Thursday, August 13, 2020

Too Quick to Make the Leap?


It is tempting, once we think we have the right supporting documentation, to make the jump across an ocean to search for our ancestors' origin in their homeland. With a rather narrowly delimited location plus the name of each parent—complete with maiden name for the mother, mind you—it seems we have enough to successfully attain our research goal. What could possibly go wrong?

But this is Ireland, the land of many Catherines and Margarets and Johns. I knew that, of course—why do you think I didn't, at first, pursue the family line of my husband's second great grandfather John Kelly?—but having the specific names of both parents tricked me into giving the search a try.

I had three Sullivan daughters I wanted to locate in what few baptismal records can still be found from County Kerry, Ireland. The eldest, Margaret, was reported to have been born in 1861. Her younger sister, Mary, was supposedly also a child of the sixties—the eighteen sixties, that is. And the third Sullivan daughter, Catherine, had been born much later, in 1876.

I already knew from their death records in their adopted city of Toledo, Ohio, that their parents were named John Sullivan and Abbie Kelly. Finding their baptismal records would likely also lead me to that Kelly family constellation I had originally been seeking—and then to our John Kelly's bride's Falvey family, thus completing this convoluted research circuit.

Of the three Sullivan nieces, I supposed the easiest birth record to find would have been from the baby of the family, owing to the much later date of birth, and yet, the only record I could find didn't quite match the parameters I was seeking. For this Catherine, the closest match was a baptismal record for a child born ten years earlier. Additional problem: while her mother's maiden name was indeed Kelly, that mother's given name was rendered as Debora, not Abbie. Not that I needed any further complicating factors, but the father's surname was recorded by the priest not as "Sullivan" but as "O'Sullivan."

What about the other sisters? While I could never find a close match for eldest sister Margaret, an option popped up for the middle sister Mary. This record was dated September 3, 1860—not quite an exact match with Mary's record in Toledo assuring us she was born in September of 1865, but at least they got the month right. The parents' names for this baptism? Again, John Sullivan and Debora Kelly. At least this time didn't include the "O."

The good news was: these two baptismal records came from the same parish—Killeentierna in County Kerry. The bad news was: despite the encouraging sign of the right maiden name for the mother, it was Abbie we were looking for, not Debora.

And yet, even in that little discrepancy, a little further research could provide an explanation. Possibly.


Above: Baptismal record for Mary Sullivan, daughter of John Sullivan and Debora Kelly, recorded on September 16, 1860, at the parish of Killeentierna in County Kerry, Ireland; image courtesy


  1. Oh boy, nothing is ever easy, is it? I am thinking Abbie could be a nickname or derivative of Deborah if you stretch it. There is an A and a B in Deborah. And birth date can vary. But gosh, everything in the same situation . . . twice.

    1. With a guess like that, Miss Merry, you are closer than you think.

  2. Seems as if both Debora and Abigail/Abina/Abbie are common renderings of the name Gobnait, which was even discussed here back on July 1st. (A John Sullivan and Abina Kelly are married in either 1846 or 1847 at the same "Currow" place listed on familysearch for the 2 Sullivan baptism records)

    1. Great recall, Per. Though that post was concerning the Falvey family, it is indeed the same situation for our Kelly instance here.


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