In my last post, I wrote about my recent confirmation of the parents of Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts and the discovery of their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Although this was a thrilling breakthrough for me, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. Let’s unpack the process and see what can be learned from it.
1. Thorough Documentary Research is Always Key
Although this was definitely a stubborn research problem, it’s probably overstating the case to call it a “brick wall” because the documentary research was far from complete. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires “reasonably exhaustive” documentary research, and it’s up to the researcher to identify all collections that are potentially relevant to the research problem and add them to the research plan. Although I’ve been chipping away at research in onsite collections in Detroit as time and money (and the pandemic….) permit, I had not yet examined all of the relevant birth, marriage and death records from the Roberts’ parish in Detroit, Old St. Mary’s, either in person or by proxy. Similarly, my local Family History Center has not been open for quite a while due to the pandemic, making it difficult to research digitized collections with restricted access, such as the church records from St. Louis in Buffalo, where I might have found death records that offered a transcription of “Cossin” that would have been more recognizable. So, it’s entirely possible that this problem could have been solved solely through documentary research, given enough time and focused effort.
2. Don’t Overlook Online Family Trees
Even if I had accepted immediately that the Maria Magdalena Gosÿ who was baptized at St. Louis church in Buffalo, was my Maria Magdalena Causin, I would have had to rely on FAN research for the identification of their ancestral village, since the baptismal record did not mention the parents’ place of origin. So, finding those family trees that mentioned Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzi was a critical clue. One of the things I find most surprising is that searches for “Anna Maria Hensy” did not turn up results for Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, given the number of family trees in which she appears. Even now, when I repeat those searches to see if I can tease her out of the database, using only the search parameters I knew previously (before the trees from the DNA matches gave me her married surname), she is not readily found. I like to think I’m not a rookie when it comes to database searches, and I certainly tried a variety of search parameters, based on what I knew for a fact, and as well as what I could speculate.
Assuming that the godmother was actually present at the baptism of Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ,” I knew that “Maria Anna Hensy” was living in Buffalo in 1832, was most likely born in France, and was probably between the ages of 16 and 60 when she served as godmother, suggesting a birth between 1772 and 1816, although I suspected that a narrower range from 1800–1816 was more likely. I guessed that she was also probably living in Detroit by 1857 when Maria Magdalena was married, so I set up parallel searches with either Buffalo or Detroit specified as her place of residence. I tired varying the specificity of the search, leaving out some information, such as approximate year of birth, and I also tried making the search more restrictive by specifying “exact search” for some parameters, such as her place of birth in France. I used wild card characters to try to circumvent problems with variant spellings in the surname, and I performed all these same searches at FamilySearch, since they offer a different assortment of indexed databases. Despite all that, no promising candidates emerged for further research until DNA matches permitted me to focus on particular family trees.
Why might this be? Good question. One thing I did not do was try drilling down to the Public Member Trees database, specifically. It’s standard research practice among experienced researchers to drill down to a particular database where the research target is expected to be found, e.g. “1870 United States Federal Census,” or “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” especially when the desired results don’t turn up readily in broader searches of all the databases, or within a sub-category of databases, like “Immigration & Emigration” or “Census & Voter Lists.” So, although I searched for “Maria Anna Hensy,” in specific historical records databases (e.g. 1840 census, 1850 census, etc.), my research log indicates that I never drilled down to the Public Member Trees to look for clues. I suspect this reflects some unconscious bias on my part—mea culpa! I’m so accustomed to frustration over all the inaccuracies that I find in so many online trees, that I failed to give these trees the consideration they deserved in generating good leads. When I repeat those searches for Maria Anna Hensy in the Public Member Trees database, the correct Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentzy Schneider shows up in the first page of search results.
3. Analyze the Surname Hints from DNAGedcom
Had I also dug deeper into Aunt Betty’s DNA matches using some of analytical tools out there, I might have found my Cossins sooner. Several weeks ago, I ran a Collins-Leeds analysis at DNAGedcom on all of Aunt Betty’s matches at Ancestry that were within the 20–300 centiMorgan (cM) range, and the results included an enormous cluster with 36 members, whom I realize now are all related through the Hensy line (Figure 1). I’ve written a little previously about DNAGedcom, and more information can be found on their website. However, the purpose of autocluster analysis tools like this is to sort your autosomal DNA match list into clusters of people who are related to each other through a common line of descent.
The really cool thing about DNAGedcom for these analyses is the amount of information that is provided—assuming you take the time to dig into it, which I had not done previously. For that cluster shown in Figure 1, you’ll notice that some of the pink squares are marked with a green leaf. Those leaves mark the intersections of two DNA testers who have family trees linked to their DNA tests, and hovering the cursor over those squares will reveal the names of individuals found in both trees. You can even go one better and tap on any colored square (marked with a leaf or not) to see the option to “View Cluster,” or “View Chromo[some] Browser,” as shown in Figure 2.
The data used for this autocluster analysis came from Ancestry, and much to the dismay of pretty much everyone interested in genetic genealogy, Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or any sort of segment data. So, the “View Chromo Browser” option will not work here, although it would work if these data were gathered from another source like 23&Me. However, clicking on “View Cluster” brings up the chart shown in Figure 3. Names of testers have been redacted for privacy.
Clicking on the name of anyone in that list will take you to the DNA match page for that person at Ancestry. Tree icons on the left indicate those matches with linked family trees. Nice information, but if you keep scrolling down, it gets even better. After identifying the individuals with whom DNA is shared in each cluster, DNAGedcom goes one step further, identifying individual ancestors who appear in the family trees linked to those matches (Figure 4).
The names of the DNA matches who own each family tree are listed in the column on the far right, and have been redacted for privacy, but the chart indicates that Nicolaus, Johann Anton, and Servatius Thelen all appear in 4 different family trees of individual members of Cluster 7, as do Anna Maria and Andrew Schneider and Peter Simon. As it happens, the most recent common ancestral couple between Aunt Betty and these matches—Dionisy Hentzy and Agnes Antony— is not mentioned in this top part of the list. However, if we were to scroll down a bit, we would find them (Figure 5).
Admittedly, this is still a “Some Assembly Required” type of tool. The ancestor list for a given cluster identified by DNAGedcom does not immediately identify the most recent common ancestral couple. However, in conjunction with a list of ancestral FANs, and with guidance from the public member trees, which explain the relationships between individuals mentioned in the list, this is a powerful tool, indeed.
4. Use All the Information in Each Historical Record
The mistake that galls me the most in all of this is that I failed to fully examine the death record for Mary M. Roberts until I sat down to write that first blog post about this discovery. (Actually, had I blogged about my “brick wall” with Maria Magdalena earlier, I might have found my answers faster, since writing about something always forces me to review, organize, and reanalyze my information.) When I looked at my evidence for her date of death, I noticed that I had her probate packet and cemetery records, but I was still citing the index entry for her Michigan death certificate, which I had obtained years ago, and not the original record, which is now readily available online. Duh! One of the cardinal rules of genealogy is to always go to the original source, rather than trusting the information in an index, because so often there is additional information in the original, or there are transcription errors that are caught after viewing the original. Such was the case here, as well. The index entry, shown in Figure 6, only states that Mary M. Roberts was born “abt. 1833.”1
However, the entry from the death register contains more information than was indexed regarding her precise age at the time of death.2 The death register states that she was 61 years, 6 months, and 10 days old when she died, as shown in Figure 7.
When I ran this through a date calculator (such as this one), it points to a birth date of 17 August 1832. This is almost an exact match to the birth date of 14 August 1832 that was noted on the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ” from St. Louis Church in Buffalo.
Had I made this connection sooner, I would have been much more confident in accepting that baptismal record as the correct one for Mary Magdalene Causin/Casin/Curzon/Couzens. I guess this is why we have Genealogy Do-Overs. All of us start our research by making rookie errors, so at the very least, it’s important to periodically step back and re-evaluate the search to see what is really known, and to make sure that nothing has been overlooked. Better still, consider a full-blown, Thomas MacEntee-style Do Over, which I have never yet had the courage to do.
Not all breakthroughs are the result of elegant or sophisticated methodology. Sometimes, you just keep hacking away at a problem, and you get to the answer in the end, and that’s what happened here. While the origins of the Causin family could possibly have been discovered, in time, using thorough documentary research in church records from Detroit and Buffalo, the process was expedited when the focus switched from the Causin surname to the Hentzy surname of one of their FANs. With the addition of insight gained from examination of DNA matches, the process was expedited still further. The combination of cluster research, autosomal DNA matching, and standard documentary research, is so powerful that it can even overcome a flawed research process. So, while this may not have been a pretty victory, it was a victory nonetheless. I’ll take it.
1 “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1869-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894, citing Family History Library film no. 1377697.
Recently, a long-standing “brick wall” came tumbling down, and I’m still reveling in the victory. I was finally able to definitively identify the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Maria Magdalena (Causin) Roberts, and establish their place of origin. This has been a research problem for nearly a decade, so it’s an especially sweet victory. Here’s how it unfolded.
Introducing Mary Magdalene Roberts
Mary Magdalene (or Maria Magdalena) Roberts has been quite the mystery for me, but it’s not as if she left no traces whatsoever in the historical record. On the contrary, her life is well-documented from the time of her marriage until the time of her death. I knew that Mary was born in New York about 1833–1834 and that she died on 27 February 1894 in Dearborn, Michigan.1 She married Michael Roberts (formerly Michael Ruppert), a German immigrant from the village of Heßloch in Rhineland-Palatinate, and together they became the parents of eight children, four of whom outlived her. However, her family’s origins prior to her marriage were considerably less clear. The record of Mary’s marriage to Michael Ruppert from Old St. Mary’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Detroit is shown in Figure 1.2
The record is in Latin, and states that Michael Rupert married Magdalena Causin on 12 May 1857, and names Michael’s brother, Arnold Rupert, as a witness, along with Maria Brant (?). Unfortunately, the record does not provide the names of the parents of the bride and groom, and neither were Maria Magdalena’s parents identified on her death record.3 However, the death record stated that her parents were born in Switzerland, and the 1880 census reported that both her parents were born in France.4
Mary’s place of birth was identified as Buffalo, New York, on baptismal records for her children from Old St. Mary’s, and these records provided additional evidence for her maiden name. Figures 3a and b show the baptismal record for Franc. Henricus (Franz Heinrich, or Francis Henry) Ruppert in 1866.5
In this image, the mother’s name in the column at the far right, slightly cut off in the photo, appears to be “Magdalena Causin.”
The first column on the left in Figure 3b is the mother’s place of birth, which was identified as Buffalo, New York. The godparents, recorded in the next column, were Franciscus (Frank) Rupert and Catherine Rupert, the baby’s paternal grandparents.
Similarly, Buffalo was identified as the Mary Magdalene’s place of birth in the baptismal record for her son, Franz Georg, in 1871 (Figure 4b), but the mother’s name looks more like Casin or Cosin than Causin (Figure 4a).6
The godparents noted here were Franz Rupert, again, and “Charl.” (presumably Charlotte) Braun, and again, Magdalena was reported to have been born in Buffalo.
To further complicate the issue of Mary Magdalene’s maiden name, it was recorded as Couzens on the death record for her daughter, Katherine “Kitty” Hecker (Figure 5).7
Moreover, Mary’s maiden name was reported as Curzon in the brief biographical entry about her son, Frank M. Roberts, which appeared in the Buffalo Artists’ Register published in 1926 (Figure 6).8
The Search for Causins in Buffalo
With no hard evidence for her parents’ names, but pretty good evidence for a birth in Buffalo, New York, circa 1833, my Aunt Carol and I hoped to find a baptismal record for Mary Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon in the church records from St. Louis parish in Buffalo. St. Louis was the only Roman Catholic church in Buffalo at that time, having been established by immigrants from Germany, France and Ireland in 1829, and records are available from the Family History Library, originally on microfilm (currently digitized).9 Aunt Carol had a chance to review them first, and was disappointed to discover no good matches for a baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Causin. Her best guess was an 1832 baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Krauter, daughter of Matthias Krauter and Anna Eva Knab, but she conceded that this was a shot in the dark. I took a look at the film myself, and similarly struck out. Broad searches in indexed databases at Ancestry and FamilySearch for “C*s*n” living in Buffalo in 1832 produced plenty of results for Casin, Cassin, Cushion, Cousin, etc. but many of the individuals identified were Irish or English, arrived in Buffalo too late, or were ruled out for other reasons. A History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York, published in 1898, contains a list of the German heads of household of St. Louis parish in 1832, but there were no surnames similar to Causin.10 We had no knowledge of any siblings that Maria Magdalena might have had, and no evidence for the family’s whereabouts from the time between her birth in Buffalo circa 1833, and her marriage in Detroit in 1857. Whoever Mary Magdalene’s parents were, they seemed to have left no trace of their time in Buffalo.
Hoping to get some new perspective on the problem, I posted in the Facebook group for the Western New York Genealogical Society back in 2013, wondering if there might be some other places besides St. Louis church that Mary might have been baptized.11 Admin Nancy Archdekin came through with an interesting suggestion: a birth record from St. Louis parish that Aunt Carol and I had overlooked, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, daughter of Joseph Antonius Gosÿ and Maria Agatha Hensy (Figure 7).12
According to this record, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ was born on 14 August 1832 and baptized (“renata vero”) the same day, with godparents Joseph Lang and Maria Anna Hensy. I was intrigued. I could see how “Gosÿ” might be a phonetic approximation of “Causin,” if the latter were pronounced with a nasal French ending. Could Gosÿ be the “correct,” original version of the surname, and all the subsequent records got it wrong? Searches for Gosÿ in Buffalo in 1832 were negative, suggesting that the name was a misspelled version of something. Could it be Causin?
I put that record on the back shelf, thinking that we had not yet exhausted documentary research which may still produce some leads or insights. I searched the 1840 census in both Detroit and Buffalo, the Buffalo, New York, Death Index, and Buffalo city directories, chasing down every Cousin, Cossin, Causin, Cassin, Curson, Cozzens, and any other surnames that seemed remotely similar phonetically. I checked probate records from Wayne County, Michigan, for any references to Mary as an heir, and although Mary was not mentioned specifically, I came up with one promising reference to “Pierre Casson (Coussin),” that was at least close to the right name. However, subsequent searches suggest that he may have been French Canadian rather than Alsatian. Still, it was a lead that I could have pursued further. I checked probate records in Buffalo, as well, but found nothing. Church records from Old St. Mary’s might still be revealing. Perhaps they have records of premarital investigations, which sometimes provided more information about the bride and groom than is found in the actual marriage record? Furthermore, church records (deaths, in particular) from both St. Louis in Buffalo and St. Mary’s in Detroit had not yet been examined. There was—and still is—work to be done.
I also had some nagging doubts. What if Mary was never baptized? There was some evidence that the Alsatian community in Buffalo in the 1820s was “not unduly devout;” might her parents have omitted that rite?13 This hypothesis might have been more likely had Mary been born in Buffalo prior to 1829, but if a Catholic church was already in existence by about 1833 when she was born, it seemed probable that she would have been baptized there. But then another concern presented itself. In my research experience, many immigrants approximated their place of origin to the closest big city. What if Mary was not born in Buffalo, but near it? I’d found evidence in my research for Alsatian families farming in rural communities throughout the Western New York area, from Buffalo to Rochester. Maybe she was born in one of those communities?
Clues from the Causins’ Cluster
Since cluster research (also known as FAN research, research into an ancestor’s Friends/family, Associates, and Neighbors) has been so fruitful for me in the past, I decided to take a closer look at Maria Brant (or Brandt) and Charlotte Braun, two of the Roberts family’s FANS who were noted on church records, and were not known family members. Again, nothing jumped out at me; surveys of indexed records did not produce any good candidates who were born in France, Alsace, or Switzerland and who might have been connected to Mary. I kept coming back to that baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ: the mother and the godmother had the same surname, Hensy, and I suspected that they were at least cousins, if not sisters. Searches for “Hensy” in Buffalo and Detroit suggested that this surname, too, may have been misspelled, and I quickly discovered a plethora of German surname possibilities from indexed records, including Hintse, Hantz, Hense, Hentzi, Hentz, Hentzy, Hans, and even Hohensee. There were no obvious matches for Maria Anna Hensy, however. Something more was needed to shed light on this research problem, and I hoped that something would be DNA.
DNA to the Rescue
Although I could have used my own DNA match lists, I have in my arsenal DNA match lists for both my Dad and his paternal aunt. Aunt Betty is two generations closer to Mary Magdalene Roberts than I am, and she should have inherited roughly 12.5% of her DNA from this particular ancestor. With so much “Causin” DNA, I expected that it would not be too difficult to identify matches in Aunt Betty’s match list that are related to us through Mary Magdalene Causin. Nonetheless, it took some time to get to the point where I had identified enough matches that were probably related through the ancestors of Mary Magdalene Causin—and not one of our other German or Alsatian ancestors—that I could try to compare family trees and look for common surnames and places.
And that’s when it happened.
I was looking through Aunt Betty’s DNA matches one evening for something completely unrelated to Causin research. I was examining the public tree associated with one of her matches, when a name jumped out at me: Anna Maria Hanzi, who was married on 8 October 1838 to Moritz Schneider at Old St. Mary’s church in Detroit. It suddenly dawned on me that this must be the Anna Maria “Hensy” of the baptismal record! Shared matches for this person included people I’d previously identified as having probable Causin ancestry, and several of them had public trees. All of them had Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze in them, and Ancestry reported that this same Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze appeared in 326 trees, quite a number of which cited a birth in 1814 in “Vaterhunn,” Alsace, France—information which was supposed to have come from the church record of Anna Maria’s marriage at Old St. Mary’s. Furthermore, Anna Maria’s parents were identified as Dionysius/Dennis Hanzi and Agatha (__), both of whom also immigrated to Michigan. The fact that this Mary Ann/Anna Maria had the same name as Mary Magdalene’s godmother, was also married in Detroit, and was showing up in the family trees of multiple DNA matches to Aunt Betty, could not possibly be a mere coincidence. This was the key to the whole problem!
A quick internet search revealed that “Vaterhunn” does not exist. It may have been a phonetic misrendering of whatever village name was provided orally to the priest, or it may have been a mistranscription by whomever tried to decipher the handwriting in the church record, or a combination of these. My first thought was that I needed to write to the church to request a copy of the marriage record. Although these records have been microfilmed and are available for research as part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the Collection is temporarily unavailable (as of this writing) due to major renovations at the library. Obtaining the record from the church so I could see the handwriting myself seemed like the fastest way to discover what the real village name ought to be.
In the meantime, I decided to take a shot at guessing what the town name should have been. Lacking a good gazetteer for Alsace, I approximated one by searching the FamilySearch catalog for “France, Haut-Rhin,” and then drilling down to “Places within Haut-Rhin” for a list of about 400 locations for which FamilySearch has microfilmed/digitized records. I have no idea how complete this coverage is, but it seemed like a good start. Since many vital records for Haut-Rhin are online, I started searching for a civil birth registration for Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentze in 1814, to confirm the location. I thought perhaps that the “-hunn” in “Vaterhunn” might be “-heim,” instead, so I checked records from Waltenheim, Wettolsheim, Battenheim and Bartenheim for a few years around 1814, but did not find Anna Maria’s birth, nor even evidence for the existence of the Hentze surname in these locations.
Not feeling especially patient at this point, I switched gears and searched the Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy Facebook group for “Vaterhunn.” If there are 326 family trees out there that mention Anna Maria Hanzi in them, and a large percentage of them repeat this information about “Vaterhunn,” then I figured it was quite possible that someone before me had sought help in trying to identify this village. Lo, and behold, I discovered an old post from 2014 in which a group member (whom I’ll call “OP”) had asked about this very same question, for the very same reason.14 The comment thread was incomplete; it looked as though some comments had been deleted, but it appeared that a baptismal record had been located by a member of the group. A second search of the group’s history for OP’s name produced a second thread in which she requested a translation of a birth record which had been found by a group member previously—a birth record for Anna Maria Hentze.15 The record came from a collection of civil birth registrations for the village of Pfetterhouse—the elusive “Vaterhunn” mentioned in the oft-cited marriage record for Anna Maria Hentze. I quickly looked up the original birth record, which confirmed that Maria Anna Hensÿ was born 29 April 1814 to Dionisÿ Hensÿ, a 34-year-old laborer, and his wife, Agnes.16 Having nailed down the location, I started searching marriages records for Pfetterhouse for the marriage of Joseph Antoine “Gosÿ” and Maria Agatha Hensÿ, and voilà! I discovered their civil marriage record on 8 September 1829 (Figures 8a and 8b).17
“No. 6, Cassin, Joseph Antoine Avec Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, Le 8 Septembre 1829
L’an mil huit cent vingt neuf le huit septembre à quatre heures après midi pardevant nous Jacques [Hemis?], maire et officier de l’etat civil de la commune de Pfetterhausen, canton d‘hirsingen, arrondissement d’altKirch département du haut-rhin, sont comparus le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin, cordonnier né le douze thermidor l’an neuf de la republique constaté par l’extrait de naissance de la commune de Seppois le bas domicilié à Pfetterhausen fils majeur légitime de feu Jacques Cossin cultivateur et de feu Barbara Maker en leur vivant domicilié à Seppois le bas, le père décedé le dix avril mil huit cent quatorze constaté par l’extrait mortuaire du dit lieu, et la mère décedé la quatorze germinal an onze de la republique constaté par l’extrait de décé de Seppois le bas, et quant aux aieuls, le dit Cossin s’est présenté avec quatre habitans de la commune de Seppois le bas, les nommés François Joseph Wendlinger cultivateur âgé de soixante sept ans, Joseph Waller cultivateur âgé de cinquante sept ans, Moritz Cossin cultivateur âgé de cinquante six ans, et Antoine Martin marschal ferrant âgé de cinquante trois ans tous les quatre nous ont déclaré qu’ils n’ont point de connaissance et ne savent pas ôu les aïeul du dit Joseph Antoine Cossin sont décedés et d‘aprés la lettre de M. le maire Colin de Seppois le bas qui est àjointe, il parait et justifie qu’ils ne sont pas no plus inscrits dans les archives de la commune, et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy journalliere née le vingt sept mars mil huit cent onze constaté par l’extrait de naissance de Pfetterhausen fille mineure de Thienisy Hentzy cabaretier et d’Agnoise Antony ses père et mère tous les trois domiciliés au dit lieu à présent et consentant les quels nous ont requis de procéder à celebration du mariage projété entre eux, dont les publications ont été faites devant la porte principale de notre Maison commune, savoir, la première le dimanche vingt trois aôut et la seconde le dimanche trente même mois de la présente année, chaquefois à l’heure de midi, et aucune opposition au dit mariage ne nous ayant été signiffiée [?], faisant droit à leur requition et après leur avoir donné lecture de toutes les pièces ci dessus mentionnées du chapitre six du titre cinq du code civil intitule du mariage, nous avons demandé aux future Epoux et Epouse, s’ils quelent se prendre pour mari et pour femme chaqu’un d’eux ayant repondu séparement et affirmatisement Déclarons au nom de la loi que le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy sont unis par le mariage, de tout quoi nous avons dressé acte en presence des sus dits quatre habitans de Seppois le bas témoins, dont aucun n’est pas parentes ni alliés de l’un ni de l’autre des deux Epoux, les quels aprés lecture et interprétation en allemand faites, ont signé avec nous et les parties contractantes, dont aite, la mère Agnoise Antonÿ a déclaré ne savoir écrire. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Cossin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Cossin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], maire.”
I’ve translated the record below:
“The year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine on the eighth of September at four o’clock in the afternoon. Before Us, Jacques [Hemis?], mayor and civil registrar of the commune of Pfetterhausen, Canton of Hirsingue, District of Altkirch, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin, shoemaker, born on the twelfth [day of the French Republic month of] Thermidor of the year nine of the Republic, according to the birth record of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas; residing in Pfetterhausen, son of legal age of the late Jacques Cossin, farmer, and of the late Barbara Maker in their lifetime residing in Seppois-le-Bas, the father deceased on the tenth of April eighteen hundred and fourteen according to the mortuary extract of the said place, and the mother died on the fourteenth [day of the French Republic month of] Germinal [in the] year eleven of the Republic, according to the extracted death record of Seppois-le-Bas, and as for the grandparents, the said Cossin presented us with four inhabitants of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas, by name, François Joseph Wendlinger, farmer, age sixty-seven years; Joseph Waller, farmer, aged fifty-seven; Moritz Cossin, farmer, aged fifty-six years, and Antoine Martin, blacksmith, aged fifty-three years; all four declared to us that they have no knowledge and do not know where the grandparents of the said Joseph Antoine Cossin are deceased and according to the attached letter of Mr. Colin, the mayor of Seppois-le-Bas, it appears and can be judged that they are no longer registered in the archives of the of the commune; and the Miss Marie Agatha Hentzy, [female] day laborer, born on March twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and eleven, as verified by the extract of birth of Pfetterhausen, minor daughter of Thienisy Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony; her father and mother all three domiciled in the said place at present and consenting, who have required us to proceed to the celebration of the marriage planned between them, of which the publications were made in front of the main door of our common House; namely, the first one on Sunday, August twenty-third, and the second one on Sunday, the thirtieth [day of the] same month of the present year, each time at the hour of noon; and after no opposition to the said marriage [was found], and after having read them all of the documents from Chapter Six of Title Five of the Civil Code pertaining to marriage, we have asked the future spouses, if they want to take each other as husband and wife [and] each of them having answered separately and affirmatively, We declare in the name of the law that Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy are united in marriage, of which we have drawn up an Act in the presence of the above-mentioned four witnesses of Seppois-le-Bas, none of whom is related to either of the two Spouses, who after reading and interpreting in German, have signed with us and the contracting parties; the mother Agnoise Antonÿ declared [that she does] not know how to write. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Coſsin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Coſsin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], Mayor.”
The groom’s name was recorded as Joseph Antoine Cossin, with a “long s,” (Figure 9), and the names of the bride and groom are an exact match to the names of the parents of Maria Magdalena in the baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, eliminating any further doubt that the “Gosÿ” of the baptismal record was intended to be something closer to the “Causin” more commonly found on records pertaining to Mary Magdalene Roberts.
Joseph’s parents were identified as Jacques Cossin and Barbara (née Maker) Cossin, both deceased—a brand-new ancestral couple for me to research! I even got a bonus ancestral signature on the second page, where Joseph himself signed the record. The record is packed with genealogical gold, including the dates of birth of both the bride and groom and the dates of death of both of the groom’s parents. Some of the dates are given according to the old calendar of the French Republic, created after the French Revolution. Steve Morse offers a handy tool for converting old French Republic dates into their modern Gregorian calendar equivalents, and after conversion, we see that Joseph Antoine Cosson was born 28 July 1804, and his mother, Barbara, died 1 April 1806, when Joseph was just two years old.
The Cossin family was from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas, shown on the map in Figure 10, and the two villages are just a stone’s throw away from the Swiss border.
The marriage record tells the story of Joseph Cossin’s process of fulfilling the legal requirements of the Napoleonic Code for marriage by rounding up four witnesses to accompany him to the mayor’s office. The Code specified that, in cases where the parents of a bride or groom of legal age for marriage were deceased, the permission of the grandparents was nonetheless required, until the age of 30 for grooms and 25 for brides. Article 155 further states,
“In case of the absence of the ancestor to whom the respectful act ought to have been made, the celebration of the marriage may be proceeded in, on producing a judgment given declaring absence, or in default of such judgment that which shall have directed an inquiry, or if such latter judgment shall not yet have been pronounced, an act of notoriety delivered by the justice of the peace of the place where the ancestor had his last known domicil. This act shall contain the deposition or four witnesses officially summoned by the justice of the peace.”19
So, in order to avoid possible fines and imprisonment, Messieurs les maires of the communes of Seppois-le-Bas and Pfetterhouse had to carefully document that Joseph’s grandparents were deceased and that he had no family members whose consent was required for the marriage. Although the record states that none of the witnesses were related to either the bride or the groom, the fact that one of the witnesses, Moritz Cossin, shares a surname with the groom and was from the same small village, suggests that he may, in fact, have been a distant relative, although they were apparently unaware of any relationship.
On the bride’s side, the record states that she was the daughter of “Thienisy” Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony, which are reasonable phonetic matches to the Dionisy and Agnes Hentzy who were reported to be the parents of Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, according to numerous family trees on Ancestry. This confirms that Mary Magdalene’s godmother, Anna Maria Hensy, was in fact, her aunt.
While many genealogical research questions remain, this is such a satisfying breakthrough for me, and I look forward to growing my family tree in this fertile ground of records from both the U.S. and France. From Causin to Curzon to Gosÿ and back to Cossin; from Pfetterhouse to Buffalo to Detroit to “Vaterhunn,” this has been quite a journey of discovery. And yet, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. In my next post, I’ll share all the missteps I made, the things I wish I had done differently, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Featured image: The author at the grave of Mary Magdalene Roberts, Mt. Elliott Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit, Valerie Koselka.
11860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and
1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Magdalena Robert in household of Michael Robert; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and
Wayne County Probate Court (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Probate packet no. 19856, Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 June 2021), “Probate estate packets, 1797-1901,” FHL Film no.967194, path: Wayne > Probate packets 1894 no 19805-19856 > images 975-984.
2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
4 1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.
5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1866, no. 194, Franc. Henricus Rupert, born 29 August 1866, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1871, line 188, Franz Georg Rupert, baptized 8 October; Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
7 “Michigan, U.S., Death Records 1867-1952,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 30 October 2021), Katherine Hecker, died 13 June 1942, file no. 293521, citing Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, Michigan.
8 Lee F. Heacock, The Buffalo artists’ register : a general review of the activities of representative organizations of Buffalo, N.Y. … related to … the creative and interpretive arts (Buffalo, New York: Heacock Publishing Company, 1926), pp 381-382, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, New York.
12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Louis parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York), Church records, 1829-1910, Baptisms 1829-1881, 1832, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.
13Andrew P. Yox, “The Parochial Context of Trusteeism: Buffalo’s St. Louis Church, 1828-1855,” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 4, Catholic University of America Press, 1990, pp. 712–33; JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/25023400 : 1 November 2021).
In a previous post, I wrote about some progress I’ve made toward identifying potential parents for my 3x-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh. Thomas Walsh and Bridget Maria Walsh McNamara may or may not have been his siblings, but it’s clear that they were some kind of close family members to Robert, and that they were also full siblings to each other, since marriage records indicate that both Thomas and Maria were children of James Walsh and Catherine Cavanagh. Knowing the name, approximate date of birth, and parents’ names for an immigrant ancestor could potentially provide enough information to start looking for that ancestor in records from the Old Country, if the surname is relatively uncommon. However, the surname Walsh is the fourth most popular surname in Ireland today, and Cavanagh (or Kavanagh) is ranked at number 53 for popularity, with both surnames found throughout Ireland.1For this reason, it makes sense to try to determine a precise place of origin for my immigrant Walsh siblings, rather than trying to leap into Irish records prematurely.
So far, this has been an uphill battle. Most of the strategies that have been successful when determining place of origin for my Polish ancestors have not worked here. Robert Walsh was already in Canada by the time of his marriage to Canadian-born Elizabeth Hodgkinson circa 1843. There are no surviving passenger manifests for immigration to Canadian ports prior to 1865, so we can’t hope to find a passenger manifest which states his birthplace or last residence within Ireland.2 Although a passenger manifest might be found if he arrived first in a U.S. port and then made his way to St. Catharines, I have no reason to believe that this was the case, and no identifying information that might help me to distinguish my Robert Walsh/Welch/Welsh from the scores of Irish immigrants by that name who immigrated via U.S. ports. Since Canada and Ireland were both part of the British Empire prior to Canadian confederation in 1867, naturalization was not necessary for Irish immigrants to Canada, which eliminates the possibility that a naturalization record will state place of origin.3 Neither have any of the church records provided any clues, since available baptismal records and marriage records for my known Walsh relatives do not specify immigrants’ place of origin, and burial records are not available. However, cluster research might help with this question, just as it did with identifying potential parents for Robert Walsh.
Chain migration is defined as “the process by which migrants from a particular town follow others from that town to a particular destination,”4 and it’s a phenomenon that many of us family historians have documented. In my own research, I’ve discovered that many of the Polish immigrants to North Tonawanda, New York in the period from 1900–1918 were from Sochaczew County, and many of the German immigrants to Detroit in the 1830s–1850s were from the area around Neustadt in the Marburg-Biedenkopf district. Could there be a similar, common place of origin for many of the Irish immigrants who chose St. Catharines as their destination? More importantly, can we identify that place of origin using existing data?
The cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria was established to serve the Irish laborers who built both the first Welland canal which opened in 1829, as well as the second Welland canal which was built in the 1840s.5 This work on the canal may have been a factor in Robert Walsh’s decision to immigrate. Although he was a merchant tailor rather than a laborer or canal worker, it may have been that Robert decided to leave Ireland for Canada to serve the clothing needs of this growing Irish community. Moreover, it is perhaps significant that Robert emigrated prior to the Irish Potato Famine of 1845–1849. In times of major crisis such as that famine, one might suppose that emigrants would be less particular about their destination. However, since Robert was a pre-Famine immigrant, his decision to go to St. Catharines may have been made in light of more ordinary considerations.
Of course, it’s too much to hope that all of the Irish immigrants to St. Catharines came from one location in Ireland, but it could potentially direct future research if I were to discover that, for example, most of the immigrants turned out to be from one or two counties within Ireland. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to examine church records from St. Catharines dated prior to the Great Famine. The earliest available records start in 1852, which suggests that any early chain migration patterns which may have existed will likely be obscured by the sheer volume of Irish immigration to Canada after the Great Famine. Nonetheless, desperate times call for desperate measures, and at this point I can’t think of any available genealogical data sets which might be more useful than church records in providing clues about migration patterns from Ireland to St. Catharines. To borrow an aviation cliché from my dad, I’m running out of altitude, air speed, and ideas.
So, here’s the plan:
Analyze the data from the earliest available collection of church records from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the parish in which my ancestors settled, to see if any trends emerge regarding specific place of origin of Irish immigrants.
Pay special attention to data from any records of individuals known to be associated with my Walsh ancestors.
Use this information to prioritize searches for my ancestors in records from Ireland.
I’m planning to use John Grenham’s Irish genealogy site, Irish Ancestors, to identify the various collections which might be useful in tracking down my Walshes, and I purchased a short-term subscription to RootsIreland, which offers a number of databases of indexed records. (Spoiler alert: I’ve searched both these sites for “low-hanging fruit”—easily-found indexed records relevant to my research—and come up empty.) John Grenham’s site has a helpful feature which allows one to search by a surname (e.g. Walsh), and then cross-reference with a second surname (e.g. Cavanagh) to identify civil parishes in which both surnames were found in Griffith’s Valuation (1847–1864). Unfortunately, the Irish Ancestors site identified close to 200 parishes in which both surnames, Walsh and Cavanagh, were found. Given my research background in Polish records, that number seemed ridiculously high to me. I thought there had to be a better way to narrow the focus before attempting research in Irish records. However, after chatting about this research with Irish genealogy expert, Donna Moughty, at the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) conference in Manchester this past April, I learned that refinement might not be possible here. In Donna’s opinion, finding specific place of origin for pre-Famine immigrants from Ireland is generally so difficult that she thought my best bet under these circumstances would be that “brute force” method, systematically going through all the parishes identified at John Grenham’s site in which both the Walsh and Cavanagh surnames were known to exist. So be it.
Did I mention that I’m also in a race against the clock? I have an opportunity to follow my husband to Dublin on a business trip in a few weeks and it would be wonderful if I could squeeze in a day trip to the birthplace of Robert Walsh while I’m there. Of course, real life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of genealogy, so it’s not possible for me to devote myself full-time to the pursuit of the Walsh Ancestral Village. The unfortunate reality is that there’s a good chance I will not be able to identify the birthplace of Robert, Thomas, and Bridget Maria Walsh prior to setting foot on the Emerald Isle. At least I want the satisfaction of knowing I gave it my best possible shot.
So, I made a careful study of the available marriage and baptismal records for St. Catherine of Alexandria parish. 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 is 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 book Marriages, 1858–1910. Instead, I focused only on the earliest records.
As the title suggests, the book Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860 contains both baptismal records and marriage records, intermingled on the same pages through 1857, when the parish began recording marriages in a separate book. I began by making a spreadsheet indexing all the baptisms which mention surnames Walsh/Welsh or Cavanagh in any capacity (mother, father, godmother or godfather). I did the same with the marriage records, indexing all those records in which the bride or groom was a Walsh, one of the witnesses was a Walsh, or the maiden name of the mother of either the bride or groom was Walsh. I also included all the marriage and baptism records that mention the known godparents of the children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. By doing this, I gained some interesting insights into the Walsh family’s network within their parish community in St. Catharines. However, it’s impossible to say which of these relationships were forged after immigration and which, if any, might stem from a common community in Ireland.
Among the potentially relevant discoveries were the following:
Thomas Walsh’s wife, Maryann Cronin, had a full brother named Michael Cronin who married Jane Alcox in 1856. Their marriage record stated that Michael was from County Limerick, while Jane was a native of St. Catharines, like Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh.6
Michael and Maryann Cronin had another full sister, Margaret Cronin, who married Robert McNamara in 1861.7 One of the witnesses to the marriage was John Fitzgerald—probably the same John Fitzgerald who served as godfather to Elizabeth Walsh (daughter of Robert Walsh) in 1854.
In 1858, Margaret Cronin was named as godmother to Thomas Cronin, son of John Cronin and Winifred Walsh.8 It’s tempting to speculate that this is the same Margaret Cronin who was sister to Michael and Maryann, and that Winifred Walsh might be related to “my” Walshes. However, there’s not enough evidence at this point to support that conclusion, and in any case, no marriage record for John and Winifred was found which might indicate her specific place of origin within Ireland.
Patrick McNamara, the husband of Bridget Maria Walsh, had a brother named John McNamara, who married the widowed Margaret (née Battle) McBride in November 1854.9 Margaret was the godmother of Elizabeth Walsh (Robert’s daughter) in May 1854.10 John McNamara was noted to be a native of Killuran, County Clare, while Margaret Battle was born in County Sligo. It’s not clear if Patrick and John McNamara were related in some way to Robert McNamara, husband of Margaret Cronin. However, it’s clear that any relationship that might have existed was more distant than siblings, since Patrick and John were reported to be sons of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan, while Robert was the son of Michael McNamara and Mary Gleeson.
Thomas Coil (or Coyle) and Jane Parks, who served as godparents to Nellie Walsh in August 1857,11were married to each other in February 1857,12 exemplifying the priest’s tendency to record women under their maiden names, or under both married and maiden. Thomas Coyle was noted to be a native of County Tyrone, while Jane Parks was native to St. Catharines.
Although there were a couple baptismal records for a child of a Cavanah/Cavanagh mother or father, as well as a couple of baptismal records in which a Cavanagh served as a godfather, there’s no evidence that the individuals mentioned in those records were connected with each other, or with my Walsh/Cavanagh relatives.
There seems to be a connection between the Walsh family and the O’Driscol family, but the significance of that connection is unclear. Robert Walsh (presumably “my” Robert Walsh, since he was the only adult by that name living in St. Catharines in the 1861 census) served as godfatber to Helena McGuire in 1854, daughter of Daniel McGuire and Mary O’Driscol.13 In 1858, he was named as godfather to Edward O’Driscol, son of Michael O’Driscol and Catherine O’Driscol.14
To recap, the individuals mentioned above were the closest FANs (Friends, Associates and Neighbors) of Robert, Thomas, and Bridget Maria Walsh for whom I can identify some place of origin. The diversity of locations in Ireland associated with them underscores the difficulty in the task of locating my Walsh ancestors in Irish records. While it may be possible that one of these individuals happens to be from the same hometown as my Walshes, it may also be that all of them met in St. Catharines and were brought together by the common bond of being couples in which one spouse was a native of Upper Canada (in the case of Jane Parks, Jane Alcox, and Elizabeth Hodgkinson) while the other spouse was an immigrant from Ireland. In any case, my starting point in Irish records will be the locations mentioned in the records for these FANs of the Walshes: County Limerick, County Sligo, County Clare, and County Tyrone.
6Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1856, “Marriage Mich’l Cronin ac Jane Alex,” 19 August 1856, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 59 of 104.
7Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Marriage Register, Jan. 19, 1858–May 11, 1911, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1861, Robert McNamara and Margaret Cronin, 10 January 1861, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org : 7 June 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 9 of 48.
8Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1856, “Baptism Thomas Cronin,” born 1 November 1858, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 86 of 104.
9Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, 1854, unnumbered pages, “42nd marriage, John McNamara and Margaret Battle,” 23 November 1854, accessed as browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 7 June 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 36 of 104.
10Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1854, “88th Bapt. Elizabeth Walsh,” born 21 May 1854, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 28 of 104.
11 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1854, “Baptism Ellenor Walsh,” born 24 December 1856, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 72 of 104.
12Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, 1854, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, “Marriage Thos. Coyle and Jane Park,” 19 February 1857, accessed as browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 7 June 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 66 of 104.
13Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1854, “9th Baptism Helena McGuire,” born 11 December 1853, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 22 of 104.
14Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1858, “Baptism Edward O’Druscol [sic],” born 9 May 1858, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 81 of 104.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 1867.13
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.
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.
3Roman 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.
5 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.
7Roman 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.
9Roman 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.
13Ibid, marriage record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh.
14Fiona Fitzsimons, “Traditional Irish naming patterns,” Find My Past blog, post on 29 November 2018 (https://blog.findmypast.com : 23 April 2019).
15Roman 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”.