Rainey DNA

This month’s post is a bit different. Rather than focus on an ancestor, I’m going to talk about how DNA has helped me.

Back in 2010 I joined 23andme, mainly because I was interested in the health and traits features. They had a sale, and I decided to join, although I wasn’t interested in genealogy. I got the results and thought they were mildly interesting (I am not a carrier of the redhead gene and can’t smell asparagus pee – cool!).


About 2 years later I was contacted by someone in Scotland who was a projected 3rd cousin. My great-grandmother was from Scotland and her middle name (Rennie) was one of his family names. She had died when I was 16, so I remembered her well. I knew she’d come to Canada at 15, but never thought about the how or why. I googled her name, trying to find out some information and found a family tree made by a descendant of her sister. From that tree and the help of its creator, we were able to determine the connection between me and the 23andme relative and realized that the family was Rennie in Scotland and Rainey in Ireland. He and I turned out to be 4th cousins. His family had been in Clydebank, Scotland working at the Singer factory (pictured below), while my branch was in Glasgow, working on the docks.


This is what got me sucked into genealogy. I became interested in my great-grandmother’s story of how she had been orphaned and how she’d come to Canada as a home child. I was amazed at how much I didn’t know (and annoyed at myself for never asking) about her life.

In the next few years I did more family research and went back another generation (to William Rainey and Elizabeth Kilpatrick) in my great-grandmother’s tree and did a lot of fun digging. I also started researching all my branches and managed to convince my mom and paternal uncle to test their DNA. My mom then convince her parents. Having my grandparents’ DNA is priceless, as they are 2 generations closer. Now that my grandfather has passed away, I’m even more thankful to have it.

Earlier this year, I found an other DNA connection living in Belfast with the Rainey surname, who was good match through my grandfather’s side. He also had a William Rainey in Tyrone, Ireland. After a bit of comparing, we realized that his great great grandfather was the brother of my greatX4 grandfather. I had never been able to find siblings for him, as the birth records weren’t available in those years in Ireland. This was a perfect example of how DNA can help: once we knew the information we were able to confirm it through other records, but we wouldn’t have found those records without the DNA hint. His William Jr. had gone to Sailortown in Belfast (where my DNA connection was born – he still lives in Belfast) around the time my Robert Rainey (William Jr.’s brother) went to Scotland.


Last week or so I was playing around with my Ancestry DNA results and I realized there is a feature to see shared matches. I found another Rainey who also shares with my other Rainey connection. This person lives in the US and traced his Rainey ancestors to Robert Rainey (b. 1768), who immigrated to Lower Canada (Quebec) between 1810-1825. Robert had immigrated with his daughter Jaine (b. 1810), and an other Rainey, James, who were both in this person’s tree. These Raineys, who were Irish protestants, had been some of the first European settlers in the Beauce area. Besides headstones and their abandoned church (below), there is almost no trace of these protestants in this French Catholic area. I think it’s likely that Robert Rainey (b. 1768) is an ancestor to us all, and as an older man he emigrated to Canada with his daughter and possibly other children, while some of his other children remained in Ireland. Strangely enough, my great grandmother (likely Robert’s great-granddaughter) immigrated to the same province 100 years later, probably completely unaware of the connection.


Using GEDmatch, I compared all of us in the Rainey crew, and we all match each other (me and my grandfather, the first 23andme connection in Scotland, the guy in Belfast, and now the American). There’s also another good match on GEDmatch who has a segment in common with us but hasn’t responded yet. I’d love to hear about what happened to another branch of the tree.

I’ve enjoyed using DNA to help with genealogy and got my start with paper genealogy after DNA, which is a bit unusual. The learning curve has been steep, but it’s been interesting, and sometimes (but still often not) quite rewarding. I am looking forward to more and more people joining the databases so that I can learn even more about my family tree. Making connections with people all over the world has been fascinating.





The Complicated Life of Jessie May McLeod Blackmore Farrish Lamont

This month I got sucked into the life of my great great grandmother’s sister, and there’s a bunch of bigamy, child mortality, alcoholism in her life. I don’t know much about this branch of the family, except that the McLeods were farmers on Prince Edward Island and originally were from Scotland, and my great-great grandmother’s life was much more pedestrian than her sister’s.The picture below is of my great-great grandmother (Lydia McLeod) and her husband William Abbott. I only have the photo because it was passed on to me through a DNA connection. Lydia was born sometime around 1863 in New Brunswick – I think her family was just there for a couple of years.


Her sister Jessie May was born on PEI in 1857. I think she was the first child in a family of 5 girls (although it’s possible I’m missing some other siblings – there’s no 1871 census for PEI). By 1881 Jessie is married to Robert Blackmore and they are farmers on PEI on Lot 18 near Malpeque. It’s picturesque and now famous for its oysters.

149211351-hmeczfqoShe and Robert have 3 children: Annie (1877), Frederick (1880), R. Austin (1882). Then, in 1895 she has a girl called R. Myra. One year and a month after her birth Jessie remarries. She’s listed as a widow. Jessie is now about 39 and her new husband, George Farish is 25, 5 years older than her eldest daughter.

Jessie and her newish husband George immigrate to the Boston area around 1898. Around this time they also have a daughter, Lila. The next year Jessie’s eldest daughter, Annie, marries in February and dies in March, due to complications from childbirth. On the 1900 census, Jessie, George, and Lila are living together. Myra is also in the area, but living with Jessie’s sister Maria and her husband Hartwell Crozier. The next year Myra is back on PEI with her aunt and uncle and listed as an adopted child.

Then a whole bunch of crazy stuff happens – read carefully, it’s complicated. In 1907 Jessie’s husband, George, marries Carrie Winchester – he’s now 35 and she’s 24. She is also from PEI. I can’t find any record of Jessie and George divorcing, but they were married on PEI, but now living in MA, where there’s probably no record of their marriage. To further complicate matters, Carrie Winchester is also married to someone else. In 1904 she had married Charles J Brown in Butte, Montana (when she was 21 and he was 42), where he was working as a copper miner.

BUtte - Miners Union Hall 1914

In 1908, a year after their “marriage,” George dies of acute alcoholism. He was 36 and is listed as married, but the name of his spouse is blank on the record. In 1910 Carrie is back with her husband, Charles J. Brown in Montana. I’ve taken a current screen shot of where they were living. Just a year later, in 1911 she’s on the Canadian census as Mrs. CJ Brown, and living with her father on PEI. I have not been able to confirm what became of her after that, but I think she may have married a guy called Frank Goodro in Idaho.


In 1910 Jessie turns up in Portland, ME. She’s now “married” to a bloke called Frank Lamont and living with him and her daughters, Myra (who her sister had been raising) and Lila. Frank is actually married to Sarah J. Henry – a widow whose first husband had died of an injury 3 months into their marriage. Sarah is living in the Boston area and calls herself Frank’s widow in the directory, even 20 years later. He’s actually living in Portland with Jessie – again he’s a younger man. In 1910 he’s 40 and she’s 53. He’s a carpenter and she’s a dressmaker.


She also says she’s given birth to 10 children, and 4 are living (Fred, Austin, Myra, and Lila). She says she was born in Scotland. In 1920, they are still together and she’s now born in Illinois to Scottish parents. In 1930 they are still together in the same place and she’s back to being born in Scotland. They lived about 30 years on 15 Merrill (right side of house), St in Portland. Google street view:


In 1917, Frank Lamont signs up for the Canadian reserves for WWI and lists Jessie as his wife (with his last name). Her son also signs some draft papers in the US where he calls her Jessie Ferris (somehow George Farish became Ferris after his immigration to the US, and their daughter Lili stuck with Ferris).

The last record I have of Jessie is her mention in her sister’s obituary – she’s called Mrs. Blackmore (the last name of her first husband!). This is also the last year I can find either Jessie or Frank in the Portland directory, and I have had no luck finding death records or headstones for either of them, but would love to see how they were buried.


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.









Not really my family: Brownlees

This month I am writing about a branch of my husband’s tree.

I don’t actually know that much about the Brownlee family, but ended up finding a picture on Ancestry, and it inspired me to do a bit more research on this family and solved a mini mystery.

I think the first generation to come to Canada was  James Brownlee and his wife, Margaret Davidson. I think they immigrated when they were around 60, in 1824, along with many or all of their children. They had something like 11 children, and a bunch of them came to Canada.  I think the Brownlees were from Cavan, Ireland. They were presbyterians, and likely plantation (Ulster) Scots living in Ireland for generations. I also think there was a military connection, and perhaps some of James and Margaret’s sons were in the military, which is why they all ended up immigrating. I really haven’t researched these generations much yet myself.


One of their sons, John, along with his wife Catherine Rainey (both born in Ireland) were my husband’s great X3 grandparents. They had at least 6 children, including William. William was born in 1841. In 1851 they were living in a shanty, despite 27 years in the area. By 1861 they had moved up in life and were living in a log house. John died the next year. His wife lived till 1893, with William in the luxury of a log house. William married Mary Ann Hill in 1869, and they had probably 7 children. They were presbyterians at the beginning of their marriage, but converted to Methodism some time between the 1871 and 1881 census. There were a lot of Methodist conversions and baptisms around this time in the area, although I haven’t lucked out and found their Methodist baptism records. Apparently they were Hornerites, a relatively local and especially evangelical and animated offshoot of Methodism.


Mary Ann died in 1888, possibly in childbirth. My husband’s great grandmother Margaret was just 2 when her mother died. Her father remarried Susan Edwards in 1891. She was a spinster who found herself the step-mother of 7 children (OMG). The older children did go out to work or stay with other families, though. William died in 1898, and his cause of death is below: Who else thinks that it says “Disease of the Loins”? (his obit says rheumatism, but really, who would claim a fatal STI in print?). His wife died a year later of a stroke.


Margaret married Reginald Simpson (cough, her cousin, cough) in 1911, and had their only son in 1911 (below). Reginald went to WW1 around that time. He died in 1937, and Margaret joined her sister in Winnipeg, which is where the family stayed until the last few years. Margaret lived until 1877. The picture below is of her, her husband, his rifle, and their son.


And now for the mystery solved: a few years ago my sister in law found old family photos while going through my parents’ in law belongings after their deaths. We found the picture below with pictures of Margaret Brownlee. Of course it was unlabeled. I guessed it might be her parents, but had no proof. Then, recently, someone posted a picture of the family, with people identified. I contacted the owner and she assured me that hers was labeled and belonged to her mother in law, another of William’s descendants. This was certainly the same man, only older and with a different wife. I feel relieved to positively ID an unlabelled picture! I also really like the new picture, with the stern bible-holding father and the dark Victorian clothes. I wish I had such old pictures in my family – the oldest I’ve got are from the 1920s, while this one is from around 1895, and the older in the 1880s… They are both below:





Taughers in Montreal

I was really hoping to do one of my 2016 write-ups on the Taughers, but here it is, the end of November and I don’t have much to say. I’ve looked at this family a lot, and really don’t know anything that I didn’t last year.

I’ll start with Patrick Taugher. Born in 1853 in Montreal, he was my great-grandfather’s father. He and his wife Hanna Askwith had 9 children, but only 5 of them lived beyond the age of 3. Their first son survived into adulthood, the next 3 died as toddlers, the next lived, the next died, followed (finally!) by 4 who all lived. There was a 15 year gap between their first son, William, and the next child to survive. There was a 25 year spread between the 9 children.

Patrick himself was also from a family of 9 children (6 or 7 lived). He was a finisher (of what?) and later a machinist. He grew up and lived in various places in and around Griffintown in Montreal. Griffintown was Canada’s first industrial slum, and Montreal had the highest mortality rate of all North American cities in the 1800s. This was one of the first stops off the famine boats, and many of Ireland’s poorest settled there (assuming the survived the journey and subsequent quarantine). It’s an area of canals, factories, and the people who worked in them. The conditions during these years in Montreal were appalling for the poor. Families were large and lived in very close quarters, where germs spread fast and mortality was high. Below is Griffintown in 1896.


There’s a little anecdote in The Shamrock and the Shield: An Oral History of the Irish in Montreal (by Patricia Burns), about Paddy Taugher and his wife Hanna Askwith and a little song children would sing: “She asked him and then he took her”, which was a play on their surnames. He was quite a bit older than she was. He was 26 when they married, although she was still a minor, probably about 17 years old.

Patrick was the 2nd child of a blacksmith, John Taugher, and his wife Mary Mulhall. John had immigrated from Ireland, probably in the late 1840s, and was likely a famine immigrant. I don’t know who he came with, and I can’t really find other Taughers in Montreal at the time. There was one who was baptized in 1831 (but had been born in Boston and was protestant) and likely not from our family. The rest I find are all John’s descendants. So did he immigrate alone? Did other family members continue somewhere else (there seems to be some Taughers who went to Wisconsin around the same time)? Some other Taughers also cropped up in Ontario – I’d like to look into both of these families a bit more since I’ve hit dead ends with my own confirmed branch.


John was presumably from Galway and born around 1824, but there are also Taughers (of a variety of spellings) from the Mayo area, along the border between the two counties. I’ve looked through parish records in those regions and found very little (a handful of Tohers). When he got married in Montreal, John reported that his parents were Patrick and Margaret, who lived in Galway. Galway is in the west of Ireland, and was still largely Gaelic speaking at the time. It’s famous for its shawls (fibre arts!).


John was a blacksmith – I have no idea if he learned his trade in Ireland or in Montreal. I know he had at least some education, having been able to sign his name at his wedding in 1848, which is more than I can say for most of my ancestors at that time!

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 8.04.32 AM.png

John was also involved in legal proceedings a lot. He owed money in Montreal and there was a fairly large precedent-setting case about whether or not his wife’s inheritance could be sold to pay his debts. There are a lot of mentions of him in notarial reports, but it’s not clear what the notes are about – certainly a number are related to the property case, but others seem to be leases and business negotiations.

I’d love to connect our Taughers with other Taughers, or at least get a better idea of where they came from. There was family lore that the Taughers were originally German, but I haven’t been able to find anything to support that. I do know that my grandmother’s DNA connected her with a small group of people who were connected to the Palantines, Germans living in Ireland (but not Galway), but I haven’t found a paper trail to support this at all. I also wonder if the spelling of Taugher could be an issue – it was always spelled wrong by census takers, and there are quite a few variations. Perhaps one of these days a magical record will fall from the sky or I’ll make a great DNA connection, since I feel a  bit like I’ve exhausted the paper trail.

Timothy Brennan, Now with Siblings

I’m writing about Timothy Brennan (plus siblings) again. Last month I concluded he was pretty boring to research. I must like chewing sawdust, because a month later I’m still researching him, largely because I found out a bit more information and hit a mini genealogy jackpot with a letter to Timothy from his brother, which led to some other discoveries.

The letter was written in 1869, some 20 years after Timothy’s arrival, and was from his younger brother, Paul, a reluctant military man.  At the time, Paul and his wife were stationed in Toronto, and had been there for 2 years, but still had not seen his Timothy or their other siblings. In the letter, he mentions a few other relatives, and this has helped me connect Timothy to 2 other siblings who must’ve immigrated with him or around the same time. Today I’ll talk about the them.

As mentioned last month, parents were Paul Brennan and Mary Walsh in Leighlinbridge, Carlow, Ireland. There were a lot of Brennans in the area, and quite a few Walshes. Paul and Mary were hitched in a shotgun wedding in September 1820 and their first son, Timothy, was baptized in the same place (St. Laserian’s) 6 months later in April 1821. Paul and Mary were farmers in Seskin Lower, along with 19 other families in the 1848 Griffith’s valuation. Their surnames frequently appear as sponsors and witnesses in each others’ marriages and births. Here’s a picture of the place today. I chose the oldest, most run down building. Maybe it was around when they were…


Timothy: My great-grandfather. He was the firstborn child, and came to Canada in the late 1840s during the great famine. He spent the first decade in Canada working as a foreman at Phillip Thompson’s saw mill at Chaudiere (Ottawa timber raft pictured below). After his marriage in 1856, he moved to Fallowfield outside Ottawa with his wife’s family, the Kennedys from Tipperary. On his marriage record she’s called Ann Kean, although she was a Kennedy in all other records. They had 6 children including my great great grandfather, Patrick.


John: baptized in 1824. I haven’t been able to track this brother down in Canada, although a John Brennan is mentioned in the letter from Paul to Timothy. I think he crossed the sea as well, or perhaps they had another relation of the same name. Researching John Brennans in the area hasn’t proved rewarding yet. Michael and Alice did have an 18 year old son called John at the time of the letter – perhaps it is he who is referred to?

Mary: Born around 1825. I didn’t even know she existed until the letter, in which she’s referred to as Mrs. Rice. I’ve not found a baptism record for her in Leighlinbridge, but I did find the world’s most illegible French marriage record (below) in Maniwaki (near Ottawa) in 1856. I’m pretty sure it says her parents were Paul Brennan and Mary Walsh – but maybe I’m seeing that out of wishful thinking?  Either way she’s related somehow. She married John Rice and they had 10 children. I researched this angle after seeing the name Mrs. Rice in the letter and realizing known brother James Brennan was living beside the Rices.


Michael: Born 1826 in Seskin Lower. He was the first of the siblings to marry in Ottawa, in 1850. Witnesses of his marriage were Walshes (his mother’s maiden name), although his parents are called Paul Brennan and Mary Wilson. I think Wilson is an error on the record. He and his wife and had a modest-sized family of 15 children. His wife, Alice Kelly, died in 1879 and he died in 1898. They were first living in Ottawa, but later relocated to Quebec and lived next to likely sister Mary in the years after she lived beside James. This is how I found him and then tracked town his mis-transcribed marriage record.

James: Born 1832 in Seskin Lower. I think he was the youngest sibling to go to Canada. He married Catherine Houston in 1858 and their first child was born 3 months later. In his marriage record, his mother is called Mary Wols. They went on to have 8 children. They lived near Mary and Michael.

These 3 families, who all went to Gatineau, had a lot of kids and reused family names a lot. I find it very difficult to keep track of subsequent generations, but I think there are still Brennans in the area today. Gatineau is north of Ottawa and was also an area of the timber trade. I suspect all the Brennans were originally in the timber trade when they arrived, but shifted to farming later.


Johanna: B. 1836 in Seskin Lower. I’m not sure what happened to her. Maybe she immigrated, maybe she stayed in Ireland, maybe she died…

Paul: b. 1839 in Seskin Lower. This is the letter writer. He apparently did not immigrate with his older siblings, but remained in Ireland, where he married Mary Murray (say that 3 times fast!). He joined the military (29th regiment of foot, out of Worcestershire) and they were placed in various locations around the world. They were in Toronto for 2 years (when he wrote the letter), and had 2 children there. At the time of the letter Paul was appealing to his siblings to help buy him out of his service (for $90, which represents $205,000 in economic power these days), as he was about to be shipped out. They were not able to emancipate him, and Paul and family shipped out in 1870 and ended up in Jamaica for a few years. He then bought himself out or completed his tour, because a few years later he ended up back in Ireland (Dublin) where they had the rest of their children. They eventually did immigrate to Canada, and settled in Ottawa, not far from Timothy. He died a few years later of consumption. Three of his sons worked for the Grand Trunk Railroad. Their son Paul and his moustache are pictured below.


Bridget: b. 1842. Like Johanna, this is the only record I have of Bridget. I’m assuming she did not come to Canada, as she was younger than Paul.

Final thoughts:

1. I’m still looking for John and “Uncle Walsh,” who were both mentioned in the letter.

2. When I related the story of the letter to my mom, she recognized the name of its owner as my grandmother’s cousin, who I’ve apparently met a number of times. I’ve got to up my genealogy game. I’ve since been in touch with her, and she doesn’t seem to have the genealogy windfall I briefly dreamed about.

3. All the marriage records for this family have errors in them. I feel like there’s more out there (John Brennan), but they are probably misspelled!

4. I was surprised about the marriages which took place fewer than 9 months before baptism records for the couple’s first child. I did a bit of research and found out that pre-famine, social mores in Ireland were quite different. After the famine, the power of the church rose and celibacy was demanded. This allowed Irish standards of living to improve and keep larger pieces of land in the family, rather than dividing it up between descendants; this, of course, was largely at the expense of much of women’s status. Until this point, women had been the de facto heads of families. The patterns of inheritance also changed after the famine, which led to the late marriages seen in Irish populations after the famine. Before the famine, when the church did not case such a large shadow, sex and children outside of marriage were not stigmatized as after the famine. Although some of these marriages were post famine, the Brennans left during the famine and were likely not as strongly influenced by the mores the were shifting back home.





Timothy Brennan, nondescript farmer

Convicts  named Timothy are easier and more interesting to research than farmers of the same name. There are shiploads of records associated with convicts and better books about their lives and experiences. It’s easy for me to imagine their struggles and how they lived. Farmers, though? They are harder to get into. Also, it’s tough for me to imagine my ancestors when all I’ve got is census data. But… I’m going to do my best to imagine one, because there are a lot of farmers in my tree, and I’ve got to start somewhere.

It seems like most of the Irish immigrants in my family came from the old country to the new, got some land and farmed it hard. Some of them packed it in and went to the city within a generation or two, while others kept on clucking. In fact, the Brennan farm, which is now being encroached upon by suburban sprawl and box stores, was just sold in the last couple years, after more than 150 years in the family. I get that land ownership is a loaded concept: the Haudenosaunee and the Anishnaabe had been on that land a lot longer, but still there’s still a tinge of sadness that it’s being eaten up by a growing city. At the same time, I’m not about to move to rural Ontario and figure out how to sow canola or husband cattle because of a false sense of nostalgia.


Timothy Brennan (1821-1906) was the immigrant on this branch, and I know very little of his life in Ireland – or Canada, really. His parents were farmers (Paul Brennan and Mary Walsh) in Ireland. He was baptized in Seskin, Old Leighlin, Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow, Ireland in 1821. He probably had holy water poured over his screaming face in the 13th century cathedral below, St. Laserian’s. His headstone claims he was born around 1815, while censuses peg it at various dates from 1821-26. I guess he wasn’t great with math. He was the oldest of 6 boys and 2 girls.


He was also confused about when he immigrated. The 1901 census says 1849, but a newspaper article says 1856. I can’t find him in the 1851 census, and he was married in Ottawa in 1854, so I’m going with early 50s. It’s also possible he immigrated around 1849, but took a few years to make it to the homestead, which actually belonged to his father in law. There were huge numbers of Irish immigrants during this time: it was right in the middle of the great potato famine. During the late 1840s and early 1850s, over 1 million died and another 1 million emigrated, resulting in a loss of around 25% of the population. County Carlow was particularly badly hit, and lost up to 50% of the population to starvation or immigration.

The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown

B0KH45 The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown

The famine itself was caused by blight, a crop disease, but the effects were amplified by the political and economic climate of the time. Already before the famine, the Irish were almost totally dependent on the potato as their main (and often only) source of food. The vast majority of the population was poor tenant farmers, who were barely surviving before the blight hit. When the disease got to Ireland, it spread quickly because their monocultured variety of potato was susceptible. During these years, though, farmers were still expected to export their crops. Over 4000 ships filled with grains were sailed from Ireland over these years, while the people were starving. Exports of cattle actually increased. This occurred because British landlords demanded certain quotas and Ireland was largely under the power of the British.


So Timothy likely left Ireland to escape the famine. He was the oldest son and around 30 years old when he came to the Ottawa Valley. It’s likely he would’ve been sending money home to Ireland. He may have immigrated with his younger brother James, or perhaps went ahead and sent money for James to join him. I believe their parents and other siblings remained in Ireland, although their younger brother Paul joined them in Canada many years later in the 1880s after some time in the military.

Timothy immigrated as a farmer and used those skills in Canada. He married Ann Kennedy (a Tipperary lass) in 1854 in Ottawa. They went on to have 2 boys and 4 girls, who were farmers or married to farmers (i.e. were also farmers). One of them was his son Patrick, my great great grandfather (pictured below with his wife Anastasia Brophy circa 1925).


In an article from the Ottawa Citizen (Sept 26, 1931), his son Patrick (my great-great grandfather), tells stories about him. Timothy came from Carlow in the 1850s and secured an inner lot, meaning that there was no road access to their 50 acres. I believe it actually belonged to his father in law, as stated on a map from 1879. Although their land was on the banks of the Jock river, he had no way to travel the river, and so he had to haul everything and cross overland and through bush on other people’s unfarmed and unoccupied lots (which his family subsequently bought up). Eventually he built a boat to come and go from during periods of flood. Their eventual home is hardly a shanty so I think they did relatively well. Here’s a picture of the farmhouse and stockyard, when his sons Patrick and James were running it, around 1925.



Timothy’s wife Ann died in 1898, and he passed away in 1906 of old age at 85 – I’ve got a headstone below – it replaced the previous one which was in disrepair.  At the time of his death, he’d been living with his son James, who reported the death. By the next census James and his brother Patrick were living there. This is where my great grandmother grew up, and the land stayed in the family through her sister.

Although the records are pretty boring, I can imagine a few things of his life. He probably arrived in Canada destitute and hungry, but managed to make a decent life for himself and his family. I would love to know what became of his siblings who remained in Ireland (and there’s an old post online from a woman who has a 1869 letter from him to his brother Paul, which I’d love to get my hands on!). Conclusion: farmers are indeed more boring to research than convicts.







Timothy Tierney, Again

Nearly a month has gone by since my last entry about Timothy Tierney, and he’s still on my mind. Every year I let my Ancestry subscription lapse for a while until they offer me a good discount to come back. This break gives me an opportunity to look for other resources and be more creative with my research. It’s a good chance to read some books and go deeper.

You’ll remember that Timothy was my great X4 grandfather, which means that I share about 106 cM of DNA with him. It also means that he’s one of 64 of my great X4 grandparents and I’m one of his uncountable descendants. Judging from his 6 childrens’ fertility, I’m guessing there are thousands of us. He’s just one tiny knot on my family tree, yet I keep thinking about his life. Below is a graphic about a family tree to his generation.

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I’ve already done an overview of his life. This month I’d like to talk more about convict life in Australia and how he fits in with it. Much of my information about transportation to NSW comes from “Convict Society and its Enemies” by John Hirst. I was quite surprised by a lot of information in this book – I had a very different idea about what a life sentence of hard labour entailed.


Over the 50 odd years that the UK transported convicts to New South Wales, some 162,000 people were forcibly relocated. When the first boatload of convicts lifted anchor, prisons in the UK were not like what they are now – our modern notion of prison is quite different from what existed then. The death penalty was used a lot, and for relatively minor crimes. Other punishments for less severe crimes were usually limited to lashing. Prisons were squalid, chaotic places usually reserved for those awaiting trial or debtors. By the late 1700s, there were some movements to modernize the penitentiary system and standardize and codify laws. The infrastructure just wasn’t in place to house the number of convicted criminals as capital punishment for any old thing was starting to fall out of favour. Some convicts were housed on hulks, or ships, off shore on the rivers in large cities (pictured below). By day they did hard labour and by night they slept on board in cramped filthy quarters, where they shared a lot of diseases. Realizing this wasn’t a longterm solution, magistrates began sending prisoners to colonies. There was some transportation to America, but it largely ended after US independence and shifted to NSW.


It turns out the transport itself wasn’t that bad, you know, relatively speaking. In Timothy’s case it was 109 days without porting. By the time of his transport, the conditions ok – convicts weren’t usually locked up and could generally go on deck (this surprised me). The survival rates and conditions were much better than many immigrant ships of the time, especially the “coffin ships” leaving from Ireland.

I had always imagined that convicts were sent abroad and then housed in prisons where they toiled and built roads for the government in chain gangs. This is true in some cases, and there were places such as Hyde Barracks in Sydney where this happened. However, in most cases, prisoners were assigned a master. Masters were typically free settlers or ex-convicts who would take in convicts, getting labour in return for providing them with rations and basic accommodation. Usually these homesteads were quite far from major cities. Some larger homesteads would have 30 or more convicts working and living there. Masters were not allowed to punish servants, and had to report bad behaviour to the courts, and the courts would decide the course of action. If a convict absconded from his master, when he was caught he might be sentenced to lashings, or in the worst cases sent to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) or Norfolk Island, where there were brutal prisons, rife all sorts of atrocities. Luckily these places were the exception. In fact, being a convict in Australia was often more comfortable than the lives many of the convicts left behind in the UK and Ireland.


Timothy arrived in Australia with some advantages. He was a larger, strong man when compared to other convicts. Most other convicts were petty urban thieves with few skills that would help them in an agricultural society. Timothy was a political prisoner and former farm hand and shepherd, who likely knew a good day’s graft. This experience probably helped him to be selected by a master and offered a prime position on the station or farm. He wasn’t assigned until 2 years after his arrival, and it’s likely he was living in barracks (pictured below) and rocking out with the chain gang for the first while. This was typical during the time of his arrival, as word had been getting back to the UK that life in NSW wasn’t all that bad. The magistrates wanted transportation to instil fear in the hearts of would-be criminals everywhere, and made most of them toil upon arrival. Below is a picture of convict arriving.


Timothy’s master was John Elliott, who hailed from Northumberland. He had come to NSW as a blacksmith’s indentured apprentice in 1825 with his wife and 1 child. After completing his apprenticeship, he got land near the town of Maitland (below). He and his wife Martha had 12 children, who all lived to adulthood, which was a pretty big deal back then.


I’m not sure how many other convict servants were working under John Elliott, but there were others. In theory, convicts were to work from dawn to dusk with a one hour break for meals, although this was not always done in practice. Some convicts did task-based labour, meaning that they would be off the clock once their job was done. This would allow them to work for their own money. This was not technically legal by the time Timothy came to NSW, but was often the practice. In fact by 1838 Timothy was working as a constable, even though he was still a convict. He probably did this work in his off time to earn some extra money.

John is reported to have been a kind master, although he did have convicts that absconded from him (and subsequently caught and flogged). Timothy worked for John until at least 1843, when he received his Ticket-of-Leave.  A Ticket could only be granted to a lifer after a minimum of 8 years. The Ticket allowed Timothy to own land and work for himself or for money. He could also marry or invite family to join him. One of the conditions of his ticket was that he remain in a designated area, which for Timothy was in Maitland. Sometimes ticket holders would continue to work for their master, earning wages.

Ticket holders were expected to maintain good behaviour. Timothy wasn’t always great – he was charged with drunkenness on one occasion in 1850; he pled guilty and was cautioned and discharged. In 1851 he was selling some wheat he’d grown in Bolwarra on land he rented, some 20 kms from John Elliott’s place. The following year, he was granted permission to cut timber in Wollombi.

In 1852 Timothy received a conditional pardon, meaning that he was essentially free in every way except that he could not return to the UK or Ireland or hold a publican’s license.  The last record I have of him is in 1858 in Wollombi when he donated 5s to someone who’d lost their place in a fire.

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I have no confirmed record of him until his death at the Liverpool Asylum in 1872. I don’t know when he entered the Liverpool Asylum and those records no longer exist.

I’ve looked at the other Timothy Tierneys in NSW at the time, but can’t find any others that are the right age. There was one man 10 years older who was convicted and did 7 years, but I think he returned to Ireland after his sentence in 1833. There are also at least 3 other Timothy Tierneys who were all about 40 years younger than “mine”… One of them is amusing/tragic: he was arrested and spent time in jail for exposing his person, a few years later was found drunk and wandering the streets in rags, and eventually died from choking on meat while drunk.

Although transportation would have been difficult, in some cases it was an improvement in living standards. I don’t know if that’s the case for Timothy, but it seems he did quite well for himself in some ways. He got his ticket of leave and pardon in very good time, and more or less stayed out of trouble. However, because he didn’t have family in NSW he also didn’t have anyone to care for him in old age, which is why he (like many others) ended up in an unmarked grave outside an asylum for the poor and ill.



Timothy Tierney

I’ve already mentioned Timothy when I talked about his wife Ellen Watters, but this month I’m going to present more of his side of the story.

Timothy Tierney was born in 1799, or thereabouts, possibly just beside Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland. The Rock of Cashel is nearby. As legend has it, it was created when St. Patrick cast Satan out of a nearby cave (uh-huh). The buildings that rest upon it are mainly from the 12th and 13th century, and are rare surviving examples of Celtic architecture (thanks Wikipedia). As seen in the photo below, it looks like something from Game of Thrones.


I don’t know who Timothy’s parents or siblings were, but I know he had at least one brother called John. At some point he ended up in the Nenagh area of Tipperary, and around 1821 he married Ellen Watters. They went on to have six children (4 girls, 2 boys) over the next 13 years. Timothy was a tenant sheep farmer, Roman Catholic and could not read or write.

During Timothy’s life, there was a resurgence in what the authorities called Whiteboyism, although not all of the members identified themselves as such.The Whiteboys had been one of the most well known Irish secret societies, and they were mainly active during the 18th century. By Timothy’s time some were Ribbonmen, and others were just your run of the mill secret societies. I’ve read they were highly organized, but it’s hard to know because the first and second rule of and secret society is not talk about it. What they had in common was that they took oaths, clandestinely met at night, ensured snitches got stitches, and were generally anti-establishment. Although they were largely Catholic, the Roman Catholic church didn’t approve of the oath swearing and menace to society stuff.

During the Tithe War of 1831-36 there was a resurgence in these societies. The war itself was mainly non-violent protest against the forced tithes that tenant farmers and peasants had to pay the protestant Church of Ireland. Because the majority of the tithed were Catholic, they were pretty miffed about it. While most of the resistance amounted to refusal to pay, there were some violent episodes. In 1836 the tithe collections were abandoned as it reportedly “cost a shilling to collect tuppence.”


On the evening of November 24, 1834, two men entered the house of a protestant land owner Gilbert Carter and stole some firearms and the tithe records. This kind of crime was not uncommon – the goal was to instill fear in the protestant upper class and destroy all records of who had, and had not, paid their tithes. Think Fight Club or Mr. Robot’s fsociety in rural 19th century Ireland. Timothy Tierney was found guilty.


He didn’t admit to it (who would?) and the evidence was largely based on the accusation of John Carter, the landowner’s son, who also said he wasn’t sure who he’d seen that dark night, and that he couldn’t tell Timothy or his brother John Tierney apart. He did not identify Timothy until 4 months later after an arrest had been made. Because of his reluctance to ID, he was only paid out half the reward, which he later filed a complaint over. Reading a newspaper article (Clonmel Advertiser, March 26, 1835), key information is missing and the defence claims an alibi. Timothy is found guilty but his co-defendant Patrick Dooley is not, but I’m not clear on how the decision was made or what evidence besides Carter’s accusation was presented. For the crime, Timothy was sentenced to life imprisonment in New South Wales. The trial was March 26, 1835 and he shipped out June 12. He quite likely stayed in the jail below, in Nenagh, while awaiting trial and departure.


He shipped out from Cork on the Blackwell. The Captain was the splendidly named Dalrymple Dawson. The voyage took 109 days (baaaarf). Of the 152 convicts aboard, 2 died, but 2 babies were also born. There were 7 women and 10 kids (fresh babies included), who were relations of prisoners. In some cases wives and families were able to accompany their delinquent loved one. Below is an image of convict transport, which seems an unpleasant place to spend 109 days in the throes of seasickness. The route they likely took is also below.

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Florentia route to Australia

Because Timothy was a convict, there’s a fair amount of information about him. He was 5’7.5 (the second tallest prisoner aboard!), with a dark sallow complexion, grey eyes, dar brown hair, “breast hairy,” and a small circular scar on his little finger of his left hand. In NSW he was assigned to a master called John Elliot in Newcastle. It’s my understanding that convicts in Australia generally weren’t imprisoned – instead they could be assigned to settlers (who could even be former convicts themselves) and had to reside with and provide unpaid labour for their master. In November 1843, 8 years after his arrival, Timothy was granted a ticket of leave. 8 years was the minimum necessary for a lifer to receive a ticket, and only possible if the prisoner had one master who was willing to apply for it. This meant he could receive pay for work. Conditions were that he had to attend religious service weekly, could not leave the specified area without permission (Maitland in this case), could not board a ship or have firearms, or get into any trouble; he could marry, own property, and even bring his family to Australia. Ten years after his ticket of leave was granted, at the age of 54, he was given a conditional pardon. This allowed him to be a free man, under the condition that he never return to Britain or Ireland. I assume he could have gone to other colonies, though.

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I have no idea if John Elliot was a fair master, but it seems like Timothy had the most ideal circumstances. Originally given life, he served 18 years, 10 of which he was largely free to work for pay. But, he never did leave Australia. I don’t know if he ever contacted his wife and family again or if he was aware that they had emigrated to Canada within a couple years of his conviction. I really have no idea how easy or common global communication between illiterate peasants was in those days. His wife Ellen always officially identified herself as his widow once in Canada, even before his actual death, so I don’t know if she knew what became of him.

Timothy died almost 20 years after he became a “free” man, having lived out more than half his life in Australia. He died in the Liverpool Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute in Sydney in 1872 (below is an image from 4 years later). A lot of former convicts ended up in places such as these as they aged and had no family to take care of them and were no longer able to work and support themselves.

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(Thanks to other researchers who found most of this gold on Timothy – especially Jerry Tierney, who also sent me the last image).



Mary Ann Wholesworth

Mary Ann Wholesworth was my second Great Grandmother. She’s been pretty tricky to track down. It took me forever to figure out Mary Ann’s maiden name, which is erroneously recorded in a few different locations. There were obvious literacy issues with my ancestors and the name was recorded as Wholesworth, Wholesmith, Allsworth, Ellsworth, Holesworth, and Aylesworth. I think Wholesworth is the “right” one – or at least the one that probably stuck around. I’m still not 100% sure, but I think my clues all point in one direction, so I’m going with that for now.

Mary Ann was born in 1837 in Nova Scotia, maybe in Wallace, Cumberland, which is where the person I assume was her younger brother was born some 10 years later. Besides her brother John W, she had at least 2 sisters, who I think were called Elizabeth and Ann Susan. Her parents were likely John Wholesworth Sr. and Sarah Rogers. A lot of this is based on information I learned about her brother John, who immigrated to the US, where record keeping was better. I’m still not entirely sure that he was her brother, but I think all evidence points to this – the timing, family names, birth locations, etc. Below is what Wallace looks like today (a bustling metropolis):

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It’s possible Mary Ann’s family were loyalists that came to Wallace (then called Remsheg, which meant “the place between” in Mi’kmaq) around 1783, as this is the case with her husband’s side of the family. But.. I haven’t been able to find the surname (or its million variants) on the maps from the time and I’ve seen family members claim Scottish descent on 2 censuses (but English on others). It’s quite likely they instead came from Scotland a bit later with settlers who renamed the place Wallace (after William, of course). Below is a picture of the Scottish arriving in Canada, playing bagpipes and waving a flag, immortalized in a commemorative stamp. 8-arrival-of-scottish-settlers-pictou-ns-1973_1189_08577208dba58e5L

At some point between 1847 and 1857 Mary Ann’s family relocated to PEI, where she married James Crossman Dec. 17, 1857. He was the son of a fisherman and was a lumber dealer himself. She was about 20 and he was 33. They had a daughter, Fanny, in 1860, but I think she died as she never showed up in any other records or the census. After that they had Margaret (1864), Benjamin (1866), John Edward (1869), Sarah Lena (1871), and my great grandfather James (around 1875). All but James were born on Lot 16.  They may have even been living at this house (current stalkery streetview below) in the same place Alexander Crossman (oldest surviving Crossman brother) inherited his parents’ land around 1890.

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Mary Ann was widowed in 1875 – the same year James was born. The story is below:

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I’m thinking that after her husband’s death the pregnant Mary Ann relocated to Summerside, where James was born. In 1881 oldest daughter Margaret was 17 and living with a family working as a servant on lot 13. Benjamin was 14 a farm servant at living on lot 3. I have not found the younger siblings John, Sarah, James (or Mary Ann) in the 1881 census, but I assume they were all living together in stealth.

In 1882 Mary Ann remarried a man called Solomon Vessey and they lived in Summerside. He was a labourer at the time but was later the cemetery gardener (dream job). In the 1891 census they are living with James, my great grandfather, who was a printer. In the 1911 census they were living in the house stalked below  (thanks google!) on Cambridge St.

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Her children Margaret, Sarah and John all ended up in MA by the 1890s – it took me a while to find them there, as I had no idea to look in the US. Sarah and John both married Lennoxes (who were father and daughter, wtf), from Nova Scotia. Sarah married a widow Fred Lennox, who was 20 years her senior. John married Fred’s daughter (are you keeping track?) Lillian and the age difference was a bit more respectable. I think they may have gone to MA because their uncle John W. Wholesworth was living there. John Edward and Margaret stayed in on MA, both making their residences in Somerville. On their American wedding certificates their mother’s maiden name was listed as Wholesworth and Wholesmith (boom! that’s how I found it and connected them with their uncle). Benjamin stayed in PEI and married in his mid 30s, after working in various households as a servant. The youngest son, James, also stuck around Summerside, PEI and worked as a printer for the newspaper. He and his wife (pictured below with his wife, Minerva Palmer).

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Mary Ann died in 1915, at the age of 78 (or 80 according to the obituary), still married to Mr. Vessey. Her obituary mentioned she’d been predeceased by her first husband some 40 years prior, had two remaining sisters, and that she had “enjoyed exceptionally good health and the use of her faculties up until Sunday afternoon last.” Of course her obituary doesn’t mention her maiden name or the names of her siblings, but hopefully I’ll confirm for certain one day! (Actually, I think her sister mighta been my great grandmother’s mom, Elizabeth Allsworth, who had an old widow Sarah Nicolson – same last name as her brother’s wife -boarding with her… but that would make my great grandparents cousins, so maybe we’ll pursue that lead without too much fervour).