Lately I’ve been writing quite a bit about my attempts to find the place of origin for my great-great-great grandfather, Robert Walsh/Welsh/Welch who was born somewhere in Ireland between 1808-1816 and who immigrated to St. Catharines, Upper Canada some time before his marriage to Elizabeth Hodgkinson circa 1843. Lacking any evidence for specific place of origin in records pertaining directly to Robert Walsh or his documented close relatives (possibly siblings), Thomas Walsh and Bridget Maria Walsh, I examined records pertaining to their FANs (Friends, Associates and Neighbors), a technique known as cluster research. Focusing specifically on marriage witnesses and godparents that Robert and Elizabeth Walsh chose for their children, I identified a number of places in Ireland where the Walsh FANs were from, as discussed in a recent post. Unfortunately, there was no geographic trend indicated by these places. They included County Limerick, County Sligo, County Clare, and County Tyrone, which suggests that the connections between the Walshes and these individuals were forged post-immigration rather than pre-immigration.
Since the Walshes’ FANs gave me no great clues, I decided to broaden the circle by another level, and see if there were any trends that could be observed by examining all the marriage records which mention a Walsh bride or groom or a Walsh mother of the bride or mother of the groom. As noted previously, the earliest available records are found in the collection Baptisms, marriages 1852–1860, and I focused on these primarily since the marriage records from this book typically mention the specific place of origin of the bride and groom. This is in contrast to the later book of Marriages, 1858–1910 in which only the immigrant’s country of origin was typically specified, although there was a span of years (images 12–16, with a few additional entries on images 10, 20, 23 and 27) when some thoughtful priest recorded the county of origin for Irish immigrants as well. I did not observe any examples of baptismal records where the place of origin of immigrant parents was noted. In the interest of time, I did not include the data regarding county of origin when it was mentioned in the collection Marriages, 1858–1910. Instead, I focused only on the earliest records.
Admittedly, this strategy is not ideal due to the popularity of the Walsh surname, nor was it especially helpful. I discovered the following:
- There were four Walsh brides. One was from Cahersiveen, County Kerry; one was from Askeaton, County Limerick; one was from County Cork, no specific village or parish indicated, and one was from someplace whose name cannot be accurately determined because it ran into the margin of the book.
- There were no Walsh grooms.
- There were two brides with a mother who was a Walsh. They were from Westport, County Mayo, and “Myrish” (probably Moyrus), County Galway.
- There were five grooms with a mother who was a Walsh. They were from Westport, County Mayo; Ballyguran, County Waterford; Bohola, County Mayo; Ballymartin, County Cork; and one additional place that could not be deciphered, in County Tipperary.
Again, there were no obvious geographic trends, nor were there any clues in those other Walsh marriage records that might suggest that any of them were related to my Walsh family.
Since I was already in the business of working with the data from these church records from the cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, I decided to try one last strategy. I created a map of all the places of origin in Ireland mentioned in those marriage records, dated from 1852–1857.
The Method Behind the Madness
The map can be accessed by clicking here. Each pin on the map is a unique place of origin mentioned in the records from St. Catharines. However, in some cases, there were multiple immigrants from the same location. Clicking on a pin on the map will produce the name of the immigrant(s) who were from that location, along with a link to the page of church records where the source marriage record can be found. Although the basic idea is pretty simple, there are a few points to be made about the actual implementation.
- Although the vast majority of individuals mentioned in these marriage records were Irish immigrants, there were some natives of Canada West, New York, Quebec, Scotland, England, Holland, and Prussia in the mix. Since my focus was on identifying places of origin in Ireland, I ignored any other places that were mentioned.
- Since data were extracted from a Roman Catholic church book, most individuals named were Roman Catholic. However, in a few cases mixed (interfaith) marriages were noted so one should check the source to see if a person of interest might have been Protestant.
- Original spellings were preserved to the extent that I could read them. Some names like Crownan and Cronnin/Cronin may have common origins or may even be the same family.
- In cases where the name of the bride or groom was recorded differently in the page margin than in the marriage record itself, the name used in the record was the name used on the map.
- Places mentioned in the records vary in degree of precision, ranging from a village, or civil parish to a townland or county. If a more precise place of origin was indicated, it was usually reported along with the county name, which helped in distinguishing between places with the same name (e.g. Newport, County Mayo and Newport, County Tipperary). Place names were rendered phonetically, so spellings used were frequently incorrect. In many cases it was possible to guess which place was meant, e.g. “Iniscarthy,” County Wexford, is almost certainly meant to be Enniscorthy, County Wexford; “Cloonmile” in County Tipperary is likely to be Clonmel, “Dunbeck,” County Clare is probably Doonbeg, etc. In a few cases I could not find a good phonetic match for the place name, due in part to illegible handwriting. In those instances, only the county was recorded.
Places of origin for a total of 267 immigrants were mapped. These immigrants represented all 32 counties in Ireland, with a small majority (45 immigrants, or 16.8% of the total) coming from places within County Mayo. Additional data are summarized in Figure 1, below.
Figure 1: Number and percent of immigrants from each Irish county who were mentioned in the marriage records dated between 1852–1857 from St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, St. Catharines, Ontario. Percentages do not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.
One wonders how these numbers compare with the population of each Irish county circa 1841, when the Walshes may have emigrated. Was the emigration proportional to the population, or was there disproportionate emigration from particular counties? According to statistics found on Wikipedia, the top five Irish counties ranked in order of population in 1841 were Cork, Galway, Tipperary, Mayo, and Dublin.1 In contrast, the top five Irish counties reported as birthplaces of immigrants to St. Catharines were Mayo, Cork, Tipperary, Clare, and Kerry, and this difference may reflect the impact of chain migration. Perhaps these data will help me prioritize my searches for my Walsh/Cavanagh family among the almost 200 parishes where both of these surnames are known to exist. Unfortunately, there have been no easy answers, but if genealogy were always easy, our successes would be much less satisfying.
1 “Irish Population Analysis,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : 29 June 2019).
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019
4 thoughts on “Mapping Birthplaces of Irish Immigrants to St. Catharines”
ABSOLUTELY AMAZED AT THE WAYS YOU KNOW OF HOW TO FIND THINGS IN A COMPUTER OR CHURCH RECORDS OR WHATEVER. IF I KNEW SOME OF THAT YEARS AGO, I WOULD HAVE FOUND THE SHEEHAN BACKGROUND MAYBE. JUST KEEP WRITING AND SHARING AND I WILL JUST KEEP READING. IF THE STUPID SCIATICA EVER CLEARS UP, MAYBE I WILL FEEL LIKE DOING MORE GENEALOGY AGAIN WHICH IS MAINLY THE SHEEHAN SIDE – MY DAD’S MOTHER. HE OR HIS SISTER NEVER EVER REMEMBER MEETING OR HEARING ABOUT HER SIBLINGS OR PARENTS, ETC. SAD.
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Thanks, Bonnie! The reality is that this information is much more easily found nowadays than it was back when you were doing the bulk of your research, and it’s equally true that pre-famine Irish research is just plain difficult. As you can see, I’m still struggling with it as well! I’d be happy to chat about your Sheehan research some time if you want to send me an email, but I can’t promise how much help I’ll be able to offer.