What's in a name? For the Irish, much that is hidden, apparently.
Take the parents' names for the three spinster Sullivan sisters we've been researching in Toledo, Ohio. Two out of the three women had John Sullivan listed as their father—the third sister, Catherine Sullivan, was buried long after all relatives from her generation were gone, thus leaving us with no clue as to her parents' identity. But we can infer the answer from what we've gleaned from her sisters' records.
John Sullivan is a rather straightforward name, thus making for easy reporting on obligatory death records in the United States. But what about the Sullivan sisters' mother? Two out of the three death certificates identified the woman as Abbie Kelly. When we went looking, back in Ireland, for any records including those parents' names for Margaret, Mary, or Catherine Sullivan, the best we could find were records for a John Sullivan and a wife named Debora. Not quite the same ring to that name.
As it turns out, we've been down that road before, with our original pursuit of the Falvey family of John Kelly's wife Johanna. One of the DNA matches for this Falvey line happened to have an ancestor by the name of Gobnait. While Gobnait or its variant Gobinet may not be a name familiar to American ears, we learned that is indeed a name of Irish origin.
Furthermore, we learned of the translation challenges facing Irish families. Following British control of the island of Ireland centuries ago, legislation led to the "anglicization" of many Irish names. Then, too, when a Catholic family had their children baptised, that written record was rendered not in Irish or even English, but in Latin. Thus, a name could have three variants—the original Gaelic version, a subsequent English form, and a Latinized substitute. Add to that the Irish tendency to use nicknames, and tracing an Irish ancestor's records could become challenging—and that's before even considering the difficulty of destroyed or lost records.
For Gobnait, one variant turns out to be Abbie. Another one listed is Deborah. Working that information in reverse, could it be that the various record keepers in the Sullivans' parish back in County Kerry chose one common variant of that very Irish name to record in some records, while the family took to using a different nickname? Perhaps that could explain the baptismal records we found yesterday which listed John Sullivan's wife as Debora Kelly.
Almost as a footnote to this research, when I went looking to find a marriage record for this Sullivan couple, I did discover one for John and a Kelly wife. In that 1847 example—still in the same parish's records, by the way—we find that John Sullivan took for his wife a woman listed by the priest as "Abigeal" Kelly. I'll take that as close enough to our Abbie as we're going to get, as far as documentation goes.
For the bonus, in looking to see who was listed as the witnesses to the ceremony, not only do we discover the name of another Sullivan relative, but we see a Kelly family member named as well. His name? John Kelly. Though that is such a common name in that region, I'll take that as a hopeful sign.
Above: Section from the marriage record of Killeentierna Catholic parish in County Kerry, Ireland, for the February 8, 1847, wedding of John Sullivan and Abigail Kelly of Currow; image courtesy Ancestry.com.