Thursday, June 18, 2020

Sponsors: Siblings and In-Laws, Oh My!

How to find the specific, correct Kelly in Ireland? Now, that is the question we are grappling with this week. Thankfully, in the midst of all that bad research news about destroyed records in Ireland, there are a few useful clues to help press the brick walls farther back in time.

Though we are stuck with the puzzle of the family of a particular John Kelly who, at one time, lived in County Kerry, thanks to some other details about his family constellation, we have been able to find some baptismal listings for his family. We already know his wife Johanna was at one time a Falvey. Though we can't find any baptismal record in County Kerry—yet—for their oldest son Timothy in 1860, nor even their daughter Catherine in 1862, we did locate two records for a daughter named Mary.

It's those two baptismal documents we need to look at more closely today. While we already know the date of the baptism and the names of the parents, what we want to check today is the name of each sponsor. This, too, is listed on the baptismal record.

Very easily, for the first Mary Kelly, we can see that, standing alongside her parents on September 25, 1864, were James and Margaret Fleming.

Looking at the second Mary's baptismal record on March 24, 1867, we can see the names John Fleming and Mary O'Brien.

While that news may not sound helpful—after all, none of the godparents had the surname Kelly or Falvey—there may be a pattern here which we will find useful.

It was thanks to a post by blogger Kat on Bantry to Ballyhea that I found out about a useful article at Ireland Reaching Out on "Traditional Irish Naming Patterns." Now, if you—like Kat might have done at first (and so did I)—saw that title and thought, "yeah, yeah, so what else is new?" then you set yourself up to miss an important detail. Not only did the article discuss the naming patterns we all are familiar with already, but, as Kat pointed out, it also included a pertinent detail about selecting sponsors for baptisms.

Which is what we are here to muddle over right now.

The specific discussion of interest can only be found by scrolling far down the article to the point labeled Sponsors/Godparents. Here, as Kat already pointed out, the "specific godparent convention" indicated that every godparent was "either a sibling or a sibling-in-law of one of the child's parents." Thus, by process of elimination, "surnames that do not match the parents' surnames are in-laws."

So there we have it. Those Flemings mentioned in the two baptismal records are either John's in-laws or Johanna's. And that Mary O'Brien? Same thing goes for her. The only question is about the James listed with Margaret Fleming. Since such church records were supposed to list women by their maiden names, we can assume that Margaret was sister to James Fleming—or at least a female member of a related Fleming family.

Though we still don't know which side of the family to sort these in-laws into, we at least have the clue that, whoever John Kelly and Johanna Falvey were, Fleming and O'Brien were related to one or another side of that married couple.

After finding which surnames were associated to John and Johanna through their daughter's baptismal records, our next task is to see if either John Kelly or Johanna Falvey were listed in other families' baptismal records, as well. In other words, for which nieces or nephews did John or Johanna stand in as sponsors? By finding the answer to that question, we may be able to extend out the lines of this family constellation a bit further.

Above: Sponsors from the baptismal entries for Mary Kelly, daughter of John Kelly and Johanna Falvey, as listed following the 1864 baptism and the 1867 baptism; images courtesy


  1. One thing I noticed: The 1859 marriage you have an image of in an earlier post also features a Fleming, first name looks like Johannis. Same guy as in the birth of Mary #2 ?

    1. Per, I am wondering that, myself. It is a promising possibility, though I'd like to see other connections inferred through these church records to help build the case.

  2. Thanks Jacqi! I love that article

    1. I am so glad you found it and mentioned it on your blog, Kat. It is very helpful.


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