The Age of Mary Parker

After a couple of years of little progress mostly due to focusing on other parts of my family tree, I’ve been making huge progress with the Parkers. You’ve probably noticed the multiple posts about them recently.

A few weeks ago, I noticed there was a Find-A-Grave memorial for a Leonard Parker at the church cemetery in Saint Mary, Ontario. Leonard Parker is reputed to be the brother of my ancestor, Patrick Parker. I wrote to the person who put up the memorial, asking if they were related. The answer was yes, and we exchanged some information about our respective family trees. One of the things she clued me in to was that the parish registers for some of the Roman Catholic churches have been scanned and are on FamilySearch. Not indexed, but available.

Which brings me to my great great grandmother, Mary Parker Ryan. She married William Dennis Ryan in 1864, had six children, and died of typhus in 1875, not quite eleven years into her marriage. She had a short and somewhat forgotten life. Every time I mentioned her to one of my relatives, I get blank looks. Apparently my great grandparents and grandparents generations talked so rarely about her that no one in the next generation had heard of her. That sort of reaction is part of why I’ve been drawn to genealogy, to remember the people who haven’t been.

The main source of information I had on Mary was her grave monument in a small cemetery on a hill about a mile east of Patch Grove, Wisconsin. I visited Saint Johns Cemetery in June 2011.

Grave marker for Mary Ryan (1841-1875)
Grave marker for Mary Ryan

It’s quite a nice monument for the time. William Ryan cared enough to spend some dough on it. Here’s a close up of the inscription.

inscription on Mary Ryan's monument
inscription on Mary Ryan’s monument

It reads:

Wife of Wm. D. Ryan.
Born Jan. 7, 1841. In
Ramsey, Township of Perth.
Canada West. Died
Feb. 20, 1875,
Aged 34 yrs. 1 mo. 13 ds.

The inscription has a number of problems with it. The Parkers lived for a time in Blanshard township in Perth County, Canada West. There is no Ramsey township in Perth County, and as far as I can tell, there never has been. The only Ramsey township I’ve been able to find is in Lanark County, Ontario. That sort of fits with another family legend, that Mary’s mother was one Mary Murphy who was part of the Peter Robinson settlement of Canada. One of those settlements was in Ramsey township. I have doubts as to whether Mary Murphy really was part of that endeavor, but there’s a geographical connection at least. Oh, and the nearest city to Ramsey township is Perth. My working hypothesis was that this particular Ramsey was the one indicated on her grave.

Additionally, her death certificate and other accounts put her date of death as 23 Feb 1875. Three days difference isn’t that big of a deal. Still…

A further problem is that there is a second marker for Mary in front of the monument:

Second marker for Mary Ryan
Second marker for Mary Ryan

You’ll notice this one gives a year of birth as 1840, rather than 1841. Rather confusing.

And, as it turns out, both are likely wrong. Going back to the thing above about the Ontario parish registers being online… I looked at the register for Perth’s Saint John the Baptist parish. There was no entry for Mary Parker in 1841. Her brothers Stephen and Patrick were there in 1835 and 1837, but no Mary. On the first perusal, I missed it. But on the second look through, I saw an entry for a Mary Parker in 1839:

Mary Parker baptismal register entry
Mary Parker baptismal register entry

On the 28th day of February 1839 the undersigned Priest of this Parish
has Baptized Mary seven weeks old of the lawful marriage of Patrick
Parker & Mary Murphy of Ramsey.
Sponsors Nicholas Dison and Emilia Dison

That’s an entry in a contemporaneous journal of parish actions. Unless it’s for a different Mary Parker, it’s pretty convincing evidence she was actually born in January 1839. January 7th fits, so I’m guessing that’s her actual birthday.

However, by the time the monument was erected, people were guessing at her actual age. Maybe she’d shaved off a couple of years. Maybe she forgot or didn’t know. Maybe the monument was erected years after her death. I’ve no idea the reason.

As an added bonus for this post, among the effects found in my great aunt’s house last year when she died was this photograph:

Mary Parker Ryan
Mary Parker

On the back is the inscription “Mary Park” and the paper is torn. Is it my ancestor or another Mary Parker or did whoever wrote the inscription just guess? I’ve no idea.

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