Catholic Records

“Of the Rail Road in this mission”

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:

Marriage of Cornelius Harrington and Margaret Ryan, 4 November 1856

Marriage of Cornelius Harrington and Margaret Ryan, 4 November 1856

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:

Marriage of Thomas Elligot and Bridget Conway, 10 November 1856

Marriage of Thomas Elligot and Bridget Conway, 10 November 1856

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.”

gananoque mission marriagesIndeed, 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3.  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.

Irish Counties in Fitzroy Harbour Mission Marriage Records, Part Two

22 August 1858 -- 18 June 1861

A few more marriages from the register for the Catholic mission at Fitzroy Harbour (Carleton Co., Ontario). This is a continuation from Part One.

DateGroomSon of [Parents], of [Place]BrideDaughter of [Parents], of [Place]
DateGroomSon of [Parents], of [Place]BrideDaughter of [Parents], of [Place]
22 Aug 1858James DoyleDenis Doyle and Ellen Ryan late of the Pontiac and formerly of the County Tipperary IrelandAnn CollinsMichael Collins and Ann Shae formerly of the County Wexford Ireland
6 Jan 1859William GormanPatrick Gorman and Margaret Cashin formerly of the County Tipperary IrelandMargaret ButlerJames Butler and Ellen Bele formerly of the County Dublin Ireland
10 Jan 1859John KeefBernard Keef and Ellen Kennedy formerly of the County Limerick IrelandJohanna FlemingJohn Fleming and Margaret Henessy formerly of the County Cork Ireland
10 Jan 1859John O RorkDaniel O Rork and Peggy Doherty formerly of the County Cavin IrelandSally DohertyDenis Doherty and Bridget Gallagher formerly of the County Donegal Ireland
19 Jan 1859John O'ConnorJohn O'Connor and Allice Donagher formerly of the County Limerick IrelandMary Burk, widowJohn Burk and Mary Mahon formerly of the County Tipperary Ireland
19 Jan 1859Alexander McGillisAngus McGillis and Isabella McDonald formerly of Glengarry C.W. [Canada West]Johanna DeneenDenis Deneen and Ellen Power formerly of the County Limerick Ireland
24 Jan 1859Hugh O'DonnellJohn O'Donnell and Margaret Jones formerly of the County Mayo IrelandMargaret BennettMichael Bennett and Mary Lynch formerly of the County Kerry Ireland
14 Feb 1859Thomas GibbinRichard Gibbin and Eleanor McNally formerly of the County Mayo IrelandEllen CannonJames Cannon and Sarah McDermott formerly of the County Sligo Ireland
23 Feb 1859William LeaheyPatrick Leahey and Elisabeth Wharton formerly of the County Tipperary IrelandMargaret PowerJohn Power and Alice Keeley formerly of the County Donegal Ireland
28 Feb 1859Patrick KileenDenis Kileen and Mary Hearn formerly of the County Galway IrelandBridget GallaganPatrick Gallagan and Mary Quilean formerly of the County Cavin Ireland
28 Feb 1859Patrick RadyMichael Rady and Mary Duffy formerly of the County Mayo IrelandMary McCreaCharles McCrea and Cathrine [illegible] formerly of the County Fermanagh Ireland
5 Mar 1859Thomas McNamaraMartin McNamara and Margaret Bond formerly of the County Tipperary IrelandJulia CurleyMatthew Curley and Julia McGra formerly of the County Clare Ireland
1 Jan 1860Thomas NugentArthur Nugent and Ann McDermott formerly of the County Tyrone IrelandSarah ClarkWilliam Clark and Cathrine Clark formerly of the County Sligo Ireland
21 Jan 1860Thomas WilliamsJames Williams and Mary McGattisan formerly of the County Donegal IrelandHarriet Derawa David Derawa and Mary Arno formerly of the township of Hull C.E. [Canada East]
2 Feb 1860Patrick KerryJames Kerry and Honora Hennessy formerly of the County Clare IrelandBridget QuigleyPatrick Quigley and Ellen Golden formerly of the County Sligo Ireland
8 Apr 1860John LeaveyJohn Leavey and Jean Byrne formerly of Longford IrelandMary FarryPatrick Farry and Mary Lunney formerly of the County Fermanagh Ireland
27 Jul 1860Edward KennedyJohn Kennedy and Margaret Mangin of the township of Huntley and formerly of the Co. Tipperary IrelandMary LyndsayPatrick Lyndsay and Cathrine Quinn of the mission and formerly of the County Tyrone Ireland
27 Sep 1860James HerrickFrancis Herrick and Cathrine O'Neil, of this mission and formerly of the County Tipperary Ireland Ellen WilsonJames Wilson and Margaret Murphy formerly of the County Mayo Ireland
28 Jan 1861Edward CavanaghPeter Cavanagh and Mary Quinn formerly of the County Wexford IrelandAnn DevineMichael Devine and Bridget Farrell formerly of the County Longford Ireland
11 Jun 1861James McDonald Hugh McDonald and Johanna Chence of this mission and formerly of ScotlandMary DevineAndrew Devine and Cathrine Mulligan of this mission and formerly of the County Cavin Ireland
18 Jun 1861Patrick DoyleJohn Doyle and Mary Carberry formerly of the County Armagh IrelandSarah DowdWilliam Dowd and Jane Spraul formerly of the County Fermanagh Ireland

Burial of Four Irish Orphans

From the register of Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal, the burial of four Irish orphans on 2 August 1847.1 Apparently all girls, their names unknown, and with only a guess as to their ages:

Burial of four Irish orphans, 2 August 1847

Burial of four Irish orphans, 2 August 1847

The record reads (in translation):

The second of August eighteen hundred and forty-seven I the undersigned priest have buried four Irish (female) orphans who died the day before yesterday and yesterday at the Bon Pasteur Monastery of this city, one of them aged about ten years, two of them aged about eight years, and the other aged about six years. Witnesses Benjamin Desroches and Isidore Godin who have declared that they cannot sign. Nercam, priest.

These orphans (and their parents) were no doubt victims of the typhus epidemic of 1847, which killed thousands at Grosse Île, and which also spread to other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Ottawa (Bytown), Kingston, and Toronto.

  1. Basilique Notre-Dame (Montréal, Québec), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1847, image 184 of 309,  S.S.S.S. Orphelines Irlandaises (Burial of four Irish orphans): database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 13 March 2015), Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967.

SMASH! (that sound you just heard …

… was me smashing through a brick wall).

Last May, I asked whether my brick-wall ancestor Thomas Benton might have been the son of Thomas Benton and Catherine Dwyer of Cappawhite, Tipperary.

And the answer is Yes.

If you have Irish Catholic ancestors, I cannot overemphasize the tremendous importance of the Catholic parish registers. In come cases, the Canadian Catholic marriage records will actually give you the names of counties and parishes of origin back in Ireland. For example, the marriage of Thomas Benton and Honora Ryan:1

Marriage of Thomas Benton and Honora Ryan, 14 April 1856

Marriage of Thomas Benton and Honora Ryan, 14 April 1856

This record identifies Thomas Benton as the son of age of Thomas Benton and Catherine Dwyer “from the parish of Cappa White, Tipperary Ireland.” And it also identifies “Honor” (Honora) Ryan as the daughter of Michael Ryan and Bridget Lahey of the “parish of Kilcommon Co. Limerick Ireland.” And not only does this remove Thomas Benton from my list of brick-wall ancestors, but it also removes Honora Ryan as well.

Just two days ago, I finally found a set of Ryan baptismal records from Curraghafoil, Co. Doon (Catholic parish: Kilcommon), Co. Limerick. They looked like my Ryans, and I was almost, but not quite, certain. The above record confirms it.

After six years of searching for the origins of my Benton and Ryan ancestors, I just hit the Irish genealogical jackpot with this one record.

  1.  St. John the Evangelist (Gananoque, Leeds), Marriages 1846-1863, Thomas Benton-Honor Ryan marriage, image 18 of 41: database, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/: accessed 9 March 2015), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923

Death of George Vallely

When and where did George Vallely die?

Sometimes the records just don’t add up. Oh, I don’t mean numerically or arithmetically: genealogical research is not double-entry bookkeeping, after all. What I mean is that sometimes the information found in one record will directly contradict the information that is found in another record.

A case in point:

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.