Mapping Birthplaces of Irish Immigrants to St. Catharines

Lately I’ve been writing quite a bit about my attempts to find the place of origin for my great-great-great grandfather, Robert Walsh/Welsh/Welch who was born somewhere in Ireland between 1808-1816 and who immigrated to St. Catharines, Upper Canada some time before his marriage to Elizabeth Hodgkinson circa 1843. Lacking any evidence for specific place of origin in records pertaining directly to Robert Walsh or his documented close relatives (possibly siblings), Thomas Walsh and Bridget Maria Walsh, I examined records pertaining to their FANs (Friends, Associates and Neighbors), a technique known as cluster research. Focusing specifically on marriage witnesses and godparents that Robert and Elizabeth Walsh chose for their children, I identified a number of places in Ireland where the Walsh FANs were from, as discussed in a recent post. Unfortunately, there was no geographic trend indicated by these places. They included County Limerick, County Sligo, County Clare, and County Tyrone, which suggests that the connections between the Walshes and these individuals were forged post-immigration rather than pre-immigration.

Since the Walshes’ FANs gave me no great clues, I decided to broaden the circle by another level, and see if there were any trends that could be observed by examining all the marriage records which mention a Walsh bride or groom or a Walsh mother of the bride or mother of the groom. As noted previously, the earliest available records are found in the collection Baptisms, marriages 1852–1860, and I focused on these primarily since the marriage records from this book typically mention the specific place of origin of the bride and groom. This is in contrast to the later book of Marriages, 1858–1910 in which only the immigrant’s country of origin was typically specified, although there was a span of years (images 12–16, with a few additional entries on images 10, 20, 23 and 27) when some thoughtful priest recorded the county of origin for Irish immigrants as well. I did not observe any examples of baptismal records where the place of origin of immigrant parents was noted. In the interest of time, I did not include the data regarding county of origin when it was mentioned in the collection Marriages, 1858–1910. Instead, I focused only on the earliest records.

Admittedly, this strategy is not ideal due to the popularity of the Walsh surname, nor was it especially helpful. I discovered the following:

  • There were four Walsh brides. One was from Cahersiveen, County Kerry; one was from Askeaton, County Limerick; one was from County Cork, no specific village or parish indicated, and one was from someplace whose name cannot be accurately determined because it ran into the margin of the book.
  • There were no Walsh grooms.
  • There were two brides with a mother who was a Walsh. They were from Westport, County Mayo, and “Myrish” (probably Moyrus), County Galway.
  • There were five grooms with a mother who was a Walsh. They were from Westport, County Mayo; Ballyguran, County Waterford; Bohola, County Mayo; Ballymartin, County Cork; and one additional place that could not be deciphered, in County Tipperary.

Again, there were no obvious geographic trends, nor were there any clues in those other Walsh marriage records that might suggest that any of them were related to my Walsh family.

Since I was already in the business of working with the data from these church records from the cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, I decided to try one last strategy. I created a map of all the places of origin in Ireland mentioned in those marriage records, dated from 1852–1857.

The Method Behind the Madness

The map can be accessed by clicking here. Each pin on the map is a unique place of origin mentioned in the records from St. Catharines. However, in some cases, there were multiple immigrants from the same location. Clicking on a pin on the map will produce the name of the immigrant(s) who were from that location, along with a link to the page of church records where the source marriage record can be found.  Although the basic idea is pretty simple, there are a few points to be made about the actual implementation.

  1. Although the vast majority of individuals mentioned in these marriage records were Irish immigrants, there were some natives of Canada West, New York, Quebec, Scotland, England, Holland, and Prussia in the mix. Since my focus was on identifying places of origin in Ireland, I ignored any other places that were mentioned.
  2. Since data were extracted from a Roman Catholic church book, most individuals named were Roman Catholic. However, in a few cases mixed (interfaith) marriages were noted so one should check the source to see if a person of interest might have been Protestant.
  3. Original spellings were preserved to the extent that I could read them. Some names like Crownan and Cronnin/Cronin may have common origins or may even be the same family.
  4. In cases where the name of the bride or groom was recorded differently in the page margin than in the marriage record itself, the name used in the record was the name used on the map.
  5. Places mentioned in the records vary in degree of precision, ranging from a village, or civil parish to a townland or county. If a more precise place of origin was indicated, it was usually reported along with the county name, which helped in distinguishing between places with the same name (e.g. Newport, County Mayo and Newport, County Tipperary). Place names were rendered phonetically, so spellings used were frequently incorrect. In many cases it was possible to guess which place was meant, e.g. “Iniscarthy,” County Wexford, is almost certainly meant to be Enniscorthy, County Wexford; “Cloonmile” in County Tipperary is likely to be Clonmel, “Dunbeck,” County Clare is probably Doonbeg, etc. In a few cases I could not find a good phonetic match for the place name, due in part to illegible handwriting. In those instances, only the county was recorded.

The Results

Places of origin for a total of 267 immigrants were mapped. These immigrants represented all 32 counties in Ireland, with a small majority (45 immigrants, or 16.8% of the total) coming from places within County Mayo. Additional data are summarized in Figure 1, below.

Figure 1: Number and percent of immigrants from each Irish county who were mentioned in the marriage records dated between 1852–1857 from St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, St. Catharines, Ontario. Percentages do not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

Irish immigrants data

One wonders how these numbers compare with the population of each Irish county circa 1841, when the Walshes may have emigrated. Was the emigration proportional to the population, or was there disproportionate emigration from particular counties? According to statistics found on Wikipedia, the top five Irish counties ranked in order of population in 1841 were Cork, Galway, Tipperary, Mayo, and Dublin.1 In contrast, the top five Irish counties reported as birthplaces of immigrants to St. Catharines were Mayo, Cork, Tipperary, Clare, and Kerry, and this difference may reflect the impact of chain migration. Perhaps these data will help me prioritize my searches for my Walsh/Cavanagh family among the almost 200 parishes where both of these surnames are known to exist. Unfortunately, there have been no easy answers, but if genealogy were always easy, our successes would be much less satisfying.

Sources:

1 “Irish Population Analysis,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : 29 June 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

The Walsh family of St. Catharines in the Parish Census

Recently, I wrote about census records in Poland, and the kinds of census records one might find. One type of census record that I mentioned is called the status animarum in Latin, and it’s a parish census that the pastor would conduct annually as he took stock of his parishioners’ spiritual well-being. These types of censuses were conducted throughout the Catholic Church, not just in Poland. Some of them happen to be available online — namely, parish census records from the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, Ontario, which was the home parish of my Walsh ancestors.

Meet the Walshes

The featured photo is a copy of an old tintype photo of four generations of the Walsh family, circa 1905. On the far left is Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh (1818-1907), my great-great-great-grandmother, and on the far right is her son (my great-great-grandfather), Henry Walsh (1847-1907). Next to Henry is his oldest daughter, Marion (née Walsh) Frank (1878-1954), and next to her is her daughter, Alice Marion Frank. The image was cleaned up a bit courtesy of Jordan Sakal in the Genealogists’ Photo Restoration Group on Facebook.

The Walshes were an interesting bunch. My great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh (1808-1881), was a Roman Catholic immigrant from Ireland to Canada who arrived some time before 1840 and worked as a tailor. Around 1840, he married Elizabeth Hodgkinson (1818-1907), an Anglican native of Ontario, and a granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Loyalists. Census records show that Robert and Elizabeth had 9 children: B. Maria, James George (later known as George James), Henry, Mary Ann, Robert, Elizabeth, Ellen (also known as Nellie), Thomas J. (baptized as John), and Joseph P. (baptized as Peter Joseph). Unfortunately, baptismal records have only been discovered for three of these: Elizabeth, Thomas J., and Joseph P., all of whom were baptized in the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. It’s likely that their parents were married there as well. The parish was certainly in existence circa 1840 when the Walshes were married, but unfortunately, early records were destroyed when an arsonist burned down the original wooden church in 1842.1 No one seems to know what became of the records created after the fire, between 1842 and 1851. The earliest records that have survived date back to 1852 (baptisms and marriages only). Apparently, duplicate copies of the parish registers were never made, and neither the parish itself, nor the archives for the dioceses of Toronto (to which the parish belonged before 1958) or St. Catharines (to which the parish belonged after 1958) is in possession of any records from before 1852.2,3,4

As is evident from the list of their children’s names, the Walsh family had a propensity for switching first and middle names, and they also used variations of their surname indifferently, appearing as Walsh, Welsh, and Welch. One example of this can be seen in Figures 1 and 2, which show the grave marker that Elizabeth Walsh shares with her husband and youngest son (Joseph P), in comparison with her newspaper death notice.

Figure 1:  Walsh monument in Victoria Lawn Cemetery for Robert, Elizabeth, and youngest son Joseph P. Walsh. The inscription for Elizabeth reads, “Elizabeth/Wife of/Robert Walsh/Died/Jan. 1, 1907/Aged 89 Years/Rest in Peace.” Photo courtesy of Carol Roberts Fischer.

elizabeth-walsh-grave-inscription

Although the name appears as “Walsh” on the family monument, both her newspaper death notice5 and her death certificate6 report her name as Elizabeth Welch (Figure 3):

Figure 2:  Death notice from the Buffalo Evening News for Elizabeth Welch, 3 January 1907.5

elizabeth-welch-obit-buffalo-evening-news-wed-2-jan-1907-crop

With so much variation in spellings of names, and with a surname that is so common to start with, particularly in St. Catharines, which was home to a large Irish immigrant population, one must proceed with caution when examining any records that might potentially pertain to this family. Canadian census records, city directories, and church records all show a number of different Walsh, Welsh and Welch families which may or may not be related to my own. This parish census collection was no exception.

Identifying the Walsh Family in the Parish Census

Once I started searching the parish census, it didn’t take long to find this record (Figure 4):

Figure 4:  Walsh family in the 1885-1886 Status Animarum for St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, St. Catharines, Ontario.walsh-family-status-animarum-cropped-marked

This shows a Mrs. Walsh with sons Thomas and Robert. Not a lot of information to go on, but I’m sure these are mine, for several reasons. First, Mr. Walsh is not mentioned, consistent with the fact that the census is from 1885-1886 and “my” Robert Walsh died in 1881. Second, the entries on this page all seem to be families living on Lake Street, which is where my Walshes were listed on several city directories as having residence (Figure 5):7

Figure 5:  “Welch” entries in St. Catharines City Directory, 1877-78.7dir-of-st-cath-1877-78-thorold-merriton-port-dalhousie

The above entries for “Welch” include Robert, a merchant tailor, and his sons, Henry, a teamster, and Robert, Jr., who was co-owner of the “Rogers and Welch” livery service, all living at 34 Lake Street. This is consistent with the parish census, which indicates that the mother, “Mrs. Walsh,” is (or was) a tailor. The fact that the word “tailor” is crossed out may suggest a correction made by the priest, due to the fact that her late husband was a tailor but she herself was living as a dependent of her sons at that point. Thomas was originally recorded as being occupied in the livery business, but this, too, is crossed out, and corrected to “tailor.” The second son, Robert, is recorded as being employed in the livery business, consistent with the information from the city directory.

The family’s religious observance is recorded in the next column with Elizabeth being described as “careless” in her Mass attendance, while her sons were apparently not practicing. Perhaps by way of explanation, the priest noted in the final column that she was “a convert” and added, “three mixed marriages:  James — Main Street/Henry Lake Street/Mrs. Divine at Henry’s.” This notation points to the other ecumenical marriages in the family at that time:  Elizabeth’s son, James George married Jane Lawder, a Protestant; her son Henry married Martha Agnes Dodds, also Protestant, and daughter Ellen (“Nellie”) married Charles DeVere (recorded here as “Divine”). On the preceding page in the book, we find the family of Henry Walsh (Figure 6):

Figure 6:  Henry Walsh family in the 1885-1886 Status Animarum for St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, St. Catharines, Ontario.henry-walsh-family-1885-parish-census-cropped-marked

Henry Walsh is listed as a carter here, consistent with other sources which stated his occupation as teamster. His wife’s name is not stated here, but his wife, Martha Agnes Dodds, was Protestant. The child living with them, “Maud,” is noted to be 8 years old and attending day school. This suggests that “Maud” is their oldest daughter, Marion, who was born in 1878. It’s unclear why none of their other children are mentioned, since Henry and Martha’s daughters Clara and Katherine were born in 1880 and 1883, respectively. The other couple living with them, “Chas. Divine and Mrs. Divine,” are undoubtedly Henry’s sister, Ellen “Nellie” and her husband, Charles DeVere, also known as Charles Dolphin or Charles Dolfin. Although this is another fine example of variant surname spellings run amuck, their civil marriage record (Figure 7) shows that the groom was Protestant and the bride was Catholic, consistent with the notation about a “mixed marriage” on the parish census record.

Figure 7:  Civil marriage record for Nellie Welch and Charles Dolphinnellie-welch-and-charles-dolphin-1883-civil-marriage-marked

Although the original parish census entry for “Mrs. Walsh” mentioned the family of James Walsh, living on Main Street, there is no corresponding entry for this family in the parish census book, nor was Main Street listed as an address for any families in the census book.  It’s possible that these addresses would have belonged to another parish in St. Catharines since there were several Catholic parishes in St. Catharines by the mid-1880s.

Parish census records are unlikely to provide any earth-shattering new data in areas in which other census records survive. Nonetheless, they may offer some useful insights to add to our understanding of our families within their local communities. If you have Catholic ancestors from St. Catharines, be sure to check out this collection to see what you might find!

Sources

“Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint Catharines.” Wikipedia. Accessed October 21, 2016. https://www.wikipedia.org/.

Price, Rev. Brian. Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kingston. E-mail message to author. July 7, 2016.

Sweetapple, Lori. Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto.  E-mail message to author, July 11, 2016.

Wilson-Zorzetto, Liz. Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines.  E-mail message to the author, July 14, 2016.

Death notice for Elizabeth Welch, January 3, 1907, http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html, Buffalo Evening News, Buffalo, New York, online images.

Buffalo, Erie, New York, Death Certificates, 1907, #198, record for Elizabeth Welch.

Leavenworth, E.S., ed. “Welch” in Directory of St. Catharines, Thorold, Merriton, and Port Dalhousie, for 1877-78. St. Catharines: Leavenworth, 1877. 79.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016