Sunday, March 20, 2016
Revisiting an Irish Wish List
It wouldn't be right to close out the week of Saint Patrick's Day without revisiting an Irish enigma in our own family history. While we've solved the puzzles of the origins of our Tullys, Flannerys, Flanagans, and even Kellys, we've yet to come to grips with the very name our family currently carries: Stevens.
You may recall my mentioning, quite a while back, the discovery of the Declaration of Intent of one John Stevens and his (likely) brother, Hugh Stevens in the town of Lafayette, Indiana. That was an exciting moment in our quest to figure out our family history, when we actually held the document once marked by my husband's second great grandfather.
Despite that original rush, the search hasn't produced one whit of further excitement. Indeed, after one mournful afternoon spent slogging through the Missing Friends listing—the hard way, looking at the index in the back of seven of the eight printed volumes—I had come to the point of succumbing to the notion that perhaps our John Stevens was actually an alias, not the man's real name back home in Ireland.
Of course, that second great grandfather didn't make things easy for us. Coupling a relatively common surname—Stevens—with the even more common given name John, he wasn't helping our cause much. He did, however, leave that one tiny mention on his immigration papers about having come from County Mayo. It was, after all, a clue. I decided to revisit all the usual places.
Stopping first at the Irish Times—despite their having unceremoniously disinvited John Grenham and his seven-year-long column on Irish genealogy—I noticed in their maps that County Mayo showed only one household, back in the time of Griffith's Valuation, claiming that Stevens surname. However, if I switched the spelling of that name to Stephens, it would produce records for twenty seven households.
It seems the Irish penchant for spelling was much like the take on spelling in 1850s midwestern U.S. towns. Would I find any better luck resuming my search under the more common Stephens spelling? In fact, back in Ireland, there were dozens of other variations. Perhaps the problem wasn't so much a name change as a spelling change.
The one Stevens household in Griffith's Valuation—apparently not completed until mid-1857 in County Mayo, long after both John and Hugh Stevens had reached the United States—was that of a Michael Stevens of the civil parish of Killasser. Indeed, if I change that surname spelling to the more common Stephens, there were several other households in Killasser, as well. That might be a likely target to explore.
Now that those National Library of Ireland digitized Catholic parish records have been indexed and made available on various subscription sites, would it be possible to find additional baptismal records in the church parish correlated to that civil parish which would match up with the John and Hugh I am seeking? Every day, these questions seem to become more easy to answer. While success in research used to mean more and more of that old fashioned diligence in hard work, success now may also factor in the variable of just how long we wait before revisiting that research task.
Above: Overlooking Marien Place in Munich, 1912 painting by German artist Charles Friedrich Alfred Vetter (1858-1936); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.