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


  1. I think you've got a good assumption there.

    1. Thanks Clare, sometimes I think it's a no-brainer too. Other times, I hesitate - maybe just due to the Seán factor :-)


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!