ICYMI: Consider the siblings

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 27 November 2015.]

For the last several months, I have been trying to determine the origins of each of my mother’s Irish ancestors. In a previous post, I mentioned my success in locating the origins of my Kenefick ancestors; however, I have been having trouble with some ancestors with much more common surnames.

The earliest record I have for my maternal great-great-grandparents Patrick Cassidy and Mary Hughes is their marriage record, dated in Boston 28 November 1888. According to the record, Mary Hughes was the daughter of Patrick and Mary Hughes; her death record further indicated that she was the daughter of Patrick Hughes and Mary Dillon, but when I searched Irish baptism records, there were still several women named Mary Hughes who could potentially be my ancestor.

I then turned to my coworker, Irish expert Eileen Pironti, for assistance in finding my Mary Hughes. She suggested focusing on seeing if any siblings of Mary’s came to America, and searching databases, such as our database Massachusetts Vital Records, 1850-1910, using specific parameters: search for the Hughes surname along with the full names of Mary’s parents.

In locating the birthplace of Mary Hughes, the real break came with her brother, Patrick Hughes.

Following her advice, I searched Massachusetts Vital Records, 1850-1910, and Massachusetts Vital Records, 1911-1915, for anyone with the Hughes surname with the parents Patrick Hughes and Mary Dillon. I located two death records, the first for an Annie Hughes, age 30, who died in Boston 13 September 1908. Annie’s address is listed as 16 Anson Street, the same address where my Cassidy family was residing at the time of the 1910 Census. The second death record I found was for a Margaret McMahon, daughter of Patrick Hughes and Mary Dillon of Ireland, who died in 1914. Based on these death records, Eileen’s suggestion was correct: several of the siblings of Mary Hughes had left Ireland to come to Massachusetts.

In locating the birthplace of Mary Hughes, the real break came with her brother, Patrick Hughes. A Patrick Hughes, son of Patrick Hughes and Mary Dillon, married Elizabeth Agnes Green in Needham, Massachusetts, on 18 September 1899. As a man, Patrick was more likely to naturalize than his sisters Mary, Annie, and Margaret, so I tried to locate a naturalization petition for Patrick.

I found Patrick, who naturalized in 1896, listing his birthplace as County Mayo, Ireland. Going back to Irish baptism records, I was able to locate a Patrick Hughes and Mary Dillon baptizing children in the Kilcommin and Robeen Catholic parish in County Mayo. This Patrick and Mary (Dillon) Hughes had nine children, including Mary, Patrick, and Margaret.

As Hughes is such a common surname, I am very fortunate that several of Mary Hughes’ siblings came to Massachusetts as well, helping to narrow my search. Looking at an ancestor’s siblings is always helpful, and the siblings of immigrant ancestors can provide additional information on your ancestors’ origins.

About Katrina Fahy

Katrina, a native of Dedham, Massachusetts, earned a B.A. in History and Art History from St. Anselm College. Previously, she interned at the New Hampshire Historical Society, constructing biographies of New Hampshire quilt makers as well as transcribing a mid-nineteenth century New Hampshire diary and creating an educational program based on its contents. Katrina's research interests include New England and South East regions, as well as the American Revolution.

5 thoughts on “ICYMI: Consider the siblings

  1. I always try to find descendants of a common ancestor up to the present day if possible. It answers so much questions and says a lot about migration patterns and family dynamics as well.

  2. It’s critical to get all the information possible about every single relative, no matter how remote, the children of second cousins and beyond. Also get records for close associates, such as naturalization witnesses and neighbors. I have solved many mysteries this way. My Irish ancestors came a lot earlier–1840s and 50s–and records are thin on the ground but this technique has been gold.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. What’s critical is the pattern recognition. Sometimes I draw really big network charts on a large sketch pad to figure out how they all fit together. Definitely needed with Irish research and as a brick-wall-buster! It’s also really helpful for identifying those missing women during that dark age before the 1850 census.

  3. I too am slogging through Hughes family Henry who left Ireland in 1848 with wife Rosannah Rafferty children Arthur and Mary went to Glasgow Scotland long enough to earn passage money and have tree more son before settling in Argyle Co and Warren Co, NY.
    Alas, New Yorks record are not as available digitally -yet!

  4. I had a brick wall for an ancestor who died in 1835 at the age of 30 in New Hampshire. His death record didn’t have any information about his father. After several years of hearing “check the siblings” I tried to find his siblings’ death records. He had three brothers who lived into their 70s/80s. At that time New Hampshire was asking about the parents of the deceased. The only problem was that one brother’s listed his father’s birthplace as Boscawean NH, another listed Byley MA and the third listed Beverly MA. At least this gave me some clues about where to look. It turned out that the father had been born in NH but the family had moved from Byley (part of Newbury) to New Hampshire and I found out some about the family at the library at Nebrury/Byley (that library is located about 5 miles from where my summer condo is).

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