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Post Genealogical Update: Patrick Mears, 1820-1876
Created by John Eipper on 09/25/21 3:19 AM

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Genealogical Update: Patrick Mears, 1820-1876 (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 09/25/21 3:19 am)

I don't wish to make mountains out of molehills, but during the past few days some unusual things have happened to me that might not be coincidences but could be somehow "intentional." These related events peaked today with my "discovery" of a document from 1856 that son Eddie had sent to me last December, but I must have simply skimmed through it and did not then realize its significance until about an hour ago. I will tell this story from the beginning and will attempt to keep it concise, even though it might turn out to be lengthy.

As background, I have been working now for about one year on our various family trees in Eddie's Ancestry.com account. I now feel comfortable that I have tracked down the key families in these trees, along with other families that seemed interesting to me but are not central to our family history, as least as I envision it. So I decided a few days ago to take a lighter touch with this work and to focus on a small group of people that I find central to our story or are simply interesting and intriguing to me. An example of the latter category is a distant relative named Catrina Van Tassell (1719-1804), who lived almost her entire life in the village of Sleepy Hollow, New York. Based on what I have researched about her and about Washington Irving's life, I believe that it is probable that Irving used this relative's name for the character of "Katrina Van Tassel" in his famous short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

As I mentioned before, four key persons in our baobab tree are the following: (i) Patrick Mears (1820-1876), one of my Irish great-grandfathers, (ii) Catherine Purtle/Purtill Mears (1825-1885), Patrick's wife, (iii) Philip John Cronin (1819-1883), my other Irish great-grandfather, and (iv) Mary Ann O'Leary (1825-1881), Philip's wife.

With the recent narrowing of work on our family trees, I began to regret that Eddie and I had not nailed down certain important life milestones concerning Patrick and Catherine Mears. For example, we have no proof of their precise birthdates and, although we have determined Patrick's exact death date, we have no idea when Catherine passed away--the 1885 date mentioned above is just an educated guess. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, we do not have a firm idea as to precisely where in Ireland they may have emigrated from to New York City. We believe from the 1850 US Census records that they were living in lower Manhattan as an apparently married couple, and we know that by 1858 they resided on a small farm in Mount Morris Township, Genesee County, Michigan. Their first two children, John and Catherine, were born in "New York" in 1854 and 1855 respectively and their third child, my grandfather Edward Francis, was born in Genesee County, Michigan. Although we know where this family lived, what parcels in Mount Morris Township made up their farm, and that they lived in a small Irish "community" consisting of Irish emigrant families on nearby farms, we lack details about their daily lives, their wishes and worries, etc. If any diaries or other written records of their daily activities had been created, they have since been destroyed, forgotten, or in the possession of other persons.

Patrick Mears arrived in New York City on May 27, 1850, having sailed in the ship Mary Russell from the port of Limerick. Catherine Purtle/Purtill had arrived earlier on March 11, 1850, having sailed from Liverpool on the Jamestown. We also know that, while living in Manhattan, Patrick applied for American citizenship and that his petition had been approved by the New York Court of Common Pleas in 1856, but as of December of last year, I had not seen (or so I thought) the court order approving his petition.

Yesterday acting on some unexplained impulse and feeling a bit low about not having solved key questions about Patrick and Catherine's personal histories, I began to look (again) for scholarly articles on Irish emigration trends to the United States during the Great Famine. In doing so, I came across this excellent piece that had been published in 2015:

Tyler Anbinden and Hope McCafferty, "Which Irish men and women immigrated to the United States during the Great Famine migration of 1846-54?" 39 Irish Historical Studies, No. 156, November 2015, published by Cambridge University Press.

This article posits that, based on an admittedly small statistical sample but one that the authors had confidence in, the third largest group of Irish emigrants in the "first wave" of emigration (as they were classified by the counties of their origin), came from County Limerick. This was the wave Patrick and Catherine belonged to and Patrick had sailed from the Port of Limerick. That gave me some confidence that Patrick likely had his origins in that county, from which he could have departed from in the spring of 1850. Also, this article contained a reference to what is likely a book highly relevant to my research on the daily lives of Patrick and Catherine, Immigrant Life in New York City, 1825-1863) by Robert Ernst and published by Syracuse University Press in 1994. I immediately ordered the book from Abebooks once I saw the obvious connection.

Nevertheless, what made me feel today more satisfied with my research effort was a "late discovery" that Patrick's petition for naturalization had been approved by the New York Court of Common Pleas in October 1856 via court order, which Patrick had apparently signed at the bottom. His signature misspells his name as inscribed in the caption of the order itself, although that spelling may also be incorrect. Patrick's misspelling is not surprising; an entry in the 1870 US Census records declares that neither he nor his wife could read or write in English. Furthermore, Patrick signed his Last Will and Testament on his deathbed in the Spring of 1876 with an "X"; the text of this document had been composed by Father Robert W. Haire, Patrick's parish priest. Yet, when I write that the New York court's naturalization order was a "late discovery," that is not precisely correct. What happened was that Eddie had uncovered this document and sent it to me last December, but for some reason I did not focus on its importance to our research on Patrick. I only noticed this document this morning, when disposing of old emails on my computer. A copy of this document is attached below.

After reading and realizing the importance of this document, which likely contains the only surviving signature of my Mears great-grandfather, I immediately recalled John's comment on my WAIS post of yesterday about the "WAIS Effect," our group's special version of synchronicity. And then I questioned whether my "late discovery" of this document falls into that same category. Then, looking backward to my Catholic school education, I began to wonder if there hadn't been a spirit tapping on my shoulder to remind me to complete my research on Patrick and to clean out my old emails from my computer, which intervention resulted in my reading and appreciating the document attached below.

JE comments:  Pat, the signature (bottom right) does suggest novice penmanship (penpersonship?), but how should we understand the X signature in Granddad's testament?  Also, was Myers/"Myres" a common alternate spelling for Mears?  Or the other way around?  Any chance that the Pat Myres in the document was a different gentleman?

From your research, can you give us an idea of the literacy rate of the Great Famine emigrants? I found one statistic that in the 1840s, 47% of the Irish could read.  Compulsory education did not arrive until the 1920s.  Given that the emigrants tended to be poorer, one would suppose that well over half of them were illiterate.

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  • Genealogy: A 19th-Century Battaglia Bon Vivant (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/26/21 4:17 AM)
    I enjoyed reading Patrick Mears's research into the history of his ancestors in both Ireland and the US.

    My grandfather did similar research into our family, even if for complicated reasons all the documentation has been lost for me.

    Generally, families mostly remember heroes, examples of great honesty, high prelates, and so on.

    But in my family, a "bon vivant" is remembered most. The Battaglias were a family that originated with the Viscounts of Turin in the 11th century, and had a small fiefdom near Turin. Carlo and Giovanni were valets de chambre of the sons of Emanuele Filiberto Ironhead (1528-1580).

    But the bon vivant in the first half of 1800 was the squire of Mondovì (Piedmont). He squandered all his money, lands, and the ancestral residence, enjoying beautiful women, fancy cuisine, fine wines, and splendid and elegant coaches until he went broke.

    Consequently, being an engineer, he decided to go to Egypt for the construction of the Suez Canal, while the embarrassed son moved to Savona where he started a printing house that lasted about 150 years. My uncle was the last owner.

    Shall I be ashamed or envious of my ancestor?

    JE comments: Eugenio, if it's a good story, you should be proud!  Through an ancestral DNA test we've recently discovered a skeleton of sorts in our family closet:  a "natural" child born to my maternal great-grandfather in 1910.  People misbehaved in the Good Ol' Days, too.

    Do you know anything about your forebear's experience in Egypt?  The Italian connection with the Suez must be a fascinating one.  I know but one related fact:  the Suez Canal inspired the composition of Verdi's classic (and in my view, best) opera, Aida.

    I'm surprised that your grandfather would be doing genealogical research.  I always thought of this practice as a relatively recent one.

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  • Mears, Myers: Genealogy and Name Spellings (Patrick Mears, -Germany 09/26/21 9:33 AM)
    John's questions in reply to my post of September 25th are good ones, and ones that I have thought about before. Here goes:

    First, with respect to the use of "Myers" on the Naturalization Order of my great-grandfather. I note that the person whom I believe is our Patrick Mears recorded in the passenger manifest of the ship Mary Russell has his name spelled therein as "Myers." From the consistent penmanship of the scrivener of this manifest, Patrick did not sign his name there. Of course, it is possible that this may not be my great-grandfather at all but some other Patrick Myers, but let's proceed further.

    By 1858, Patrick and Catherine had arrived in Genesee County, Michigan, where her third child, Edward Francis, was born.

    By 1860, Patrick and Catherine along with their three children (John, Catherine and Edward Francis) were living on a farm in Mount Morris Township, Genesee County. In the Nonpopulation Schedules in the 1860 US Census, Patrick's last name is spelled as "Mar," which I take to be the result of the inability of Patrick to write and spell words in the English language, and perhaps that problem was exacerbated by his Irish accent.

    In 1861, their fourth and last child, Michael, was born in Mount Morris Township.

    In 1869, two of Patrick and Catherine's children, John (b.1854) and Michael (b.1861) died within days of each other from an outbreak of scarlet fever in the small Irish farm community that the Mears family had their farm in. These two children were buried in Old Calvary Cemetery in Flint, Michigan, where their remains now rest. Here is a link to John's grave, which lists "Patrick & C. Myers" as his parents. https://de.findagrave.com/memorial/59602944/john-myers Here is the link to Michael's grave, which lists "P. & C. Myers" as his parents. https://de.findagrave.com/memorial/59603076/michael-myers . The death year on Michael's grave is an error--he died in 1869, not 1868, per the relevant Genesee County death records from that time. Nevertheless, I think it significant that, on important monuments in the eyes of Patrick and Catherine, that couple likely took great pains to make certain that their surname was spelled "correctly."

    In the 1870 US Census records, the family's surname is spelled "Myers."

    On April 5, 1876, Patrick passed away, probably at home. Before he died, Father Haire transcribed Patrick's Last Will and Testament. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of this document here in Germany; it is in storage back in Grand Rapids. However, the document was recorded in the real estate records of Genesee County. I recall, although not sharply, that Patrick's surname in the will was recorded as "Myers." In the parish records of the now-defunct, St. Michael Parish in Flint, Patrick's death and burial are recorded and his last name therein is spelled "Myers." Both he and Catherine are buried in Old Calvary Cemetery in Flint, but the only headstones that they have are named just "Father" and "Mother." They are located next to the headstones and graves of their two sons, John and Michael.

    Concerning the "X" on Patrick's will above his signature line, perhaps that Patrick was not in a condition to sign the document when it was presented to him by Father Haire at Patrick's bedside. Patrick died from stomach cancer, so he may not even have been conscious when the will was finished and brought to his home for execution. Or Patrick may have been in too much pain to take the time and make the effort to sign his first and last names. I wish I knew more detail concerning the facts surrounding Patrick's death.

    Sometime after Patrick's death, my grandfather, Edward Francis Mears (1858-1937), inherited the farm at age 18 and remained there with his mother, Catherine, and his sister, Catherine Mears (1854-1918), along with her "new" husband, Cornelius O'Leary, who had emigrated from the Millstreet area in County Cork in the mid-1870s to Michigan.

    In the 1880 US Census records and in all the others thereafter that include members of this family at their Mount Morris Township home, their surname is consistently written as "Mears."

    So, can we make sense of all of this. Yes, it is possible that the Naturalization Order that you reference does not relate to my Patrick Mears. However, we have seen from the preceding text that the name, "Myers," had been used more often than not by Patrick after his emigration to the USA. Yet I suspect that the spelling of his surname at his home in Ireland was different. "Myers" does not strike me as a surname for a Roman Catholic, Irish person who lived the 19th century. For example, in the Griffiths Valuation of 1853, which valued the freeholds and leaseholds in Ireland during English rule, I found a "John Meere" and a "Catherine Purtle" living near one another as tenants on the estate of Lord Monteagle, Thomas Spring Rice of Brandon, in the vicinity of Loghill, County Limerick. These were the names of the two leaseholders; their children, if any, were not listed in this official document. If these two persons had children, they may have been my great-grandfather and great-grandmother Mears, but I will probably never determine if these named persons are my relatives. Furthermore, the official and church records from that time in Ireland are simply full of holes and many of them were destroyed between 1919 and 1923. Similarly with respect to my great-grandmother, the surnames "Purtle" and "Purtill" are corruptions of the Irish surname, "Purcell." There are many Purcells buried in Flint's Old Calvary Cemetery, but my great-grandmother (who has no gravestone) is not among them. Perhaps her surname was indeed "Purcell" and the she too had been the victim of other persons' misspellings of her name on important documents.

    I guess that I may have to be satisfied with a lingering uncertainty on some of these points, but compared to what I started out with, Eddie and I have traversed many, many miles successfully during our collective journey into the murky past. Maybe sometime in the future, either Eddie or I will experience a breakthrough.

    Eddie: If you have any other ideas, etc., please pass them on to John and myself.

    JE comments:  How sad about Uncles John and Michael.  It's heartbreaking to visit an old cemetery and see numerous children's graves--often from the same family in the space of days.  Harsher times they were.

    On the Myers/Mears riddle:  immigration and illiteracy are responsible for countless name and spelling changes.  Any examples from other WAISers?

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    • Keeping Up with the Rockefellers (Leo Goldberger, USA 09/27/21 2:25 AM)
      A propos name changes: I cannot help but relate my personal experience when I became a US citizen in 1958.

      Appearing at the US Immigration where I was asked asked a number of questions, such as how many senators each state has and the name of the Chief Justice of the USA--the inspector held up his pen and said: :Now that you are about to become an American citizen, how would you like to be called?" My initial answer was, I'd like to have my first name permanently changed to "Leo" rather than "Lavoslav"--the name on my Yugoslavian birth certificate (a name I had long discarded living in Denmark from age 4). "We don't care about your first name--but just your last name." My response: "What is wrong with my surname, Goldberger?  "Well, he responded, it is not very American...You now have the opportunity to change it..."

      This question came as a genuine surprise, and I felt a bit pressured to come up with some sort of response--when lo and behold, I came up with the name of "Rockefeller!" (The large photo of him as the Governor of NY was staring at me from the wall came to mind.) Well, the inspector almost had an apoplexy--responding "No, No--you can't call yourself that...I was thinking 'Gold,' 'Berger,' or 'Berg.'" "Well, I said--I'll stick to my own name--thanks!" 

      Even after all these years, I still can't imagine what possessed me to propose "Rockefeller," though I know I must have just been sarcastic--even back then.

      JE comments:  Leo Rockefeller.  I like the sound of it.  Even after all these years, there's a Rockefeller mystique.  There were two of them in my class at Dartmouth, including Nelson, Jr.  An aura of pedigree followed them wherever they went.

      I don't think the surnames Bezos or Musk will ever attain the same lofty status.

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