Catholic Records

NLI Parish Registers Digitisation Project

This is huge. This is absolutely fantastic. This has the potential to transform (and by “transform,” I mean radically improve) Irish family history research.

Press release from the National Library of Ireland:

We are delighted to announce that we will make the NLI’s entire collection of Catholic parish register microfilms available online – for free – by summer 2015…

…Commenting today, Colette O’Flaherty, Head of Special Collections at the NLI, said: “This is the most ambitious digitisation project in the history of the NLI, and our most significant ever genealogy project. We believe it will be of huge assistance to those who wish to research their family history. At this stage, we have converted the microfilm reels on which the registers are recorded into approximately 390,000 digital images. We will be making all these images available, for free, on a dedicated website, which will be launched in summer 2015.

More on this in a later post.

French Canadian “dit” names

Here is ancestry.ca’s record listing for the baptism of Marie Cleophie [Cléophée] Cheval, daughter of Joseph Cheval and Marie Louise Goneau:

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques baptism

And here is ancestry.ca’s record listing for the marriage of Cleophes [Marie Cléophée] Cheval to Pierre Dubeau, son of Pierre Dubeau and Louise Poirier dit Desloges:

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques marriage

Note that an ancestry.ca user has supplied a correction to “Cleophes Cheval,” and that this corrected name of “Marie-Cléophée Cheval” is included in ancestry’s search results. Never a bad idea to submit a correction, if you’re reasonably certain that your information is more accurate than what is currently listed at ancestry.

And here, finally, is ancestry.ca’s record listing for the burial of Cleophee [Marie Cléophée] St Jacques:

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques burial

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques burial textThe actual burial record1 (see image at right, and click on the image to view a larger version) identifies her as “Cléophée St Jacques wife of Pierre Dubeau.” What happened to the surname Cheval? and where did that surname St. Jacques come from?

If you didn’t know anything about French Canadian “dit” names, and if you also didn’t know much about Catholic record-keeping, you might assume that the priest had omitted the surname Cheval because the deceased woman was identified by the name of her husband; and you might further assume that St. Jacques was the surname of a previous husband (previous to Pierre Dubeau, that is). But of course both of those assumptions would be wrong.

For Catholic records, the standard practice was/is to identify women by their family (or maiden) names — which is one of the reasons why Roman Catholic parish records are so extremely valuable to genealogical researchers.

And the reason why Marie Cléophée Cheval was also known as Marie Cléophée St Jacques is that she carried a surname with a “dit” name: Cheval dit St. Jacques.

More on “dit” names

French-Canadian “dit” names are a fascinating, often charming, and potentially highly informative naming practice that can certainly make your record search more complicated. Was your ancestor’s name recorded as Cheval dit St. Jacques, for example? or as just Cheval? or perhaps as just St. Jacques?

If your search for a French-Canadian ancestor is coming up cold, you should consider the possibility that your ancestor had a “dit” name by which he or she was also known or called. (The “dit” of French and French-Canadian dit names means “called,” but in English would have the connotation of “also called,” or “also known as.”)

Fortunately, there is a fair bit of information on “dit” names on the internet. See, especially, the American-French Genealogy Society’s collection of French-Canadian surname variants, dit names, and anglicizations.

I also recommend “The nicknames and ‘dit names’ of French-Canadian ancestors,” at the Library and Archives Canada Blog.

  1.  Ste. Elizabeth (Vinton, Pontiac Co., Québec), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1875-1882, Sepult. Cléophée St Jacques, image 26 of 54: database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 26 July 2014), Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967.

More on Signs of Catholicity

In Signs of Catholicity, I linked to a blog entry by Gilles Cayoutte of Le chercheur nomade/The Nomadic Researcher, concerning the Catholic burial of an unknown man who had drowned in the St. Lawrence. In this burial record, the priest explains that he had performed the rites of a Catholic burial for this unknown man, because the body or person of the man had displayed sufficient signs of Catholicity (des signes suffisants de catholicité).

It turns out that Gilles Cayouette has more, much more, on signs of Catholicity. In an earlier blog entry, Les registres de l’état civil et les signes de catholicité, Cayouette refers to a number of examples of Catholic burial records of unknown persons, where various signs of Catholicity (which is to say, signs of membership in the Roman Catholic Church) had been discovered, which signs were thought to warrant a Catholic burial.

Among these signs of Catholicity:

  • un chapelet (a rosary)
  • une croix ou un crucifix (a cross or a crucifix) 
  • un scapulaire (a scapular)
  • un livre de prières (a prayer book)

I have no doubt that, when someone entered the home, however humble, of a 19th-century Catholic family, that someone could find evidence of Catholicism. But how many 19th-century Catholics carried with them, on their own persons, and at all times, at least one or more “signs of Catholicity,” such that, were they found dead, and the body unidentified, someone could make a confident judgement of “Roman Catholic”?

It is an interesting question, I think.

Formerly of the father’s Irish county

(Or formerly of [the father’s native] England, as the case may be.)

This is bordering on fussy pedantry, perhaps. Or maybe it crosses that border?

But genealogical research is all about paying attention to the small details. And Irish genealogy, especially, requires close attention to the small details. Given the paucity of Irish records, and with so few, so very few, records to work with: you need to work those records to the ground, and then turn them inside out and work them over again. Let no detail escape! no matter how small, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

So, pedantry or not, it’s going to bother me if I don’t correct the following misleading statement:

In Irish Counties in Fitzroy Harbour Mission Marriage Records, 1852-1856, I wrote that the Rev. Bernard McFeely’s “formerly of the County [Irish county] Ireland” refers to at least the parents of the bride or groom, but in some (probably quite a few) cases, will also refer to the bride or groom as well. 

And in the majority of cases for these Fitzroy Harbour Mission marriages, the father’s and the mother’s county of origin will be one and the same (so: the parents’ county of origin). But not always. And, having read through a run of about twelve years of these marriage records, it seems clear to me that Father McFeely’s “formerly of the County [Irish county] Ireland” refers first and foremost to the father’s county of origin (which, again, will usually also be the mother’s county of origin, but not always).

Here, for example, is a marriage record where the bridegroom’s mother’s Irish county of origin is not recorded at all, and where her origins are misleadingly subsumed under those of her husband:

finner william breslin catherine 26jun1861

St. Michael (Fitzroy Harbour, Carleton), Register of Baptisms and Marriages, 1852-1863, 26 June 1861, image 65 of 80, M. 5, William Finner-Catherine Breslin marriage, database: FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923.

Father McFeely here identifies William Finner as the son of Benjamin Finner and Mary Mantle, “formerly of England.” However, while Benjamin Finner was born in England (about 1796), his wife Mary Mantle certainly was not. Mary Mantle was born about 1808 in Rathcormac, Co. Cork, the daughter of Peter Robinson settlers John Mantle and Ellen Hourigan.

This is, by the way, the only “formerly of England” reference that I’ve yet to come across in the early marriage records for Fitzroy Harbour Mission. There are at least a couple of “formerly of Scotland” references, and also a few references to Quebec birthplaces. But the vast majority of recorded origins for these early marriage records refer back to counties in Ireland.

Signs of Catholicity?

One of my favourite genealogy blogs is Gilles Cayoutte’s Le chercheur nomade/The Nomadic Researcher. I cannot remember how I first found this blog, but it must have been while google-searching for something related to Quebec RC parish registers. Gilles Cayoutte mostly posts examples of records from (mostly Roman Catholic) Quebec parish registers; and he has a talent for finding quirky records: records where there is something a little bit unusual or unexpected, or perhaps something that is unusually poignant.

Taken as a whole, the blog demonstrates just how much information can be gleaned from close attention to the church records. But its most intriguing examples often raise more questions than answers.

For example, here’s one that caught my eye: the burial (22 April 1845, parish of L’Assomption de Berthier) of an unknown man who had drowned in the Saint Lawrence River/le fleuve Saint-Laurent. The priest writes that he had buried the body of an unknown person, of the masculine sex (le corps d’une personne inconnue, du sexe masculin) in the parish cemetery, and he notes that the body displayed sufficient signs of Catholicity (des signes suffisants de catholicité) to warrant a Catholic church burial.

Sufficient signs of Catholicity!? Well, unless the poor man was found with a crucifix around his neck, I’m at a loss to account for such signs. My guess is that he looked more French-Canadian than Anglo- (perhaps because of clothing? or some other marker of occupation that was associated with French-Canadians?)

Le chercheur nomade/The Nomadic Researcher is written in French, but Cayoutte always posts a brief summary of each entry in English.

Irish Counties in Fitzroy Harbour Mission Marriage Records, 1852-1856

From 1852, there was a Catholic Mission at Fitzroy Harbour (Carleton Co., Ontario). A stone church (St. Michael’s) was built in 1861;1 but the mission did not become the independent parish of St. Michael until 1917.2 The Fitzroy Harbour Mission served Catholics in the Fitzroy Harbour area, of course, but also, in its early years, Catholics from across the river in the Quyon, Onslow area of Québec.

Marriage of Patrick Killeen and Bridget Galligan.

St. Michael (Fitzroy Harbour, Carleton), Register of Baptisms and Marriages, 1852-1863, 28 February 1859, image 49 of 80, M. 9, Patrick Killeen-Bridget Gallagan marriage, database: FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923.

From 1852 to 1865, the Fitzroy Harbour Mission was served by the Rev. Bernard McFeely. His handwriting was the opposite of neat; his spelling was idiosyncratic at best; and his practice of recording the Irish counties of origin of the parties to a marriage was a gift to future genealogists. It is thanks to Father McFeely that many of the descendants of these Irish Catholic emigrants can begin their family history research with a specific Irish county, rather than just “Ireland,” as the starting point.

To the right is the marriage record for my 2x-great-grandparents Patrick Killeen and Bridget Galligan. Patrick is given as “son of age of Denis Killeen and Mary Hearn formerly of the County Galway Ireland;” and Bridget as “daughter of age of Patrick Gallagan and Mary Quilean [Cullen] formerly of the County Cavin [Cavan] Ireland.” Patrick Killeen was almost certainly born in Upper Canada, whereas Bridget Galligan was certainly born in Ireland (parish of Kilmore, County Cavan). But this distinction is not made clear in the marriage record (I have this information from other records). Father McFeely’s “formerly of the County [Irish county] Ireland” refers to at least the parents of the bride or groom, but in some (probably quite a few) cases, will also refer to the bride or groom as well.

Below is a list of some marriages recorded in the parish register of Fitzroy Harbour Mission, from 1852 to 1856. I have only included marriages where one or both parties are identified with an Irish county (the vast majority of marriages recorded in the early register for Fitzroy Harbour). These Irish counties include: Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, and Tyrone.  

Please note that the Rev. Bernard McFeely continued his practice of recording Irish counties well into the 1860s; I only stopped at the end of November 1856 because my tabular data was getting a bit unwieldy for a blog-based table. I may do 1857 to 1861 or so in a future entry. 

As usual, I have resisted the urge to “correct” the spellings. In more than a few cases, I could not “correct” the spelling even if I tried: at least a few of the surnames transcribed below do not really make sense to me even as variant spellings of a surname. I have attempted to transcribe what I read, but in a few cases, Fr. McFeely’s text is all but unreadable.

  1. This stone church replaced a wooden church that had burned to the ground in 1854. The suspected cause of the fire was anti-Catholic vandalism. See Marion G. Rogers, “St. Michael’s Church Fitzroy Harbour,” The Ottawa Journal, 29 July 1972.
  2. “St. Michael’s Fitzroy Celebrates 150 Years,” Catholic Ottawa Newsletter, Spring and Summer 2010, p. 11.

The Ballad of James and Margaret

The family lore surrounding my 3x-great-grandparents James Moran and Margaret Jamieson is so romantic (and I have to say, so seemingly improbable) that I sometimes refer to the story of their elopement to Canada as “The Ballad of James and Margaret.”

The story goes something like this:

Margaret Jamieson came from a family of quality, and was the daughter of a doctor, and the granddaughter of a landed gentleman, even; whereas James Moran, of much humbler origin, worked for her family as a coachman. Margaret suffered a tragic loss at an early age with the untimely death of her first husband, a Mr. Conroy. The young widow and her family’s coachman then fell in love; and, her family being opposed to the match, James and Margaret eloped to Canada.

Doesn’t the above story make my 3x-great-grandfather sound like “The Gypsy Rover”? (He whistled and he sang til the green woods rang/And he won the heart of a lady…). Except that James Moran didn’t end up as “lord of these lands all over.” Instead, he ended up as a yeoman of Huntley Township, Carleton County, with 200 acres of land to divide between his two surviving sons Thomas and Alexander Michael.1 Not exactly “lordly,” but not bad for an Irish Catholic emigrant who was likely the landless son of a landless tenant farmer back in Ireland.

But back in Ireland where?

  1. Another son, James, born about 1824 in Huntley township, died in 1851. There is a notation of his death in the 1851 census, with the cause of death listed as “collara” (cholera).

Thomas Benton and Catherine Dwyer, Cappawhite, Tipperary

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:

  1. Hanora Benton, baptized 19 December 1818
  2. Kitty Benton, baptized 15 October 1821
  3. Winny [Winnifred] Benton, baptized 8 February 1824
  4. Thomas Benton, baptized 8 June 1826 (could this be my 2x-great-grandfather?)
  5. 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.

Link

As if Ireland hasn’t already lost enough invaluable and irreplaceable genealogical records, John Grenham sounds the alarm over the state of the original Roman Catholic parish registers — which are “still sitting in the sacristies and presbyteries around the country where they have been for the past two centuries,” with no preservation plan in place, and “no archival programme to ensure their survival.”