James White, my second great grandfather, is my brick wall--steel reinforced. He is my only second great grandfather I cannot find a townland in Ireland for. I have some clues I’ve dug up over the decades such as the 1930 US census in which each of his adult children gave his birthplace as the Irish Free State, so I’m reasonably sure he is not from the northern part of the island. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re trying to determine the birthplaces of Irish ancestors.
A surname distribution search at the Irish Times genealogy site titled, Irish Ancestors, at Irish Ancestors shows the name White in virtually every county in Ireland with the heaviest concentration in Cork. The counties of Wexford and Tipperary have second and third place, but in truth, Whites are everywhere. The site’s information is based on data from the Primary Valuation compiled in 1847 -64. Irish Ancestors has this to say about Whites, “Very numerous: all areas, E Ulster, Leinster, Limerick etc. Ir. de Faoite. An English nick-name, "fair" analogous to Irish bán, which it sometimes replaces. In Ireland 13 cent, they appear on Limerick Corporation in 1213. See also Whyte.”
From the same site, is the 1890 births distribution:
Leinster - 82
Munster - 91
Connacht - 24
Ulster - 94
Since I’ve decided to rule out the north, I discount Ulster making Munster the province with the most White families. While I would tend to put more stock in the earlier data from the valuation since James was born about 1834 and left Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the famine, that database too has Tipperary in the province of Munster in the top three.
I won’t even go into what a joke it was trying to find him in passenger lists. He first appears in US records in 1856 upon his marriage to Anna Ryan at St. Anne’s in Palmyra, NY, and next in the 1860 census of Marion, NY only a few miles away. He and Anna, who was from Tipperary, arrived in America about the same time, so there is also the possibility they were from the same locale in Ireland and knew each other before immigrating.
I believe his parents were James White Sr. and Margaret Keyes. When James married Anna the priest recorded those names in the marriage record. However, when James died, his son Thomas gave his parents as William White and Catherine Keyes on the death certificate. I tend to believe the church record for several reasons; firstly, while priests have been known to make mistakes, (see Mistakes Happen ), this is apparently what James himself told the man, secondly, James and Anna named their first daughter Alice for Anna’s mother and their second daughter Margaret, presumably for his mother. I’m confident I have all the children of this marriage accounted for and their birth order correct. Catherine Ryan of Palmyra, whom I've determined was James’ sister, named her daughter Margaret also. As for his father, until I find more information one way or the other I’m going with James but keeping an open mind.
|James' death certificate|
At least the records are all in agreement on surnames, so I began looking for those names occurring together. Going back to the Irish Ancestors site, I found Keyes mostly in Tipperary and Limerick. In the Tithe Applotments I found quite a few Whites and Keyes living in Ballingarry Parish in County Limerick. Fortunately Keyes is not as prevalent a surname as White, but there are many different spellings and even McKees to contend with.
I've searched all the usual places, death certificates, obituaries, news articles, his children and sister's records, even deeds--nothing. It may be the records of whatever parish James was baptized in don't go back to the early 1830's, a discouraging thought, but a possibility. Ballingarry baptismal records for example are missing from 1828 to 1849, exactly the time period James would have been baptized. Given what I have been able to find, it seems likely Limerick/Tipperary is the right area but the search goes on and that really is half the fun.