Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Starting With Eliza


One of the cardinal rules of genealogy is to start with yourself. Today, I'll borrow that as a principle and, in my quest to learn more about my husband's second great-grandfather—including his Murdock in-laws—it is John Stevens' second wife Eliza Murdock with whom we will launch our September research goal.

There is much I still need to confirm about the Murdock family. We've already discovered a few clues that this immigrant family moved around before deciding to settle in Lafayette, Indiana. At some point, we will see whether those old history accounts can actually be verified with documentation. But that is jumping ahead of ourselves. Remember, first we start with our prime subject: in this case, Eliza Murdock Stevens, herself.

The earliest point at which I could find Eliza in her adopted home in Lafayette, Indiana, was in the 1860 census. Of course, that was a census which did not include mention of any relationships. We can presume family connections, but the enumeration gives us no confirmation. As I said, though, this is a start.

The 1860 census showed thirty one year old Eliza Clark living with her presumed daughter, nine year old Ellen Clark. In the same household were several men with the surname Murdock: Samuel, James, John, and Thomas. One other household member, a widow with the same surname, appears to have a first name that looks like "Salle." While the others all are in their twenties or thirties, this woman's age is listed as sixty two. Every member of the household was said to have been born in Ireland.

By the end of that same census year, as we've already discovered, Eliza was married to John Stevens on December twelfth. Come time for the next census in 1870, Eliza and John headed a blended family, with two of his sons plus three of their daughters. From that point on out, I have documentation for John, Eliza, and their daughters, as well as his sons from his first marriage.

It is what happened to Eliza and her family before this clearly-documented point that we need to focus on during the coming month. To begin this search, we'll first follow what can be found of Eliza's better-known brother, James Murdock, specifically fact-checking his ample biographical sketch in a history book published less than ten years after Eliza's passing in 1901. The hope is that the clues in that entry will open doors for us to trace the family's progress across the North American continent and back to their supposed home in Ireland at the start of the Great Famine there.

That, at least, is the plan for our research in September. We'll see how far the paper trail can take us.


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Falling for False Starts


Eliza Murdock was one of those in-law research projects that started me out with a stutter step—you know, those first promising steps that you grab and think you'll easily run with, only to discover it was a false start.

John Stevens' second wife may have herself been one to claim him as a second spouse. When I first found her, though, I couldn't be sure. There weren't many ways to find supporting documents for such a contention, despite obvious signs that there was someone else in Eliza's past.

Since John Stevens belongs in my husband's direct line—John being his second great-grandfather—I had been fairly confident of documenting the major points in his life's timeline. Somewhere along the line, I also ran across mentions of Eliza's brothers—all, incidentally, named Murdock, not any other surname. But when I uncovered mentions of a woman whose place in the family I couldn't discern, it took considerable effort to dig up the woman's own roots.

Let's just say I've been working on this puzzle for years. Using a broad search tool to review all newspaper entries naming John Stevens' son John Kelly Stevens (my husband's great-grandfather), I had years ago run across an unexpected mention of a "nephew" named Raphael Kruse. That led me on a chase to locate the obituary for Eliza Murdock Stevens, herself. There among the survivors were listed three daughters, just as I had seen in census reports of John and Eliza's married years.

The problem was that each of the daughters was listed by her married name—you know, those aggravatingly proper listings of men's full names with the obligatory "Mrs." appended. It took quite a bit of searching to determine that one of the daughters listed in Eliza's own obituary was not one of the three daughters she had in common with John Stevens. Mrs. Henry Kruse, the oldest of the three surviving daughters, was a woman named Nellie—more likely, Ellen or Helen—whose maiden name turned out to be Clark.

It was she whose mother was Eliza and whose father was not John Stevens. But who was her father? I have yet to figure out who Mr. Mystery Clark was, though I know from Nellie's own death certificate that her father was born in Ireland.

Did that make Eliza's name Clark before her second marriage to John Stevens? Hardly. Though Eliza showed up in the 1860 census as Eliza Clark, don't think that made it easy to locate her subsequent marriage record to John Stevens under such a name. In fact, her December 12, 1860, marriage to John turned out to list her name as Eliza Murdock, not Clark.

While that information is not necessarily germane to my research goal for the upcoming month, it provides a lesson in knowing all the possible aliases our target ancestor might have claimed—or, in this case, the second wife of a direct ancestor. As we work our way through the Murdock—not Clark—family to glean more clues on those connected to John Stevens, we need to remember that if that mystery Mr. Clark does show up, he may be pointing the way to some helpful connections. Even if he isn't a blood relative. By a long shot.   

Monday, August 29, 2022

Why There was a Second One


In order for a research goal to make sense, I suppose it would help to first learn what inspired the goal. Since we're already getting a jump on my research goal for September—to learn about John Stevens' second wife, Eliza Murdock—let's take some time today to review the back story on why there was a second Mrs. Stevens.

John Stevens, as you may have gathered from my posts earlier this month, was my husband's second great-grandfather. We don't know much more about him than that he came from County Mayo in Ireland to settle in Lafayette, Indiana, by about the end of 1850. Thanks to the Declaration of Intention that had been completed on his behalf—he could neither read nor write—we also know that he arrived in the United States by way of the midwestern river route up from the port of New Orleans, where he had disembarked from his trans-Atlantic journey in December of 1850.

Some time between his December landing in New Orleans and his arrival in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, John Stevens married another Irish immigrant by the name of Catherine Kelly. I say "some time" because I don't have documentation of the exact event. Or, to take it more literally, I don't have documentation indicating that John Stevens actually married Catherine Kelly; what I do have is a court record showing Catherine Kelly's marriage on December 27, 1853, to a man named John "Stephenson."

That John Stevens actually was married to someone named Catherine Kelly can be easily demonstrated by other means—his sons' subsequent marriage and death records, for instance. But what we are interested in today is a brief history of what became of that Catherine Kelly after her marriage.

From a transcription of a family Bible which subsequently was lost in a house fire, I knew that John and Catherine had three sons: James, John, and William. Finding them in census records, however, was a challenge for one reason: Catherine died before the 1860 census was taken. By then, John was on the verge of his marriage to Eliza, and the boys were nowhere to be found.

One might think that a maiden name like Kelly might doom any searches to the limbo of needle-in-haystack hopelessness. Actually, that is not how this quest turned out. Though Catherine's 1858 headstone is now barely legible, records from the old Greenbush Cemetery in Lafayette—accessed through help by members of the local genealogical society—indicated possible names for Catherine's parents: James and Mary.

True, names like James and Mary, combined with the quintessential Irish surname Kelly, are still hard to research. But this was Tippecanoe County in the 1850s, when the entire county amounted to less than twenty thousand people. Yes, it took a lot of searching to find it, but despite James Kelly's death about 1853—same year as his daughter Catherine's marriage—his wife and children plus the three Stevens boys showed up in the 1860 census. But not John Stevens.

With the three Stevens boys born about 1854, 1856, and 1858, we can guess that their young mother's loss was due to complications following the March 28 birth of her third son, William.

From Catherine's death in May of 1858 until John's second marriage in December of 1860, I find no sign of him. Understandably, he was likely working to support himself and his three children—but where? I have yet to unearth any sign of him in the 1860 census, showing how much of a victory it was to at least locate his three children. I can find no census record for John until the following decade, where his 1870 family snapshot includes second wife Eliza—where in addition to two of his sons, there are now three daughters.

As for those three daughters, they were not the only children borne to Eliza. It turns out that there was yet another chapter to Eliza's story—something we need to touch on tomorrow, before moving further into September's research goal of learning more about Eliza's Murdock family.


Above: the frustratingly close introductory entry for John Stephenson in the page-long December 1853 marriage record with Catherine Kelly in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. Image courtesy

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Off the Shelf: A Whole New Mind


My latest read is one long in coming: a book written by a favorite author back in 2005, then updated with an "annotated edition" the following year. It's now 2022. I'm a little behind in my reading.

I already knew I needed to pay attention to this writer. Long ago, when I finally considered what I want to be when I grow up, I settled on becoming a free agent. Not that I knew any free agents. The term simply expressed how I wanted to design my life, so I co-opted the phrase from the world of sports.

Then, come to find out, former speech writer Daniel Pink brought that very idea to life in his first book, Free Agent Nation. I was sold. I've been reading Pink ever since—or, at least, assembling a collection of his works on my overladen bookshelves.

The 2006 edition of A Whole New Mind has especially fit this month's reading list for another reason. While I've always found the concept of "Story" compelling, and the wonders of what long has been called "right-brain" thinking fascinating, Daniel Pink has found a way to blend these two of my candy sticks into one 286-page collection of quotable material.

If I were my English-teaching mother, I would have handwritten each of those passages on index cards and taped them all over my office wall. Consider this from Pink:

We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves. That has always been true. But personal narrative has become more prevalent, and perhaps more urgent, in a time of abundance, when many of us are freer to seek a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose.

He fingers these story strands even more carefully and, in the examination, observes that we "see this yearning for self-knowledge through stories in many places"—including, as you may have guessed, "in the surging popularity of genealogy" where we use the many tools now available to us to extract the facts of our ancestry and reshape them into those narratives we call family history.

The book, true to its title, delves far deeper than just the aspect of Story. The author explores our collective history as a culture having moved from an industrial age through an information age and onward into a "Conceptual Age." There, the successful will meet the challenge of blending "left brain" analytical reasoning with "high concept and high touch" gifts of the "right brain." Hence, a creative, synthesizing world in which we learn to employ our whole mind.

For me, though, the book's inspiration is in the mingling of creativity's roots. Pink cites what he calls the "six senses" which will shape the future: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Beyond inspiration, the book includes resources to help readers pursue those concepts in a practical manner. I felt a surge of family pride to notice, for instance, that his recommendation of the "granddaddy of American story-telling festivals" was the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, home of my Boothe, Broyles, Davis, and Tilson lines. And an eerie sense of connection to wonder whether my English teacher mom in her later years might have served as a substitute instructor in the author's own high school classes in Columbus, Ohio.

Unafraid to share the work of others and point us to a rich collection of resources, Daniel Pink weaves this abundance of inspiration with equally-enriching factual detail. Still, for me, the gift from this volume is Story—even when he shares about this from the talents of others. Consider this quote I'd otherwise never have discovered from author Barry Lopez's book, Arctic Dreams:

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.

Doesn't that pinpoint exactly where we're at?  



Saturday, August 27, 2022

It's Been a Long Month


Call it a long month—well, a month and three days, to be precise—since something Blogger subscribers were warned about a year ago actually happened. 

It was back in April of 2021 that the Google service called Blogger warned that they were going to discontinue their email subscriptions sent through Feedburner. The supposed date of doom was to be July, 2021. But definitely before mid-August that year.

Surprise. That didn't happen, and some of us low-tech types blissfully stumbled on, enjoying our reprieve from the doom surely facing us. However, if the last you heard from A Family Tapestry was the post back on July 24, 2022, you and I will both have to do some fancy footwork if we are ever going to dance together again.

That said, technology and I have held each other at arm's distance with an unhappy truce. When I first addressed the Feedburner farewell announcement last year, I added a subscription button for readers to access A Family Tapestry through a service called Feedly. It works great, if you'd like to sign up to receive your blog reading list that way. (Just click on the green button in the left column labeled, "Follow on Feedly.") 

However, there's one slight drawback: the subscription doesn't come to you; you have to come to it. Similar to the less high-tech method of shoving links into your "favorites" or "bookmark" tab on whatever system you use to browse the web, Feedly allows you to create a reading list—but then you have to remember to return to your new account at Feedly to see what's been updated since your last visit.

There are other options, of course. But for me to discover—and implement—them calls for research. Research, by the way, of a non-genealogical kind. And we all know which kind of research I'd rather be doing...

Friday, August 26, 2022

Getting a Jump on September


Do months with thirty one days just seem to last far longer than they should? Yes, I know there is nearly a week before we slip out of August, but it just feels like we are already primed for September.

That may be the case with my abrupt—and early—dispatch of the unreachable research goal for August. I have had no more luck with John Stevens' Irish roots than I had in past explorations, so I am ready to move on to the next month's goal. However, looking ahead, I realize we've begun covering ground on that project already, with last Wednesday's exploration of the Murdock family in Lafayette, Indiana. 

September's task: to learn more about John Stevens' second wife, Eliza Murdock. We did scratch the surface the other day with an initial exploration, in hopes that Eliza's roots might reveal something more about John's. But rest assured: Eliza has much more of her own story still to share. And that of her daughters, as well.

Before we begin recounting Eliza's history, though, it would probably be helpful to begin the story of John's second wife by explaining what became of his first wife. We'll take up that story on Monday as a way to introduce the reason why John Stevens sought a second wife in the first place. 


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Collateral Damage


If the term "collateral" as applied to family history means the siblings of our ancestors, then genealogical collateral damage must be what happens when the paper trail for relatives disintegrates. That, at least, is what appears to be happening to the paper trail of possible connections leading from John Stevens, the Irish immigrant we've been tracing from County Mayo.

Depending on whom you consult, the term "collateral line" can take on various shades of meaning. Alas, the oft-consulted FamilySearch wiki seems to lack an entry standardizing the term's definition. If we take the approach of assembling a number of online resources discussing the term, though, we can piece together a mosaic of just what collateral lines might be.

For some, collateral research can be limited to "tracking laterally closest living relatives," while for others, the term signifies the "relatives of someone who married into the family" as well as "distant cousins along your direct line."

To be specific about the definition for a collateral relative, you might say "any blood relative who is not your direct ancestor"—or, to put it another way, any relative who is not directly related to you, but with whom you share a common ancestor. In other words, these are the relatives who share the same ancestry as you, but not always the same direct line of descent.

Some people, in planning what aspects of their ancestry to research, choose to pursue only their direct family lines—as we see in many of our DNA matches' displayed family trees. Others only later have realized the benefits of adding collateral members of their family tree—or felt a tug on their heartstrings when they've lost a much-appreciated distant cousin who served as an older family research partner.

You know me, of course: I see collateral research as my bread-and-butter of envisioning connections with those thousands of DNA matches in my family lines, so I still say a hearty "amen" to the observations on the usefulness of collateral lines made years ago by another genealogy blogger. Going both deep and wide has enabled me to figure out many genealogy puzzles.

And yet, here we are with John Stevens. It's not very deep on the Stevens family tree that we've ventured—after all, he was only my husband's second great-grandfather. As for John Stevens' only (possible) blood relative, a man named Hugh Stevens who followed his exact immigrant pathway from County Mayo to Lafayette, Indiana, the man seemed to disappear shortly after his arrival in America. Even pursuing John's in-laws' history didn't seem to unearth any clues as to his origin and extended family members.

That, of course, should only be the start of a pursuit of information on collateral lines. But that is where I get into collateral damage. 

For instance, one excellent resource for connecting the dots for on-the-move ancestors could be the records kept by the Catholic Church. I have often seen marriage records of Catholic ancestors with notations added about the bona fide baptismal status of the intended marriage partner coming from another location—a wonderful way to reach backward in time on that person's story. In John Stevens' case, though, an inquiry as to the records of the Catholic church in existence at the time of his arrival in Lafayette drew up a blank. Lost? Damaged? According to the reply to my inquiry, it seems the early records of that parish were not preserved to such an extent as to provide me such coveted clues.

In many cases, letters sent to and from family left behind can provide wonderful tidbits of information. But when you realize that many of the Catholics in Ireland during the famine years did not even know how to read or write, the probability of receiving a letter from back home shrinks to near zero. Another potential avenue to discovery of collateral lines wiped out.

One other possible route to learning more about John's family might have been through any will left at his passing in 1893. After all, his second wife Eliza Murdock was listed as owning their home free of any mortgage in the 1900 census; perhaps there might be a will showing, in addition to the disposition of the home's ownership, names of other family members. But even that would be a slim chance—most family members named in these less well-endowed cases are descendants, not siblings, and certainly not parents or even cousins.

As opportunities to examine John Stevens' past through exploration of his collateral lines seem to dwindle, I end up with yet another foray into this challenge coming up empty-handed. Yes, if baptismal records from the Catholic parishes near his possible townlands in County Mayo become available to researchers in the future, I may have another opportunity to delve into this question about his roots. Until then, though, we'll likely have to put this pursuit on hold for at least another year.     

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Clues from a Spouse


While it helps to glean hints about brick-wall ancestors from collateral lines and even the "F.A.N. Club" of other associates, those clues need to be read carefully. In one connection to John Stevens, the Irish immigrant ancestor we've been chasing throughout this month, I nearly read those resources incorrectly.

We can sometimes read volumes into the choice of a spouse. In the case of John Stevens' second wife, Eliza Murdock, that was exactly what I attempted to do. After all, who in the 1860s would not have carefully selected a bride based on similar background, tendencies, and preferences? In some cases, the choice of a spouse could point to a long line of clues about an ancestor's extended family.

With widower John Stevens' second wife, we see a woman whose surname—at least to me—seemed more Scottish than Irish. Though Eliza and her family were, like John Stevens, immigrants who settled in Lafayette, Indiana, on account of her brothers, she could claim a family name which was significant in the local community.

Eliza's brother James had a story which sounded like an echo of another immigrant's rise from humble beginnings to incredible success: the story of Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie. Indeed, in one county history book published in 1909, Past and Present of Tippecanoe County Indiana, the entire second volume opened with much space dedicated to businessman James Murdock's portrait and biography.

While the surname Murdock—as well as its more well-known variant, Murdoch—does have some roots reaching back centuries in Scotland, it is primarily a Gaelic surname. Though at first I was concerned to see John Stevens choosing to marry a woman whose name seemed to indicate a Scottish, rather than Irish, heritage, I was relieved to see that surname history. Once again, my doubts had surfaced about John Stevens being the person he claimed he was.

As it turns out, James Murdock—John Stevens' brother-in-law—was apparently born in County Sligo, Ireland. That, at least, was what was reported on James' 1908 death certificate. If indeed that report was correct, it is reassuring to find that County Sligo bordered on the county of John Stevens' birth, County Mayo. While admittedly, those more northern regions of the island of Ireland did have displaced peoples and migration from other parts of the British empire, that is a story from a far earlier history than the years of John Stevens' own residence in Ireland.

While some researchers have suggested that the choice of an immigrant's spouse—having married after arrival in the new homeland—might reveal that the two families knew each other back in Ireland, I don't believe that would be true in this case. Though John Stevens and the Murdock family arrived in Indiana at roughly the same time, their migration pathways were not similar—the Murdock family sailing first to Canada, then migrating in stages through various states before arriving in Indiana. Their acquaintance was most likely made after each party had settled in Lafayette.

Does exploration of a spouse's history help determine more about an immigrant's own origin? Perhaps, in some cases. Not that I can see, so far, in the case of John Stevens. Though hints of Scottish, rather than Irish, roots do show up in the Murdock story—James' father John was said to have been "a Scotch-man by birth"—such details only set my own suspicions about John Stevens resonating; there is no solid evidence to lend me a paper trail, or even point a possible way to fresh discovery. While collateral line exploration may often open up our eyes to possibilities, in this case, it only reminds me to proceed further with caution.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The one who Refuses to be Found


For some of those recalcitrant, brick-wall ancestors, if we hadn't stumbled upon a trace of their existence locally, perhaps we'd never have known anything about them at all. This certainly was true for my husband's second great-grandfather, John Stevens, who may—or may not—have come to Indiana from County Mayo, Ireland. It may be even more true for his apparent relative Hugh Stevens, who followed the same migration pathway, trailing John by almost exactly one year.

Finding Hugh Stevens has proven a far greater challenge than I'm up to, from my long-distance vantage point. I'm well over one thousand miles away from Tippecanoe County, Indiana, and not likely to head in that direction any time soon. However, I did get this one consolation prize from my last trip back east: not only a copy of the Declaration of Intention signed with an "x" by John Stevens, but an almost identical document, dated one year later, drawn up by local government officials on behalf of someone named Hugh Stevens.

Brothers? Cousins? I can't yet be sure. But there surely is a high likelihood that the two Stevens men are related. I mean, what are the chances that this second Stevens trip in 1851 to tiny Lafayette was a mere coincidence? After all, "chain migration" was one oft-used means of reuniting family among Irish emigrants. Perhaps John Stevens sent money back to County Mayo to bring Hugh Stevens across the ocean and up the Mississippi to join him. Perhaps he sent back a word of advice about that traveler's tip to avoid malaria-ridden New Orleans at all costs, unless Hugh could arrive there in December.

I would love to test that hypothesis—except for one thing: other than his Declaration of Intent, the one sign of Hugh's existence in Lafayette, the man seemingly disappeared. Among other research difficulties, that was one detail which made me doubt that either of the men was actually named Stevens.

Though each journey was separated by almost precisely one year, the two Stevens men both took the same route to get to Indiana—from County Mayo to Liverpool, sailing to New Orleans and then northward on the river routes landing them at or near the river port at Lafayette—and completed the first step in their naturalization process at the same local courthouse. After that, John stayed in Lafayette, but Hugh disappeared. I sometimes find myself blinking and wondering whether I simply imagined that second immigration journey. Whatever happened to Hugh?

Not that his home turf back in Ireland was in any shape to provide supporting documentation. Seldom were there any passenger records at that tumultuous time, back in Ireland, to corroborate what we found on the American side. Nor have I been able to construct any reasonable explanation for where Hugh went, or any logical argument to demonstrate that any other man by that same name might actually have been our Hugh.

Like any researcher would for the others who belong in that circle of friends, family, and other associates and neighbors we dub the "F.A.N. Club," I still keep Hugh Stevens' name and itinerary close at hand. Just in case. One never knows when another page from the passenger lists at the port of New Orleans may show up with his name included.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Clues From Collateral Lines


John Stevens, our hard-to-find Irish immigrant from County Mayo, still remains a mystery. Despite finding several Stephens men listed in the Tithe Applotment books for that particular Irish county, I still have nagging thoughts battling with themselves in my mind. I simply have no connection between the records in Ireland and John's sudden appearance in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, after 1850.

Time to look to collateral lines and the genealogical F.A.N. Club for clues. There are several possible resources for these friends and family connections, but even there, I find conflicting leads.

This week, we'll review what I've been able to find on possible connections and examine why they were helpful to find—or, in some cases, why they re-introduced those doubts about John Stevens' supposed Irish roots.

We'll begin tomorrow with an examination of another Stevens man who arrived in Lafayette, Indiana, after having followed the same itinerary John, himself, had reported in his naturalization papers. Following that, we'll launch into exploration of the extended family of John's second wife—a family whose surname made them sound more Scottish than Irish.

True, using collateral lines to help clarify genealogical details may seem more prone to inference than confirmation. Lacking more solid resources, perhaps my only alternative is to see whether I can tease out any leads from what can be learned about these other immigrants. As we close out the month, we'll give this last attempt a try.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

When Cousins Come Calling


The last couple weeks have brought me some surprises: distant cousins finding me via this blog and wanting to talk Tilsons. Yep, cousin bait works. Tilsons, on the other hand, may not be that easy to track.

For one thing, there are a lot of them. My particular branch migrated ever so slowly from New England to the outback of colonial Virginia, and finally to Tennessee. All by the turn of the century—the nineteenth century. The journey, supposedly, began with their ancestors, whose roots reach back to the Mayflower—if only I can find the documentation to demonstrate that oral history.

I'm not the only one bemoaning that little issue. Apparently, these two Tilson cousins are also working on that paper trail. They want to talk. Tilson.

Meanwhile, perhaps it is no surprise to see that while I am supposed to be working on research regarding my husband's Stevens roots, in the past two weeks, I have managed to add 138 more names to my own family tree. And yes, you guessed correctly: each one of those new names connects to that Tilson line. My tree has suddenly grown to 29,012 people, and I'm barely started with this impromptu exploration.

To put it in focus, in the same two week period, I managed to add 127 people to my in-laws' tree, though certainly not all owing to the research project I'm currently tackling on John Stevens. Since that task requires more broad-based exploration, it hasn't really produced specific names to add to the tree, though it has grounded me in some social history of County Mayo during the Great Famine. Some projects encompass different goals than simply building out a tree. Nevertheless, my in-laws' tree now includes 29,924 documented names.

Working with distant cousins can prove rewarding when each one shares resources which might not be available on the usual websites. Mostly, that means researching locally—or at least stumbling upon a serendipitous discovery. We'll likely start with a discussion of "I need..." and "I can share..." as an inventory of where we've already explored. I'll pull out my notes from my last trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to see if any material is salvageable (although the discoveries that pre-Covid year were less than satisfactory, and it's obviously been a while since I've been there). And, of course, I'll take another look at any Tilson DNA matches, just in case.

It is often a treat to meet a distant cousin online who has spent considerable time pursuing a research question. Make that a double treat in this instance. Perhaps this time, working together, we will all break through that brick wall and be able to document our Tilson connection to the Mayflower passengers.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Lazy Days of August


Perhaps those of you south of the equator may not relate to this feeling right now, but after a solid week of hundred-degree-plus days, I'm feeling rather melted. Perhaps lazy is the word for it, but strangely, I've had no gumption to jump into my usual daily family history research. Instead, I decided to do some mindless wandering on the website.

The buzz among the genies I follow on Twitter has been about the latest ethnicity updates at Ancestry DNA. While I am generally only mildly curious about those ethnicity readouts, in my heat-defeated state of mind, I decided to amble over and take a lazy look.

The word out on Twitter had been that, yes, Ancestry has just released another update, but that there was something wonky about the new labels. Debbie Kennett gave an example of some of the "strange names" she had seen on her update, and retweeted another customer's screen shot of the same. Regions named "Class Conflict and the Social Gospel" and "Nativism and Regulation" made their appearance in the ethnicity readout, along with "Far Western Territory" and "Early Connecticut & New York Settlers."

True, had recently added several other reference populations, but I don't think they were supposed to include anything like those names being reported by my fellow Ancestry customers over in England. Though I don't personally put much stock in ethnicity estimates, perhaps the heat got to me; I decided to take a look for myself.

To my disappointment, my own most recent DNA update at was dated June of this year. There were no fun glitches with labels like "Town and Country" in my readout—only the boring eastern European and northwest Europe percentages from past (evidently more tame) versions.

Just to make sure, I also checked my husband's test. Same result: updated last June. Nothing new to help me ignore this heat wave.

Perhaps, though, all this uproar about the funny labels woven into the latest release should just be put back in a proper perspective. After all, as genealogy blogger Jane Hough commented in her recent post asking, "How English am I?": "The crucial thing about ethnicity estimates is while their accuracy is improving over time, they are still only estimates."

And that pretty much boils it down to the crux of the matter.

Friday, August 19, 2022

When Curiosity Gets the Best of Us


Today, I caved to research temptation. Despite the genealogical mantra to "start with yourself" and then move step by step backwards in time through each generation in your family, I got tired of not finding John Stevens. My research goal for August is rapidly running out of time. I'm still hoping to spot a sign—any sign—of my husband's Irish-born second great-grandfather somewhere in County Mayo.

Since so many record types we would normally have used for genealogical research concerning our Irish ancestors had been destroyed during the Four Courts fire in 1922, it turns out that tax records have become a most useful alternative. Keeping my eyes open for both the Stevens and Stephens spelling, I had already tried my best to find John Stevens in Griffith's Valuation. However, if he really did come from County Mayo, given the date in which that county was evaluated—it was completed in 1857—he would have been long gone by that point.

But what about the previous property assessment, found in the Tithe Applotment books? There are several online resources for those tax records. What's more, since the assessment was authorized by the Tithe Composition Act in 1823 to collect funds in support of the Church of Ireland, the process resulted in records spanning dates from 1824 through 1855. That seems a large enough date range to possibly include John Stevens himself.

The records only identified heads of household—and even at that, included only about forty percent of those heads of household. Still, I'm simply looking for confirmation that at least any men by that surname—spelled Stevens or Stephens—actually lived in County Mayo during the years the Tithe Applotment books were being recorded.

Yes, "wild goose chase" it might have been. But it was encouraging to see the roundup of Stevens and Stephens men in County Mayo, according to a search at, one of the online resources including these records. There was indeed a John Stephens recorded in 1833 in the townland of Foxford, in the civil parish of Toomore.

Granted, if I have the year of his birth correct—reported to be 1813 at the time of his 1893 death in Lafayette, Indiana—John Stevens might have been too young to be the head of household over any property by that point. But it was encouraging to see nine other Stephens men listed in County Mayo as well, including one named James, same name as John gave to his eldest son.

While all that may mean something in our search for our John Stevens back in County Mayo, we don't have enough information yet to confirm or reject any of those ten Stephens/Stevens men from the early tax lists. Still, I know it is at least possible that he could once have lived there. And now the list is narrowed to only eight townlands instead of the possible thirty four hundred I'd otherwise have to wade through in County Mayo. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Different Than the Rest of the Crowd


While most Irish refugees to North America during the years of the Great Famine may have headed to New York or Boston, my husband's second great-grandfather John Stevens had to be different than all the rest. Instead of choosing those typical northern American ports—or destinations in Canada, or perhaps Australia or New Zealand—John Stevens chose to head to the port of New Orleans.

Why he did so has always puzzled me. For the longest time, his stated 1850 date of arrival on his immigration papers was one falling in the gaps of what was available in digitized records collections. Although such online collections are now more complete than when I first began this search, I still haven't located any record that match his details.

With such research trouble, I've begun to wonder whether John arrived from somewhere other than Ireland itself—for instance, traveling through one of the Caribbean islands. Hence, my goal in exploring the background information on the more general topic of Irish emigration itself, especially from John's supposed homeland in County Mayo.

Today, I begin to see some positive signs that he could indeed have arrived through the port of New Orleans. Though some of the statements I've uncovered do not come sourced or footnoted (hey, one is simply an Indiana newspaper), I see them as way-pointers in a long journey to arrive at the truth of this ancestor's travels.

True, both and have digitized copies of passenger records for the port of New Orleans. But let's first look at who might have arrived in New Orleans in general.

New Orleans is situated in what is now the state of Louisiana, located in the deep south of the United States. By virtue of its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the port's significance has always been its entry to a vast waterway connecting this Gulf port with much of the American midwest. Indeed, John Stevens made use of that transportation feature by continuing his immigration journey northward to the state of Indiana, where he finally settled.

Apparently, the Irish began arriving in Louisiana from the 1820s, and in increasing numbers during the famine years. New Orleans by 1840 had become the third most populous city in the United States—not to mention, the wealthiest. Perhaps on account of such reasons, rather than simply heading west across the Atlantic to New York or Boston, a significant number of Irish emigrants knew to sail farther south.

According to one newspaper column—unfortunately unsubstantiated—the port of New Orleans was considered "less regulated and more lax in following immigration law" than other American ports, leading some immigrants to "purposely choose" this as their port of entry. One other detail supposedly shared by immigrants was knowledge of the likely times for outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever in New Orleans, meaning those in the know would time their travel to avoid the months between May and November.

This last detail, although unsubstantiated in the newspaper report, caught my eye for one reason: what seemed to me to be the odd time John Stevens selected for his arrival in America. According to his Declaration of Intention, John Stevens arrived in New Orleans in the month of December. Could he have known of this bit of travelers' advice?

While digitized copies of the passenger lists for arrivals in New Orleans are now available for the years 1820 through 1945—and arranged by date of arrival in port—I did notice the collection notes admitted, "Some arrival dates are not represented in the data." True, in the past I had only searched for John's surname as spelled exactly "Stevens" and not "Stephens," so it is worth taking another look. But having his declared date of arrival, I have not been able to spot his entry in past forays into this record set.

However, seeing that mention of travelers' hesitance to arrive in Louisiana during the height of the malaria season does give me a slight glimmer of hope that John Stevens did indeed arrive in New Orleans just when he said he did. Now, it's just a matter of finding the record to have appropriate confirmation of this step in his emigration journey.

Of course, to be able to see that the entry is indeed for a man named John Stevens—and that the name wasn't simply an alias—would bolster my confidence, as well. After all, if he did indeed come from County Mayo, I have not seen many encouraging signs that his was a surname included among the residents living there during famine times.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

More About Irish "Population Clearance"


Perhaps our doomed "Goldilocks" research review yesterday didn't do full justice to the topic of assisted emigration schemes during the many famine years in Ireland. Let's take a closer look today—but this time, we'll look specifically from the point of view of the county from which my husband's second great-grandfather John Stevens emigrated: County Mayo in the northwest of Ireland.

An academic paper published in 2005 by the British Agricultural History Society in their journal, The Agricultural Review, provided much-needed background information on what author Desmond Norton described as "population clearance" in Ireland during famine years. In his article, "On landlord-assisted emigration from some Irish estates in the 1840s," Norton reviewed the discovery of letters and business records from the land agency firm of James Robert Stewart and Joseph Kincaid.

Most of the letters were from landlords, tenants, or the firm's local agents or partners, providing a specialized glimpse of the workings behind the assisted emigration schemes available during famine years in Ireland. While the information in the Norton paper is useful in a general sense, I need to examine any dynamics which might apply more specifically to John Stevens' case in County Mayo.

As it turns out, information from a website in County Mayo helped provide a more localized picture of how our John Stevens might have left his homeland.

Though part of our Goldilocks research foray yesterday—the part which turned out to be "too late"—mentioned the Tuke Assisted Emigration Schemes, it was interesting to discover that James Hack Tuke did travel specifically to County Mayo, where he observed the destitute condition of the population there, developed philanthropic projects, and organize opportunities for local residents to leave Ireland. All told, over three thousand people from County Mayo took up his offer, sailing from Blacksod Bay in northern County Mayo for either the United States or Canada.

Though in County Mayo the potato was the sole source of nutrition for nine-tenths of the population, the blight did not completely hit crops in that northern region in the first year of famine. The next year—1846—was a different matter. With the county now in the full throes of the famine, Mayo newspaper reports of the time painted a dire picture.

In the face of such desperation, local residents left on ships sailing from the small ports right in County Mayo, including the ill-fated vessel, The Elizabeth and Sarah. Not a lone example of the hazards encountered by those in County Mayo fleeing starvation, conditions in many other vessels crossing the Atlantic brought horrific tales to light. 

In considering the dire straits faced by the emigrating Irish, it is perhaps difficult to simply point a finger at those devising "assisted emigration schemes." True, some of those financiers behind paid passage opportunities had hidden motives—"population clearance" perhaps being one of them. But when you consider that it might take an unskilled laborer upwards of six months to earn enough money to pay for his own passage, it becomes clear that those who needed help the most had no other option.

In this exploration of conditions specific to County Mayo during famine years, one additional detail became apparent: not all Irish emigrants had to make the long journey to ports like Dublin or Queenstown (Cobh) in order to leave in hopes of a better life elsewhere. Desperate people left when they could and where they could, including from ports in County Mayo itself. While this may in one way seem to be good news for a researcher, in other ways it introduces a research problem. Since John Stevens undoubtedly left his homeland for America due to famine conditions, from which port did he sail? And which set of records might reveal this information?

Complicating matters is the port to which he headed, once leaving his homeland: the port of New Orleans. Tomorrow, let's examine what can be found of passenger records in that location.


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Means to Migrate


Living on an island can be limiting. When hard times hit, few options are available for impoverished residents seeking to escape their plight. The ocean does not make a compassionate partner for those desperate to leave their problems behind. Those who need to leave must first find a suitable form of transportation.

For the Irish, the specter of famine was a cyclical occurrence. The Great Famine of the late 1840s was not the first time the Irish felt the multiple pressures of poverty, hunger, and accompanying disease. It certainly was not the first time it occurred to Irish residents that the only way to find relief was to leave home. With no means to flee from their predicament, though, it took the help of others to provide a way of escape.

Those others, it turns out, had vested interests in ridding their property of the least productive, or those more likely to become a burden upon landlords or Poor Law Unions. Some of those landlords, having paid the way for tenants to leave their property—and thus, their obligation of support—kept estate records which can now be accessed by researchers.

Over the years, famine after famine, it turns out that there were several programs established to aid the destitute of Ireland in finding a better life somewhere else. One example that springs to mind is the series of programs encouraging immigration to the British colonies of Australia and New Zealand. 

There were, of course, other programs established, sending Irish residents far across the globe. One such "assisted emigration" program, sometimes referred to as the Tuke schemes, sought to provide transportation for western Irish families to the American and Canadian midwest. Descendants of those emigrating families can trace their ancestors' progress through preserved records of that era. That funding program, however, was established in response to a famine subsequent to the Great Famine of the 1840s.

Given that the focus of our study—the emigration of John Stevens from County Mayo about 1850—would not have been in Ireland during the time period of the Tuke schemes, he certainly could not have availed himself of such assistance. That, however, doesn't rule out other assisted emigration programs.

The first such assisted emigration program I became aware of was that of Peter Robinson, Canadian politician and Commissioner of Crown Lands. The Ontario city of Peterborough is named after him. Long before the time of the Great Famine in Ireland, Robinson proposed moving a select group of people from the area around County Cork to land near what is now known as the Ottawa Valley. Robinson's program had stringent requirements: all Irish emigrants had to be Catholic peasants younger than forty five years of age. Three hundred families were selected to participate in the program, each family receiving seventy acres of land, necessary supplies, and tools for building and farming.

In all, eleven ships sailed from Queenstown (now Cobh) to Ontario, from 1823 through 1825. As the next few years mark the hundred year anniversary of that project, people are now beginning to share stories of their Robinson scheme ancestors. Fortunately for descendants of those emigrants—and those descended from the relatives left behind—Robinson kept good records. Lists of the emigrants can be found (or referred to) in various articles online, as well as a list of the ships used in the project.

Once again—beginning to sound like a Goldilocks story—this emigration scheme occurred not too late for our John Stevens, but too early.

There were many other emigration schemes, though. Because it was far easier for destitute Irish to pour across the channel between Ireland and Great Britain, that is exactly what many emigrants did—to the dismay of British politicians concerned about the impact that movement would have upon the labor market closer to home. That, more than the condition of abject poverty itself, may have been the impetus for development of several other schemes—some partially successful, others not as beneficial.

FamilySearch provides a listing of the top ten landlords devising assisted emigration schemes in the nineteenth century. Reviewing this list, I see not one name mentioned having oversight of properties in County Mayo. Not that there weren't others, of course, but the possibilities are becoming slimmer that such a deal was offered to our John Stevens. However, taking a look at the long list of estate rentals in County Mayo now held by the National Library of Ireland, with a lot of diligent cross-referencing, it still may be possible to find any such schemes offered in John Stevens' homeland.

In the meantime, there are other details to consider in the story of John Stevens' travels from Ireland to Indiana. We'll explore one of those clues tomorrow.   

Monday, August 15, 2022

A Reason to Set Sail


When it comes to mid-nineteenth century Irish immigrants like my husband's second great-grandfather, John Stevens, it is not hard to understand why they wanted to leave their homeland. John Stevens, who arrived in America in the early 1850s from his supposed native County Mayo, most likely left because of the desperate conditions created from years of the Great Famine.

That, however, did not by itself provide the reason to set sail. Whether in good years or poor, it takes money to travel. That fact was not any different then than it is for travelers today. No money; no ticket—unless, of course, there is an alternate plan available.

In an article at, "Ireland Emigration and Immigration," the informative wiki provides a long list of clickable resources for tracing Irish ancestors through passenger lists and other documentation. One subsection of that wiki is worthy of our attention at this point of puzzling over the lack of records for our John Stevens' travels from County Mayo to the state of Indiana. Under the heading, "Types of Emigration from Ireland," there are four categories of emigrants listed for the years 1780 through 1855, categories including most of the people who left Ireland during that time period.

Let's take a look at each of those four categories to examine which one might best fit John Stevens' possible condition at the point of his emigration.

The first of those categories we'll consider is that of military personnel. While I have harbored a suspicion that John Stevens might have been a deserter from military service, this category of emigrants usually included those men who were currently in service. Those were the soldiers who were offered inducements to remain settled in the British colony in which they had been serving at the point of their discharge. While this might have seemed an attractive offer, it was generally employed in the case of those serving in Australia, Canada, or New Zealand. Of course, the United States had long since ceased to be a British colony by the time of John Stevens' arrival in Indiana. Although the colony of Georgia might have been such an example in the early seventeen hundreds, we can nix that category in the much later date of John's case.

The next category to consider would be that of transported prisoners. While my father-in-law did have some relatives in his family who were threatened with a sentence of transportation, that case was usually employed only for shipment to Australia by the time John Stevens left Ireland. Once again, this would not provide the reason for him to set sail to America.

Of course, the third category could likely include a story like John Stevens' means for leaving Ireland: as a free emigrant. It is true that many emigrants left Ireland to seek a better life for themselves and their family. But while they were seeking opportunity in a new land, this story line requires one additional condition: the means to leave. Those poverty-stricken, nearly-starving Irish peasants with the greatest reason to leave often were the ones with the least means to do so.

That leads us to the fourth category of emigrants: those who needed to leave, but lacked what it took to make that trip happen. Thus, the category of "Assisted Emigrants" became an alternate way for those who so desperately needed to find a better life to actually achieve the means to do so.

While assisted emigration required the largesse of others—a limiting factor in a place experiencing such dire conditions overall—it was more widespread than one might think. Tomorrow, we'll examine some examples of assisted emigration and consider the possibility of whether our John Stevens might have benefited from such an offer.


Sunday, August 14, 2022

Telling the Story—Whether Old or Young


It is a rare occasion when a young person chooses to attend any of our local genealogical society meetings. Still, that is often the topic of discussion among those involved in promoting the pursuit of our families' history. Face it: if we don't have younger generations willing to step up and take our place as family historians, the stories we've worked so hard to preserve may possibly be lost to any interested future generations.

Being painfully aware of that possibility, I found it encouraging to run across a newspaper feature earlier this month about a thirteen year old student who, as part of a 4-H project, completed charting five generations of her family tree. That accomplishment earned her a spot at the Ohio State Fair, as well as appearance of her photo and feature article in her local newspaper.

Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, Phoebe Cydrus began her student project four years ago, learning how to research online as well as interview living family members and document the lives of her ancestors. She is likely the youngest member of her county genealogical society.

Although those of us involved in local societies often bemoan younger generations' "lack of interest" in family history, that "lack" may not actually be the case. Rather than disinterested, young genealogists may instead be part of an invisible-to-us phenomenon. My own family history research has certainly benefited from the assistance of a young genealogist. And it is not hard to find signs of other young people involved in our favorite avocation, as well. We just need to know where to look to find them.

Take, for example, Ireland's Daniel Loftus, who bills himself as a "Teen Genie" on his website and has been active in blogging, on social media, in organizing fellow Gen Z researchers, and in launching genealogy-related initiatives. In recognition of his leadership role among his peers, the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center recently invited Daniel to speak on "Building a Bridge Between Generations."

Perhaps it is because of our own experiences that we know to look for others who share that designation of "young genealogist." When I hear people raise that familiar refrain about "lack of interest," I can't help but remember my own story. I was one of those young people who always wanted to know about my family's story.

It may be when we now see others stepping into the shoes we once wore that a connection lights up. That's how I felt when I ran across a mention of a blog post called simply, "A Love Letter to Young Genealogists." Even closer to my heart was blogger Kelly Wheaton's specific advice offered in that letter. "Don't forget you are part of a very old story," she reminds those young genealogists out there, wherever they are. "Once upon a time I was you," she reminisces, and closes with some advice:

...if you indulge me just a bit more—please focus on the stories. They are the most important things you may hear—you may not know it at the time—but trust me: every one you record will be a gift to future generations.


Saturday, August 13, 2022

It's Not the Same When You're not Home


Perhaps it's no surprise to learn that a family history researcher would feel more comfortable with the old rather than the new, the tried-and-true instead of the latest development. So, reading on, don't expect to see me say anything surprising or unexpected.

You see, I have this old computer. A very o-l-d computer. It is my laptop which is chock full of my work from literally a decade of research. It has served me quite well in its years of service, but as with anything else, it has become, well, old. Outdated. So out of sync, in fact, that the only option staring me in the face was to switch to a new computer.

Well, I did that last year. Maybe even two years ago now. And I'm only now warming up to the thing. New partnerships take time to mesh, ya know?

About being "not home." Now that we're tentatively "past Covid" (will there ever be such a day?), our family (and thus our family's business) has returned to our typical annual convention attendance. This particular trip did not involve my branch of the business, but I came along for the ride because, hey, I just needed to get out of town.

That presented one problem: I still needed to get work done. Fine: I'll work remote. No problem, right?

Except that I have this love affair with old stuff—and this phobia about embracing new stuff without a proper introduction. And guess what: even though I know how to put this new machine through its paces, "not home" also means navigating other messy stuff like playing nice with the hotel's wifi system, the operating system's own contrary mannerisms (I moved from a right-oriented PC to a left-friendly Apple), and who knows what other invisible interfaces tucked in between the two obstacles.

Guess what? That meant glitches like someone (hotel wifi? Apple OS?) suddenly deciding I shouldn't be able to access the pop-up window uses to link a selected article with an ancestor's name in my tree.

Funny, that always worked just fine when I was not "not home."

But here's the thing: when it comes to replying to your comments to this blog, guess what I suddenly could not do? Yep. Provide a reply.

Get this: I love comments. It turns a lonely virtual pursuit into a bona fide conversation. And, in like manner, I want to talk back. Only now, I can't.

So, for those who were kind enough to leave a note for me during this traveling week, yes, I saw your shared stories and helpful hints—and appreciated them. Maybe before I get back home, I will stumble upon an undeserved stroke of genius and figure out how to outwit the hidden forces wrangling with this (otherwise serviceable) laptop and send you a reply. Maybe I'll discover how to put this new-to-me contraption through its paces more expertly. Maybe I'll outwit the gremlins hovering in the ether. Maybe...

Or not. I can always wait until the cows come home. After all, I have my old standby waiting patiently for my return to more familiar territory.

Friday, August 12, 2022

What was so Great
about the "Great Irish Famine"?


Anyone seeking to discover more on their Irish ancestors surely knows about the one main impetus for their forebears leaving their native home: the Great Famine, cause of the death of an estimated 100,000 in County Mayo alone. With a population already impoverished in that northern county—nearly ninety percent in County Mayo were said to be dependent on the potato before the crop failure occurred—it is no surprise to realize the sense of "total misery and despair" pervading the region.

The Great Famine, which generally was pinpointed to begin in 1845, was not the only famine to have devastated Ireland. During the earlier parts of that same century, periods of famine were a common occurrence in Ireland. However, none was as severe as the one providing the motivation for so many to flea their homeland, thus providing an odd spin to the term, "Great Famine." The 1845 famine wasn't the only one—it was just the biggest, most tragic one yet to strike the entire Irish populace.

Zeroing in on famine conditions in County Mayo helps us see what life might have been like for my husband's second great-grandfather, John Stevens. Though it was unquestionably the famine which provoked his emigration, my question is: just how bad was it there in County Mayo? Since John Stevens apparently made the journey to America alone, what became of his family? Did they stay behind? Did they survive remaining in Ireland? Or did they, like another line of Stevens ancestors from a more southern county, see one sibling take flight to America while another departed for New Zealand?

While the "Great" in the Great Famine for most people might be translated as the "Awful" famine, or the "Widespread" famine, could the idea of the famine as the biggest yet in a series of unfortunate events mean that John Stevens was not the first in his family to have left his homeland? Could John merely have been the next one in a line of family members who had begun leaving Ireland during an earlier, though lesser, famine? Could the start of 1845 have caused him to think, "Here we go again"?

Though there are many reasons over time prompting the Irish to leave their homeland, there is one question plaguing me: if the people in County Mayo were so impoverished in the years leading up to the famine, how did they manage to scrape up enough money to pay their passage out of there?

As it turns out, there were forward-thinking—though not necessarily altruistic—men already prepared to address that predicament. Whether that was how our John Stevens secured his transportation on the rather unusual route through New Orleans to America's midwest, I can't say. But it wouldn't hurt to examine the options open to those destitute residents of County Mayo in the aftermath of the famine. We'll review some possibilities next week.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Research, Dennis the Menace Style


There is a fabled vignette in which Hank Ketcham's cartoon character, Dennis the Menace, asks his harried mom, "If I can't have a horse, can I have a cookie?"

I say "fabled" because I have no access to the actual cartoon strip itself, but I know the story has been shared by—even analyzed by—many others. While Dennis wryly reflects afterwards on an "invisible horse who's worth his weight in cookies," I'd like to borrow Dennis' original plea for an impossible desire of my own: not for a horse, but to somehow access the truth on John Stevens' origin in County Mayo, Ireland. Hopefully, after all is said and done, I'll end up with at least a cookie.

Is hoping for a research breakthrough on my husband's second great-grandfather as impossible as Dennis' wish for a horse? With what appears to be a dearth of actual records in support of John Stevens' existence back in County Mayo, perhaps that is the case. But there is one small observation to be made, perhaps along the lines of another apocryphal story about a child's Christmas gift of a pony which "must have gotten away": there must be a "pony in here" somewhere.

Take my one and only clue that John Stevens came from County Mayo: the statement he provided on his Declaration of Intent, years after his arrival in Lafayette, Indiana. How do I know that? I had to travel to Lafayette myself to look for—and thankfully retrieve a copy of—the document.

This was not a record I could obtain from any online source—at least, not at that time. Now, there are several online resources for retrieving copies of such documents. But that doesn't make the process easy—or foolproof. The "first papers" in this naturalization process could be filed at almost any time after the immigrant settled in the United States. And that's the problem for those of us chasing that document decades—or over a century—after the fact. An immigrant could have filed two years after arrival—or twenty. If he moved while in the process of establishing citizenship, his papers could have been filed in two different jurisdictions, perhaps located hundreds of miles apart.

Even if the location of the application was certain—in John's case, that would be Tippecanoe County, Indiana—knowing where the document is stored now could also be challenging. Depending on the time frame, the process could have been recorded at the Northern or Southern District of the U.S. District Court in the state of Indiana, but the actual naturalization proceedings could have been conducted at local or state courts, as well as the federal court system. And different courts handled the matter, depending on the year the request was processed: circuit court, probate court, court of common pleas, superior courts, or even the Indiana Supreme Court.

Fortunately—though I say this tongue in cheek—there is an online resource for retrieving such records from Indiana, in case you don't have the means to whisk yourself away just now. The virtual records are currently available online through, though I don't know whether that availability is merely an artifact of the pandemic lockdown. But don't be in too much of a hurry to locate your ancestor's naturalization records from this Indiana collection just yet; apparently the collection is only browsable—sorted by alphabet and date, but in no means organized alphabetically. Hence, hunt and peck. This process may take some time; it may be quicker to fly to Indiana.

That said, that little slip of paper—John Stevens' Declaration of Intention—was the only way I could learn of his Irish origin. And that is the problem I referred to at the beginning of this post. Consider this: if that bit of intel was only available in one hard-to-locate document, what else could be lurking out there in the ether, somewhere between here and County Mayo, Ireland?

Do I see anyone smirking yet? You know I'd be saying this: there must be a "pony" in there somewhere!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Irish Parishes: Civil and Catholic


Finding a source which has superimposed a map of County Mayo's civil parishes upon yet another map showing the county's Catholic parishes is not such a simple matter. One can find resources to show the one. And there are resources outlining the other. But finding a source which has put them together may be adding yet another needle-in-haystack to my research list.

True, there is Brian Mitchell's book, A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, which could help—if only I had a copy. So today, we'll explore some online resources for virtually traipsing through County Mayo.

Our goal right now, as we explore the many possible Stevens surname variants appearing in the historic Griffith's Valuation, is to determine whether any of those governmental entries could also be mentioned in church records from that location. The trick, though, is converting the civil parish name to the Catholic Church parish name.

Right now, we've been looking at Stephens entries in Griffith's for County Mayo. While "Stephens" was not exactly how my husband's second great-grandfather spelled his name, I doubt he spelled it any way at all; when he signed his Declaration of Intent after arriving in Indiana, stating he came from County Mayo, he signed his name with an "X."

There are precious few entries in Griffith's for County Mayo under the name our family goes by: Stevens. There are, however, thirty six entries for the same county if we shift that spelling slightly to Stephens. It is now my task to determine how to convert those Stephens' civil parish names to Catholic parishes, so I can then search for possible church records. Simple, huh?

According to Griffith's, there are twelve civil parishes involved in this chase. As it turns out, I can find a handy listing of County Mayo's civil parishes at And I can also locate a listing of the county's Catholic parishes. Thankfully, the civil parish entry also converts those parishes into their Catholic counterpart in a streamlined table.

Thinking it might be helpful to have more information on these civil parishes, I looked at Wikipedia. Sure enough, that resource also has a clickable listing of County Mayo's seventy three civil parishes, with the blue entries cross-referenced with a separate entry outlining more information on that specific parish. But here is where my luck runs out, once again: all but two of the parishes I'm interested in are coded by Wikipedia in red, meaning no entry has been drawn up on that specific location. Likewise, going back to the resources at FamilySearch, many of the parishes about which I'd appreciate more information contain only the boilerplate wording provided as a starting point for volunteers at that website's wiki. At least some give a smattering of details.

Not to be deterred, I wanted to locate maps of the area. After all, I know nothing about County Mayo. It would help, in researching my Stevens family line, to understand where the founding ancestor might have  originated. Maps can be a great way to start that learning process.

Once again for County Mayo, it turns out I can find a map of civil parishes. Or I can find a map of Catholic parishes. But not both at once. If I want to compare the parish boundaries, I apparently will need to find my own program to combine them.

Bottom line: it looks like a lot of grunt work to align the two jurisdictions, so why not cut to the chase and see if there are any entries in the Catholic Parish records for County Mayo at all? Searching that record set on has always proven difficult for me. No matter how I set the parameters to search this record set, I either get that dreaded "zero good matches" message, or hits which include entries clearly not fitting my search terms. So I went for the gusto, took my chances, and searched for any church records in County Mayo.

There were, indeed, several entries which did apply to County Mayo. No Stephens, of course, no matter how I spelled it. But it did show me that there were some church records surviving from that time period and location.

There are many reasons why there might not have been any Stephens family members remaining in County Mayo. The first, of course, is that John Stevens might not have really come from County Mayo at all, and was reporting inaccurate—or misunderstood—information. The second reason, given the time period of his emigration, might be that his entire family was wiped out by the Irish famine. Beyond that, there could be several other reasons why this has become my research brick wall.

The question remaining now is, if the family John left behind had all perished, what could have caused their demise? Could they all have died of starvation? Or might there be other reasons why the family line didn't fare so well in County Mayo? This points me back to my original, suspected important goal: learn something more about the life and times of John Stevens' contemporaries, back in County Mayo.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Perhaps Step-Hens, After all


With characteristic Irish good humor, my husband's cousins would scornfully remind me, "We are not Step-hens. We are the Stevens family!" And, perhaps, that is what we will turn out to be. However, I'm having the hardest time tracing the roots of my husband's second great-grandfather, John Stevens.

Although there are family legends to be had—one cousin insisted that our surname was once actually "St. Evans"—there is plenty of reality to stick with in this research struggle. True to form, early records after John Stevens' 1850 arrival in Lafayette, Indiana, routinely took liberties with the spelling of his surname. For the most part, the records averaged out to be Stevens, though, and have remained that way up until the current day.

But what about on the other side of the ocean? Could there have been spelling liberties taken there, as well?

John Stevens' Declaration of Intention, filed in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, stated that he was born in County Mayo, Ireland. In looking at records yesterday from the Griffith's Valuation—drawn up about the same time our John Stevens was supposedly making his way to a new world—we saw that there was indeed one Stevens family in County Mayo. However, the head of that family was named Michael, not John.

Of course, by the time the valuation process moved through County Mayo—it was completed there by July 13, 1857—our John Stevens had long since departed. The Michael Stevens listed in Griffith's could have been a sibling left behind—or someone of no relationship whatsoever. I have no way yet to know.

However, if I give the other spelling a try—checking for Stephens households in Griffith's—I am showered with plenty of options. Enough options, in fact, to give me the opposite problem: how to choose. There are at least thirty six Stephens entries for County Mayo in at least twelve civil parishes.

Looking through the given names in the vain hope that those in the north of Ireland followed the same naming pattern customs as our more southerly Irish ancestors, I hoped to find at least one Stephens by the name of James, the name of our John Stevens' eldest son. Though there were plenty of Patricks, a few Thomases, and even a couple men named John, I found not one single Stephens by the name of James. Perhaps that was my cue that this alternate spelling idea was not such a good angle to check.

Not one to waste a lead—or give up too quickly—I thought I could give it another try. Now armed with the twelve possible locations for other Stephens families in County Mayo, would it be possible to track those specific locations in Catholic parish records for the preceding decades to see whether there were any mentions of the John Stevens I'm seeking?

While that might be a logical next step, there is one slight problem with the technique. Griffith's Valuation, as a government document, was most likely studying residents by civil districts, while church parishes would be an entirely different entity. But why let that stop us? Let's give it a try tomorrow.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Learning About Irish Surnames


Perhaps, in searching for the family history of the Irish Stevens line, it might help to take a step back and look at the broad overview of Irish surnames in general. For such a tactic as that, there is no better place to visit than the website of Irish researcher John Grenham.

After some of the details I had gleaned last week, I was beginning to wonder whether Stevens might not even be an Irish surname. It was encouraging to pull up John Grenham's map of Stevens households in mid-nineteenth century Ireland. Details used in this map were gleaned from the mid-century Griffith's Valuation.

Thankfully, I spotted one lone Stevens household showing for County Mayo, the location claimed by John Stevens as his origin on his Declaration of Intent after arrival in Indiana. In addition, there were a few Stevens households in other locations in the northern regions of Ireland—and far more households listed under the Stephens spelling variation.

Still, I wasn't sure whether Stevens was truly an Irish surname. Thankfully, John Grenham had answers. According to his sources—mostly, in this case, the volumes by Edward MacLysaght, Irish Families and More Irish Families—he noted that all Gaelic names began with "O'" or "Mac." 

How a name like Stevens would fit into a picture of history like that is not yet clear to me. And that can only mean one thing: keep digging further for the answer.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Not Counting on a Breakthrough


Sometimes, using genetic genealogy to break through a research brick wall seems a sure thing—and it can be, if we remember one small detail. To get a DNA match, it takes one to make one.

In the case of some of my Twelve Most Wanted research goals for this year, I've had DNA matches a-plenty. Take the project that swallowed the month of June: working on my husband's fifth great-grandfather, John Gordon. There were no less than one hundred sixty eight DNA matches on that ancestor's ThruLines report at I'm still working my way through that list.

A DNA bonanza like that can explain why the count on my husband's family tree, after that point, exploded by nine hundred names. Not so for my current month's project. This month, my Twelve Most Wanted target is a mere second great-grandfather to my husband, a man from Ireland named John Stevens.

Fewer generations of separation might obviously indicate less time to produce enough cousins willing to spring for a DNA test. But only one? That is the only ThruLines connection showing for John Stevens: one match. Even less helpful, this match is a grandchild of one of my husband's uncles, someone we already know. No great surprise there.

Still, there is a lot to clean up on my father-in-law's side of the family tree. Working on my biweekly tally this weekend, I did see that progress is being made. The tree grew by 207 names over the past two weeks to reach a total tree size of 29,797. Some of that was catch-up work from the pileup earlier this summer from those 168 Gordon cousins. Some also came from the Tully research done for July's goal. But I still haven't been able to make that Stevens brick wall crumble by the use of DNA testing. If there are any other unknown distant Stevens cousins out there, I certainly haven't found them on the paper trail, either.

Searching by surname among those DNA matches at the companies where we've tested isn't a productive practice, either. Stevens is simply too common a surname to be of use as a search term.

Even though I'm not counting on any miraculous breakthrough on this month's research goal, that doesn't mean I won't continue trying. After all, I have way too much month left to quit now. And there's still that broad-based approach of learning what can be discovered about more general aspects of this relative's life. If John Stevens came from County Mayo, what was the place like? Why did people leave there? Where did they usually go, and from which port did they embark on their journey?

These and many other such questions may not yield any specific answers about John Stevens himself, but will at least broaden my understanding of the region and the time period in which he lived. Surely that should count for something. 

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