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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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