Saturday, 18 March 2023

The search for my Irish connection, part 3


                                                         The green of Ireland - this was in the vicinity of Trim Castle

Last week, I wrote about how attending an Irish talk at my family history society's online seminar gave me visual proof that there were Cavanaghs in Carlow. That was a fact that agreed with my feeling that my Irish origins were in the south of Ireland. It was also a thrill to see the correct spelling of my family name of Cavanagh up there on my screen. I've since checked out the Down Survey of Ireland, a listing of land owners taken in the mid-1600s. My search found lots of Cavanaghs listed especially when I took it down to the parish level. Lots of possibilities are good in one way but they will also make it difficult to pinpoint a specific family.

It looks too, like it's more than County Carlow that was awash in potential Cavanagh ancestors. At another presentation, this one put on by BIHFSGO, Shirley Monkhouse gave a talk entitled There was a shot; after that everything's confusing. With a title like that, how could I not attend? Besides, at the beginning of the meeting she gave another talk, one about DNA. I'm always interested in information on that subject. Her second presentation, the one about the shot, turned out to be about an incident that happened in a village in Ireland. In present day, the place is called Bunclody. Back at the time of the incident it was known by the name of Newtownbarry. No matter what it was called, the place was right next door to County Carlow.

In fact, the name Bunclody was familiar to me. A few years ago, I signed up to attend a meeting of Clann Chaomhánach to be held there. Unfortunately, the meet up was cancelled as were so many in-person events at that time. While looking into the event, I wondered why on earth it would be held in a place called Bunclody. Well, in Ms. Monkhouse's presentation, I found out that the land around Bunclody was acknowledged to belong to the Clann Chaomhánach. Looks like my search area just got wider.

If you're wondering about the presentation with the intriguing name, the event that took place in Newtownbarry was called 'The Battle of the Pound'. It took place on June 18, 1831 and was one of the conflicts in the Tithe Wars which affected Ireland during the 1820's and '30s. That sounds interesting because, where there was a conflict, there were often records left behind.


BIFHSGO – British Isles Family History Society of Ottawa –

Clann Chaomhánach

The Down Survey of Ireland

Saturday, 11 March 2023

The search for my Irish connection, part 2


                                                         A view of Dublin taken from the other side of the River Liffy

Some Irish surnames are more likely to come from particular parts of the country than others. Surname maps can give pointers as to where Irish roots come from. There are other names that defy placement and one of them happens to be Cavanagh, the one I'm looking for.

Not that Cavanagh is the only spelling of the name. The original Gaelic name, Caomhánach, has been anglicised in many ways and can often be found starting with a "K" rather than a "C". In fact, once when my father was signing in at a hotel in Dublin he was taken to task for the spelling of his name. When signing in with the surname Cavanagh, he was informed that his spelling was wrong. That the name was correctly spelt with a "K" as in Kavanagh (or perhaps Kavanaugh, he didn't mention the "u" controversy as part of the tale.)

That story cast doubts on my hunch that my family roots came from the area around Dublin. The English records I'd found for the family consistently spelled the name with a "C". There were variations, of course, Cavanagh, Cavanaugh and sometimes even Cavanah. But if the common spelling in the vicinity of Dublin was Kavanagh, maybe I was on the wrong track. So I let the search stall.

Sometimes though, nuggets of information show up unexpectedly. I'm a member of the BCGS (British Columbia Genealogy Society) and they had seminars planned for the spring. (Around Vancouver, spring is usually considered to start in February.) I debated whether to attend the one about Ireland. The speakers were from the Ulster Historical Foundation and I wasn't really interested in Northern Ireland. What could they possibly tell me that would help my personal research? I signed up anyway.

The sessions were informative and covered all of Ireland. So that was good. But it became more than good when Fintan Mullan shared an example slide from The Down Survey on the screen. The landowner featured was a Cavanagh spelt the right way! Moreover, the survey itself was taken in the mid-1600s and the example shown was in Carlow, a county to the south of Dublin. This looked promising. Now to figure out how to track down any possible links to my family. 



Clann Chaomhánach

The Down Survey of Ireland

Saturday, 4 March 2023

The search for my Irish connection, part 1

In the 1891 census my Cavanagh family was enumerated at 82 Wentworth Street, Spitalfields, London. This photo was taken in 2019 and shows the building at that address in that year.

I probably have more than one Irish line in my ancestry but the main one is particularly problematic. Irish genealogical research has a reputation for being difficult as so many records were lost in the Four Courts fire in 1922. The main advice I've seen for doing Irish research, is to know the location your ancestors came from before you start researching in Ireland. The usual suggestion is to look for clues in records at the place to which the family immigrated. I saw that advice work out well when researching a Hickey family whose immigrant progenitor ended up in Halifax in the 1830s. Those Nova Scotia records showed his origins in Kilkenny. That information made taking the search back to Ireland easy. I don't think I'll have the same luck with my main Irish line.

The problem with my Irish family is that I caught the earliest glimpse of them in East London, a place where sheer numbers and endless mobility combine to create a huge morass of information almost impossible to wade through. At least, that's how it seemed when my search started way back in the pre-internet past. The hunt has become easier as records moved online. The advent of indexed databases made exploration of the records even better but, search as I might, there was still no joy.

Why do I think this vexing family line originated in Ireland? After all, I started this search before DNA evidence weighed in to show ethnicity. With a surname like Cavanagh, how could the family be anything but Irish?

Immigration history from Ireland leans heavily on the numbers of refugees from the great famine years in the 1840s. But the records I've uncovered predate that Irish exodus. I've traced the family back to the London birth of Benjamin Cavanagh in 1816. His parents' names were Benjamin and Matilda. Because of the early date that the first Cavanagh in this family line left Ireland the search becomes more difficult.

As the Cavanaghs ended up in London, rather than Liverpool, I surmised that they originated in the southern part of Ireland rather than Ulster; a case of sound reasoning or mere prejudice on my part? I've never been drawn to Northern Ireland. A county south of Dublin seemed more likely to me, perhaps Wexford? Silly really because they were Protestants. Still Google informs me that there are a minority of Protestants in Southern Ireland, mainly Presbyterians and Anglicans. My Cavanaghs were in the Anglican camp. Maybe I'm on the right track after all?

Saturday, 25 February 2023

The passing of the years


                                     The house on Stiles Street in Winnipeg where my grandparents lived in 1926

As the years pass things change. I grow older too, a not so welcome result at my end of the age spectrum. That's the less welcome part of change. But there are compensations. Like advances in medicine so we have the chance to lead longer, healthier lives, advances in technology so the search for our ancestors becomes easier or, sometimes, more complex. There can be another added complication when storage devices change so that digital records, once safely copied, are no longer accessible. So, not all progress is helpful. 

The passing of the years brings something else - the release of new historical records which are now deemed old enough for the public to access. Those dates vary from country to country with the US being the most liberal, at least when it comes to the census. It must be nice to bring the family so far forward in time but, unfortunately, I don't know of any of my family living in the US in the 1950s, although they did drift in and out of that country at other times.

The new records that piqued my interest recently were the 1921 English census. It was wonderful to be able to see the groupings of my father's family, the people who were still living in the parental home/business, knowing that I could choose to look for his other siblings with their own families if I wanted to. Of course, the release of that census wasn't as thrilling as it would have been if the 1939 Register hadn't been released already.

The 1939 Register was a boon to researchers. This war related count of people made it easy to find relatives providing a hundred years had passed since their birth. Well, easy to find most of them but not my maternal grandmother yet. I was able to see my mother's entry on the register. It became available this year. There she was with her father but no mother, which doesn't seem right. My mother had moved to England with both of her parents in the 1930s.

It wasn't until a few days ago that I thought about the 1926 Canadian Census of the Prairie Provinces. Canada doesn't wait a full 100 years until the census records are released. I accessed the 1926 census through a link to FamilySearch which I found on the Library and Archives Canada site. The census showed the family, father, mother and child (my mum) in Winnipeg right where they should be. Interestingly, my grandfather's citizenship was listed as Canadian, the same as all the other members of his family. He was born in England. It also gave his year of immigration as 1911.

While doing a Google check to see how many years it takes before a Canadian census is released, I stumbled across the fact that it should be 92 years which means the 1931 Canadian Census is due to be released this year. Something else to look forward to with the passing of time. 

Saturday, 18 February 2023

My own hidden treasure


                                                      Research material from a past trip which may contain treasure

I'm notorious, at least in my own mind. I'm a great gatherer of information but then I file it all away in drawers or on shelves, not putting the information gathered in the places where it would add to my family knowledge. What lingers is the excitement of discovery not the facts that were discovered. That means, of course, I get to find things all over again in my own books of written notes and in photos I've taken of records and books.  

There is a point though, where I have to take stock. That's usually when I'm preparing for my next research trip. After all, it wouldn't do to hunt down information I've already found. I got to the taking stock point recently when I started the long process of getting ready for a trip to the FamilySearch Library. That's a place where you really need to focus or you could get lost in all the floors full of researchable information.

This time I'll have at least two projects to focus on, the story of Alexander Matheson, my civil war soldier, and the other, larger endeavour, filling in my family tree with the collateral lines for my Dorset ancestors. Perhaps I should first look through my notes, thumbdrives and photos of records to see if I have anything at hand that answers questions for either of those projects.

I may curse myself for being so unorganized but it means that there are valuable things to be found in my own drawers full of information. Perhaps I should take a course on organization but sometimes being unorganized is a boon. Like when I stumble across a forgotten record and inspiration strikes. There could be a story in that hidden treasure I just uncovered.  

Saturday, 11 February 2023

Finding more details for a story in the US


                                 Google map showing the time and distance to walk from Forreston to Freeport, Illinois

The current family history story I'm writing is about Alexander Matheson. The events of his life have always interested me. I knew the bare bones of what happened - leaving his family in Puslinch, Ontario to find work, coming back to find the family gone, fighting in the US Civil War, finding his sister 40 years later - but that is just a sketch. I need more details in order to write about what happened to him in the 40 years before he found his family again.

One period of time with sketchy information was when he was in Illinois prior to becoming a Union soldier. I'd come up with one possible entry for him in the 1860 US census. There was a problem though. In his letters, he wrote that when he got to the US he first lived in Freeport, Illinois. He moved there in 1859. The entry for the 1860 US census I'd found and taken a copy of years ago was for an Alexander Matson in Foreston, Illinois. At the time, it had seemed a likely match because the birthplace was Canada W and the name was close. Did I have the correct census entry or was that just wishful thinking?

This time when I looked at my copy of the entry, I thought about how, when I'm travelling and people ask where I'm from, I give the name of the city I live close to not the smaller city-suburb in which I reside. So I entered both Freeport and Foreston in Google maps. Great result, the towns are close and Freeport is the larger town. Looks like my assumption could be correct.

I know from his letters that Alexander Mathison married in 1865 shortly after he was discharged from the army. He had to have known his future wife before he enlisted and was sent off to fight. He enlisted in 1861. Previous research had shown that his wife's maiden name was Mary Galpin, so I searched for her in the 1860 census. When I found her entry, she was living in Freeport but not with her family and with no occupation or other notation to explain why she was listed with that particular family. Further digging, which included looking at the Public Family Trees on Ancestry, showed that Mary had a married sister living in Foreston, Illinois in the same census. Foreston, where Alexander Matheson or Matson lived in 1860. That's an interesting link.  

Filling in the details of an ancestor's life gives more depth to their story. I've found that, now that I'm writing about a family member rather than just trying to find the bare details of their life, my research is more wide ranging. Besides consulting history books to give me background, checking out maps and other family trees for relevant information can fill in some of the details which help me to understand what happened and the circumstances that likely led to those events.  


1860 US Federal Census –

Public Family Trees –

Saturday, 4 February 2023

The story between birth and death


                                                     A Google map showing Weymouth, Dorset and St. Helier, Jersey

I'm still pursuing the hunt for the common ancestor I share with my DNA match. It's going slowly because other things on my to do list keep getting in the way. Where does the time go? But part of the reason I set my search aside for a while was because it seems clear that a location search will not automatically show me which of my Dorset family lines to concentrate on.

When listing the locations of my match's Dorset ancestors, I thought there would be at least one that strayed. Well, there was but that was the one that went to London. Not going there! Unfortunately, the other Dorset locations named were all in the southeast corner of the county which is not one that my ancestors seem to have strayed into.

The location information I'm basing this on comes from the Ancestry profiles for my match's Dorset family. That poses a problem because the only details there are time and place of birth and death. A lot can happen in between. At least, it does in my family, which is not one to stay put!

A case in point was my 3 x great grandmother, Eliza Chubb nee Stainer. She was born in 1821 in Winterborne St Martin, Dorset and died in Bournemouth, Hampshire in 1889. At initial glance you wouldn't think she'd travelled that far in her life. You'd be wrong.

Winterborne St Martin, or Martinstown as it is also known, is close to Weymouth which is on one of the Dorset peninsulas that jut out into the English Channel. As far as I can tell, Eliza didn't stay in the vicinity of her birthplace for very long. By 1844, she was a manufacturer of straw hats in Evershot, a town close to the border with Somerset. It was in Evershot that Eliza married William Chubb in 1844. The couple were still there in 1851 with the addition of two small daughters. By 1861 William and Eliza Chubb were to be found living in Weymouth. Perhaps they moved there around 1859 when Eliza was proposed for church membership at Hope Chapel in Weymouth. Eliza apparently was still working as her occupation was listed as a straw bonnet maker.

In 1871 they were still in Weymouth, William and Eliza living on their own, their youngest, William John Stainer Chubb, having joined the navy as a boy. Did Eliza find that time hung heavy on her hands as there was no longer an occupation listed for her? If so, that was about to change.

As I mentioned, Weymouth juts out into the English Channel which means that it's straight as the crow flies from there to St. Helier on Jersey. That was where William and Eliza moved next. It was there where William died in 1877 followed in 1878 by their son, William John Stainer Chubb. Poor Eliza left all on her own. It looked like she had plenty to keep her busy because, by the 1881 census, she had a boarder and a lodger living with her. On top of this she was a shopkeeper. A newspaper clipping dated March 14, 1885 reported that Mrs. Chubb's Queen Street shop was subject to frequent flooding due to inadequate drainage. Was that what pushed her to retire? By December 1, 1886 she transferred her membership from Hope Street Chapel in Weymouth to Independent Chapel at Wareham, Dorset. The church records then go on to note the transfer of Mrs. Chubb's membership as well as that of her daughter, Sarah Ann Chambers, and her daughter's husband, William Strange Chambers, to Richmond Hill in Bournemouth. This happened just days before Eliza died in Bournemouth. So she had come back to mainland England shortly before she ended her days. 

 As seen, a lot can happen between birth and death. Being born and dying in the same place or close by, doesn't mean that was where a life time was spent. But filling in the gaps calls for a lot of research. To fill in the details of Eliza's life, I have wandered far afield using marriage, church and death records from different sources as well as census records and some newspaper articles to fill in the details. It took years to gather all that information. I need to come up with a different strategy to find that common ancestor who links my DNA match with me. 


Birth and death records: certificates from the General Records Office

                St Helier’s General Cemetery, Jersey Archives

Census records:

                1861 Census return for Weymouth, Dorset 1861 census Find My Past

                1871 Census return for Weymouth, Dorset LDS film 0831751

                1881 Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881 Ancestry Channel Islands, Jersey, St. Helier

Newspaper record: Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph March 14, 1885 Find My Past

Wareham Church Records 1740 – 1921 LDS film 1565290

Weymouth Church Records 1858 – 1939 LDS film 1565290