November 4, 2012

Church Record Sunday: Sponsors and Witnesses

Baptismal sponsors and marriage witnesses can provide vital clues of familial relationships. With a long list of children and sponsors, patterns can sometimes be overlooked. Wordle ( is a fun way to uncover patterns or perhaps just make all those names more memorable. The following Wordle is based on the names associated with John Mahony's marriage and the baptisms of his children.

It is immediately apparent from the Wordle that I will have to work much harder to search online databases for Catherine Knowles than for her husband, John Mahoney. There are simply more variant spellings and names used in her records.

The number of times a surname appears in set of records is not all there is to it. Some names were very common in a specific area making it more likely that the name would appear as a sponsor or witness. Irish Ancestors lists 'Daly' as the most common name in Ballymartle Civil Parish 1851 - 1853. ('Most common' is determined by the surname of the head of the household and not a complete accounting of all families bearing that surname in the Parish.) Are Dalys close associates of the Mahoneys or were they frequently sponsors simply because there were so many Dalys living in Ballymartle?

There is more than a fun picture behind these names. Exploring the church records further gives some interesting potential relationships. Michael Brien was a witness to John and Catharine (Knowles) Mahoney's marriage. A couple years later Michael Brien and Margaret  Knowles had a son, Michael. It is possible that Margaret Knowles and Catherine Knowles are related, perhaps even sisters. Mary Mahony and Joan Mahony were baptismal sponsors of some of John and Catharine's children and also likely relations.

Much like the cluster of names in the Wordle, the witnesses and sponsors formed a community around John and Catharine. They might be the key to identifying migration patterns or locating the right Mahoney amongst a sea of possible candidates.

Ballymartle Parochial Area (Ballymartle, Cork, Ireland). Clountead, Ballingarry and Ballymartle Parish Records, Cork and Ross Diocese, 1836-1880. Database and digital images. John Mahony-Catherine Knowles marriage (1841); Andy Mahony baptism (1842); Margaret Mahoney baptism (1845); Cors [Cornelius] Mahony baptism (1848); John Mahoney baptism (1854); William Mahoney baptism (1857) and Patrick Mahoney (1860). Irish Genealogy: Explore your Family History. : 2009.
Feinberg, Jonathan. Wordle. : 2011. Irish Ancestors. : 2012.


  1. Liz,
    I love it. I think I may have told you that teachers use wordle to identify key concepts, etc. I haven't thought of using it in the way you did here, but, boy, do I see value!

    I hope you're enjoying your time away, but we missed you yesterday at the Heritage Luncheon. See you soon.

    1. Kathy, I have the wordle as my desktop background at home. Having the names fresh in my mind has already helped my research.

      I'm sure the Heritage Luncheon was a great success!


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