Monday, March 16, 2015

Catherine Guckian and County Leitrim

     My daughter Sarah recently challenged me to find the Irish roots of Catherine Guckian, my third great grandmother. The only leads  I have are the numerous references in the census to her birthplace as Ireland and two obituaries from the Medina County Gazette.  Sarah found the obituary posted on Find A Grave.  Catherine is buried in the Chatham Township Cemetery in Medina county, Ohio. The cemetery headstone lists her date of birth as November 10, 1821 and her date of death as May 17, 1895.  The first obituary, originally published on May 23, 1895 is as follows:

     "Mrs John Maytham, one of the older residents of this county, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. W. Home, in Lafayette township on Friday of last week. Her husband died about eight years ago."

     A second obituary was published in the same newspaper on June 13, 1985.  The second obituary provides a different date of birth (March 10, 1821) as well as more details as to her birthplace and the circumstances of her arrival in the United States. I quote it as follows:

     " Mrs Catherine Maytham, wife of J. Maytham deceased, notice of whose death was given in the Gazette of May 23, was born in County Lathram, Ireland, March 10, 1821. In 1834, when 13 years old, she landed in Cleveland, but a small hamlet then, on the shores of Lake Erie. Jan 1 '37, she was married to John Maytham, and the spring following they moved onto the farm now known as the Maytham farm on Short street in Lafayette, where they lived happily for more than half a century, and where on Jan 1, 1887, after having traveled life's uneven journey together of 50 years, through sunshine and shadow and reared a large family of sturdy intelligent boys and girls, and by thrift and economy had secured for themselves a pleasant home, they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with their children, grand children, and hosts of invited friends and neighbors."

    This obituary has a couple of gems to go with the incredibly long run-on sentence. First, it gives us a specific county in Ireland for her birthplace as well as an additional date of birth.  It also gives a date of her marriage to John Maytham  on January 1, 1837 (at the age of 15) and that she arrived in Cleveland, Ohio in 1834.  If that marriage date was accurate Catherine was either barely 15, if born on November 10, 1821, or she was almost 16 if she was born on March 10, 1821.  However, I was happy to see that my daughter Sarah had found a photo of Catherine's marriage record on  According to that record Catherine's marriage to John Maythem took place on  September 6, 1838 in Medina County, Ohio.  Catherine's age at the time of her marriage to John Maytham was therefore either 16, just a few months shy of being 17 or 17 and a half.

    I'm hopeful I can find some other Guckians living in Ohio on the 1840 and 1850 censuses. I suspect Catherine probably didn't travel to America by herself as a 13 year old. The major problem is with the name Guckian. There are apparently numerous variations of the spelling.  I was also glad to learn that Catherine was married in Medina County, Ohio as that increases the likelihood of other Guckian relatives in the immediate vicinity.

    I decided I would start with a little background research about Lathram County in Ireland.  The first thing I discovered is that the name is spelled Leitrim. This county is located in the Republic of Ireland bordering on Northern Ireland and the counties of Donegal, Sligo, Cavan, Longford, and Roscommon. County Leitrim is currently one of the least populated counties in Ireland, having less population now than it did at the time of Catherine Guckian's birth in 1821.  I found some wonderful information about County Leitrim that had been lifted from Samuel Lewis' Topographical dictionary of Ireland, published in 1837.  This 5 page excerpt is a fairly detailed description of the geography, topography, agriculture, economy, etc of the county of Catherine's birth, published just a few years after she left Ireland.  It includes descriptions of the houses (often combined with the barn), fences, breeds of livestock raised, and what the soil was like.  It even provided some details as to how they planted potatoes and what sort of crop rotation was generally done.

   People generally don't leave the place of their birth and immigrate to a far country if they are living comfortably in their native land.  There is usually some sort of political or economic upheaval that induces people to seek a better life somewhere else.  I am curious to determine what might have caused the Guckian family to leave Ireland to move to America.  The bulk of Irish migration to America was caused by the potato famine. This horrific disaster occurred from about1845 to 1852 and resulted in the starvation of about a million people. Catherine's family left Ireland over a decade before the potato famine so that obviously was not the cause of their immigration to America.  I learned that there was a significant reduction in the flax industry in county Leitrim in the decade preceding 1837.  It is possible Catherine's family was involved in raising or processing flax and were "downsized" as land was converted to other uses. The bulk of the land was owned by absentee English nobles. The landlord's property was administered by local "Proctors", often not very nice people. The law was "tenancy at will" meaning the tenants had no rights at all and could be dispossessed any time the landlord wished.  At that time much Irish land was being converted from farming to raising beef. This resulted in a good many dispossessed tenant farmers.

    I also found some interesting information about the history of County Leitrim on the village of Mohill's website. It seems that County Leitrim was as troubled as the rest of Ireland, particularly a few decades prior to Catherine's birth.  There were Catholic Defender uprisings in 1793 and 1795. These were Catholic peasants who gathered together as a poorly armed rabble to fight against their oppressors. They were invariably thrashed by the well armed and well trained military in spite of their numerical superiority.   Some of the captured defenders were hung while others were given the option of serving in the British fleet, the equivalent of hard labor in prison. A French army also briefly invaded Ireland in 1798 and marched through County Leitrim before their defeat by the British in the neighboring County Longford.  The time of Catherine's birth was more peaceful than the preceding decades, but they were still pretty difficult times economically.

    I did a bit of a survey as to what sort of records are available in County Leitrim in the 1820s and earlier. The short answer is not very much. There are some cemetery records but I learned that only one percent of the graves had a headstone. There are no records for the overwhelming majority of the burials from Catherine's time in Ireland. There is also very little in the way of church records from that time period. We don't know yet whether Catherine's family was Catholic or Presbyterian. I'm thinking its more likely that they were Presbyterians of Scottish ancestry as she married an Englishman a few years after her arrival in America.  Most of the Catholic Parishes in County Leitrim didn't start to keep records of births and marriages until the 1820s. Most of the records of Presbyterian churches in County Leitrim haven't been preserved. Census records aren't available until much later as the earlier Irish census records were destroyed in a fire in Dublin. I have confirmed that there were Guckians living in County Leitrim as I have found several variations of that name on a County Leitrim Surname List,  I think email contact with others who are also researching that surname may be my best chance.  I haven't given up, but I am not very optimistic about my chances.

    On the other hand, it has been very interesting to learn about the area of Catherine Guckian's birth. It seems like it was a beautiful place where it was very difficult to make a living.  I may never find the names of Catherine's parents and siblings.  However, I have gained have a better appreciation for the sacrifices made by my ancestors and the difficult circumstances they overcame. In particular, I'm very grateful they had the good sense to leave Ireland and make their way to America.    


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