What’s in a (place)name?
November 19, 2010 § 2 Comments
An interesting phenomenon that has occurred in my research has involved the discovery of the actual townland that the Conroy family hailed from. When my research first started out all I knew was the County they were from, and at some point along the way that was narrowed to the town of Mountmellick from information gained from Sarah Conroy’s immigration record. This would be collaborated later with similar information from her Brother James’ ship record, as well.
In the process of researching Ellen Conroy’s marriage license in Newton, Mass., I learned that her birthplace was listed as Rosenallis, also in County Laois. At first this concerned me. Had I discovered an error? Was the information from earlier records false, or did I perhaps even have incorrect individuals? A quick search on Google Maps would assuage these fears as I would see that Rosenallis was located not far from Mountmellick, and I would also learn that Rosenallis is a Civil Parish located within the Poor Law Union of Mountmellick itself. The Roman Catholic parish for the area is split between Rosenallis and Mountmellick as well.
When I first began to search through the 1901 Irish census I was unsuccessful in finding the Conroy family in either Mountmellick or Rosenallis. This was frustrating because I felt that I had the correct information and I rarely have had too much trouble in locating individuals for too long in census returns. But when I broadened my search to other districts I made the discovery that the townland of Capard is located within Rosenallis, and within that again is the townland of Cones. Looking at Google Maps again I could see that this was true; Capard itself is an even shorter distance from Rosenallis than the latter from Mountmellick. Cones is then a short ways down a small country lane from there. In fact I can’t even remember where I found that because Cones is so small and remote that it doesn’t even show up on Google.
Making this discovery was very exciting. I felt that I had made a journey not only through the geography of a place but also through time. I then reflected on how the Conroy’s had continued to list Mountmellick as their place of origin on later documents, including marriage and death records. I realized this is a bit like living near Boston, or any other major urban area. If you actually come from a smaller town thirty or forty minutes away, when you meet a stranger who asks you were you are from, in most cases you will simply say the name of the city, since that is what most people are familiar with. Only with people who may have a more specific knowledge of the area might you be more accurate in saying your true home town. I think this same principle must have applied for the Conroys, and perhaps most immigrants.
Later on while searching the Catholic parish registers I would find Ellen Conroy’s baptism recorded and the place would be listed as ‘Coen’. I thought this was curious so I contacted the Irish Midlands Ancestry Heritage Centre in Co. Offaly regarding the spelling. I was very happy when I received a swift reply confirming my suspicions that the two spellings were most likely the same place, and that Irish history is filled with similar examples of name changes over the centuries. I have also since seen the name spelled one or more different ways, even on documents of other members of the Conroy family.