6 Reasons Why You Should Join a (Polish) Genealogical Society

In January, I started a new term as President of the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State (PGSNYS). I’m excited to be serving in this role, despite the learning curve that comes with any new position. Although my duties as President have cut into my available time for research and writing, I’m rolling up my sleeves and giving it my best effort, because I believe in the work that the PGSNYS is doing.

Some of you may be wondering if there’s still a role for traditional genealogical societies in era of internet genealogy—whether the focus is Polish research, or anything else. I confess that there was a time in my life when I, too, wondered if the success of Facebook genealogy groups might spur the demise of traditional genealogical societies. And don’t misunderstand me; I’m still a fan of Facebook genealogy groups, for all the reasons I wrote about previously. While parts of that post are outdated (Facebook has changed quite a bit since 2016!), Facebook groups continue to be great resource for genealogists. However, I believe that traditional genealogical societies serve as a complement to Facebook groups, offering unique value, and they deserve our support. Here’s what your membership to a genealogical society provides:

Personal Research Assistance

Most genealogical societies offer some form of personal research assistance to their members, in the form of planned outreach events like PGSNYS’s spring and fall Genealogy Fairs, or the upcoming spring conference of the Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts (PGSMA), with the theme, “Whom Do I Ask? Grandma and Grandpa Are Gone.” The genealogical community is typically generous, and most societies have experienced researchers among their members who are willing to offer some guidance for those who are just starting out. Bear in mind that “research guidance” doesn’t mean that the society’s volunteers will create an entire family tree for you, but they can often suggest resources and strategies to help you further your research goals. In some cases, a donation to the society is requested in exchange for simple look-ups, or more in-depth research in local resources, performed by volunteers from the society. The Ontario Genealogical Society is one group whose services I have personally used for onsite research into records pertaining to my ancestors living in the Niagara Peninsula.

Access to the Society’s Newsletter or Journal

Whether it’s Rodziny, published by the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA), the Western New York Genealogist, published by the Western New York Genealogical Society, PGSNYS’ own Searchers, or the scholarly National Genealogical Society Quarterly, most or all genealogical societies offer some form of publication which is a benefit of membership. These publications typically contain articles written by society members about their own family history research, which illustrate their use of methodology and resources. Additional content may include book reviews, research library acquisitions, website tutorials, and news regarding the society’s upcoming events and current projects. Reading about the methods used by other researchers for breaking through their brick walls can give you insight into how to break through some of your own. Sometimes you may even discover articles that pertain to your own family history research, written by distant cousins. Journal and newsletter editors are always looking for new material, so consider writing up a story or two from your own family history research to share with a larger audience.

Since genealogical society publications are such an important resource, it’s worth mentioning that the Allen County Public Library offers a subject index to genealogy and local history periodicals. The Periodical Source Index, or PERSI, can be searched free of charge at the website of the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center (Figure 1). The database currently includes more than 3 million citations, and relevant search results can be ordered from the library. The cost is $7.50 per order form (up to six articles) prepaid, and then 20 cents per page for copying, or free email delivery.

Figure 1: Home page for PERSI at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center website.

Educational Presentations

Genealogical society meetings usually involve a lecture or presentation on some topic related to the group’s focus. During the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic, most societies had to adapt their meetings to a videoconference (Zoom) format. While many of us missed the in-person interactions at society meetings, the switch to videoconferencing offered access to genealogy lectures hosted by societies located all over the globe, for the first time in history. Although the pandemic is largely behind us, videoconferencing is here to stay. Many societies have opted to continue hosting their meetings by Zoom, or to host hybrid meetings, with a speaker presenting for a local, live audience, while simultaneously Zooming the lecture for out-of-area society members or those who prefer to join remotely. This has been a boon for many who are researching Polish ancestors, due to the increased availability of lectures from researchers located in Poland.

The format of educational presentations will vary, and may include a brief business meeting for the host society prior to the lecture. These business meetings can also be informative, as they offer attendees a chance learn about the society’s ongoing projects and upcoming events. Presentations are usually free for members, and sometimes free for the general public, although some societies charge non-members a nominal fee, to help defray the cost of bringing in speakers. Genealogical society lectures are an excellent opportunity to learn about cutting-edge resources and methods in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of internet-driven genealogy. And while the national conferences like the National Genealogical Society (NGS) conference or RootsTech, or regional conferences like NERGC, offer connection with researchers and topics on a large scale, the smaller conferences hosted by organizations such as the Polish Genealogical Societies in Massachusetts (PGSMA), Connecticut (PGSCTNE) and Chicago (PGSA) are an opportunity to focus on ethnic research in those areas where your ancestors lived. Attending a genealogy conference held in a city where your ancestors lived provides an opportunity for onsite research in local libraries, archives, and cemeteries, as well.

Discounts on Society Publications and Services

Some genealogical societies, such as the Polish Genealogical Society of America and the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan, maintain online stores where one can purchase printed books and digital media. Members can log in to get a discount on their purchases. Research services are often discounted for society members as well, and some of the offerings of these local societies are unique and extremely valuable to researchers. PGSA, for example, offers a database for Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) life insurance claims. The PRCUA had branches throughout the U.S. in cities with Polish communities, and the database contains just over 61,000 entries. If you find your ancestor in the database, this is your lucky day, because death claim packets can be genealogical goldmines. Claim packets dated after 1912 usually include a death certificate, as well as the original insurance application, an example of which is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Application for life insurance from the PRCUA for Wojciech Drajem, 6 February 1915. Source: Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, Applicant’s Certificate (Zeznania Kandydata) for Wojciech Drajem, 6 February 1915, claim no. 22169, certificate no. 112904.

This example, which was discovered through the PGSA database, pertains to Wojciech Drajem, a Polish immigrant to Buffalo, New York, and information on just this page includes his date of birth, parents’ given names, approximate ages of his parents at their time of death, number of siblings and their ages and causes of death, health information, address, and a signature. (See here for a discussion of this document in the context of my Drajem research.) This page is just one of the eleven pages contained within his death claim packet. Copies of individual death claim packets are available from PGSA for the modest price of $10 per name for members and $15 for non-members.

Support for Unique, Local, Digitization and Indexing Projects

Opportunities abound for researchers who are willing to volunteer a little time to index or transcribe historical records. While such opportunities exist nationally and internationally, with organizations ranging from FamilySearch and the National Archives to Geneteka, local genealogical societies are often in need of volunteers for indexing as well. Indexing historical record collections from places where your ancestors lived is a great way to immerse yourself in the surnames, pedigrees, and history of those communities. Both PGSNYS and PGSCTNE have ongoing indexing projects for collections such as PGSCTNE’s Polish-American marriage records and anniversary book records, and PGSNYS’s Dziennik dla Wszystkich death notices and funerary prayer cards (obrazki). If you have Polish-American ancestors who settled in these areas, it’s definitely worth a search in these societies’ databases to see if you can find your family there. Figure 3 shows an image of a funerary prayer card for Wojciech Drajem which I recently contributed to the project. Some of the cards in the collection are in Polish, while others are in English. Translation assistance for Polish obrazki and death notices can be found in this guide, prepared by the PGSNYS.

Figure 3a: Image from funerary prayer card (obrazek) for Wojciech Drajem, my husband’s great-great-granduncle (or 3x-great-uncle).
Figure 3b: Funerary prayer card (obrazek) for Wojciech Drajem. This obrazek is part of a collection given to me by my husband’s grandmother.

Buffalo’s Polish-language newspaper, the Dziennik dla Wszystkich [Everybody’s Daily] is a significant source of information about the daily lives of Polish immigrants and first- and second-generation Americans of Polish descent in Western New York. Details about their civic contributions, social and professional lives, and community roles, can help add “flesh” to the “bare bones” of names and dates in our family trees. In order to make the contents of the paper accessible to researchers, PGSNYS went above and beyond the creation of their database of death notices published in the Dziennik, and initiated a project to digitize entire issues of the paper. Images of papers digitized to date have been uploaded to NYS Historic Newspapers, where they are keyword- and surname-searchable by optical character recognition (OCR). Please note that as of this writing, the site seems to be having an issue with the search engine, and searches were returning no results even for words known to be contained within the text. The issue has been reported to the Northern New York Library Network that administers the site, and hopefully it will be fixed soon. In the meantime, issues of the paper can still be browsed, which means that images are available for death notices discovered in a search of the Dziennik database.

Camaraderie with Other Genealogy Fanatics

Let’s face it, genealogy is a passion that not everyone “gets.” Not everyone gets excited about taking photos in a cemetery, or is exhilarated by the discovery of a “new” ancestral village. Lots of folks just don’t care if you’ve discovered a new set of 4x-great-grandparents. Genealogical societies offer a chance for connection with other like-minded individuals, who can celebrate your discoveries with you, and empathize with your frustration about those “brick walls” in your family tree. They may even be able to help you brainstorm some strategies. When you join a genealogical society based in one of your ancestral cities or towns, there’s a good chance that some of the members will share an interest in one or more of your ancestral surnames, in addition to an interest in the local history of that place. You may even discover distant cousins and research collaborators within the membership.

Finally, if you think those genealogical societies are worth your membership dollars, you may also discover that they’re worth your time. I’ve enjoyed collaborating with my colleagues from various genealogical societies over many years, and some of those collaborations have turned into friendships. What’s more, I enjoy the satisfaction that comes from our combined efforts achieving fruition, whether in the form of a successful educational event, or a new contribution to a digital archive or database. So, despite that learning curve with the presidency of PGSNYS, I know I’m not alone. We have a great mixture of experienced, longtime members on our board of directors, as well as some enthusiastic, knowledgeable newcomers, who bring a variety of skills to the table. Together, we’re committed to making the PGSNYS the best that it can be, in service to the Polish-American genealogical community with roots in Western New York.

Check out some of the Polish genealogical societies mentioned here, or these located in Minnesota, Cleveland, Toledo, and Texas. There’s a lot to discover!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2023

The Walsh-Roberts Family Bible

Recently, my aunt Carol (Roberts) Fischer honored me with the gift of becoming the next custodian of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible, preserved in our family since 1884. The Bible is still gorgeous, despite having suffered the ravages of time, and it must have been quite splendid when it was new. Its sheer size—standing at almost four inches tall—and weight have caused the binding to fall apart. Although the front cover has come off, none of the pages are loose. I’m looking into having it rebound in a way that preserves the front and back covers, so it can continue to be enjoyed for the next 140 years.

Flyleaf of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible with inscription. Click image to enlarge.

The inscription on the flyleaf reads, “Martha A. Welch, Her Book, St. Catharines, March 24th, 1884.” I don’t know the possible significance of the date. Martha Agnes (Dodds) Walsh (or Welch) was born 11 March 1859, so perhaps the Bible was a somewhat-belated gift for her 25th birthday. When this Bible was presented to her, Martha would have been a young mother of three little girls: 5-year-old Marion, 3 1/2-year-old Clara Ellen, and 7-month-old Katherine Elizabeth (my great-grandmother).

Martha Agnes (Dodds) Walsh, the original owner of the family Bible.

The Bible features an elaborate presentation page stamped with gold leaf which states, “Presented to Martha Agnes Walsh from Robert Dodds, March 1884. Robert Dodds was Martha’s father—my great-great-great-grandfather—who was born circa 1817 in England, and lived in St. Catharines, Ontario, and Yarmouth (Elgin County) Ontario, prior to his death in 1906. The handwriting on this page is different from the handwriting on the flyleaf, and I would like to think this page was inscribed by Robert Dodds himself, but I doubt it, for reasons I’ll discuss shortly.

Presentation page from family Bible. Click image to enlarge.

Census records described Robert as a Methodist in 1861 and 1881, and as a member of the Church of England in 1871, 1891, and 1901. Martha’s husband, Henry Walsh, was a nominal Roman Catholic, but apparently not practicing. Martha raised their children in the Episcopal faith. It’s unsurprising, then, that Robert selected this translation of the Bible to give to Martha, since it contains the King James version of the New Testament in parallel with the Revised Version.

Title page of the family Bible, published by C.R. Parish & Co., Toronto, Canada, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Click image to enlarge.

The Revised Version of the New Testament was first published in 1881, while the Old Testament and Apocrypha were not published until 1885 and 1894, respectively.1 This explains why the title page specifies, “Revised New Testament,” rather than simply, “Revised Version.”

The Bible is replete with numerous illustrations, such as the ones shown below.

Image, “The “Light of the World,” painted by Holman Hunt; W.G. Jackman, engraver.2 Click image to enlarge.
Illuminated text of the Beatitudes, decorated in gold leaf. Click image to enlarge.
Illuminated text of the Lord’s Prayer, opposite image of the Holy Family, with sheet of onion skin paper still in place to protect the illustration. Click image to enlarge.
“The Holy Family,” painted by F. Ittenbach, engraved and printed by Illman Brothers3. Click image to enlarge.

The Bible also includes some charming and helpful Bible study aids, such as maps, lists of parables and miracles, tables of measures of weights, lengths, coins, etc.; a “Table of Kindred and Affinity forbidden to Marry together,” a “Complete List of the High Priests of the Hebrews,” “Remarkable Rivers and Lakes,” and more.

Also included is a summary of the “Principal Events of the History of the World from A.D. 98 to 1882,” by Rev. William Brown, D.D. I suspect that this is the same Rev. William Brown, D.D. (1766–1835), who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and served as pastor of Eskdalemuir parish in Scotland.4

The Bible has had a few additions inserted between its pages over the years, such as this poplar (?) leaf.

Poplar (?) leaf, inserted into the family Bible. Click image to enlarge.

I wonder if there was some special significance there. Who put it there? Was it Martha, or one of the subsequent owners of the Bible? Was it merely a pretty autumn leaf, whose color has now faded, that was pressed between the pages of the Bible so it could dry flat, or was it from a favorite tree that was meaningful to Martha in some way? Was the leaf inserted into the Bible at random, or deliberately placed at the start of the New Testament?

Genealogical Data from the Walsh-Roberts Family Bible

Of course, an important part of any old family Bible, from a genealogist’s perspective, is the compilation of family births, marriages and deaths that were carefully recorded in its pages, and this Bible does not disappoint. Inserted on a loose card within the Bible is the only marriage record we have for Martha Agnes Dodds and Henry Walsh.

Marriage certificate for Henry Walsh and Martha Agnes Dodds, 22 November 1877. Click image to enlarge.

The certificate states that Henry Welsh [sic] and Martha Agnes Dodds were married on 22 November 1877 at Niagara Suspension Bridge in the State of New York by Jos. L. Bennett, Minister. The two names recorded to the left of his were presumably the witnesses, Mary L. Dier and Jacob A. Gutbrodt. This certificate will be analyzed in greater depth in a future blog post.

In addition to the marriage certificate stored within the pages of the Bible, Martha’s marriage record was also inscribed in a place of honor within the book itself.

Inscription page for the marriage of Martha Agnes Dodds and Henry Walsh

The handwriting on this page, especially the way “Walsh” and “Dodds” are written, appears to be the same as the handwriting on the presentation page of the Bible, which causes me to suspect that it was Martha who inscribed both of these pages, rather than her father, Robert Dodds. It’s also interesting to note that Henry’s name was spelled “Walsh,” here, rather than “Welsh,” which was the spelling used on the certificate. The place of marriage was noted to be Niagara Falls, rather than the older designation, “Suspension Bridge, New York,”

A certificate of marriage for Martha’s daughter, Katherine Walsh, to John Frank Roberts (recorded as Frank John) was similarly preserved within the pages of the Bible.

Certificate of marriage for John Frank (aka Frank John) Roberts and Katr Walsh, 10 June 1903.

According to this certificate, Frank John Roberts and Katherine (abbreviated as Katr) Walsh of Buffalo, New York, were married by Albert L. Grein, the pastor of Pilgrim Church, on 10 June 1903. The witnesses to the marriage were Frances Hurst and Edward Doersam. This may be the only record of this marriage that exists; I wrote to Pilgrim Congregational Church (currently know as Pilgrim-St. Luke’s United Church of Christ)5 back in September 2020 to see if they had a copy of the marriage record, and was informed that they have no records dating back that far, and that it was probably “in the records we lost in one of the two electrical fires we’ve had over the years.” 6

While we don’t have a wedding photo of John Frank Roberts and Katherine Walsh, we do have one photo of them, taken at about the same time.

John Frank (aka Frank John) and Katherine Elizabeth (Walsh) Roberts, circa 1903.

There is also this portrait taken to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1953.

John Frank (aka Frank John) and Katherine Elizabeth (Walsh) Roberts, 50th wedding anniversary photo, 1953.

In addition to the two loose marriage certificates that were kept with the Bible, the Bible contained pages for Births, Marriages, Deaths, and Memoranda.

Inscription pages for births and deaths in the Walsh-Roberts family. Click image to enlarge.

The dates of birth for all of Martha’s ten children were recorded, although the identical ink used in each entry suggests that they may have been inscribed all at the same time, rather than being inscribed individually when each child was born. Henry and Martha’s own birth dates finish the list. I’m especially fond of the unusual spelling of Katherine Walsh’s name that her mother used, “Catheryne,” which would not be out of place in our modern era. Although the Henry and Martha Walsh and their oldest four children were born in St. Catharines, the family migrated to Buffalo, New York in 1887, where all of the younger children were born, beginning with Agnes.

The deaths inscribed in the Bible seem to have been filled in closer to the time of each event, as evidenced by the different handwritings and inks. After Martha Walsh died in 1935, the Bible passed into the hands of her daughter, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts. The latest event recorded was the death of Clara B. (Walsh) Ulrich in 1960.

The inscription page for marriages is shown below.

Inscription page for marriages in the Walsh-Roberts family. Click image to enlarge.

The first two marriages seem to have been inscribed at the same time as the births, since the ink and handwriting are the same. I’m amused by the fact that the grooms’ names were apparently an afterthought, inserted in a different handwriting made subsequent to the original entry.

The Bible also contains a page of memoranda, which include entries about world events that Martha or Katherine presumably considered to be significant, such as the Pan American Exposition,7 held in Buffalo in 1901; the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1903 (formally known as the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition8 and held in 1904), and the “San Francis. Fair,” (Panama-Pacific International Exposition)9 held in 1915. In addition to these events, there is the curious note, “Stewart at 13 mts. (^on the table) could kick his left hind leg.” It’s unclear exactly what was meant by this, and in a spirit of charity, I’ve been trying to avoid dwelling on the implications of this statement for Uncle Stewart’s motor development or physical appearance. In any case, these memoranda certainly add to the unique charm and character of this family Bible.

Memoranda page from the Walsh-Roberts family Bible. Click image to enlarge.

Last, but certainly not least, are several pages of family photos at the end of the Bible.

First page of snapshots from the Walsh-Roberts family Bible. Top left photo, Cathlyn Roberts and William Roberts, the youngest two children of Frank (aka John Frank) and Katherine Roberts. Top right photo, Harry W. Roberts (Frank and Katherine’s third son). Bottom right photo, unknown. Click image to enlarge.
Second and third pages of snapshots from the Walsh-Roberts family Bible. Left page, top left: Frank A. Roberts (Frank and Katherine’s oldest son). Left page, top right: unknown. Right page, top right: unknown. Right page, lower left, Frank, Fred, Harry, and Cathlyn Roberts (oldest four of Frank and Katherine Roberts’ children). Right page, lower right: Frank (aka John Frank) Roberts with his second son, Fred. Click image to enlarge.
Final page of snapshots from the Walsh-Roberts family Bible. Top left, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts with Frank and Fred (her oldest two sons). Top right, unknown. Bottom left, Donna Roberts circa 1933 (Frank and Katherine’s granddaughter, only child of Frank and Annabelle (Walquist) Roberts. Bottom right, Frank, Fred, Harry, and Cathlyn Roberts (Frank and Katherine Roberts’ oldest four children).

Aunt Carol was able to identify the individuals in most of these photos for me, and her notes are provided in the captions.

Katherine Roberts was, by all accounts, a loving grandmother who doted on her grandchildren. She is shown below in the summer of 1942 with five of those grandchildren, and a sixth in the portrait on the wall behind her

Katherine (Walsh) Roberts with her grandchildren (not identified individually to protect the privacy of the living).

Katherine passed her family Bible to her daughter, Cathlyn Roberts, who, in turn, passed it down to Aunt Carol (her niece), since Aunt Carol had established herself by that point as the family historian for her generation. I’m honored and delighted to be the next caretaker of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible, with all its precious inscriptions, photos, and certificates, that serve to document our family’s history.


Featured image: Cover of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible.

1 “Revised Version,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Version : 16 November 2022).

2 “William Holman Hunt,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Holman_Hunt : 16 November 2022); and

“Category:Engravings by William G. Jackman,” Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Engravings_by_William_G._Jackman : 16 November 2022).

3 “Franz Ittenbach,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Ittenbach : 16 November 2022); and

“Biography of Illman Brothers (XIX),” ArtPrice.com: The World Leader in Art Market Information (https://www.artprice.com/artist/196973/illman-brothers/biography : 16 November 2022).

4 William Brown, D.D., Minister of Eskdalemuir, Antiquities of the Jews, Carefully Compiles from Authentic Sources and Their Customs Illustrated from Modern Travels, in Two Volumes, Volume I (London: Rodwell and Martin, 1820); e-book, Google Books (https://books.google.com/ : 16 November 2022); and

The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, “Parish of Eskdalemuir,” Gazetteer for Scotland (https://www.scottish-places.info/parishes/parhistory988.html : 16 November 2022).

5“Pilgrim St. Luke’s UCC,” (https://pilgrimstlukes.org/ : 16 November 2022).

6 Marianne Rathman, Buffalo, New York, to Julie Szczepankiewicz, email, 8 September 2020, “Re: Church Records,” Roberts research files, privately held by Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

7 “Pan-American Exposition,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan-American_Exposition : 16 November 2022).

8 “Louisiana Purchase Exposition,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Purchase_Exposition : 16 November 2022).

9 “Panama-Pacific International Exposition,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama%E2%80%93Pacific_International_Exposition : 16 November 2022).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Which Welches Are Which?

Genealogy research is fundamentally about resolving questions of identity and pedigree, and those questions proliferate when researching ancestors with popular surnames. When there were two or more individuals the same name living in the same area, at the same time, it can be challenging to sort out historical records. However, indirect evidence can often help us fill in the blanks, which was the case for me recently, as I sorted out some newspaper birth and death notices for my Walsh/Welch/Welsh family.

The Thomas Welch Family of St. Catharines, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York

My great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Elizabeth (Hodgkinson) Walsh, had eight children, the seventh of whom was their son, Thomas John Walsh. Thomas John Walsh was born 10 February 1859 in St. Catharines, Ontario, and was baptized as John Walsh on 13 March 1859 at the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria.1 Thomas J. Walsh (or Welsh, or Welch) married Edith M. Dewey, and although no record of their marriage has been discovered, we can surmise that they married circa 1893 based on information found in the 1930 U.S. census (Figure 1).2

Figure 1: 1930 census showing the family of Thomas J. Welch in Buffalo, New York. Click image to enlarge.

Like many of the other Walsh siblings, Thomas was predominantly recorded under the “Welch” surname variant in his later years, and like them, he also migrated from St. Catharines to Buffalo, New York. So, it was not unexpected to find Thomas recorded in the 1930 census in Buffalo under the name Thomas J. Welch. As shown in Figure 1, the small household consisted of Thomas and his wife, Edith, plus one daughter—24-year-old Nellie Welch—and a boarder, Louis Runzer.

The 1930 census is unique in that it asked individuals to state their age at first marriage (Column 15), and Thomas was recorded as having been married at the age of 33, while Edith was recorded as having married at 23. Based on their respective ages in 1930 (70 years for Thomas and 60 for Edith), we can estimate that they married circa 1893. Earlier census records, e.g. in 19013 and 1915,4 similarly make no mention of children other than Nellie. Small families were rare in that time period, which suggests that Thomas and Edith may have had additional children who died in infancy or early childhood.

Three “New” Welches

I found evidence in newspapers for three more children who were previously unknown: Edith Margaret Welch, Mary Verna Welch, and an unnamed Welch son. Figure 2 shows the death notice published in the St. Catharines Standard for Edith M. Welch.5

Figure 2: Death notice for Edith M. Welch, daughter of Thomas J. and Edith Welch. Transcription: “WELCH—In this city, on Wednesday, March 21, 2906, Edith M., daughter of Thomas J. and Edith Welch.”

Note that this death notice is not currently available online at Newspapers.com; this was found through a search in the Local Names Index database of the St. Catharines Public Library, which then provided a copy of the notice for me from microfilm in their collection. (Gems such as that Local Names Index are a great reason to check out the resources of the public library in each town where your ancestors lived.) The death notice specifies that the deceased, Edith M. Welch, was the daughter of Thomas J. Welch and Edith Welch. Since the mother’s name was also stated, it’s probable that Edith M. was a daughter of “my” Thomas Walsh/Welsh/Welch, rather that some other Thomas Welch who might have been living in St. Catharines concurrently.

A corresponding death certificate (Figure 3) further identifies the little girl as Edith Margaret Welch, and informs us that she was 2 years and 4 months old at the time of death, suggesting a date of birth around November 1903.6

Figure 3: Death certificate for Edith Margaret Welch, who died in St. Catharines, Ontario, on 21 March 1906. Click image to enlarge.

Although the death certificate does not state parents’ names, the family’s religion—Roman Catholic— is consistent with existing evidence for the Walsh/Welch family. The family’s residence was noted to be on King Street. Edith Margaret’s baptismal record (Figure 4) confirmed parents’ names as Thomas Welch and Edith Dewey, providing direct evidence that she was, in fact, one of “my” Walsh/Welches.7

Figure 4: Baptismal record from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, Ontario, for Edith Margaret Welch, born 25 November 1903. Click image to enlarge.

The baptismal record further states that Edith Margaret was born in Buffalo, New York, on 25 November 1903 and baptized by Rev. Denis Morris on 28 February 1904. Only one godparent, Mrs. Hugh Malloy, was noted.

The Other Thomas Welch

The next two newspaper records I discovered were a little harder to place, since they did not identify the child’s mother in either case. On 14 September 1906, the St. Catharines Standard reported that 3-month-old Mary Verna Welch had died the previous day from cholera infantum (Figure 5).8

Figure 5: Death notice for Mary Verna Welch, 3-month-old infant daughter of Thomas Welch.

Additionally, on 15 July 1908, the St. Catharines Standard reported that a baby boy was born to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Welch of Lake Street on 14 July 1908 (Figure 6).9

Figure 6: Birth notice for the unnamed son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Welch of Lake Street.

I always associate Lake Street with my Walshes, since I had evidence from city directories that my Walsh family was living there in 1874 and 1879, and in 1885, based on parish census records.10 So, my first thought was that this Thomas Welch family might be “mine.” However, a search of the 1911 census for Thomas Welch revealed a different Thomas Welch family, living at 63 Queen Street (which intersects Lake Street) in St. Catharines at that time, with wife Anna and five children (Figure 7).11

Figure 7: 1911 census showing the family of Thomas and Anna Welch of St. Catharines. Click image to enlarge.

The youngest of Thomas and Anna Welch’s five children was a son named Michael, born in July 1908. This corresponds well with the date of the newspaper birth announcement, implying that the child whose birth was announced was Michael Welch, son of Thomas and Anna. Moreover, census data indicate that the family of Thomas and Edith Welch migrated to the U.S. circa 1906–1907, prior to the birth of this child in 1908.12 All these data combine to suggest that the Welch baby in the newspaper birth announcement is not the son of Thomas and Edith, and therefore is not relevant to my research.

But what about Mary Verna? Her age suggests that she was born about June 1906, just three months after Edith Margaret died. Was she actually Edith Margaret’s sister, or could this have been another child of the other Thomas Welch? A birth in 1906 would place her neatly between the births of Thomas and Anna Welch’s daughter, Marguerite, in 1904, and Michael in 1908. Granted, they already had a daughter named Mary, but if they intended to call this daughter “Verna,” it may have been that the name “Mary” was tacked on at baptism. (Catholic tradition prefers that a child is named for a saint, so it sometimes happened that the priest would add on a saint’s name at baptism—often Mary or Joseph—in cases where the parents preferred another name for the child.)

A burial record for Mary Verna might identify her parents. The death noticed mentioned “Rev. Dean Morris” who conducted Mary Verna’s burial service, and it was this same priest, the Reverend Dean Denis Morris, pastor of the parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, who baptized Edith Margaret Welch.13 Unfortunately, church burial records for this parish are not available online, so it’s not possible to use those to quickly confirm the names of Mary Verna’s parents. Moreover, although baptismal records from St. Catherine of Alexandria are online, no baptismal record was found for her. The information needed to assign Mary Verna to one of the Thomas Welch families was found in her death certificate, however (Figure 8).14

Figure 8: Death certificate for Mary Verna Welch, 13 September 1906.

Although the death certificate did not identify Mary Verna’s parents, it stated that her residence at the time of death was on King Street. You may recall from Figure 3 that King Street was noted to be the residence of the Thomas and Edith Welch family in 1906, when Edith Margaret Welch died. Based on this information, I believe that Mary Verna Welch was the daughter of Thomas and Edith (Dewey) Welch, and not Thomas and Anna Welch.

Indirect evidence can help us to fill in the blanks, and permit at least a tentative placement of an individual within a family tree. However, it’s important to keep an open mind, and be willing to revise conclusions as necessary if new evidence is eventually discovered. Further research in church records from Buffalo may turn up baptismal records for Mary Verna Welch and Nellie Welch—whose baptismal record is also absent from the records of St. Catherine’s—which would likely offer direct evidence for Mary Verna’s parents. Obviously, I would expect such evidence to be consistent with my present hypothesis, that Mary Verna was the daughter of Thomas and Edith (Dewey) Welch. But if I’m wrong, it would not be the first time I’ve had to go back to the drawing board and revise a hypothesis. To quote my former undergraduate research mentor, “Keep gathering data, and truth will emerge!”


1 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1859, baptismal record for John Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 12 October 2022), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 88 of 104. “

2 1930 United States Federal Census, Erie County population schedule, Buffalo Ward 26, Enumeration District 333, Sheet 18B, family no. 314, Thomas J. Welch household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 October 2022), citing United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls, no specific roll cited; FHL microfilm no. 2341168.

3 1901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln and Niagara District no. 85, St. Catharines City Sub-district K, Division no. 2, Sheet no. 4, family no. 35, Thos. Welsh household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 12 October 2022), citing microfilm T-6480, RG31 – Statistics Canada, Item no. 3598169, Image no. z000079736.

4 1915 New York State Census, Erie County population schedule, Buffalo Ward 23, Assembly District 02, Election District 01, page 19, lines 12-35, Thos. J. Welch household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 12 October 2022); citing state population census schedules, 1915, New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

5 St. Catharines Standard (St. Catharines, Ontario), 22 March 1906, p 3, death notice for Edith M. Welch; image from microfilm, St. Catharines Public Library, Special Collections, 54 Church Street, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

6 “Ontario, Canada, Deaths and Deaths Overseas, 1869-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 12 October 2022), Edith Margaret Welch, died 21 March 1906, citing St. Catharines, Lincoln, Ontario, yr 1906 certificate no. 017490, Registrar General; Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,854,401.

7 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Baptisms, 1860-1906, p 169, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Edith Margaret Welch, born 25 November 1903; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 12 October 2022), FHL film no. 1309899/DGS no. 5107195, image 171 of 177.

8 St. Catharines Standard (St. Catharines, Ontario),14 September 1906 (Friday), p 4, col. 3, death notice for Mary Verna Welch; digital image, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : 12 October 2022).

9 Ibid.,15 July 1908 (Friday), p 3, col. 5, birth notice for unnamed son of Thomas Welch; digital image, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : 12 October 2022).

10 J. Horwitz (compiler), St. Catharines general and business directory… also, a business directory of the villages of Thorold and Merritton (St. Catharines: Holmes’ Excelsior Printing House, 1874), p 98, Welsh, Robert, tailor, 34 Lake Street; PDF download, Toronto Public Library Digital Archive (https://digitalarchive.tpl.ca/objects/355332/st-catharines-general-and-business-directory-also-a-bus# : 13 October 2022), image 100 of 170.

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, Welch, J.G.; Welch, Robert; Welch, Robert Jr.; and Welch, Thos. J,, accessed as browsable images, “Canadian Directories Collection,” Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 12 October 2022), path: Southwestern Ontario Counties > Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879 > e010780629_p3.pdf, page 23 of 28; and

Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada), Parish Census 1885-86 (Liber Status Animarum), p. 18, Mrs. Walsh household on Lake Street; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 12 October 2022), path: “Canada, Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” > Lincoln > St. Catherines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Censuses 1885–1886 > image 19 of 116.

111911 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln District no. 93, St. Catharines City Sub-district no. 39 (St. Andrews Ward), Sheet no. 5, family no. 58, Thomas Welch household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 12 October 2022), citing microfilm T-20383, RG31—Statistics Canada, item no. 6330696, image no. e002000645.

12 1915 New York State census; 1930 United States Federal Census. See footnotes 4 and 2.

13 “History of the Knights and Council 1394,” Knights of Columbus Council 1394, 235 Church Street, St. Catharines, Ontario, K of C Council 1394 (http://www.kofccouncil1394.org/history.htm : 12 October 2022).

14 “Canada, Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ : 12 October 2022), Mary Verna Welch, 13 Sep 1906; citing St Catharines, Lincoln, Ontario, yr 1906, certificate no. 17594, Registrar General, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,854,401.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

McNamara’s Band: A Closer Look at Some of the Walshes’ FANs

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

Figure 1: Marriage record for Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, Ontario, 9 May 1861. Click image to enlarge.
Figure 2: Marriage record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, Ontario, 8 August 1867. Click image to enlarge.

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!

Figure 3: Photo showing the location of the grave marker for Maria McNamara (blue arrow), relative to the graves of Robert, Elizbeth and Joseph P. Walsh (red arrow); Mary Ann Walsh (Robert and Elizabeth’s daughter, yellow arrow), and Nellie Welch DeVere (Robert and Elizabeth’s daughter, purple arrow), all in Section C, Division 61 of Victoria Lawn Cemetery. Photo taken by the author.

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

Figure 4: Plot owner card from Victoria Lawn Cemetery for Old Section C, Division 61, Lot 1, owned by Robert Welch of 44 Welland Avenue West in the city of St. Catharines.

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).

Figure 5: Marriage record for John McNamara and Margaret (Battle) McBride from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, 25 November 1854. Click image to enlarge. The record states, “42nd marriage. John McNamara and Margaret Battle. Married Nov’r 23rd. John McNamara Son to Timothy and Catharine Soulivan, native of Kieluran Co. Clare Ireland And Margaret Battle widow by her first marriage to Wm. McBride and native of the Co. Sligo Ireland with all the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church and in presence of John Battle, John Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Battle. by B. Gratton, R.C. P. St. Catharines.”

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).

Figure 6: Baptismal record for Elizabeth Walsh from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, 11 June 1854. Click image to enlarge. The record states, “”88th Bapt. Elizabeth Walsh. Baptized June 11th Elizabeth born the 21th of May last to Robert Walsh and Elizabeth Hutchkison. Sponsors Jn. Fitzgerald and Margaret Batle or McBride by B. Grattan, R.C.G. St. Catharines.”

So, to recap, Robert and Elizabeth Walsh named Margaret (Battle) McBride as godmother to their daughter, Elizabeth, in June of 1854. In November of that same year, Margaret married John McNamara. In 1867, John’s younger brother, Patrick, married Robert’s younger (hypothetical) sister, Maria Walsh. Moreover, it’s probably no coincidence that the name John Fitzgerald was mentioned in both records, as a witness to the marriage of John McNamara and Margaret McBride, and also as godfather to Elizabeth Walsh. This places him, along with the McNamaras and Margaret Battle McBride, squarely within the Walshes’ FAN network. All of them will merit further investigation.

John McNamara’s place of origin, “Kieluran” in County Clare, suggests the location of Kelluran, which is a civil parish located in County Clare. While it’s a safe assumption that his brother, Patrick McNamara, was from the same place, can we then suppose that this might be the Walsh family’s place of origin as well? We can hope, but I think it’s a bit of a long shot, since I have not been able to discern a pattern of Irish immigrants in St. Catharines seeking to marry other immigrants from the same part of Ireland. This is evidenced by the fact that Margaret Battle herself was from a different county (Sligo) than her husband. Nonetheless, understanding the social network of brick-wall ancestors is the first step toward discovering the elusive origins of those ancestors.

Robert, Thomas, and Maria Walsh did not exist in a vacuum; they migrated along the same paths that others blazed before them. If I can discover common migration patterns among members of the Walshes’ FAN club, it just might lead me back to their roots in Ireland. And maybe that will be faster than sifting through every parish in Ireland where the surnames Walsh and Cavanagh coexist!


1 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, 1861, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, record for Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin, 9 May 1861, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 8 September 2022), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 9 of 48.

2 Ibid.,1867, record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh, 6 August 1867, image 18 of 48.

3“Headstones,” database, Canadian Headstones (https://canadianheadstones.ca/ : 8 September 2022), Maria McNamara/Wife of P. McNamara/Died Dec. 3, 1887/ In her 59th year/[Verse, illegible]/McNAMARA; citing Victoria Lawn Cemetery marker, Niagara (Lincoln & Welland Counties), Ontario.

4 Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada), “Plot Owner Cards”, Cards for Robert Welch, 44 Welland Avenue West, for Section C, Division 61, Lot 1; Section C, Division 61, Lots E 1/2 – 4; Section H, Division 19, Lots E 1/2 – 2; images courtesy of Jo-Anne Trousdale, researcher, Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society; and

Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada) to Julie Szczepankiewicz, email regarding burial location of Marie (sic) McNamara, who was interred in 1887, in Section C, Division 61, Lot 1.

5 Jo-Anne Trousdale, St. Catharines, Ontario, research report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, “19-14 Szczepankiewicz Re Robert Walsh,” 18 May 2019, personally held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

6 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860, 1854, unnumbered pages, marriage no. 42, John McNamara and Margaret Battle, 23 November 1854, browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 8 September 2022), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 36 of 104.

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Whatever Happened to Mary Murri?

I’ve been on a roll lately with research into my Bavarian Murri ancestors, who settled in Buffalo, New York. Recently, I was able to confirm a hypothesis, generated through genetic genealogy and cluster research (also known as FAN research), that they originated in the town of Waldmünchen. I was also able to find an answer to the question of what happened to Mary Murri, Joseph and Walburga (Maurer) Murri’s oldest daughter, which is my topic for today.

Mary Murri of Waldmünchen, Bavaria, and Buffalo, New York

Mary Murri was born on 16 September 1863 in Waldmünchen in the Kingdom of Bavaria to Joseph and Walburga (Maurer or Mauerer) Murri.1 At the age of five, she immigrated to Buffalo, New York, with her parents, arriving in the port of New York on 3 April 1869.2 The 1880 census shows her living with her family (Figure 1).3

Figure 1: Mary Murry (sic) in the family of Joseph and Walburga Murry, living at 309 North Street in Buffalo, New York, in 1880. Click image to enlarge.

In 1880, the Murri family was living at 309 North Street in Buffalo. Joseph, age 53 years, was supporting the family as a laborer, while Walburga was keeping the home, and the children were at school. Mary was reported to be 16 years of age, and her occupation appears to be “At: Servace,” which might suggest that she was employed in servitude, e.g. as a housekeeper. On 21 January 1884, she married Christian Leonard, a discovery made by my Aunt Carol when she obtained Christian and Mary’s civil marriage record.4 However, after the marriage, the Leonard family seemed to disappear. They were not found in the 1900 U.S. census, nor were there any promising matches for them in the 1892 census for New York State, living anywhere in Western New York. Leonard is a common surname, and it was easy to drop this pursuit in favor of easier targets—until now.

DNA Lights the Way, Yet Again

As I reported previously, in recent weeks, I’ve been examining clusters of autosomal DNA matches, looking for leads that would help me connect to earlier generations of my Murri/Maurer family. Figure 2 shows a portion of my dad’s autocluster matrix, generated by DNAGedcom, based on Ancestry DNA matches who share between 9 and 400 centimorgans (cM, a unit of genetic distance) with him. The supercluster outlined in yellow, containing the dark green cluster (334), the red cluster (335) and related matches, is the same one previously assigned to documented Maurer descendants. The boxes that are colored gray, with greenish tops and pinkish bottoms, located in the column above the green arrow, represent comparisons between one particular DNA match, whom I’ll call Donna (not her real name) with two other matches in that cluster. It was Donna’s tree that led me to discover what happened to Mary (Murri) Leonard.

Figure 2: Portion of Dad’s autosomal DNA autocluster matrix, generated by DNAGedom based on Ancestry DNA matches who share between 9 cM and 400 cM DNA with Dad. The supercluster outlined in yellow has been found to include documented Maurer/Mauerer descendants. The colored boxes above the green arrow represent comparisons between a particular DNA match, J.P., and two other matches in that cluster.

Donna’s public tree, linked to her DNA results, indicated that she was a granddaughter of William Jack Lenhardt, who was born and died in Canada. William’s wife was also Canadian, and in fact, every non-privatized individual in the limited tree was from Canada. That threw me at first. Examining this match outside the context of shared matches, I assumed that we must be related through one of Dad’s Canadian ancestral lines, such as Walsh, Dodds, Hodgkinson, etc. So how could Donna be part of a supercluster of DNA matches who share common Maurer ancestry?

That’s when it hit me. Lenhardt = Leonard! Christian and Mary Leonard must have moved to Canada!

Filling in the Blanks

My focus turned to the connection between William Jack Lenhardt and Mary Murri Leonard. Although Donna’s tree lacked evidence for William Jack Lenhardt’s parents or grandparents, a search on Ancestry pointed me to a different family tree—one among many—which identified William John “Jack” Lenhardt as the son of Michael Lawrence Lenhardt and Henrietta Agnes Henderson.5 Further searches for Michael put all the pieces into place. His marriage record identified his parents as Christian Lenhardt and Mary Murray (Figure 3), a deceptive spelling which turned a Bavarian surname into something decidedly Irish-sounding.6

Figure 3: Marriage record for Michael Lawrence Lenhardt and Henrietta Agnes Henderson, who were married in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 25 October 1919. The names of the groom’s parents are boxed in red. Click image to enlarge.

The groom’s age, 27, suggests a birth year circa 1892 rather than 1894, but he may have fudged that a bit. His religion was reported as Methodist, rather than Roman Catholic, but despite these minor discrepancies, the evidence from this marriage record supports the DNA evidence tying the Christian Lenhardt family of Toronto to Mary Murri Leonard of Buffalo, New York.

Although a number of family trees cite Michael’s date of birth as 8 June 1894, his baptismal record, shown in Figure 4, confirms that he was baptized in the Roman Catholic faith at St. Basil’s in Toronto on 24 June 1894, and that he was born in Toronto on 26 May 1894.7

Figure 4: Baptismal record from St. Basil’s Roman Catholic church, Toronto, Ontario, for Michael Lenhardt, born 26 May 1894. Click image to enlarge.

According to this record, Michael’s parents were Christopher (sic) Lenhardt and Mary Muri, both born in Germany. Only one godparent was identified, whose name looks like M. J. Crotter.

Mary Lenhardt’s own death record adds to the growing body of evidence that she is the same as Mary Murri Leonard of Buffalo, New York (Figure 5).8

Figure 5: Death certificate for Mary Lenhardt, 13 July 1929. Click image to enlarge.

According to this document, Mary was living at 70 Shaftesbury Avenue in Toronto, where she died at the age of 66 years on 13 July 1929. The informant was her husband, Christian Lenhardt, who was living with her. Mary was born in Germany circa 1863, and was the daughter of Joseph Murray, consistent with existing evidence. She was buried on 16 July 1929 in Mount Hope Cemetery. Her grave marker may have been placed some time after her death, because the inscription states incorrectly that she died at the age of 62 years.9

Coming Full Circle

Thanks to documentary evidence from the U.S. and Canada, a more complete picture of Mary’s life has now emerged. After her marriage on 21 January 1884, Mary and Christian Lenhardt remained in Buffalo for eight more years. Parish records from St. Boniface Church reveal that four sons were born to them during this time: Nicholas John, on 28 November 1886; Robert John, on 3 June 1888; Joseph John Baptist on 28 June 1890, and Frederick Christian on 7 December 1891.10 Nicholas John died some time before 1892, since his death was indexed in the Buffalo, New York, Death Index, 1885–1891.11 Further research in burial records from St. Boniface church should be sufficient to establish a precise date of death. (This is on my to-do list for the next time I’m at the Family History Center.) The Lenhardt family must have moved to Toronto early in 1892, since they are not found in the 1892 New York State census, for which the official enumeration date was 16 February 1892.

Having settled in Toronto, the couple had four more children: a stillborn daughter, Marie, who was born on 28 May 1893;12 the aforementioned son, Michael Lawrence Lenhardt, born 26 May 1894; a stillborn infant son, unnamed, who was born on 17 June 1897;13 and another daughter, Mary, born 6 March 1904.14 The family appears in the 1901 census in Figure 6.15

Figure 6: 1901 census of Canada, showing the family of Christian and Mary Lenhardt living in Toronto. Click image to enlarge.

The census confirms that the Lenhardt family arrived in Canada in 1892. Christian Lenhardt was reported to have been born 8 November 1861 in Germany; he was Roman Catholic, and employed as a basket maker. Mary (Murri) Lenhardt was reported to have been born 15 August 1863 in Germany, which is reasonably close to her actual birthdate of 16 September 1863. Mary was employed as a charwoman. Birth dates reported for Robert and Joseph correspond exactly with dates found in the baptismal records from St. Boniface. Frederick’s reported date of birth was exactly one year off—7 December 1892, rather than 7 December 1891, which was reported on his baptismal record. Michael Lawrence—recorded here as just Lawrence—was reported to have been born on 8 June 1894, which explains why so many family trees contain this error in his birth date.

The next census in which we might expect to find the Lenhardt family is the 1911 census of Canada. However, they are not found. Why might that be? The Toronto city directory for that year identifies Christian, Robert J., and Frederick Lenhardt as residents at 42 Hillsboro Avenue.16 Library and Archives Canada offers a street index to facilitate the determination of census districts and sub-districts for major cities, and according to this index, Hillsboro Avenue was in District 126, Sub-district 2. A search of the 1911 census database, omitting any surnames and specifying only the province of Ontario, District 126, Sub-district 2, returned no results, which suggests that this sub-district must be one for which the census returns have not survived. However, Library and Archives Canada’s index to districts and sub-districts for the 1911 census states that District 126 (Toronto North), Sub-district 2 (Ward 3), is found on Microfilm T-20401. It’s unclear to me whether this suggests that the scans from that microfilm are somehow absent from the database, or if the index information is incorrect, and the census returns from that location truly did not survive. I wrote to the archive this morning and am awaiting their reply.

Mary Lenhardt appears in the census in 1921 for the last time before her death in 1929 (Figure 7).17

Figure 7: 1921 census of Canada, showing the family of Christian and Mary Lenhardt living at 70 Shaftesbury Street in Toronto. Click image to enlarge.

By 1921, Mary Lenhardt was 57 years old, and living in her final home, at 70 Shaftesbury Street, in a multigenerational household with her husband, two of her adult sons, a daughter-in-law, and several grandchildren. The adult children who were living with Mary and Christian were 31-year-old Joseph Lenhardt, working as a chauffeur, and 28-year-old Michael, employed as an elevator operator, along with Michael’s wife, recorded here as Agnes Etta. The household also included two grandsons, 7-year-old Harold and 5-year-old William. They were the children of Mary’s son, Frederick, and his wife, the former Dora May Redman, whom he married on 29 June 1910.18 The influenza pandemic of 1918 took Dora’s life on 11 October of that year, and Frederick followed her to the grave five days later, on 16 October 1918, leaving their two little boys as orphans.19 Mary’s husband, Christian, was still supporting the family as a basket weaver, although this census described him as a “willow worker.”

Verna or Mary?

The final member of the household enumerated in 1921 was 19-year-old Verna, who was recorded as a daughter of the head-of-household, Christian Lenhardt. I believe this is meant to be Verna Lenhardt, the oldest daughter of Michael and Agnes Etta, who are listed immediately above her in in the census. However, it’s curious—but certainly not unprecedented—that the census-taker was so far off in recording her age. Since Verna was born 4 May 1920, she would have celebrated her first birthday just prior to the census enumeration date of 1 June 1921, so the census-taker missed the mark by 18 years.20 Moreover, the fact that she was recorded as “daughter” of the head of household, rather than “granddaughter,” and the fact that her age suggests a birth circa 1902, led me to speculate whether “Verna” might instead be Christian and Mary’s daughter, Mary Lenhardt, who was born in 1904, and is notably absent from this census. Again, it’s not unprecedented for a person to use a name that’s not recorded on a birth record, so it’s possible that Mary’s full name was Mary Verna, and she was known as Verna among family members.

Nonetheless, I’m inclined to think that the Verna recorded here really was meant to be one-year-old Verna Lenhardt, oldest daughter of Michael and Agnes Etta, since she is otherwise unaccounted for. Furthermore, if Mary Lenhardt, born in 1904, survived to adulthood, it’s likely that she would have been mentioned in one of the dozen or more online trees that document this family. It’s probable, then, that little Mary died in infancy or early childhood, since broad searches in indexed records at Ancestry and FamilySearch failed to produce promising matches. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to confirm this hypothesis that Mary died young. Scanned burial records from St. Basil’s parish in Toronto, where her brother Michael was baptized, are not available before 1906, and Mary is not found in the database, “Canada, Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947.” So, the question remains, was Mary Lenhardt still alive at the time of this census? Could it be that both she and one-year-old Verna were living with Christian and Mary Lenhardt in 1921, and the census-taker conflated their identities? The missing 1911 census might shed some light on the situation, in addition to cemetery records, but for now, the fate of Mary Lenhardt, youngest child of Christian and Mary (Murri), will have to remain a mystery.

And so, we’ve now got a pretty good idea of the story arc for Mary (Murri) Lenhardt, thanks to hints obtained from DNA matches. The family tree has been extended by another branch, and a disconnect in the data has been resolved. As a genealogist, I think that’s a pretty good thing.


1 Roman Catholic Church, Waldmünchen parish (Waldmünchen, Cham, Bayern, Germany), Bd. 4, “Taufen 1831-1867,” 1863, p. 383, no. 154, Anna Maria Murri, Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv Regensburg, St. Petersweg 11 – 13, 93047 Regensburg, Germany.

2 Manifest, 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/ : 07 August 2022); citing Microfilm Serial M237, 1820-1897; Line 42; List no. 292.

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 : 07 August 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.

4 Carol Roberts Fischer (Ancestry user cfish1063), “Boehringer Family Tree,” Ancestry Public Member Trees, database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 5 August 2022).

5Ancestry user “angt10,” “Tompkins Family Tree,” Ancestry Public Member Trees, database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 07 August 2022).

6 “Canada, Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 07 August 2022), Michael Lawrence Lenhardt and Henrietta Agnes Henderson, 25 October 1919; citing registration no. 006061, Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 2,210,696.

7 Roman Catholic Church, St. Basil’s Parish (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Parish registers, 1858–1910, Baptisms 1858–1910, p 81, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Michael Lenhardt, born 28 May 1894; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 07 August 2022), Family History Library film no. 1305640, DGS no. 5106877, image 83 of 138.

8 “Canada, Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 07 August 2022), Mary Lenhardt, 13 July 1929, citing registration no. 05647, Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 2,210,916, image 93 of 1598.

9 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/148960636/mary-lenhardt: accessed 07 August 2022), memorial page for Mary Murray Lenhardt (1867–13 Jul 1929), Find a Grave Memorial ID 148960636, citing Mount Hope Catholic Cemetery, Toronto, Toronto Municipality, Ontario, Canada; Maintained by Pete C. (contributor 47614007).

10 “New York Births and Christenings, 1640-1962”, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 07 August 2022), Nicolaum Johannem Lenhard, born 28 November 1886; citing Roman Catholic Church, St. Boniface Parish (Buffalo, New York), Baptisms 1849-1899, FHL microfilm no. 928704/DGS no. 7585930.

Ibid., Robertum Johannem Lennardt, born 3 June 1888; and

Ibid., Joseph Johannem Baptistam Lenhardt, born 28 June 1890; and

Ibid., Fredericus Christianus Lenardt, born 7 December 1891.

11 Buffalo City Clerk’s Office, Buffalo, New York, Death Index, 1885-1891, p. 456, Nicholas J. Lenhardt, Vol. 10, p 345; digital image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/: 7 August 2022), image 511 of 990.

12 “Canada, Ontario Births, 1869-1912,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 5 August 2022), Marie Lenhardt, 28 May 1893, citing birth registration no. 014831, Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,846,239; and

“Canada, Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 6 August 20220), Marie Lenhardt, stillborn, 28 May 1893; citing Registrar General, death registration no. 02226, Toronto, York, Ontario; Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,853,581.

13 “Canada, Ontario Births, 1869-1912”, database, FamilySearch, (https://www.familysearch.org/), digital images, unnamed male infant Lenhardt, 17 June 1897, citing birth registration no. 003207, Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,846,239; and

“Ontario, Canada, Deaths and Deaths Overseas, 1869-1948,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 August 2022), male infant Lenhardt, stillborn, 17 June 1897; citing Registrar General, death registration no. 002554, Toronto, York, Ontario; Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,853,835.

14 “Canada, Ontario Births, 1869-1912,” database with images, FamilySearch, (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 5 August 2022), Mary Lenhardt, 6 March 1904; citing birth registration no. 003553, Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 2,210,619.

15 1901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, District no. 131, West York, Subdistrict E, Toronto City, Ward 4, Division no. 4, page no. 12, family no. 108, Christi Lenhardt household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1901/Pages/item.aspx?itemid=2633998 : 07 August 2022), citing RG31 – Statistics Canada, microfilm T-6508, item no. 2633998, image no. z000119179.

16 The Toronto City Directory 1911, Might Directories, Ltd. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: 1911), p 822, Lenhardt, Christian; digital image, Toronto Public Library (https://digitalarchive.tpl.ca/objects/357796/toronto-city-directory-1911-vol : 08 August 2022), image 824 of 1508.

17 1921 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, District no. 132, Toronto North, Subdistrict no. 8, Toronto, Ward 2, page 24, family no. 262, Christian Lenhardt household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 07 August 2022), citing RG31, Statistics Canada, Item no. 3427899, image no. e003039918.

18 “Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1826-1938,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 07 August 2022), Frederick C. Lenhardt and Dora May Redman, 29 June 1910; citing registration no. 003013, Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,872,068.

19 “Canada, Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 07 August 2022), Dora May Lenhardt, 11 October 1918; citing registration no. 005962, Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,862,693; and

Ibid., Frederick Lenhardt, 16 October 1918; citing registration no. 006632, Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada.

20 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/138941522/verna-stauffer: accessed 08 August 2022), memorial page for Verna Lenhardt Stauffer (4 May 1920–23 Sep 2014), Find a Grave Memorial ID 138941522, citing Huxley Cemetery, Hillsburgh, Wellington County, Ontario, Canada; Maintained by Anonymous (contributor 48340051).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

The Last Will and Testament of John Hodgkinson, Sr.

I am positively giddy with excitement over here, after a huge breakthrough with my Hodgkinson research! Over the past several months, I’ve been researching and blogging about the family of my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson (c. 1750–1832), a United Empire Loyalist who served with Butler’s Rangers and settled in Grantham Township, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). I summarized known data on his family here, and discovered a baptismal record for Ellender Hodgkinson, a daughter whom I’ve not seen mentioned in any online Hodgkinson trees to date. I discussed some theories about the family’s origins here, and warmed up to the hypothesis that John, William, and Mary Hodgkinson might all be children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, although further evidence is needed in order to be confident in that assertion. I began searching for records relating to Ellender’s godmother, Mary Hodgkinson, and discovered evidence that she was married in New York in 1772 to Ralph Miller/Meller, a Loyalist who served in Jessup’s Rangers, and settled with him in Dunham, Quebec. I suspected that Mary was a sister to John and William Hodgkinson, but had no evidence to prove that.

Until now.

I’ve been doing further searches in indexed databases on Ancestry to turn up additional records for Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller/Meller. The other day, a search result came up that left me speechless (which is hard to do). It’s shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Ancestry search result for Mary Miller in the database, “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749–1999.” Click image to view larger.

Mary Miller—Mary Hodgkinson Miller—was named as the daughter of John Hodgkinson in a probate file from Vermont, with John and William Hodgkinson both named as sons, and Samuel Hodgkinson named as a grandson?! No. Freaking. Way. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather!

I, and many other Hodgkinson researchers, have been looking for traces of this family in historical records for decades. How could this document have remained hidden until now? Clicking over to the “Source” tab indicates that this database was copyrighted by Ancestry relatively recently, in 2015. Nonetheless, for more than six years, despite all my countless searches for John Hodgkinson and William Hodgkinson, employing every search technique in the book, this document failed to turn up. Prior to 2015, one would have had to search those probate records the old-fashioned way, browsing through microfilm from the Family History Library, and I can certainly excuse previous generations of researchers for not guessing that the Hodgkinsons were originally from Vermont! Who knew, or who would have suspected, especially in light of the red-herring evidence that caused many to believe they were from Burlington, New Jersey? Maybe we’re all victims of tunnel vision. As I’ve said before, what we see depends on where we look.

At the end of the day, it was only by searching for Mary Miller that the curtain parted and the document was exposed. Mary Miller—a name which you’d think would be so much more common, that it would produce all kinds of irrelevant search hits and very few relevant ones. I’m still scratching my head to know how the search algorithms could’ve missed this one. “Hodgkinson” isn’t even misspelled here! How did this record not turn up before now?

In any case, here it is, so let’s dig in!

Clicking the document shown in the Ancestry search result takes you to a page in the middle of the will (where Mary Miller was mentioned), so I had to scroll back a few pages in order to begin at the beginning. The whole thing consists of four images, chock-full of rich genealogical detail. These pages must have been recopied at some point, because the dates in the various records appear out of sequence relative to the original page numbers. That’s a shame, because having original signatures would have been the icing on the cake, but I’ll take what I can get, and I’ll discuss the pages in chronological order.

The will itself starts on pages 191–192, shown in Figure 2a, and continues on pages 193–194 (Figure 2b).1

Figure 2a: First two pages of the will of John Hodgkinson, Sr. Click to view larger.
Figure 2b: Continuation of the will of John Hodgkinson, Sr. Click image to view larger.

The transcription is as follows, retaining original capitalization, spelling, and punctuation, but converting all the instances of the old “long s’” into standard modern forms.

“In the Name of God Amen. I, John Hodgkinson of Pownall and State of Vermont, Yeoman, being very weak in body, but of perfect mind and memory, Thanks be given to God, calling to mind the Mortality of my Body, and knowing that is appointed to all Men once to Die: Do make and ordain this, my last Will and Testament; That is to say,

Principally and first of all, I give and recommend my Soul into the hand of Almighty God that gave it, and my Body I recommend to the Earth to be buried in a decent, Christian Burial, at the discretion of my Executors herein after mentioned, nothing doubting but at the general Resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty Power of God. And as touching such worldly Estate wherewith it hath Pleased God to Bless me with in this world. I give, demise, and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.

First, I give and Bequeath unto Mary, my dearly and well beloved Wife the Houseroom in my dwelling House with a Sufficient Garden Spot to raise necessary Garden Fruit for her:


p. 192

Also, seven pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Estate and paid to her Yearly in Grain or such other necessaries as she may stand in need of for her natural subsistence. Also the keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep): Also her firewood to be drawn to her door, all which shall be done out of my Estate during the time she remains my Widow: Also I give to my well beloved Wife, one certain Grey Mare that is called here Mare, and all the Household Goods she brought with her when she came to me to dispose of at her own Will and Pleasure, all which I give to my said Wife in lieu of her Right of Dower.

Also I give to my well beloved Son, John Hodgkison Junior, that part of my Homestead Farm lying in Pownall aforesaid that lies west of the Brook that Runs thro. The Farm (if he can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same) and if the circumstances of my s. [said?] son John Hodgkisson should be such that he can never enjoy the same by any means whatsoever, then I give it to my well beloved GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson.

Also I give unto my Well beloved Son William Hodgkisson all that part of my said Homestead lying Eastwardly of the S. Brook (if he can come and freely enjoy the same himself). But if neither of my two Sons abovesaid can come and enjoy The Lands or Estate above given or bequeathed to them, or either of them, and the other Son above dis???? [?] cannot come to enjoy his part: then I give the whole of my Homestead Farm to that Son that can enjoy the same: My true intent and meaning is, that ^if either of my two sons cannot enjoy The Farm as aforesaid or otherwise they Choose not to Live upon it, that it be sold, and each one of them or either of them so ??? [choosing?] not to live upon it to have his equal part of what it shall sell for: And that part of the Farm lying westward of the Brook be made equal as to the improvement with the East Side of The Farm.


p. 193

               And if either of my two Sons or both of them can never enjoy my said Homestead Farm as hath been before described by any circumstances whatever, by Death or otherwise; then I give the same to my well beloved Grand-Son Samuel Hodgkisson to be delivered to him when he arrives to the full age of Twenty One Years, and the Profits arising from the Rents and Profits of my said Homestead Farm to be equally divided between all my Grand-Children both Male and Female.

               Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Dorothy Deal, three pounds fifteen shillings Lawful Money, to be raised out of my personal Estate, and paid to her by my said Executors herein after Mentioned.

               Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Ann McKenna, seven pounds, ten shillings L[awful] Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate, and to be paid to her by my said Executors.

               Also I give to my well beloved Grand Son Thomas Miller three pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate and paid to him, or his Lawful Guardian, by my said Executors.

               Also I give to my aforesaid GrandSon, Samuel Hodkgisson, that certain Lot or Farm of Land Lying in Bennington containing Fifty Acres of Land that I purchased of Col. Samuel Robinson to be delivered to him by my said Executors or their Successors in Administratorship, when he arrives to the age of Twenty one Years; and the Profits arising from T. Farm, until that time is expired, after paying the Legacy to my said Wife and other Necessary Charges, to be equally divided between my said Grand Children.


p. 194

Also I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her Daughter Ann, GrandDaughter Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer and keeping for it, on my said Farm until it becomes a Cow (if it Lives).

Also I give to my aforesaid Sons, John and William Hodgkinson, the use of all my moveable effects that hath not herein before been disposed of, after my just Debts and Funeral Charges be paid, until my aforesaid GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson comes to the age of Twenty one Years with their paying unto my well beloved Daughters, Mary Miller and Martha Pember, five shillings each, and when the term aforesaid is expired, to pay the value of these moveables to be divided equally amongst all my Grand Children.

Likewise, I make, Ordain and Constitute David Goff and Basteyon [sic] Deal, both of Pownall aforesaid the Sole Executors jointly and severally of this my last Will and Testament, and I do hereby utterly disavow, revoke, and disannul all every other former Testament, Legacies, Bequests, and Executors by me in any wise named Willed and bequeathed. Ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last Will and Testament.

               In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Seal this nineteenth day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty Two. [signed] John Hodgkinson

Signed, Sealed, Published, Pronounced, and declared by the said John Hodgkinson as his Last Will and Testament In presence of us, who in his presence, and in the presence of each other, have hereunto Subscribed our names

[signed] Paul Gardner

              Abraham Bowdish

              Joseph Briggs”

John Hodgkinson of Pownall, Vermont

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Hodgkinson family described in this will is the same family as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons. This will offers evidence that the father, John Hodgkinson Sr., also immigrated, and this fact alone is significant, because I’ve never seen it asserted or referenced in any other Hodgkinson resource. Moreover, the fact that the father’s name was John is consistent with the hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield. We have no idea how long John Sr. lived in Vermont, and this document alone offers no indication that John was born in Colonial America. So, this piece of evidence does not necessarily contradict the existing hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.

According to this document, we have John Hodgkinson, Sr., making his last will and testament in Pownal, in the State of Vermont, on 19 August 1782, during the final year of the American Revolutionary War, which would end with the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783. Pownal is a small town situated about 27 miles southeast of Schaghticoke, where Samuel and Ellender Hodgkinson were baptized in 1776 and 1778, respectively (Figure 3). The “State of Vermont” mentioned in the will is not a U.S. state, but rather a reference to the Vermont Republic, which was an independent state that existed from 1777–1791.2 Prior to that, between 1764 and 1777, “Vermont” did not exist: the land west of the Connecticut River was declared by King George III to belong to New York, while New Hampshire lay to the east of that river.3 So, if John settled in Pownal prior to 1777, and his children were living in the vicinity of Albany, then they all would have been residents of the Province of New York.

While I know nothing about John (Sr.)’s personal politics, all of his children discovered to date were Loyalists, so John Sr. may have been one as well. Were they all living in Schaghticoke originally, and then John Sr. moved to the independent State of Vermont after the British lost at Saratoga, while his sons continued to serve with Butler’s Rangers until they disbanded in 1784? Certainly it would not have been possible for him to continue living in New York State as a known Loyalist after the New York Act of Attainder, or Confiscation Act, was passed on 22 October 1779.4 This Act identified 59 prominent Loyalists by name, confiscated their land and personal property, banished them from the state, and gave them death sentences, without benefit of clergy, should they ever be found within the State of New York. It made further provisions for indicting additional Loyalists—such as the Hodgkinsons—besides those 59 named individually. John Sr.’s death in 1784 came seven years before Vermont was admitted to the union as the fourteenth of the United States, yet perhaps it was uncertainty over Vermont’s future that led John to word his bequest of his land to his sons so carefully, declaring that each son would inherit his portion of the farm, “if he can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same.

Figure 3: Map showing locations of Schaghticoke, New York, where John Hodgkinson (Jr.)’s oldest children were baptized, and Pownal, Vermont, where John Hodgkinson (Sr.) wrote his last will. Image courtesy of Google Maps; click to view larger.

His Dearly Beloved Wife, Mary

John’s wife was named as Mary in this document, not Sarah, but she appears to have been a second wife. This hypothesis is supported by the statement, “I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her [emphasis mine] Daughter Ann Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer…” This suggests that Ann Gardner was Mary’s daughter by a previous spouse. It’s unclear whether Gardner was Ann’s maiden name, or her married surname. If the former, then it would also have been Mary’s surname from her first husband. I’ll have to look for a death record for Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson in records from Vermont or Mansfield (England), as well as a marriage record for John and Mary in Vermont. One of the witnesses to the will, Paul Gardner, is likely to be another relative, and research into this family is also on my to-do list.

The current value of the money that John bequeathed to Mary—seven pounds, ten shillings, paid annually—is estimated at £645.78 using the currency calculator here, but the estimate ranges from £898.60 to £87,520.00 using the more nuanced currency value calculators at MeasuringWorth. This was not all that he left her, however, since there was also the matter of the houseroom, the garden, the “keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep),” the firewood brought to her door, and the gray mare “that is called here Mare.” (My ancestors were perhaps not the most creative folk in naming their livestock, but I find this phrasing charming nonetheless!) Later in the will, he also bequeathed to her a two-year-old heifer—so she clearly does have a cow—and all the household goods that she brought with her into their marriage.

His Sons, John Jr. and William, and Grandson Samuel

John Hodgkinson bequeathed his farm to his sons, John Jr. and William, with John getting the western half of the farm and William receiving the eastern half, based on the location of a brook that divided the farm. The phrasing in the will suggests that John Sr. truly hoped that one or the other of his sons might be able to use and enjoy the farm, which was undoubtedly the fruit of much of John Sr.’s labor. On reading this, my first thought was that I need to find land records to locate this farm in Pownal and view the title history, to see who eventually owned it. Both John Jr. and William ended up in Grantham Township on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, as did John Jr.’s son, Samuel, so it may be that all the heirs to the farm elected to sell it. Samuel Hodgkinson would have been six years old at the time his grandfather wrote his will in 1782, and when he turned twenty-one, he was to receive an additional 50 acres of land in Bennington.

His Daughters, Mary, Martha, Dorothy, and Ann

Although the bequests and descriptions of John’s assets are fascinating, what’s really jaw-dropping about this document is the list of previously-unknown daughters. The will names his daughters as Dorothy Deal, Ann McKenna, Mary Miller, and Martha Pember, and identifies Thomas Miller as another grandson. This information provides further confirmation that the Hodgkinson family described in this document is the same as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham. The records of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake show that, on 14 May 1815, a number of children of William and Mary (Jones) Hodgkinson were baptized, including “William, Thomas, Dorothy, John Pember, Rockaway, Martha, Eleazer Alexr [sic], and George.”5 It seems obvious now that William’s daughters, Dorothy and Martha, were named after his sisters, Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember, and that his son John Pember’s middle name was inspired by Martha’s married surname. All of this is fertile ground for growing the Hodgkinson family tree. The executors, David Goff and Basteyon Deal, are also worthy research subjects, as are Abraham Bowdish and Joseph Briggs, who were the other witnesses to the will in addition to Paul Gardner. In particular, “Basteyon” (Sebastian?) Deal is most probably a relative by marriage of Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal.

The Plot Thickens

Immediately following the last page of the will (page 194), there is a pair of entries on page 195 in the court records, shown in Figure 3.6

Figure 3: Decisions and Orders of Judge Jonas Fay, Bennington Probate Court, 7 April 1783 (top), and 24 March 1785 (bottom). Click to view larger.

These decisions and orders by Judge Jonas Fay, Judge of Probate Court, are transcribed as follows:


At the Probate Court holden in in Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 7th day of April AD. 1783 by Virtue of a Legal Citatation [sic], Personally appeared the within named Mary Hodgkinson, and alledged [sic] that the within Will does not make such Provision for her, as the Law in such Cases Allows, and therefore pray, the Court to disapprove the same, the several persons named in the Citation being present and having nothing to offer (in the opinion of the Court) sufficient to approve the Will, the Court does therefore disapprove thereof, that Administration to be taken out, and that the same be Recorded.  [Signed] Jonas Fay Judge Probt.

At a Probate Court holden at Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 24th day of March AD. 1785 Mary Hodgkinson Widow of the within Testator being personally present, and relinquishing her former objection to Probating the within Will, and John Hodgkinson one of the Legatees named in said Will being Likewise present in behalf of himself, and Peter McKenna, Adam Deal, Ralph Miller, William Hodgkinson and Philip Pember as appears by writing under their ^names and Seals, and Registered in this office, and praying in their several capacities that the within Will may be Probated, the same is hereby approved and allowed. By Jonas Fay, Judg. Probt.”

So, John wrote his will on 17 August 1782, and on 7 April 1783, while her husband was still alive, Mary Hodgkinson petitioned the court to disapprove of the will. But then, after John was deceased, she turned around and relinquished her objection to probating the will on 24 March 1785. I’m still trying to figure out what to make of that situation, and determine the implications. I might be able to gain some insight through deeper investigation of these probate records, as there are other entries in this same probate book that are relevant (i.e. page 190). However, I won’t make a long blog post even longer by discussing them today.

What’s exciting about these two decisions and orders by Judge Fay, though, is that John Hodgkinson’s sons-in-law are identified by name. Now we know that Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal was married to Adam Deal, Ann (Hodgkinson) McKenna was married to Peter McKenna, and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember was married to Phillip Pember—information which will facilitate research into these families.

Coming full circle now, back to Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller, one final question occurred to me. If she was married to Ralph Miller in 1772, and this same Mary was godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson in 1778, then she should have been recorded in the baptismal record as Mary Miller, not Mary Hodgkinson. So might the godmother have been the other Mary Hodgkinson, John Sr.’s second wife. and Ellender’s stepgrandmother? Maybe so. Nonetheless, a precedent exists for referring to Mary Miller by her maiden name after her marriage, in that she was recorded as “Mary Hotchkisson, widow of the late Ralph Miller of Dunham” in her death record.7 So, it’s still possible that the intended Mary Hodgkinson was Ellender’s aunt, and the truth of the matter may be lost in the mists of time. However, when it comes to knowing the truth about the origins of the Loyalist Hodgkinson family, the mists of time were just blown away by the discovery of John Hodgkinson’s will.

I’m blown away, too.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Selected Sources:

1 “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), John Hodgkinson, Last Will and Testament, 19 Aug 1782, probated 15 June 1784, Bennington, Vermont; citing Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812, Vol. 1, pp 191-194. The featured image for this blog post is a detail from p 191.

2 “Vermont Republic,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_v._New_Hampshire : 14 January 2022).

3 “Vermont v. New Hampshire,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_v._New_Hampshire : 14 January 2022).

4 “The New York Act of Attainder, or Confiscation Act,” Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (https://archives.gnb.ca/exhibits/forthavoc/html/NY-Attainder.aspx?culture=en-CA : 14 January 2022).

5 Ontario Genealogical Society Niagara Peninsula Branch, Paul Hutchinson, editor, St. Marks’ Anglican Church Baptisms, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1792–1856 (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998), p 22, “14 May 1815, All (the following) were baptized at the 12-mile creek on the same day…William HODGKINSON, Thomas/Dorothy/John Pember/Rockaway/Martha/Eleazer Alexr/George }of William and Mary”.

6 Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Vol. 1, 1778–1792, p 195, Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 7 April 1783; Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 24 March 1785, imaged in “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), path: Bennington > Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812 > image 107 of 909.

7 “Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968,” database and images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), burial record for Mary Hotchkisson, died 15 June 1832; citing records of the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, in Frelighsburg from Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp.

Whatever Happened to Mary Hodgkinson?

Recently, I wrote about some new discoveries into the history of my Hodgkinson ancestors—Loyalists who settled in Grantham Township, Upper Canada, after the American Revolutionary War. Both John Hodgkinson and his brother, William, were privates in Butler’s Rangers, and there is ample evidence for both of them in historical records from Upper Canada (what is now Ontario). However, the Hodgkinson brothers are commonly reported to have a sister, Mary, based on baptismal records from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, who is absent from the narrative in Upper Canada. Some believe that Mary never emigrated, pointing to a marriage record for Mary Hodgkinson to Samuel Holehouse in Mansfield in 1774.1 However, this marriage record does not include parents’ names, so further evidence is needed before concluding that this is the same Mary Hodgkinson who was the sister of the Loyalist Hodgkinsons.

Even if Mary never emigrated, that mystery godmother remains, Mary “Huskinson,” godmother to Ellender “Huskinson,” daughter of John “Huskinson” and Mary “More.”2 If you believe, as I do, that the family described here is likely to be the family of John Hodgkinson of Grantham, then we have evidence of some female relative named Mary who was named as godmother in 1778. Does her role as godmother necessitate her physical presence at the baptism in Schaghticoke, New York? That’s unclear. While it’s possible in some faiths and circumstances to have proxy godparents, who stand in when the godparents are unable to be present at the baptism, I have no idea what rules might apply to an 18th-century Dutch Reformed baptism of the child of an Anglican father and a mother whose religious faith is unknown. But if we admit the possibility that Mary Hodgkinson was present at the baptism of Ellender Hodgkinson, and if we agree that she was almost certainly a relative and quite probably a sister, then it begs the question: what happened to Mary Hodgkinson, and why did she not end up in Grantham with her brothers?

The Search for Mary Begins

If Mary Hodgkinson was personally present at the baptism of Ellender in 1778, then there should be some evidence of her existence in historical documents from New York. A quick search of indexed records at Ancestry produced a marriage record from the “New York, Marriage Index, 1600–1784,” for Mary “Hodkisson” and Ralph Mellor on 29 January 1772 (Figure 1).3

Figure 1: Index entry for marriage record of Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor from Ancestry.

Clicking over from the “Detail” to the “Source” page provides additional information about the original records from the New York State Archives from which the index information was taken, and includes a caveat that they “are limited in availability and additional informational value” due to the New York State Capitol fire of 1911 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Source information from Ancestry regarding original records used in the creation of their “New York, U.S., Marriage Index, 1600–1784” database.

Hope dies last, so I emailed the New York State Archives anyway, just to see if there was any chance for more information. Their reply stated,

“Thank you for contacting the New York State Archives with your inquiry. I’ve checked A1893, marriage bonds executed by persons obtaining marriage licenses, and the corresponding book regarding these documents, New York Marriage Bonds (947.7 S427n) but neither the name Mary Hodkisson or Ralph Mellor were found. Both this series and the book are about those documents that did survive the 1911 Albany fire, but it appears this marriage record did not. I would suggest you check the local newspaper at the time or a local church for an announcement of this marriage. This may be the only record you will find now.” 4

Finding a newspaper announcement of the marriage is a long shot, given the extremely limited number of newspapers that were in publication in New York in January 1772. A church record might be found in time; although this record does not state precisely where in New York the couple was married, we can perhaps assume that it was in the vicinity of Schaghticoke, since that’s where Ellender Hodgkinson was baptized in 1778. (A marriage record for Ralph and Mary is not found in that same collection of Dutch Reformed Church records which contained Ellender’s baptismal record, because that would be too easy.) Even in the absence of any detailed information, this marriage record is still an important discovery, because it offers further evidence for the existence of a Mary Hodkisson/Hodgkinson/Huskinson living in Colonial New York, and it provides her married name.

A further search at Ancestry turned up a death record for Mary “Hotchkisson” Miller from the Drouin Collection (Figure 3).5

Figure 3: Death record for Mary Hotchkisson Miller (blocked in red) from Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Frelighsburg, Quebec.

The record states,

“Mary Hotchkisson, widow of the late Ralph Miller of Dunham, deceased in the eighty fourth year of her age, died on the fifteenth day of June one thousand eight hundred and thirty two, and was buried on the seventeenth day of the same, in the presence of the subscribing witnesses by, James Reid, Min’r [Minister], [Witnesses] Robert Aitken, John Pickering.”

Mary’s age at the time of her death—84 years—suggests a birth year of 1748. For reference, Mary Hodgkinson, daughter of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was baptized on 6 April 1755. Now, it could be that her age at the time of death was reported inaccurately, and it’s also possible that the Hodgkinsons were a bit lax in baptizing their children promptly. In fact, this discrepancy between Mary’s suggested year of birth and her documented date of baptism fits the pattern I noted previously with John and William Hodgkinson, since existing data for John indicate that he was born in 1750 but baptized in 1753, and that William was born in 1751, but baptized in 1759. If you think it’s also possible that I’m way off base, and these aren’t necessarily the same family at all, I don’t blame you, because I’m not convinced yet, either.

But wait, there’s more.

A search at Find A Grave produced memorials for both Ralph Miller/Mellor/Meller and Mary (Hotchkisson/Hodkisson/Hodgkinson) Meller. They were laid to rest in Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery in Frelighsburg, Quebec. Ralph’s memorial indicates that he died 8 March 1822 at the age of 81 years, suggesting a birth circa 1741.6 Mary’s memorial states that she died 12 June 1832 at the age of 83 years, which is sufficiently consistent with the death record from Holy Trinity Anglican Church as to leave no doubt that these records pertain to the same person.7 What’s interesting is that, in that same cemetery, one John Pickering was also laid to rest.8 You may recall that name because John Pickering was a witness to the death of Mary Hodgkinson Miller—he was a member of the Hodgkinsons’ FAN club (Friends, Associates and Neighbors). The memorial states that John was born 29 March 1797 and that he died on 6 May 1844, which makes this John Pickering of an appropriate age to be the same John Pickering mentioned in that burial record. Moreover, the memorial includes a photo of his grave marker, which states specifically that John Pickering was born in Collingham, Nottinghamshire, England, and that he died in Dunham—the same village in Quebec mentioned in the death record as the home of the Miller family. The village of Collingham is only 25 miles from the town of Mansfield, where the Hodgkinsons were said to originate, lending credence to the hypothesis that Mary Hodgkinson Miller was also from Nottinghamshire.

Ralph Miller, Loyalist

So who was Mary Hodgkinson’s husband, Ralph Miller? A little digging into historical records suggests that he, too, was a Loyalist, which tracks well with the the Hodgkinson family tradition. A search in the database, “Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764–1841,” turned up land petition no. 346, “Alex. Taylor and many other Loyalists, praying for land,” which was filed about 1783 (Figure 4).9

Figure 4: Detail from Lower Canada Land Papers showing petition 346, filed by Alex. Taylor “and many other Loyalists.”

The petition includes a list of claimants’ names, their present place of abode, the Loyalist corps in which they served, and their time of residence (i.e. date of arrival) in Canada. Ralph Miller is included in this list (Figure 5).10

Figure 5: Ralph Miller in Lower Canada Land Petitions, no. 346, filed jointly by Alex. Taylor “and many other Loyalists.”

Circa 1783, when the petition was filed, Ralph Miller was noted to be living in “Caldwells M.,” which is a reference to Caldwell Manor, an early Loyalist settlement located in present-day Noyan, Quebec.11 The notation regarding his immigration to Canada states that he arrived in 1780, and was “now in Canada.” The document also states that he served “in Jessop’s Corps S. R.” It’s unclear to me what the “S.R.” stands for, but Edward Jessup’s Rangers were a Loyalist militia unit that functioned from 12 November 1781 until 24 December 1783.12 The corps was created from the remnants of smaller military formations, including the King’s Loyal Americans—a militia group led by Edward and his brother, Ebenezer, which took part in the battles of Saratoga in 1777.

Next Steps

I think at this point, we have some idea of what became of Mary Hodgkinson, godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson in 1778. She was married to Ralph Miller/Meller in New York, probably in the vicinity of Schaghticoke, in 1772, and was likely still living in that area at the start of the Revolutionary War. Her husband may have joined Edward Jessup as early as 1777, and been one of the participants in the Battles of Saratoga, but by 1780, the Mellers were living in Quebec. Ralph and Mary lived in Dunham, where he died in 1822, and she passed ten years later, in 1832. Both are buried in Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery in Frelighsburg, Quebec.

Additional research can still be done to discover more about their family. A quick search for other Meller graves in the same cemetery reveals a grave for a probable son, also named Ralph Meller, who died in 1871 at the age of 84 years, as well as a grave for his wife, Sarah (VanAntwerp) Meller.13 Broadening the search to Meller graves in the Monteregie Region of Quebec, where Frelighsburg is located, produces additional graves of probable relatives, and census records, vital records, and other genealogical documents can be used to help sort out the relationships. However, further evidence is still needed before we can be comfortable with the assertion that Mary Hodgkinson Meller was the sister of John Hodgkinson, U.E., and William Hodgkinson, U.E.

That said, I think I’m onto something, here. Stay tuned!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022


1 “England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 07 January 2022), Mary Hodgkinson and Samuel Holehouse, 14 February 1774, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.

2 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 07 January 2022), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11. This document is the source of the featured image for this blog post.

3 “New York, U.S., Marriage Index, 1600-1784,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 07 January 2022), Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor, 29 Jan 1772, citing New York State Archives, Names of Persons for whom Marriage Licenses were Issued by the Secretary of the Province of New York, Previous to 1784. State of New York, 1860, Record Number: M. B., Volume: XVIII, OSPage: 23.

4 New York State Archives Researcher Services, Albany, New York, to Julie Szczepankiewicz, e-mail dated 28 October 2021, “RE: Marriage record for Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor.”

5“Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968,” database and images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 07 January 2022), burial record for Mary Hotchkisson, died 15 June 1832; citing records of the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, in Frelighsburg from Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp.

6 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258423/ralph-meller : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for Ralph Meller (unknown-8 Mar 1822), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258423, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702).

7 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258431/mary-meller : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for Mary Meller (unknown-12 Jun 1832), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258431, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702).

8 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/119277256/john-pickering : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for John Pickering (29 Mar 1797–6 May 1844), Find a Grave Memorial ID 119277256, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Stephen Payne (contributor 47327291) .

9 “Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764-1841,” no. 346, Alex. Taylor & many other Loyalists praying for Land, p. 91105; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng : 07 January 2022), item no. 61500, image 10 of 36, citing Lower Canada Land Papers, RG 1 L3L, Vol. 190, pp 90996-91013, Taylor, Alex – Taylor, James.

10 Ibid., p. 91106, line 8, Ralph Miller, image 11 of 36.

11 “Caldwell Manor Plaque,” United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada (https://uelac.ca/monuments/caldwell-manor-plaque// : 07 January 2022).

12 R. Arthur Bowler, “JESSUP, EDWARD,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, (http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jessup_edward_5E.html : 07 January 2022).

13 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258440/ralph-meller : 07 January 2022), memorial page for Ralph Meller (unknown–16 Aug 1871), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258440, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702); and

Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258452/sarah-meller : 07 January 2022), memorial page for Sarah VanAntwerp Meller (unknown–7 Nov 1882), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258452, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702) .

14 1825 census of Canada, Bedford County, Lower Canada, population return, Dunham Sub-District, Vol. 2, page no. 843, Ralph Millar household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 07 January 2022), Item no. 11282, image no. 004569586_00477, citing Reference MG 31 C1, Lower Canada/Canada East census returns, Microfilm C-717.

Should Auld Ancestors Be Forgot: The Year in Review

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.

DNA Discoveries

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.

Figure 1: Pedigree chart for Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts suggested by data gathered to date from the records of Pfetterhouse and Seppois-le-Bas. Click the chart to view a larger image. Research is ongoing and some of these conclusions remain tentative, pending discovery of additional evidence.

Everything Else

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I hope to further my research into the Causin/Cossin and Hentzy/Hensy families in records from Haut-Rhin, Alsace.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

A New Comparison of Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimates for Three Generations of My Family

Back in March 2019, I wrote about the most recent ethnicity estimates from Ancestry DNA for three generations of my family: myself, my husband, all four of our parents, and our four children. Since this is a rather unique data set, I thought it would be interesting to see what insights such analysis might offer about DNA inheritance, and also about the limitations inherent to these estimates.

Ancestry DNA has updated their ethnicity estimates several times since that first blog post, adding new reference groups and Genetic Communities™ for increased granularity. Last month, they released another update, bringing the total number of Genetic Communities™ to 61 for Poland. So, this seems like a good time to revisit that concept and compare the newest ethnicity estimates for my family members to each other and to those previous estimates, to see how they have changed over time.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™ are the result of Ancestry’s effort to identify more precisely the regions from which each DNA tester’s ancestors originated. They’re assigned automatically, so if Ancestry is able to place you into one of their Communities, they will, without any requirement to opt-in. Ancestry’s algorithm takes into consideration the family trees of clusters of DNA testers who all match each other, and uses the locations mentioned in those family trees to identify birthplaces or migration destinations common to the group. Theoretically, if a majority of the family trees incorrectly identified a place of origin for a group of people, the algorithm might be thrown off, but I suspect that this risk is minimized due to the size of Ancestry’s database.

With this most recent update, Ancestry correctly assigned me to a Genetic Community of those with ancestry from Southeast Poland, and further refined that to Northeastern Lesser Poland (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Map of the region identified as the geographic place of origin for members of the Northeastern Lesser Poland Genetic Community, courtesy of Ancestry DNA.

I’ve traced my Klaus and Liguz ancestors to villages in that region between Szczucin and Mielec, so Ancestry nailed that one. Moreover, they were able to be even more precise with my mother’s estimate, specifying Dąbrowa County as one of her ancestral places of origin (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Map of the region identified as the geographic place of origin for members of the Dąbrowa County Genetic Community, courtesy of Ancestry DNA.

I was also assigned to the Genetic Community of Northeast Poland, indicated by the larger yellow area on the map in Figure 3, with a further assignment to the Łódź Province and Surrounding Area Community.

Figure 3: Map of the region identified as the geographic place of origin for members of the Northeast Poland Genetic Community, (pear-shaped light yellow area), with the region identified as Łódź Province & Surrounding Area defined in dark yellow. Image courtesy of Ancestry DNA.

Zooming in on that map reveals that the “Łódź” area is defined rather broadly, so I’m not surprised that their map encompasses my ancestry from parishes that are in the Mazowieckie province, but are only a few kilometers east of the border with Łódź province. However, I am a little surprised by the extent to which these Genetic Communities overlap, and by the fact that I was not assigned to all of the Genetic Communities that cover a particular geographic area. For example, the geographic region identified as “Łódź Province and Surrounding Area” encompasses my ancestry from parishes in Słupca County, Wielkopolska, nearly 150 km west of Łódź. However, Ancestry has identified other Genetic Communities (e.g. West Central Poland Community, Greater Poland Community, and Central Poland Community) which also cover this region. The map in Figure 4 defines the geographic region identified as the place of origin of those in the definition of the Central Poland Community, so one might expect that someone with roots in Słupca County—located west of Konin and east of Poznań—would be assigned to this community, but that was not the case for me. My mother-in-law was assigned to this area, however, so the map shown in Figure 4 comes from her ethnicity estimate.

Figure 4: Map of the region identified as the geographic place of origin for members of the Central Poland Genetic Community, courtesy of Ancestry DNA.

Of course, these estimates and Genetic Community assignments are still a work in progress, and we have every reason to expect that the accuracy will continue to improve over time. With that in mind, here is the table which compares the ethnicity estimates for my family, consisting of a group of four siblings, their parents, and all four grandparents (Figure 5). For each ethnicity component, the reported value is given in bold, with the range indicated in the line below. Check marks indicate the Genetic Communities that were assigned to each tester. A dash indicates that a person was not assigned to a particular ethnic group or Genetic Community. Ancestry tests for over 1500 ethnicities, but only the ten groups shown were reported in ethnicity estimates for members of my family.

Figure 5: Comparison of Ancestry DNA ethnicity estimates among four siblings, their parents, and grandparents using current data from the November 2021 update. Click on the table to view a larger version.

As with my previous post, it’ll be helpful to discuss the ethnicities in my family based on pedigree. The ancestors of my father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa” in the chart) were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Prussian partitions as far back as I’ve been able to discover. (A brief discussion of the partitions of Poland and subsequent border changes is found here.) My mother-in-law’s (“Paternal Grandma’s”) ancestors were also ethnic Poles, from the Prussian partition. My mother’s (“Maternal Grandma’s”) family were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Austrian partitions. My father’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) ancestry is more mixed. His mother’s family was entirely German, and his father’s family was half German/Alsatian, half English/Irish/Scottish.

Based on those pedigrees, “Paternal Grandpa, “Paternal Grandma,” “Dad,” and “Maternal Grandma” should all be 100% Polish ethnicity, since all of their ancestors were Poles, living in Polish lands, as far back as I have traced thus far. I’m half Polish, since all my ancestors on my Mom’s side were Polish and none of my Dad’s ancestors were, and my kids, then, are 75% Polish.

For comparison, the summary chart for the data from March 2019 is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Original comparison of Ancestry DNA ethnicity estimates among four siblings, their parents, and grandparents based on ethnicity estimate from March 2019. Click on the table to view a larger version.

In comparison with these earlier data, the November 2021 ethnicity estimates for each person have not changed significantly. My father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa”), for example, was previously reported to be 83% Eastern Europe & Russia,16% Baltic States, and 2% Finland; in this current estimate, 84% of his ethnicity was Eastern Europe & Russia, with 11% Baltic, and 5% Sweden & Denmark. The Baltic and Sweden & Denmark components may or may not be real, since the reported ranges indicate 0% at the low end. It may happen that these components eventually disappear, just as the “Finland” component did, as the ethnicity estimates are continually refined. However, it’s also possible that these components are real, and reflect retained traces of more ancient ancestry. Time will tell.

My father-in-law was also assigned to some Genetic Communities™, specifically, the Northeast Poland community, with additional sub-assignments of Central & Northeast Poland, Central Poland, and Łódź Province and Surrounding Area. Given the degree of overlap between those communities, I think this is, at best, a modest improvement over the simple statement that his ethnicity is Polish, but it’s a step in the right direction, at least.

Figure 7: Ethnicity estimate for my father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa”), showing extent of geographic overlap among the Genetic Communities™ of Central & Northeast Poland, Central Poland, and Łódź Province & Surrounding Area. Each smaller orange area in the image corresponds to a sub-community within the parent Genetic Community, Northeast Poland. Image courtesy of Ancestry DNA.

Another interesting difference between the 2019 ethnicity estimate and the current estimate is the increase in my Dad’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) reported Scottish ethnicity. This is due to Ancestry’s attempt in 2020 to differentiate between the closely-related ethnic groups in the United Kingdom. As explained in this blog post by Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Communications at Ancestry, earlier reference panels included only two groups for this region, an Irish/Celtic/Gaelic group and an Anglo-Saxon/British/English group. In 2020, Ancestry added additional reference panels in an attempt to offer increased granularity, so testers with U.K. ancestry could now be assigned to one or more of four ethnic groups for this region: England & Northwestern Europe, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Unfortunately, this particular change to the algorithm led to inflated estimates of Scottish ancestry for many of us. In 2019, my Dad’s combined “Ireland & Scotland” component represented 4% of his ethnicity (range = 0–5%). For comparison, we can calculate Dad’s ethnicity by pedigree. His most recent Irish ancestor was his great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh, from whom Dad would have received, on average, 6.25% of his DNA. Another great-great-grandmother, Catherine (Grant) Dodds, was the source of Dad’s Scottish ancestry, but her family’s origins are unclear, as she herself was most likely born in Canada of parents or grandparents who were Scottish immigrants. If we assume that Catherine’s ancestry was purely Scottish, then Dad would be expected to inherit 6.25% Scottish ethnicity from her, for a total of 12.5% “Ireland & Scotland.” So, the 4% “Ireland & Scotland” reported in 2019 falls short of that, partly due to the random nature of DNA inheritance through recombination—Dad may simply have inherited less than the average amount of DNA from each of those two ancestors—and partly due to the inexact science of generating ethnicity estimates.

However, in Dad’s current ethnicity estimate, his Scottish component is inflated to a whopping 31% (range = 12–33%), while his Irish estimate is 3% (range = 0–7%), and his England & Northwest Europe component comes in at 18% (range = 0–51%). These changes are the result of that attempt in 2020 to distinguish between Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English/Northwestern European ethnicities, and they effectively double his total U.K. ancestry, which should be about 25% since all of his English/Irish/Scottish roots are through one grandmother, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts. (Dad’s other three grandparents were all German or Alsatian.) I suspect that this over-estimate of Scottish ancestry will be resolved in a future ethnicity estimate update.

I think the rest of the data in the charts largely speak for themselves, so an exhaustive analysis of each person’s results is unnecessary. However, a few observations can be made:

  1. Both Child 1 and Child 4 both had ethnicities reported that were not detected in the tests of either their parents or their grandparents. Child 1 was reported to have 1% DNA (range = 0–4%) from Sardinia, and Child 4 was reported to have 6% (range = 0–12%) DNA from Norway. Since DNA cannot “skip a generation,” these results cannot reflect any true ethnic origins in those areas. Since we only recognize that that these results are spurious by comparing them with data from both parents, this illustrates the need for caution in interpreting ethnicities reported at values less than about 10%.
  2. Even if a reported ethnicity matches the known pedigree, checking the range of values is recommended; anything that dwindles down to 0% should be taken with a grain of salt, in the most conservative interpretation.
  3. Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™, identified in conjunction with place data from family trees, track well across generations. There were no Communities assigned to children which were not also assigned to their parents, and in one case, a parent’s data exhibited a higher degree of accuracy and precision ((Northeastern Lesser Poland > Dąbrowa County) than was detected in the child.
  4. Identification of Genetic Communities™ did not always line up with known data about ancestral origins, even when those origins are confirmed through DNA matches. Despite having a grandmother born in Greater Poland and having deep ancestry in that region confirmed by DNA matches, my mother was not assigned to this Community. Despite having no evidence of ancestry from places further south than Greater Poland, my mother-in-law was assigned to the Southeast Poland Genetic Community. Go figure.

At the end of the day, these are only estimates of one’s ethnicity, and they are liable to change, modestly or significantly, as additional testers enter the data pool and new reference populations are added for comparison. DNA match lists are ultimately more useful than ethnicity estimates in answering genealogical research questions, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to see how these estimates play out within a family group.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Myth-Busting: What We Don’t Know About John Hodgkinson

In my last post, I summarized the basic vital data about John Hodgkinson, United Empire Loyalist (U.E.), that I believe is supported by evidence from the historical record. However, there are quite a few family trees out there that make some unusual claims and connections to this family, and offer no evidence to support those assertions. Today, I’d like to discuss a few of the common claims regarding the origins and immediate family of John Hodgkinson.

Let’s begin with a few of the most popular statements found in family trees pertaining to John Hodgkinson, U.E.:

  1. John Hodgkinson was born 29 November 1750 in London, England.
  2. John Hodgkinson was born 29 December 1753 in Mansfield, Nottingham, England to John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley.
  3. John Hodgkinson was married to Sarah Carey Marle on 6 June 1781 in St. Leonards, Shoreditch, London, England.
  4. John Hodgkinson died on 26 October 1826.
  5. John Hodgkinson had other children besides the ones discussed previously (namely, Samuel, Ellender, Francis, and Robert).

Let’s examine these individually.

Statement 1: John Hodgkinson was born 29 November 1750 in London, England

Records from the Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground indicate that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was born in 1750 and died in 1832,1 but there is no specific birth date suggested by Canadian records, nor do we have any definitive evidence for where he might have been born. Certainly, as a Loyalist, he was living in the American Colonies prior to the start of the Revolutionary War, but that’s about all we know for sure. The lack of promising matches for John’s birth or baptism in indexed collections of American Colonial records suggests that there might be some merit to the hypothesis of a birth in England, however. Moreover, the Greater London area was something of a hotspot for this surname in 1881, based on the surname distribution map shown in Figure 1.2 Unfortunately, data for years prior to 1881 are not available, but assuming it’s safe (?) to extrapolate these data to the previous century, then we can infer that the Hodgkinson surname was also quite prevalent in Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire at the time of John Hodgkinson’s birth. (The popularity within those counties varies based on the the specific parameter in consideration—incidence, frequency, or rank within the area.)

Figure 1: Geographic distribution of the Hodgkinson surname by counties in England in 1881. Darker colors represent higher surname densities.

Unfortunately, geographic surname distributions are not especially helpful at predicting a family’s origins when it comes to relatively popular surnames. It doesn’t matter if there were only nine Hodgkinsons living in Northumberland in 1881; if you can definitively trace your ancestry back to them, then you don’t care that the surname is relatively rare in Northumberland. So, while it’s entirely possible that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was born in London on 29 November 1750—and plenty of people seem to believe this to be true, based on all those online trees out there—there needs to be some evidence for this assertion, because that’s certainly not the only place he could have been born. In fact, a quick search of indexed records on FamilySearch for “John Hodgkinson” born in London, England in 1750, produces a slew of possible vital records from all over England. “Hodgkinson” is just not an especially unique surname, so it’s not clear to me how a certain percentage of the Genealogical Community at Large decided that this information was reliable.

Statement 2: John Hodgkinson was born 29 December 1753 in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England to John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley

This second hypothesis is perhaps even more popular than the first, and what makes it so intriguing is that some evidence is offered for this assertion. Several Hodgkinson trees online cite birth records for John Hodgkinson, William Hodgkinson, and a purported sister, Mary Hodgkinson, all baptized in Mansfield, and all of whom were recorded as children of John and Sarah Hodgkinson.3 Moreover, there’s a marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, who are assumed to be the parents of these children.4 John’s “birth record” is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: John Hodgkinson in Ancestry’s database, “England and Wales Christening Index, 1530–1980.”

On the surface, these data fit the research problem nicely, and it’s very appealing to hope that this hypothesis might be true. Mansfield in Nottinghamshire lies squarely within that “Hodgkinson surname hot zone” shown in Figure 1. Although no maiden name was reported for the mother on the baptismal records of John (baptized 29 December 1753), Mary (baptized 6 April 1755), and William (baptized 10 April 1759), it’s logical to suppose that they might be siblings since the parents’ names are the same in all cases, and they were all baptized in the same place. The marriage of John Hodgkinson “Senior” and Sarah Godley in Mansfield England on 25 June 1752 would fit nicely with the timing of the children’s births, suggesting that this groom and bride might be the same John and Sarah Hodgkinson that were identified in the baptismal records. But how does this family group compare with existing data for the Loyalist Hodgkinsons?

Well, John’s baptism in 1753 is sufficiently close to his documented birth date of 1750 as to make this plausible, especially since the birth date recorded in the Hodgkinson Burying Ground records may have been calculated from his supposed age at the time of death, which may have been “off” by a few years. The structure of this family group is consistent with Canadian evidence indicating that John Hodgkinson was older than his brother, William, as well. It’s also possible that the Mary Hodgkinson identified in the baptismal record could be the “Mary Huskinson” who was recorded as the godmother to Ellender “Huskinson” in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke.5 However, if this hypothesis is correct, then William was baptized quite a long time after his birth on 12 August 1751, which is the date cited by the transcript of grave markers from the Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground.6 Could it be that he was actually born in 1751, but baptized as late as 1759? That seems unlikely, in light of existing evidence that the vast majority of babies were baptized within a week after birth in 16th- and 17th-century England.7 Nonetheless, exceptions did exist, and some families were more lax than others in baptizing their children soon after birth. Furthermore, if this were true for the Hodgkinson family of Mansfield, it would also help to reconcile that discrepancy between John’s date of birth according to his grave marker (1750) and his date of baptism.

Any time we find an “index only” record, such as these records for the baptisms of the Hodgkinson siblings and the marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, it’s useful to go to the source and view the original documents from which the indexed information was taken. John Hodgkinson’s birth record was found in Ancestry’s “England and Wales Christening Index, 1530–1980” database, and the marriage record for John Hodgkinson (“Senior”) and Sarah Godley was similarly found in Ancestry’s “England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988” database. As the source for the information in both these databases, Ancestry cites the British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition, published by the Genealogical Society of Utah (the progenitor of FamilySearch) as the source. So in this case, the source of the information is an index citing another index.

A similar situation occurs when searching for these individuals at FamilySearch. William’s and Mary’s birth records can be found in the database, “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” and I suspect that John must be in there as well, although he was curiously absent in searches of the database, both broad and narrow. Mary’s search result is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Search result for Mary Hodgkinson, born 1755, in the “England Births and Christenings, 1538–1975” database at FamilySearch.

This particular database is one of FamilySearch‘s “Legacy” databases. Unlike collections of indexed historical records from one particular place, FamilySearch‘s Legacy collections are compilations of records obtained from a variety of sources, including user-contributed (i.e. unverified) data previously published in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). As FamilySearch cautions on their Wiki article about this database, “As this is an index of records compiled from various sources, it is strongly recommended that you verify any information you find with original records.

Where to find those original records? An easy way to do that is to click on the drop-down arrow for “Document Information.” This displays important information about the original source, as shown in Figure 4, including the digital folder number and the microfilm number.

Figure 4: Document information, boxed in red, for the baptismal record of Mary Hodgkinson, indexed in “England Births and Christenings, 1538–1975.”

FamilySearch has recently made some updates to their website, and that may be why some of the search features and links seem “glitchy” to me. You’d think, for example, that clicking on the microfilm number shown in Figure 4 would take you to the catalog entry for that film number. Unfortunately, it links instead to a “No Results Found” page in the Records search. That means we have to take matters into our own hands and navigate to the FamilySearch Catalog, and from there, choose “Search for Film/Fiche Number,” and then paste in (or retype) the film number, 503789. That brings up the page shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Result of the search for Film/Fiche Number 503789 in the FamilySearch Catalog.

This tells us that Film number 503789 contains Bishop’s transcripts from two different parishes in Nottinghamshire, Linby and Mansfield. Since the indexed entry stated that the Hodgkinsons were from Mansfield, we can assume it’s that second collection, “Items 2–3: Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598–1903” that must contain the images of the baptismal records for John, William and Mary Hodgkinson. (In fact, as an alternative to looking up the film number contained in the Document Information, we could also search according to Place [Mansfield] in the FamilySearch Catalog and find the original images that way.)

Following through with either one of those methods will bring us to the page shown in Figure 6, which contains details on the available Bishop’s transcripts from the parish of Mansfield.

Figure 6: Detailed description and film/digital notes for the FamilySearch collection, “Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598–1903.”

At last, our efforts are rewarded with the information that items 2–3 on film 503789 contain “Baptisms, marriages, burials, 1598–1760,” which is right where we would expect to find the three Hodgkinson baptismal records and the parents’ marriage record. Since the images are not available for home viewing, I had to visit my local FamilySearch Affiliate Library in order to obtain copies. Unfortunately, the original images contain no additional information beyond what was indexed. William Hodgkinson’s birth is shown in Figure 7 as an example.8

Figure 7: Baptismal record for William Hodgkinson from the Bishop’s transcripts of the parish church in Mansfield, 10 April 1759.

So what does this do for us in evaluating the hypothesis that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was baptized in Mansfield on 29 December 1753 and was the son of John Hodgkinson and Sarah, whose maiden name was probably Godley? As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out. Reasonably exhaustive research is one of the criteria required by the Genealogical Proof Standard before we can consider this hypothesis to be proven. While evidence from Canadian records may well have been exhausted, there may still be some insight that can be gained from deeper research in British records. Do John, William and Mary Hodgkinson “disappear” from British records, or can potentially relevant marriage or death records be found, which might imply that these individuals did not emigrate? Do the original parish vital records (not bishop’s transcripts) contain any information not found in the copies? Can evidence for the departure of John, William and Mary Hodgkinson be found in parish chest records from Mansfield? Can probate records be discovered for John Senior or Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson, which mention children living in the American Colonies? Until answers are found to these questions, I think it can only be said that this is an interesting—and plausible—hypothesis in need of further research.

Statement 3: John Hodgkinson was married to Sarah Carey Marle on 6 June 1781 in St. Leonards, Shoreditch, London, England.

Moving right along, there are a number of family trees that contain the claim that the Sarah Hodgkinson who was married to John Hodgkinson, U.E., was in fact, Sarah Carey Marle (1782–1854). According to these trees, Sarah was the mother of Samuel, Robert, and Francis Hodgkinson of Grantham, Upper Canada. These claims originate with this marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey from St. Leonard’s Church (also known as Shoreditch Church) in London (Figure 8).9

Figure 8: Marriage record from Shoreditch Church, London, for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey, 6 June 1781.

This marriage record can be considered as solid evidence that a John Hodgkinson, widower, married Sarah Carey on 6 June 1781 in the presence of Mary Stoneley and William Burgess at Shoreditch Church, but it’s an obvious case of mistaken identity to assume that this record has anything at all to do with John Hodgkinson, U.E.. Sarah Spencer was clearly identified as the wife of John Hodgkinson in his land petition, and in 1781, John was presumably in active service with Butler’s Rangers, since they did not disband until 1784.10 It’s unlikely that he took a quick jaunt back to England to enter a bigamous marriage with Sarah Carey. Sorry, folks, you’ve got the wrong John Hodgkinson.

Statement 4: John Hodgkinson died on 26 October 1826.

John’s grave marker stated that he died in 1832, with no specific date given.11 He does not appear in the index of wills for Lincoln County, Ontario (1796-1918), which is good evidence that he did not leave a will, which might have been helpful in narrowing down a date of death.12 Barring the discovery of any previously-unknown church death records or newspaper obituaries, the date on that grave marker seems to provide the best estimate for John Hodgkinson’s date of death. So where does the date of 26 October 1826 come from? I suspect that this error stems from confusion with the date of death of John’s wife, Sarah Hodgkinson. There’s good evidence that she died in 1826; her death notice was published in the Farmer’s Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer on Wednesday, 1 November 1826, stating, “Died…In Grantham, on Tuesday last, of dropsy, Mrs. Sarah Hodgkinson, wife of Mr. John Hodgkinson, at an advanced age. The funeral will take place at his residence tomorrow, at 12 o’clock, at noon.”13 Although “Tuesday last” seems to suggest the previous day, 31 October 1826, it could be argued that perhaps the previous Tuesday, 24 October, was meant. Regardless of which date you prefer, it was clearly Sarah Hodgkinson who died in October 1826, and not John, since the wording of the death notice strongly suggests that he was still alive and would be present at his wife’s funeral on 2 November.

Statement 5: John Hodgkinson had other children besides the ones discussed previously (namely, Samuel, Ellender, Francis, and Robert).

There are quite a few family trees out there that attach additional children to John Hodgkinson, U.E., and either of the two wives, Mary Moore and Sarah Spencer, who are supported by evidence from historical documents. Some assert that John had a son, William James Hodgkinson, or a son, Spencer Hodgkinson. Others claim that he had a daughter, Rebecca, or a daughter, Sarah. No sources are cited for these claims, and I believe that’s because there aren’t any to cite. Let’s remember that there was an important monetary advantage to being the son or daughter of a Loyalist in Upper Canada in the late 18th- and early 19th centuries, since each son or daughter of a Loyalist was entitled to a free land grant (typically 200 acres) from the British Crown. It would be unusual for any children of John Hodgkinson who survived to adulthood to neglect this opportunity for free land, and no other land petitions exist for children of John Hodgkinson except for those already cited, for Samuel, Francis and Robert. You don’t have to take my word for that; consider evidence from William D. Reid’s book, The Loyalists in Ontario: The Sons and Daughters of the American Loyalists of Upper Canada, in which he, too, identifies only these children of John Hodgkinson (Figure 9).14

Figure 9: William D. Reid’s list of children of John Hodgkinson, U.E., who were granted land by Orders-in-Council (O.C.)

Of course, one could argue that William James, Spencer, Sarah, or Rebecca were nonetheless children of John Hodgkinson, but that they died before reaching an age at which they could petition for a land grant. After all, there is no land petition for Ellender Hodgkinson, yet I’m of the opinion that she was a child of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. However, the difference is that there is a baptismal record identifying Ellender as a child of John and Mary “Huskinson,” as discussed in my last post, whereas I can find no evidence that these other putative children actually do belong in this family group. It’s not enough to say, “Hmm… I’ve got a Rebecca Hodkginson who was supposed to have been born in Canada in the right time frame for her to be the daughter of John Hodgkinson, U.E… I guess she must be his daughter!” Essentially, that is proposing a hypothesis, and it’s perfectly okay to do that, as long as your online tree indicates in some way that this is your own, unproven, pet theory. To avoid confusing newbies, however, it’s probably more prudent to keep those trees private, so that you can provide appropriate cautions about the hypothetical relationships in your tree when curious people write to you for more information.

Although the Hodgkinson family presents just one example, the issue of hasty, careless, or poorly-reasoned research is pervasive in the world of genealogy. I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to “name and shame” anyone. In fact, I deliberately avoided citing specific online trees where these errors are found. Instead, my hope is to encourage family historians to be a bit more critical and discerning when evaluating evidence from historical sources, rather than jumping on the “same name” bandwagon. We all make mistakes, and in our enthusiasm for pushing back just one generation further, it can be easy to overlook pesky facts that don’t fit our hypotheses very well. However, we owe it to ourselves and to our ancestors to get their stories right, to the best of our ability.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021


1 Maggie Parnell, Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground, (St. Catharines, Ontario: Niagara Peninsula Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998), p 2.

2 “Hodgkinson Surname Distribution Map,” Forebears (https://forebears.io/surnames/hodgkinson#place-tab-1881 : 10 October 2021), showing distribution for England in 1881.

3 “England and Wales Christening Index, 1530–1980,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson, baptized 29 December 1753, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England; and

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NVHB-VVZ : 10 October 2021), William Hodgkinson, baptized 10 April 1759; and

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JSF3-JJ2 : 10 October 2021), Mary Hodgkinson, baptized 6 April 1755.

4 “England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, 25 June 1752, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.

5 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 10 October 2021), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11.

6 Parnell, p. 2.

7 Sally Brush, “Research Note: When Were Babies Baptized? Some Welsh Evidence,” Local Population Studies (http://www.localpopulationstudies.org.uk/PDF/LPS72/Article_Note_Brush_pp83-87.pdf : 10 October 2021); and

Stuart Basten, “Birth-Baptism Intervals for Family Historians,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Birth-Baptism_Intervals_for_Family_Historians : 10 October 2021).

8 “Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598-1903,” Baptisms, marriages, burials, 1598-1760, 1759, Baptisms, William Hodgkinson, son of John and Sarah Hodgkinson, 10 April 1759; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 7 October 2021), FHL film no. 503789/DGS no. 7565515, image 551 of 566.

9 “London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey, 6 June 1781; citing London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London Church of England Parish Registers; Reference Number: P91/LEN/A/01/MS 7498/12.

10 Government of Canada, “Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1797, no. 32, Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, Vol. 224, Bundle H-3, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2043; browsable images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/microform-digitization/006003-110.02-e.php?&q2=29&interval=50&sk=0&PHPSESSID=rgi7t06a60or2jdheocn6v65f4 : 10 October 2021), Microfilm C-2043 > images 766 and 767 out of 990; and

Ernest Cruikshank, The Story of Butler’s Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara (Welland, Ontario: Tribune Printing House, 1893), p. 113; ebook, Project Gutenburg Canada (https://gutenberg.ca/: 10 October 2021).

11 Parnell, p 2.

12 Lincoln County (Ontario) Registrar of Deeds, “Will Index, 1796–1918;” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 10 October 2021), surnames beginning with “H,” images 55–68 of 160.

13 Farmers’ Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer (St. Catharines, Upper Canada), 1 November 1826 (Wednesday), p 3, col 4, death notice for Sarah Hodgkinson; online images, Google News (https://news.google.com/ : 10 October 2021).

14 William D. Reid, The Loyalists in Ontario: The Sons and Daughters of the American Loyalists of Upper Canada (Lambertville, NJ, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1973), p 150, Hodgkinson, John of Grantham; ebook, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021).