My Gaetz family research

I have spent a lot of time tracing my Irish roots (Sweeney, Horan and Brennan).  This culminated in a trip to Ireland where we met cousins and saw the old family cottages.  Recently, I returned to researching my Gaetz line (my mother’s mother).  Wow, there is so much information and so many people sharing their Gaetz family research.  If you believe the records, the Gotz family was from Zurich in the 1500s and went to Palatinate, Germany by 1600. The name became Gaetz. Then in 1751 they came to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia along with  2000 “foreign protestants” who left Germany and other parts of Europe.  In 1918, my grandmother Florence Gaetz came to the USA with her sister.

When I visited Zurich last summer, I had no idea I was going home 🙂

On there are lots of people sharing their Gaetz family tree.   Also, has an extensive number of Gaetz’s.  All sources seem consistent which sounds like a good thing.  However, I suppose there is also a risk that people are just reinforcing inaccurate data by passing it around.  I’ll have to look more carefully at the real sources.

So many questions, so little time.

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I finally updated my Plaxo profile

I finally updated my Plaxo profile.  I’m not sure why, because I don’t use it.  I use Facebook and LinkedIn.  It was hanging out there for years with a sparsely populated profile.  I thought I should either delete it or update it.  I find it a little confusing when I get messages posted from people that automatically go to multiple social networking sites.  I realize it gives them maximum coverage, but I think it also distracts from which sites are really the places they spend their time.  However, I feel having a stale site is worse than no presence at all.  So, I had to do something.

I wonder if I should add Plaxo to my persona on the top right of my blog page?  At this point, I won’t.  I don’t think it adds any unique content or perspective – by or about me.

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Dual citizenship podcast interview at the Irish Roots Cafe

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed for the second time by Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe for his Irish Families Worldwide podcast.   The first interview was in July about my Irish family history tour. This time, the topic was about how a US citizen can obtain Irish citizenship.  Here’s a link to the podcast posted on January 11, 2011.

Dual citizenship is by far the most read posting I’ve had in my blog.  Here is a updated  summary of my experience:

The United States allows dual citizenship with numerous countries, including Ireland.  A few years ago I found out Ireland offers citizenship by descent.  It is called “Citizenship through Foreign Births Registration (FBR)”.  The background work took me a couple of months and the whole process cost a few hundred dollars.  The FBR application took about 16-18 months to process.  I received my dual citizenship in May 2007.  I then applied for an Irish passport which I received in August 2007.

The rules:

One can become an Irish citizen by descent even if your parents were not Irish citizens.  If one of your grandparents was an Irish citizen you can apply for entry in the Foreign Births Register.  There is no requirement that you have ever stepped on Irish soil.  Since 1986, citizenship only takes effect as of the date of registration so any children born prior to your becoming a citizen are not automatically also citizens.

You need three forms of identification for your grandparent.  I sent in information for both my grandfather and grandmother since as you will see below I was afraid someone might question the link to my grandfather.  I used their Irish birth certificates, marriage certificate, and death certificates.  All these records can be obtained through contact information on the Internet.


I was interested in genealogy and had created a fairly extensive record of my family history in the Family Tree Maker tool based on the research my parents had done.  My father made copies of my grandparents’ birth records on a visit to Ireland but I never paid much attention to the details.  I decided to pursue Irish citizenship for the following reasons:

  • After my father died, I rekindled my interest in my family history.  I realized I could no longer get first hand answers to my questions and my children would have little hope of finding information if I did not document it.
  • It would be easier to travel in Europe with an EU passport.
  • It would be an advantage if I ever wanted to work in Europe.
  • I thought it would be fun – a nice novelty/conversation piece.
  • I thought my wife would prioritize Ireland higher on the list for future travel. (I have since been to Ireland three times with my children, my wife and my siblings.)

What I learned along the way:

You think you know what your name is?

When I looked at my grandfather’s birth entry, I found it entered as “Sweeny”, not “Sweeney”.  This made me question the validity of my father’s research.  I subsequently did enough research to convince myself that my father was correct.  The place of birth, the rough time period, the names of siblings and their birth records, and census information leaves little doubt that Sweeny and Sweeney referred to the same family.  I also checked with other relatives to link various uncles together.  I have since become more comfortable with the common practice of finding multiple spellings of your name.  I have it with my mother’s family as well – Brennan in Ireland and Brennen sometimes in the US.  I have since found it on the Horan side with McPherson and MacPherson.  It still bothers me because I am very detail oriented, but it doesn’t seem to bother people in Ireland at all.  I have been told that “everybody can spell their name two ways”.

You think you know when your grandfather was born?

In my research I found no less than 5 documented birth dates for my grandfather that differed from his birth certificate.  These dates spanned 12 years and two seasons!  I obtained copies of his birth certificate, the passenger manifest on the ship from Ireland to the US, census information in Ireland, multiple census records in the US, his immigration and naturalization papers, and his World War I draft registration card.  As the years progressed he failed to age at the proper rate.  That leads me to guess as a laborer he wanted to appear younger to keep his employment.  There are still two living siblings of my father.  However, neither has the slightest idea of their father’s birth date or even the season.  Hard to imagine they never celebrated his birthday.

Thank goodness my grandmother told the truth about her birthday.  It was a treat to see everything match when I obtained similar records for her.

What kind of information can you obtain?

I made one trip to the National Archives in Waltham, MA.  Everything else was researched on the Internet or through and requested by postal mail or fax.  I must credit an extremely helpful person at the National Archives with unlocking the key to many records of my grandfather as he found the immigration and naturalization records.  I assumed my grandfather came into Boston as my grandmother did since they both moved to Providence, RI.  As it turns out he arrived at Ellis Island in New York.  Once I discovered this, the process became easier.

Here are some of the records I obtained:

  • Irish birth certificate
  • Passenger manifest entry for the ship coming to the US
  • Irish and US census information
  • Immigration and naturalization papers
  • World War I draft registration
  • Marriage certificate
  • Death certificate
  • Social Security record

In case you are curious:

  • My grandfather, Sweeney, was born in Gubnaveagh (near Ballinamore), county Leitrim.
  • My grandmother, Horan, was born in Ballaghboy, county Sligo.
  • My mother’s grandfather, Brennan, was born in Carrownamaddy, county Roscommon.

Related links:

Posted in citizenship, ireland, podcasting | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Christmas toy on fire

remote controlled car

Christmas car flames out

I never imagined a toy remote controlled car could catch fire.  It only took four AA batteries and a tiny circuit board.  Flames burned through the windshield and were shooting several inches in the air!  It was not a nice Christmas surprise for our 4 year old nephew.

We were lucky there were people around when it happened.  My sister in law is going to report this on Monday.  I wonder if there have been other incidents and if they will recall the toy.

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Taking an Irish language class

I started an Irish language class this fall at the Greater Danbury Irish Cultural Center.  Studying a language was never a strong point for me.  I “took” French for four years in high school, but I think I gave it back 🙂  I’ve thought about learning another language, but never acted on it before.  Obviously, the most useful language to learn would be Spanish.  However, with my genealogy research and visits to Ireland I became intrigued with the Irish language.

I don’t really expect to learn Irish, but I do want to learn about it.  When I said that at the first class, the instructor challenged me to really learn it.  The instructor is John Feeney.   You can find out more about this class at the Irish Gaelic Circle of CT.  You can find out more about learning Irish in the US and Canada at Daltaí na Gaeilge.

I enjoyed the classes, but found it too difficult to devote the time while I was starting a new job.  Work and life are extremely busy.  At this point, I’m an Irish language dropout, but I’ll be back in 2011!

Slán go fóill   (bye for now)

Posted in ireland, irish language | Tagged , | 1 Comment

When you make a change, it may as well be a big one

I started a new job a few weeks ago, still in IT at IBM, but out of the collaboration and social media space.  It’s a big change for me as I have been focused for the past 8 years on end user applications and I will now be focused on the engine that drives the flow of business in IBM.  The project is called Blue Harmony.

Blue Harmony is the internal name for a major SAP based project that is already in progress and about to the deliver the first phase of function to the first pilot country.  Eventually, it will transform how IBM does everything from opportunity management to order processing to customer fulfillment to invoicing and financial management – on a global basis.  It will support much of IBM’s business including software and hardware products and services.  I am responsible for the global deployment plan as this project moves from the first pilot country to production across the world.  Getting to this set of common systems globally will deliver great benefits to IBM.  It is IBM’s largest IT project.

I’m currently drinking from the proverbial fire hose and trying to add value as we close our plan for 2011.  I’m looking forward to bringing my past experience to the table and defining improvements to the deployment plan that will help us be successful over the next several years.

I also hope to use what I have learned about collaboration and social computing to help this project.  This is a large, global project team operating across multiple time zones bringing together people from different cultures and native languages.  How people find expertise, get to know and trust each other, exchange information and perform work in teams is critical to our success.  I would like to contribute some best practices that will help make us more productive.

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Workplace of the Future interview

Recently, I did an interview and webinar at  The subject was IBM’s Workplace of the Future initiative.  I think it is a good summary of the way we are changing IT to take a more holistic view of what is required to support the needs of the workforce.  It’s not just about technology, but requires understanding the dynamics of the workforce as well as the changing nature of the work itself.  Even though we call this the Workplace of the Future, we recognize that a key concept is that work is no longer a place.

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My podcast interview on Irish Roots Cafe

In July, I was interviewed by Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe for his Irish Families Worldwide podcast.  The interview is about my family history tour to Ireland in May.  It’s a longer version of my prior two blog entries.  The interview is posted here.

Back in February of 2008, I was interviewed by Corey Taratuta of Irish Fireside.  We talked about my experience obtaining dual citizenship with Ireland.  I was very happy with the content, but unfortunately the audio quality is something only a family member could endure.  I’m sure the audio quality problems were on my end.  If you dare, the interview is posted here.

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Our Irish Family History Tour

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, my sister and brother and I recently took our Irish family history tour.  We visited the following townlands:

  • Gubnaveagh, Leitrim – the birthplace of my grandfather, James Francis Sweeney (left at age 29)
  • Ballaghboy, Sligo – the birthplace of my grandmother, Anne Maria Horan (left at age 20)
  • Carrownamaddy, Roscommon – the townland of my mother’s paternal ancestors, the Brennans

The trip exceeded all our expectations.  We visited old family cottages in all three townlands and met cousins for the first time.  Having covered the Horan part of the journey in my last blog entry, I’ll discuss the Sweeney and Brennan visits here.

Most of the Sweeneys that lived in Gubnaveagh, Leitrim emigrated to America around 1900.  I can trace the family back into the mid-1800’s, but it gets a little cloudy before that.  The Sweeney’s seemed to have sub-let a parcel of land in the 1800’s from the Gannons, but were only officially added to the lease in 1869.  However, an entry for that parcel in a 1739-1810 book is recorded as “Gannon and others”.  If I had more time in Dublin, I could have obtained this record at the Deeds office to see who the “others” were.  Maybe I’ll call and see if they will pull the record for me.  We also saw a book called “Mountain Echoes”  about the people in the area and it shows the Sweeney property on a hand-drawn map.

Of my grandfather’s 7 siblings, only the oldest, John, stayed with the property.  John had no children and when he died, Thomas Sweeney returned from America to take over the property.  When Thomas and his wife died, the property was sold.  Last August, I met the owner of the property, Michael Mohan.  My cousin, Jim Murphy, connected with Michael’s cousin when talking about their Providence roots.  Another small world connection.  On this trip, Michael took us out on the property to see the old 2-room cottage ruins.  It’s not hard to imagine why the grown children left for America with such cramped living quarters and little promise for their future.

After the Sweeney stop on the tour, it was on to the Horans, and then the Brennans.  My mother had an extensive family tree of the Brennans and I searched Irish and US census information to enhance the tree.  I was able to pinpoint the townland through my searches.  We  intended to visit the old St. John Cemetery to look for tombstones.  However, while in the cemetery we were approached by two members of a local historical society.   One of the women called her 86 year old father who came down to talk to us.  He directed us to the Brennan’s house.  We knocked on their door and were welcomed by three Brennan brothers.  We had a great chat and they took us out to the remains of the cottage which was occupied for generations until the 1960s.

They showed us a book written by Diane Dunnigan, about a cousin, Margaret Brennan.  “A south Roscommon emigrant: Emigration and return, 1890-1920” takes an interesting look at the cycle of emigration and permanent return.  I opened the book and saw the “left side” of my family tree.  It was an odd feeling to stumble upon a perfect matching family tree.  The book was lacking information on my side of the tree that had left Ireland in the mid-1800s.   Reading the book has really helped me understand the Brennans that stayed in Ireland.  I emailed the author and she is interested in my Brennan information.  We will set up an interview in the coming weeks.

Now that I have a rock solid base to my Irish ancestry, I plan to keep pushing for more detail.  After that, it will be on to a new family history tour searching the roots of my grandmother, Florence Elizabeth Gaetz, who emigrated from Nova Scotia.  This time, my wife will be with me since her mother’s ancestors also emigrated from Nova Scotia.

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Thank you Gerry Clarke and Social Media

Our recent family history tour of Ireland was a great success.  We visited the townlands and old cottages for the Sweeney, Horan, and Brennan ancestors.  We knew where we were going with the Sweeney part of the trip.  The Brennan day was pot luck and we struck gold.  The Horan day was fantastic thanks to Gerry Clarke of Ballinafad, co. Sligo.  More about the Sweeney and Brennan days in another blog entry.  Here’s the Horan story …

After my August visit to Ireland I blogged about the nice people we met in Ballinafad.  Subsequently, Gerry was searching the Internet for recent mentions of Ballinafad and came across my blog.   He then did a direct tweet to me saying he wished we could have met when I was there.  Turns out the person I mentioned in my blog was a groomsman in his wedding and his wife was from my grandfather’s parish in Leitrim.   I responded to the tweet with an email to Gerry and the connection was made!

Building up to the trip, Gerry and I exchanged emails about my family history.  He talked to people in the village and was able to find my grandmother’s cottage in Ballaghboy as well as information about people in my family tree.  When we arrived, he graciously spent several hours with us.  We met his family and a neighbor who remembered some of my relatives.  He and his daughter showed us the cottage, which is now a storage house owned by the Irish Forestry Service.  Gerry also brought us to see two of our 2nd cousins.  It gets better – turns out we might be distant cousins as there is a common family name in both of our family trees!

It really is a small world and a world where people go out of their way to help a stranger with no prospect of personal gain.  Thank you Gerry Clarke, and the social media that connected us.

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