Saturday, February 5, 2011

Round and Round in Circles I Go

Ladies View - Lakes of Killarney

A recent email from cousin Karen in California gave me the impetus I needed to relook at my "Is it Owen or is it John" research.  I am, of course, referring to my g-g-g-grandfather who, according to the family legend, was bayoneted by a British soldier and died of pertonitis two weeks later. While the descendants of his son Owen William McDonnell believe his name to be Sean (John), I discovered that some of the descendants of his son Michael, believe his name to be Owen.  Oh dear!  Records from the birth index of the Irish Family History Foundation add to my confusion as I mentioned before in this post. If only I could narrow it down to a fairly reasonable certainty, I would gladly purchase the records available on the Irish Family History Foundation website. So far nothing lines up.  What seemed promising, remains elusive.

 The Owen possibility came to light when cousin Don, a descendant of Michael McDonnell, followed a path from a GenWeb post to my blog.  Our Christmas holiday vacation was a whir of email exchanges full of, wonderful old photos, but to our surprise. . . Don told us that his mother always understood that Michael McDonnell's father was named Owen, and his mother was Julia. In a flash I was back to the Irish Family History Foundation but again the results were mixed. This is where I became discouraged.  It feels like it is barely a fingertip out of reach.  This post sets out what I have uncovered  so far and hope that someone might see what I have missed or know of a resource that I do not.

The four brothers in order of birth and the birth range for each  as determined from census records. Conveniently, the 1860 census for Elk River, Iowa lists John, Michael and Bartholomew living together.  The family story is that Owen met his wife, Bridget O'Callahan, a bond servant, in Cinncinnati so it is possible they were both in Ohio for the 1860 census, but I have not found a definitive record yet.  They married in 1864.  A family tree scribbled long ago on a piece of scrap paper mentions a brother James with a question mark, but does not say whether he immigrated to America or not.  I am using the 1860 census because even if the ages are not exactly correct, the order of birth should be. So . . . . from oldest to youngest:

Michael  b.1826
John b. 1830
Owen  if b. 1833
Bartholomew b. 1834
Owen  if b. 1837

On the Ireland GenWeb site I found the following naming pattern tradition.
1st son was named after the father's father
2nd son was named after the mother's father
3rd son was named after the father
4th son was named after the father's eldest brother
1st daughter was named after the mother's mother
2nd daughter was named after the father's mother
3rd daughter was named after the mother
4th daughter was named after the mother's eldest sister

 Could my ancestors have adhered to this tradition?  If this were true, then both Owen William and Michael McDonnell should have named their oldest son after their father.  There are too many John McDonnell's in Iowa to know which is the correct one at the present time so we can't check his family, if he had one.  I have not been able to find Bartholomew in a census after 1860.  Possibly he went by Bart, possibly he spelled his surname McDonald, possibly he died . . . all currently unknown.  So the only two we can check are Michael and Owen William.  Michael did not name any of his children John and his youngest and third son was named Owen - so it doesn't fit for either name. It looks like Michael didn't follow the tradition.  He did have a daughter Julia, however.

Next Owen William.   His oldest son is named John (one of the choices for his father's father), his oldest daughter is named Mary (this is the mother's mother), his second son is Simon (this is the mother's father), the third son is Michael (this is his eldest brother), the fourth son was named Owen Jerome (this is the father's name),  There was a daughter Julia who died but I have no date of death for her.  Other children followed, including Bartholomew. So with the exception of reversing the order for Michael and Owen Jerome, it seems as though my g-g-grandparents did follow the traditional naming.  For this very superficial reason, I believe my family had the correct name for my g-g-g-grandfather . . . Sean (John) McDonnell!

Tomorrow, I will try to sort out some of the searches on the Irish Family History Foundation website. 


  1. Wow, what a puzzle for you. Sometimes the gut feelings are right.

    Good luck sorting through the details.

  2. Don't you love it when the "cousins" find you as the result of your blog? Good luck.

  3. We have a similar naming pattern sometimes used in Scotland, but all it takes is for a child to die, and the important name to be re-used for a subsequent child.... Good luck with your McDonnells!

  4. I know this is tenuous argument. I do know the names of the other children of Owen William who died and also Michael's. The only unknown order for one who fits the naming pattern is Julia born to Owen William. It would be nice if John, the brother of Owen and Michael could be located with a family to see their names. However, not yet.