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. 

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