The NLI’s Catholic Parish Registers is pretty much the most amazing Irish genealogy site I have yet to come across. I could spend hours browsing its digitized images (of the microfilm images) of actual parish registers; and I have to admit that I sometimes do.
And if you browse through these parish registers, every once in a while you will come across something a little bit quirky, a little bit unusual. That’s the advantage of images of the actual records: they offer a sense of immediacy that transcriptions and indexes (as useful as they are) simply cannot provide. Here is where the parish priest crossed out a date that he had made in error; and here is where he made a brief comment in the margins; and here is how this one record looks in context, in relation to the records that came before it, and to the records that came after.
While browsing through the registers for the RC parish of Loughgilly (Co. Armagh), in search of McGlades and McNultys, I came across a couple of interesting examples of multiple-but-closely-related baptisms performed on the same day (“batch baptisms,” I guess we might call them).
What are the odds of conceiving and giving birth to quadruplets naturally, without the aid of fertility drugs? Apparently, nowadays it’s about 1 in 700,000; and the odds may have been even slimmer in 1831. But apparently Neal Toner and his wife Sally Newell beat those odds, for on 18 April 1831 they presented their four quadruplets for baptism:1
It’s a boy! and it’s a girl! and it’s another boy! and it’s yet another boy! The children’s names were recorded as Neal, Cat (for Catherine), Pat (for Patrick), and Francis. And lest there be any doubt about the relationship between these four siblings, someone (perhaps this was done later? the handwriting looks different) made the notation of “Quadruplets” in the margins. Poor Sally (Newell) Toner! what an unexpected handful she found on her hands. Let’s hope all four of her children made it to adulthood (though I very much doubt this was the case).
Was it something in the water?
In the RC parish registers, an adult baptism generally signifies a conversion to Roman Catholicism, even when it is not explicitly flagged as a record of conversion, or as an “abjuration of heresy.” And it’s certainly not unusual to find the odd Protestant converting to Catholicism in the RC parish registers, most often because he or she was madly in love with a Catholic, and the star-crossed, of-mixed-religion, lovers were determined to marry, no matter what their families had to say about it.
But five adult baptisms, of five people bearing the same surname, and all on the same day?! On 29 May 1835, five Edgars adults were baptised as Catholics:2
So here we have Elizabeth, Thomas, John, Henry, and Edward Edgars all baptized on the same day, and “all adults,” as the priest’s notation makes clear. This is highly unusual, and there must a story behind it.
Note that while the baptismal sponsors for the first four Edgars all had typically Irish Catholic names, the sponsor for Edward, the fifth Edgars to be baptized, was none other than Elizabeth Edgars, the first of the five Edgars to be baptized RC. Having been baptized a Catholic about ten minutes earlier, she was apparently now in a position to serve as a sponsor for a Catholic baptism.
And there really must be a story behind this…