Saturday 2 December 2017

Branching out to find my Mahon roots

When you hit a dead-end in the search for your ancestors, like I did pursuing the parents of my GGG-grandfather, Patrick Mahon, it’s often helpful to branch out, and follow the trail of their siblings instead. Their siblings may have left additional clues as to the identity of the previous generation, providing a way around the genealogy impasse. 

Trouble is, in this case, Patrick’s siblings are also unknown!

They were probably all born within a decade or two of Patrick, i.e. around 1784. But, unfortunately for us, this coincides with a significant gap in the church registers for Swords parish, where Patrick lived, and was presumably baptised. So, if Patrick’s siblings were born in Swords parish between June 1777 and May 1804, there’ll be no record of their baptisms, either. They probably won’t appear in any surviving records until after they’ve left their parent’s home, married, and started families of their own.   

The earliest reference to my GGG-grandfather was in Swords parish, in 1819, when he married Jane Cavanagh, and where their children were later baptised. People often ask their brothers and sisters, or perhaps their nieces and nephews, to sponsor the baptism of their children. So, the Catholic parish registers for Swords, where Patrick, and hopefully his siblings worshipped, likely contain the only remaining evidence of their relationship.

Several other Mahon individuals, who also married in Swords in the early decades of the nineteenth century, were reflected in the parish registers. Any or all of them could have been related to Patrick. There was John Mahon who married Anne Gilsenan, probably about 1800; Henry Mahon who had a son out of wedlock with Sally Fitzgerald in 1808; William Mahon who married Elizabeth Owens in 1810; Mary Mahon who married Thomas Cave in 1816; Michael Mahon who married Mary Walsh in 1817, and subsequently lived in the neighbouring parish of Donabate; and Thomas Mahon who married Eleanor Farrell in 1821.

The parish registers also reveal Patrick and Jane selected James Mahon and Eleanor Mahon as Godparents for their eldest son, James, born in 1823, while Margaret Mahon was Godmother for one of their younger sons, Michael, in 1835.  It’s hard to know exactly how James, Eleanor and Margaret were related to Patrick, but it’s possible, Eleanor was born Eleanor Farrell, the wife of Thomas Mahon.

And, it seems Thomas and Eleanor Mahon had quite a close relationship with my GGG-grandparents. They asked Patrick and Jane to sponsor the baptism of their eldest daughter, Margaret, in 1822. This Margaret was old enough in 1835, to have been the Godmother of Patrick and Jane’s son, Michael. Margaret was conceivably Patrick’s niece. Patrick and Thomas were probably brothers.  

Baptism of Margaret Mahon, 1822, Catholic Parish Registers, Swords

There was a James Mahon associated with Thomas and Eleanor, too. He was Godfather to their son Pat, in 1828, and the same man, or maybe another of the same name, sponsored the baptism of their daughter, Eleanor, in 1830. Perhaps Thomas and Patrick had a brother called James. But if they did, there’s no apparent record of him, with a wife and children, in the Swords parish registers.

Patrick and Thomas Mahon married within two years of each other, so perhaps they were closest in age. This may account for the number of 'connections' between them, found in the parish registers. Not, that theirs was the only hint of a familial relationship between the Mahons of Swords parish. Thomas was Godfather for John’s son James in 1812, while Mary Mahon sponsored the baptism of his daughter Alice in 1804. 

Next week, hopefully a trawl though the records of the Valuation Office, will provide evidence some of these men were close neighbours of Patrick, in the townland of Yellow Walls, Malahide.

Source: Catholic Parish Registers for Swords, Co. Dublin, at the NLI

© Black Raven Genealogy

Sunday 19 November 2017

An Ill-timed gap in the register

When Patrick (Pat) Mahon married Jane Cavanagh in the parish of Swords, Co. Dublin, on 12 September 1819, his parents’ names were not recorded in the register. This severed all hopes of a documented connection to the previous generation, leaving little clue as to the identity of my fourth great-grandparents.

Pat was born about 1784. At least, that was what his daughter-in-law, Mary Anne Mahon, estimated, when she registered his death in 1865. His birthplace is unknown. Yet, we can surmise, for now anyway, he was born close to where he lived and died.

Regrettably, no one named Patrick Mahon was found in the baptism registers of Swords parish, or any of the neighbouring parishes, around the time of his birth. Then again, his birth coincided with a large gap in the Swords parish registers, spanning the period June 1777 to June 1802. If Pat was a local, there were two potential couples living in Swords parish, at the relevant time, who may have been his parents.

The first couple were Patrick Mahon and Mary Cugan, who married in Swords parish, on 5 July 1772. On 15 February 1774, in the same parish, James Mahon and Elizabeth Owens were wed. Either couple may have been my direct ancestors. Or not! Both are worthy of further consideration.

Patrick and Mary had two daughters called Mary, one baptised in Swords parish in 1773, and a second in 1776. James and Elizabeth had a son John, baptised in Swords parish in 1776.  Sometime before 1785, they moved to Baldoyle, where their son Mathew was baptised, followed by a daughter Mary in 1789 and a son Michael in 1791. Probably, both couples had many other children, coinciding with gap in the register.

So where do we go from there?

The names chosen for a couple’s children frequently provide some clue as to the identity of the couple’s parents. Pat and Jane Mahon named their children, Elizabeth, James, John, maybe James again, Mary, Christopher, Michael and Patrick. Unfortunately, that covers all the bases, and any leaning towards James and Elizabeth could well be coincidental. We’ll need to look elsewhere to uncover a connection.

From the mid-1840s onward, Pat and Jane are documented as living in the townland of Yellow Walls, in Malahide, a small village in north Co. Dublin. It’s not known when the family first arrived there, but it’s likely, all the Mahons in Malahide were related, especially those living in Yellow Walls.

Malahide and surrounds, in Co. Dublin

The trouble is, the church registers do not directly link either of our two identified couples to Malahide. In the Roman Catholic division, Malahide formed part of Swords parish, and Swords was a large town. While there was a separate chapel in Malahide, the church records were kept at parish level and home addresses were omitted. It’s not reasonable to claim a close family connection to every Mahon living in Swords parish, at least not with the same conviction.  

But, by the mid-1840s, when an extensive property-tax survey was taken in the area, four Mahon families, including Pat’s, were found living in Yellow Walls, with another nearby in Donabate. There were none in Swords proper. This was surely significant.

Granted, our target couples were probably long dead by then. Even some of their children had likely passed on. But, it’s a promising start. And, if I can prove a relationship between Pat and his Mahon neighbours, and then connect any of them with either of our target couples, it may help overcome the disadvantage created by the lost church register.

Sources: Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI; Baronies of Coolock and Nethercross, 1844–1846, Valuation Office house and field books, National Archives of Ireland

Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 11 November 2017

Baptism conundrum – James Mahon

Patrick Mahon and Jane Cavanagh/Kavanagh were my third great-grandparents. They married in the parish of Swords, Co. Dublin, on 12 September 1819 and baptised seven of their children there.[1] My direct ancestor was their son James. I’d always believed James was one of the twin boys, born in July 1823. Now, I’m not so sure.

Infant mortality was high back then. And, when a child died, it was customary for their name to be given to the next child born with the same gender. So, it’s always prudent to examine the register for subsequent baptisms. And, I did. 

Baptism date
Elizabeth Mahon
2 Aug 1821
Catherine Fagan
James Mahon
10 Jul 1823
James Mahon
Eleanor Mahon
John Mahon
10 Jul 1823
Peter Ratcliffe
Catherine Owens
Gap 6½ years
Mary Mahon
21 Jan 1830
Pat Cavanagh
Catherine Donnelly
Christopher Mahon
30 Dec 1832
James Dennis
Mary Dunne
Michael Mahon
04 Oct 1835
John Casey
Margaret Mahon
Patrick Mahon
24 Oct 1841
Jack Cave
Catherine Murphy

Another baby James Mahon was baptised in the parish, on 8 June 1827. His parents were James Mahon – not Patrick – and Jane Kavanagh. John McGlew and Jane Owens sponsored his baptism. My first thought was wrong father, wrong family! 

James Mahon, Yellow Walls, Malahide
Baptism of James Mahon, 8 Jun 1827, Register of Swords Parish

But, the more I think about it now, the more I suspect this James was my ancestor, with his father’s name incorrectly recorded. Such mistakes did happen, sometimes. And, if my hypothesis is correct, it would help explain the otherwise large gap between the birth of the twins in 1823, and the birth of Mary in 1830.

Neither Mahon nor Cavanagh were particularly common surnames in Dublin, not that that would rule out the possibility of a so-called couple marrying, twice – but it would constitute a small coincidence, especially if the bride’s name was Jane, in both instances. Plus, no other mention of the couple James Mahon and Jane Kavanagh was found in the area, or elsewhere.

If this was my second great-grandfather’s baptism, it might also shed some light on why he claimed he was seventy years old in the 1901 census, when John, his supposed twin, was listed as seventy-eight.[2] James, born in 1827, would have been seventy-three at the time of the census, and people often rounded their age to the nearest ten years.

However, when James died, two years later, on 2 December 1903, his son-in-law, Michael Byrne, reported he was seventy-eight years old.[3] This is a better 'fit' for James, the twin born in 1823, who would have been seventy-nine. Stated ages were notoriously unreliable, so it’s near impossible to draw a final conclusion.  

I don’t suppose there’s any way to ever know, for sure, which is the correct baptism record for my ancestor.  What do you think?

[1] Swords parish marriage register, microfilm 06616/06, National Library; Swords parish baptism register, microfilm 06616/07 and 06616/07, same.
[2] James Mahon, Yellowwalls, Malahide, Dublin, Census of Ireland, 1901, National Archives; John Mahon, same.
[3] Death of James Mahon, Balrothery, 1903,

© Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 4 November 2017

‘Black Raven’ and the Mahon lineage

Our ‘proven’ Mahon lineage goes back as far as Patrick Mahon, who died in Malahide, Co. Dublin, on 6 December 1865, at the stated age of eighty-one years.[1] Our family home today is situated on the same site leased by Patrick in 1848.[2]

'Ownership' of the site has been traced from 1848 to the present day. The holding was passed from Patrick Mahon to his son, James, and from James Mahon to his son-in-law, Dad’s grandfather, Michael Byrne, and eventually to us. Also, James Mahon’s parents were explicitly named as Patrick and Jane Mahon, when James married Margaret McDonnell, on 27 May 1866.[3] There’s little doubt Patrick Mahon was my third great-grandfather.

I’ve often wondered if the house, officially named ‘Black Raven’ in the early twentieth century, was the exact same one where my family lived during the Great Famine.

Further information about Patrick's property is now available in the records of the Valuation Office, recently published online. The House Books contain a description of Patrick's home in 1846, at the outbreak of the Famine, and it was there I may have found the answer to this question.[4]

House Book, Patrick Mahon, Yellow Walls, Malahide, 1846

The ‘quality letter’ applied to Patrick’s dwelling  ‘3C+’ – describes the appearance and condition of the house in 1846 and confirms it was not the same house standing on the site today.

‘C+’ was the code used for buildings that were ‘old, but in repair’, at the time the survey was conducted. The designation ‘3’ signified Patrick lived in a ‘thatched house with stone walls with mud or puddle mortar; dry stone walls pointed or mud walls of the best kind’.  

Even before modern-day remodeling, our house had ‘stone walls with lime mortar, and a slated roof’. If the roof had been thatched back then, and only slated later, our home would still have achieved a ‘2’ designation. So, it's likely, Patrick’s house in 1846 was knocked down at some point and replaced with a new one. 

I still don’t know if Patrick Mahon built ‘Black Raven’, of if it was built by his son James. Probably, it’s more likely, James built the new house, soon after Patrick’s death, and around the time of his own marriage.

'Black Raven', as it appeared in the late 1960s, can be glimpsed in the little picture at the top of the page.

[1] Copy death register for Patrick Mahon, Balrothery, 1865, vol. 17, p. 289, General Register Office. 
[2] Patrick Mahon, Malahide, Griffith's Valuation, Ask about Ireland.
[3] Jacobus McMahon and Margarita McDonnell, in the marriage register of St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 27 May 1866, Microfilm 09160/01, National Library.
[4] Patk Mahon, Valuation Office books 1824-1856, House Book, Yellow Walls, Malahide, 25 Jul 1846, National Archives.  

© Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 21 October 2017

Popular Names in Ireland

Previous generations in Ireland had little imagination when it came to choosing names for their children. The limited variety poses a serious challenge in my genealogy research, so much so, I almost dread the search for yet another John, or Mary. It’s a huge relief when the pursuit centres on someone with a more unusual name. Even familiar names like Andrew or Alice, for example, can greatly enhance the prospects for success.

So, I thought I’d examine my family tree to see just how popular the leading names really were. And, it’s true, John and Mary topped the list, each being held by about one in every ten people. Further, the top five names accounted for nearly a third (32%) of all males, with a similar number (30%) for females. 

Given Names Family Tree
Total males

Total females

Most Popular Male Names

1.   John
2.   James
3.   Thomas
4.   Patrick
5.   Michael
Most Popular Female Names

1.     Mary
2.     Margaret
3.     Catherine
4.     Elizabeth
5.     Anne
Based on analysis of my family tree software

Roman Catholic priests may have contributed to this confusion – they seemingly refused to baptise a child except with the name of a saint. However, traditional naming patterns undoubtedly played a part. Families mostly named children after the grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, such that the exact same names were passed down, generation after generation, and replicated by each member of the family.  

This absence of diversity, which occurred throughout Ireland, can be proven by analysing the data available in the 1901 census.[1] A similar list of five names, swapping only Michael for William, was held by a whopping 50% of the male population overall, with Michael coming in a close sixth.

Given Names 1901 Census
Total males

Total females

Most Popular Male Names

1.   John
2.   James
3.   Thomas
4.   Patrick
5.   William
Most Popular Female Names

1.     Mary
2.     Bridget
3.     Margaret
4.     Ellen
5.     Anne
Based on analysis of 1901 Census of Ireland

You may think there was more variation in the female names, with the top five  accounting for ‘a mere’ 43% of the female population. But, these figures exclude nicknames like Maggie and Annie, themselves also being listed among the top ten. And, the names Catherine, Kate and Elizabeth were way up there too.

My family tree may have beaten the odds slightly. Still, it’s no wonder, it’s far easier to track someone fortunate enough not to have a name mentioned here! 

[1] Census of Ireland, 1901, National Archives of Ireland (the census data is known to contain errors, though, it provides a good overall indication of the position).

© Black Raven Genealogy