Letter E: Fifth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!
Among my ancestors, there are many duplicate given names. But Elizabeth is one of the most common — as a first or middle name — on both sides of my family tree.
My paternal great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — wife of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull — apparently went by Elizabeth because there were so many Marys in her family. Here and there, it shows up as her first name on records.
My maternal grandmother Elizabeth Christina (Stoutner) Laurence was called Lizbeth by my grandfather, who knew her from childhood. But when she learned, and later taught, Early American Tole Painting, she always signed her work Liz.
She appears to have been named after herGerman-born grandmothers — her mom’s mother Eva Elizabeth (Edel) Mimm (who went by Elizabeth) and her dad’s mother Christina (Albeitz) Stoutner.
Then there was my Irish great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey, born in 1865 in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. — a twin and part of the large household of my Irish-born great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.
There are some other Elizabeths, Lizzies and Mary Elizabeths among my side line ancestors, too — clearly a popular name on many branches of my family tree.
Have you looked for patterns in your ancestors’ given names? They might hold clues about the next generation back.
Up next: Fort Monroe in Virginia, where my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull — husband of one of my Elizabeths, Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — was hospitalized during the U.S. Civil War.
From his oldest children’s birthplaces in the U.S. Census, we believe that William went from Ireland to Canada and then to the U.S.
There is also a clue in an un-sourced family tree (from my dad’s cousin) that our great, great grandmother Katherine was his second wife.
William eventually ended up in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md. So cousin John called a researcher he knew at the Maryland Historical Society for transcriptions of the death certificates of William’s Canadian-born children. He came away with the name of their mother: Catherine McCarty — the first wife of William Patrick Dempsey!
Anthony Flood b 2/3/1843
John Flood and Ellen McCann
Sponsors: William Dempsey and Catherine McCarty
At a seminar on finding Irish roots, Barb said she learned that, “All baptismal records use the maiden name of mothers and sponsors.” So if the compiler’s transcription is accurate, this is a promising clue that could link our William to his first wife — and to a location in Canada.
Final resting place
Meanwhile, I began looking into our great, great grandfather William’s burial location in Baltimore — given as Holy Cross Cemetery on his death certificate.
A list of Catholic Archdiocesan Closed Cemeteries that I found online said Holy Cross was “sold to the City of Baltimore in 1969,” and those buried there were transferred to a “Holy Cross Section” of Woodlawn Cemetery — but without individual markers.
A call to the cemetery office confirmed that they had an interment record with the correct date of death to be our William Dempsey.
Cousin Barb and her husband graciously agreed to visit the cemetery and came away with copies of what records the office had — along with several precious photos of our great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey’s final resting place.
The power of collaboration
After just a few months, our Dempsey Cousins team has experienced the power of collaboration — discovering more new information and promising leads together than any of us might have found alone.
Now we are up to eleven Dempsey Cousins in the team to help continue the search! If you are a descendant of blacksmith William Patrick Dempsey of Baltimore and either of his wives, and you would like to join us, please get in touch.
Up next: Elizabeths in my family tree. Please stop back.
Letter B: Second of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, and fourth in a series about the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.
Through clues from my Dempsey cousins and a bit of research, I learned that our Irish great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey — a blacksmith who lived in Baltimore, Maryland during and after the U.S. Civil War — came from County Wexford, where blacksmiths played a prominent role in the 1798 Irish Rebellion/ Éirí Amach.
But what about the everyday life of an Irish blacksmith? I wondered. What might that tell us about our ancestor’s experience?
Author Doyle has painstakingly amassed a wealth of historical detail on blacksmiths from his home county — using sources from 1798 tradition through 20th century records — and describes how, centuries ago, using fire to turn metal into useful implements led to a belief that smiths possessed supernatural powers.
Though this view waned in modern times, Ireland’s blacksmiths in particular remained highly regarded in both city and town because their work — from rimming cart wheels and shoeing horses to fashioning tools and household implements — was so essential to the day-to-day flow of the economy.
Their role put blacksmiths at the heart of the communities they served, explains Doyle:
The forge and the blacksmith shop became one of the few fixed establishments in every parish and remained so through all the changes in Irish society, in peace, war, oppression and hardship. It was a place at which people gathered when danger threatened and where one could look for information when rumour stalked the land. The forge became a familiar and beloved part of life in every area, long before churches, parish halls and school buildings became established in the mid-nineteenth century. Along with the importance of the forge in local communities came a respect for the blacksmith himself.
Baltimore City blacksmith
I wonder if it was any different for our “William the blacksmith” as he plied his trade in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. from the mid to late 1800s? He had emigrated from Ireland years before — but if he learned ironwork from his father back home, he would likely have carried its traditions with him.
William’s obituary says he was “a well-known blacksmith” — and probably also highly respected in a city where travel was mainly by horse and horse-drawn vehicle during his working life. So it’s easy to envision Irish ex pats gathering around his forge to share news, swap stories and talk politics.
In short, much food for thought as we Dempsey cousins continue tracking the lives of our mutual ancestors — William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.
Ireland’s forges and blacksmiths
One last word on Tales of the Anvil. In addition to providing a wonderful narrative history of County Wexford’s blacksmiths, Doyle includes photos and a county-wide map of many active and closed forges.
He has also compiled a list of blacksmiths from a variety of sources, and on the list are Willie Dempsey of Blackwater and Michael Dempsey of Ballinastraw — linking our Dempsey surname to the trade.
Of course, much more research is needed to connect our great, great grandfather “William the blacksmith” to his roots and birth location in County Wexford — let alone to definitively link him to blacksmiths back home.
Nevertheless, Doyle deserves our gratitude for providing valuable background information and context for us Dempsey cousins as we move forward with our family history search.
Coming on April 5: Our Dempsey cousins team makes some discoveries. Right after the next April 4 post: Elizabeths in my family tree. Hope to see you then!
Third in a series on the Demspey Cousins Family Research Team.
Within the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team, our Irish-born great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey is affectionately known as “William the blacksmith” — a trade-based nickname that cousin Barb suggested to distinguish him from his son and other same-name descendants.
William’s obituary in the Baltimore Sun (shared by cousin John) said he was from County Wexford — where he may have learned the highly regarded blacksmith trade from his father.
So before we Dempsey cousins got down to the serious genealogical business of specifically tracing William’s roots in Ireland, I decided to do some background research on the history of County Wexford and its blacksmiths.
I first learned that County Wexford in southeast Ireland saw incursions by Vikings, invasion by Normans, and later occupation by British forces — each met with a fighting spirit by the Irish population.
Then I discovered that County Wexford’s blacksmiths played a crucial role in the heroic 1798 Irish Rebellion/ Éirí Amach against British rule — an uprising inspired by the earlier American and French revolutions and a landmark on the road to Ireland’s independence.
The Battle of Vinegar Hill/ Chnoc Fíodh na gCaor — the last, great battle of the rebellion, which is still re-enacted today — took place in County Wexford’s town of Enniscorthy and pitted the fighting Irish against British occupation forces, with about 20,000 on each side.
Lacking firearms, the Irish combatants brandished pikes of freedom equipped with hooks to catch the reins of British cavalry and unseat the riders. Those metal pike tops were forged by Wexford’s blacksmiths.
Well, how about that!
Of course, my great, great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey wasn’t born until about 1828, so his father was probably just a child at the time of rebellion. But that doesn’t rule out involvement by more distant direct or side line Dempsey ancestors, nor the pride with which older generations likely shared this rich local history.
When “William the blacksmith” was taught by the forge, he may have also heard stories about the heroic blacksmiths of County Wexford and throughout Ireland — as immortalized in this verse from a song about blacksmith Páid O’Donoghue of County Meath:
But Ninety-Eight’s dark season came and Irish hearts were sore; The pitch-cap and triangle the patient folk outwore;
The blacksmith thought of Ireland and found he’d work to do: “I’ll forge some steel for freedom,” said Páid O’Donoghue.1
What more did I learn about County Wexford’s blacksmiths? Stay tuned for the next post.
Second in a series on the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.
Not long after Dempsey descendants Barb, John and I agreed to form a cousins team — to research our mutual gggrandparents William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey — John generously shared a document that was totally new to me.
From the 3 May 1900 issue of the Baltimore Sun, it was a small, one-column obituary of our great, great grandfather William Dempsey.
Just eighteen brief newspaper lines (transcribed below) summed up our ancestor’s life — but what a masterpiece it was and what a lasting gift to his descendants.
Mr. William Dempsey, a well-known blacksmith died yesterday at his home, 1602 East Chase street, of paralysis. He was born in County Wexford, Ireland, 62 years ago and came to this country when about 12 years of age. For several years he resided in Troy, N.Y., and then moved to Harford county, Maryland and afterward to Cecil county. For many years he had resided in this city [Baltimore, Md.]. He is survived by 10 children — Mrs. Thomas Byrnes, Mrs. Charles Conway, Mrs. Clinton Webb, Mrs. Ernest Kratz, Mrs. Frank Owens [sic.] and John, James, William, Peter and Lieut. Thomas F. Dempsey, of the Northern police district; 32 grandchilden and 5 great-grandchildren. He was a member of St. Paul’s Catholic Church.
The anonymous writer (who seems to have interviewed a detail-oriented informant) names William’s surviving children, totals up his grand and great-grand children, and lists several places where our ancestor once lived — laying out a virtual road map for us Dempsey cousins to follow as we reconstruct William’s travels from his arrival in North America to his final home in Baltimore City.
But what really jumped out at me was the news that William Dempsey was “born in County Wexford, Ireland” — for this was the first time I learned my great, great grandfather’s county of origin. A breakthrough indeed! And all thanks to our Dempsey cousins collaboration.
Vikings in the vicinity
Looking up County Wexford to get some background information led me to the next revelation — we Dempsey descendants might have Viking heritage!
The Irish Times Irish Ancestors web page for County Wexford — listing Dempsey among the county’s common surnames — contains this brief history, which echoes similar versions I have found elsewhere:
The county takes its name from the principal town, which was founded by the Norsemen in the tenth century as “Waesfjord”. A similar reference to Wexford Harbour, the large sheltered lagoon which is the reason for the town’s existence, is found in the Irish name. [Waesfjord translates as “inlet of the mud flats.”]
The Vikings made incursions into the Wexford area in the eighth and ninth centuries, but by the tenth century had abandoned their usual return trip to Scandinavia. Instead, they settled down in coastal Ireland and over the centuries mixed in with the general population.
So, possible Viking heritage! And all thanks to a clue in our great, great grandfather William Dempsey’s obituary.
I found this prospect very exciting and perhaps went a bit overboard as I shared the news with family, friends and co-workers — and rushed out to buy a faux fur throw for my couch.
“Well, that would certainly explain your personality!” one of my friends quipped dryly.
But then I went to an Irish heritage workshop at a genealogy conference and discovered that the prospect of Viking heritage — though new to me — is old hat to long-time Irish family history researchers.
In fact, at the DNA table, one guy even boasted that so many people with his surname had tested positive for Viking DNA that, “My surname is certified Viking.”
Whereas I was merely behaving like a certifiable Viking — with no real proof. At least not yet.
So — after dressing as a Viking for Halloween and throwing a Viking-themed trim-a-tree party for the holidays — I finally calmed down, curled up under my new throw, and resumed research on the broad sweep of more recent history in County Wexford.
And that’s when I learned about the blacksmiths and the 1798 Irish Rebellion.