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Journey # 25: How Assumptions Can Slow Down Research

One set of my great-great-grandparents, Patrick Connell and Bridget McHale, were from Ireland. I knew from the census that they were both born in Ireland: Patrick in county Galway and Bridget in county Mayo. I also knew from the census that their first child, Mary, was born in county Mayo, Ireland in February 1866, but that their second child was born in England in 1867. From this, I concluded that they’d met and married in Ireland, probably in Mayo, had their first child there and then moved to England.

Under that assumption, I searched for a marriage registration for them in Irish records, but came up empty. Civil registration began in Ireland in 1864, so if they married in 1864 or 1865, they’d have been in the records. They weren’t. Since they did not appear, I made the assumption that they married prior to 1864.

As marriage certificates typically show the father’s name and occupation for both the bride and the groom, a marriage document is one of the best ways to get information on the previous generation. An alternate way is to find the individuals living with their parents in the census records before they married. However, the census records for Ireland in the 1800s have been destroyed. 

Without either of those records, I had no way of discovering who Patrick’s or Bridget’s parents were. I had to essentially give up on that line of the family.

But I could not give up, and over the next few months I tried many different ideas attempting to learn their parents’ names. I looked at anything and everything available online in hope of finding a hint about their lives in Ireland before they went to England. But alas, I found nothing concrete. Connell and McHale are common names in Ireland and so are Patrick and Bridget.

I even ordered microfilm from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City. The film had Roman Catholic church records for a range of parishes in County Mayo Ireland, including Ballycastle, which is the district where daughter Mary was born. I knew that's where Mary was born because of the one single solitary Irish record I'd found in online databases for the family. I was fortunate that the film did actually have Mary’s baptism record, albeit nearly unreadable. With help from others I eventually identified the local area listed where the birth took place as Glenulra, and the sponsors shown on the baptism were probably John or Wm Mathews and Margaret Mathews. I guessed that Margaret Mathews might be Bridget’s married sister.

But the microfilm did not have parish marriage records for the time period. My guess is that the book they were in was lost or destroyed by the time the researchers came to film the parish documents. So, while I had a tiny bit more information from the baptism record, again I was stymied on finding their parents’ names.

At that point, however, it occurred to me that the one single solitary Irish record I'd found was a civil birth registration. If there was a birth registry record for Mary, might there also be an actual birth certificate? I went to the Irish government website and found how to order a birth certificate online. It was a little more expensive than English certificates, but not unreasonably so (about $32 Canadian with international postage and exchange rate at the time). There were indications on the site that not all registry records had corresponding certificates, but I decided to take a chance. I filled out the form and put in my credit card information with my fingers crossed.

The confirmation message I received said that if a certificate existed, it would be mailed within five days. If there was no certificate, I would be contacted. I held my breath for the next few days waiting for the email that would tell me there was no record. But to my surprise, it did not come.

Instead, less than 10 days after I put in my order, again to my surprise (and joy), Mary’s birth certificate was delivered to my house.

But the surprises did not stop there. On that certificate, the residence shown for Patrick Connell was Leeds. I had to shake my head a couple of time to loosen the previous assumptions about them moving to England after Mary's birth and let this new solid information sink in. My assumptions had been completely wrong. Patrick’s residence was Leeds? How can this be? If the couple already lived in Leeds, what was Bridget doing giving birth in Ireland? Had they simply gone back to Ireland for a visit? Was there a death in the family or some other event that they were attending?

I couldn't answer any of those questions, but the next question I could answer with one online search. If they were living in Leeds at the time of Mary's birth, had they also been married there instead of Ireland? England’s civil registration goes back to 1837, and based on their ages the earliest they could have married was around 1860. If they were married in England, there would be a record.

I quickly took up the search and had my first real break in this genealogical case when I found a marriage record for Patrick Connell and Bridget McHale in Leeds in 1865. Of course, I ordered a copy of the corresponding marriage certificate immediately and am again holding my breath waiting for it to arrive and for the names and occupations of Patrick's and Bridget's fathers that it should contain.

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