This summer, I had the pleasure of spending some time back in Western New York, visiting family. One of the highlights of our time there was fondly known (albeit maybe just to me!) as the great Canadian Family History Road Trip Extravaganza (CFHRTE): a day-trip excursion to St. Catharines, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Queenston Heights, Niagara Falls, and Chippewa, visiting churches, cemeteries, and tourist attractions that were important to my distant family history, as well as my personal family history. Two of my adult children were with us during our visit to Western New York, and I persuaded them and my husband to accompany me on this sentimental journey. Our first stop was Victoria Lawn Cemetery in St. Catharines, and although none of them are especially interested in genealogy, they gamely trudged through the cemetery on one of the hottest days of the summer, looking for my Walshes and Hodgkinsons and Dodds with me.
This was my first visit to Victoria Lawn, although my Aunt Carol had visited the cemetery many years ago to photograph our family graves there. However, we’ve made some progress in our research on our Walsh ancestors since her visit, so I was able to make some new connections this time that we did not make previously. Specifically, I was thrilled to discover the grave of Maria McNamara, immediately adjacent to the graves of Robert and Elizabeth (Hodgkinson) Walsh.
The Walsh Family of St. Catharines, Revisted
In order to understand the significance of this discovery, a quick review of earlier research is required. I’ve written about my search for the origins of my elusive Walsh ancestors previously (here, here, and here, for example), but to briefly recap, Robert Walsh/Welsh/Welch was my great-great-great-grandfather, a Roman Catholic born in Ireland between 1808 and 1816. He immigrated to Canada at some point before 1843 (prior to the Irish Potato Famine, which began in 1845), and settled in St. Catharines, where he worked as a tailor. Circa 1843–1844, he married Elizabeth Hodgkinson, an Anglican native of Upper Canada. They had eight children together prior to his death in 1881. No direct evidence for Robert’s parents or specific place of origin in Ireland can be found in historical records, including church, census, civil vital registrations, cemetery, newspaper, land, or probate records.
Frequently, problems like this one can be solved through a combination of FAN research (also known as cluster research, or research into an ancestor’s Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) and genetic genealogy (DNA testing), and I’ve used this strategy successfully in the past to identify the origins of my Causin/Cossin family, and my Murri family. Unfortunately, thus far, DNA testing has not offered any substantial insights, for reasons which seem to be related more to small family size with few descendants, rather than a misattributed parentage event. Similarly, FAN research has yet to yield any solid clues regarding the Walsh’s place of origin in Ireland, despite efforts which have included mapping the birthplaces of Irish immigrants to St. Catharines that were mentioned in the earliest marriage records from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria. However, FAN research has been more successful at identifying potential parents for Robert Walsh.
My FAN research has focused primarily on two individuals, Thomas Walsh/Welsh/Welch, and Maria (Walsh) McNamara. They were siblings to each other, based on evidence from their marriage records from St. Catherine of Alexandria cathedral. The record of Thomas Walsh’s marriage to Maryann Cronin on 9 May 1861 is shown in Figure 1,1 and the record of Maria Walsh’s marriage to Patrick McNamara on 8 August 1867 is shown in Figure 2.2
Thomas’s parents were identified as “Jas. Walsh” and “Cath.e Cavanah,” while Maria’s parents were recorded as James Walsh and Catherine Cavanagh. I suspect that Robert Walsh may have been another child of James and Catherine (Cavanagh) Walsh, or perhaps a son of James Walsh by a different wife, given the 22–30 year age difference between Robert and Maria. (Dates of birth for each of them vary, depending on the source).
Evidence for this hypothesis that Robert was Thomas and Maria’s sibling or half-sibling is summarized in the following timeline:
- 1843-1844: Robert Walsh married Elizabeth Hodgkinson, probably in the cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (records prior to 1852 are lost).
- 9 November 1844: Robert and Elizabeth’s first child was born, a son whom they named James George Walsh. Irish naming tradition dictates that the oldest son should be named after the paternal grandfather.
- 1859: Robert and Elizabeth Walsh’s fourth son, Thomas Walsh, was born. Godparents were Thomas Walsh and Bridget Walsh.
- January 1861: Thomas Walsh and “B. Maria” Walsh were living with with Robert Walsh’s family in the 1861 census, which is the earliest census date available for St. Catharines.
- May 1861: Thomas Walsh married Maryann Cronin in front of witnesses Michael O’Laughlan and Maria Walsh.
- 1867: Maria Walsh married Patrick McNamara. The wedding may have occurred in haste, since the record notes a dispensation from “two calls” (two of the customary three banns), and there was only one witness (C. Hanigan?). However, parish records contain no baptisms for any children of this couple, before or after the marriage.
- 1869: Thomas Walsh’s second daughter, Catherine Josephine Walsh, was born. Godparents were Michael Cronan (sic) and Maryann (sic) McNamara.
- 1874: Thomas Walsh’s only son was born, whom he named Robert Francis Walsh. Godparents were Robert Walsh and Maria McNamara.
My current hypothesis also supposes that the above-mentioned “Bridget Walsh” and “B. Maria Walsh,” are one and the same person as Maria (Walsh) McNamara, and my reasoning was explained previously. Essentially, there is a lack of evidence from historical records for other candidates for “B. Maria Walsh” who would be of the right age to be the B. Maria in the 1861 census. Moreover, the timeline suggests a transition in her preferred name, from Bridget to B. Maria to Maria, which is similar to other members of this family who came to use their middle name preferentially (e.g. James George Walsh, who was buried as George James Welch.)
The Plot Thickens
That brings us back to the present, and my CFHRTE. I had just finished photographing the monument that marks the grave of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh and their son, Joseph P. Walsh, when I turned around to discover the grave of Maria McNamara, immediately adjacent!
Although the grave marker is difficult to read in this image, Canadian Headstones offers the following transcription: “In/Memory of/Maria/Wife of/P. McNamara/Died Dec. 3, 1887/In her 59th year/[Verse, illegible]/McNAMARA”3
Of course, the proximity of Maria McNamara’s grave to those of the Walshes made me wonder if additional information could be obtained from the cemetery regarding the purchaser of the plot in which she was buried. As it turns out, the plot owner cards from Victoria Lawn were microfilmed in 1981, and stored with the St. Catharines Library Special Collections. Jo-Anne Trousdale, a researcher from the Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, provided me with copies of a number of the Walsh plot owner cards several years ago. However, as the cards don’t identify all the occupants of each plot, I didn’t make the connection with Maria McNamara until I visited the cemetery in person. Figure 4 shows the card for Section C, Division 61, Lot 1, which the cemetery confirmed as the location of Maria McNamara’s grave.4
The image is unfortunately a bit blurry, as Jo-Anne explained in her report: “These terribly fuzzy images are screen shots of the original negatives of record cards from Victoria Lawn Cemetery….It’s the only copy of these microfilmed reels and they’ve become quite ‘used.’ Sorry—they don’t print out any better from the microfilm reader and the photos of screen views here are the best I can get from the microfilm source.”5
Nonetheless, the card confirms that Robert Welch (i.e. Robert Walsh, Jr., son of Robert and Elizabeth), of 44 Welland Avenue West in the city of St. Catharines, was the owner of three plots, including the one described on this card (Section C, Division 61, Lot 1). The note on the card states, “Also owns E 1/2 – Lot 4 – C – 61/see other cards/also E 1/2 – 2 – H – 19.” Presumably, this notation means that the additional plots owned by Robert Welch consist of the east half of Lot 4 in Section C, Division 61, and the east half of Lot 2 in Section H, Division 19.
Significantly, Thomas Walsh, his wife Maryann, and their son, Robert F. Walsh (all under the surname “Welsh”) are buried in Section H, Division 19, Lot 2. Adjacent to those graves are the graves of Robert Welch; his wife, Caroline (Wales) Welch, and their daughter, Frances Maria Welch.
The McNamara Brothers of Killuran, County Clare
My excitement over this new discovery in the cemetery inspired me to renew my investigations of the Walsh family’s FAN circle. Maria McNamara’s marriage record, shown in Figure 2, identified Irish immigrant Patrick McNamara as the son of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan. Interestingly, parish records from St. Catherine of Alexandria document another son of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan: John McNamara, who married a widow, Margaret (Battle) McBride, on 23 November 1854.6 Their marriage record, shown in Figure 5, describes John McNamara as a “native of Kieluran (sic), Co. Clare Ireland,” and the son of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Soulivan (sic).
Irish history is undoubtedly riddled with Timothy McNamaras married to Catherine Sullivans, yet if we consider this fact within the FAN context, I think we can suppose that Patrick and John were brothers, since they were members of the same FAN circle. “Margaret Battle or McBride” was the godmother of Elizabeth Walsh, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth (Hodgkinson) Walsh, who was baptized on 11 June 1854, just a few months before Margaret McBride’s remarriage to John McNamara (Figure 6).
So, to recap, Robert and Elizabeth Walsh named Margaret (Battle) McBride as godmother to their daughter, Elizabeth, in June of 1854. In November of that same year, Margaret married John McNamara. In 1867, John’s younger brother, Patrick, married Robert’s younger (hypothetical) sister, Maria Walsh. Moreover, it’s probably no coincidence that the name John Fitzgerald was mentioned in both records, as a witness to the marriage of John McNamara and Margaret McBride, and also as godfather to Elizabeth Walsh. This places him, along with the McNamaras and Margaret Battle McBride, squarely within the Walshes’ FAN network. All of them will merit further investigation.
John McNamara’s place of origin, “Kieluran” in County Clare, suggests the location of Kelluran, which is a civil parish located in County Clare. While it’s a safe assumption that his brother, Patrick McNamara, was from the same place, can we then suppose that this might be the Walsh family’s place of origin as well? We can hope, but I think it’s a bit of a long shot, since I have not been able to discern a pattern of Irish immigrants in St. Catharines seeking to marry other immigrants from the same part of Ireland. This is evidenced by the fact that Margaret Battle herself was from a different county (Sligo) than her husband. Nonetheless, understanding the social network of brick-wall ancestors is the first step toward discovering the elusive origins of those ancestors.
Robert, Thomas, and Maria Walsh did not exist in a vacuum; they migrated along the same paths that others blazed before them. If I can discover common migration patterns among members of the Walshes’ FAN club, it just might lead me back to their roots in Ireland. And maybe that will be faster than sifting through every parish in Ireland where the surnames Walsh and Cavanagh coexist!
1 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 : 8 September 2022), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 9 of 48.
2 Ibid.,1867, record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh, 6 August 1867, image 18 of 48.
3“Headstones,” database, Canadian Headstones (https://canadianheadstones.ca/ : 8 September 2022), Maria McNamara/Wife of P. McNamara/Died Dec. 3, 1887/ In her 59th year/[Verse, illegible]/McNAMARA; citing Victoria Lawn Cemetery marker, Niagara (Lincoln & Welland Counties), Ontario.
4 Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada), “Plot Owner Cards”, Cards for Robert Welch, 44 Welland Avenue West, for Section C, Division 61, Lot 1; Section C, Division 61, Lots E 1/2 – 4; Section H, Division 19, Lots E 1/2 – 2; images courtesy of Jo-Anne Trousdale, researcher, Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society; and
Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada) to Julie Szczepankiewicz, email regarding burial location of Marie (sic) McNamara, who was interred in 1887, in Section C, Division 61, Lot 1.
5 Jo-Anne Trousdale, St. Catharines, Ontario, research report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, “19-14 Szczepankiewicz Re Robert Walsh,” 18 May 2019, personally held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
6 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860, 1854, unnumbered pages, marriage no. 42, John McNamara and Margaret Battle, 23 November 1854, browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 8 September 2022), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 36 of 104.
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.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022