Before I started this genealogical research, I fully anticipated collecting a few names and then being able to trace my roots straight back to the Irish town from where they came, easily locating relatives and then forming a lifelong bond with them. I had visions of me being invited to tea at a brick cottage with my dear Great Aunt Mary, while her son Joseph tends to the farmland and shows up at the window periodically for a glass of water.
It’s been a bit harder than that.
Instead, I’ve found dead ends, misinformation, confusing archival evidence, and absurd dates. I’ve spent HOURS upon hours doing online research, calling parishes in Burin, reading thousands of birth and death records at the Maritime Archives and the Provincial Archives…I’ve taken up heavy drinking. (Or, I’ve resumed heavy drinking.)
I started out at Ancestry.ca. I got nowhere. When I found a Newfoundland-wide genealogical website, I contacted the administrators who put me in touch with a local genealogist. One conversation with him over the phone, and I knew I could never, ever do this on my own.
Since Newfoundland was one of the earliest places in Canada to be settled by Britain, it turns out nobody really knew what they were doing, and nobody cared much for keeping accurate records. Since priests were in short supply, they would often visit the small fishing coastal outports just a few times a year, travelling between them regardless of denomination. That means that even if my great grandfather was baptized a Catholic, he could very well show up in Methodist records.
Never mind the fact that Walsh is the fourth most common name in Ireland, and apparently the second most common in Newfoundland.
Here’s my conundrum.
My family has long believed that my Great-Great Grandfather Wilfred was born in the small town of Lawn, in 1862. We know for certain he died in St. Alban’s in 1925. His father was believed to also be Wilfred Walsh from County Kerry, whose wife was Mary Sullivan from County Cork.
Unfotunately, the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish has no record of my Great-Great Grandfather Wilfred Walsh ever being born there. The only record I CAN find is a Wilfred Walsh born in 1855, to a John Walsh and Honora Buckley (from Waterford, Ireland). This seems like the most likely candidate, as My Great-Great Grandfather Wilfred’s son Joseph had a daughter Nora (Honora) and he himself named one of his sons John (my Great Grandfather).
Wilfred is an uncommon name, so it adds up. Great-Great Grandfather Wilfred’s wife was Mary Willcott, born in 1853. If my original information were accurate, Mary would have been TEN YEARS older than Wilfred, and in her 30s when she started having kids. This is absolutely unheard of for a time when women started having kids in their early 20s (or earlier).
Everything adds up. Perhaps there was a headstone error, or a birth certificate error.
And then this happened.
When we DID search for a Sullivan family in the area, we found a few living in St. Lawrence.
Now, we are trying to prove or disprove Mary Sullivan had any relation to Wilfred. And oh my god even just typing this all out makes my head whirl. Names and dates and family lineage. It’s like a big treasure hunt, except more confusing and I’m terribly worried about stirring up trouble with the members of my family who have only ever known the original information to be accurate.
I met my genealogist last week at the Provincial Archives. We pored over old records in barely legible handwriting, while he gave me a historical background of the area and what names would have belonged where.
I’m overwhelmed by this process of finding the people to whom I belong. In their lifetime, would they have ever imagined their Great Great Great Granddaughter would be sitting in a windowed library overlooking The Narrows, eyes barely a millimetre away from pages upon pages of family history? Could they ever conceive just how important this is to me?
The good news is that the records ARE there. And soon, we’ll figure out which ones are right.