Monday, October 17, 2016

Getting Those Hints

Perhaps it was because her sister, Mary Danehy, had gotten married after arriving in the U.S. that I had assumed such was the case for Johanna Danehy, as well.

The first record I had found for Johanna was that of her burial at the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne. There, I found her alongside her husband, Cornelius Sweeney, in Section B, lot 516, as we discussed the other day.

Working my way backwards in time, as genealogists are accustomed to doing, I discovered it wasn't a long stretch at all from her death in 1912 to the earliest document in which I found her in America. That first glimpse of Johanna Danehy Sweeney's family constellation was provided, courtesy of the 1880 census.

There, living one house down from her brother Michael Danehy on Bass Street, Johanna cared for a small household: just her husband and one son, thirteen year old Phillip, no doubt named for his maternal grandfather.

I'm not sure why the knowledge of Irish naming patterns didn't set off bells in my head, for I surely am aware that a son named for his mother's father meant a son who was second-born. But it didn't occur to me, when I first found this record, to go seeking whatever became of that firstborn son.

Nor did the obvious entry for place of birth in that same census prompt any questions in my mind. I was so lulled into assuming the same pattern for one sister as the other that I didn't notice it in the least.

It wasn't until reviewing the family's burial records last week that something jogged my mind to wake up and pay attention to these telltale details. Lo and behold, son Phillip was born in 1868in Ireland. Which meant not only would an older brother have been born there as well, but that his parents were married in Ireland, as well.

Truth be told, I was plodding along my mind-numbed way for quite a while...until a hint from Ancestry broke into my foggy reverie and suggested there might just be a marriage record for a Cornelius Sweeney and a Johanna Danehy in Ireland.

You know those shaky leaf hints we all are so fond of scorning?

Yeah, one of those.

Thankfully, I took a look. At just about the time I was writing my post for last Friday. Hmmm...this will take some more thought. And a bit of time to check it all out. With the weekend behind me now, that's exactly what I did.

I do feel justified in taking caution to not ricochet in the opposite direction and gullibly glom on to every hint thrown my way, for those Irish naming patterns can turn around and shoot you in the foot if you are not careful. After all, not only did I find telltale signs of a marriage in County Cork for Cornelius and Johanna, but another for Cornelius and Ann. With spelling variations for the surname Sweeney going wild in the pages of various church registers, this was going to be a search that banned all jumps to conclusions.

The beauty of finding the right record, of course, would be the concurrent identification of the exact place where the entire family originated in County Cork, Ireland. Wherever Johanna got married would likely be the place the Danehy family once called home. Depending on how long Johanna and Cornelius were married before leaving for America, there is the possibility that, just like her father had left behind one son when he left the country, she and her husband might have found themselves doing the same, as well.

Above: "A Wooded Path in Autumn," 1902 oil on canvas by Danish artist Hans Andersen Brendekilde; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.



  1. I'm aware of those old naming patterns, but my family - even the Irish - broke the rules too many times for me to pay much attention.

    1. Yeah, we've got a few of those renegades, too, Wendy. I'm hoping these more recent immigrants will have stayed true to their roots, though. We'll see soon enough. They certainly generated enough Philips and Corneliuses to make me think they were more traditional than some.

  2. I never heard of such a tradition! Thanks!

    1. Well, as I'm sure you've gleaned from Wendy's comment, that naming pattern isn't a hard and fast rule. The farther removed in time from emigration, the less families seemed to hold to that routine.

      This was not something unique to the Irish, by the way. There are articles about German naming patterns, too, even among early Pennsylvania immigrants. It's possibly also a tradition among Scots, as well.


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