1874). He was the eldest of this “second family.”

Go back a generation and we hit the name jackpot: Smith Flanders’ parents were John Flanders (yes, another one) and Sarah Shrewsbury!  It seems obvious and logical that one of their grandchildren was named for his paternal grandmother. But wait! More sleuthing in parish baptismal records on FindMyPast uncovered a William Shrewsbury Flanders born in 1775 to John and Sarah. Again, the name made sense.

FLANDERS Shrewsbury - Marriage to Mary Elizabeth Wells - 1842Shrewsbury Flanders married Mary Ann Dewey on 7 December 1830 in Littleport, Cambridgeshire. But wait, that’s wrong. Shrewsbury was only 13 at the time! What’s going on here?  Shrewsbury Flanders also married Mary Elizabeth Wells in Feb 1842 in Banham, Norfolk, England – but this Shrewsbury lived in Methwold, not Littleport. Did Mary Ann die before he married Mary Elizabeth?

Let’s look at some other records. If the Parish Records can be believed, Shrewsbury Flanders had 19 children from Mary Ann and Mary Elizabeth – several Williams, Georges, Marys, and Elizabeths because so many died as infants. But still, something was very wrong.

So I went back and did more searching for Shrewsbury, changing my search strategies, and this time found two baptismal records: Shrewsbury #1, son of John and Elizabeth, was baptized at age 3 on 4 Jun 1811 in Downham, Cambridgeshire. Shrewsbury #2, son of Smith and Sarah, was baptized on 25 Dec 1817 in Littleport, Cambridgeshire.  They were different people! That should have been obvious had I approached this in a more systematic way but still, it explained all the inconsistencies.

John Flanders and Sarah Shrewsbury had five children:  John, William Shrewsbury, Smith, Susannah, and Thomas. Both John and Smith had sons named Shrewsbury, who were first cousins and grandsons of Sarah Shrewsbury. They were born nine years apart and died one year apart:  John’s son Shrewsbury (#1) died in 1895, Smith’s son Shrewsbury (#2) died in 1896 (the GRO index helped clarify which was which, since it gave age at death). In between these Shrewsburys farmed land in parishes separated by only 8 miles and were probably part of each other’s lives.

Now if only Mary Ann and Mary Elizabeth had had different names!


#52Ancestors – #11 Lucky Meeting with Louise Dail

Forty years ago I took a break from courthouse research in rural Perquimans County, North Carolina, to buy a soft drink at a store across the street. The nice lady behind the counter saw my notebook and asked if I was doing genealogy research. I wasn’t used to anyone knowing what I was doing research-wise and was surprised at the question, but was shocked speechless when she then asked, “Which Goodwin are you descended from?”

It seems everyone in the county is related to the Goodwins, one or more of them. I had been getting hopelessly confused by just how many Goodwins I was finding, all with the same sets of first names (William, Job, John, Caleb, Henderson, George). They appeared in Perquimans and neighboring Chowan Counties in the late 1600’s and have been farming in the same areas for two hundred and fifty years.

Our chance meeting led to a remarkable find. Louise told me I had to go to Raleigh to look at estates administration records (now digitized and available at FamilySearch) for Perquimans County. In one of the Goodwin files there was an heirs list dating to the early 1800’s. It didn’t sound very plausible to me, but what did I know?  Louise didn’t remember exactly where, just that it existed.

Before this meeting, I had really only looked at records for known ancestors instead of  everyone with the same surname. Louise taught me the valuable lesson of doing more than that. Following her advice, I looked through estates records for everyone named Goodwin and found a goldmine in the files for John Goodwin, not someone I even knew I was related to. He was actually my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, which this document confirmed. Without Louise’s information, I might have just skipped the file.

GOODWIN John - Children - from Probate Records 1855

For there was exactly what she had told me about: a list of heirs of John Goodwin who died in 1815. A piece of property was in litigation at the the time of his death that prevented the estate from being closed. For the next forty years, various combinations of heirs had petitioned the court for their share of the estate. But in 1855, they finally did it together and submitted an heirs list to the court clarifying who was entitled to shares of the states. Voila!


52 Ancestors – #10 Strong Woman

There’s strength and then there’s strength. My female ancestors didn’t just sit around in pretty dresses and fill their idle time the way the women did in Gone With the Wind. They performed the hard labor that was the daily routine of life before electricity and modern conveniences, including working in the fields alongside their “men folk.”  It was not an easy life.  Women also lived with the pain of losing children who died at tender ages. Any death is difficult; bearing many children only to have a handful survive, if that, is something we don’t really experience today.

The Segars

My great-great- grandmother Margaret Brookmire was a strong woman for a very long time. She was born on 2 October 1845 in Scotland to Irishman Robert Brookmire and his Scots wife, Isabella McAusland. At age 19, she left for New York City on board The Progress, leaving from Ireland and arriving at Castle Garden on 22 June 1864. She was a spinster traveling alone, or at least without other family. Can you imagine how difficult that was, leaving your home and sailing across the ocean to a country enmeshed in a Civil War?

Margaret made her way from New York to the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, where she married Scottish immigrant Charles Morrison on 20 February 1865 at the home of a Presbyterian minister in Summit Hill.  We don’t know how they met or if they knew each other in Scotland, or if she was perhaps a “mail order bride.”  Life in coal country was hard and dirty. Charles worked long hours in the mines and had returned from his Civil War Union Army Service with injuries received at Gettysburg, making it even harder.

By 1870, Margaret and Charles had moved to Larksville in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, where he continued to work as a miner. They had five children between 1866 and 1872, with only Isabella, John, and Jane surviving.  Margaret and Charles were founding members of Snowden Memorial Presbyterian Church in Larksville in 1871 and four of their five children were baptized there; the fifth appears to have died before he could be baptized.

Charles Morrison Pension 1882Life got even more difficult for Margaret in November 1874 when her husband Charles was committed to the Danville State Hospital for the Insane. He was indicted for lewdness but found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was to spend the next 21 years in the asylum, where he died.  This left Margaret married but without a husband or his income, raising three small children on her own. In the 1900 census, Margaret listed her occupation as “nurse” so it is possible she worked as a nurse during this period of her life as well, although I haven’t found anything to prove that.

In February 1880 Margaret married Andrew Segar, a shoemaker from New York City, at the home of another Presbyterian minister in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. One of their two witnesses was Jas. Brookmire, who is possibly but not yet proven to be a relative. We know nothing about what Margaret may have told Andrew about her still-living husband. She applied for Charles Morrison’s Civil War pension in 1882. The Army investigated and told her that, oops, he was still alive and she wasn’t entitled to it.

Her second husband Andrew was an invalid by 1890 from his own war injuries, and Margaret worked as a nurse. Her children were married by then and Margaret and Andrew lived with her eldest daughter, Isabella, first in New York City, then Washington, D.C., and finally in New Jersey, living with her youngest daughter Jane down the street from her granddaughter and her family.  Jane took in boarders to make a living.

In 1930 Andrew died and Margaret applied for his Civil War pension. It was the Great Depression and she was 85 years old; every bit of money helped. Except the Army didn’t want to give it to her, since she and Andrew had not been legally married in 1880 because Charles was still alive. The Bureau of Pensions sent an investigator to meet with Margaret, who told a series of different versions of Charles’ death and her second marriage. The investigator concluded that she was “lying to beat the band” but had apparently decided to tell the truth. Part of that truth was having lied to her children in 1874, telling them that Charles had died instead of what really happened.

Depositions from family and friends confirmed that Margaret and Andrew were devoted to each other and had remained by each other’s side for 50 years.  She died in 1939 at age 93, having lived a life far removed from Scotland. She did what she needed to do, including lying and bigamy, to keep her family together and alive in tough times.

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52 Ancestors – #9 Where There’s a Will

We genealogists love wills, especially ones that spell out family relationships. Wills written close to the date of death can be more accurate in describing then-living relatives, though sometimes the absence of someone who should be mentioned but isn’t will tell us a lot as well. But the will is a single document and it’s not infallible. It usually doesn’t describe the circumstances around the inheritance(s) laid out in the will, though of course it can.

Witcham House.jpgElizabeth Deeks Webb Flanders died at Witcham House in Witcham, Cambridgeshire, England, on 20 April 1921. Her husband William Flanders died fourteen years before, leaving her a widow with five adult children, two of whom had moved to New York City in the 1880’s.  William had been a wealthy farmer and horse breeder and his estate in 1907 was valued at £3,815 which would have the same buying power as $509,596 today.

Elizabeth’s will was dated 2 August 1911 and remained unchanged until it was probated 22 September 1921.  But a lot happened between those two dates, the biggest of which was the First World War; their home was used as an army hospital and lands were sold off.  There were family changes, too: one of William and Elizabeth’s sons died in 1912 and another son separated from his wife in a nasty split. “Times here are wretched,” said oldest son Harry.


How do I know this?  Because Harry wrote a letter to his brother William (my great-grandfather) sending a handwritten copy of Elizabeth’s will and explaining why “Willie” had gotten so very little. It was full of details about the family situation and why “mother” had made the decisions she did – and then how Harry was trying to honor those provisions in light of the changed circumstances.

The will is wonderful to have and it does indeed detail family relationships. But in this case, the letter that came with it is even better.


52 Ancestors #8 – Heirloom Chair

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YThis little chair isn’t particularly important or valuable but I’ve always liked it. It’s made of four pieces of pierced metal, with smooth curved edges that slot together to form a rocking chair which stands 4 inches tall. I’m not even sure what it’s made out of – it’s just a little metal chair.

According to my mom, it was made by Andrew Seger, my step-great-great-grandfather. Although he died in 1930, the year before Mom was born, his widow lived with her daughter (Mom’s grandmother) right down the street from them until 1939. The little chair may have been made for my grandmother, who was his step-granddaughter.

He was born on 12 July 1841 in New York City to German immigrants Henry and Frances Seger. They lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Henry was a shoemaker; Andrew was the second of thirteen children and also worked as a shoemaker.

He enlisted in the Union Navy in May 1863 and served on the USS North Carolina, USS Monitor, and USS Roanoke, working as a coal heaver for a year. He reenlisted in June 1864 and served another three years as a coal heaver on four different ships, ending again on the USS North Carolina. This was hot, dirty, and dangerous work requiring men to haul buckets of coal from the bunker to the ship’s boiler, and Andrew emerged from his service with damage to his optic nerve and catarrh, an inflammation of mucus membranes. Although he worked as a shoemaker for a few years following the war, by 1890 he was an invalid and unable to work at his trade. He was 49 years old.

The Segars

Andrew married Margaret Ashley in Manhattan on 23 December 1869 and they appear together in the 1870 census. Margaret worked as a housekeeper and died childless in January 1878, according to Andrew’s pension records and her New York City death certificate. He married again to Margaret Brookmire Morrison in 1880 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and they were together for 50 years. Andrew died at the New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers & Sailors in 1930 at the age of 88.

But there are mysteries. How and why did he get to Pennsylvania when he was a New York City shoemaker? Andrew Seger doesn’t show up in New York City directories in the 1870’s; perhaps he was an itinerant and left his wife behind to wander. Her death certificate doesn’t list a husband’s name and she was employed as a housekeeper; perhaps she was working to support herself in Andrew’s absence.

The family story had been that Margaret Morrison married him after her first husband died, and that both husbands had fought together in the Civil War. That can’t be right because her first husband Charles was in the Army and Andrew was a sailor!  We do know they were married on 18 February 1880 in Wilkes Barre by a Presbyterian minister. Unfortunately, Margaret Morrison was already married at the time to her soldier husband, who was a patient at Danville Hospital for the Insane. Whether Andrew knew of her first husband’s situation is another unknown but it seems unlikely she could have kept that secret for 50 years.

Even Andrew’s military service is confusing in spite of a lengthy pension file. He is listed as “Andrew Seger alias George L. Sylvester,” which is still another mystery. I haven’t found actual enlistment papers but all documents in the pension file include both names. Maybe he lived as George Sylvester when he wasn’t being Andrew, though I haven’t found anything to prove that yet, either.

The one thing he left behind was the little metal chair. Whether he made it or not, and at what point in his life he was able to do so, Andrew Seger is worth being remembered.


Surgery While Obese

Surgery involves medical, logistical, and emotional issues. The medical ones are obvious: what’s actually wrong with your body, what the surgeon and medical team do to repair/remove/replace that, and what the recovery will involve. There are alsoStressed logistical issues that most hospitals and surgeons address with you at least in general terms for what to expect when you get home: rearranging furniture to clear pathways, filling prescriptions in advance, fueling the car, stocking the fridge and pantry with prepared foods that are easy to heat/serve/eat, figuring out hygiene issues, finding help for household tasks like laundry.

And then there are emotional issues. All surgery is scary, even when they tell you it’s a simple procedure. You’re in a strange place with people you don’t know poking and prodding you, sticking needles in your arm, and cutting into your body while you’re asleep. Things can go wrong; consent forms tell you of the risks. Some surgery carries with it bad news about cancer or organ damage, and the emotional toll that takes is high, both for you and those who wait with and for you.

Obese Man and DoctorWe “people of size” AKA fatties (or I prefer the term “fluffy”) have other emotional concerns that generally remain locked deep inside:  Will I and my body be respected while I am under your care?  Will you think less of me and talk about me and take pictures of my fat rolls while I’m asleep? Will the hospital gown fit me or will my butt be left hanging?  Will the blood pressure cuff fit on my arm?  Will the boot for my post-op leg actually fit?  If you have to make a trip to get things to fit me, will it be obvious that you consider that an unwanted chore? Do you even know that I’m worried about these things?

These have happened to me more than once, and to everyone else I know who is obese. They hang over me when I go the hospital. They worry me and raise my blood pressure. They make it harder for me to listen to you even when you’re talking about important things. Sometimes they are more important to me than the reason I’m there for the surgery in the first place.

Yesterday I had gastroc recession surgery at a hospital outpatient surgical center. It was a simple procedure to lengthen my calf muscle, but I was still worried about all of the above other things. The admitting clerk was friendly and efficient – and she was my size. So after we finished signing me in, I asked her if this was safe place for someone of size. And she got it. Immediately. She told me that yes, she trusted all of the people there to respect every patient regardless of size, and that other attitudes and behaviors were not tolerated. It was reassuring.

earWhen I got into the little prep room and even before they took my blood pressure, a woman dressed in different colored scrubs appeared and said she needed privacy to talk with me.  The admitting clerk had gone to her senior administrator to tell her of my worries and she wanted to reassure me in person that I would be treated with the best care and respect that they afford every patient. She looked me straight in the eyes and told me she would not accept anything less. I believed her.

The gown already waiting for me was generously sized and fit me. The blood pressure cuff already in the room fit comfortably around my arm. The IV went in without a hitch the first time. When I woke up in recovery, my boot was sized to fit my foot and not my leg, with first velcro and then tape to hold it securely in place. The wheelchair that took me to the car was roomy.

Everyone treated me with respect and care. My worries were real, but I believe I would have been treated that way even had I not shared my fears.  But I’m also not sorry I spoke up because it calmed me to know that I was really heard. The clerk heard me and took action; the administrator heard her and took action. They took me seriously and immediately addressed the concerns, which raises their quality as an institution in my eyes. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to others and would go back again without those emotional worries.

Surgery involves more than just medical expertise. We expect that from our surgeons and the staff who work there. The human element that respects all patients regardless of shape, size, age, or physical disability, matters just as much, for more than just the body needs care. At least I do.