In this series: I am tracing my Irish roots and trying to pinpoint what part of the Emerald Isle my ancestors hailed from. Learn more here.
Where I left off: In my last post, the second in this series, I walked through the process of finding John and Annie’s original marriage record in order to determine the names of John’s parents.
I concluded that their names were likely Bartholomew McDermott and Catherine Gahan and that John was likely born in County Leitrim ca. 1844.
In this post: Now that I know the likely names of John’s parents and the approximate year and county of this birth, I want to find John’s baptism record in Ireland.
Finding John’s Birth Year
John was likely born in County Leitrim around 1844 to Bartholomew McDermott and Catherine Gahan.
Because John likely died sometime in his sixties1, and he’s MIA in the 1900 census2, the only two independent sources of information I had for his birth year were his 1871 marriage record and the 1880 U.S. census.
His 1871 marriage record to Annie Scanlon revealed a birth year ca. 18443.
The 1880 U.S. census inferred a birth year ca 18464.
There was also a John McDermott in the 1870 U.S. census (one year before he married) whose age, occupation, birthplace (Ireland), and residence in 1870 were consistent with known information.
However, he was not living with any other family members or any known FAN club members so I wasn’t able to say definitely that it was the same person.
But if it was the correct John, then the inferred birth year was 18455.
So even though i didn’t have a lot of work with, I could start my search for a baptism record in the 1844-1846 timespan.
My guess was that the correct year was closer to 1844. That’s the year inferred in the marriage record, which is the more authoritative of my sources.
Finding John’s Baptism Record
Now that I had narrowed the timeframe, I went over to RootsIreland.ie, the official website of the Irish Family History Foundation.
I was referred to this website by the Leitrim Genealogy Centre. They told me it had all the pre-1900 Catholic parish records indexed, and searchable. (in other words a dream come true for any family historian!)
On the RootsIreland website, I learned that they’ve been “…the coordinating body for a network of county genealogy centers and family history societies for over thirty years.”
So I did a search for all John McDermott’s born in County Leitrim in 1845 +/- two years.
Even though I had narrowed it down to a two-year window, I wanted to play it safe and search more broadly with a four-year span (1843-1847).
I also set the search criteria to include close variations of the McDermott surname to account for possible misspellings.
RootsIreland came back with only fifteen results–I was getting closer!
I looked at each of the results, and about halfway through I came across the following:
After the initial rush of adrenaline, I turned my attention to the mother’s maiden name of “Geehern”.
Was “Geehern” close enough to “Gahan” to where I could reasonably conclude it was either a spelling or transcription conflict and nothing more?
I wasn’t ready to make that leap just yet given that the phonetics didn’t quite match up in my opinion.
First, I wanted to find the original, handwritten record of this birth to see the spelling for myself.
With every indexed record on RootsIreland, there is a direct link to view the original, digitized microfilm of the parish listed.
The link takes you to the National Library of Ireland’s website which is the online repository for these records.
Searching feverishly through the images, I finally got to the baptisms in May of 1843.
But there was a problem – John’s baptism was not listed.
There was a baptism on May 28th 1843, but it wasn’t John’s.
My first thought was that RootsIreland’s transcription was wrong, so I proceeded to look through every page of baptisms +/- one year from the transcribed date.
I struck out.
Dumbfounded, I sent an email to the support team of RootsIreland explaining the issue.
After conferring with the actual source of the transcriptions (the Leitrim Genealogy Centre), they told me that the baptism took place in a church called St. Patrick’s Gowel and that those records had never been microfilmed or digitized.
So while the transcription was correct, I had been looking in the wrong place.
After a quick Google search for St. Patrick’s Gowel, I contacted the church’s secretary and asked for an image copy of the original baptism record.
To my delight, they very quickly emailed me a photo of the original, handwritten register page that contained John’s baptism6:
I was ecstatic.
The transcription on RootsIreland proved to be correct. But that didn’t mean the original spelling of Geehern in this church register was correct.
I went back to RootsIreland and did another search for baptism records.
This time I left the “first name” field blank, and added “Geehern” to the mother’s maiden name field (with variations).
I set the date field to 1845 +/- ten years and searched all of Ireland – not just Leitrim.
I wanted to find possible siblings of John, look at those original records, and see how the mother’s maiden name was spelled.
This search led me to a Michael McDermott born in March 1845 to Bartholemew and (you guessed it) Catherine Geehern.
Before contacting the church again to obtain an image of this record, I wanted to see if there was also a marriage record at the same church so I could request that at the same time.
Finding the Marriage Record
Based on my searches, it seemed there were only two children born to this marriage, and that John (born in 1843) was the oldest.
I went with the assumption that Bartholomew and Catherine married sometime before the fall of 1842 (nine months before John was born).
A search in the marriages database returned a marriage in February 1842 between Charles McDermott and Catherine Geehern.
Charles McDermott? Who could that have been?
After a good bit of sulking, it occurred to me that it was a pretty big coincidence to find a McDermott marrying a Catherine Geehern in the same place at the same time.
One of two things had to be going on.
The first possibility was that Charles and Bartholomew were actually the same person and that he used his first and middle names interchangeably.
This would mean his full name was either Bartholomew Charles McDermott or Charles Bartholomew McDermott.
The second and more likely scenario was a transcription error.
So I sent another email to St. Patrick’s Gowel and asked for the image of this marriage event along with Michael’s baptism.
And here’s what they sent me7:
A transcription error. And to think of all that time I spent sulking!
As you can see, the correct groom’s name was Bartly which is short for Bartholomew.
Charles McDermott was listed on the next line as a witness to the wedding – the best man if you will.
Next was the image of Michael’s baptism in 18458:
Again, Catherine’s surname was spelled “Geehern”.
Geehern versus Gahan
Now that I had all three images, I knew the correct spelling of Catherine’s maiden name (at least phonetically) was likely Geehern.
I was then back to square one. I had answered a number of other questions, but not my original.
Was Catherine Geehern the same person as Catherine Gahan? If she was, that would mean I had the correct John McDermott and had pinpointed the exact origin of my Irish roots.
No matter which way I looked at it, I couldn’t conclude I had the right family.
How could I make the leap from this rural Kiltoghert parish in the 1840s to the urban landscape of Newark New Jersey in the 1870s?
One of my problems was that I only had one source that named John’s mother as Catherine Gahan.
I needed additional information from this side of the pond that would give me the evidence required to make this connection.
It was time to build out John and Annie’s FAN club here in the US and gather new evidence.
It was also time to buckle down and finally locate John’s death certificate which had eluded me for years. There was a good chance it would list his mother’s maiden name.
I told my wife Leigh about where my search had taken me, and that I knew where I had to go next, and asked her if she wanted to come along.
“Ireland?” she guessed. “I’ll pack my bags.”
“Trenton, New Jersey!” I told her.
And so off I went…all by myself.
I hopped on the New Jersey Turnpike and headed back down to the State Archives in Trenton. I was in search of John’s death certificate, which (if I had the luck of the Irish), would list his parent’s names and answer my question once and for all.
Who were the parents of John McDermott who was born in Ireland, married Annie Scanlon, and was the father of James McDermott?
- When and where did John McDermott Sr. die? Where was he in the 1900 census?
- Who were Terence McLaughlin and Mary Kavanagh, who witnessed the marriage of John McDermot and Annie Scanlon in 1871 in Newark?
- Where and when was John McDermott (son of Bartholomew and Catherine Gahan) born?
- Was Catherine Geehern and Catherine Gahan the same person?
- Who was Michael McDermott who was born in 1845 to Bartholomew McDermott and Catherine Geehern in
If Catherine Geehern and Catherine Gahan were the same person, then:
- Who was Charles McDermott who witnessed the wedding of Bartholomew and Catherine?
- Who was Bridget Geehern, the sponsor of John’s baptism and a witness at Bartholomew and Catherine’s wedding?
- Who was Bridget McDermott, the sponsor of Michael McDermott’s baptism?
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- First year Annie is listed as a widow, Newark Directory 1907 (Newark: The Price & Lee Co., 1907), p. 945, Annie McDermott; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 February 2019).
- 1900 U.S. Census, Newark, population schedule, Ward 15, enumeration district (ED) 0149, p. 269 (stamped), dwelling 64, family 109, Annie McDermitt; digital images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 January 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T623; FHL microfilm 1,240,967.
- Saint John’s Catholic Church (Newark), Marriages 1832-1983, p. 138 (penned), McDermott and Scanlon; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/217302 : accessed 29 January 2019); citing FHL microfilm 1,398,540.
- 1880 U.S. census, New York City, population schedule, Manhattan, enumeration district 91, p. 20 (penned), dwelling 50, family 188, John McDermott; digital images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 January 2019); citing NARA microfilm T9, roll 871.
- 1870 U.S. census, Newark, pop. sch., 13th Ward Newark, p. 28 (penned), dwell. 109, fam. 250, John McDermit; digital images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 February 2019); NARA microfilm M593, roll 882.
- St. Patrick’s Gowel Church (Gowel, Ireland), Baptisms: June 1835 – Feb 1866 [no cover], p. 72, John McDermott baptism; church office, Gowel, Ireland.
- St. Patrick’s Gowel Church (Gowel, Ireland), Marriages: July 1835 – Feb 1866[no cover], p. 165, Bartly McDermott and Catherine Geehern marriage; church office, Gowel, Ireland.
- St. Patrick’s Gowel Church (Gowel, Ireland), Baptisms: June 1835 – Feb 1866 [no cover], p. 88, Michael McDermott baptism; church office, Gowel, Ireland.