Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good Thing I Found This One First

Toying with the notion that Ellen O’Neil—or O’Neail, as some records displayed the spelling of it—was one and the same with Ellen Flannery, daughter of Edward and Margaret of Paris, Ontario, I went back to retrace my steps on the Flannery searches. With Ellen showing as a widow, beginning with her appearance with her two sons—but no husband—in the 1881 Canadian census, I thought the logical first step would be to take a peek at the listing for burials at the Catholic cemetery in Paris.

Since we have the good fortune of an online listing of many of the burials at Sacred Heart Cemetery, thanks to an Interment.net volunteer, I returned to that site to see what was listed for that unusual surname spelling: O’Neail.

I promised myself to be flexible with my spelling expectations, knowing how documentation went back in the mid to late 1800s, but as it turned out, there was no need to brace myself to wade through dozens of inapplicable O’Neils. There in the Interment.net entries for Sacred Heart Cemetery was a decent list of O’Neail family members.

Except there was one glitch: the Thomas O’Neail in the listing didn’t appear to be the right one.

There was one, of course, but he lived well past 1881, the same year our Ellen’s husband failed to appear in the Paris census. As it turned out, this Thomas may have served as mayor of Paris—in 1883, according to the J. H. Beers and Company publication, The History of the County of Brant, Ontario. The detail on page 488 also indicated that this Thomas O’Neail was a grain merchant and miller. In contrast, the last entry to be found for our Thomas O’Neail, in 1871, labeled him simply as a laborer.

Not satisfied with the results I had found on the cemetery listing, I struck out for more likely arenas. Thankfully, I headed first for the free site, FamilySearch.org. There, though garnering absolutely zip for my search terms, while pursuing something else—what became of Ellen’s two sons after the 1891 census—what should pop up but the hitherto-elusive marriage entry for one Thomas O’Neil of Paris, Brant County, Ontario.

There, while scanning through the multiple hits gotten from my search terms regarding Ellen's two sons, I had to do a double take to not lose that result! Why didn’t it come up when I was searching for their marriage record?!

But why complain? There it was, showing Thomas to be son of another Thomas O’Neil and his wife, Mary Greime.

Better yet, it confirmed that the younger Thomas’ wife Ellen once sported the maiden name of Flannery.

What more could I ask?

Well…actually, I could ask one small additional favor: a peek at the document, itself.

So, off to Ancestry.com I went. After all, FamilySearch provided the name of the source of their revelation: an index called “Ontario, Marriages, 1800-1910.”

The added value of Ancestry.com is that, though limiting access as a subscriber-based site, it does provide digitized versions of many of the actual documents referred to on FamilySearch.org, rather than just the transcription of the record. All I need do, in many such cases, is note the source document’s name at FamilySearch.org, then seek the same source at Ancestry.

Unfortunately, in this case, my technique failed me. Ancestry did not have any such collection listed.

Worse, in trying to find any other record of the marriage of Thomas and Ellen—made a bit easier, now that I had not only confirmed that it occurred in the county of Brant, but that it was solemnized on the exact date of February 23, 1868—I was unable to find anything.

Except for one strange entry for a Thomas O’Neil and an Ellen Flaming.

Flaming? What were my chances? I clicked through to the record, in hopes that it included a copy of the original document. I wanted to see that one for myself!

Unfortunately, it didn’t provide anything more than the listing of Archives of Ontario microfilms from which the index was composed.

I’m guessing, given the wild versions of ink-on-paper passing as handwriting by government officials, that “Flaming” could very well have started out with the good intentions of appearing like “Flannery.”

Having found that record, I can now understand why, in my many attempts to flush out any hints on Ancestry, I could never locate any marriage record for an Ellen Flannery in Brant County, Ontario. If it weren’t for glancing at a misapplied result while searching for something else about this O’Neil family, I wouldn’t have found this record on FamilySearch, either.

I am becoming more and more a fan of database hopping, in my quest to find these intractable camouflaged ancestors. And I am developing the ability to come quickly to a skidding stop and make quick turns when stray search errors flash past my eyes. Sometimes, those “errors” turn out to be just the thing I’ve been looking for.


  1. Like you, I routinely hop back and forth between FamilySearch and Ancestry. One of the by-products of having been a volunteer during the big indexing of the 1940 census is the semi-patient recognition (plus a sigh and eyeball-roll) that if I can't find it, it's because somebody indexed it incorrectly.

    1. You got it, Wendy! That's why I'm so grateful there is more than one resource--for comparison's sake.

  2. I was thinking penmanship these days generally tends to be poor - but perhaps it always was. I know I can't hand-write worth beans.

    But the spellings? Goodness... Flaming? Flannery? I can see how they look the same - they surely don't sound the same - so I doubt it was spelled (that) wrong in the original.

    Looks like you made a lucky find! Hidden in the bizarre spelling! I suspect the same happened with today's "forgotten old photo" too...

    1. Sometimes, you have to think visually--like in the case of this Flaming from Flannery--and sometimes, you have to think of how things actually sound, and how someone with a different accent might spell the word phonetically. Like McHugh from McKeogh--I would never have guessed that, but it makes sense in retrospect. An exercise in thinking outside the box, I guess...

    2. I was thinking the "H" in McHugh might have actually been an K in which case you get McKugh which maybe sounded like McKeogh. How do you say McKeogh anyway? Mic-Ke-oh?

  3. Ack spelling drives me nuts and penmanship..of course mine are without error not! Lucky finds! :)

    1. I think everyone is in that boat at one time or another, Far Side. My handwriting can be abysmal at times, too. Gives some insight on how someone else might butcher the writing of words and names. Not to mention, handwriting styles have changed over the years, too. Always something else to think of...


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