Monday, October 10, 2016

Plotting the Family

Seeing so many Irish immigrants sporting the same surname in the same American city makes me wonder: how many of them might be related?

The question evolved naturally from my quest to learn more about immigrant Phillip Denehy's eldest son, Jeremiah, the one who was supposed to serve as his father's executorwhile still living back in Ireland. After realizing at least four of Jeremiah's children had moved to the same city as their grandfather Phillip, I wondered if it were possible that Jeremiah could have finally decided to join the rest of the family at their new home in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

A first glance at cemetery records seemed to indicate there was a Jeremiah Denehyor Danehy, as the spelling eventually morphed to beburied in Fort Wayne. But the dates were wrong.

By the time I decided to eliminate that Jeremiah from the possibilities, I realized just how many others with that same surname had claimed Fort Wayne as their new home. According to Find A Grave, there are nineteen Danehys buried in Fort Wayne, all but one of them at the Catholic Cemetery there. Add in three more for the Denahy spelling permutationalthough, strangely, absolutely none for the spelling which was first introduced in documentation, Denehyand we've assembled a significant collection of possible relatives.

Keep in mind, as things go at Find A Grave, these are just the ones which volunteers have gotten around to posting; there may be more that just haven't been added to that particular website.

The downside, though, is the inability to determine which Danehys were buried in which family plot. That, I presume, is the driving inspiration for such services as BillionGraves' premium service, for many burials of the nineteenth century were done by family arrangement.

When it comes to Fort Wayne, however, I do have another option: look at the burial records listed at the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center. There, we are provided with an entire section devoted specifically to burials at the Catholic Cemetery from their establishment in 1873 through the year 1983. (For those who are interested, there is a second option to select for burials from 1984 through 1993.)

In putting the search engine there through its paces, it was easier to use the "fuzzy" search option to capture as many of the surname's spelling variations as possible in one sweep. This essentially is a search for a specific string of characters, which may be embedded within a longer name. For instance, searching for "Den" would capture any results, in one pass, for both Denehy and Denahyas well as surnames like Denny and even Golden.

I did two searchesone for "Dan" and a second one for "Den"and visually scanned the listings to see how many possible family connections showed on their collection.

The numbers weren't much different from those at Find A Grave. The "Dan" fuzzy search pulled up burial records for nineteen burials through 1983. The "Den" fuzzy search yielded four possible Denehy'sincluding three under the heading "Denary" which I believe are part of our group.

From this point, I will compare results from the two sourcesthe Genealogy Center and Find A Graveto see if any inscriptions at the latter will provide guidance. Then, since so many burials in the late 1800s and early 1900s were in family plots, I can group the family based on who was buried with whom. The information provided by the Genealogy Center allows me to aggregate the burials that way.

Finally, I can make inferences about relationshipsbut only educated guesses, mind you. There is always that possibility that a family took in someone outside the family as a charity gesture or because they had one more unused space in their plot. And sometimes, there are cases like that of our mystery Margaret Sweeneywhose child was she, anyhow, buried in a Danehy family plot?

But at least, I can begin with this project and see if any helpful clues arise out of the results. After all, there is only so much a researcher can handle with multiple Ellens, Corneliuses or Margarets.

Above: A Kilklispeen Cross, illustrated by Irish artist Henry O'Neill for the book, Illustrations of Some of the Most Interesting Sculptured Crosses of Ancient Ireland, published in 1859; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Hopefully you will be able to sort the dead...sounds crass but sometimes that is the only way to figure it out:)

    1. Yes, that does sound odd... Thankfully, we have the resources to figure this out. That is not always so.

  2. I had some difficulty with the "in-laws" that were in the "family plot" - I didn't recognize their last names - but wrote them down and search - and found entire branches of the family I didn't know about!

    I think Find A Grave could make a advanced search page - I find the current one very limited/limiting.

    1. As much as I value Find A Grave--it's my go-to site of preference--I can see where the BillionGraves concept, thanks to GPS coordinates, of providing information on proximity of potential family burial sites, can be a winner. I'm not sure Find A Grave has the capability of including that, but hopefully they will someday bring that possibility into their offerings as well. As you discovered, Iggy, entire branches of families can be learned about through discovery of their inclusion in family plots.


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