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.

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