Friday, October 31, 2008


It's Halloween and instead of tricks we have some treats for you in the
9th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture. In keeping with
the holiday, this time the theme is on Irish superstitions. You'll find that
some of them are mentioned in more than one post. So take a seat, ignore
that scratching at your windowpane, and prepare to be mesmerized by
our geneabloggers!

Jessica over at Jessica's Genejournal tells about a "volume of forgotten
lore" in her article "Irish Ghost Stories: A Book..."It seems this particular
book gives Jessica a "creepy feeling." Read the article and find out why!

Melody Lassalle of The Research Journal gives us "Laughter and Superstition
During An Earthquake"
. It's a story of her family in the San Francisco
Earthquake that shows how strong a hold superstition sometimes has on a

Colleen M. Johnson presents "Do I Have Any Superstitions?" posted at Blog, saying, "Do I have any superstitions? Read on and
discover some chills."

Thomas MacEntee presents A Wee Bit Superstitious posted at
Destination: Austin Family, saying, "it is great to be back participating
in this carnival!" And it's good to have you back, Thomas!

Lisa presents"Black cats, lucky pennies and troublesome fairy folk" at
Small-leaved Shamrock saying, “Superstitious lot, those Irish!
Small-leaved Shamrock takes a look at some of the concerns that many
centuries of Irish people had to face on a daily basis.”

Elizabeth at Little Bytes of Life tells us about her family's list of superstitions
which she thinks of as "rules-orientated". I grinned reading "The Bad Luck of
the Irish"
and I think you will, too!

Finally, my own Irish American family shared many of the same superstitions
as our other geneabloggers' families did and I talk about the ones I can recall
my Mom telling us in "SUPERSTITIONS OUR MOTHER TOLD US" here
at West in New England.

So that's it. I hope you enjoyed the 9 Edition of Carnival of Irish Heritage and
Culture. Please join us for the next edition. Here's what Lisa has to tell us
about it:

"Irish culture is loved worldwide. It is no secret that the love of Ireland
is not exclusive to those with Irish blood running through their veins.
For this edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, Small-leaved
invites you (whether you have Irish heritage or not) to share
what you most love about Ireland and the Irish people.

Check out Lisa's new Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture blog for all the

Say, is that a raven gently rapping, rapping at your chamber door?

Friday, October 24, 2008


There's only a few days left to submit your post for the 9th Edition
of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture. Here's the topic:

Halloween (or Samhain as it was known among the ancient Celts)
is approaching and what better time to tell us about your family’s
Irish superstitions? Perhaps you have stories about strange coincidences
and events that might have been passed down by your Irish relatives,
or even know of some favorite legend or haunted place in Ireland.
Share them with us in the next edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage

& Culture.

Submit your posts here and I'll be publishing the links to them on
...when else...Halloween Night, Oct 31st!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Although my Mom was second generation Irish American and had heard
many Irish superstitions and sayings growing up with her family. While
she wasn't overly superstitious, I can recall her saying some things which
she'd learned from her mother:

If your palm itched, you were going to receive money or find it.

If your ear itched, someone was talking about you.

A bird flying into the house was a sign of death.

Rain on a wedding day was a bad omen for the marriage.

Shoes on a table was bad luck.

Warts could be removed by rubbing them with a raw potato.

Opening an umbrella inside the house was bad luck.

Cats suck the breath out of a baby.

It was good luck to pick up a penny.

Four leaved clovers were good luck.

Stepping on cracks in the sidewalk was bad luck.

Death comes in threes.

If you put your broom outside the door on New Year's Eve, you'd have
good luck in the New Year.

Now my Mom didn't go around constantly saying all these things. Most
of the time they were casual remarks, such as "Oh, my palm's itchy, I must
be going to get some money." We heard that and the itching ear one more than
any of the others. And if there had been two deaths recently of people she knew
Mom would say the one about deaths coming in threes. There was only one time
I can recall where something happened which was connected to one of those sayings
that unsettled her. One day a bird flew down the chimney of the house we were
living in and landed in the unlit fireplace. Mom said it was bad luck and stayed in
her bedroom until I managed to get the bird to fly out the front door.

There was another family tradition but I'm not sure it was Irish American in origin.
When one of the family became pregnant, they spit on a penny and stuck it on the
inside frame of a doorway. If it stayed there for the whole 9 months, the child was
going to be a girl. If it fell off, it would be a boy(or vice verse. It's been over fifty
years now since the last time I saw this used).

Mom was red haired and green eyed, and when we were living in Dorchester she
had a reputation among my friends about knowing when we were up to something.
Of course it was because she'd done a lot of the same stuff as a kid herself but one
of the kids said she must be a witch. Ironically it was Jerry Lynch, whose parents
were Irish. A few years back, Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, was at our
store signing copies of the sequel, "Son of a Witch" and I told him the story.

He signed my copy "To Bill...another son of a witch."

Written for the 9th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


My great grandparents did meet and marry in Edinburgh where Annie's
father Patrick Kelley and her future husband John McFarland both
worked as bricklayers.

And my mother did tell me several times about how her elderly
grandmother Anna could dance the Highland Fling.

But as for the rest....well, every good piece of fiction has some truth to it..
I'm afraid Maggie is the fiction.

But, you know, Annie did name one of her daughters Margaret.


Sunday, October 19, 2008


...and the only way to escape it is to go read it now!!

But you'll have to wait a few more days to find out if my story is fact or fiction
because I don't want to give my answer so soon! I'll tell all Tuesday at


Friday, October 17, 2008


Just a friendly reminder, folks, that the deadline for submissions for the
9th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture is Oct. 25th,
and it's theme is on Irish Superstitions:

Halloween (or Samhain as it was known among the ancient Celts)
is approaching and what better time to tell us about your family’s
Irish superstitions? Perhaps you have stories about strange coincidences
and events that might have been passed down by your Irish relatives,
or even know of some favorite legend or haunted place in Ireland.
Share them with us in the next edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage

& Culture.

Send your submissions here. amd I'll publish them on Oct 31st.

I'm looking forward to seeing them!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


There's a new game of meme tag passing around the geneablogger
community that is meant to help us learn a bit more about each other.
Apple over at Apple's Tree tagged me, so here's my contribnution:

10 years ago I was....

1. Fifty years old. Ah, youth!
2. Managing a bookstore for a regional chain that no longer is in business.
3. Wondering if the Red Sox would win a World Series in my lifetime.
4. Just getting up to speed on this Internet stuff!
5. Starting to write.

Five things on today's to-do list
1. Write (well, I'm doing that right now!)
2. Food shop
3. Do the dishes.
4. Sort laundry
5. Read

Five snacks I enjoy:
1. Potato chips
2. A cup of coffee and english muffins.
3. Ice Cream
4. Peanut butter and crackers
5. Chocolate chip cookies

Five places I have lived:
1. Boston, Ma.
2. Malden, Ma.
3. Abington, Ma. (several times, and been back now for 8 years)
4. Marshfield, Ma.
5. Hanover, Ma.

Five jobs I've Had
1. Newspaperboy
2. Camp counselor
3. Shipper/receiver
4. Garment Worker
5. Bookseller.

There! Not very exotic, is it? Years ago when I got a five year reunion
questionnaire for my high school I think I filled in my occupation at that
time as "itinerant llama herder". Now that is exotic...umm...but yeah...
not truthful. Ah well.

Anyway, I have to pick five other geneabloggers tag with this now. Trouble is,
I think most are already taken!

1. Tim Abbott of Walking the Berkshires
2. John Newmark of Transylvanian Dutch
3. Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian
4. Denise Olson at Moultrie Creek
5. Elizabeth O'Neal at Little Bytes of Life


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Kathryn Lake Hogan over at "Looking4Ancestors" issued a challenge
to her fellow geneabloggers entitled "Would You Care to Comment?".
The idea was for each of us to visit 10 other geneablogs, a mixture of old
favorites and new (to us) blogs, within a week and to leave a comment
on them. The idea was that by leaving a comment a dialogue starts and
then connections among the geneablogging community grow stronger.

Well, it was Sunday, so I got right to it and had my ten by the end of
the day. Here are the blogs, a short description on what I commented on,
and whether it was the first time I'd commented on that blog.

Kathryn's "Looking4Ancestors" (this actually was the second blog I
had commented on in the morning. My comment was on the actual challenge

Becky Jamison's "Grace and Glory" (Becky posted about finding a picture
of her great grandmother Emma Cornelia Strait on

Julie Cahill Tarr's "Genblog" (Julie 's blog made the Alltop site! Yay! First
time comment.)

Elyse Doerflinger's "Elyse's Genealogy Blog" (Elyse has a case of an ancestor
enumerated twice on the 1880 census which reminded me of Wesley Coburn!
First time comment)

Judith Richards Shubert's "Genealogy Traces" (An older post about "Lucy
Puckett and Cowart Children From 1918 Influenza is a heartbreaker. First
time comment)

Holly Timms' "Genealogy Musings" (Holly talked about how sometimes it's easy to
have our interest piqued by someone not directly related to our family while doing
research. First time comment.)

Tim Abbott's "Walking the Berkshires" (This was my first comment. Tim's doing two
freelance columns for his local paper and the articles were excellent. Check them out!)

Thomas MacEntee's "Destination: Austin Family" (Thomas has a new website,
"Thomas 2.0". Take a look and give him some feedback.)

Terry Thornton's "Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi" (Terry's entry into
the CoG's "Fact or Fiction" edition is about something called the Graveyard
Rabbit. Read it and see which you think it is.)

Sherri Bush's "Twig Talk" (Likewise a CoG entry "The Eyes of Old Tom". Boy
this CoG is going to have some great posts! First time comment.)

Monday, October 13, 2008


Although my grandmother Agnes McFarland's parents were Irish, they
had met and married in Scotland! In the mid 19th century Edinburgh
entered a period of growth with the construction of many new buildings
to take the place of structures dating back to the Middle Ages. Many
Irishmen found employment on the construction crews at a time that
Ireland was still trying to recover from the Great Potato Famine.

A young Irish bricklayer named Patrick Kelley brought his wife
Anne and their family to Edinburgh. There he was able to get a job
on the outskirts of the city where some old dilapidated buildings
were being torn down to make way for the new ones being built
right along side. One day as he was pushing a wheelbarrow of
bricks towards the section of wall he was working at he saw a small
crowd of men backing away from the demolition site nearby. Some
of the men had their hats off, others were making the Sign of the
Cross. He walked over to ask what was going on, and one of the men
pointed at a hole in the old stonewall. Looking inside, Patrick could
make out a heartbreaking sight, the skeleton of a small child.

The job foreman came up and demanded to know why work had
ceased and after taking a look for himself, he reached inside and
drew out the remains, setting it aside on the ground and ordering
the men back to work. When someone asked what should be done
with the body, the foreman, a dour Scot, said it was not a relative
of his so he had nothing to do with it and then walked away.
Most of the men went back to work, but Patrick and a few others
took a closer look at the dead child. From the clothes and the doll
that had been with it, they could see it was a girl. Patrick could
thought of his own daughter Annie and wondered what had forced
the child's parents to hide the body in such a way.

Whatever the reason, it was now an unmarked pauper's grave for the
child. Somehow that didn't seem right, and Patrick "passed the hat"
among the workmen, collecting enough for a small wooden coffin and
cross. When the carpenter asked what name he should put on the cross,
Patrick said the first name that came to mind: Maggie. The sad incident
was a topic of conversation for a few days at home and at work, but as
time passed, it faded from Patrick's mind.

Then a few months later Patrick came home from work and heard his
daughter laughing and chattering away with someone in her room. He
went to see what she was playing at and found her dancing a Highland
fling, talking to the empty air as if there was another girl there with
her. An imaginary playmate, he thought, and mentioned it to his wife
that night after dinner. She seemed puzzled, for as far as she recalled,
little Annie had never been taught the Scottish dance.

They called their daughter down from her bedroom and asked her
where she had learned the Fling.

"From my friend Maggie!" she told them.

When they asked her what this Maggie looked like, she described a little
girl who wearing a dress like that the dead girl had been wearing when
the body was discovered. Of course, Patrick and Anne were terrified.
Was a ghost haunting their little girl? They took the matter to their
parish priest, who reassured them. The girl probably had recalled the
story about the body being found and had created her imaginary friend
from the details she'd heard. There was nothing to worry about; Annie
would grow out of her fantasy.

It was several months later that Annie announced that her friend Maggie
had gone home. She never played with Maggie again and grew up to
meet and marry a young coworker of her father's, John McFarland.
They emigrated to the city of Boston in America where they raised
a large family, and where Annie frequently delighted her Irish American
grandchildren by doing the Scottish Highland Fling even when she
was in her 80's!

But one question remains:

If Maggie was just a figment of Annie's imagination, how did Annie learn the
Highland Fling?

((You decide:Fact or Fiction? Written for the 58th edition of the Carnival
of Genealogy))

(graphic by the footnoteMaven)

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I was just rereading the Merrill account of Robbins' capture and
saw that it supposedly took place at Aziscoos Falls. Nearly
100 years later Daniel Gould Ellingwood's grandnephew,
my granduncle Clarence West, would become the caretaker
for the Aziscoos Dam at the same site!


Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis and Daniel Ellingwood had captured David
Robbins and brought him back to Lancaster, N.H. to stand trial, but
justice was to be delayed for some months. Now, remember that Abner
and Benjamin Hinds had disappeared back in February and it wasn't
until summer that their friends and family had set out in search of the
father son. It was sometime after the failure of their search that the
warrant for David Robbins had been issued. Lapham gives no information
on when he was captured but it seems likely that it was at least late
summer or early fall. Apparently even though it was the county seat at
the time there was no sitting court and so Robbins had to wait until
the following April for his trial. He was kept in the cabin that served
as the Lancaster jail.

Over the next few months Robbins hired a lawyer who let it be known he
would challenge the warrant on the grounds that it had been issued in New
Hampshire and the area the alleged crime had taken place was in Maine.
(I might add that when I first read the story I wondered if the capture might
have been made in Maine as well, where Loomis would have no jurisdiction.)
But the nameless lawyer never had the chance to argue his case, for on the
day of the trial it was discovered that David Robbins had escaped.

Lapham says that the only venue of escape was an opening in the wall 10
inches in diameter. How could Robbins have possibly escaped through that?
I did a Google search for any other sources of information and found "The
History of Coos County, N.H."
by Georgia Drew Merrill (Syracuse, NY,
W.A. Fergusson, 1888) at Internet Archives. The account of the murder and
capture differs on several points. For one thing, it describes the Hinds
murders: Robbins shot Abner and killed Benjamin with a hatchet. The two
bodies were found in a brook near Little Kennebago Lake and when the
arrest warrant was issued, there was a third man with Loomis and Ellingwood
named Hezekiah Parsons who Ms. Merrill credits as being the one who helped
subdue Robbins. Most importantly from a legal standpoint, the search party
made a detour to Farmington, Maine to obtain an indictment and authorization
to arrest Robbins if they captured him in Maine.

She also provides more information on the escape. The window was covered
by a grating and somehow Robbins got or fashioned tools to loosen it. He hid
the work on the window by hanging a blanket over it, using the excuse that there
was a cold draft coming through it. Of course when Robbins escaped, suspicion
immediately fell on the jailer as being an accomplice but no mention is made
by Merrill if charges were ever filed.

As for what became of David Robbins after his escape, both Merrill and Lapham
agree that the man was never seen again, although he left behind a wife and family
who continued to live in the area for many years.

Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis died in October, 1869.

Hezekiah Parsons, one of the prominent citizens of Colebrook, NH, died in 1857
and his son married a Sarah Merrill. I do not know if she was related to the author
Georgia Drew Merrill.

I haven't found a record as of yet as to when Daniel G. Ellingwood passed away.
Apparently he and his wife, Catherine Brown, left the area. I've found them, I think
on the 1850 census in York, Livingston County, New York and in Nankin, Wayne
County, Michigan on the 1860 census. The ages and birthplaces match up with
what I know about them.

So by 1888 when Georgia Drew Merrill wrote her book and 1891 when William
Lapham wrote his, the principals were long deceased or had departed the region.
Lapham probably talked with Daniel Ellingwood's nephews or nieces in Maine
while Merrill lived in New Hampshire where she had possibly access to the
Parsons family. Their accounts of the pursuit of David Robbins differ in some
points as to Daniel Ellingwood's participation but they do agree he was there.

Maybe someday we'll learn of the final fate of David Robbins. I wouldn't be
surprised if a genealogist is the one to find out what it was!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Besides the West Family Bible that my Aunt Dorothy gave me on the
road trip my sister Cheryl and I took this past August, I have two other
bibles here in my apartment. Both of them are at least forty years old.
One is the bible I bought as a student at Cathedral High School in
Boston. Once a week we assembled for Bible Study.

The other is an older, larger bible that sat for years on top of my parent's
dresser in their bedroom. I'm not sure if it was originally my mothers or
if it had belonged to her mother, my grandmother Agnes McFarland. It
has a tattered leather cover and it looks like one or more of us kids got to
it at some point or another. There are two torn pages in Numbers. Somebody
used a hole puncher on the pages of the introduction. And there's some
scribbling on the blank pages before the title page.

I was looking at it just now to see if Mom or my grandmother had used the
Family Record pages but found they were blank. And now this raises the question
for me of whether I should fill in the births, marriages and deaths?

Should I just list our immediate family, or should I include the earlier generations
before Mom and Dad?

Even more important, should I inflict my truly horrible handwriting on future
generations of the family?

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis set off with Daniel Ellingwood in pursuit of
accused murderer David Robbins. They borrowed a birch canoe from a local
Indian and paddled up the Androscoggin River until they reached Robbin's
last location on the Magalloway two days later. But when they reached the
area an old trapper they questioned told then that Robbins had left just the
day before with a canoe loaded with traps and supplies. He'd told the trapper
he would be gone on a hunting trip for several months. Loomis believed
that Robbins was really headed for Canada to avoid arrest, and if he and
Ellingwood hurried they could still catch him.

They went back to their canoe. It was a tricky situation. They had to
move quickly because Robbins already had a day's lead on them, but they
also had to be careful because if the fugitive heard them, he might
ambush them from the shore. Both men were familiar with the Magalloway
River and having the advantage of being a party of two began to draw
closer to Robbins. They took every precaution they could, paddling
silently and camping without a fire when they went to shore. Two days into
the chase Ellingwood took over all the paddling while Loomis sat at the
front of the boat with his rifle cocked and ready to return fire if they should
be ambushed. But there was still no sign of Robbins and they put into
shore for another night without their campfire.

The next afternoon they reached a portage point where they had to leave the
water and carry their canoe along the shore until they could once more put
it into the Magalloway. This was a well known spot to trappers and
travelers along the river and Sheriff Loomis suspected that Robbins might
still be nearby. Moving quietly, the two men hid their own canoe and checked
the trail for any sign of Robbins and found his pack hidden off the main trail,
probably left there while he moved his canoe across the portage. They laid
their own ambush, Ellingwood hiding in some nearby trees while Loomis
took up a spot near the pack. Shortly after they took their positions, Robbins
came down the trail and Sheriff Loomis tackled him. During the struggle
Robbins tried to draw his knife but by that time Ellingwood had joined the
fight and helped take the man prisoner.

Loomis and Ellingwood placed Robbins in their canoe and towed his along
behind them for the several days journey back downriver to Lancaster
where Robbins was placed in jail. Robbins and Ellingwood were treated as
heroes and people eagerly awaited the forthcoming trial of the suspected
murderer the following April.

But David Robbins was a crafty man, and he had one more trick up his sleeve.

(This series of posts is based on information from William Lapham's
"History of Bethel, Maine" and can be viewed here at the Oxford Triangle

Monday, October 06, 2008


I'm currently being made miserable by a head and chest cold, but I
am not so discombobulated as to not mention here that the 57th
Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is up over at Jasia's Creative Gene
blog. There's over forty contributors of posts concerning what they have
learned about their ancestors from newspapers and the ones I've read
already are great. I plan to look at the others perhaps tomorrow night
if my head and nose allow it.

The next CoG should be fun and a challenge:

"And now it's time for a Call For Submissions! The topic for the next edition of the COG will be: Halloween Hauntings... Fact or Fiction? We're going to have some fun with the Carnival of Genealogy this time around. Halloween is coming up in a few weeks. In keeping with the spirit of the season, write a story about or including one of your ancestors. It can be fact or fiction. Don't tell which it is (until after October 15 when the COG is published), let your readers guess. We should all get some great comments as readers try to determine if our Halloween genea-story is fact or fiction! Was your ggg grandmother a witch? Did you live in a haunted house when you were growing up? Were there bats in Aunt Betty's belfry? Did you ever meet up with a ghost when you were looking for an ancestor's grave? See if you can stump us! The deadline for submissions is October 15th.

Write up your eerie tales and submit them to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using our carnival submission form."

I'll have to do some digging around (cough) in the family vault for that

But now, I'm off to take my Anti-Discombobulation Spray and then on
to bed.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


One morning in February 1828, Abner Hinds, a resident of Milan, NH., set
out with his 15 year old son Benjamin for the Kennebago River region to hunt
and set out trap lines, expecting to return home in the spring. But they never
returned home, and eventually their family became convinced something was
wrong, because the last time the two had been seen alive they were in the
company of a man named David Robbins.

David Robbins seems to have been the prototype for those "mountain men"
who were starting to populate the American West. He is believed to have
been the first white man to settle in the Magalloway River area of Maine and
New Hampshire, and he seems to have lived by his own rules outside the laws
of "civilization". He was already suspected to have kidnapped a young white
boy named James Wilbur, but no body was ever found so Robbins was never
formally charged with the crime. And he already had a history of violent
confrontation with Abner Hinds. Just the year before the two men had been
trapping in the same area and apparently Robbins had tricked Hinds and his partner
Seth Cloutman to set up camp with him. Then later while they two men were away,
Robbins had burned the camp and stolen their furs to sell as his own, probably
thinking Hinds and Cloutman would die from the snow and cold. But Hinds was
as good a woodsman as Robbins and not only survived but managed to track
Robbins down, confront him, and then forced Robbins to pay back what money
he'd made from the stolen furs.

When it was learned that now Hinds and his son had gone off with Robbins to
hunt once more it seemed strange given their past history. But apparently Robbins
had sworn he'd found religion and was a changed man and wanted to prove it by
further making up for what he had done to Hinds the year before. Perhaps Hinds
had felt confident he'd put the fear of God into him or that he could handle
Robbins again if he needed to do it. Whichever the case, Abner Hinds and his
son went off with David Robbins for what was supposed to be a trip of three to
four weeks. Robbins returned a week later by himself, and the Hinds men were
never seen again. A search party made up of neighbors set out, but the only
evidence they could find were some items that belonged to Abner and his son
that Robbins had sold to some of the other hunters in the Magalloway area.

Still, there was enough outrage from the Hinds family and their neighbors in Milan
to cause a warrant to be issued for Robbins' arrest. Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis
was ordered to carry it out, but when several townsfolk volunteered to go with him,
he took only one man from Milan, Daniel Ellingwood, the younger brother of my
3x great grandfather John Ellingwood, Jr.

Together the two men set off in pursuit of David Robbins.

(This series of posts is based on information from William Lapham's
"History of Bethel, Maine" and can be viewed here at the Oxford Triangle