17 March 2009

Unraveling the Irish: Was Ellen Driscoll Irish born or 1st generation Irish-American?


Yesterday, I mentioned how one had to gather additional evidence to prove genealogical facts. I am going to re-visit the trail of "Ellen Driscoll." She gives her birthplace as "Ireland" in the 1870 and 1880 Federal Censuses. Her husband, Dennis, also lists his birthplace as "Ireland" in these censuses. He works as a "Boat builder" on St. Helena Island in 1870 and a ship's carpenter in Beaufort in 1880. The family's surname is given as "Odriscol" but indexed as "Oduscol." Variations in spelling are always a concern.

I find Ellen and her daughter, Annie, running a boarding house on Charles Street in the 1920 Federal Census. I can't find Ellen(working backwards through time as a good genealogical researcher should do) in 1910 or 1900. The 1890 Federal census was burned so it no longer exists for South Carolina. And, I've already told you I found her living in Beaufort County in 1870 and 1880.

I am going to make an assumption that the length of her residency in Beaufort as reported in her Beaufort Gazette obituary is more or less correct. 65 years is a long time to stay in one place. Furthermore, I am going to start with the assumption that like many older people of the early 20th century, she probably stayed pretty close to her children and/or longterm residence.

Because Ellen is listed as "Head" in 1920 and her daughter, Annie, lives with her -- and not the other way around -- I am going to read the image sheets of the 1910 census for the Beaufort Township hoping to find Ellen on Charles Street again. Some of the census takers were nice and put down the street names in the margin. There are 8079 names listed in the Beaufort Township, Beaufort County, South Carolina portion of the 1910 Census. When I narrow the search to "Ellen", I find that there are 40 "Ellen"s living in town in 1910. According to the index, none of the possible "Ellen"s were born in the 1840s.

A page by page search is tedious, but is necessary when the index fails to work and there is fairly firm evidence that a particular person is in a particular place for a particular length of time.

So, what did I find in the 1910 Census? I find Ellen's daughter, Annie Driscoll, aged 34, boarding with Gretta Levin, aged 48, a Beaufort merchant, and Gretta's two sons, Alexander and Samuel. Mrs. Levin's store and living quarters is on Bay Street. But, I can't find Annie's mother, Ellen Driscoll, in the page by page review of all 8079 names. Drat!

South Carolina started requiring death certificates in 1915. Ellen Driscoll died in 1926. Can I find her death certificate? Yes, because recently ALE has added images of the SC Death Certificates to its 4000+ databases. The informant, her daughter Annie Driscoll, gives Ellen's birthplace as "New York City." Ellen's parents are M. Driscoll and Ellen Mahany, both of whom were born in Ireland. Ellen Driscoll was 86 years old and "lived until vital powers failed." Her birthdate was given as June 16, 1840. You can see the image of Ellen's Death Certificate from the ALE database at the top of this entry.

But the 1880 census and the 1920 census records I found for Ellen indicate that she was born in 1843 or 1844. Which information is correct? 1840 as on her death certificate and tombstone or the deduced birth years of 1843,1844, or 1845? We must search for additional evidence.

If we knew Ellen Driscoll's maiden name, we could follow up and try to find a birth or marriage certificate which might clear up the discrepancy. Take a closer look at Ellen Driscoll's SC Death Certificate above. We do know her father's name -- or at least a part of it: "M. Driscoll." Her mother's maiden name was "Ellen Mahany." Was our Ellen a "double-Driscoll?" Was her maiden name Driscoll and then she married another Driscoll, Dennis Driscoll? A shared surname isn't uncommon in some ethnicities or areas.

Within ALE there are several New York State birth and Roman Catholic baptismal databases. Might I find our Ellen Driscoll in there? Yes. Ellen is buried in a Roman Catholic cemetery so it is likely that she was a Roman Catholic. Is everyone in a Catholic cemetery, a Catholic? Not necessarily, but this is another place the researcher can assume that burial in a Catholic cemetery tends to indicate that the deceased was a member of the Catholic Church or that her husband or parents were Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, I didn't find any leads. Does this mean that Ellen's trail is gone? No. It just means that ALE doesn't include a database with our Ellen in it -- yet. And, then there are plenty of potential genealogical reference sources that are not online!

According to her obituary, Ellen Driscoll was a resident since "soon after her marriage" and had been in Beaufort for 65 years! Doing the math, then, she comes to Beaufort around age 21 with Dennis Driscoll @ 1861 - 1865, the Civil War era. So, we now have other avenues to tred:

When and where did Ellen marry Dennis?
Why did they choose Beaufort?
Was Dennis a Federal soldier?

ALE provides marriage databases and if I were so inclined, I'd probably start with the New York State and New York City marriage databases to see what else I could find out. And there are always military records to weed through. But, I'm getting tired of thinking about dead Irishmen and/or Irish-Americans now. It is hard work gathering, evaluating, and reasoning out what you find and forming the right questions to ask and locating the right sources to help you find out more information. But thinking of dead people makes me think of final resting places which leads me to another resource in the BDC, Inscriptions on Gravestones in Cemeteries: Beaufort County.

Ellen "O'Driscoll" lies next to her daughter, Annie "O'Driscoll" in Section C of the original chapel for St. Peter's Church on Carteret Street quite near to the O'Dell plot. The final resting place of Ellen's husband, Dennis, is unknown. When Mary Ellen Marcil compiled the section on St. Peter's Church gravestones, she did not include a tombstone for Dennis.

When did they add the "O'" back in?
When did they take away the "O'"? Still more ground to uncover.

Was "Ellen Driscoll" a native born Irish woman? Alas, the evidence seems to be leaning towards her being of Irish ancestry, a first generation Irish-American. But, there is nothing conclusive since I did not find a registered birth certificate for her in my rather limited search. And, is being even partially Irish such a bad thing on March 17th?

So today, on the day when everyone almost everyone wants to be Irish, I salute the "Born and Bred Real Irish of Beaufort County" with whom I have a personal acquaintance: my husband, Noel of County Offaly; Connie of County Clare; and Meg and Joe of County Kerry. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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