Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Relentlessly Circling the Drain


Does it seem, in some genealogical tasks of identification, that the effort seems to repeat, ad nauseam, the same iterations with only the slightest of variation? We test one hypothesis, then another ever so slightly updated, and then still another—and are still left with the same doubt. Perhaps this is the fate of anyone attempting to circle the specific family origin of their Irish ancestor.

Yet, with the case of Mary Falvey—whose descendant is a DNA match to my husband, leading us back to County Kerry, Ireland, from Mary's final resting place in New Zealand—she may have left us some sturdy hints with the identity of her own children. If that is so, we may also be able to confirm the identity of her husband's parents through a possible baptismal record for him—Humphrey O'Leary—back in that same County Kerry location.

From Humphrey O'Leary's 1934 obituary, the listing of his surviving sons provides their birth order: John, Joseph, Humphrey, and Mark. While we are unable to place the deceased son Patrick in that sequence, based on what I can find from other online trees—I know, a risky proposition at this point—he may have fallen into line as the second of the sons, between John and Joseph.

As for the daughters in this O'Leary family, their birth order may have been Margaret, Mary, Ellen, Kathleen, Annie, and Ella Josephine—the anonymous "Mrs. J. Brophy," whose given name surfaced after I located her record in the New Zealand database of marriages prior to 1940. I emphasize "may have been" as the previously-deceased daughter Mary was not included in the obituary in birth order.

Now that we have this data laid out in an order we can study, a few details surface. Recall that there were two possible baptismal records I could find for Humphrey O'Leary back in County Kerry, Ireland. One was from a digitized copy of the actual parish record for a son born in December of 1854—a bit late for the details gleaned at the opposite end of this man's life—citing "Dionysii Leary" as the father and Anna Sullivan as his mother, with two "Leary" relatives listed as sponsors. The other baptismal record was a transcription for a Humphrey O'Leary born in September of 1853, agreeing more closely with the date suggested by later reports.

Admittedly, there are difficulties with assuming that our choice lies with one or the other of these two records. The possibility is there that other baptismal records might also have existed at that time for someone with that same name in County Kerry, but which unfortunately did not survive to the present day, or have not yet been included in either scans of documents or transcription projects. Who knows? Perhaps another such record does still exist, but because of abysmal handwriting, the details were incorrectly transcribed or indexed, and thus will not come to our attention without a deeper search. We cannot simply assume there are no other choices.

However, given these two possibilities, we may have enough information solely from the names of Humphrey's own children to deduce which of those baptismal records might be the more reasonable choice. It all comes down to the question of whether Humphrey and Mary, being immigrants in a new land, chose to carry forward to a new world the naming traditions of their Irish origin.

One cannot help but notice that Humphrey's obituary featured as his oldest son a man by the nickname of Jack—typically a substitute for the more formal John. Likewise, the transcribed baptismal record from the parish at Tralee declares the father's name to be John.

Granted, this naming pattern does not always hold fast, as one website devoted to researching Irish ancestors explains. If we turn to the listing of Humphrey's daughters, we now know that the oldest daughter would appropriately receive the name of her mother's mother—which in this case would indicate that Mary's mother was named Margaret, not Humphrey's. And yet, that same article on naming patterns in Ireland explains that sometimes the sequence is set aside for extenuating circumstances; the recent death of a close relative might call for the naming of the next child in that relative's memory.

All that to say, it is not lost upon me that Humphrey's mother's name in that transcribed baptismal record—same as for his oldest daughter—was Margaret.

The other troubling detail about that possible baptismal transcription is that the mother's name is listed as Margaret "Leary," not O'Leary, which would be her married name. Baptismal records generally used a woman's maiden name. Was hers actually Leary? Or was the priest—or the transcriber—in a rush, inadvertently substituting the wrong surname?

Looking at the names of the sponsors to this baptism brings up another question: how are they related to the parents? According to that same Irish naming tradition article, each godparent was either a sibling to one of the parents, or a sibling-in-law. With this Humphrey's sponsors listed as James Barry and Elizabeth Hurley, we wonder how each of these were related to the parents. James Barry would either be the husband of Margaret's sister, or the husband of John's sister, for instance. Likewise, Elizabeth Hurley would need to be an in-law, as her name as given in the record would have used her maiden name.

The curious detail is that, looking back to Humphrey O'Leary's obituary, we spot that same Barry surname echoed in the married name of one of his daughters. Could she have married a cousin? Can we trace the roots of daughter Ellen O'Leary's husband, Patrick James Barry, back to County Kerry, as well?

And, once again, we take another lap around the question of where, exactly, Humphrey O'Leary and his wife Mary Falvey originated. Perhaps, in circling this research problem one more time, we will find a clue to lead us to answers.

Or not. 



  1. Jacqi have you looked at the name Mark? It was used in the Massachusetts Falvey family. I don't think it was a very common Kerry name

    1. Interesting that you bring up that name, Kat. In fact, the other New Zealand DNA match--another Falvey researcher--told me quite a while back that Mark or Marcus was a name which has been repeated through several generations. I suspect one branch of our Falvey DNA matches does lead back to a County Kerry ancestor named Mark, but how exactly he connects with our Johanna I have yet to determine.


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