The Walshes of St. Catharines: Digging Deeper with Cluster Research

Every spring year my thoughts turn to my Walsh ancestors, from whom I inherit my very tiny bit of Irish ancestry. Finding the place of origin of the family in Ireland so that I can attempt to research them in records there has been an elusive goal for me and I often think how much easier it is to research my Polish ancestors, despite the language barrier, rather than this brick-wall Irish-Canadian lot. However, I’ve been able to gain some insights through cluster research, focusing especially on two individuals, Thomas Walsh and B. Maria Walsh, who were reported to be living with the family of my great-great-great-grandparents in the 1861 census. Through insights gained from research into Thomas and B. Maria, I may be inching closer to answering my research questions, “Where in Ireland was (my) Robert Walsh born, and who were his parents?”

Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh, who have also been recorded with the variant surnames Welch and Welsh, were my 3x-great-grandparents. I’ve written about them a few times, including, most recently, here. To quickly recap, Robert was born in Ireland circa 1808-1816 and was an immigrant to St. Catharines, Ontario. He married Elizabeth Hodgkinson circa 1840, but due to the loss of early church records for the parish in which they probably married, as well as census records for St. Catharines for both the 1842 and 1851 censuses of Canada West, the first glimpse we get of the Walsh family comes from the 1861 census. The 1861 census of Canada is one of those censuses which does not specify the relationships of each individual in the household to the head of the household. The entry for the family of Robert Walsh in St. Catharines, Ontario is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Robert and Elizabeth Walsh family of St. Catharines, Ontario, in the 1861 Census of Canada.1Robert Walsh Family 1861 census

These data tell us that Robert Walsh was a married Roman Catholic tailor, born in Ireland circa 1816. His wife, recorded here only as Mrs. Robert Walsh, was also noted to have been born in Ireland and Roman Catholic. However, the bulk of the evidence pertaining to her indicates that Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh was actually an Anglican native of Upper Canada. Her age here, 40, suggests a birth circa 1821. So far, so good.

Thomas Walsh or Welsh, merchant tailor of St. Catharines

The following entries are where it starts to get interesting. The next two individuals who were mentioned in this family group are “Thos.” (Thomas) Walsh and “B. Maria” Walsh. Thomas was reported to be 30 years of age and B. Maria was reported to be 20 years of age, suggesting birth years circa 1831 and 1841, respectively. Both were single. It’s pretty clear that this Thomas cannot be the son of Robert and Elizabeth, since they would have been just 15 and 10 years of age when he was born. Moreover, their youngest son was also named Thomas, and it’s unusual (though perhaps not unheard of) to have two children in the family with the same name while both are living. The elder Thomas was noted to be a member of the family, rather than an unrelated resident in the household, but his exact relationship to Robert Walsh is unclear. Was he a younger brother? Nephew? Or perhaps cousin?

The fact that he was some close relative of the family is indisputable. Not only was Thomas living with the family in 1861, he was also living in the same house with them at 34 Lake Street in St. Catharines as of 1878 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Partial listings for Welch in Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879.2

Welch in St. Catharines City Directory 1879 crop

By 1878, Robert Walsh Sr. was probably retired from his previous occupation as a tailor, since no occupation was given. However, Thomas was noted to be a merchant tailor, so perhaps he inherited the family business from Robert. Robert’s son, James George Walsh, had apparently branched off into the sewing machine business, while Robert Jr. was noted to be a partner in Rogers and Welch, a local livery service.

Thomas’s close relationship to Robert Walsh’s family is underscored by the proximity of their graves in St. Catharines’ Victoria Lawn Cemetery. Figure 3 shows the location of the graves of Thomas Welsh (sic) and his wife and son, relative to the graves of Robert Walsh Jr. (buried under the spelling “Welch”), his wife Caroline, and their daughter, Frances Maria.

Figure 3: Location of Walsh family graves in Victoria Lawn Cemetery, section H. A = grave marker for Robert and Caroline Welch (sic). B = ground-level grave marker for Francis (sic) Marie Welch, daughter of Robert and Caroline.  C = grave marker for Thomas Welsh (sic), his wife Mary Ann Cronin, and their son, Robert Francis Welsh. Photo taken circa August 2006 by Carol Roberts Fischer, used with permission.Location of Welch and Welsh graves in Victoria Lawn

A closer view of Thomas Welsh’s grave marker is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Grave marker for Thomas and Mary Ann Welsh, Victoria Lawn Cemetery, Section H, Division 19, Lot 2. The marker reads, “In/Memory Of/Thomas Welsh/died/July 17, 1900/Aged 68 Yrs/May his soul rest in peace/Mary A. Cronin/Beloved wife of/Thomas Welsh/October 28, 1907/Aged 65 Yrs/May she rest in peace.” Photo taken circa August 2006 by Carol Roberts Fischer, used with permission.Thomas and Mary Ann Welsh grave marker

The marriage of Thomas Walsh (or Welsh) and Mary Ann Cronin was found in the records of St. Catherine of Alexandria parish. (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Marriage record for Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, Ontario, 9 May 1861.3

Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin 1861 marked

The ages reported in the record for Thomas and Mary Ann suggest birth years circa 1834 and 1841, respectively. These are reasonably consistent with the years of birth suggested by the grave marker for Thomas (1832) and for Mary Ann (1842). Moreover, there is no evidence from census records to suggest that there was another Thomas Walsh/Welsh/Welch married to a woman named Mary Ann/Marianne/Mary and living in St. Catharines contemporaneously. The fact that “our” Thomas Walsh was reported to be single in the 1861 census doesn’t contradict the information found here because the census was taken 14 January 1861 and the marriage took place later, on 9 May 1861. Therefore we can be certain that this is the correct marriage record for the couple whose grave is shown in Figures 3 and 4, and that this is the same Thomas who was living with the Robert Walsh family in the 1861 census, despite the minor discrepancies in age and surname spelling.

The marriage record revealed that Thomas was born in Ireland to “Jas.” (James) Walsh and Catherine Cavanah (sic), while Mary Ann was the daughter of Patrick Cronin and Catherine Shea. Witnesses to the marriage were Michael O’Laughlan and Maria Walsh, both of St. Catharines. Might “Maria Walsh” be the same as our “B. Maria” from the 1861 census? What evidence can we find for B. Maria Walsh, and what is her relationship to the family of Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh?

B. Maria Walsh of St. Catharines, Upper Canada

If the relationship between Thomas Walsh and Robert Walsh is unclear, then the relationship between B. Maria Walsh and Robert Walsh is even more murky. Her age in the 1861 census (Figure 1) makes it reasonable to believe that she was the oldest child of Robert and Elizabeth, since they would have been about 25 and 20 years of age, respectively, when she was born circa 1841. Moreover, she’s only about 3 years older than the next person listed, who was Robert and Elizabeth’s son, James, which is a reasonable spacing between siblings. For many years, I and others researching this family have believed she probably was the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. The problem is the lack of evidence that she was their child. All the other members of the household—James George, Henry, Mary Ann, Robert, Elizabeth, Ellen, Thomas John, and Peter Joseph—are documented children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. For each of these children there is abundant direct and indirect evidence which establishes their relationship to Robert and Elizabeth, but this is not the case for B. Maria.

Additional evidence for B. Maria Walsh which might elucidate her relationship to Robert Walsh was initially scarce. No civil marriage record was found for her, but this is perhaps unsurprising since civil vital registration began in Ontario in 1869, and a woman born in 1841 may well have been married by that point. Although newspaper research can often provide evidence for a woman’s married name, there were no promising matches for “B. Maria,” “Maria,” or “B.” Walsh/Welsh/Welch in the local names index compiled by the St. Catharines Public Library, based on local newspaper notices of births, marriages, deaths, adoptions, anniversaries, etc. Similarly, she was not found in a search of Ontario death records. However, analysis of baptismal records for the children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh offered a glimmer of insight. I’ve written previously about my obsession with tracking godparents as a particular subset within our ancestors’ FAN clubs (Friends, Associates and Neighbors) since they were often family members, so I took a look at the godparents that Robert and Elizabeth Walsh selected for their children. Surviving baptismal records from St. Catherine of Alexandria parish begin in 1852, so the only records that exist for this family pertain to the youngest four children, and the data are summarized in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Known godparents for children of Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh.Godparents of Children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh

While all of these individuals are worthy of further exploration, a few names from the group stand out immediately. Michael O’Laughlin, godfather to Peter Joseph Walsh, is likely to be the same Michael O’Laughlan who was a witness to the marriage of Thomas Walsh and Mary Ann Cronin. Thomas Walsh, godfather to Thomas John Walsh, is almost certainly the same Thomas Walsh whose history we’ve been exploring thus far. Since he did not marry Mary Ann Cronin until May of 1861, the Maryann Walsh who was godmother to Peter Joseph Walsh cannot be Thomas’s wife. However, it’s possible that this godmother was actually Peter Joseph’s older sister, Maryann Walsh, who would have been about 12 years old at the time of his birth. Most significantly, Thomas John’s godmother was noted to be Bridget Walsh. Could Bridget Walsh be the B. Maria Walsh of the 1861 census?

Before we can answer this question, we must determine whether there was another Bridget Walsh who was living in or near St. Catharines at the time of Thomas John’s baptism in 1859, and who would have been old enough to be his godmother. The 1861 census may be informative here, since it was taken just two years after the baptism. Therefore, searches of the Lincoln district (which includes St. Catharines) of Upper Canada in the 1861 census for B* Wal* and B* Wel* were performed. These search parameters should produce results for anyone with a given name starting with B, with surnames starting with Wal- or Wel-, so that all the usual variants of Walsh (Welch, Welsh) as well as any less-common versions (Walch, etc.) would be returned in the results. The only relevant result was the B. Maria Walsh living with Robert Walsh’s family, which supports our hypothesis—albeit weakly—that B. Maria Walsh was Bridget Maria Walsh. However, we can’t rule out the possibility that the godmother was a different Bridget Walsh who was married, died, or moved away in the time between the baptism on 13 March 1859 and the census on 14 January 1861. At this point we lack sufficient evidence to claim that Bridget Walsh, godmother, was necessarily the same as B. Maria Walsh, member of the Robert Walsh household.

Although civil marriage records do not exist which might inform us about B. Maria’s parentage, church records from the cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria may be helpful. Accordingly, marriage records from 1852-1910 were examined for any bride named Bridget, Maria, or Mary Walsh/Welch/Welsh. A total of five marriage records were discovered and results are summarized in Figure 7. A larger version of the table can be viewed here.

Figure 7:  Brides married in St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, St. Catharines, Ontario, between 1852-1910 with given name Bridget, Maria or Mary and surname Walsh/Welsh/Welch.Walsh Bride Data

Although her age was not provided in her marriage record, the Mary Walsh who married in 1856 is not likely to be our B. Maria, because B. Maria (born circa 1841) was only 15 years old in 1856.  Similarly, all three of the Bridgets were too young to fit the description of our B. Maria. However, the Maria Walsh, born 1839, is a good fit in terms of age—and guess who her parents were? None other than James Walsh and Catherine Cavanagh, which means she was a full sister to Thomas Walsh!

Maria’s marriage record, shown in Figure 8, confirms that she was born in Ireland. Her husband, Patrick McNamara, was a resident of Thorold, born in Ireland circa 1838 to Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan. The only witness to the marriage was C. Hanigan (?), but there is a notation, “Dispensat from 2 calls” which suggests that the marriage may have taken place under somewhat hurried circumstances, since three calls (announcements of the banns) were customary prior to the marriage.

Figure 8: Marriage record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, Ontario, 8 August 1867.13Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh 1867 cropped marked

Now a clearer picture begins to emerge, and it appears that the given name used by Bridget Maria Walsh was dependent on the timeline. In 1859, siblings Bridget Walsh and Thomas Walsh served as godparents to Thomas John Walsh, son of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. In January 1861, Thomas and B. Maria were living with Robert and Elizabeth, and in May of that year, Maria Walsh witnessed the marriage of her brother, Thomas.  In 1867, it was still Maria Walsh who married Patrick McNamara. The timeline suggests that while she may have used her first name, Bridget, early on—soon after her arrival in Canada, perhaps?—she eventually abandoned it in favor of her middle name, Maria. This propensity for reversing first and middle names seems to have been a Walsh family trait, since a similar phenomenon was noted with Robert and Elizabeth’s son, James George Walsh, who was noted as “James G.” in sources such as the 1869 baptismal record for his sons, Henry Thomas and Robert James, but was known as George James by the time of his death in 1924.15

So now we understand the relationship between Thomas Walsh and Bridget Maria (née Walsh) McNamara, but their precise relationship to Robert Walsh, husband of Elizabeth Hodgkinson, remains unclear. My original thought was that Robert, Thomas, and Maria  might be full siblings. However, the disparity in ages between Robert and Maria is problematic. Existing data for Robert suggest that he was born circa 1808-1816, while data for Maria suggest that she was born circa 1834-1841. Assuming Robert was the oldest child in the family and that he was born in 1808, and assuming that Maria was the youngest child, born in 1841, then their mother must have borne children over a period of 33 years, which is beyond the biological limits for childbearing. However, if Robert and Maria were born in 1816 and 1834, respectively, then it becomes more conceivable that the three of them might be full siblings. Moreover, onomastic evidence supports the hypothesis that Robert is Thomas and Maria’s brother. Irish naming traditions dictate that the eldest son in a family should be named after his paternal grandfather, and since Robert and Elizabeth Walsh’s oldest son was named James George, we would expect that Robert’s father was named James, assuming the family followed this tradition. It’s also entirely possible that Robert was a half-brother to Thomas and Maria, if Robert’s mother died and his father James then remarried Catherine Cavanagh.

Even if we assume that there is a more distant relationship between Robert Walsh and siblings Thomas and Maria Walsh—for example, they were Robert’s nephew and niece, or his first cousins—knowing their parents’ names could potentially give us enough information to seek records in Ireland, if only we knew where in Ireland to find them. That’s another topic for another day, but for now, we’ve made some good progress. By examining the crucial evidence in church records from St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, we’ve been able to determine that B. Maria Walsh, who was living with the family of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh in 1861, was not their daughter, as is generally assumed. Rather, she is most likely Bridget Maria Walsh, the same individual as the Maria Walsh who married Patrick McNamara in 1867, and the Bridget Walsh who was godmother to Robert and Elizabeth’s son, Thomas John Walsh. Moreover, she was evidently a full sister to the elder Thomas Walsh, a merchant tailor who was also living with Robert Walsh’s family in 1861. Finally, we’ve been able to develop a new hypothesis for further testing, that Robert Walsh was the son of James Walsh, husband of Catherine Cavanagh, possibly by a first wife, if not by Catherine herself. All in all, that feels like a good day’s work.

Sources:

1 “Census of 1861,” St. Catharines, Lincoln, Canada West (Ontario), household of Robert Walsh, born 1816, accessed as digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 22 April 2019), image no. 4391560_00231.

2 William W. Evans, Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879 (Brantford, Ontario, Canada: William W. Evans, 1878), entries for Welch, Henry; Welch, J.G.; Welch, Robert; Welch, Robert Jr.; and Welch, Thos. J, pages 150-151, accessed as browsable images, “Canadian Directories Collection,” Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 22 April 2019), path: Southwestern Ontario Counties > Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879 > e010780629_p3.pdf, page 23 of 28.

3 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, 1861, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, record for Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin, 9 May 1861, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 9 of 48.

4 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1854, #88, baptismal record for Elizabeth Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 28 of 104.

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,” 2 August 1857, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria, > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 72 of 104.

6 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1859, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, baptismal record for John Walsh, 13 March 1859, , accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 88 of 104.

7 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” Baptisms 1860-1906, 1861, p. 2, baptismal record for Peter Joseph Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms 1860-1906, image 4 of 177.

8 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1856, record for Francis DeYoung and Mary Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 63 of 104.

9 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1867, record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh, 6 August 1867, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 18 of 48.

10 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1876, record for Thomas Wilkins and Bridget Walsh, 7 February 1876, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 23 of 48.

11 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1876, record for Felix Roony and Bridget Walsh, 9 October 1876, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 23 of 48.

12 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1877, record for William Smith and Bridget Walsh, 19 September 1877, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 25 of 48.

13 Ibid, marriage record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh.

14 Fiona Fitzsimons, “Traditional Irish naming patterns,” Find My Past blog, post on 29 November 2018 (https://blog.findmypast.com : 23 April 2019).

15 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1869, unnumbered entries in chronological order, sequential baptismal records for Henry Thos. Walsh and Robert James Walsh, baptized 30 December 1869, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms 1860-1906, image 59 of 177. Baptismal records note that Henry Thomas and Robert James were the sons of James G. Walsh and Jane Lawder. Also,

Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), marker for George James Welch and Jane Lauder Welch. “George James/WELCH/Born/ Nov. 9 1844/Died/June 18, 1924/His Wife/Jane Lauder/Born/May 15, 1844/Died/April 16, 1927”.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

 

 

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