“Al [Lunney] has this advice for budding genealogists. DO IT NOW, before you lose the members of the older generation who know the family lore.”
— Al and Jeri Lunney and the Lunney Genealogy, The Millstone (11 September 2013)
During the 1930s Alex and Annie operated a small grocery shop in their home on Armstrong St. In the depths of the depression my father, who was a railroader, got very little work and we were often short of cash. At those times our credit was good and we could always get the essentials at the Morans. There were lots of card games and visits to and fro. Uncle Alex was also a fiddle player and he and Aunt Em Delaney played for dancing and entertainment.
— Emmett Patrick Sloan, Memories of the Morans (2007)
Ancestry.ca has an extremely useful database of voters lists: “Canada, Voters Lists, 1935-1980.” These lists can be used as a census substitute of sorts, although of course they only include adult citizens (age 21 and over until 1970, at which point the voting age was lowered to 18). They can help to discover and/or verify addresses, and they may also provide some useful information on occupations.
But as with the Canadian census (and the US federal census, for that matter, and the UK census too), these voters lists tend to erase evidence of occupation for married women. Well, perhaps “erase” is too strong a term? it suggests an act of commission, when what we are dealing with, arguably, is an act of omission.
My great-grandparents Alex (Alexander Michael) and Annie (Anna Maria Benton) Moran had a grocery store, a small “mom-and-pop” operation at the front of their house on Armstrong St. Here they are in the 1935 List of Electors (Victoria Ward, City of Ottawa), with my grandparents Allan Jerome Moran and Mary Catherine Lahey (here listed as Mrs Allan [W] [= Wife], married woman) listed just below:
Notice how Alex and Annie’s “mom-and-pop” operation has become a “pop” operation in this document: Moran, Alexander is listed as a “grocery store proprietor,” while his wife Annie (Mrs Alexander, [W] [= Wife]) is given the occupational designation of “married woman.”
John Lahey the Elder was the eldest of six known Lahey siblings who emigrated from Ballymacegan, Lorrha, Co. Tipperary to March Township, Carleton Co., Ontario in the 1820s and early 1830s.
John Lahey the Elder never married; and, having no children of his own to inherit his land (100 acres at Concession 3, Lot 14, March Township), he left his farm to his youngest brother, my “black sheep” ancestor James Lahey. My 3x-great-grandfather James Lahey earned his “black sheep ancestor” status by killing his own brother-in-law Daniel Lahey in a drunken altercation, apparently by hitting him on the back of the head with the handle of a spade.
But John Lahey the Elder did not leave all 100 acres of his land to his younger brother James. He bequeathed to James Lahey 98 acres, reserving 2 acres to the Roman Catholic Church. As I wrote in ‘Wilful Murder’ and Black Sheep Ancestors, my dad used to joke that the reason why John Lahey left that land to the Church was that the family had so many sins to atone for. But my father was also known to say, more seriously, of James Lahey’s killing of his brother-in-law: “that’s a godawful thing to have in your family.”
And it is a godawful thing, no doubt. But, eh, there is too much ancestor worship in genealogical circles, in my humble opinion. Let’s face it, some of our ancestors were scoundrels, scofflaws, and rogues. Or hotheaded young men who lacked impulse control, and then one night they got into the poitín … (which I suspect was the case with James Lahey).
In any case, James Lahey’s murder (or manslaughter) of his sister Catherine Lahey’s husband Daniel Lahey was an act of infamy, and a horrible deed; and, by all accounts, it tore the Lahey family apart. Ultimately, John Lahey the Elder stood behind his younger brother James, and then he left him his land:
Memorial of John Lahey the Elder’s Last Will and Testament
(Written 21 December 1853; registered 17 January 1859.)
A memorial to be registered of a will made in the words and figures following that is today. In the name of God Amen.
I John Lahey the Elder of the township of March, County of Carleton, and the Province of Canada, Yeoman, being of sound mind, memory and understanding but sick and weak of body, do hereby publish and declare this to be my last will and testament hereby revoking and making void all former will or wills, that I may have hereto have made.
In the first place I nominate, constitute, and appoint George Morgan the Elder and Thomas Horrigan, both of the aforesaid Township of March Yeoman Executors of this my will. I direct that all my past debts funeral and testamentary expenses be fully paid with all convenient speed after my decease, and I subject, in the first place, my personal estate, and if the same should be insufficient, my real estate for the payment.
Therefore I give and bequeath unto my brother James and after his decease to his heirs all that parcel or track of land and premises, being composed of South East half of lot number fourteen on the third concession of the aforesaid Township of March, containing one hundred acres of land more or less, reserving to the Roman Catholic Church the two acres of land of said lot upon which the chapel now stands, together with all houses outhouses, barns stables, that are now erected and built or that may be hereafter erected and built by my said brother James, his heirs or any of them. He shall at no time sell or mortgage the said land hereby so devised. And I give unto him all stock, farming utensils that I may stand possessed of at the time of my decease and all my chattles and personal property.
In witness whereof I have to this my last will and testament written on two sides of a paper to the first side at the bottom therefore affixed my name and to the last my name and seal this twenty first day of December Eighteen Hundred and Fifty Three.
From the Carleton County Land Registry, March. Citation forthcoming.
A new online exhibit
If you have Irish ancestors who were in the Bytown (Ottawa) area by the late 1820s, you should certainly check the McCabe List (which I wrote about in this entry).
And if you’re lucky enough to discover an ancestor on the McCabe List,1 you may want to learn more about the Rideau Canal and its construction.
Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal is an online interactive exhibit which presents the history of Bytown “from the arrival of Colonel John By in 1826 to the incorporation of the City of Ottawa in 1855.” The site makes use of extensive archival materials to explore the social, cultural, economic and political dimensions of the construction of the Bytown Locks, organizing its material under such headings as Military, Disease, Labour, and Community.
The section on Disease includes some fascinating material on malaria (which was known as ague, swamp fever, and lake fever). Malaria is now extremely rare in Canada and the United States, and most people now see it as an exclusively tropical disease. But during the construction of the Rideau Canal, malarial outbreaks were common, and the disease killed hundreds of men, women, and children. Even Colonel By himself contracted malaria! The malaria section includes “A Personal Account of Malaria” from John McTaggart’s
Three years in Canada (1829).
The section on Community explores some of the tensions between different groups (French, English, Scottish, and Irish), whose political, economic, and religious rivalries could sometimes erupt into violent clashes. See, for example, the subsections on Brawling Bytown, Lawlessness, and Conflict and Struggle — early Bytown was a very different place from the staid and peaceful Ottawa that it would become. Not surprisingly, “it was the impoverished working-class Irish who were generally held responsible for the disruption of the peace, though it is uncertain whether such accusations were based on fact or on negative cultural stereotypes.” It should be noted that the worst period of violence (1835 to 1845) came after the construction of the Rideau Canal, when unemployed Irish vied with French Canadians for jobs in the timber trade.
Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal is a great example of how the internet can be used to offer a deeply sourced and multilayered form of public history.
- I say “lucky” because to discover an ancestor on the McCabe List is, in most cases, to find the Holy Grail of Irish genealogy, at least for that ancestor and his family: you will get the name of a county and a parish, and perhaps also the name of a town or townland within that parish. ↩
Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present is a remarkable website: an interactive blog which juxtaposes photographs from Ottawa’s past with photographs from the Ottawa of today.
Here, for example, is 96 to 102 Wellington Street, in 1938 and in 2014. Use your mouse to move the slider to the right to reveal the photograph from 1938; move the slider to the left to reveal the 2014 photo. The beauty of brick and stone masonry, with arched windows and doors to soften and humanize the building’s lines, versus the cold utilitarianism of completely regular rectangles of glass.
And here is the Ottawa Public Library at the corner of Metcalfe St. and Laurier Ave., circa 1900 (I believe this Carnegie library opened in 1906) and in 2013. Again, use your mouse to move the slider from left to right, and from right to left, to reveal how a beautiful neo-classical building was replaced by, in siteowner Alexandre Laquerre’s terms, “another one more along the lines of brutalism.” It is to weep.
As I mentioned in my post on the “Lost Ottawa” Facebook group, I find it rather depressing to view the photographs of older Ottawa buildings that were demolished in the name of “progress” and “development:” in my opinion, the wanton destruction of heritage buildings to make way for soulless concrete blocks and generic condo towers is an ongoing scandal in Ottawa’s urban planning. Needless to say, I can only agree with Ottawa Past & Present’s tagline: “We believe this city could be better.”
Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present is the work of Alexandre Laquerre, an engineer who has lived in Ottawa since 2006, and whose interest in architectural heritage was first inspired by his dismay over the destructive effects of the Dufferin superhighway (l’autoroute Dufferin-Montmorency) on the downtown core of his native Quebec City. The website is clearly a labour of love; and also, I think, a gift to the Ottawa public.
I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for the longest time, ever since a reader asked me, ‘Can you assume Catholic or Protestant for a family on the basis of their children’s first names?’
And my shorter answer is: No. No, you cannot infer a religious affiliation for your Irish ancestors on the basis of their children’s first names (or forenames). The only way to confidently ascertain your ancestor’s religion is to find evidence of religious affiliation in a reliable source (in a parish register, for example, or in a cemetery record).
And my longer answer (No, not necessarily, but…) is forthcoming…
But in the meantime, I was reminded of this question when I looked at the top ten first names in my genealogy database. The majority of individuals in this database were of Irish Catholic origin (but the database includes a significant minority of French Canadians, who were also Catholic). And here are the top ten first names:
Of the above list of names, I would say that Patrick, Michael, and Bridget warrant a presumption in favour of Irish Catholic. Whereas Mary, John, James, Margaret? maybe Irish, maybe English, maybe Scottish, who knows? Catholic, Anglican, or Presbyterian: again, who knows? The only way to confidently ascertain is to get serious with the records.
Don’t expect every Irish Catholic ancestor in your family tree to announce himself the product of a Catholic Gaeltacht with a name like Séamus O’Shaughnessy. Some of your Irish RC ancestors may have had names like John Smith.
By the way, there is no Séamus O’Shaughnessy in my database; I just pulled that name out of a hat. There are certainly some Irish Catholic Smiths in my database, though.
One of my brick wall ancestors is my great-great-grandfather Thomas Benton, who was born in Ireland about 1830, emigrated to Canada in the 1850s, and died at Arnrprior (Renfrew County, Ontario) in 1890.
He married Hanora (“Annie”) Ryan about 1856, but I’ve yet to find a marriage record for this couple, and I don’t know whether they were married in Ireland or in Canada. Thomas Benton and Hanora Ryan had nine known children, apparently all born in Canada, with eight surviving to adulthood. I have baptismal records for seven of these nine children, but not for the two eldest, Catherine Benton (born about 1857) and Thomas Benton Jr (born about 1859). The first real proof of Thomas and Annie [Ryan] Benton’s presence in Canada is the baptismal record for their third child, Bridget Benton (born in February 1861; baptized 1 March 1861). The family can be found in the 1861 Census of Canada (Pakenham, Lanark Co., Ontario), where the birthplace for Thomas Benton and his wife Anne is given as Ireland, and the birthplace for their children Catherine and Thomas given as Upper Canada.
Thomas Benton died 7 March 1890, of head injuries sustained in a horrible accident at a lumber mill. While I have his church burial record (St. John Chrysostom, Arnprior), I have not found an Ontario civil death registration. An obituary in the Arnprior Chronicle does not name his parents. So: with no marriage record, and with no mention of his parents in either his RC burial record or his obituary, the trail goes cold.
But there’s a family in Cappawhite, Tipperary that interests me (especially as Thomas Benton married a Ryan whose family came from Tipperary):
A Thomas Benton married a Catherine (“Kitty”) Dwyer in Cappawhite, Tipperary on 11 March 1809. The couple had at least five known children, all born Cappawhite, Tipperary:
- Hanora Benton, baptized 19 December 1818
- Kitty Benton, baptized 15 October 1821
- Winny [Winnifred] Benton, baptized 8 February 1824
- Thomas Benton, baptized 8 June 1826 (could this be my 2x-great-grandfather?)
- William Benton, baptized 9 May 1832
So I’m looking for information on the descendants of Thomas Benton and Catherine (“Kitty”) Dwyer, of Cappawhite, Tipperary. Any information would be much appreciated.
A reader is looking for information about her great-grandparents John Lynch (born about 1856, Co. Tyrone) and Unity Fox (born about 1856, Co. Tyrone). The couple were married on 22 May 1878 at a Roman Catholic chapel (possibly Cloughcor Chapel?), parish of Leckpatrick, Strabane, Co. Tyrone, Ireland, with Daniel Murphy and Mary J. Murphy serving as witnesses. Their marriage record lists their residence as Woodend, parish of Leckpatrick, Strabane, Co. Tyrone.
John Lynch married Unity Fox as a widower; the name of his first wife is not known.
John Lynch and Unity Fox had at least one son, John Lynch (Junior), born 17 October 1879, Strabane, Tyrone, Ireland, who married Mary Catherine Boyle in 1909. John Lynch (Junior) and Mary Catherine Boyle emigrated to Canada in 1913, with their four young daughters Winnifred, Catherine Jane, Helen, and Elizabeth Lynch. The family settled at Cornwall, Stormont Co., Ontario, where they had two more children, sons Jack and James Lynch.
The reader is trying to find out the names of her great-great-grandparents (i.e., the parents of John Lynch [Senior], who was born about 1856, and of Unity Fox, who was also born about 1856).
Any information would be greatly appreciated.
First, the bad news (not that it’s news: if you’ve been pursuing Irish genealogy at a level beyond that of absolute beginner, you already know about the sad loss of the nineteenth-century Irish census returns):
There are no surviving census returns for 1891, 1881, 1871, and 1861. And there are very, very few surviving census returns for 1851, 1841, 1831, and 1821.
Yes, I know: it is to weep. John Grenham explains the sorry situation at his Irish Roots column.
And now for a bit of good news (and this really is a new and welcome development):
The surviving pre-1901 census records (and to reiterate: most pre-1901 Irish census returns did not survive) are now available online, and free of charge, at the National Archives of Ireland’s website (census.nationalarchives.ie).
Shaun O’Connor at Ottawa Family Tree has a nice post on the topic, with a summary of what’s available.