A few years ago, I came up with a colorful way to keep track of surnames in my family tree, as well as my progress from year to year. I shared it again on Facebook recently, and a number of people had comments or questions about it, so I thought it might be worth posting here. I used Excel to create the spreadsheet shown below (Figure 1).
Ignore the stars next to some of the surnames for now; I’ll get to those in a minute. First, the chart itself shows the four surnames of my grandparents, highlighted in red, in the first line. My great-grandparents have those same four surnames, plus the additional four surnames shown in orange in the next line. My great-great-grandparents have those same eight surnames, plus the additional eight surnames shown in yellow in the third block, and so on. It can get a little confusing as you get deeper into the tree, making sure you have every branch accounted for. However, the basic concept is that in every generation, you’re adding in just the new maiden names in that generation, to avoid duplication. So, for example, Figure 2 shows the Zieliński branch of my tree, with the generations marked to correspond with those on the chart. At the 4x-great-grandparent level, the chart includes the surnames marked with a star, Panek, Grzelak, Wilczek, and Winnicki. (For Polish surnames which exhibit masculine and feminine forms, I’ve used the masculine form throughout the chart.) The next four surnames in that column—Żala, Warzecha, Gębczyński, and Sasakiewicz—represent the ancestry of my great-grandmother, Genowefa/Genevieve (Klaus) Zielinski.
To keep things neat, I try to line up the “new” maiden names that appear in each generation under the associated names from the previous generation. So, in the above example, Zieliński and Klaus are the surnames of my great-grandparents (red and orange), so Kalota is added in at the top of the next level, followed by Łącki (the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother Klaus). The next line shows the two new maiden names on the Zieliński side, Ciećwierz and Kurowski, followed by the two new maiden names on the Klaus side, Liguz and Ptaszkiewicz.
Headway and Holes
I like displaying the surnames in my family this way because it’s a nice visual summary of all the family lines that come together to create my personal tapestry, and it’s easy to see where the different ethnicities are mixed in. One can tell at a glance, for example, that two of my grandparents were entirely Polish, one was entirely German, and the other (Roberts line) was a mix of German, English, Irish, Scottish, and Alsatian. However, this arrangement also highlights the places where more work is needed. When a woman’s maiden name is not known, it creates a gap in the chart for the next generation. Such a gap exists on my Zazycki line, in the blue, 4xGGP tier.
I recently obtained birth and death records for my great-great-grandmother, Antonina (Naciążek) Zarzycka, identifying her parents as Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska. That surname, Kowalski, filled in the last gap in my great-great-great-grandparents’ tier (green tier). Further research produced the marriage record for Franciszek and Marianna, which should push us back one more generation on the chart. However, the record only identified their parents as Piotr and Małgorzata (__) Naciążek, and Wojciech and Marianna (__) Kowalski. Since no maiden names were indicated for Małgorzata and Marianna, there are two gaps in the chart where their surnames should go. So, the 4xGGP tier contains the four maiden names of my Zazycki/Naciążek ancestors—two known, and two unknown—and the four maiden names of my Grzesiak/Krawczyński ancestors.
It may be obvious now that those stars next to certain surnames in Figure 1 indicate relatively recent discoveries. Specifically, those are new ancestors who have been discovered since the last time I updated this chart, one year ago. They represent breakthroughs on my Murri/Maurer line: my 3x-great-grandfather, Joseph Murri, was the son of Joseph Murri and Magdalena Schmaderer, and my 3x-great-grandmother, Walburga (Maurer) Murri was the daughter of Andreas Maurer (or Mauerer) and Katherina Weidner. Figure 3 shows the newly-added surnames in the 4xGGP and 5xGGP tiers as they appear in a pedigree chart.
In addition to the gap in the blue 4xGGP tier created by the lack of identified surnames on the Naciążek/Kowalski line, there’s another gap of four surnames in the Roberts/Walsh column. The first two lines of that gap exist because I have yet to definitively identify the parents of my 3x-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh. The next two lines of that gap exist because I have similarly failed to identify the parents of my 3x-great-grandfather, Robert Dodds. Thus far, those two have been very tough nuts to crack, but I’m still hopeful that the problems will be solved eventually.
Of course, filling in the gaps in that 5xGGP level is even more challenging, as research questions and obstacles multiply with each new generation. Women’s maiden names are less likely to be included on vital records, so each discovery is more labor-intensive. On some lines, I’ve gotten lucky, and I’ve been able to go back as far as 8x, 9x, or even 10xGGP, with confidence in the conclusions. Any further back, and it’s all speculative or hypothetical, pending further research.
Surnames of My Better Half
After I posted my surname chart on Facebook, one of my friends asked me if I had done the same thing with the surnames on my husband’s side of the family. I hadn’t, but I rectified that situation after her request, and the result is shown in Figure 4. As you can see, I haven’t done as much work on his side of the family. Much of what I do know comes from the efforts of other researchers; namely, Joe Malachowski (Szczepankiewicz family), Mike Kocieniewski (Kantowski/Kąt family), and Anna Kessling (Kessling family). But I guess that’s the nature of genealogy: each of us works on assembling our little bit of the jigsaw puzzle, and we benefit from the progress made by others who collaborate on different parts of the picture.
In any case, it’s clear that I’m making better progress with research into the Skolimowski line than I am with researching my husband’s other family lines, and there’s a good reason for that. Of my husband’s eight ancestral surnames (red and orange tiers), only three of them came from the Russian partition of Poland: the Skolimowski, Majczyk, and Szczepankiewicz families. All the others—Woliński, Bartoszewicz, Lewandowski, Drajem, and Kantowski—were from Prussian Poland. And while I have gotten comfortable with reading vital records in Polish, Russian and Latin, the old German Kurrent script continues to challenge me, so it’s always easy to put that research on the back burner. I keep telling myself that I need to just bite the bullet, put in the time, and gain sufficient familiarity that I can translate vital records for myself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. So, maybe I’ll make some progress with that in 2023.
Additional Tools for Visualizing Gaps
There are other tools out there that can help researchers visualize gaps in their family trees. A really nice example is Johnny Perl’s Tree Completeness Calculator, shown in Figure 5, which is one of many utilities offered at his site, DNA Painter. I believe this is one of the tools available without a subscription, although I find that my subscription to DNA Painter offers tremendous value for the price. To use the Tree Completeness Calculator, simply upload a GEDCOM, and click the button. The tool allows you to view tree completeness up to 18th-great-grandparents, but for my tree, that was overkill.
Once your GEDCOM is uploaded, you can also visualize tree completeness in other ways, such as the fan chart shown in Figure 6.
One drawback to both of these gap visualization methods is that they overestimate tree completeness, since my GEDCOM contains some “hypothetical” ancestors, and also quite a few women whose maiden surnames are not known. For example, this chart, and the one in Figure 5, indicate that all but one of my 64 4x-great-grandparents have been identified, whereas my chart in Figure 1 shows six gaps at that level. That’s because the standard GEDCOM tree completeness calculation considers an ancestor to be “identified” if only a first name is known, so both Małgorzata (__) Naciążęk and Marianna (__) Kowalska are “identified,” along with Christiana (__) Hodgkinson. My GEDCOM also includes three hypothetical ancestors whom I’ve added to my tree while I’m gathering data to test those hypotheses: the parents of Robert Walsh, and the father of Catherine Grant. The only 4xGGP who is truly unidentified, according to the GEDCOM tree completeness calculation, is the mother of Catherine Grant, who is completely blank in my tree, without even a hint of speculation.
Of course, DNA Painter offers a way to rectify this by offering additional “Dimensions” which can be overlaid to the tree. These include aspects such as country of birth, age at death, birth century, and even zodiac sign (western and Chinese), as well as research level. The Research Level dimension adds six levels of ancestral profiles, based on a “level-up challenge” posted by genealogist Yvette Hoitink in a blog post.
And Now a Word from Our Sponsors…
However you choose to visualize gaps in your family tree, it’s a helpful exercise to take stock of those gaps from time to time. But what do you do about those missing branches when you find them? The good news is that there’s hope for all of us: digitization efforts are bringing collections of historical documents from around the world online, offering easy access, and DNA testing is opening doors that were once thought to be permanently closed. Sometimes a fresh outlook is all that’s needed—a willingness to try some new strategies and resources, and an opportunity to brainstorm your brick walls with like-minded genealogists over a cup of coffee.
Where does one go to learn about the latest genealogy methodologies and resources, and hang out with fellow family historians? Why, the 17th New England Regional Genealogical Conference, of course! NERGC is a biennial conference, organized entirely by volunteers, that will take place from May 3–6, 2023, in Springfield, Massachusetts. I’ve been attending and volunteering with NERGC conferences since 2015, and it’s a seriously good time. The 2023 conference will offer over 100 presentations, 7 workshops, a large exhibit hall, special interest group meetings (including Polish/Eastern European), a genealogical Society Fair, and an Ancestors Road Show, where researchers can sign up for free, 20-minute consultations with professional researchers representing a variety of specialties.
The theme for this conference is, “Missing Branches Are Not the End of the Line,” which means that our program committee has selected the presentations with an eye toward helping genealogists break through those brick walls, and fill in those missing branches. I’m excited to be presenting the lecture, “Breaking Through Brick Walls with Cluster Research,” and I’d love to meet some of you there. Conference registration should be opening soon; in the meantime, you can sign up for our Ezine to make sure you don’t miss any news and updates. Happy researching, and I hope to see you in Springfield in May!
I’m savoring a quiet victory today, a victory that comes not from my own efforts, but rather from the magnificent database that is Geneteka. Thanks to this discovery, I’ve been able to add two more generations of Zazycki ancestors to my family tree, and elucidate relationships between Naciążeks found in records from Sochaczew County.
For years, I have been searching for the place of birth, marriage, and death of my great-great-grandmother, Antonina (née Naciążek, Maciążek, or Raciążek) Zarzycka. Thus far, she has been known to me only through the birth, marriage and death records of her 11 children, all of whom were born in the village of Bronisławy in Rybno parish, Sochaczew County. However, it was clear that Antonina herself was from another parish, since her own birth, marriage and death were not recorded in Rybno. The location of that parish, and the identities of her parents, have been a subject of much speculation on my part.
The Naciążek Family of Giżyce and Sochaczew
Through FAN research (described previously), I was able to focus on two nearby parishes which seemed most likely to be Antonina’s place of birth and marriage: Giżyce and Sochaczew. However, I was hampered by major gaps in the indexed records for both parishes. As mentioned previously, “Records for Giżyce are especially limited, since there are no records for this parish in the diocesan archive in Łowicz. Moreover, the only vital records from Giżyce from the relevant time period that are in possession of the state archive in Grodzisk Mazowiecki are from 1810, and 1823–1825, all of which are indexed in Geneteka. This suggests that most of the records for Giżyce are at the parish itself, where they can only be accessed onsite, at the discretion of the parish pastor.”1
The situation for Sochaczew was somewhat better, since indexed birth records from this parish were available to cover the period from 1828–1829, when Antonina was most likely to have been born. Her birth was not recorded in Sochaczew, so I strongly suspected that she was born in Giżyce. Since marriage records were not available from either parish circa 1849, when Antonina married Ignacy Zarzycki, a marriage in either parish, Sochaczew or Giżyce, seemed equally plausible.
FAN research further identified two couples that could hypothetically be Antonina’s parents: Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska, who were married in Sochaczew in 1826, and Mateusz/Maciej Naciążek and Petronella Trawińska, who were the parents of six children whose births and deaths were recorded in Giżyce and Sochaczew between 1824 and 1840. In weighing the evidence for these two couples, I had a slight preference for the hypothesis that Mateusz and Petronella might be Antonina’s parents, because of indirect evidence that their daughter, Florentyna Marianna (Naciążek) Kowalska, was godmother to Antonina’s daughter, Florentyna Zarzycka, born in 1861.
With so much evidence pointing to Giżyce, I hired an onsite researcher to request permission to search in any 19th-century books held by the parish. The parish website states that they only have books since 1945, but it’s been my experience that such statements are not always accurate. Permission was not granted for the research, and the existence of 19th-century parish books was not confirmed. Them’s the breaks, as they say. With no way to confirm Antonina’s place of birth or marriage, the researcher suggested that we attempt to locate her death record in one of the nearby parishes, searching first in available records online, and then, if necessary, moving to onsite research in parishes that were more amenable to it. Knowing only that she died some time between 1904 and circa 1928, this was a daunting task, and one for which I was not able to summon up much enthusiasm, especially in light of all the other genealogical Bright Shiny Objects that were before me. I put Antonina on the back burner, and moved onto other research.
Antonina’s Birth Record
Well, good things come to those who wait. This past week, on a whim, I decided to try another search for Antonina in Geneteka, not really expecting to find anything new. But there it was (Figure 1).
I stared at the screen for several moments. It was almost anticlimactic. Antonina Naciążek was born in 1829 in Giżyce to Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska. She was born in the expected time frame and parish, and to one of the sets of hypothetical parents I’d identified. Hovering over the infodots under the “Remarks” informed me that she was born on 11 June 1829, and that the original record is held by the Archiwum Diecezjalne w Łowiczu (Diocesan Archives in Łowicz). The archives’ online catalog for Giżyce now reports substantial holdings for the parish of Giżyce, which were not there the last time I checked (circa August 2021). So, at some point in the past year, the pastor apparently made the decision to transfer the archival books to the Diocesan Archives for preservation and safekeeping. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a small miracle, and an enormous blessing.
Since the digital image of Antonina’s birth record is only available from the Diocesan Archives, I requested a copy, and am awaiting a reply. However, the next step toward further research has already been taken. I previously obtained a copy of the marriage record for Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska from that archive, based on my interest in them as as potential parents of Antonina. That marriage record is shown in Figure 2.2 At long last, I can add them to my family tree as a new set of great-great-great-grandparents.
The record states,
No. 7. Działo się w Mieście Sochaczewie dnia dwudziestego drugiego Stycznia, Tysiąc Osiemset dwudziestego Szóstego Roku o godzinie drugiej po południu.
Wiadomo czyniemy, że w przytomności Świadków Filipa Janiaka Rolnika lat piędziesiąt, i Piotra Kowalskiego Rolnika lat czterdzieści liczących we wsi Kątach zamieszkałych, na dniu dzisiejszym zawarte zostało religijnie Małżeństwo między Franciszkiem Naciążek, Młodzianem Parobkiem we wsi Giżycach zamieszkałym tamże urodzonym z Piotra i Małgorzaty Małżonków Naciążków, tamże zamieszkałych, lat dwadzieścia mającym, a Panną Maryanną, córką Wojciecha i Maryanny Małżonków Kowalskich w Kątach zamieszkałych lat Szesnaście mającą w Kątach zrodzoną i przy rodzicach zostającą. Małżeństwo to poprzedziły trzy Zapowiedzie w Parafiach Sochaczewskiej i Giżyckiej w dniach ósmym, piętnastym, i dwudziestym drugim Stycznia roku bieżącego jako też zezwolenie ustne obecnych Aktowi Małżeństwa rodziców nowo zaślubionych było Oświadczone. Tamowanie Małżeństwa nie zaszło. Małżonkowie nowi oświadczają, iż nie zawarli umowy przedślubnej.
Akt ten Stawającym i Świadkom przeczytany został, którzy oświadczyli, iż pisać nie umieją.
[Signed] X. Tomasz Kublicki, Proboszcz Sochaczewski.”
No. 7. This happened in the town of Sochaczew on the twenty-second day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred twenty-six, at two o’clock in the afternoon.
We hereby declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Filip Janiak, farmer, age fifty, and Piotr Kowalski, farmer, age forty, residing in the village of Kąty—on this day was contracted a religious marriage between Franciszek Naciążek, a young farmhand residing in the village of Giżyce and likewise born there of the spouses Piotr and Małgorzata Naciążek, likewise residing there; having twenty years of age, and Miss Marianna, daughter of Wojciech and Marianna Kowalski, spouses, residing in Kąty, having sixteen years of age, born in Kąty and living there with her parents. The marriage was preceded by three announcements in the parishes of Sochaczew and Giżyce on the eighth, fifteenth, and twenty-second days of January of the current year, and likewise by the oral consent of the parents of the newlyweds present at the ceremony. There were no impediments to the marriage. The newlyweds declared that they have not made a prenuptial agreement. This Act was read to the witnesses, who declared that they do not know how to write. [Signed] Fr. Tomasz Kublicki, Pastor of Sochaczew”
Franciszek Naciążek’s age at the time of his marriage suggests a birth circa 1805, given that the marriage took place in January, and it’s likely that his birthday had not yet passed. His parents were identified as Piotr and Małgorzata (__) Naciążek—a new set of great-great-great-great-grandparents, woot! The Naciążek family was from Giżyce, and the record suggests that Piotr and Małgorzata were still living at the time of the wedding in 1826. Marianna Kowalska was reported to be the daughter of Wojciech and Marianna (__), born in Kąty circa 1809. Another new set of 4x-great-grandparents! Although there are a number of places called Kąty located in Poland, the particular village of Kąty implied by this record was located in Sochaczew County, and included 18 homes and 208 residents in 1827, the year following Franciszek’s marriage to Marianna.3 Good stuff!
Antonina’s Death Record
The evening’s discoveries did not end there, however. Feeling hopeful, I searched Geneteka again to see if Antonina’s death record had been added within the past year. Sure enough, it had! In this case, a scan was linked to the index entry, and the record is shown in Figure 3.4
The record is in Russian, and in translation, it states,
“No. 1625. Ochota. This happened in Wola parish on the second/fifteenth day of May in the year one thousand nine hundred fifteen at three o’clock during the day. Appeared Karol Zarzycki of Ochota and Wojciech Gornisiewicz of Warszawa, laborers of legal age, and stated, that yesterday at eight o’clock in the evening, Antonina Zarzycka died in Ochota, a widow, eighty-seven years of age, place of birth unknown to those present, daughter of Franciszek and Marianna, the spouses Naciążek. After eyewitness confirmation of the death of Antonina Zarzycka, this Act was read to those present and was signed by Us.”
Every good genealogist knows that sound conclusions require multiple sources of evidence, and nothing definitive can be stated on the basis of one, single document. (For proof of that, consider the question of the identity of my great-great-grandmother, Marianna Krawczyńska, a case discussed previously.) The fact that Antonina’s parents’ names were reported as Franciszek and Marianna, consistent with the birth record, gives me confidence that this information is correct. Antonina’s age in this record suggests a date of birth circa 1828, well within the usual margin of error for accuracy. The fact that she was reported to be a widow was also expected, since her husband, Ignacy, died in 1901.5
I had suspected previously that Antonina might have been living with one of her children when she died, but she had children living in several different towns around Poland, including Warsaw, so there were lots of places to check. Although the record does not specify the relationship, the fact that the witness, Karol Zarzycki, was living in the Ochota district of Warsaw, and that Antonina died in Ochota, strongly suggests that he was her son. Karol was also known to be living in St. Stanisław parish in Warsaw—the same parish where Antonina’s death was recorded—in 1919, when his first wife, Zofia, died.6
Antonina’s Marriage Record
While I wish I could say that I also found Antonina’s marriage record, alas, I did not. However, I am more convinced now than ever before that her marriage to Ignacy Zarzycki probably took place in Sochaczew. The recently indexed records in Geneteka from the parish of Giżyce include marriage records for the entire period from 1827 through 1893, with no gaps. Antonina and Ignacy were married circa 1849, but there is no marriage record for them in Giżyce. However, there is a gap in indexed marriage records from Sochaczew for the period from 1836 through 1861. So, if Antonina and Ignacy were married in Sochaczew, that would explain why their marriage record does not appear in Geneteka.
A marriage in Sochaczew would also fit with the emerging timeline for this family’s history. There is an indexed death record for Antonina’s mother, Marianna (née Kowalska) Naicążek, in Sochaczew in 1844 (Figure 4).
Once again, the information linked to the infodots in the “Remarks” column provides enough information to confirm that this is the correct Marianna Naciążek, prior to requesting a copy of the original from the Diocesan Archive in Łowicz. Marianna was reported to be age 34, her maiden name was Kowalska, her husband was Franciszek, and her precise date of death was 25 March 1844. There is one conflict yet to resolve: Marianna’s mother’s name was recorded here as Katarzyna, rather than Marianna, as it was recorded on her marriage record. Despite this discrepancy, I believe there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the woman described in this death record was Marianna Naciążek, Antonina’s mother. Therefore, we know that the Naciążek family was living in the village of Duranów in Sochaczew parish, approximately five years prior to Antonina’s marriage.
These new records open up a brave, new world of research for me. I’m excited to start asking and answering questions about the Kowalski family and the Naciążek family. Who were Marianna Kowalska’s siblings? Where were her parents born, where did they marry, and where did they die? Was her mother’s name Marianna or Katarzyna? Who were the children of Piotr and Małgorzata? Discovering maiden names for both Małgorzata Naciążek and Wojciech Kowalski’s wife would also be great.
But all those things can wait for another day. Tonight, I’m lifting a glass to my great-great-grandmother, Antonina Naciążek Zarzycka. Until now, she was my closest “brick wall” ancestor. Not anymore.
1Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, “Still Searching For Antonina Naciążek: Some New Insights into Old Data,” From Shepherds and Shoemakers (https://fromshepherdsandshoemakers.com/ : posted 01 March 2019, accessed 27 October 2022).
2 Roman Catholic Church (Sochaczew, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej w Sochaczewie, 1781-1901,” Księga małżeństw, 1826-1842, 1826, no. 7, Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska; Archiwum Diecezjalne w Łowiczu, ul. Stary Rynek 19 A, 99-400, Łowicz, Polska/Poland.
3Filip Sulimierski, et al., Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands] (Warszawa: Nakładem Władysława Walewskiego, 1880-1902), Tom III, 933, “Kąty (7),” DIR—Zasoby Polskie (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/ : 27 October 2022).
4 Roman Catholic Church, Św. Stanisława Parish (Warszawa-Wola, Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland), Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej św. Stanisława w Warszawie (Wola), 1826 – 1942, Unikat akt zgonu parafii św. Stanisława 1915 r. [Unique death certificates of St. Stanislaus Parish, 1915], no. 1625, Antonina Zarzycka; digital image, Metryki.genealodzy.pl : Baza skanów akt metrykalnych (https://metryki.genealodzy.pl/ : 28 October 2022), Zespół: 9179/D- , Jednostka: 591, Katalog: Zgony, plik: 1621-1628.jpg.
5Roman Catholic Church (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie,1886–1908,” Księga zgonów 1886-1903 [Book of Deaths 1886–1903], 1901, no. 44, Ignacy Zarzycki; digital image, Metryki.Genealodzy.pl:Baza skanów akt metrykalnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 28 October 2022), Zespół: 1279d, Jednostka: 350, Katalog: Zgony, plik: 43-46.jpg.
6Roman Catholic Church, Św. Stanisława Parish (Warszawa-Wola, Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej św. Stanisława w Warszawie (Wola), 1826 – 1942,” Unikat akt zgonu parafii sw. Stanislawa 1919 r. [Unique death certificates of St. Stanislaus Parish, 1919], no. 908, Zofia Zarzycka; digital image, Metryki.genealodzy.pl : Baza skanów akt metrykalnych (https://metryki.genealodzy.pl/ : 28 October 2022), Zespół: 9179/D- , Jednostka: 595, Katalog: Zgony, plik: 0905-0912.jpg.
The author wishes to acknowledge the kind assistance of Roman Kałużniacki in proofreading the transcription and translation of the marriage record of Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska.
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!
1Roman 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.
2Ibid.,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.
The longer I research, the more I am convinced of the unstoppable power of cluster research, combined with autosomal DNA testing, when it comes to breaking through genealogical brick walls. Cluster research is also known as FAN research—genealogical research into an ancestor’s friends, associates and neighbors—and this method has proven to be very successful when the paper trail dries up, and historical records cannot be found which offer direct evidence for parentage or place of origin.
Last autumn, this combination helped me break through a long-standing brick wall, and discover the place of origin of my Causin/Cossin ancestors from Pfetterhouse, Alsace, France. Bolstered by that success, I’ve been attempting to utilize that same magic combination of FAN plus DNA research to discover the origins of my Murre/Muri ancestors, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 1869 from somewhere in Bavaria.
From Bavaria to Buffalo: The Joseph Murre Family
Let me start with a brief introduction to my 3x-great-grandparents, Joseph and Walburga (Maurer) Murre. Joseph Murre (or Murrÿ, Muri, Murri, Murrie, etc.) was born circa 1825 in Bavaria, Germany.1 Around 1862, he married Walburga Maurer, who was born circa 1835.2 They had at least three children while in Germany: Maria/Mary Murre, born circa 1863; Anna Murre (my great-great-grandmother), born 27 September 1865; and Johann/John F. Murre, born circa April 1867.3 The Murre family emigrated from the port of Bremen, arriving in New York on 3 April 1869 aboard the SS Hansa.4 Their passenger manifest is shown in Figure 1.
Unfortunately, the manifest does not specify a place of origin beyond simply “Bavaria,” and neither have any other records discovered to date been informative in that regard—including naturalization records and church records, which are so often helpful in identifying an immigrant’s place of origin.
Three more children were born to Joseph and Walburga Murre in Buffalo: Josephine, born in 1869, Alois/Aloysius Joseph, born in 1872, and Frances Walburga, born in 1876.5 Walburga Murre—who became known as Barbara in the U.S.—died on 18 September 1886 and is buried in the United German & French Cemetery in Cheektowaga, New York.6 Her husband, Joseph, was living in the Erie County Almshouse at the time of the 1900 census, and he died in 1905.7 He, too, is buried in the United German & French Cemetery in Cheektowaga, albeit in a different plot from the one where Walburga is buried.
While it would oversimplify the situation considerably to state that this summary is “all” that was known about the Murre/Maurer family, the fact remains that thus far, I have not identified any siblings or parents for either Joseph Murre or Walburga Maurer, nor have I been able to identify their place of origin in Bavaria.
Step 1: Use DNA to Light the Way
When faced with a similar research question for my Causin/Cossin line, I believe I missed an opportunity by failing to exploit genetic genealogy methodology early on in the research. Now that I’m older and wiser, I decided to tackle my Murre/Maurer origins question using genetic genealogy methods right from the start. Specifically, I began by examining the Collins-Leeds Method autoclusters of my Dad’s autosomal DNA matches, gathered from all his Ancestry DNA matches who share between 20 cM (centimorgans, a unit of genetic distance) and 400 cM of DNA with him. These autoclusters are created by the DNAGedcom Client, an app available with a subscription to DNAGedcom. The clusters are displayed in a matrix that resembles the one shown in Figure 2.
At the time I ran this autocluster analysis, Dad had 385 Ancestry DNA matches who met the specified requirements of sharing between 20 and 400 cM DNA with him. So, Figure 2 shows only a portion of the matrix, which is set up as a grid with those 385 names along the top and also along the left side. Those 385 people are organized into clusters based on common ancestry, and Cluster 57, indicated by the red arrow, is the cluster to focus on to start. Clicking the popup box, “View Cluster,” brings up the image shown in Figure 3.
The green tree icon (circled in red) indicates a DNA match with a family tree linked to his or her test results; names of matches (in the “Person” column) have been redacted for privacy. By scrolling down through the list of Ancestors in Cluster, or by examining the trees (when available), I was able to determine that two of these DNA matches are descendants of Josephine (Murre) Hummel—the sister of my great-great-grandmother, Anna (Murre) Boehringer. The third match lacks a family tree, so it’s not immediately clear how we are related; however, these initial findings imply that we must be related through DNA passed down from ancestors of either Joseph Murre or Walburga Maurer.
The fourth member of that Cluster 57, whom I’ll call L.O., is even more interesting, because her family tree indicates that she is the great-granddaughter of German immigrants Frank and Matilda Maurer of Buffalo, New York. L.O. is the DNA match who shares 41.5 cM DNA with my dad, in the list of people in Cluster 57 shown in Figure 3. At this point, I did not have any information on Frank Maurer’s ancestry. But the fact that he shared a surname with Walburga Maurer, combined with the fact that one of his descendants shares DNA with three documented descendants of hers, strongly suggested that (a) Cluster 57 is a Maurer DNA cluster and not a Murre DNA cluster, and (b) Frank must somehow be related to Walburga.
Hoping to gather more data, I examined the Collins-Leeds Method autoclusters that were generated from gathering Dad’s DNA matches who shared between 9 cM and 400 cM DNA with him. By dropping the minimum threshold for inclusion in the analysis all the way down to 9 cM, I picked up DNA matches who are related more distantly, and the total number of individuals included in the analysis jumped from 385 to 1,651. The cluster that contains the same individuals found in Cluster 57 of the previous analysis, is now numbered as Cluster 334, shown in Figure 4.
Examination of the new and improved version of that “Maurer Cluster” (Cluster 334) revealed that there’s some overlap with the adjacent Cluster 335, as well as some other DNA matches (336–342) that are more loosely related, creating a supercluster. That supercluster includes all the greyed-out boxes around Clusters 334 and 335.
Inspection of available family trees for people in the 334–342 supercluster produced the following data (Figure 5):
Shared cM with Dad
Granddaughter of Eleanor Maurer, daughter of Franz Maurer & Matilda Grenz
Great-granddaughter of John J. Maurer, son of Franz Maurer & Matilda Grenz
Grandson of Joseph J. Maurer, son of Franz Maurer & Matilda Grenz
Grandson of John J. Maurer, son of Franz Maurer & Matilda Grenz
Grandson of Eleanor Maurer, daughter of Franz Maurer & Matilda Grenz
Grandson of John J. Maurer, son of Franz Maurer & Matilda Grenz
Figure 5: Summary of DNA and family tree data for DNA matches from supercluster 334–342 whose precise relationship to my Dad has yet to be determined.
The DNA matches summarized in Figure 5 were in addition to other DNA matches from that cluster who were already known to me as descendants of Joseph and Walburga (Maurer) Murre.
Most of these matches are in the 10 cM range, with the outlier being L.O., who shares roughly 42 cM with my dad, and this variability may be due simply to the randomness of DNA inheritance through recombination. However, other possibilities exist, such as the possibility that L.O. shares more than the expected amount of DNA with Dad because she’s also related to him in some other way, besides just the Maurer connection. That’s a question for another day, but in any case, there’s ample DNA evidence here to suggest that the genetic link between my family and all these DNA cousins lies in that Maurer DNA. Nonetheless, the precise relationship between Franz Maurer and my 3x-great-grandmother, Walburga (Maurer) Murre, remains unclear. Were they siblings, or perhaps first cousins? If we hypothesize that Franz and Walburga were siblings, then that would mean that Dad and all these great-grandchildren of Franz Maurer would be third cousins once removed (3C1R). While it’s within the realm of statistical possibility for 3C1R to share only 10 cM DNA, according to data from the Shared cM Project, a more distant relationship between Franz and Walburga is more probable.
Step 2: Research Franz Maurer’s Family in Historical Records
Now that we’ve identified a family of interest, who was Franz Maurer, and what evidence can be found in historical records that might offer some clues for our research question? Preliminary research indicated that Franz/Frank Maurer was born circa 1839 in Bavaria, and was married to Franziska/Frances Geigand in Germany. Figure 6 shows the family in the 1880 census.8
Franz was a carpenter, born in Bavaria, and the couple had two children while in Germany: a son, Alois, born circa 1861, and a daughter, Anna, born about 1865. They immigrated in 1867,9 and settled in Buffalo, New York, in the same parish where my Murre family would settle two years later—St. Boniface, formerly located at 145 Mulberry Street. Church records show that another son, Joseph, was born to Franz and Franziska on 18 August 1867, followed by Michael on 21 July 1869.10 Twin boys, Joannes Aloisius and Franciscus (as they were identified in their Latin baptismal records), were born on 2 February 1872,11 but they both died of smallpox that summer, which also took the life of four-year-old Joseph.12 Another son, Frank, was born on 26 June 1873, followed by Henry on 14 July 1876.13 A daughter, Francisca, born 18 August 1880,14 must also have died in infancy, because she disappears from the records. She is not, however, buried in the same cemetery plot as many of the other Maurer children who died in childhood.
On 15 April 1881, Franziska/Frances Maurer died,15 leaving behind her husband and five living children, ranging in age from about 5 years to 20 years old. Four months later, on 22 August 1881,16 Franz remarried a fellow German immigrant, 33-year-old Franziska (Eppler or Ebler) Schabel, a widow whose previous husband, Frank Schabel, died in April 1880.17 At the time of her remarriage, Frances was the mother of two children, Frank Schabel, Jr. (about age 4), and Rose Schabel, who was barely two years old.18 Although Frank Jr. retained his biological father’s surname, Rose was subsequently known as Rose Maurer, and she identified her father as Francis Maurer—not Schabel—on her marriage record.19 Although Frances was still within her childbearing years when she married Frank Maurer, no children from this marriage have been discovered thus far.
The second Frances Maurer must have died before 1888, because Franz Maurer remarried for the third time on 24 January of that year.20 Oddly, there is no evidence for Frances’ death in the Buffalo, New York, death index 1885–1891. However, there may have been a miscommunication with the civil clerks when the certificate was recorded, because there is a death certificate for a Frank Marer (sic) in that time period, which might be that of Frances, despite the masculine version of the given name.21 (Research is ongoing.)
Franz Maurer’s new bride was 34-year-old Matilda Grenz, another German immigrant, and four children were born to this couple: Joseph, on 15 January 1889; Matilda, on 30 April 1891, John, on 21 December 1892, and Eleanor, on 22 January 1897.22 Franz/Frank Maurer, Sr., died in 1910 and is buried in the United German & French Cemetery.23 In 1924, his wife, Matilda, passed away, and she is buried by his side.24
Step 3: Confirm FAN Club Membership
As expected, evidence from Joseph and Walburga Murre’s FAN club confirms the importance of the Franz Maurer family to my quest for the origins of my Maurer/Murre ancestors. Joseph and Walburga Murre named Franz and Franziska Maurer as godparents to their youngest child, Frances Walburga Murre, whose baptismal record from St. Boniface church is shown in Figure 7.25
Interestingly, for both of their other Buffalo-born children, Josephine and Alois Joseph, they named as godparents Alois Geigand and his wife, Josephine. Josephine Murre’s baptismal record is shown in Figure 8.26
Cemetery data from United German and French Cemetery, where Walburga and Joseph were buried, confirm the close relationship between the Maurer and Geigand families. The lot where Walburga was laid to rest was a large one, with at least 20 burials in it, owned by Alois Geigand and Frank Maurer.27 Of the twenty burials, all but four of them have been identified as descendants of Maurer or Geigand families. (Those remaining four burials may also be related, but currently their connection to these families is unclear.) The 1880 census, shown previously in Figure 6, also illustrates the strong links between the families, since they were living in the same house at 240 Locust Street at that time. A detail from this census is shown in Figure 9.
According to this census, Alois and Josephine Geigand were both 68 years old, which implies that they were born circa 1812. These ages suggest that perhaps they might be the parents of Frances (Geigand) Maurer, and I’m hoping that her burial record from St. Boniface might shed some light on that.
This brings us to the Hamburg emigration manifest for these folks, the document that gives me a glimmer of hope that I might be able to discover the origins of my Maurer/Murre family (Figure 10).28
This manifest is irrefutably the correct one for these families. The names and ages of all passengers line up perfectly with data from U.S. records, confirming that 55-year-old laborer, Alois Geigand (indexed as Geigant), and his 54-year-old wife, Josephine, traveled to the U.S. with their two children, 24-year-old Georg and 17-year-old Walbur (sic), aboard the SS Victoria, departing from Hamburg on 1 May 1867. Traveling with them were the family of Franz (indexed as “Fraz”) Maurer, a 23-year-old carpenter; his wife, Franziska, and two children, Alois and Anna. Their place of origin was indexed by Ancestry as Waldmünchen, Bayern—a town in Bavaria, Germany, that’s barely two miles from the Czech border (Figure 11).
It’s always good to get more than one piece of evidence for place of origin before attempting to dive into records from Europe, and in this case, the emigration register from Mainz, Germany, provided that additional evidence (Figures 12a and b).29
Professional researcher, Marcel Elias, provided the following translation of these entries:
“Nr. 394, 24 April 1867, agent’s name Humann, Schiffsvertrag (a confirmation about booked ticket) from 24 April 1867, Names of emigrants:
Geigant Aloys, 55yo
his wife Josepha, 54 yo,
their son Georg, 24 yo
all from Waldmünchen, Bayern, Auswanderungszeugniss (approval for emigration) from Waldmünchen from 27 March 1867, heading to New York, port of departure Hamburg on April 26
Nr. 395, 24 April 1867, agent’s name Humann, Schiffsvertrag (a confirmation about booked ticket) from 24 April 1867, Names of emigrants:
Maurer, Franz, 28yo
his wife Franziska, 26 (or 28 yo)
children: Alois, 4 ¼
Anna 1 ¼
all from Waldmünchen, Bayern, Auswanderungszeugniss (approval for emigration) from Waldmünchen from 27 March 1867, heading to New York, port of departure Hamburg on April 26″
Observant readers may have noticed that there were other emigrants from Waldmünchen recorded on both the passenger manifest, as well as the emigration register. These other emigrants included group 393, consisting of 30-year-old Maria Maurer and her children, Anna and Johann, as well as 42-year-old Georg Macht. They, too, belong to the Maurer-Geigand FAN Club, and I was not surprised to discover that Maria and Georg were married at St. Boniface on 18 June 1867, less than two months after they arrived in Buffalo.30 Ship-board romance or marriage of convenience? Who knows?
Step 4: Seek Evidence for Murre/Maurer Family in Records from Waldmünchen
Unfortunately, my own ancestors, Joseph and Walburga Murre, were not found in the database of Mainz, Germany, emigration registers, which suggests that they registered in another administrative center. (They also departed from Bremen, rather than Hamburg.) So, these two pieces of evidence—the passenger manifest and the emigration register—are my best hope for tracking down my Murre family. You may also note that Ancestry indexed the last place of residence of the emigrant Maurer-Geigand clan as “Waldmühlen,” rather than “Waldmünchen,” based on the “Wohnort” column. However, the place was clearly recorded as Waldmünchen in the “Legitimationen” column in Figure 12b. This discrepancy might be concerning, apart from the fact that I also happened to find a Buffalo Evening News article from 1933 about the 60th wedding anniversary of Joseph and Anna (Pongratz) Geigand, which states that Joseph Geigand was born in Waldmünchen, Bavaria, Germany, and came to the U.S. in 1871.31 Do I know how Joseph Geigand is related to my family at this point? Heck no. Nonetheless, FAN principles would suggest that he’s got to be a part of the Maurer-Geigand FAN Club, and at this point, that’s good enough for me.
Finding my Murre family in records from Waldmünchen sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s not a slam-dunk. It may be that the Maurers were approximating their place of origin to Waldmünchen, when in fact they were from some smaller village in the vicinity. We won’t know until we try. However, trying is not something I can do on my own. FamilySearch has no scans online for Roman Catholic records from Waldmünchen, nor am I sufficiently proficient in my ability to read German. Church records from Waldmünchen are at the Bischöfliche Zentralarchiv Regensburg (diocesan archive in Regensburg), which is an archive that’s quite familiar to Marcel Elias, the professional researcher I mentioned previously. So, I handed the ball off to Marcel, and I’m awaiting his results with bated breath. Stay tuned.
1 1900 U.S. Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 25, Enumeration District 222, Sheet 2A, Erie County Almshouse, line 16, Joseph Murri; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 July 2022), citing Family History Library microfilm no. 1241033, original data from National Archives and Records Administration publication T623, 1854 rolls.
2 1870 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 7, page 73, family no. 603, Joseph Murri household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 July 2022), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 934 of 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d; Family History Library Film no. 552433.
3 1880 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo city, Enumeration District 147, sheet 12D, family no. 120, Joseph Murry household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 12 July 2022), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 830 of 1,454 rolls, Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29, National Archives, Washington, D.C., Family History microfilm no.1254830; and
New York State Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, Death Certificates, no. 2064, Anna Mertz, 29 March 1936; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York; and
1900 U.S. Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, West Seneca, Enumeration District 264, Sheet 28A, line 10, John Murra in Alois Klug household; digital image, Ancestry (http://search.ancestry.com : 12 July 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, roll 1034 of 1854 rolls, FHL microfilm no. 1241034.
4Manifest, SS Hansa, arriving 3 April 1869, lines 38-42, Muri family; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 July 2022); citing Microfilm Serial M237, 1820-1897; Line 42; List no. 292.
5 St. Boniface Roman Catholic Parish Records,142 Locust St. Buffalo, New York, microfilm publication, 2 rolls (Buffalo & Erie County Public Library : Western New York Genealogical Society, 1982), Roll 1: Baptisms (1849-1912), 1869, no. 542, baptismal record for Josephina Muri; and
Ibid., 1872, no. 977, baptismal record for Aloisius Joseph Muri; and
Ibid., 1876, no. 90, baptismal record for Francisca Walburga Murrÿ.
6 Ibid., 1886, baptisms, no. 124, record for Walburga Barbara Murry. Although it was recorded among the baptisms, the text makes it clear that this is a death record. “Walburga Barb. Murry. no. 124. Die 18a Sept. Walburga Barbara Murri quinqueqinta duos annos nata animam Deo reddidit confesso atque Viatico refecta die 20a b.m. rite sepultum est ejus corpus. Ferdinand Kolb.”; and
United German and French Cemetery Roman Catholic Cemetery, Mount Calvary Cemetery Group (500 Pine Ridge Heritage Boulevard, Cheektowaga, New York) to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Murre/Maurer/Geigand burial data, including record of lot owners for Lot 66, Section S; diagram of plot, and record of burials on lot; burial records for Walburga Barb Murri (1886) and Joseph Murre (1905).
7 Ibid., and
1900 U.S. Census, record for Joseph Murri.
81880 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo city, Enumeration District 147, page 31C, family no. 305, Frank Maurer household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1716337:6742 : 12 July 2022), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 830 of 1,454 rolls, Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
9 Manifest, SS Victoria, departing 1 May 1867 Hamburg to New York, p328, nos. 46-49, Franz Maurer family (indexed as Fraz); imaged as “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 12 July 2022), citing Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Volume: 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 021 A; Page: 327; Microfilm No.: K_1712.
15 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/79956024/franziska-mauerer : accessed 12 July 2022), memorial page for Franziska Mauerer (28 Feb 1838–15 Apr 1881), Find a Grave Memorial ID 79956024, citing United German and French Cemetery, Cheektowaga, Erie County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Phyllis Meyer (contributor 47083260).
171880 U.S. Census, Erie County, New York, mortality schedule, Buffalo city, Enumeration District 141, sheet 1, line 19, Frank Schabel, died April 1880; imaged as “U.S., Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 July 2022), citing New York State Education Department, Office of Cultural Education, Albany, New York; Archive Roll No. M10.
181880 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York population schedule, Buffalo city, Enumeration District 141, Sheet 93A, household no. 249, Francis (sic) Schabel household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 July 2022), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 829 of1,454 rolls.
19Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of Lourdes parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Marriages, 1883-1907,1903, no. 22, Joannes C. Bauer et Rosa K. Maurer, 17 June 1903; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G928-9NHL : 12 July 2022), “Church records, 1850-1924,” Family History Library film no. 1292741/DGS no. 4023115, image 1048 of 1740.
21 City of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, Death Index, 1885-1891, p. 486, Marer, Frank, unknown date (bet. 1885-1891), Vol. 10, p 62; digital image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : 12 July 2022), image 549 of 990.
22 “New York Births and Christenings, 1640-1962”, database, Joseph Maurer, born 15 January 1889; and
“U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 July 2022), Matilda Catherine Maurer, born 30 April 1891, SSN 058342914; and “New York Births and Christenings, 1640-1962”, database, Martinam Maurer, born 30 April 1891. Matilda’s baptismal record identifies her as Martina, with the same date of birth, but I believe they are the same individual.
“New York Births and Christenings, 1640-1962,” database, Johannem Maurer, born 21 December 1892; and
“New York Births and Christenings, 1640-1962”, database, Elleonoram Maurer, born 22 January 1897.
31Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York), 21 April 1933 (Friday), p 21, col 2, “Married 60 Years,” anniversary announcement for Joseph and Anna (Pongratz) Geigand,” digital image, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com/ : 12 July 2022).
2021 is on its way out, and we’re about to get a fresh start with 2022. It’s traditional to reflect on the past year and consider our accomplishments, as well as our goals and resolutions for the new year, and this practice seems to be no less relevant to genealogical research. With that in mind, I’ve been taking stock of my genealogical triumphs and tribulations from 2021, and creating some research resolutions for the new year.
Connecting the Dodds
In 2021, I furthered my understanding of the history of my Dodds family. As of 2020, I had traced the family of Robert and Catherine (Grant) Dodds to 1871, when they were living in Yarmouth township in East Elgin, Ontario. I knew the fates of the parents, Robert and Catherine, after 1871, as well as the fates of their oldest three daughters, Hannah, Isabella, and Margaret. I also knew what became of their youngest two children, Martha Agnes (my great-great-grandmother), and Warner Howard. However, three of their sons—Alexander, John H., and Gilbert M.—disappeared from Canadian records after 1871. Thanks to clues gained from DNA matches, I was able to discover a second marriage which produced two children for Alexander Dodds, prior to his death in Buffalo in 1899. I was also able to discover the record for Gilbert’s death in Buffalo in 1898. Furthermore, DNA was instrumental once again in determining that John H. Dodds migrated to Pennsylvania, where he and Gilbert were working as day laborers in 1880. Although Gilbert eventually moved on to Buffalo, where other family members were also living, John remained in Pennsylvania, married Lena Frazier in 1892, and settled in Pike Township (Potter County) to raise a family.
Archival Acquisitions and Album Assembly
In the spring and early summer, researching my roots gave way to other demands on my time as I dealt with the task of cleaning out my parents’ home in preparation for sale. I’ve been slowly working my way through that pile of boxes in my basement, finding new homes for all their books and furnishings with sentimental value. However, I have yet to start scanning all the family photos and documents which I acquired. Similarly, I’m still chipping away at the process of filling my daughter’s baby album—never mind that she graduated from high school in June. I took a break when I realized that, having waited this long, it makes more sense to do the job right by organizing all the materials first, rather than grabbing the first box of photos from the time of her birth and hoping that additional photos from that era don’t turn up in other boxes. I think if I can get all the family photos and documents scanned and organized, with physical copies stored in archival boxes or albums, and digital images edited to include meta data, I will be satisfied. It may take the rest of my life to accomplish that, but it would mean that my kids could inherit a manageable, accessible family history collection.
Autosomal DNA testing has been a consistent theme in my genealogy research in 2021. DNA Painter has allowed me to coordinate my research across test companies through ongoing development of my ancestral chromosome map. Over the summer, I was able to connect for the first time to living descendants of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras. I was thrilled to be able to add them as a new ancestral couple to my chromosome map, bringing the total to 16 ancestral couples from whom I can now verify my genetic descent. Of course, there are still some ancestral lines where DNA has not yet shed any light, due to a small number of “close” (3rd-5th cousin level) DNA matches. This is often because the families were small, with few living descendants, or because those descendants live in countries such as Poland, where DNA testing is relatively uncommon. Lack of available data on living individuals in Poland—for example, from newspaper obituaries, or public records databases such as we have in the U.S.—makes it difficult to identify living individuals for target testing, but perhaps this can be a focus of my research in 2022.
Honing in on the Hodgkinsons
In October, I spent some time researching my Hodgkinson ancestors, a well-researched family of Canadian Loyalists. I was especially excited to discover a baptismal record for Ellender “Huskinson,” whom I believe to be a previously-unknown daughter of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. I examined a number of hypotheses regarding the origins of the Hodgkinson family, based on assertions made by family trees online, and discovered that these hypotheses ranged from “possibly true,” to “patently false.” I also started some research into the history of Mary Hodgkinson, who was named as godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson, and who was (I believe) a sister to John. I hope to write about this in another blog post early in 2022.
Caus(in) for Celebration
Of course, the biggest discovery of the year for me was the identification of the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts, and their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. This discovery was made through identification of the family’s FANs—specifically, a godmother named Anna Maria Hensy, who was mentioned in the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ—combined with evidence from family trees of DNA matches who descend from that same godmother, Mary Ann/Anna Maria (Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze) Schneider. Even though my process was not perfect, this breakthrough has had a profound impact on my research. Although I haven’t blogged about all the individuals I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result, I can now state definitively that Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York on 14 August 1832 to Joseph Antoine Cossin (“Gosÿ”) and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, who were married in the village of Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, on 8 September 1829. Marie Agathe was the daughter of Dionisÿ Hensÿ and Agnes Antony, while Joseph Antoine was the son of Jakob Cossin and Barbara Maker from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas (or Niedersept, in German). Figure 1 summarizes the ancestors in my direct line that I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result of this breakthrough.
Rounding out the year, I was able to locate some ancestral signatures in Detroit probate records for my Roberts ancestors, Michael Roberts and Frank M. Roberts. I wrote about the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek as a source for vital records, particularly for those with ancestors from the Warmia historical region. Finally, I analyzed Ancestry’s newest ethnicity estimates for a family group (mine!) consisting of four children, their parents, and both sets of grandparents. All in all, 2021 presented ample opportunities for me to do what I love to do: research my family tree using all the tools, technologies, and resources I can muster, discover the stories of my ancestors as told in historical documents, and share my findings.
A Look Ahead
As I think about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year, a few research projects stand out, listed below, in no particular order:
I’d like to continue my research into the Hodgkinson family, both in North America and in England, to see if I can convince myself that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham, Upper Canada were really born in Mansfield, England.
I’d love to be able to leverage DNA and FAN research to identify the parents of Catherine (Grant) Dodds and their place of origin, in the same way that I was able to answer those questions in the case of Mary Magdalene Causin.
I hope to further my research into the Causin/Cossin and Hentzy/Hensy families in records from Haut-Rhin, Alsace.
On my mom’s side, I’d like to resume the search for the elusive Antonina (Naciążek) Zarzycka, my great-great-grandmother, in the hope of being able to find a birth, marriage or death record for her that would reveal her parents’ names. Failing that, I would like to explore alternative historical sources for evidence of her origins, such as Księgi Ludności Stałej (permanent population registers).
I’d love to utilize that same magic combination of FAN plus DNA research to discover the origins of my Murre/Muri ancestors, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 1869 from somewhere in Bavaria.
I’d like to invest more time in learning to decipher German handwriting, and gain proficiency in translating German records, so that I can independently research my German and Alsatian ancestors, as well as my husband’s ancestors who were Poles from the Prussian partition.
This is just a modest sample of my research aspirations. If I ever did manage to succeed in accomplishing each of these goals, I could try to discover the origins in Ireland for my Walsh ancestors, identify the maiden name of Christina Hodgkinson, and plan another trip to Poland for onsite research in the ancestral parish of my Zieliński ancestors. The supply of research questions is endless, as is the fascination that accompanies the search for answers, and the satisfaction when victory is attained. Nonetheless, these six items seem like a good place to start, and I’m itching to get started. So, how about you? What are your genealogical goals, hopes, and dreams for the new year? Whatever they may be, I wish you success, prosperity, and joy in the journey.
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 St. Joseph’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 St. Joseph’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 Agnes (__), 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.
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. [Edit: After further consideration, I believe that the Thos. J. Walsh mentioned in the city directory, living at 34 Lake Avenue, is more likely to be Robert’s son, Thomas, rather than his putative brother, Thomas. Thomas—Robert’s son—was also a tailor who married Edith M. Dewey, and migrated to Buffalo, New York in 1907. However, in 1879, he was still living in St. Catharines. Nonetheless, it is clearly the elder Thomas who is buried in proximity to the graves of Robert and Caroline Walsh/Welch, as discussed below.]
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”.