Thursday, September 16, 2021

Pivoting Around a Brick Wall


When we are faced with an insurmountable research brick wall, one approach might be to pivot and sidestep the issue, instead of being fixated on one sole route to our answer. Thus, making no progress in finding the origin of my father-in-law's great-grandfather, Stephen Malloy, we'll turn our attention today to his only daughter, Catherine.

Because Catherine was in my father-in-law's direct family line, we know the rest of her story. Born somewhere in Ireland, we know only that by the time she was barely one year of age, her mother was living in County Limerick. That detail we glean only from the fortunate discovery of the envelope of a letter mailed to her mother upon her father's abrupt departure for America.

Catherine and her mother, Anna Flanagan Malloy, eventually immigrated to the United States, as well, but not to the destination her father had indicated when he outlined his own plans. Anna brought her young daughter to Chicago. Whether the choice was made because Anna's brother, William Flanagan, had also moved to that midwest city, I can't tell; all I know is that the mother and daughter both spent the rest of their lives calling that city their home.

From that era of their lives in Chicago, I learned that Catherine married another Irish immigrant named John Tully. The year of their marriage—1870, as suggested by a subsequent census report—may explain why I've been unsuccessful in locating any documentation for that event. Following that event—whenever it occurred—Catherine and John became proud parents of six children: five daughters and one lone son.

Catherine's death in 1922 provided confirmation of both her parents' names and the specifics of her date of birth—17 February 1848—giving us a clearer idea of her age when her mother received the farewell letter from the emigrating Stephen Malloy.

Given that Catherine was actually born in Ireland, and considering that her parents—well, at least her mother—had been Catholic, it would stand to reason that Catherine would show up in baptismal records sometime before her mother's departure in pursuit of her husband. Yet, taking a look at online resources for Irish Catholic baptismal records in the county where Anna lived when she received Stephen's letter, there is no sign of a baptism for daughter Catherine, no matter how I manipulate the spelling of that surname.

The next thought was, if nothing was showing in County Limerick that could match the family we're seeking, could it be possible that Catherine was born elsewhere? After all, there might be a chance that Anna, knowing Stephen was seeking a way to head to America, might have left the home where they, as a married couple, had settled to move back in with family in his absence.

But where would that "elsewhere" have been? Keeping in mind our search task would include seeking several spelling variations for that surname, I looked for baptismal records under "Malloy," then "Molloy," and even "Mulloy." Despite the search engine engaging in some liberal handling of spelling variations as well, not one match came up with the correct set of parent names, no matter where in Ireland the results pointed us.

So where was she? Obviously, Catherine Malloy was born somewhere in Ireland. That I haven't been able to find her—or her mother—in passenger records might have been one issue, but surely there should have been some sort of baptismal record before the mother-daughter duo left their homeland. 

There was, however, yet another problem with which we—as all other researchers of Irish family history—need to contend. We'll cry into our ready beer mugs tomorrow as we examine our research dilemma.

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