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Honoring Our Ancestors
March 21, 2018


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Well, my St. Patrick's "Day" celebrations began in NYC on March 2nd and extended to this weekend in Washington, D.C., so I think it's time we accept reality and change it to St. Patrick's Month. Who's with me?!

Whether you're a wee bit Irish or not, I hope March is bringing you plenty of family history adventures and discoveries. If you can step away from your green beverages for a moment, please take a browse of this month's genealogical offerings - a fellow who deliberately made his name harder to spell(!), alarming news about New York City vital records, wanderlust in our genes, a man who bought a graveyard to prevent development there, how I decorated with my dad's mid-century European slides, and more.

Until next month, bottoms up!



From the Archives - What's In a Name?

I decided to delve into the world of ancestral tribute and was rewarded with countless examples that demonstrate our endless well of creativity. I quickly realized that there is no "right" way to honor our ancestors, but rather, as many approaches as there are people with an inclination to do so. Back in May and September of last year, I shared the accounts given by James H. Culbert of Virginia, whose great-grandparents started a family tradition that centered on a diaper, and of Richard Deuel, who shared the genealogical quest of his twenty-eight-year-old sister, Cindy Deuel, who was killed in the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.

The article below shares how one man paid tribue to his forebears by legally changing his last name to its ancestral spelling.

What's In a Name? by Richard OhEigeartaigh

How do you pronounce Oh'igeartaigh? If you're not sure, you're not alone. Bonue points to you if you figured out it's pronounced o-HEG-are-tea, more commonly recognized as "Hegarty" or "O'Hegarty."

Some twenty-five years ago, I decided to change the spelling of my surname back to the original Gaelic, or as I prefer to call it, Irish. While I didn't have any documented proof of the old spelling in my family, I knew that Oh'igeartaigh was the traditional spelling, which had been used for centuries before English law required the Anglicization of all surnames in Ireland. It wasn't until the Gaelic revival in the 1890s that some families returned to the original spelling of their names, but my family retained the English version until I decided to reverse history in 1975.

Growing up in Boston with an immigrant father with an IRA past, I naturally absorbed many tales of British injustices in Ireland. My mother was the daughter of Irish immigrants and had raised money for the IRA. While I wasn't raised to be revolutionary or a rebel, I was keenly aware of the hardships my family had endured in the "old country." My father was very insistent that I develop an appreciation for other cultures, perhaps because he knew what it was to live in an environment where one's culture is barely tolerated.

I took my father's advice to heart and majored in Spanish in college, which made me even more eager to learn about other cultures and languages. Not surprisingly, one of the languages I chose to master was Irish. Today I teach Irish classes and am very pleased that the demand is so strong.

At the time of my decision, I was married with two children. My children were too young to weigh in with an opinion, but my wife was less than thrilled at the prospect of adopting the thirteen-letter variation of our name. Respecting my wishes, she eventually agreed to the change. It was my father's opinion, though, that was of greatest concern to me. When my father quietly responded that the "new" spelling was "the way it was supposed to be," my decision was made.

I hired an attorney and went through the usual formalities, placing a notice in the newspaper and filing documentation at the county courthouse. The request was never questioned, and my family and I are now legally OhEigeartaigh.

I'm frequently asked whether it's all been worth it. Isn't it a hassle having to constantly spell my name? Isn't it annoying to hear it mispronounced time and time again? Isn't it tedious having to explain that, no, it's no Arabic?

No, I don't think so. A surprising number of people of all ethnic persuasions pronounce it correctly the first time, and after a quarter of a century, I've learned to adapt to any minor inconvenience it might cause. When I travel to Ireland, where many others have reverted to the original spelling of their names, I attract no comment as an American bearing the Irish spelling.

I believe that a name is a label we put on ourselves, and I consider my decision to be like that of many African Americans who use names that reflect their cultural heritage. But I don't see it as a statement and I find it curious that it is so frequently a subject of discussion. Given my awareness of the injustices that first forced my family to shift to the Anglicized Hegarty spelling, though, I suppose it is somewhat appropriate that OhEigeartaigh translates to "unjust" - a quiet protest hidden in my name.

This excerpt is from an article originally published in the July/August 2002 issue of Ancestry magazine and the book Honoring Our Ancestors: Inspiring Stories of the Quest for Our Roots

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Seton Shields Genealogy Grants

I'll be announcing the first quarter grant recipients shortly, so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, here's a reminder to get your grant application in if you've been intending to. Submissions remain active candidates for six months from the date I receive them.

To apply for a Seton Shields grant, fill out and submit the form here. To see the types of cool projects I've had the opportunity to contribute to over the years, look here.

And be sure to check out this article, which will give you a behind-the-scenes peek into my grants program (and might help you increase your odds of being selected when you apply)!

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Genealogy Round Up, March 14

Photo Credit: Hubble/European Space Agency and NASA

NY's black hole gets blacker - Um, this is incredibly bad news.

How Katy Perry's Irish Ancestress Cashed in on California's Gold Rush - Looked into Katy Perry's roots and turns out she had a gold-obsessed family and a really interesting great-great-grandmother. Was challenging to research - partly because of records that were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake - but managed to dig out an interesting tale!

If you choose to read and like this, I'd be very grateful if you'd "clap" (just click on the little pair of hands at the bottom left of the article on MEDIUM up to 50 times). I know that sounds weird, but more claps helps with visibility! Thanks!

Katy Perry performing in New York City 2010
Photo Credit: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

To Alleviate or Elevate the Euroamerican Genealogy Fever - "As the prescribed cure for marginalised genealogy was not directed at the pathology, the historian, but at its victim, the genealogist, the lack of progress is unsurprising. That other fields of academia are more than willing to put scholarly level genealogy at the heart of vast, sprawling projects ought to be inspiring."

P.S. Elizabeth Shown Mills cited frequently.

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Genealogy Round Up, March 7

Image Credit: thierry ehrmann

23AndMe Forensic Kit Informs Customer What Crimes He's Committed - genetic humor

23andMe Gets FDA Green Light to Sell First Consumer DNA Test for Cancer Risk

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Genealogy Round Up, February 28

Photo Credit: VW Escape

The Science of Wanderlust: How Wanderlust May Actually Be Genetic - Yeah, I've definitely got these genes

Decorating with genealogy. Entrance hallway now adorned with Dad's slides of Europe.

So honored to have researched Michelle Obama's roots! I know her ancestors are smiling!

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Genealogy Round Up, February 21

Image Credit: Austin Kleon

Obituaries for thieves

A man has bought an entire graveyard to stop anyone building on top of his ancestors

Ode to an Obituary Writer, a Dying Breed

Out On a Limb: Digitized records a 'treasure trove of information' - Terrific genealogy resource for those with Pennsylvania Catholic heritage - esp. Wilkes-Barre area, but no, it's not online

Why Pharrell Almost Didn't Exist - Hint: Liberia and the Nat Turner Rebellion played a role

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Upcoming Events

After traveling around and speaking in 40 states and half a dozen countries, I decided to take a breather from the road to tend to some projects. That said, I'm sharing exceptions here. And by the way, you can see if I'll be in your area any time by checking my Events Calendar.

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