Eleanor Black O’Neill

I’m trying out a new way to share my family history. I’m using the website animoto.com to create videos and then posting them to YouTube. Please view my first attempt at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8fpsZEQnm0 The video contains what a childhood friend of my mother remembered about my mother, Eleanor Black O’Neill

On a recent trip to the upper east side of Manhattan, New York, I had the opportunity to spend an hour walking where my grandmother likely walked a hundred years ago.  To say Manhattan, New York has changed drastically in the past hundred years is an understatement.  Most of it would be totally unrecognizable to its turn of the 20th century residents.  Remarkably, I found that one of my grandmother’s neighborhoods of that time period that still bears a resemblance to the way it looked a century ago.  Before I tell more about the neighborhood, let me tell you a little about my grandmother. Mary Ann Kenny abt 1906 My paternal grandmother was Mary Ann “Molly” Kenny.  She used the nickname Molly probably because she had 4 sisters who were also named Mary.  She was just 17 years old with just 5 dollars in her possession when she passed through Ellis Island in 1904 on her journey from Ireland, her birthplace, to start her new life in America.  Molly is the girl on the left in the above photo which was likely taken in 1906.  One of her Manhattan addresses was 122 East End Avenue which was at the corner of 85th Street and East End Avenue.  Molly rented a room there as did her older sister, Tess.  That boarding house has been replaced with this high rise condominium.  The weekend of my visit, there was a unit for sale in this building for 12 million dollars. Just a block away at the intersection of 86th Street and East End Avenue there are homes that Molly would recognize if she returned to the neighborhood today.  These brick row houses are so unique among the neighboring high-rise buildings that they have been designated a historic district.


Manhattan rowhouses 2


Manhattanrow houses 5

This picture courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York show these row houses as they appeared when they were built in the 1880’s.


This housing development was the work of developer, John C. Henderson who created them for families of modest means.  Today 24 homes remain of the original 32 that were built.  Originally, a home here could be rented for 650 dollars a year.  How times change!  They now sell for 3 to 4 million dollars.  Right across East End Avenue is Carl Schurz Park which has existed since the turn of the 20th century.  It is very pleasant park to stroll through with a dedicated group of volunteers that keep it well landscaped and very clean.

Carl S park


Carl S park 2 fuzzed

This park borders the East River and as you look down the river, you can see the Queensboro Bridge.  Molly married Cornelius T. O’Neill who worked for a short time as a conductor of a Queensboro bridge trolley.

Queensboro bridge from Carl S park

There is also a small lighthouse in the river adjacent to the park. It stands on the northern tip of Roosevelt Island.

East river lighthouse

As I strolled the park, I thought about how  it was  likely Molly had spent time walking in the park a hundred years ago.  It was sweet feeling to have that connection to my grandmother.  There have been additions to the Carl Schurz Park in the years since Molly lived in the neighborhood.  In 1975 this statue of Peter Pan, which was originally part of a 1928 fountain that stood in front of the Paramount Theater, was added to the park.

Peter pan statueVandals, perhaps friends of Captain Hook, removed the Peter from the park and he was eventually retrieved from the bottom of the East River.  The statue was re-installed in  the park in 1991.  It is framed today by this lovely arch.

Peter Pan Statue in park


If you would like to explore more of this lovely neighborhood, search Google Maps for Carl Schurz Park, New York, NY.

Gather Their Stories!

The Holidays are here!  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or this year Thanksnukkah, this time of year brings families together.  In most families, there are stories that get told over and over again. Maybe we have heard them so many  times that we don’t realize that they are part of the fabric of our family history.  That story your Uncle Harold has told at least a hundred times, make sure it get written down this year. And maybe there are more details that Uncle Harold could share if you asked.

The following video is a short presentation created by Family Search that shows two different approaches to conducting a family history interview.  The second approach demonstrates the value of a pre-arranged, mutually convenient time and the usefulness of open ended questions which can’t be answered with just a yes or no.

Interviewing Family Members

Alfred Bell War of 1812

The War of 1812 is sometimes referred to as the forgotten war.  There is a current effort to preserve and post online the documents related to the War of 1812.  The pension files contain important genealogical information which dates back to a time for which documents can be hard to find.  To learn more about this preservation effort, please visit http://www.preservethepensions.org/

Alfred Bell who fought in the War of 1812 is my husband’s ancestor.  This picture is of Alfred Bell and his wife, Martha.

Bell, Alfred & Martha

I was able to find an Index record card that summarized the information that is contained in Alfred’s War of 1812 pension application and his widow’s subsequent survivor’s application.

Page 1-Alfred Bell

The War of 1812 pension document images can be found on the website, http://www.fold3.com/and as of the date of this post, are free to the public indefinitely.  There are a total of 66 images on Fold3.com that relate to Alfred Bell

I found good background information concerning the War of 1812 Pension documents in an article, Genealogical Records of the War of 1812 by Stuart L. Butler in Prologue Magazine, Winter 1991, Vol. 23, No. 4 which can be found at:  http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1991/winter/war-of-1812.html

“Pension application files for most War of 1812 veterans, however, will be found in the second series of pension files, i.e., those based on the acts of 1871 and 1878.  These acts, based on length of service alone, relate mostly to militia veterans called to federal service.  The 1871 act provided pensions to veterans who had served at least sixty days or to their widows if they had married before 1815.  The 1878 act provided pensions to those veterans, or their widows, who only served fourteen days.  By the time these acts were passed, most applicants were widows or minors rather than veterans themselves.  A typical file usually contains the soldier’s or widow’s application file, a statement of service usually provided by the Pension Bureau, and other papers prepared by the Third Auditor’s Office.  Of the two, the widow’s or minor’s application is potentially the richest in genealogical information.  This is because the widow had to provide proof of marriage, including the date or place of marriage, and usually the maiden name.  Important data about marriages before 1815 found in some of the files may not be available anywhere else” (Butler)

Documents in Alfred Bell’s file show that he applied for and was granted bounty land in 1857.  At the time of the bounty land grant, Alfred had moved to Utah.  Of course, the US government gave land where it was available.

Page 6-Alfred Bell

Alfred Bell was granted 160 acres in Minnesota.  Land Patent lawyers helped those with land grants that they could not use, to sell them.  Alfred Bell’s military bounty land warrant contains both his name and Ira Dain who purchased the land from him.  It also contains the location of the land which is near Chatfield, Minnesota.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell what Alfred was paid for the land.

_Alfred bell Land Warrant

These military bounty land warrants can be found at the website of Bureau of Land Management, General Land office records http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx

Alfred Bell had served a year and a few days with Tennessee Volunteers during the War of 1812 and thus qualified for a pension under the terms the Act of 1871.  These applications that were filed 60 or more years after the solider’s service in the War of 1812 required the applicant to authenticate his term of military service and establish his identity which was usually done through swore affidavits.  He also might provide documents that told who his dependents were.

Page 11-Alfred Bell

Among the documents in Alfred Bell’s pension file is the marriage certificate for Alfred Bell and Martha Elder.

Page 24-Alfred Bell

However, by the time the paper work was done and the pension granted, it was 1874 which was the year Alfred died.  His widow, Martha filed for widow’s benefits upon Alfred’s death but her application was rejected.  The Act of 1871 required for the widow to have been married to the solider during the War of 1812.  Martha and Alfred were married in 1832

Page 4-alfred bell

Martha Bell filed again in 1879 and was granted a widow’s pension.  The Act of 1878 did not require the widow of the solider to have been married to him during his military service.  The document that appears above shows the rejection of Martha’s original application and that the claim was reopened in April of 1879.   The pension benefit was 8 dollars a month.

John Kenny passport application potrait crop

This is John Kenny, my maternal grandmother’s brother.

John Kenny was born in Ireland but served in World War I in the U.S. Army as an American citizen.   He was naturalized an American citizen in the Circuit Court of  Newport News, Virginia in July 1918.  Back then, men could become citizens of the United States by enlisting in our military.

John served in France with the United States Army from August 18, 1918 until July 4, 1919 and never even learned to shoot a gun!  No, John wasn’t a pacifist.  The army never issued him a gun!  He practiced marching with a broom stick while in the United States and when he got to France, he still didn’t get a gun because  there weren’t enough to go around.  Fortunately, John got to France just before peace was declared.

Harmon Black, end WW1, front

This is my maternal grandfather, Samuel Harmon Black

Samuel Black served in the U.S. Navy from March 2, 1918 to February 5, 1919.  I wish I knew more than that concerning his time in the military.  I sent in the required form to get more information and am currently waiting for a reply.

DSC_0124 cropped

This is my uncle, Cornelius Kenny O’Neill.  This picture appeared on the cover of one of the USO magazines.  It also accompanied a newspaper article that appeared in newspapers including the Coalinga Record.  This is the text of the newspaper article:

LT. O’Neill is Awarded U.S. Air Medal

Shown beside one of the engines of his B-17 Fling Fortress “Cock of the Sky” is second Lieutenant, Cornelius K. O’Neill, 22 year-old co-pilot from Coalinga, California

Lt. O’Neill has recently been awarded the Air Medal for “meritorious   achievement” for his participation in Eighth Air Force attacks on vital German Industrial targets and enemy held installations.  The official citation accompanying the award, commented on the “courage, coolness and skill displayed by Lt. O’Neill on all occasions” as reflecting great credit upon himself and the “Armed Forces of the United States.”  The presentation was made by group commander, Lieutenant Colonel Wm.  J. Wrigglesworth of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

As a member of the 447th Bomb Group, a unit of the Third Air Division, the division which has been cited by the President for the now historic England-Africa shuttle mission bombing of Messerschmitt factories at Regensburg, Germany.  Lt. O’Neill is flying combat missions in what is considered to be the toughest theater of aerial warfare.

The son of Mr. and Mrs. C. O’Neill of 436 Pleasant St., Coalinga, Lt. O’Neill before entering the Army Air Force in January 1943, was employed by the Permanente Metals Corp. at San Jose, California.  He received his pilot’s wings and commission in January 1944 at Ellington Field Texas.  He is a graduate of the Coalinga High School.

News-Uncle Corney US Airforce metal

To me, he was always Uncle Corney.  Corney was the name that most people knew him by. He had a great sense of humor but that is not the reason for the nickname.   My mom, Eleanor O’Neill, moved to Coalinga while she was in high school.  She and Uncle Corney were in the same high school class.  She had never heard the nickname “Corney” before.  She went home from one of her first days at Coalinga High and told her mother that there was a boy at school that was so “corney” that is what the teachers called him!

corneys shadow box

Uncle Corney’s Military shadow box

My father, Edward Thomas “Bud” O’Neill also served in the Army Air Force.  He served in the Pacific theater of the war.  During World War II, The Army Air Force made an effort not to send brothers to same area of battle to help avoid families from losing more than one son.

World War II1

My father served in Australia with the 8th Service Squadron and held the rank of First Sargent .   His unit was based in Townsville City, Queensland, Australia for most of the war.  While my Uncle Corney flew the planes, my Dad made sure they were safe to fly.  Both my Dad and Uncle Corney enlisted.  They both had civilian jobs that would have kept them from being drafted.

The above pictures were taken in Australia with the exception of the one with Dad in dress uniform which was taken in California.  The picture of Dad on the horse reminds me of one of the few stories he told me about his war time service.  The story goes that one Saturday night after having too much to drink, Dad stole the General’s horse and took it for a ride!  I don’t remember all the details of the story except Dad said he was careful not to be in possession of the horse when it was found the next day!

My Dad’s military shadow box
Buds shadow box

Brian Edward O’Neill

1971 Brian

Brian Edward O’Neill, born July 31, 1954, died November 15, 2006

Brian served in the US Army Infantry, post Vietnam but before Iraq.  He  completed Airborne Ranger  training which began in Fort Benning, GA, with B Company, 5th Battalion.  Brian didn’t talk much about his time in the military.  I found this on Wikipedia on what it takes to graduate from Airborne training at Fort Benning.

Ranger School training has a basic scenario: the flourishing drug and terrorist operations of the enemy forces, the “Aragon Liberation Front,” must be stopped. To do so, the Rangers will take the fight to their territory, the rough terrain surrounding Fort Benning, the mountains of northern Georgia, and the swamps and coast of Florida. Ranger students are given a clear mission, but they determine how to best execute it.

The first phase of Ranger School is conducted at Camp Rogers and Camp Darby at Fort Benning, Georgia and is conducted by the 4th Ranger Training Battalion. The “Benning Phase” is the “crawl” phase of Ranger School, where students learn the fundamentals of squad-level mission planning. It is “designed to assess a Soldier’s physical stamina, mental toughness, leadership abilities, and establishes the tactical fundamentals required for follow-on phases of Ranger School”. In this phase, training is separated into two parts, the Ranger Assessment Phase (RAP) and Squad Combat Operations.

Water confidence course

The Ranger Assessment Phase is conducted at Camp Rogers. As of April 2011, it encompasses Days 1–3 of training. Historically, it accounts for 60% of students who fail to graduate Ranger School.Events include:

  • Ranger Physical Fitness Test (RPFT) requiring the following minimums:
  • Push-ups: 49 (in 2 minutes, graded strictly for perfect form)
  • Sit-ups: 59 (in 2 minutes)
  • Chin-ups: 6 (performed from a dead hang with no lower body movement)
  • 5 mile individual run in 40 minutes or less over a course with gently rolling terrain
  • Combat Water Survival Test (no longer conducted as of 2010)
  • Combat Water Survival Assessment, conducted at Victory Pond (previously called the Water Confidence Test). This test consists of three events that test the Ranger student’s ability to calmly overcome any fear of heights or water. Students must calmly walk across a log suspended thirty-five feet above the pond, then transition to a rope crawl before plunging into the water. Each student must then jump into the pond and ditch their rifle and load-bearing equipment while submerged. Finally, each student climbs a ladder to the top of a seventy foot tower and traverses down to the water on a pulley attached to a suspended cable, subsequently plunging into the pond. All of these tasks must be performed calmly without any type of safety harness. If a student fails to negotiate an obstacle (through fear, hesitation or by not completing it correctly) he is dropped from the course.
  • Combination Night/Day land navigation test – This has proven to be one of the more difficult events for students, as sending units fail to teach land navigation using a map and compass. Students are given a predetermined number of MGRS locations and begin testing approximately two hours prior to dawn. Flashlights, with red lens filters, may only be used for map referencing; the use of flashlight to navigate across terrain will result in an immediate dismissal from the school. Later in the course, Ranger students will be expected to conduct, and navigate, patrols at night without violating light discipline. The land navigation test instills this skill early in each student’s mind, thus making the task second nature when graded patrolling begins.
  • A 3-mile terrain run, followed by the Malvesti Field Obstacle Course, featuring the notorious “worm pit”: a shallow, muddy, 25-meter obstacle covered by knee-high barbed wire. The obstacle must be negotiated—usually several times—on one’s back and belly.
  • Demolitions training and airborne refresher training.
  • Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) training was removed as a part of a new POI at the start of 2009; it was reinstated with Class 06-10. The Combatives Program was spread over all phases and culminated with practical application in Florida Phase. However, MACP has been removed from Ranger again, starting with the Combatives Program in Mountains and Florida and followed by the removal of RAP week combatives in class 06-12.
  • A 12-mile forced, tactical ruck march with full gear from Camp Rogers to Camp Darby. This is the last test during RAP and is a pass/fail event. If the Ranger student fails to finish the march in under 3 hours, he is dropped from the course.

Soldier negotiates the Darby Queen Obstacle Course

The emphasis at Camp Darby is on the instruction in and execution of Squad Combat Operations. The phase includes “fast paced instruction on troop leading procedures, principles of patrolling, demolitions, field craft, and basic battle drills focused towards squad ambush and reconnaissance missions”. The Ranger student receives instruction on airborne/air assault operations, demolitions, environmental and “field craft” training, executes the infamous “Darby Queen” obstacle course, and learns the fundamentals of patrolling, warning and operations orders, and communications. The fundamentals of combat operations include battle drills (React to Contact, Break Contact, React to Ambush, Platoon Raid), which are focused on providing the principles and techniques that enable the squad-level element to successfully conduct reconnaissance and raid missions. As a result, the Ranger student gains tactical and technical proficiency, confidence in himself, and prepares to move to the next phase of the course, the Mountain Phase. The Mountain Phase is followed by the Florida Phase which is followed by graduation at Fort Benning.

Description of the Ranger training continues in more detail in the Wikipedia article but this is enough of the description to emphasize that this was really tough training.  Brian had a number of ups and downs in his life but completing Ranger training was something that he was truly proud of accomplishing.  I don’t know all the military assignments that Brian served after completing this training but he did talk about guarding the DMZ in South Korea for a time.  Brian died way too young at 52  from liver cancer which may have resulted from the hepatitis A that he got from a blood transfusion while in the military.