Thursday, July 2, 2020

Staying in One's Place

It is hard for us to imagine anyone staying put in one location for not only an entire lifetime, but for generations preceding that life. And yet, that is exactly how we imagine our immigrant ancestors' families, prior to their life-changing decision to flee their homeland for a new world across an ocean's expanse. But did they really stay in their place, back in the land where they were born?

I'm beginning to wonder that very thing, as I chase the Irish surnames Kelly and Falvey—and now, adding the surname Cullinane to the search—across the Catholic parish of Kilcummin in County Kerry. It's beginning to look quite convincing that Debora—or Gobinette, as she was sometimes registered—was a sister of my husband's second great-grandmother Johanna Falvey Kelly. Thus, I am now building the family tree of this Debora and her husband, Daniel Cullinane.

In the process, I ran across the baptismal record of another of their children, someone named Michael Cullinane, who was born 25 November 1871, and baptised the very next day—not an uncommon practice during that time.

Adding young Michael to our provisional—and well hidden—Falvey tree, that triggered location of another record online, a transcription only, which seemed to be of the same birth.

This record, however, was not dated until 15 December of that same year. Same names for the parents, mind you, it nonetheless threw a curve with the stated location of the birth and baptism: Molahiffe, not the "Knuckancore" listed as the family's residence.

Since this 1871 birth, unlike the 1860s records of our Johanna Falvey's own children, occurred well after the institution of civil registrations in Ireland, I suspected the case was that Molahiffe was the location where the parents needed to file for the civil registration. Furthermore, though there was no digitized version of the actual document available for inspection online, I know from other such records I've seen that the date for civil registrations often was given as part of the quarter of the year in which the record was created—in the case of Michael's late November birth, the last quarter, ending in December.

That, of course, is my guess, not knowing by any personal experience what an Irish Catholic parent might have done in 1871, remembering how it was only a few years prior when such a registration would not have been made at all.

There was, however, one more thing that caught my eye, when comparing these two records with obviously different dates: the list of townlands was different. Molahiffe, as a civil parish, would contain a long list of townlands, just as would the civil parish of Kilcummin, of which the townland Knockauncore had already figured in our Falvey searches for Johanna's own children. I was slightly concerned about why the civil registration for Michael Cullinane, son of Debora Falvey, would have been in a different civil parish than those for her sister's children—until I noticed the name of a townland entry I had seen before.

Taking a look over the listing of townlands for the civil parish of Molahiffe, I recalled two things. The first was that, of Johanna Falvey Kelly's only child to have had a civil registration for her birth, the civil parish had also been transcribed as Molahiffe. The second item was recalling the name of one of the townlands I had seen, in past research, which rightfully belonged in the Molahiffe parish.

The name of this townland has been listed in the various online records I've found, but with one annoying quirk: it comes with a spelling often varied, apparently by whim of the scribe attendant at record-keeping duties, and thus misspelled, sometimes not showing up on search results at all. The townland name is Lisheenacanina—at least as it shows in John Grenham's website—but if you care to find it in the online record of Griffith's Valuation, you best be spelling it "Lisheennacannina" if you wish to find it.

And find it, I did—at least, an entry for one man named John Kelly. Whether that was one and the same as our Johanna's husband, I can't say. Consider the many people who must have claimed such a name in that region. Still, the other surnames in that townland—especially Sullivan—align nicely with some of the surnames I've found on Falvey-related baptisms, the next parish over.

Lisheennacannina was one of those places which was hard to find, and probably capably illustrates the frustration, for a foreigner, of researching anything having to do with the concept of townlands. Even when we traveled to County Kerry and stayed at a local bed and breakfast, our otherwise helpful host could not for the life of her tell us the location of that nearby townland. She did call all her relatives—aptly also named Sullivan—inquiring as to directions to give us, so we could drive there and say we stood on the very spot where our ancestors once lived. But, other than deciding we had, indeed, gotten lost on our way, we realized that there was little but green grass and rolling hills left of what one long ago had called home.

This all brings up questions, of course. Prime among them is questioning the notion that, unlike us in our modern times, those ancestors truly did stay put until something horrific budged them from their centuries-old homeland. I am not so sure of this now. While it surely is possible that I might be researching the wrong John Kelly, it is slightly less certain that I've confused the wrong Johanna Falvey and her (possible) sister Gobinette/Debora Falvey who also seemed to move from one parish to its neighboring parish with regularity.

At any rate, I'm now searching for any indication that, yes, it might have been possible that, in the 1860s and 1870s, two different couples from the same extended family would have had their children baptised in a church in one civil parish, yet made the trek to the center of a neighboring civil parish to register those children's birth in the governmental records.

Whatever patch of green grass did turn out to be Lisheennacannina, I suspect more than one couple in the family called it home at one point or another.

Above: Excerpt from the 1871 baptismal entry for one Michael, son of Daniel Cullinane and Gobinetta Falvey from the records of Catholic parish Kilcummin in County Kerry, Ireland; image courtesy


  1. Jacqi, civil registration bought a whole new administrative list of localities, the Registration district which doesn't always align with the civil parish or the Catholic parish although they can all overlap.

    1. Kat, right now, I am wishing for a map which overlays the Catholic parishes with the civil districts and the historic townlands. While that would help grasp a visual representation of distances, I still can't help but think that perhaps these ancestors did move from place to place, even back in their ancestral homeland.

  2. Jacqi, the best site for working with maps is, see Mary Roddy's blog here . The best book is Brian Mitchell's Atlas of Irish maps. He has maps by county of Catholic Parishes, townlands, civil parishes, baronies, etc. You can trace your townland on the townland map, eg for Kerry, then overlay that tracing on the civil parish, Catholic parish, etc map for the same county to see where it lies. Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Kat, for all those resources! It may have been the site which I used in preparing for my trip to Ireland. There is a lot of information in that website!

      And of course, I love looking at books of maps, so I'd love to take a look at Brian Mitchell's Atlas!


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