A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Ancestor hunting.

Ancestor hunting is not for the faint of heart, and the further back one goes, the scantier the clues that come to hand. Even the Absolute Monarchs of the Enlightenment did not think to keep track of their subjects in as much detail as the modern Scientific State. If they sought you out at all, it was only for tax purposes, in which case the name of the ratepayer and the acreage occupied was sufficient unto. Vital statistics were the provenance of the churches. Compare, for example, the data scraped for the 1790 Census to that of the 1940 Census. 

But as Aristotle recommended, you start with the more certain and better known and proceed toward the less certain and lesser known.

Mary McGovern Cantrel, my grandmother's mother, had parents named as Matthew McGovern and Catherine Dolan on her death certificate, where it was further stated that she was born in Co. Cavan,Ireland, on 6 Aug 1856. . Lewis' Topographical Dictionary states that the "Kingdom of Glan" in Cavan was inhabited by "a primitaive race of McGoverns and Dolans" who intermarried and made moonshine whiskey.The barony of Tullyhaw in which these lands lay was co-extensive with the kingdom of the ancient McGaurans. 

This was not much to go on, and 1856 is at the back end of States records of births marriages, and deaths.

The next phase was to search for a Matthew McGovern in Cavan in the 1850s. One may imagine, such monikers were not uncommon. McGovern (or M'Govern, or Magauran, etc.) were as common as ticks on a deer-hound. At the time of Griffith's Valuation of 1857 for Cavan, Mary would have been one year old. A search revealed several Matthews McGovern, all in Tullyhaw Barony.
  • Knockmore, Templeport Parish: Ts. McGovern (Matthew), renting from John Finlay. There were 22 occupiers listed for Knockmore, all but a handful being McGoverns. Four of them were named "Thos", "Ths", "Ths", and "Ts", and the listing calls them paranthetically  (Big), (Frank), (Black), and (Matthew), resp. So, Big Tom McGovern, Black Tom McGovern, Tom Frank and Tomas Matthew. So, this Matthew doesn't seem likely.
  • Derrybeg, Templeport. One Matthew McGovern .
  • Tonlegee, Templeport. Matthew McGovern Sen. and Matthew McGovern Jun. Tonlegee comprised 135 acres and was occupied by one Reilly, 5 M'Governs, and 1 Dolan, all of them holding from John Finlay.
  • Aghaboy, Kinawley. four Matthew Magauran. But these are likely to have been the same individual, since of the four listings, three are in conjunction with Judith M'Gauran.
A sixth possibility is the ever-popular "none of the above," since it's possible that "our" Matthew did not occupy land in 1857. The Tonlegee McGoverns seem a likely bet because there is a Dolan in the same townland. 
Civil registrations of deaths list two Matthews McGovern registered in the Poor Law Union of Bawnboy, which included Templeport parish. Poor Law Unions were unions of parishes that pooled their resources for care of the destitute for their district. Bawnboy was the site of the workhouse.
  • Matthew M'Govern died in spring 1905, aged 80 yrs, so born in 1825. If Mary was born in 1856, this Matthew would have been 31 at this time.
  • Matthew McGovern died 1872, also registered at Bawnboy, also aged 80, so born in 1792. He would have been 64 when Mary was born and 30 when the other Matthew was born. 
 A reasonable extrapolation would be that these Matthews are the Sen and Jun from Tonlegee and that Junior is the father of Mary McGovern. 
Chasing pack to the Tithe Applotment Book of 1826, we find only one Matthew McGovern in all of Tullyhaw; viz., Mathew Magauran of Tonlagee. The townland at this point had seven occupiers, all of them Magaurans. This Mathew Magauran is surely the Matthew McGovern, Sen. of 1857.

McGovern Tithe Applotment 1826

In that rare case, a parish record for Templeport exists and tells us that Catherine Dolan was baptized 19 Mar 1837. She was the daughter of Patrick Dolan and Anne Reilly. Alas, the handwriting in the original document is somewhere south of awful and some of the pages are ruined by water stains. (It is also in Latin, but that is not a problem. Thank you, Fr. John Joseph.) We might take a second leap and suppose that Mary's grandfather is the same Patrick Dolan listed in Griffith's valuation as a neighbor of Matthew McGovern. But while it is true that Irish tenants of that age did not move around very much, there was some movement and nothing prevents the actual grandfathers coming from elsewhere in the county, or even neighboring counties, as the Dolans did from Leitrim in the late 1500s. 

Earlier than this, we sink into the sands of the history of the clan, rather than of TOF's specific family.


  1. Very interesting story! Did you find more photos?
    Fototeam Pasquali

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