Category: Archive

Lost and found

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Happily, despite the law that states that if something can go wrong, it will, things have started to come right for the Murphys, whose family search has now uncovered scores of living relatives far and near.
As anyone who has dipped his or her toe into the murky world of family research will know, the past is rarely pure and never simple.
But especially if your name is Murphy.
The sisters, who live on Grand Street in Manhattan, found they have more than one ancestor with the common name Michael Murphy — and in the 19th century, there were scores of Michael Murphys listed on the Lower East Side.
How to find the right one?
“It’s by a process of elimination,” explained Hattie, whose dedication to the family tree included using personal days off from work so she could visit the Municipal Archives, the National Archives and other record sites in the city.
There are rules to the genealogy game, but they have to be learned, and nothing is ever guaranteed, as the Murphys discovered.
Mistakes on, say, birth certificates can throw researchers of the trail for years. This has happened at least once in Hattie and Gerry’s experience.
But on the plus side, sometimes records can throw up surprising amounts of detail. When the Immigrant Savings Bank offered bank accounts to newly arrived immigrants, they often asked detailed questions of people who applied, questions such as where they were born, when they left for the United States and what the ship they arrived on was called.
Thus, for certain years, Hattie Murphy stressed, the Immigrant Savings Bank records provide remarkable information.

A family reunited
The sisters’ search reached a milestone in 2001 when they tracked down the family grave in Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Except, on that occasion, they found no stone, milestone or otherwise.
“When we got there, there was no stone,” Hattie said.
“I wanted to go out to Calvary and see if by chance some families put their old counties and towns on the gravestone,” she said. As such, it may have helped confirm some of her research. Births, marriages and deaths, the big events in human lives, are often the only facts that remain apart from a person’s name.
Her sister Gerry, short for Geraldine, continued: “When we left there, we were depressed.”
“We had to get a stone,” Hattie said. Reilly’s Monuments of Queens were commissioned and a newfound family member, Father Richard Lopez of Atlanta, who is related to the Murphys on his mother’s side, dedicated the stone in August 2001. The stone itself became a collaborative effort for the various branches of the rediscovered family: many chipped in, including Father Lopez’s mother, Anne, and her cousin Irene Albury.
Other relatives came from Florida, Chicago and elsewhere, in all about 60 people.
At the time, Father Lopez spoke warmly about the event.
“My mom is 86 and it has been like a second life for her,” he said. “We have found such wonderful people. About 250 of them.”
Hattie and Gerry were delighted to have Father Lopez speak over the family grave and his remarks captured the poignant moment well.
“What I said to my relatives at the Mass was that this couple, Michael Murphy and Mary McCarthy, were a part of us,” Lopez said.
“To take them out of our background was to diminish us. I read to them of the conditions in Ireland, the Famine and the horror that made them leave. The passage I read is the one in the book that tells about the ‘last sight of Ireland’ and the agony of leaving that place for an unknown fate and a cruel prospect at sea and in a new country and land.”
There is no doubting the harsh conditions faced by the Cork-born Michael and Mary Murphy in the New World. A list of interments in the plot in Calvary cemetery includes 8 children under the age of 6.
One of the complicating factors in uncovering the Murphy’s family tree was that Michael and Mary had not immigrated directly to New York. Recently, Hattie discovered that the couple had first moved to Wales, where they worked for a number of years.
Again, it was a process of elimination.
“I looked at census material,” Hattie said. “They were there in 1851. They were not there in 1861.”
Armed with such information Hattie was able to narrow her searches to find the correct person, even with a very common name like Michael Murphy. Even so, Hattie has seen Michael Murphy’s wife’s maiden name, McCarthy, variously spelled McCarthy, McCarty and Carty.
“My grandfather Samuel Berman, now he was a tough son of a bitch,” said Hattie, recalling another instance of mistaken records. “They registered him as a girl and they spelled his name wrong.”
Names do get changed, especially when people emigrate, although recently an Immigration and Naturalization Service historian challenged the widely held notion that immigration officials changed immigrants’ names at Ellis Island, either because they were in a hurry or because the immigrant did not speak English.
The Murphy’s Jewish side came from the marriage of the sisters’ mother, Blance Berman (Samuel’s daughter) to Charles Murphy Jr.
Oddly, Blance had a grandfather named Charles Connors, who, it turned out, was anything but Irish, in spite of his surname and the fact that he ran and Irish bar and grill on the Lower East Side.
But Charles Connors came not from Ireland but from Minsk in Belarus. His surname, the Murphys reckon, sounded similar to Connors and became changed to suit his surroundings.

Internet useful
The Murphys have done comprehensive research into five generations of their family. Their experience provides useful tips for anyone embarking on such a project. Their commitment alone is noteworthy — after 30 years, the project continues.
“There is information on the Internet, but you have to know what you are looking for,” Hattie said. She found websites such as Genforum.com (www.genforum.com) particularly useful, where users can post messages and have their requests read around the world.
“And start with the New York Public Library [on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street],” Hattie said. “That is where all the census information is held.”
It was Genforum that brought the Murphys together with Father Lopez, after a friend alerted him to a message posted by Hattie in 2001, “seeking New York Murphys.”
Lopez, now a monsignor, will welcome the Murphys and their many new friends to Atlanta, Ga. in August for what will be an even bigger Murphy family celebration.
Thinking of his ancestors, he mused: “could you ever imagine that they would imagine having a priest great-great grandson named Lopez?”
Hattie and her sister have uncovered hundreds of living relatives across the U.S. and beyond. Gerry recently returned from County Clare where she visited another branch of the family, the Cunninghams.
Jokingly, she offered this advice to anyone hoping to embark on a similar family project: “Don’t find anymore family, we have enough.”

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