1 Household, 8 Inhabitants, 4 Surnames

One household, eight inhabitants, four surnames…That’s one surname for every two inhabitants, or “inmates” as they were called in the 1861 Canadian census,1 and not surprisingly, not atypically, all eight were related…

Here is the household of James Traynor/Treanor in the 1861 census of Kitley township, Co. Leeds, Ontario, Canada:2

The “UC” in the above, btw, stands for “Upper Canada” (for Place of Birth); and the “RC” (for Religion) for “Roman Catholic.” And the inhabitants/inmates listed above are as follows:

  • James Traynor, son of Peter Traynor and Catherine McGinnis/Maginnis
  • Mary [Murphy] [Donovan] Traynor, daughter of James Murphy and Catherine Hardin, widow of Lawrence Donovan, and wife of James Traynor
  • Catherine [Traynor] McCarthy, daughter of James Traynor and Mary Murphy, and wife of Eugene McCarthy
  • Bridget Traynor, daughter of James Traynor and Mary Murphy (later married John Carroll)
  • Ellen [Traynor] Carey, daughter of James Traynor and Mary Murphy, and wife of John Carey
  • Mary Traynor, daughter of James Traynor and Mary Murphy
  • James Traynor, son of James Traynor and Mary Murphy (later married Catherine Jordan)
  • Mary Donovan, aka “Little Mary,” daughter of Patrick Donovan and Margaret McGinnis, and granddaughter of Mary [Murphy] [Donovan] Traynor and of Lawrence Donovan (later married Daniel Fowler, whose brother John Fowler married Ellen McCarthy, daughter of the above-named Eugene McCarthy and his second wife Honora McDonald/McDonnell)

 Why were the recently-married Catherine and Ellen (tagged as “married during the year” in the 1861 Canadian census) found in the household of their father James Traynor and his wife/their mother Mary (Donovan, Traynor) Murphy; and where were their new husbands, Eugene McCarthy and John Carey? This I do not know. What, if any, was the relationship between, on the one hand, Margaret McGinnis, wife of Patrick Donovan and mother of “Little Mary” Donovan; and, on the other hand, Catherine McGinnis, wife of Peter Traynor and mother of the James Traynor who was “Little Mary” Donovan’s step-grandfather? This I also do not know (and indeed, there may be no relationship whatsoever, but the common surname does make me wonder…).

What I do know is that nineteenth-century family formation could be enormously complicated. “Blended families” are nothing new; and “boomerang children” are no recent innovation either. The expectation of one surname per family/household may well be a blip on the screen: an early- to mid-twentieth-century anomaly that not only no longer captures the complexity of the early-twenty-first-century family, but that also tends to obscure the (second marriage to the first cousin once removed of one’s first spouse, say) intricacies of nineteenth-century household organization, too.

In terms of 19th-century census returns,  you should always be on the lookout for widows and orphans; and for remarried spouses with step-children/step-grandchildren. If your peeps are Ottawa Valley Irish, there’s a decent chance these folks will all turn out to be related, in any case; but the relationships may involve a few steps more than the census will reveal (in which case: once again, to the parish registers!).

  1. Nowadays, “inmate” carries connotations of institutionalized confinement, most notably with reference to prisons, but in the nineteenth century, it just meant one of several dwellers in the same house or building.
  2. James Treanor household, 1861 census of Canada, Canada West (Ontario), County of Leeds, Kitley Township, p. 3, lines 7-14.