Thomas Benton (1826-1890) was born in Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, the son of Thomas Benton and Catherine (“Kitty”) Dwyer. Of these facts I am now reasonably certain (which is to say, as certain as one can ever be when it comes to 19th-century Irish genealogy).
But for the longest time, I had only “Thomas Benton, born about 1830 in Ireland, of parents unknown” in my database. I suspected that he had been born in the parish of Doon (Limerick or Tipperary?); and from about last May, I had reason to suspect that he was born in Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary, the son of Thomas Benton and Catherine Dwyer. But until very recently, I had no documented evidence to confirm or refute my suspicions.
It’s Always in the Last Place You Look
And the main reason why I had no evidence is that I could not find a record of Thomas Benton’s marriage to Honora Ryan, daughter of Michael Ryan and Bridget Lahey.
Given that all nine of their known children were born in Canada, I suspected (rightly, as it turns out) that Thomas Benton and Honora Ryan had married in Canada, not in Ireland. And I knew that Thomas Benton and Honora Ryan could be found in Pakenham, Lanark Co., Ontario in 1861, and that they shortly afterwards moved to Arnprior, Renfrew Co., Ontario, where Honora Ryan died in 1879, and where Thomas Benton died in 1890. But I searched the Catholic parish registers of Lanark and Renfrew Counties, and searched in vain, for a marriage record for Thomas Benton and Honora Ryan. And because the baptismal record for their daughter Bridget Benton is found in the register for the Catholic mission at Fitzroy Harbour (Carleton Co.), I also searched surrounding parishes in Carleton County. I also briefly considered, and searched for, a Protestant marriage record, though without really expecting to find one, given the overwhelming evidence of staunch Roman Catholicism for this family.1
I finally found their marriage record in the register for St. John the Evangelist, Gananoque, Leeds Co. — a place I had not thought to look, because I was so focused on Lanark and Renfrew Counties.
‘Of the Grand Trunk Rail Road in this mission’
And what were they doing in the Gananoque area in the 1850s?
It looks like the men were working for the Grand Trunk Railway, perhaps on the construction of the line which ran from Montreal to Brockville, which opened in 1859.
When Honora Ryan’s sister Margaret married Cornelius Harrington on 4 November 1856,2 the priest, the Rev. James R. Rossiter, identified Cornelius Harrington as a railroad worker:
The above record lists “Cornelius Harrington of the Rail Road in this mission, son of age of Timothy Harrington and Julia Fahey of the parish of Kilcastle, Co. Cork Ireland,” along with “Margaret Ryan, also of this mission, daughter minor of Michael Ryan and Bridget Lahey from the parish of Kilcommon, Co. Limerick.”
And in the marriage record which immediately follows, that of Thomas Elligot and Bridget Conway (10 November 1856),3 we have Thomas Elligot identified with the Grand Trunk Railway in particular:
The above records lists “Thomas Elligot of the Gr. T. R. Road in this mission, son of age of John Elligot and Margaret Collins of the parish of [Grane?] Co. Limerick Ireland,” along with “Bridget Conway, daughter minor of Thomas Conway and Margaret Kennedy from the parish of Kilcommon Co. Tipperary Ireland.”
Indeed, for the mid- to late-1850s, a number of men in this register are identified as railroad workers in their marriage records. Which is to say, in other words, that the Rev. James R. Rossiter took the time to add that extra detail about the men’s occupation (and in one record, he also identifies a woman as being “of the Rail Road”). Given the difficulties of locating Irish emigrants who worked on the construction of canals and railroads, the register for St. John the Evangelist, Leeds Co., Ontario therefore strikes me as an unusually valuable source (I consider any Catholic parish register to be a valuable source, but for at least a few families [probably more than “a few,” I haven’t yet counted] this one has that little something extra). Moreover, the priest’s tendency to record counties, and sometimes parishes, of origin in Ireland also makes this register extremely valuable.
By the way, I would expect that many of the people found in this register did not remain in the Gananoque region for very long. Like my own Benton and Ryan ancestors, they had probably moved on by the 1860s — to other parts of Canada, and also to the United States.
Thomas Benton is not identified as a railroad worker in the record of his marriage to Honora Ryan. But given the occupational listing for other men (including his brother-in-law Cornelius Harrington) in the same mission, for now I am filing him under “Possibly Working for the Grand Trunk Railway” in the late 1850s. Thomas Benton’s future son-in-law, Alexander Michael Moran (husband of Anna [“Annie”] Maria Benton), did certainly work, as a machinist, for the Grand Trunk Railway. And Thomas Benton’s grandson, my paternal grandfather Allan Jerome Moran, also worked for the GTR, and later for the CN (Canadian National Railway).
I am currently compiling a table of marriages from the register for St. John the Evangelist, which identify Irish parishes and counties (similar to my Irish Counties in Fitzroy Harbour Mission Marriage Records). To be posted within the next few days.
- In the early Ottawa Valley, where conditions were harsh and clerics were scarce, members of various Protestant denominations sometimes crossed denominational lines to baptize an infant or to marry: in the absence of a Presbyterian minister, a pair of Presbyterian parents might have their infant baptized by an Anglican minister, for example. For the most part, however, Roman Catholics resisted this pioneer-era ecumenicalism: to be baptized or married by a non-Catholic, as Catholics understood it, was scarcely to be baptized or married at all. ↩
St. John the Evangelist (Gananoque, Leeds), Marriages 1846-1863, Cornelius Harrington-Margaret Ryan marriage, image 22 of 41: database, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/: accessed 9 March 2015), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Recors, 1760-1923. ↩
- St. John the Evangelist (Gananoque, Leeds), Marriages 1846-1863, Thomas Elligot-Bridget Conway marriage, image 22 of 41: database, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/: accessed 9 March 2015), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923. ↩