Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Using Church Records: A Cautionary Tale

I have long been confused by the fact my great-grandfather's youngest sister, Mary O'Hara, was missing from the 1910 census and missing from the baptismal register at the church where she should have been baptized. I eventually found a birth record for her, but these omissions still troubled me. It's one thing for a child here or there to be misnamed, misrecorded, or passed over, whether by the census taker, the parish priest, or the family legend, but for the same child to be missed in every case made me wonder.

I had contacted the Catholic Church nearest the O'Hara family home to try to find the family's sacramental records, and was rewarded with only one: Mary's older sister Malinda was baptized in April 1905. They couldn't find any of the others.

I contacted the same Catholic Church, on a different occasion, to request sacramental records for my Quinn family, who also lived nearby, and was told that, despite a search, there were no sacramental records for any of them. "Must have attended a different parish," I thought. "They don't call Brooklyn the 'Borough of Churches' for nothing." But during a recent visit to my great-uncle's home, he was able to show me a copy of the baptismal certificate of my great-grandmother, Molly Quinn. She was baptized March 28, 1897 at that very church.

Molly Quinn, Anna Mary Quinn, Brooklyn, Gillen, Quinn
Baptismal Certificate
Anna Mary Quinn
28 March 1897
The certificate that I saw was dated 1923, so it's not a question of the baptism never having been recorded. (This certificate was acquired in preparation for her wedding.) But Molly was baptized not Mary Quinn but Anna Mary Quinn, so the person searching the records must have missed it. It's not unreasonable that a parish secretary, whose job has nothing to do with genealogy, doesn't check each record for middle names and mothers' maiden names, but looks for Mary Quinn when asked to look for Mary Quinn.

Using second-hand church records that are closed to the public is a dicey proposition, but I think we have to do it anyway. There are other avenues for some of the information on some of the records (parents' names are on birth certificates, but in NYC births were only unreliably registered prior to about 1900), but others - like godparents - are exclusively available from baptismal records. What is essential to understand - and what I didn't realize before - is that they can be positive evidence when they're found (Malinda O'Hara's godmother was Malinda McGlone, as recorded on her baptismal certificate), but never negative evidence when they're not (The lack of a baptismal record for Mary O'Hara suggests that the O'Haras moved or changed parishes between 1905 and 1908).

What is your experience with contacting churches for records not available for public use?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Good fences make good neighbors: Using Griffith's Valuation

During a recent weekend when FindMyPast offered free Irish records, I spent some time looking through the records of the Irish Petty Sessions Court for Castlebar. I found that my 3x great-grandfather, Patrick O'Hora, spent a lot of time there in 1878, always as the complainant. On four separate occasions, his neighbors James and Thomas Blean let their sheep get into his fields - twice into the turnips, and twice into the oats. I found myself surprisingly aggravated on his behalf. Fix your fences, already, Mr. Blean! The Bleans are listed as residents of a different townland than the O'Horas, though; they are from Crumlin, while we are from Spink.

July 1878, Court of Petty Sessions, Castlebar
O'Hora v. Blean
The O'Horas are alternately listed in Spink and in Tawnyshane, which I believe are two names that applied to the same area. More on that soon.

But in using Griffith's Valuation and maps recently, I got a very good idea of just where the O'Horas were living - or at least, where their oats and turnips were growing. There's only one Patrick O'Hora listed in Tawnyshane; he and two other O'Horas, Michael and Anthony, are all listed in Lot 1, and they each have a house listed, so it would not be unreasonable to suppose that they all live there. I can't actually find the letters indicating houses on the map, so I don't know about the arrangements of the buildings. Then, I noticed, on another page, the enumeration of the townland of Crumlin. A James Blain occupied Lot 5.

To the maps I went, and although they took a lot of figuring out, I eventually located Tawnyshane, and Lot 1, held by the O'Horas. Sure enough, whose land was immediately adjacent to it? James Blain's, right over the border in Crumlin.

Griffith's Valuation map. Crumlin/Tawnyshane

You can see both lots towards the center of the map, with a bold red line between them, marking the border between the two townlands. Crumlin Lot 5 is long and horizontally oriented, and Tawnyshane Lot 1 is just beneath it, a sort of irregular square. As it turns out, Mr. Blain's lot is significantly larger than the one shared by 3 O'Horas, which makes me even more annoyed about his marauding sheep. Keep them on your own land, if you have so much of it! Don't destroy our meager crop!

Most of my previous attempts at using Griffith's Valuation have consisted of staring blankly at the page and saying, "But how can I tell if that John Smith is MY John Smith?!" I knew there was a lot of potential there, but this is the first time I've systematically cross-referenced multiple sources to actually be able to interpret it, and the first time I've really been able to use it to tell me something. I'm so excited to see what else is there!