Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Searching for the family of great grandfather John Whelan ...or Phelan?

Map of Kilkenny showing the close proximity
of Fiddown to Piltown in the south west of the county

Thank you to my mom's cousin Gaye Mulholland for an interesting clue towards tracing the family of my great grandfather John Whelan who married Anne McDonnell in Dublin in 1903.

We have learnt that John came from Kilkenny - the family recall stories that he used to visit his ancestral farm in Piltown, which is in the south west corner of the county.

I have found a reference to a 28 year old John Whelan in the 1901 census, working as a grocery shop assistant in Chancery Street, just doors away from the woman he would marry two years later, Anne McDonnell. I am certain that this is the same John for whom we are searching.

However, if John had arrived in Dublin from Kilkenny around the turn of the century and retained close ties with with his family back home, one would expect to find evidence of them in the same 1901 census for Piltown. Unfortunately, a fairly extensive search of the census revealed no Whelans in Piltown and of the very few in adjacent areas none fitting the profile we might expect. Though I did spot one or two families named Phelan.

The fascinating news from Gaye is that John Whelan did, most probably change his name from Phelan to Whelan when he moved to Dublin, she wrote to me today:

"Try the surname Phelan instead of Whelan. Or maybe Feelan. I can remember hearing my mother say that the name changed when he came to Dublin".

I have therefore had another look at the Phelan families living in the area around Piltown in 1901 (there are no Feelans). A couple of additional pieces of information to aid the search are that firstly, according to John's marriage certificate his father's name was Richard and secondly, we know from a very old mass card that John had a deceased male relative of his own generation named Lawrence - not a common Christian name in Ireland.

Using these factors, the search has revealed an interesting family living at Fiddown, Kilkenny. Fiddown is very close to Piltown on the Kilkenny map. The household includes a father named Richard and a youngest son named Laurence. Unfortunately though, I do not think this is John's immediate family as  both the father Richard and the son Laurence are too young to be who we might like them to have been. The Lawrence on the mass card died in 1924 aged 50 (John himself would also have been aged around 50/51 in 1924) and the father Richard should have been a good decade older than this one at Fiddown.

However, the occurrence of the Christian name Laurence in a family named Phelan living so close to Piltown still raises the question as to whether this family is related on the basis of an unusual name like Laurence / Lawrence being repeated in a family, especially perhaps if it has been passed down through generations as is a common practise.

1901 Census
Residents of a house 14 in Fiddown (Fiddown, Kilkenny)

Phelan, Richard, 40, Male, Head of Family, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Farmer, can Read and write - Married -

Phelan, Ellen, 42, Female, Wife, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Married -

Phelan, Mary, 19, Female, Daughter, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Not Married -

Phelan, Alice, 17, Female, Daughter, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Not Married -

Phelan, James, 12, Male, Son, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read and write - Not Married -

Phelan, Laurence, 10, Male, Son, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read and write - Not Married -

Phelan, Ellie, 5, Female, Daughter, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read only - Not Married -

Brennan, Mary, 45, Female - Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Not Married -

Another Phelan household in 1901 census, this one actually in Piltown itself, is this one containing 50 year old Richard Phelan and his two sisters Elizabeth and Margaret. My main doubt about this one is that Richard states he is 'not married' as opposed to saying he is either married or widowered. The same family are to found 10 years later in the 1911 census and again Richard Phelan describes himself as 'single' as opposed to a widower and also states that he has no children. There are two nieces present in the household in 1911 but the evidence would still suggest that the 3 sibling adults are 2 spinsters and a bachelar:

1901 Census
Residents of a house 9 in Pilltown (Pilltown, Kilkenny)


Phelan, Richard, 50, Male, Head of Family, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Read and write - Not Married -

Phelan, Elizabeth, 40, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Farmer's Daughter, Read and write - Not Married -

Phelan, Margaret, 41, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Retired Shop Keeper, Read and write - Not Married -

1911 census
Residents of a house 52 in Piltown Town (Piltown, Kilkenny)


Phelan, Richard, 65, Male, Head of Family, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Read and write - Single - - - - no children

Phelan, Margaret, 52, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Single - - - - no children

Phelan, Elizabeth, 50, Female, Sister, Roman Catholic, born Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Single - - - - no children

Phelan, Johanna, 27, Female, Niece, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, School Teacher, Read and write - Single - - - -

Phelan, Bridget, 11, Female, Niece, Roman Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Scholar, Read and write - Single


Another Phelan family to be found in Piltown in 1911 is this one:

1911 Census
Residents of a house 3 in Glenbower (Piltown, Kilkenny)


Phelan, Thomas, 80, Male, Head of Family, R Catholic, born Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Read and write both Irish and English, Married - - - -

Phelan, Bridget, 74, Female, Wife, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny - Read and write Irish and English, Married - married 57 years, 11 children, 7 surviving

Phelan, Richard, 46, Male, Son, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Son, Cannot read - Single - - - -

Phelan, Patrick, 35, Male, Son, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny, Farmer, Son, Read and write - Single - - - -

Phelan, Mary, 33, Female, Daughter, R Catholic, Co Kilkenny - Read and write - Single - - - -

Phelan, Thomas James, 10, Male, Grand Son, R Catholic, born in Philadelphia, Scholar, Read and write - Single - - - -

Note the place of birth of the grand son - Philadelphia.

The same family can be traced back to the 1901 census, bearing in mind this couple had 11 children, 7 of whom survived beyond 1911 and only five shown on the census records, there is margin for John to have come from this family (and Lawrence for that matter), the father is a Thomas not a Richard although there is a Richard listed as an adult child of this couple.

Residents of a house 4 in Glenbower (Pilltown, Kilkenny)

Phelan Thomas 62 Male Head of Family Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmer Read and write Irish and English Married -

Phelan Bridget 50 Female Wife Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny - Read and write Irish and English Married -

Phelan Richard 32 Male Son Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Son Cannot read English only Not Married -

Phelan James 20 Male Son Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Son Cannot read English only Not Married -

Phelan Mary 22 Female Daughter Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Daughter Cannot read English only Not Married -

Phelan Lizzie 18 Female Daughter Roman Catholic Co Kilkenny Farmers Daughter Cannot read English only Not Married

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