Saturday, March 17, 2012

Surname Saturday: Walsh

Surname Saturday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers to focus on a particular name, its origin, its geographic location, and how it fits into one’s research.

It’s embarrassing to admit that I can’t trace my Walsh line past my great-grandfather, John Fleming Walsh.  The truth is I’ve devoted most of my research time to my mother’s side of the family.  I’m sure a simple check and request for a death certificate would put me on the road to discovering more about my father’s maternal grandfather.  But instead I continue to punish myself by sticking to Ancestry and free search sites like Family Search.  Yeah, I do love a challenge.

So far, this is what I have:

John Fleming Walsh married Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen, widow, sometime after 1905.  They had 3 daughters:  Julia, Catherine, and Theresa.  He worked as an ordinance man for the shipyard.  His tombstone in St. Paul's Catholic Church Cemetery says he was born in 1868 and died in 1918. 

I can say for sure he appeared in the 1910 Portsmouth, Virginia Federal Census.  But there are several contradictions, either deliberate lies or errors in recording.  First, John Walsh’s wife is listed as Margaret S but it should be Mary Theresa.  Second, they claim to have been married 17 years, but clearly that is not so because Mary Theresa is in the 1900 census with her first husband John Killeen.  Third, the Killeen children appear to be listed as Walsh as evidenced by the use of the dash in place of a surname.  

So where was he before 1910?

I wrote HERE about my theory that John might be brother to a Thomas Walsh who lived nearby according to the 1910 Portsmouth, Virginia census.  In brief, a photo in my grand aunt’s album of a Down’s Syndrome child in 1919 (a condition that historically spelled a short lifespan) plus a tombstone of a child who died that same year led me to the 1910 and 1920 Portsmouth, Virginia census.  There I found Thomas and Deliah Walsh.  Their son John J. is there in 1910 but not in 1920, which fits the name and death date on the child’s tombstone. 

There’s something else that argues for a connection between John and Thomas:  Thomas had a daughter Nellie.  In the same photo album are several photos of a young woman known as “Cousin Nell.” 

So I went in search of Thomas.  In 1930, Thomas's widowed brother Patrick is living with him at 329 Henry Street.  Ah-ha – another possible clue.

So I went in search of Patrick.  In 1910, Patrick is living with his mother Ellen Walsh at 329 Henry Street.

Chaching!  A possible mother.  What about a father?  And  John is still a bit of a problem, too.  I needed to find all of them together.  So I worked backwards from there.

In 1900, Ellen was on Henry Street with her sons, Patrick F., John J. (widower), and Edward M.  John J?  I thought his name was John Fleming.  Hmm.

A search for Ellen Walsh in 1880 turned up PAGES of possibilities.  Instead I tried looking for Patrick with a mother named Ellen.  There was a Patrick WELCH with his parents Ellen and John WELCH in Portsmouth, Virginia.  Not Walsh.  WELCH. 

And very quickly the census records for 1860 and 1870 brought the Welch/Walsh family closer to life.  Here is a recap:

1860 – Richmond, Virginia
John Welch age 26 ;  laborer ; from Ireland
Ellen Welch age 21 ; domestic ; from Ireland
Patrick age 2 months ; born in Virginia

1870 – Portsmouth, Virginia
John Welch age 35, from Ireland ; laborer
Ellen Welch age 30, from Ireland
Patrick  age 10 ; Virginia
John  age 8 ; Virginia
Thomas  age 4; Virginia

1880 – Portsmouth, Virginia living on HENRY ST
John Welch – age 50 ; laborer
Ellen Welch – age 40
Patrick – age 20 ; apprentice blacksmith
John – age 18 ;  laborer
Thomas – age 14 ;  at school
Edward – age 6 ; born in Virginia

1900 Portsmouth, Virginia living at 329 Henry Street
Ellen Walsh – age 60, born 1840 Ireland; widowed ; came to US 1855
Patrick F – age 41, born 1859 VA;  single ; blacksmith helper
John J – age 38, born 1861 VA; WIDOWED; Expressman
Edward M – age 25, born 1876 VA; single ;  draughtsman

1910 Portsmouth, Virginia
Ellen is widowed living at 329 Henry St.
Patrick is living with his mother at 329 Henry St ; blacksmith
John is married to Mary Theresa and they are living at 214 Randolph St. ; ordinance man
Thomas is married and living at 319 Henry St.
Edward is married and living at 1006 Court St; draughtsman

1920 Portsmouth, Virginia
Thomas and family are living at 329 Henry St.
Mary Theresa is widowed living on Charleston Avenue.
Edward is still married and living at 1006 Court St.
I can’t find Patrick.
Ellen has probably died.

1930 Portsmouth, Virginia
Thomas and family are living at 329 Henry St.
Patrick is widowed and living with his brother at 329 Henry St.
Mary Theresa is still on Charleston Avenue.
Edward is still at 1006 Court St.

While all this evidence seems conclusive, there are a couple problems with dates and my great-grandfather’s name.  The birth date of the census records and date on the tombstone do not match, nor does his middle name.   I recognize that family members didn’t always know specific dates like date of birth.  To be absolutely sure that this is my ancestor, I need to get on the stick and order some records.

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. How fascinating Wendy. My grandmother's older sister Mary Fleming married Thomas Walsh. Both families were from County Limerick, Ireland. The Walsh/Fleming family I refer to lived in the Port Huron, MI area. I have often seen Walsh spelled Welch. Did John and Ellen use the term "Ireland" to describe where they were from? My Irish always used the term "Free Irish State". That could be a clue.

  2. Donna, Thanks for your comments. It's ironic that your family was in Michigan because in my OLD notes for John Fleming Walsh is a question about whether he was from Michigan. Someone in my family -- can't remember who -- said he was. But clearly my most recent research suggests not. As for John and Ellen, the census records say "Ireland." I have not seen Free Irish State for either the Walsh or Sheehan folks. I am looking at another Walsh family that lived near my Walshes, and they were from County Galway.

  3. Can't help you here. The only Walsh I knew was my watercolor teacher... and her father who was also a painter, and gave us a class one night.
    Good luck on your quest!!