In my first posting in this series, I began telling you how, after years of searching, I eventually located the specific place in County Kilkenny, Ireland, from which my Ryan ancestors emigrated to America in 1852-3. My family had long known that Valentine Ryan and his wife Bridget, my great-great-grandparents, brought their family from County Kilkenny to the U.S. — but precisely where they had lived in County Kilkenny, we had forgotten.
As I told you in my previous posting, when I first learned about Griffith’s Valuation in the 1980s, I laboriously searched that resource, using the scant tools for such search then available, and found a Valentine Ryan living in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny, who was, I concluded, my ancestor — the only Valentine Ryan I found in the entire county on Griffith’s. But when I went to Ireland for the first time in the summer of 1990 and consulted the records of the Catholic parish in Graigue, having written ahead for permission to do that, my hopes were dashed: this was clearly not my Valentine Ryan. He was a different man.
Then I gave the search up for some years, having tucked away in my travel diary a card on which I had written the address of one John Ryan, a retired teacher and author living in Piltown who was recommended to me by staff at Cody’s bookshop in Kilkenny as someone who might know something about Ryans in County Kilkenny. This is where my previous posting ends.
Then this happened: several years down the road, in September 1993, I decided to resume the search for my Ryan roots again, and as I leafed through my travel diary for the 1990 trip, I spotted the card with John Ryan’s name and address on it. I wrote John, and he responded, graciously offering to help me find my Valentine and Bridget Tobin in Count Kilkenny records — though he told me that he himself was not a Kilkenny Ryan but a Wexford one who happened now to be living in Piltown in County Kilkenny.
As I knew from having read a number of very good books about researching Irish roots, including John Grenham’s Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, Angus Baxter’s In Search of Your British and Irish Roots, James G. Ryan’s Irish Records, Sources for Family and Local History, it’s of vital importance for anyone seeking to make headway in researching Irish roots to find the specific location in which your family lived. This is a cardinal rule of Irish family history research: records will not unlock for you until you know quite specifically where your family lived.
At the time I was undertaking this research all over again, the most promising avenue of research to accomplish that task was to contact the county historical society, Kilkenny Archaeological Society at Rothe House in Kilkenny city. I’ll call this group Rothe House hereafter for the sake of convenience.
In the 1990s, Rothe House was involved in a project of indexing Catholic and Church of Ireland parish records throughout the county. That project was far from complete in the early and mid-1990s. The index to parish records Rothe House was generating did, however, promise to open at least a small window of opportunity for people who did not know the specific location of their roots in the county to find that location.
For a fee — a hefty one — Rothe House would conduct a search of its index for one name at a time, and would tell you whether it located information about that name in its index. One had to pay the fee all over again for another one-name search. Needless to say, this hit-or-miss way of researching from a distance was rather expensive. But it was all many of us living far from our Irish roots (other Irish county historical societies had similar setups at the time) had going for us, if we didn’t have the funds to hire an Irish researcher and wished to make headway in this period before large numbers of genealogical resources — including Catholic parish registers— had yet been digitized, indexed, and placed online.
I went the Rothe House route. I sent Rothe House the information I had about Valentine Ryan, his wife Bridget, and their three children Patrick, Margaret, and Catherine. I paid for multiple one-name searches for these folks. Nothing turned up in the Rothe House index.
Enter John Ryan: when I made contact with John and told him about these fruitless efforts to find my Valentine and Bridget Ryan in County Kilkenny before they left for America, he generously offered to go to Rothe House himself — a drive of some 25 miles from Piltown — and see what he could find. He explained to me that, both because the county-wide project of indexing parish registers was far from complete, and those doing the indexing, who included schoolchildren, were not always the most astute indexers to be found, one might or might not find the information one was seeking in the Rothe House index when one sent the hefty fee to ask for a one-name search.
John made a number of trips to Rothe House over several years, placed calls around the county, assiduously and generously searched for any trace of my Valentine and Bridget Ryan, and in October 1995, he hit pay-dirt: he found the very first promising clue I had yet seen about where my Valentine and Bridget Ryan might have lived prior to leaving Ireland. John discovered that the records of Kilmacow Parish in southern County Kilkenny were now being indexed, and the index for those records showed a Valentine Ryan marrying a Bridget Tobin in that parish on 21 September 1837 (note, in a moment, that I’ll correct the year of the marriage Rothe House originally reported to me in 1995: the correct year is 1836 and not 1837).
John’s letter of 17 October 1995 telling me about this amazing discovery also tells me that he had asked Rothe House to notify me about this marriage (I had sent Rothe House via John a fee for doing more research; having an on-the-spot researcher like John living in the county meant that more research could be done for that search fee than the single-name search offered by mail.) John had found that the index to the records of another parish, Kilbeacon, whose records were joined to those of Kilmacow up through the 1830s until the two parishes began keeping separate records after about 1840, showed two children of Valentine and Bridget Tobin Ryan baptized in 1839 and 1841: Valentine on 3 August 1838; and William on 12 September 1841. Kilbeacon is the parish of the town of Mullinavat, some 4 miles north of Kilmacow.
On 19 October 1995, Rothe House wrote me per John’s request to tell me the preceding information. Their letter told me that, though the names of the two witnesses to Valentine and Bridget’s marriage — Edmund Hayden and Margaret Fitzgerald — were legible to the indexers, the residences of Valentine and Bridget were illegible (or so the indexers had reported). Curiously — as John pointed out to me, too, in his letter of 17 October — Rothe House did not report to either John or me where Valentine and Bridget were living when their children Valentine and William were baptized. (We’d later discover that the original parish records stated that they lived in Buckstown, a part of Mullinavat.)
Here’s what Rothe House sent me, the print-out of its indexed record for the marriage of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin:
As I told John in a 24 October 1995 letter thanking him fulsomely for having found this amazing information for me, what he had found both gave me great hope that he’d located the ancestors I had long sought, and presented me with some new conundrums. The names Valentine and Bridget certainly seemed to fit, and the marriage seemed in the right time frame for my Valentine and Bridget. But my family knew of only three children of Valentine and Bridget Ryan: Margaret, Patrick, and Catherine. A Valentine younger and William were nowhere in our family records.
In addition, the inscription on the tombstone of Margaret in the Orion cemetery in Grant County Arkansas, reads: “Marjet Ryne, Diad Aug. 9th, 1862, Age 27 Years, And 7 days. By V. Ryne. May her soul rest in peis.” (I suspect Valentine himself carved this stone — a point to which I’ll return when I discuss his and his father’s background in more detail.) Calculate Margaret’s date of birth from her date of death, and she was born 2 August 1835. That date precedes the date of marriage Rothe House had found for Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin in Kilmacow parish records. And wasn’t it strange that the Valentine whose baptism John’s search had unearthed on 3 August 1838 seemed to have been born about the very same day and month (though in a different year) as Margaret?
Also strange: Rothe House could find no record of any of the three children about which I did know, Margaret, Patrick, and Catherine. (The reason, as I’d eventually discover, was either that the parts of the parish register listing Patrick’s and Catherine’s baptisms in 1846 and 1849 had not yet been indexed, or that the indexing work that had been done on these parish registers was also defective.)
John’s suggestion for me to address the conundrum: come to Ireland, stay with him and his wife Maura in Piltown, and go to Kilmacow and Kilbeacon parishes and ask to see the original parish records, and see what they might say. He and Maura would take me there, he said. Kilmacow is about 8 miles southeast of Piltown; Mullinavat is about 8½ miles east of Piltown.
And so I did just that. Before the trip, I wrote the pastor of Kilbeacon (Mullinavat) parish, asking if I might see the parish registers on an upcoming trip to Ireland. I had learned that, when the records of Kilbeacon were separated from those of Kilmacow about 1840, a transcript of the early records of the joined Kilmacow-Kilbeacon parishes was placed in the Kilbeacon parish register — and the marriage of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin should, it seemed, be transcribed into the Kilbeacon register. In the letter I sent the pastor of the parish in Mullinavat, I asked if he would please copy that marriage record for me from the parish register.
When he replied, he sent me a photocopy of the same indexed record Rothe House had sent me. Not the original marriage record from the parish register. . . . To this day, I do not have that record and have not been able to obtain it. The microfilmed copies of the Kilmacow parish registers available online at the website of the National Library of Ireland begin in 1858 for marriages; the Kilbeacon/Mullinavat registers online at the same site begin 1843 for marriages. James Ryan’s book Irish Records gives these same dates for the start of records in both parishes.
However — and isn’t this curious? — the catalogue of the LDS family history library, under the heading “Kilmacow, Kilkenny, Ireland,” lists an item entitled “Extracts from Kilmacow Catholic parish of Kilmacow, 1836-1866” (British film 100158, item 21; copying typewritten extracts from the Genealogical Office in Dublin, MS 683a). Some records for Kilmacow obviously exist prior to 1858, or why would that manuscript with extracts from 1836 be available? And how did Rothe House find the marriage of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin in Kilmacow parish in 1836 (it turns out this is the correct year), when no Kilmacow records ostensibly exist prior to 1858?
(A very helpful map of the Catholic parishes of County Kilkenny is found at the Irish Times website, by the way. I’m not replicating it here since I think it’s copyrighted material. If you want to see where Mullinavat and Kilmacow parishes are in relation to each other, please click here to visit that map. Note that Ireland has both civil and religious parishes, which are not synonymous with each other — something I’ll explain later as I zero in on where Valentine Ryan and his family lived in a subsequent posting. It’s important to determine both the civil and religious parish in which a family lived, as you research your Irish families.)
I tried to get specific information from Rothe House about the discrepancies between what I was learning in one source or another about the year in which Kilmacow and Kilbeacon records begin — and how the Kilmacow and Kilbeacon records connect to each other — after John Ryan’s discovery of the marriage record for Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin, and this is the explanation Rothe House sent me in a letter of 25 July 1996 replying to mine of the 18th inst.:
We can confirm that all baptism and marriage records from the Catholic Parish of Mullinavat have been entered onto our data base. These records date from 1836, previous to which the parish was one with Kilmacow, from which all extant baptisms and marriages have been entered (up to 31/12/1899). We should point out that while marriages from 1786 exist from the Catholic parish of Kilmacow, baptisms exist only from 1836.
Confused? I was. I remain confused. If Kilmacow has marriage records from 1786, why do multiple sources, including National Library of Ireland, keep reporting that Kilmacow parish records begin in 1858? And where are those early Kilmacow records, and how does one find them? I’ve never gotten a clear answer to these questions — and I’m belaboring these points and telling you step-by-step how twisting and turning the path has been as I’ve tried to document my Irish ancestors in the 19thcentury so that you’ll understand that you yourself might well meet similar twists and turns as you research your own Irish ancestors from that period.
As I have just mentioned, I have never been able to obtain a copy of the original Kilmacow parish register recording the marriage of Valentine Ryan to Bridget Tobin. What I have found, however, is the marriage record as it was transcribed into a transcript of parish registers in the diocese of Ossory for the years 1801-1852. Here’s the marriage record as transcribed by that source. Note that the year it provides for the marriage — 1836 — is one year earlier than the year Rothe House reported to me (the day and month are the same), and that it reports that the marriage occurred in Mullinavat (i.e., in Kilbeacon parish).
In June 1998, I accepted John Ryan’s very kind invitation and returned to Ireland, my first trip back there since the June 1990 one on which I had discovered that the Valentine Ryan of Graiguenamanagh I’d identified as my probable ancestor was not my ancestor. And here’s what happened when I visited John and Maura in 1998: first they drove me to Kilmacow on 18 June, and I asked to see the parish register, to see if I might obtain a copy of the marriage record of the Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin who had married there on 21 September 1837 (as I then thought the year was, basing that information on Rothe House’s report).
I hadn’t contacted this parish priest in advance of this visit, since I had been given to believe that the records I needed would actually be in Mullinavat, not Kilmacow. When I knocked on his door, he was reluctant to allow me to see any parish records at all. He would, he said, look at the Rothe House index for the parish records and see if he could spot information that might help me.
When he did so, he found one all-important piece of information: an indexed listing for the baptism of a Margaret Ryan on 3 August 1838. Her mother was listed as Bridget Tobin. Her father’s name was too faint for the indexers to read. I have not ever been able to obtain a copy of this record — that is, the original parish register record of this baptism.
This information solved one big problem for me: the Valentine listed as a child of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin in the Kilbeacon register, who was baptized on 3 August 1838, was not a son Valentine but their daughter Margaret. When the Kilmacow register for the 1830s was transcribed into the Kilbeacon register, the record had been incorrectly transcribed as the baptism of a Valentine Ryan and not a Margaret Ryan. The tombstone of Margaret Ryan in the Orion cemetery in Grant County, Arkansas, had gotten her age at death off by a few years: Margaret was not 27 when she died in 1862, but 24. But the tombstone was right about the day and month of her birth: she was born on 2 August 1838 and baptized the following day.
On to Mullinavat, up the road, to see the Kilbeacon parish register. From John and Maura’s house, I had called to tell the parish priest we were coming to see the parish registers, asking if it was convenient for us to do so. “Kevin?” he said, when he answered the phone. I told him that I wasn’t Kevin and explained my purpose in calling him, reminding him of the letter I had written him weeks back, and asking if a visit to his rectory to see the parish records in an hour or so would be convenient. “Yeah,” he grunted, and hung up the phone.
When we got to the rectory, the pastor informed us that we weren’t permitted to view the original parish registers. We’d have to content ourselves to look at Rothe House’s print-out of its index to the parish records. And “the sort of people who left Ireland in the Famine years” left hardly any records: “You probably won’t find anything in any case,” he informed me. “And Lindsey isn’t an Irish name in any case, is it?”*
I took the index to the parish register he offered me in lieu of the original parish records, scrolled down to the year 1849, when my great-grandmother Catherine Ryan was born on 19 August 1849, according to her tombstone in Orion cemetery in Grant County, Arkansas, and there she was: Catherine Ryan, daughter of Val Ryan and Biddy Tobin, baptized 19 August 1849. I was finally home, finally sure — for the first time ever — that I had arrived at the Irish homeplace of my 2-great-grandparents Valentine Ryan and Biddy Tobin. I had proven that the Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin of that parish were my ancestors who had emigrated to America in 1852-3 and were buried at the Orion cemetery in Grant County, Arkansas.
The index to the Kilbeacon register also showed a son Valentine baptized 3 August 1838 (the Margaret of the Kilmacow register; another Valentine baptized 3 December 1839; an Ellen baptized 7 May 1840; a William baptized 12 September 1841; a John, baptized 1 February 1844; and a Patrick baptized 14 April 1846 — the Patrick whose tombstone in Orion cemetery gives his year of birth as 1846, the brother of Margaret and Catherine.
Once I had established that the parish register had a baptismal record for my great-grandmother Catherine Ryan matching the date of birth recorded on her tombstone, the parish priest softened a bit when I asked again if I could please see the original parish records, and he fetched the old leatherbound baptismal registers for me. As I hunted up the original record for each of the preceding baptisms (except William’s, which I couldn’t find), I found that they consistently stated that Valentine and Bridget were living in Buckstown when their children were baptized. Catherine’s baptismal record, for instance, states the following:
On 19 August 1849, Cath., whose parents were Val Ryan and Biddy Tobin of Buckstown, was baptized, with Patk. And Mary McEvoy as her baptismal sponsors. (I shared a snapshot of Catherine’s baptismal record in this previous posting. Here’s a close-up of the record):
I then asked if I might copy the baptismal record of Catherine, my great-grandmother — a photocopy machine was sitting on a table in the room in which the registers were stored — and the pastor bridled: “We can’t have people copying parish records showing illegitimate births of children in the parish. Is it your intent to publish such records?”
I assured the parish priest that I had no wish to publicize records of anyone’s illegitimate children, that I was involved in a search solely to find my own Ryan family roots and had no real interest in any other family’s out-of-wedlock children, and that I certainly did not intend to publish any such information if I happened on it. At that point, he turned the original registers over to me, and I searched them for the information I needed and made photocopies.
Then I went into the parish church, knelt, and broke into tears. I was overwhelmed at the realization that, after all those years of hard searching, I had come home. I had, as it were, brought my family back to its roots, reconnected my Ryan family to its roots.
I thought of the great sadness my ancestors had felt as they left Ireland, sadness captured in woeful stories handed down in my family, featuring a little girl who ran down the shoreline wailing as they left Ireland, stories about the gruesome voyage across the Atlantic on which a baby died aboard ship and its mother hid it under quilts in a trunk, not wanting it buried at sea. My great-grandmother, a girl of four at the time, could remember, she said, seeing the baby tied to a board after the captain found it (sharks were rocking the ship, smelling the baby’s body inside the mother’s trunk) and threw it overboard as the sharks rose to the surface.
I thought very specifically of my elderly great-uncle Monroe telling me the last time I saw him in the 1980s that his mother had always wanted to go back to Ireland and see their relatives there, and he had promised to bring her back. But she died before he could do that. I felt that, in returning to this place at this time, I was coming back on behalf of my sweet-tempered elderly great-uncle, who was dear to me, and the mother he had adored.
This is why I shed those tears.
*As it turns out, my Lindsey family is as Irish as they come in its pre-U.S. roots: my immigrant ancestor on my Lindsey family line was a Dennis Linchey/Lynch who arrived in Richmond County, Virginia, in April 1718 as an Irish indentured servant, and Dennis’ male descendants, including me, all bear the genetic signature called Irish type III, which indicates that our roots go back to southwest Ireland at the time of Brian Boru, and that we’re connected to the clans of families associated with Brian Boru called the Dalcassians. My middle name is Dennis, as was my father’s and his father’s, and so on, generation after generation in my Lindsey family line, back to that young Irish indentured servant who came to Virginia in 1718.
This posting is the second in a series of postings tracing the Irish roots of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin. The first posting in this series is here.
James G. Ryan, Irish Records, Sources for Family and Local History(Dublin: Flyleaf Press, 1988), pp. 266-7.