KNOWING vs knowing

In genealogy, there’s a lot of emphasis on the difference between KNOWing and knowing.

Take my 2nd-Great-Grandfather Patt O’Brien for example…

I Capital-K-know that he married Kitty O’Neal and had 8 children, one of which was my grandmother’s mother, Katie O’Brien. In this particular case, my mere existence is the source of my KNOWing. In general, though, proof —in the form of actual documentation, not mere existence— is required to toss a bit of knowledge into the Capital-K category.

This makes my KNOW pile for Grandpa Patt pretty dang small: he lived in Humbug, NE [1880 Census;] and Kingsburg, NE [1900 Census;], and he died on 20 September 1904 and is buried in Pilger, NE [Find A Grave Record].

Yep! That’s it for Absolute Facts!

In the Little-K category of knowing are these items: Patt & Kitty were married on 18 May 1873 in Springfield, IL [1]; Patt was born on 04 July 1845 [2] and he is from New Ross, Ireland [3]; and, finally, Patt and his brother Edd immigrated to the United States in 1864.

Actually, this last one sort of falls into a Big-K/Little-k Conundrum Category. Both Patt and Edd claimed in the 1900 Census (in which Edd, widowed, is living with Patt & Kitty) that the year of their arrival in the US was 1864. The Census record counts as Big-K Documentation.

The Little-k complication that I have is that the brothers don’t show up in any of the over fifty ship manifests I have reviewed [4]. While there are thirty-three variations of Pat(t) O’Briens and three Ed(d) O’Briens listed, they are all either too old, too young, traveling with extended families not seeming to match ours, etc., etc., etc. And the real kicker is, none of those records have Patt and Edd traveling together, which surely they must have, since they arrived in the same year [5].

(For something completely different, in the What-Does-One-Do-With-This pile: “Patrick was a very tall, large boned person. He had black hair, and gray-blue eyes. He had very long arms.” [6])

My Not-Knowing Category, you ask? That one, unfortunately, is very very full.

  • Why did he emigrate? [7]
  • What did he do before he emigrated? [8]
  • What ship did he sail on?
  • What port did he arrive in? Or leave from, for that matter?
  • What did he do in the United States between his arrival in 1864 and his marriage in 1873? [9]
  • How did he come to be in Springfield?
  • Why did he move his family to Nebraska?
  • Who are his parents? And, does he have other siblings other than the mysterious Edd? [10]
  • And, perhaps, most importantly, why do both he and his brother insist on adding extra consonants to their names? [11]

Notes & Sources

  1. Source: Weddle, Clara Chilcoat; handwritten notes. When Grandma was looking into ancestry records, there was no internet, no digital records. Notes and/or photocopies were all that were available. So I value Grandma’s work. And I don’t doubt that Patt & Kitty were married exactly when and where she noted. But, without reference to a source (like a family Bible or public record viewed somewhere or even a documented conversation with someone having first-hand knowledge, like Kitty’s daughter and Grandma’s mom, Katie O’Brien) the information itself falls into the Little-k category as hearsay. I have looked for a digital marriage record; so far no luck. (Which means I should make a stop in Springfield the next time I’m in Illinois and physically search for that darned record.)
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. I have exhausted every digital source I can find, both US and Irish, that provides manifests of ships to the United States in 1864. I have even extended the search +/- five years, because, face it, our memories suck at dates. There is an outside, very slim (or is that fat?) chance that I could find something digging through actual records in New Ross, Ireland. Of course, that assumes that New Ross is actually the place Patt is from.
  5. There is nothing concrete that indicates Patt and Edd traveled together except my own stubborn belief. Because, if I were traveling nearly 3500 miles away from home and leaving everything familiar behind me, I’d sure want a loved one to be coming with me.
  6. Weddle; op cit.; A note like that makes one wonder just how long arms must be to be noteworthy!
  7. Speculating here, but one possible reason for emigration is that Ireland experienced a recession and minor potato failure in 1864. [Source: Shannon, Dr. Catherine B; “Irish Immigration to America, 1630 to 1921”; Nantucket Atheneum; accessed 12 Feb 2020.]
  8. New Ross, Wexford, Ireland is a port city in southwestern Ireland. So, there is some possibility that Patt worked in the shipping business, perhaps on the docks. Equally likely, he farmed with his father. Farming is what most folks did back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Which leads to another possible reason why Patt wanted to emigrate: land in Ireland was scarce, if not non-existent, for the working class, and America promised lots and lots of land, much of it totally free.
  9. One post-arrival/pre-marriage occupation possibility: The Military. According to Éva Eszter Szabó, PhD in her paper “The Migration Factor in the American Civil War”, “Due to financial considerations and everyday needs, the military had always been attractive to a large number of immigrants long before the times of the Civil War. … The military had traditionally offered permanent jobs, food, clothing, lodgings and federal bounty land to the enlisted, i.e., all the things that the usually poor immigrants were badly in need of. The circle of benefits offered was broadened further following the outbreak of the Civil War. In the territory of the Union, volunteers received cash bounty upon enlisting, and in addition to this, immigrants as new recruits were offered to receive expedited citizenship once they entered the army. … Many immigrants also took advantage of the Enrollment Act of 1863, the first compulsory conscription for wartime service in the United States, by acting as substitute draftees for $300.” [Source: Americana Ejournal; Vol XII, No 1, Spring 2016; accessed 12 Feb 2020]
  10. lists possible parents for Patt & Edd as Timothy O’Brien and wife Mary (last name unknown) and also reference a sister, also named Mary. Of course, no records of any sort validate these suppositions.
  11. Why does anyone have an alternative spelling to their name? A question that plagues comedian Michael McIntire as well.

3 thoughts on “KNOWING vs knowing

    • Deniz, that is precisely how I came to be writing two novels based on ancestors. These dead people are very chatty with their “aren’t you curious to know more” sort of teasing facts.

      And I also loved that someone would name a town Humbug!


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