Catholic Records

Death by Fire (Two Moran Children, Ages 4 and 2)

While Catholic burial records can supply a wealth of genealogically significant information, the cause of death was not something that the priest was required or expected to record. And as I’ve mentioned before, 19th- and early 20th-century Catholic burial records did not generally record the cause of death of the deceased.

In some instances, however, the priest might have included the cause of death in the church burial record — most typically, in cases where the death was considered especially dramatic, horrific, unusual, or violent. So, for example, an elderly parishioner who died of pneumonia? That cause of death is unlikely to have been recorded in a 19th- to early 20th-century Catholic burial record.1 A young child who was burned to death in a horrible accident? There’s a chance the priest might have recorded this awful detail in the child’s burial record.

By way of illustration, here are the Catholic church burial records for James Moran (son of Alexander “Sandy” Michael Moran and Mary Ann Leavy, and husband of Sarah Jane Dooley); and for his two youngest children Julia Gertrude Moran and James Joseph Moran (daughter and son of James Moran and Sarah Jane Dooley). James Moran died in March 1899 at about 40 years of age; and his two youngest children, Julia Gertrude and James Joseph, died a year and a half later, at the ages of about 4 years and 2 years, respectively. All three records (the one for James Moran dated 21 March 1899; and the two for his children Julia Gertrude and James Joseph dated 30 September 1900) were written and signed by the Reverend Father John Andrew Sloan, parish priest at St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield (and also at St. Isidore, March township):2

Burial of James Moran, 21 March 1899, St. Patrick's, Fallowfield.

Burial of James Moran, 21 March 1899, St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield.

Burial of James Joseph Moran and Julia Gertrude Moran, 30 September 1900, St. Patrick's, Fallowfield.

Burial of James Joseph Moran and Julia Gertrude Moran, 30 September 1900, St. Patrick’s, Fallowfield.

Note that Father Sloan inserted “by fire” in parentheses after “died” in the burial records for the two young Moran children. Father Sloan only very rarely recorded the cause of death in his parish registers; his departure from the norm here surely speaks to the sense of communal grief over the awful deaths of these two very young children. Their Ontario civil death registrations record the cause of death as “Accidental Burning,” by the way.

But while the father of Julie Gertrude Moran and James Joseph Moran had died at an age (about 40 years) that nowadays would be considered quite unusual and highly tragic, James Moran’s untimely and unhappy death apparently did not meet the bar (unusually dramatic, horrific, or violent) for a reference to the cause of his death in his RC church burial record. Father Sloan makes no mention of it. (And the cause of death for James Moran is the subject of conflicting accounts, by the way, as discussed here: was he kicked by a horse? or was he fatally injured in a threshing accident? or did James Moran die, as per his Ontario civil death registration, of emphysema?). But note, also, that Father Sloan was not actually present at the burial of James Moran: the parish priest’s after-the-fact record of the burial of James Moran relies on the eyewitness testimony of Thomas Troy, David Villeneuve, and Elizabeth Casey.

My guess is that the young Moran children were the victims of a terrible kitchen accident, but this detail we may never know.

 

  1. For Ottawa Valley-area Roman Catholic burial records, the cause of death, whether horrific or not, is increasingly likely to have been recorded from about the 1920s or 1930s. The more recent the record, the more information (including, again from the 1920s or 1930s, whether the deceased had received last rites, or the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick).
  2. St. Patrick (Fallowfield, Co. Carleton, Ontario), Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1851-1968, p. 89, S. 4, James Moran; p. 115, S. 14, James Joseph Moran; p. 115, S. 15, Julia Gertrude Moran; digital images, ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca : accessed 30 Nov. 2013), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.

Family ties: how far back do they go?

When my paternal grandparents married in 1932, each was marrying into a familiar family. As I’ve mentioned before, my Moran ancestors and my Lahey ancestors have been linked by intermarriage since the middle of the 19th century. Not that my paternal grandparents were first, second, or even third cousins, as best I make out. But each had collateral ancestors who had married the other’s collateral ancestors, if that makes sense (and with collateral ancestry, things can stop making sense very quickly, which is one reason why I love my TNG database).

The first Lahey-Moran connection that I’ve discovered is not a marriage but a sponsorship. On 4 March 1832, my 3x-great-grandparents James Moran and Margaret Jamieson served as godparents to Elizabeth Lahey, born 16 August 1831, the daughter of Patrick Lahey and Elizabeth Wharton. Elizabeth Lahey was probably baptized at March township; the baptism was recorded in the register for Notre Dame, Bytown [Ottawa]. Her father Patrick was the brother of my 3x-great-grandfather James Lahey.

My paternal grandparents Allan Jerome Moran and Mary Catherine Lahey married at Ottawa on 25 May 1932, one hundred years after James Moran and Margaret Jamieson stood sponsor for Elizabeth Lahey. By Canadian standards, those family ties go back very far indeed!

NOTE: A note on baptismal sponsorship and familial relations.

If I’m looking at an Ottawa Valley area RC baptismal record from about the 1850s until about the day before yesterday, I’m going to assume that I should be looking for a blood connection between the baptized child and his or her godparents. And if I don’t readily find one, I’m going to assume that I should be looking harder. Not that I’ll always uncover one, of course, and not that such a blood connection will always exist. But for me, the presumption is always in favour of at least one of the two godparents as blood relation (aunt; uncle; cousin; etc.).

For the 1820s and 1830s, however, things look a little bit different.

In some of the early townships of Carleton County (e.g., Huntley township, where my Moran ancestors very peacefully settled; and March township, where my Lahey ancestors somewhat less than peacefully settled), Irish Catholics were very much in the minority (the same cannot be said of some of the later settlements of, say, Renfrew County, where Irish Catholics, if they did not actually form a numerical majority, certainly managed to achieve critical mass). For early Irish Catholics of the Bytown area, my sense is that strangers from very different parishes and counties of Ireland forged friendships and close ties (it helped to belong to the same New World parish, or perhaps mission, of course) which then led to marriages, and then intermarriages, which then led to close family connections. Well, that’s the story of my dad’s family, at any rate. Someone from Galway marries someone from Cavan in Upper Canada; and then someone’s sister from Tipperary marries (in Upper Canada) someone whose parents came from Galway and Cavan; and by the end of the 19th century, they’re all one big (if confusingly connected) family. Had these folks stayed in Ireland, they never would have married one another, because they never even would have met (originating from such very different Irish counties, after all). In Canada, they become close (if confusingly connected) family members.

Were there any blood ties between the Morans or the Jamiesons and the Laheys or the Whartons? I’ve yet to discover any. Both the Morans and the Laheys were Bytown area pioneers, and amongst the early Irish in the Ottawa Valley.

 

 

Bigamy in the 19th century: how common?

I’m going to guess: not very common. And yet, it certainly did happen. I’ve actually come across very solid evidence of a bigamy case in the 1840s in the parish register for St. Philip’s RC Church in Richmond. No relations of mine, or I would certainly post about the case.

When you think about 19th-century parish registers, you probably think about names and dates and records. Well, that’s what I generally think about, because I most often consult the parish registers searching for names and dates in the records. But if you read through the parish registers very closely (which I sometimes do, and find myself engrossed in the perusal of records that don’t even mention my own ancestors; but I can’t stop reading, because here is a window into the world of my ancestors, even when they themselves are not cited), you will find traces, and sometimes more than traces, of human dramas and human sorrows; of misjudgments and miscalculations; of criminal violence and sexual exploitation; of the scandals that once blighted actual lives, and that once ruined the hopes and expectations of those who were once living, breathing, flesh-and-blood people.

Incest? Yes, I have seen one obvious 1 instance in an Ottawa Valley RC parish register: it was shocking to come across, even 150-or-so years later. “Illegitimate” (i.e., out-of-wedlock) births? I’ve seen too many instances to enumerate (though the vast majority of RC baptismal records that I’ve read, I should add, concern an infant who was “born of the lawful marriage of [name of father] and of [name of mother].” Bigamy? Yeah, I’ve seen evidence  of that, too; though, in the interests of accuracy, even it runs against an impulse toward sensationalism, I have to say that I can only think of one example (at St. Philip’s, Richmond, already mentioned above) of obvious bigamy.

I suspect that one of the brothers of one my 2x-great-grandmothers was guilty of bigamy. But I haven’t yet posted the details, because so far the evidence I’ve amassed is highly circumstantial, and I haven’t yet found the “smoking gun” that would prove him guilty of what I now just suspect. This is one of those cases where things just look a bit weird, and the details don’t seem to add up. Am I just letting my imagination run away with me? Perhaps. But there is definitely something a bit irregular here, something that doesn’t quite look right. I will post details if and when I find that crucial piece of documented evidence.

For the most part, my Ottawa Valley ancestors (and yours too, if you had ancestors who settled in the Ottawa Valley in the nineteenth century) lived in small, face-to-face communities, where bigamy was not at all a viable life strategy: too many eyes and ears, too many folks who knew exactly who you were, and where your parents came from, and what your father did. And the penalties for bigamy in 19th-century Britain and the British colonies were quite severe: up to seven years of penal servitude, after all, and by “hard labour,” they meant, “We will work you so hard, we will make you wish you had never been born.”

On the other hand, the boundaries between regions and provinces, and even between the British-run Canadian dominions and the newly-forged American republic, were in the nineteenth century highly porous and permeable, and easy enough to slip through. You could cross the border into America without a passport in the 1900s (which was decades before the establishment of a regular system of passport control); you could totally game the system (which was not yet a “system”). For those with the ambition, or perhaps with the law breathing down their necks, there was always the chance to cross over (into the States), to head out, to head west, to “light out for the Territory.”

The brother (of the 2x–great-grandmother) that I suspect of bigamy was raised in Lanark Co., Ontario (whether born in Lanark Co., Ontario, or perhaps in Ireland: this I do not know), and he died and was buried a couple of thousand miles away, in Washington State, in the US of A. Did he cross that border, and take that escape route, into a new life with a new wife?

Have you come across any evidence of bigamy in your own family tree? Not to reduce genealogical research to the status of a gossip mag or a scandal sheet, but ‘enquiring minds want to know!’

  1. Obvious, as in, the priest explicitly spelled out the relationship between the parents of the baptized children, which was that of an uncle and his niece. The priest could not hide his disapproval of the “unlawful” union of uncle and niece even as he baptized their innocent children, and who could blame him? Btw, in the 1851 census, the uncle and niece were recorded as a married couple, which they certainly were not.

A 9-year-old boy who died “of the disease of Irish emigrants”

This was posted on Facebook, by the Institut généalogique Drouin (but the screencap below is from ancestry.ca: Quebec, Vital and Church Records [Drouin Collection], 1621-1967). It is the burial record for a nine-year-old boy named Henry Gill, “décédé de la maladie des émigrés irlandais” ([who] died of the disease of Irish emigrants):

Burial record for Henry, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

Burial record for Henry Gill, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

“La maladie des émigrés irlandais” (the malady, or disease, of Irish emigrants) was, of course, the dreaded typhus. For a brief account of the typhus epidemic of 1847, see History – 1847: A tragic year at Grosse Île (Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada).

The priest did not have the names of the boy’s parents (“fils legitime d’un père et d’une mère d’ont nous n’avons pas avoir les noms”/”legitimate son of a father and a mother for whom we have not acquired the names”), but he noted that Henry Gill was the brother of Patrick and of Catherine Gill. A commenter at Facebook notes that Henry Gill and his siblings Patrick and Catherine were the children of John Gill and Mary Lynch, and links to a database of Les orphelins irlandais arrivés à Grosse-Île en 1847-48 (Irish orphans who arrived at Grosse Île in 1847-48), where the Gill children can be found at Reg. Nos. 176, 178, and 177.

Kind of amazing to see these records online, and to see people commenting, and cross-referencing, and cross-linking to other records and databases.

Link

If you are researching Catholic ancestors in the UK, you should definitely consult Michael Gandy’s Tracing Your Catholic Ancestors (Public Record Office, 2001). It is a brief (only 64 pages) but comprehensive guide to the Catholic records, and also (and alas! for anyone researching Catholic ancestors during the Penal Period of 1559-1829) to the dearth of Catholic records prior to Catholic Emancipation and the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829. Highly recommended.

Death and Burial Records: c. 1857-1861 versus 1882

Or: What a Difference Twenty-Some Years Can Make

Death and Burial of Margaret Jamieson

When Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran, died on 12 July 1882, her death generated two records: a Roman Catholic church burial record; 1 and an Ontario civil death registration, based on the RC burial record.2

Burial of Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran.

Burial of Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran. St. Michael’s, Corkery.

Death of Margret Morin (Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran)

Ontario civil death registration of the death of Margret Morin (Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran)

Note the spelling variations for both forename and surnames. In the church record we have Margarette, and in the civil record we have Margret, for the first name that I’ve decided to standardize as Margaret.3

And in the Ontario civil death registration, we have Morin for Moran; while in the church burial record, we have Jameson (and perhaps also Jemeson?) for a surname that her descendants most frequently spell as Jamieson.

And btw, and as noted before, that “Jameson alias Moran” does not mean that my 3x-great-grandmother had been travelling under a false identity, nor that she had been caught up in the cloak-and-dagger world of international espionage. By “alias,” the priest (Fr. O’Malley) just meant “otherwise known as.” So: Jameson (or Jamieson, to her descendants), her maiden or family name, but otherwise known as Moran, her married name.

  1. St. Michael (Corkery, Carleton), Baptisms, marriages, burials 1864-1884, Vol. 4, S. Margarette Jameson alias Moran, p. 147: database, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/: accessed 28 March 2013), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923.
  2. Margret Morin, Ontario death registration 1882: microfilm MS 935, reel 30, Archives of Ontario; database, ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 28 March 2013), Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947.
  3. I doubt very much that she herself adhered to a standardized spelling, that she would have insisted on Margaret or Margarette or perhaps Marguerite (this last a spelling which some of her descendants favour).

Strange Surname Spellings: Hohanlan for O’Hanlon

As I’ve mentioned before (e.g., in Spelling Doesn’t Count! [in Genealogy]), it’s extremely unlikely that an ancestor had a strong attachment to a certain spelling of his surname, if that ancestor never had occasion to personally spell his own name.

If my ancestor James Moran, for example, was not literate (and I’m pretty sure he was not), then he didn’t  always spell his name Moran (rather than Moren, Morin,  Murran, Murrin, or some other variation that I’ve yet to come across), because, well, he didn’t spell his name at all.  His name was written and recorded by the parish priest; by the county clerk; by the census enumerator … and he would have been in no position to correct the spelling of the recorder, of course, if he could neither read nor write. That’s what it meant to be illiterate.

So surname spelling variations are par for the course in genealogy (for a number of reasons, and not just because of the illiteracy of those named in various records), and the sooner we let go of the notion of a “proper” spelling (which can be surprisingly difficult to do, admittedly), the sooner we arrive at a properly historical understanding of the production of the records on which we rely.1

But while surname spelling variations are only to be expected, are, indeed, the historical norm for pre-20th-century populations, the particular, not to say the peculiar, French-Irish character of the Catholic records of the Ottawa Valley could produce some especially noteworthy oddities in surname spelling.

  1. Most of the records upon which we rely for genealogical information were not produced with future genealogists in mind. A family tree or a series of family events recorded in a family bible can certainly be said to have been written with future family historians in mind. An inscription on a headstone is also oriented toward future generations of the deceased’s family. But a census record? a civil marriage record? a sacramental record (e.g., a church record of a baptism, a Confirmation, a marriage, or a burial)? a register of a deed? a ship’s passenger list? Most “genealogical records” were not originally produced to serve as genealogical records at all. It is we, the genealogists, who now use the records as such, retroactively, and after the fact, so to speak. To approach these records historically means asking a series of “W” questions: Who wrote or produced this record? When was it written? Where was it written? Why was it written (to what purpose, or for what end)? Who was its originally intended audience? What assumptions and presuppositions are embedded in the document? and so on and so forth.

Bridget McCann: Friend or Relation?

In records pertaining to my McGlade-Dunne ancestors, who emigrated from Co. Armagh, Ireland to Counties Leeds and Lanark, Ontario, the name McCann turns up at several key points. For example, two of the children of John McGlade and Bridget Dunne had a McCann godparent:

  • Michael James McGlade, born Perth, Ont. 28 Dec 1856, baptized 1 Jan 1857 (St. John the Baptist RC Church, Perth), godparents James Ryan and Bridget McCann
  • Ann McGlade, born Perth, Ont. 17 Oct 1863, baptized 7 Nov 1863 (St. John the Baptist RC Church, Perth), godparents Kenny Murphy and Frances Ann McCann

And at least two of the grandchildren of John McGlade and Bridget Dunne had a McCann godparent as well:

  • John Michael English, son of John English and Ann McGlade, born Perth, Ont. 23 Nov 1888, baptized 26 Nov 1888 (St. John the Baptist RC Church, Perth), godparents John McGlade (presumably his grandfather) and Mrs. Michael Hartney (i.e., Bridget McCann)
  • Arthur Joseph McGlade, son of Arthur Joseph McGlade and Catherine Honora McCarthy, born Perth, Ont. 5 July 1903, baptized 12 July 1903 (St. John the Baptist RC Church, Perth), godparents Lawrence Kilpatrick and Mrs. Lawrence Kirkpatrick (i.e., Mary Elizabeth Hartney, daughter of Michael Hartney and Bridget McCann)

I’m especially interested in Bridget McCann, about whom I know the following:

Cause of death: puerperal (childbed) fever?

On 7 April 1885, Bridget Adeline Lavelle,1 wife of James McCann, gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Margaret Adeline McCann. Ten days later, Bridget Adeline Lavelle was buried at “the new Catholic Cemetery of Perth” (i.e., St. John the Baptist RC Cemetery, on the outskirts of Perth).

Not surprisingly, her Catholic burial record supplies no information about the cause of death:2

Burial of Bridget Adeline Lavelle

Burial of Bridget Adeline Lavelle

Or, at least, there is nothing in the above record itself that would indicate a cause of death. On the previous page of the register, however, is the record of the baptism of Margaret Adeline McCann, born 7 April and baptized 14 April 1885 (with Michael John Hartney and Maggie Finnall serving as godparents). This is obviously a significant clue: when a woman dies nine days after having given birth, it is reasonable to suspect a childbirth-related mortality.

  1. Daughter of James Lavelle and Margaret Boyle, and baptized (30 June 1861, Pembroke Mission, Renfrew Co.) Bridget Adelaide Lavelle.
  2. St. John the Baptist (Perth, Lanark), Baptisms, marriages, burials 1880-1899, Intmt 14, Mrs. James McCann burial, p. 173: database, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org/:
    accessed 4 January 2013), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923.

Where did my great-grandparents meet?

Here is my great-grandmother Anna (“Annie”) Maria Benton in the Ottawa city directory of 1895-6:1

Annie Benton

Miss Annie Benton, dressmaker, lodger at 103 Cambridge St.

  1. The Ottawa city Directory, 1895-6: embracing an alphabetical list of all business firms and private citizens, a classified business directory and a miscellaneous directory, containing a large amount of valuable information : also a complete street guide, to which is added an alphabetical and street directory of Hull, Que., . (Might Directory Co. of Toronto: 1895), online at archive.org