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November 23, 2018

Breaking Down That Brick Wall, Part 1

For more than 30 years I searched for a record showing where my McGinnis family came from in Ireland. I don't mean the town or village (although that would be nice), I mean the County. There were family tales that it was either Armagh or Down and that the family arrived in Upper Canada (present day Ontario) during the potato famine.

The Known

My McGinnis roots stem from a large family group that arrived in Puslinch Township, Wellington County Ontario circa 1831. At that time Ontario was a wilderness called Upper Canada and was very sparsely populated.

As anyone who has searched for ancestors in Upper Canada can testify, genealogy records pre 1851 are few and far between. There are no census records (they didn't begin until 1851), no vital registrations (they didn't start until 1869) and church records are sparse.

Catholic Records

If, like mine, your ancestors were Catholics in Ontario you're in for a challenge, as Catholic church records as most are in the hands of local priests who have them locked securely away. The public is not allowed access even to older records in the mid 1800s. There are a few scattered Roman Catholic Church records for some parts of Ontario available on FamilySearch but they are not indexed. There are none for Wellington County where my Irish Catholic ancestors settled.

Newspaper Records

There were few newspapers in that time period for Ontario. Of the few that were published, not many have survived. Those that survive for the area I need are not indexed. So an approximate date of an event is a necessity in order to hunt for an obit or other record.

Ships Passenger Lists

Ships passenger lists arriving in Canada were not archived until 1865. There are many substitute ships passenger lists but my McGinnis don't show up on any. Don't get me wrong - there ARE some records for this early time period in Ontario - tax and assessment records, land records, and a few other miscellaneous record sets. But every local area has different records that have survived.  So it's a long process to find out what records exist and where they are kept.

The Known

Back to my Irish family who arrived from somewhere in Ireland circa 1831. I have land records for them. I have tax and assessment records back to 1833. I have death records. I have marriage records. I have some Catholic Church records of baptisms in the 1840s. I have  Catholic Church burial records for many of them. In fact with my 30 plus years of research on all branches of the original McGinnis settlers, I've got an entire filing cabinet drawer full of relevant documents.

I have searched all 9 children of the immigrant McGinnis settler down several generations. I've hunted for obituaries and death records in particular, praying for a mention of a town or county in Ireland.  Nothing.

However there was one son for whom I have not been able to find a death record or obituary. I knew he died between 1881 and 1891. I knew where he lived. But nothing could be found.

Family Lore & DNA

Family lore from descendants of his branch claimed Belfast as his place of birth. Family lore from my branch claimed Belfast as the place of birth of my great-grandfather's sister.

I had my brother's DNA done. We linked in with McGinnis families near Belfast. I contacted a descendant of one of the two known sisters from Ireland. She had early photos and on the back of one was written, in period handwriting, "Katesbridge Ireland" Katesbridge is in Co. Down and not far from Belfast.

This was all pretty exciting for me as it definitely gave me enough clues and pieces of circumstantial evidence to hesitantly proclaim that PERHAPS my Joseph McGinnis was from Katesbridge or Belfast in Co. Down. Perhaps.

Part 2 to be posted on November 25th. Breaking Down That Brick Wall

1 comment:

Toni said...

Oh, I do feel your pain. Some member of my family has been searching for Daniel D. Ward for over 100 years. But PEI didn't keep records in 1800. Newspapers didn't often have births. The newspaper I need is always the one that isn't available. The church record is always the one that hasn't been found yet. Everything I could use as a clue is not available for one reason or another. I wish Daniel would decide to be found.