So it's not strictly an Irish name. But Julia has been the most genealogically relevant name in my Irish family history search, and the stories about it run through the ages.
I could have asked anyone what Nana's mother's name was and gotten an answer, but I was at the very beginning of genealogy - before I'd even begun asking questions - when I came across a copy of Nana's death certificate, which listed her parents as Julia Toner and Patrick Mulvaney, both born in New York.
"Oh, cool," I thought.
I had an easy time finding Julia and Patrick on Ancestry.com in 1900, and 1910, and Julia and kids in 1920 and 1930, after Patrick had died. My searches yielded an 1880 result for a Julia Toner, of the proper age, in Manhattan, parents John and Mary.
"That's probably her," I thought.
Some time later, I ordered Julia's death certificate, which told me that her parents' names were Richard Toner and Mary Cullen, and so I started a new search, and quickly found the Toners in 1860 - Richard, Mary, Julia (9), Mary Ann (8), Samuel (6), Elizabeth (5), Louisa (3), William (9 m), and another Julia (63).
"Awww. . . Julia was named after her paternal grandmother!" I thought.
"But. . . this Julia is a full 19 years older than our Julia."
Now, occasionally a woman in Julia's family would lie about her age. This I know well. But 19 years. . . 19 years is a lot! She would have had to be bearing children well into her 60s. There were no fertility treatments in 1910, after all.
And then in the 1870 census, both of these Julias had disappeared. The Julia who had been 9 was gone entirely, and the Julia who had been 63 appeared to have been replaced by an 85-year-old named Judith. There was a new toddler, also named Judith, two years old.
Where was Julia? Had she grown up, married, and moved out by 19? Had she died?
And what of the elder Julia? Was she the same person as this even-older Judith?
And if so, does that mean Julias and Judiths are interchangeable or easily confused in the Toner family?
Could Judith the toddler be Julia my great-great-grandmother?
Death records proved that Richard's mother was Judith Toner. I have no idea whether the older Julia was the same person as Judith, mis-recorded, or whether Julia was someone else entirely.
I searched the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online for "Julia + Toner," hoping to find evidence of my great-great-grandmother doing anything. Being born, getting married, attending a picnic. I was dying to know whether she was the same Julia who had been 9 in 1860, but shouldn't even have been born until 1870. These searches led me to the Julia who had been 9 in 1860, and who certainly was not my great-great-grandmother. She had died at age 16, in a cholera epidemic, along with her younger brother James Thomas, who had lived and died between census years.
My great-great-grandmother Julia Toner was certainly born. Her 9 kids didn't arrive out of thin air. I've seen her marriage certificate. She was real. Further research shows she almost certainly belonged to this Toner family. Her son was living with Elizabeth's family in 1910. She signed Louisa's death certificate in 1925, releasing the body to the undertaker. I've still never found census or birth records that show her definitively being recorded as part of this family, though she clearly lived her life amongst her sisters, especially. There remains the possibility that the Judith who was 2 in 1870 was really Julia.
Though the practice of naming children after their deceased siblings is unsettling to modern sensibilities, I think I like it. I went into this genealogy thing looking for my ancestors. Their siblings were footnotes, at best. I only discovered the story of big sister Julia's life because she had the same name as little sister Julia my great-great-grandmother. Little sister Julia's life would have been remembered; at least her DNA lives on in my family members and I. Big sister Julia's life and memory would have died with her. By proxy, I found James Thomas, whose life would have gone not only unremembered but also virtually unrecorded, as he missed the census years.
When Richard and Mary decided to name their youngest (to my knowledge) after their eldest (to my knowledge), they ensured that her name would live on in infamy.
And infamy it would be.
In the 1960s, my grandparents, pregnant with one of my aunts, put names in a hat, and had my dad pick one out. Julia - my grandmother's grandmother's name - was one of the choices. (My dad picked Gail.)
Fast forward 30-odd years. We're in Eileen's kitchen, at a family party of some sort, and the above story, - the picking names out of a hat story - is told. My mother proceeds to mightily offend Gail by exclaiming, upon hearing the choices that had gone into the hat, "You couldn't have at least picked Julia?!"
(And here's where we pray my parents continue their practice of ignoring the fact that I have a blog. Don't want to give them heart attacks, after all. . .)
Fast forward to the present day. I begin doing genealogy, and am one day talking about the relatives I've discovered. My boyfriend - whose taste in names and mine don't necessarily agree - hears me mention my great-great-grandmother Julia and remarks that he likes that name. Hmm. . . I like it, too. Might Julia be a name that continues to live on in the family?
Fast forward to the future. . . ?