Every spring, right around St. Patrick’s Day, I have an urge to research my Irish Canadian ancestors. Although my research time has been rather limited lately, this past weekend I decided I would treat myself. I had a very specific goal in mind: I wanted to find the baptismal record for Ellen M. “Nellie” Walsh, sister to my great-great-grandfather, Henry Walsh. I’ve written about my Walsh family in St. Catharines, Ontario, previously. Nellie was among the younger children of Robert Walsh, an Irish-born tailor, and his Canadian-born wife, Elizabeth Hodgkinson, who was the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Loyalists. Although Elizabeth was Protestant, three of the youngest four Walsh children were baptized in the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, and it seems likely that Robert and Elizabeth were married there as well. The parish was certainly in existence circa 1840 when the Walshes were married, but unfortunately, early records were destroyed when an arsonist burned down the original wooden church in 1842.1 No one seems to know what became of the records created after the fire, between 1842 and 1851. The earliest records that have survived date back to 1852 (baptisms and marriages only). Apparently, duplicate copies of the parish registers were never made, and neither the parish itself, nor the archives for the dioceses of Toronto (to which the parish belonged before 1958) or St. Catharines (to which the parish belonged after 1958) is in possession of any records from before 1852.2,3,4
The oldest Walsh children — B. Maria, James George, Henry, Mary Ann, and Robert — were all born prior to 1852, so if they were baptized at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, their baptismal records would unfortunately be included in that missing batch of records dated between 1842 and 1851. However, the younger Walsh children — Elizabeth, Ellen (Nellie), Thomas, and Joseph — were all born between 1854 and 1861, within the range of dates for which baptismal records still exist for the Cathedral. There was plenty of evidence based on census records and other documents for the dates of birth of each of them, and in fact, baptismal records for Elizabeth, Thomas and Joseph, were quickly discovered in a previous round of research. Nellie, however, remained elusive. Why might that be?
Quite simply, I wasn’t sufficiently broad in my search the first time I looked for her. The province of Ontario did not begin civil birth registration until 1869,5 prior to Nellie’s birth, so the most precise evidence I had for her date of birth came from the 1900 U.S. census (Figure 1).6
Figure 1: Extract from 1900 U.S. census for Buffalo, New York, showing Nellie Devere in the household of Charles Devere.6
Like many members of the Walsh family, Nellie M. Devere and her husband, Charles Devere, had a habit of migrating back and forth between St. Catharines and Buffalo, New York. In 1900, they were found living in Buffalo, and in the census that year they reported that they immigrated to the U.S. in 1883. Nellie was reported to be 42 years old and married to her husband for 17 years, which suggests that they married just prior to their move to the U.S. Nellie was reported to have no living children, nor any children who had died prior to the census. She was born in Canada, of an Irish-born father and Canadian-born mother, consistent with established facts. Her mother, Elizabeth Welsh (sic) appears in the next line, recorded as mother-in-law to head-of-household Charles Devere. Most germane to the current question is Nellie’s date of birth, which was recorded as December 1857.
When I discovered baptismal records for Nellie’s siblings, I had employed a targeted approach, starting my search a month or so before the individual’s date of birth as established from existing evidence. In the case of Nellie’s siblings, this strategy worked very well, and I was able to locate their birth records quickly, since they were accurate reporters of their own dates of birth in later years. However, Nellie was not born in December of 1857, as was stated in the 1900 census. In my first pass through the baptismal records, I searched for Nellie from December 1857 all the way up through December 1858, but did not find her. At the time, I didn’t worry too much about it, but instead skipped ahead to find baptismal records for her brothers in February 1859 and February 1861.
At that point, life moved on, as it usually does, and Nellie was put on the back burner until this past weekend, when I decided to take a fresh look at those records from the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. I wanted to find Nellie’s baptism, but this time, I also wanted to cast a wider net, making note of all the Walsh baptisms and marriages that took place in this parish. (In this earliest parish register, records of marriages and baptisms were mixed in together in chronological order.) Ultimately, I want to see if there are any obvious connections between Walsh family groups in this parish, and I’d like to obtain information about their places of origin in Ireland, with an eye toward determining where in Ireland my own ancestors were from. While that part of my research is ongoing, my short-term goal was realized as I discovered Nellie’s baptism in the records from August 1857 (Figure 2).7
Figure 2: Baptismal record from St. Catharines, Ontario for Ellenor (sic) Margaret Walsh, born 24 December 1856.7
Ellenor Margaret was born on Christmas Eve in 1856 but not baptized until August of the following year. Her date of birth was exactly one year earlier than what was reported in the 1900 census. All it took was a more thorough review of the records to find it.
What a nice way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!
2 Price, Rev. Brian, Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kingston, e-mail message to the author, July 7, 2016.
3 Sweetapple, Lori, Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, e-mail message to the author, July 11, 2016.
4 Wilson-Zorzetto, Liz, Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines, e-mail message to the author, July 14, 2016.
5 “Ontario Civil Registration (National Institute),” FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 20 March 2018.
6 “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, Nellie M. Devere, line 42, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DTL8-36?cc=1325221&wc=9BQG-JW1%3A1030551901%2C1033310401%2C1034132801 : 5 August 2014), New York > Erie > ED 212 Election District 7 Buffalo city Ward 24 > image 5 of 8; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
7 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1857, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, “Baptism Ellenor Walsh,” accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 17 March 2018), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria, > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 . image 72 of 104.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018