The Search for Rosanna C.

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, once again ecstatic to have solved a genealogical mystery. For a long time, two big questions about my family tree have gone unanswered. I was frustrated by my inability to find any source for the Irish DNA kept insisting I have—between 5 and 8 % of the total. And I hadn’t been able to figure out how my German immigrant great-great-grandfather, who lived from the age of sixteen in a little town in rural New York State, could have met and married a “southern girl” from the state of Georgia. The answers, as it turned out, were in the same place—the 1850 census for Goshen, NY. Much like solving a murder, climbing a family tree involves following clues. Here’s how this investigation went.

My great-great-grandfather, William Coburg was born in about 1828 in Coburg, Germany. Family stories had him arriving in this country as one of two brothers, ages sixteen and fourteen. In the New York State census taken in 1855, he stated he was twenty-seven and had lived in Goshen, in Orange County, New York for eleven years, making his age sixteen and the date of his arrival 1844. In 1855, he had a wife, “Rosana Coberg,” age twenty-six, born in the state of Georgia and a resident of Goshen for nine years. They had two children, Mary, age two, and Henry, seven months.

Henry Coburg, Rosanna’s son, the oldest family photo we have from this branch of the tree

Census takers were notoriously bad at spelling names and often got other details wrong, as well. Some people were skipped in the enumerations. Still, without the information they did collect, it would be a whole lot harder to find ancestors. In later census records, Rosanna is spelled Rossina, and in some she’s given the middle initial C. Her birth in Georgia is consistent, which goes along with the family story that William married “a southern girl.”

Assuming she had lived in Goshen for nine years, she should have been in the 1850 census. I already knew William did not show up in that one, but it didn’t occur to me until a few months ago to try a different approach. Using the search feature for that census, I typed in the first name Rosanna, no last name, a probable birth date of 1828, and Goshen as the location she lived in. She would have been around 21 in 1850. Her middle initial suggested her maiden name might begin with a C, and given the mystery in my DNA profile, the odds were also good that her family might be Irish.

A search for the name Rosanna in the 1850 census for Goshen turned up only two. One of them was a black woman. The other was Rosanna Conolly, age 22. Although this census states that she, her father (Constantine, 52), and her sister (Catherine, age 28) were all born in New York, in a later census Constantine’s birthplace is given as Ireland.

These details seem to suggest that this is the Rosanna who married William Coburg. Also suggestive is the fact that Rosanna’s nearest neighbor was a shoemaker, which was William Coburg’s profession. I had to wonder if it was possible that my ancestor was apprenticed to him, giving him the opportunity to meet and court the proverbial girl next door.

William’s ad from the 1872/3 Sullivan County Directory

Variations on the spelling of his nane made tracing Constantine a challenge, as does the existence of other men with the same name in both the U. S. and Ireland. Constantine turmed up as Constantine, Constine, and Constant. His surname was spelled Connolly, Connelly, Conolly, Connely, Connoley, Conley, Conoly, Conly, Canley, and even Gourley, The Goshen Constantine, whose age in 1850 indicates a birthdate of 1798, doesn’t seem to have any direct connection the state of Georgia, but there was a Constantine Connolly who lived in Georgia between the years 1823 and 1859, opening up the possibility that Rosanna might have been born on a visit to a relative in Savannah.

Documentation of the life of the Goshen Constantine begins on September 28, 1828, when the Presbyterian church in Goshen recorded his marriage to Rachael McLaughlin. Rachael’s death is also noted in the church’s records, occurring on September 20, 1835. Later census records reveal that Constantine was married twice. His first wife appears to have been the mother of both his daughters. Even though census records are not consistent about the year of Rosanna’s birth, the age given in her obituary, in February 1878, is fifty-one, placing her birth in 1827.

In searching for Constantine in other records, I found more evidence to suggest that Rosanna Coburg was his daughter. Constantine does not appear in the 1855 census, but in 1860, when he was also recorded as being deaf, he was living with Pat McLaughlin (b. Ireland 1810). Constantine’s age is given as 65 (b. Ireland 1795), and his occupation as laborer, but his relationship to McLaughlin is left blank. Given McLaughlin’s age, he could have been the brother of Constantine’s second wife. Even more likely is that he was Constantine’s son-in-law. Pat’s second wife, Catherine McLaughlin, was 36 in 1860, and therefore was born in about 1824—close enough, given census irregularities, to make it possible she was Rosanna’s older sister.

The final proof (as much proof as I ever expect to find) is in the census taken in 1870. Oddly enough, I already had this information. I just didn’t recognize its significance. By 1860, you see, William and Rosanna Coburg had moved to Wallkill, in nearby Ulster County, New York. Their family had continued to grow, adding another daughter, Frances. Then, in 1870, they were living in Bloomingburgh, in Sullivan County, about fifteen miles from Goshen, but, in Goshen, in the household headed by “Patrick McLauclin,” the census taker recorded three more names: Constantine Conley (75), May Coburgh (17), and Frances Coburgh (14). The presence of two of William and Rosanna’s daughters in residence on the day the census was taken makes perfect sense if they were there on a visit to their grandfather and their aunt.

the final “proof” in the 1870 census

In 1875 the McLaughlins were still in Goshen and the Coburgs were still in Bloomingburgh, but Constantine no longer appears, suggesting that he died between 1870 and 1875.

Rosanna C. Coburg died on February 12, 1878 in Port Jervis, New York, where she had gone to visit her married daughter, Mary Kinner.


Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at and

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10 Responses to The Search for Rosanna C.

  1. Shelley Burbank says:

    Genealogy is so much more complex than I ever realized. Hooray for you finding that new angle and all the information. Must be very satisfying!

  2. kaitcarson says:

    Amazing how much can be put together from these old records, and amazing to me how wonderful the handwriting was in those days!

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      I’ve also seen some very bad handwriting in census records. When you can’t tell the difference between a C and a G it can lead to all kinds of confusion!

  3. John Greco says:

    Fascinating! I have been working on my own family tree and one of the biggest mysteries is my grandfather on my mother’s side. He came to America with his foster family (from Italy). Who were his birth parents and why was he given up is unknown. I probably have to contact the church in the town he where he was born. From my understanding, that is where records were kept at the time. And you are right about the census misspelling of names and other data!

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Wishing you the best of luck in your search. The good news is that, barring destruction by fire or other natural disasters, churches, expecially in Catholic countries, usually keep excellent records.

  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    This struck a chord with me. I always wondered how my NY great-grandfather Anthony Miller wound up with my Virginian great-grandmother in 1861 during that pesky “war between the states.” Recently I found out–he secured boats to evacuate southerners who wanted to come north. Guess it must have impressed 16-year-old Mary Hester Hardwick enough to marry him!

  5. Jane Irish Nelson says:

    Fascinating story. So glad you’ve solved one of your brick wall. Genealogy is also one of my passions, and yesterday I was able to identify my sister-in-law’s immigrant Norwegian ancestors, by teasing out the clues from an obituary, followed by the census.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Congrats, Jane. I have some Steenrods in my tree who supposedly came from Norway, but unfortunately their arrival predated census records with useful information like place of birth. Maybe someday . . .

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