Wednesday, May 27, 2020

52 Ancestors - UNCERTAIN: John Fleming Walsh

One thing I am certain of: I am UNCERTAIN who the parents were of my great-grandfather John Fleming Walsh. To be honest, I think he probably was UNCERTAIN as well.
John Fleming Walsh
The only photo we have of John Fleming Walsh
2 chips from a cabinet card about 1-inch square
The few documents that include John Walsh’s parents are consistent. In an index of marriages, he claimed his parents were Patrick and Mary Walsh.
from an index of marriages in Portsmouth, VA
Those same names appear on his death certificate.
John Fleming Walsh death certificate
John Fleming Walsh death certificate
That sounds pretty definite. So why can’t I find the family in a census?

John Fleming Walsh was born about 1868. According to the 1910 census, he was born in Virginia and both parents were from Ireland. That matches the information on his marriage record. Yet there is no Patrick and Mary Walsh with a son John in the 1860, 1870 or 1880 census in Virginia.

Thinking maybe John Fleming Walsh was wrong about his place of birth, I expanded my search. The Patrick and Mary Walsh families in Massachusetts did not add up because the son John was much too old. One Patrick and Mary Walsh in Minnesota came close with a son John almost the right age but he was born in Canada. Just to be sure, I traced the families but found no John Walsh who lived in Virginia and married Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen.

Allowing alternate spellings of Welsh, Welch and Weltch produced no good matches either.

When I searched for John Walsh born 1868 with a mother named Mary Walsh from Ireland, I found a very strong possibility. The 1870 census for Norfolk, Virginia shows Maria Walsh from Ireland as the head of household along with children Catherine (b 1856), Mary (b 1860), and John (b 1867). There were two boarders from Ireland and two from Virginia.
snipped from 1870 Federal Census, Norfolk, VA
The logical conclusion is that Maria (or MARY) was a recent widow, so I looked in the 1860 census for Mary Walsh born in Ireland about 1830. There she was with a daughter Kate – common nickname for Catherine - born 1856. The husband was there too, but it wasn’t Patrick. It was John.
snipped from 1860 Federal Census, Norfolk, VA
John? OK. It is possible his name was John Patrick or Patrick John. Wanting and NEEDING to learn more about John Walsh’s whereabouts, I made him my focus. Unfortunately, there is no death record online.

There are some Navy enlistment records. W. John Walsh born 1830 in Ireland enlisted in the Navy October 1857. Then John W. Walsh born 1829 in Ireland enlisted October 1856. Both negate any thoughts that John and Patrick were the same person.

There are several records of a John Walsh in the Norfolk Naval Hospital during the Civil War. In 1863 John Walsh was treated for fever due to exposure to malaria while on the Mississippi River. In 1864 John Walsh/Walch was admitted to the Naval Hospital for phthisis, which was a form of pulmonary tuberculosis, ironically the same cause of death recorded for John Fleming Walsh in 1918.

The Registers of Patients at Naval Hospitals 1812-1934 include 3 men named John Walsh who were discharged during the Civil War: one from the USS Sassacus, one from the USS Para, and one from the USS Hartford. These were all Union ships. At first I thought it was unlikely someone living in Virginia would fight for the Union, but there were many who did. Besides, if any of these John Walshes were the same ones who enlisted in the mid-1850s, he would have had no choice other than desertion, I suppose.

Could John Fleming Walsh have been simply mistaken about his father’s name? After all, he was fatherless as a toddler. Could he have lied about who his father was? I was struck by the presence of 2 men named Patrick in the Walsh household: Pat Jacobs in 1860 and Patrick Gilford in 1870. I have other non-paternal events in my family line, so one more would not be a surprise. Perhaps John grew up with Patrick being LIKE a father, the only father-figure he ever knew. Just a thought worth pursuing.

Unfortunately, my pursuit was rather fruitless.

Pat Jacobs, a blacksmith, was born about 1839 in Ireland and was 7 years younger than Mary. He most likely is not anyone that John Fleming Walsh would have viewed as a father figure because Pat Jacobs showed up in 1865 in New York. He was still a blacksmith, married, and a father to a 3-month old. The same family continued to live in New York.

Patrick Gilford, on the other hand, was close to Mary’s age. He too was from Ireland. Unfortunately, the policeman is MIA in records after 1870 although there are plenty of men named Patrick Guilfoyle in New York.

Without more to go on, the identity of the parents of John Fleming Walsh is STILL UNCERTAIN. When the COVID-19 quarantine lifts, I must schedule a trip to the Library of Virginia.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Who was the informant on the death certificate and how reliable? They may have just assumed it was Patrick?

  2. You have amazing patience to try to sort this all out lol. I would have chalked it up as a mystery and moved on.


  3. I am CERTAIN that you looked really hard for him!