Ellen Watters Timeline

So how do you make an 87 year timeline when you only have three reference points (2 census records and a death record)? Speculation and historical details!

1801-6: Ellen Watters is born sometime between these years. Her parents were quite likely Hugh Watters and Sarah Smith, who were tenant farmers on the William Cooper Crawford estate in Tipperary, not far from Nenagh (Rapla North, Kilruane Parish). The entrance to the estate is pictured below.

The entrance to the estate is pictured below.


In 1801 the Act of Union was passed (largely in response to the bloody rebellion in 1798) which joined Ireland and the UK. At first this seemed to be good news to Catholics, who were promised emancipation, but never actually got it. The early years of Ellen’s life were a time of relative political peace in rural Ireland. She grew up with at least 4 brothers, but maybe there were more siblings. Women did most of the domestic tasks, while the men worked the fields. I bet Ellen was a superstar knitter.

1820-21: Ellen marries Timothy Tierney and their oldest daughter, Sarah (Sally) is born Jan 1, 1821.

1825-1835: She and Timothy have 3 more girls and 2 boys.

1831-32: Three of Ellen’s brothers immigrate to (what is now) Canada, settling in Nepean, On.

By the 1830s, unrest in Ireland was growing. Catholics were disgruntled as the benefits of the Act of Union did not materialize and they were now required to tithe the Church of Ireland. In rural areas secret societies of Ribbonmen and Whiteboys began forming. These rebels fought for Catholic and peasant rights through violence and other shenanigans.


1835: Ellen’s husband Timothy was convicted of stealing a landlord’s account books and firearms. He was sentenced to transport to New South Wales and shipped out from Cork never to return to Ireland. Their youngest child, Mary, was born sometime around his conviction.

1840:  Her eldest daughter Sarah married in 1839 in Tipperary. Her obituary states that she and her husband, along with her family (mother Ellen and 5 siblings) sailed out of Limerick on a 4 week voyage to Ontario. I think they may have sailed with another brother of Ellen as well. I wonder if any other siblings remained.

Meanwhile things were getting worse in Ireland. They got out at a good time, as the famine struck 5 years later and devastated the country. Pre-famine Ireland was extremely poor and the quality of life terrible. Drunkenness was commonplace and people often lived with their stock in filthy stone huts. Life in the new world is tough for settlers, who arrive with little have a lot of land to clear, but it’s better than in Ireland. Typical housing in both countries is pictured below as a comparison (Ireland, then Ontario).



1851: Ellen is found on the Census of Canada. She’s living with her two youngest children, John and Mary, and is a farmer and a widow. Two daughters and a son have immigrated to the US. One other daughter is married and in Ontario.

1853: Ellen’s husband Timothy is granted a conditional pardon in Australia. He’s a free man there, but cannot return to Ireland or the UK. I don’t know if Ellen knew what became of him.

1860s: Ellen supposedly walks from Nepean to Ogdensburg, NY to visit her daughters Sarah and Ellen. She’s in her 60s when she makes this return trip on foot (180 kms round trip). This info is from a plaque in Tierney Park in Ottawa and I imagine her like in the picture below.



1872: Ellen’s husband Timothy dies at the age of about 73 in Australia.

1881: Ellen’s living with her son John and listed as a farmer, a widow, and blind. This is interesting, as I know my great grandmother and her mother (Ellen’s daughter and grand-daughter) also went blind in their old age. (In fact, as the story goes, my great-great grandmother would scold her girls if they were peeling potatoes too thick just by the sound of their work).


1888: Ellen dies of “senile decay” (which is also the name of a defunct metal band). She’s living with her son John at the time of her death and is listed as the widow of Timothy Tierney and 87 years old; it’s been over 50 years since his conviction and transport. Her headstone is below. It is not the original, though.

  • I have not been able to find any records of Ellen between 1851 and 1881. In those two censuses she’s living in the same place, but is not listed for that household in 1861 or 1871. I have searched records in Canada, the US, and Australia. 30 years with no record of her (besides the report of walking to NY) drives me crazy! I like to speculate that she went to Australia for a while or something, but so far I haven’t found anything to support that.