Discover your inside story with AncestryDNA®

July 4, 2014

52 Ancestors: Joseph McGinnis - A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma

Joseph McGinnis - a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma
1871 Census Guelph Ontario Canada Joseph McGinnis & Family
I'm writing about my 2nd great grandfather Joseph McGinnis as part of Amy Crow's Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 

Joseph McGinnis came to Ontario Canada from Ireland in 1847 with a wife (Fanny Downey) and a toddler (Bridget aka Delia). He was about 20 years old and a general labourer. After the 1871 census was taken in Guelph, Joseph disappeared. What happened to him? 

There are two possibilities. Many of Joseph's family (either siblings or cousins, that relationship has not been worked out yet) left Guelph area after 1861 with their families. John and Daniel left after 1871 for Michigan. Constantine and Frank left shortly after 1861 - Francis for Ohio and Constantine for Michigan. Mary Jane left for Ohio after 1851 and Sarah left after 1864 for Iowa. It seems very possible that my Joseph could have left with John and Daniel, perhaps for the same area. Did he die there? 

Joseph is not found in the 1880 U.S. census, nor in the 1881 Canadian census. So did he leave Ontario after that 1880 census was taken but before the 1881 Canadian? My Fanny is found in the 1881 census for Guelph as a widow but with another puzzle added. More on that later in this blog post!

However there is another possibility - and another "wrinkle" thrown in to add to the mystery. For there was another couple in the same location, around the same ages, also named Joseph and Fanny McGinnis. Or was there? In 1877 a Joseph McGinnis died in Guelph. For years descendants, including me, believed this was our Joseph. But a search by me of the Catholic church burial records revealed that *this* Joseph was married to a Fanny Foster, not Fanny Downey! The thought that perhaps my Fanny Downey had been married more than once occurred. 

But in 1890 Fanny (Foster) McGinnis also died. Since Fanny (Downey) McGinnis was alive and kicking in 1891 and in fact did not die until 1904, the two women were not the same individual. 

But what about Joseph? Could he have been married to both women? Is he in fact the Joseph who died in 1877?  Is that why he disappeared after 1871 and no record of his death or his residence has been found? 

There is no trace of Joseph and Fanny (Foster) McGinnis in any census records. There is one Fanny McGinnis, a widow in the 1881 Guelph census. A second Fanny appears in that 1881 census for Guelph, also listed as a widow and with her 15 year old son Joseph. Given the errors that creep into census records the age difference (Joseph should have been 17) isn't enough to say that this one isn't my Fanny. But certainly one of the women must be mine.

But because there is no trace of Joseph #2 (married to Fanny Foster) it leads to suspicion that indeed there may only be ONE Joseph McGinnis - married to two different women.

It is possible that my Joseph did indeed die in 1877 and that Fanny Downey left Ontario with her youngest children - perhaps to live with a sibling or other relative. Another intriguing fact is that Daniel McGinnis, who was either the brother or cousin of my Joseph McGinnis, and the man who moved to Michigan with his family after 1871, was married to a Margaret Downey. Was she my Fanny Downey's sister? Could my Fanny have left Ontario to live near her sister, then moved back to Ontario by 1881? Or did she never leave Guelph? There is not much to go on other than the census every 10 years. Catholic records for Guelph are not open to the public so I am unable to search to see if she happened to be a baptismal sponsor for grandchildren during those crucial years 1871 to 1881.

That brings me to trying to decide which is the most likely scenario - that my Joseph packed up his family and left Ontario for parts unknown, died there, and his widow Fanny Downey moved back to Ontario to be with her eldest daughter OR that my Joseph was married to both Fanny Foster and Fanny Downey and that he died in Guelph in 1877? 

I don't know. I waffle between one scenario and the other. I have spent years going over and analyzing the clues and the documents I've found on the family. Sometimes I feel I'm going in circles, hoping for that one clue that will provide me with an "aha!" moment.


Catherine Christopher said...

I did a llittle searching and think I've found the death cert for Margaret McGinnis (transcribed as McGuires) on "Seeking Michigan". She died in 1907 in Lapeer County. If you don't already have this it might help as it gives the names of her parents. Will keep searching.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

That's very kind of you Catherine - I did have this info as indexed information but have not seen the actual image so am off now to have a look!