Category Archives: Gormley

Dempsey cousins’ discoveries

Letter D: Fourth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge, and last in a series of five posts about the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.

Cousins on my Dempsey line reached out after seeing a post on Molly’s Canopy about our great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.

We decided to form the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team to work together on researching our mutual ancestors — and soon we had our first team breakthroughs.

Holy Cross Section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Baltimore, Md. (2015). By: Barb/Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team
Final resting place of our ancestor William Patrick Dempsey, Holy Cross Section of Woodlawn Cemetery, Baltimore, Md. (2015). Our Dempsey Cousins team has experienced the power of collaboration — discovering more new information  and clues together about our shared ancestors than any of us might have found alone. Photo by Barb/Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team

William’s first wife

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!

A Canadian clue

The name of William’s first wife led cousin Barb to our next clue. Searching online, she found a compilation of records from St. Francis Xavier Church, 66 Church St., Brockville, Ontario, Canada with an entry showing a William Dempsey and a Catherine McCarty as baptismal sponsors.

Baptisms 1843
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.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Blacksmiths: The heart of the Irish community

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.

December 2015: Traditional blacksmith’s tools at the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum in Madison County, N.Y. In the days before motorized vehicles, the shops of blacksmiths like our ancestor William Patrick Dempsey were important gathering places, and the blacksmith was highly respected by the community he served. Photo by Molly Charboneau

But what about the everyday life of an Irish blacksmith? I wondered. What might that tell us about our ancestor’s experience?

So back I went on the research trail, and was delighted to discover a wonderful book by author Eamon Doyle titled Tales of the Anvil – The Forges and Blacksmiths of Wexford (2008).

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!

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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County Wexford and the Vikings

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.

County Wexford, Ireland. News that my gggrandfather William Patrick Dempsey hailed from County Wexford — from an obituary shared by a Dempsey cousin — raises the possibility of Viking heritage. Photo by: Skellig2008

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.

Main Street in Wexford, County Wexford, Ireland — the largest town in the county where my great-great grandfather William Dempsey was born. By: National Library of Ireland on The Commons

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.

Certifiably Viking

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.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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