On Genealogy:  My Irish ‘Patrick James Mullen’ Eyes are Smiling

I’m researching my Irish roots via my 2x grandfather, Patrick James Mullen.

My updated DNA origins have provided me with some further insight into my Irish roots. The recent update has really narrowed the percentage of Irish I have in my DNA, my current ethnicity estimate is 6%, but it can range from 0-14%, the range comes from making multiple comparisons of my DNA to the Ancestry reference panel.

I have this incessant need to find out about my Irish side of the family … and no matter how much I dig I came up empty. 

I have connected with distant relatives who have nothing more to offer than similar tidbits of family lore. I have spent countless hours researching and emailing and my problem may well be the one that nearly all people tracing their Irish ancestry eventually face. I just don’t know enough about my Mullens to make any real dent. Add that to the fact that the Mullen name O’Mullen, with its many variants, is among the seventy most numerous names in Ireland, among the first forty in Ulster, one of the first ten names in County Derry, and one of the first five in County Tyrone, yeah, I’m already set up behind the eight ball.

Inconsistency in the spelling of surnames is well known to those who have conducted research into their Irish family history. I find that in the context of Irish historical records there are many spelling variations of the same name. The anglicization of Gaelic names, together with illiteracy, resulted in numerous spelling variations of the same name and, in some cases, the adoption of inappropriate surnames. Many surnames in historic documents are based on a phonetic spelling of what the record compiler heard.

And on top of this many records were made by officials with no knowledge of Gaelic speech. Hence, the surname Mullen can be variously recorded as O’Mullen, Mullan, Mullen, Mullin, etc. in record sources in Ireland.

The other thing is that there are very few surviving Roman Catholic baptismal or marriage registers of any parish in County Derry predating 1825 (the exceptions being Long Tower RC, Derry city with baptism records from 1823; Lissan RC with baptism registers from 1822 and Dungiven RC with baptism registers from 1825). Hence, it is quite possible that a birth record of Patrick James Mullen or any of his ancestors has survived in a County Derry church baptismal register. But I am not done going down this road yet. I will press on.


So, I set out to put together all the information I know on my 2x great-grandfather, my dad’s namesake, and hope this lands in the hands of someone who can offer any other nugget of information to Patrick James Mullen’s life story. 

If you know anything about this line, are a distant relative, or know where I can direct my search and move it forward, I’d love to hear from you. Please message me!

Patrick James Mullen’s Timeline

* I am accepting all the information prima facie and will change it as it is clarified or dispelled. 

** In the records, the name Mullen is also spelled Mullin and Mullan interchangeably throughout, even by PJ himself.

22 Dec 1825 or 1836? • Birth: County Londonderry, Ireland?

    • IT VARIES BETWEEN 2 YEARS: 1825 and 1836 – see discrepancies below. THIS DOB cannot be entirely relied upon.
    • In the 1881 and 1891 censuses’ PJ was the enumerator and entered his own age. I would assume he knows his own age and entered them as he knew them to be.
    • 1825 comes into play on his death certificate, this cannot be relied upon as it was not entered by him (clearly) and his last census of 1901 when he was of advanced age and was NOT the enumerator and maybe the Lees’ whom he was living with gave the info and it was incorrect?
    • DOB is listed as December 24, 1824, in the 1901 census. Yet another year!?
  • He was born to Mary McGanis (the actual spelling on PJ and Olive’s marriage certificate, it could also be McGinnis or McGuinness) and Michael Mullen. We know his parents’ names as they are listed on the marriage certificate, this is the only place they are listed.
  • His date of birth is as per his death certificate – again not entirely reliable as it does not appear to have been a family member who gave the death details, even if it was as we well know, family members in those days did not know all facts and details as we do now.
  • His death certificate states that he is from County Londonderry, Ireland – again this is coming second-hand and not from him.
  • At this point, I’m not even sure that we can rely on County Londonderry since it was noted on his death certificate – who provided this information?
    • Derry is an anglicization of the old Irish Daire meaning “oak-grove” or “oak-wood”.
    • Unlike the city, however, there has never been a County Derry. County Londonderry was formed mostly from the old County ColerainBritish authorities use the name “Londonderry”, while “Derry” is used by the Republic of Ireland.
  • The only thing we can rely on with some degree of accuracy is that he is from Ireland.

1840-1850 • 3 Waves of Irish immigration to Calumet Island

 1847-1852 • The Great Potato Famine and Irish Immigration

  • For historical relevance: by far, the largest immigration of the Irish to Canada occurred during the mid-19th century. The Great Irish Potato Famine of 1847 was the cause of death, mainly from starvation, of over a million Irish. It was also the motivation behind the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Irish to North America.
  • Because passage to Canada was less expensive than a passage to the United States, Canada was the recipient of some of the most destitute and bereft Irish. The passage was difficult for those making the 4,828 km voyage from Ireland.
  • Crammed into steerage for over six weeks, these “coffin ships” were a breeding ground for many diseases.
  • The primary destination for most of these ships was the port of Québec and the mandatory stop at the quarantine island of Grosse Île.
  • By June of 1847, the port of Québec became so overwhelmed, that dozens of ships carrying over 14,000 Irish queued for days to make the landing.
  • It is estimated that almost 5,000 Irish died on Grosse Île, and it is known to be the largest Irish burial ground exclusive of Ireland.

1851 • Poor Law Union of Ballycastle, Ballintoy, Antrim, Ireland

  • THIS IS NOT CONFIRMED – I NEED TO INVESTIGATE THIS FURTHER. I HAVE RUN UP AGAINST A BRICK WALL with nowhere else to go. I’m using this temporarily as it was only about 1.15 hours from Londonderry.  I’ve found a note that in 1851 there was a Patrick James Mullen was at the Ballycastle Poor Law Union, in Antrim, Northern Ireland.  So, he MAY HAVE BEEN in a workhouse. Each Poor Law Union in Ireland contained at least one workhouse.
  • Maybe he didn’t leave Ireland because he didn’t want to be a Priest or was in the seminary? Maybe he was a criminal and wanted to get out of Ireland and made up the story about leaving the seminary? I’m grasping at straws here.
  • Mullen is a common last name as I am sure Patrick and James are just as common. This may not be my PJ, but I will keep looking and remove once confirmed.

Workhouse registers 1843-1948 à Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) | nidirect

1860 • Ireland – Seminary: Family Lore OR Fact?

  • The year 1860 is being used as a date stamp to document the possibility that he was in the Seminary.
    • I have chosen 1860 as it was the year immediately preceding his “immigration” to Canada and since it is said he left the seminary for life in Canada.  
  • It is alleged that PJ was in the Seminary studying to become a Priest before coming to Canada or at least this is the lore passed to me via Mary Rowlands, who is my 2nd cousin who heard it from his daughter, Gramma (Ange)lina Mullen.  Gramma lived with Mary and her family.
  • Paul Podstawka is a distant cousin who has also been trying to help figure out more about PJ. 
  • In an email to me Paul says: “in the meantime … family lore was PJ was in the seminary (maybe in Ireland, maybe in Québec) he left the seminary eventually. So, the lore is consistent at least.

Paul then emailed me the following … On Mar 1, 2021, at 7:11 PM, pods wrote:

Hi Tina, Life is full of coincidences. Today a local historian referenced a near-drowning in 1955 and I’m quite sure I was involved (my friends were the culprits) so I went to look for the news story but was enjoying looking through the numerous photo albums. I found a note from my mother which I’ve never seen before giving her genealogy”. 

Genealogical Note from Paul Podstawka’s Mother

Here’s what I glean from this little note, even though Paul said in his email to me that it offered ‘nothing new’, there are a few new takeaways here:  

• She referred to him as James Mullen, is that what she heard people called him … not Patrick, Pat, or PJ? Did they call him James? The census’ where he was the enumerator, he wrote his name as PJ?
• This lore closely aligns with what Mary Rowlands said that Lina told her about her father (PJ) leaving Ireland for Canada to teach and leave the seminary. However, it can still be considered as lore –big lore, but lore, nonetheless.
• She says that Olive was quite young when they met, and he had her placed in a convent “till she was older”.  This was also passed down via Lina to Mary Rowlands as well. However, this too can only be considered lore.

In specific reference to family lore OR fact about him being in the seminary in Ireland prior to coming to Canada, I’m still not sure. However, it is the same story coming from two different lines of the family and from different generations.

I will leave the year as 1860 for now …

*Feb 21, 2022 – I have emailed the Special Collections and Archives at Maynooth in Ireland as students for the Priesthood did not train within local Parishes, they attended a central seminary at Maynooth.  Maynooth College archives are the administrative records of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which was founded in 1795 as the National Catholic Seminary in Ireland. Surviving sources of information for each student provide the diocese, date of matriculation, and date of ordination.

*March 1, 2022 – Response from Anna Porter, Archivist at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

I searched the website and Hamell’s book for Patrick Mullen/Mullins, etc., and found a few slim possibilities:

  • Patrick Mullen, Dublin diocese, matriculated into the Rhetoric class in 1854, no ordination date given. If this were your Patrick, he would have been twenty-nine upon entering the college; usually students started at around eighteen years of age.
  • Patrick Mullen, Armagh diocese, matriculated into Rhetoric on 20 Dec 1843 and was ordained in the college on 25 May 1850. This man would be the right age for your Patrick, but I gather your grandfather was not ordained? Your grandfather’s place of birth, Londonderry, is situated within the Derry diocese which borders Armagh diocese, so the location would be plausible for this man to be your Patrick.
  • Patrick Mullen or Mullins, Clonfert diocese, matriculated on 27 August 1857 and was ordained externally in 1865/66

From the probable ages (usually ca. 18 years old at matriculation) of the above-listed men, the most likely candidate would be the middle one, the problem being that he was ordained. If you would like to pursue this line of enquiry perhaps the Armagh Diocesan archives might be able to tell you if he left the priesthood sometime before he emigratedI also checked the database of seminarians who studied at All Hallows College in Dublin but did not find anyone who matched your grandfather’s details.

1861 • Immigration to Canada

  • PJ immigrated to Canada in 1861 as per the 1901 census.
  • At the time of immigration to Canada he would have been 36 years old or 25 years old depending on the YOB we go with.
  • The year that PJ immigrated to Canada, Olive would have been 14 years old. 
  • According to the 1861 census info for Olive, she is living in a log house.  There are no other Rancourts with her in the census. From what I can make out it appears as if she is living with the Laporte family of 3:
    • Baptiste Laporte – age 57
    • Victoria Laporte – age 52
    • Victorina Laporte – age 5
  • I don’t understand why Olive is living with the Laporte family.
    • Her dad died the same year she was born, but her mom was still alive.
      • Her mother Emelie died in 1867 when Olive was 20. 
    • Why was Olive living with the Laporte’s? Was she working for them to help support the family? 
    • Did PJ meet her very shortly upon arrival to Canada and then place her with the Laporte’s until she was old enough to legally marry?  That can’t be because the census started in Jan 1861, and I suspect there was no ‘winter crossing’ from Ireland in January.  However, I could be incorrect. 
    • This family does not appear to be “nuns”or a convent as reported by family lore either – hmmm!

1867    • Residence • Frankstown, Beckwith Township, Ontario  

  • PJ and Lina’s Marriage Certificate indicates that PJ was of ‘St Elizabeth of Frankstown’.
  • The Hamlet of Franktown is about 64 km south of Ottawa. It began as a halfway stagecoach stop between the military settlements of Perth and Richmond. 
  • Franktown was established in 1818-19.
  • I assumed St. Elizabeth was a church in Frankstown, I looked for such a church within Frankstown hamlet and Beckwith Township – nothing was located. Maybe it’s called something else now?
  • The township in 1819 had 229 people. 

March 5, 1867 • Marriage • Ile-du-Grand-Calumet, Pontiac, Québec

  • Patrick James Mullen and Olive Rancourt were married at St. Anne Parish.
  • Marriage Certificate (Translated to English) “On the 5th of March, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, the exemption from three banns having been amended in favor of special permission from the Bishop of Ottawa between Patrick James Mullen of St Elizabeth of Frankstown, adult son of Michael Mullen and Nancy McGanis and Olive Rancour, eldest daughter of the late Louis Rancour and the late Emèlie Terre of this parish. Having encountered no impediment, I, the undersigned priest, solemnly blessed their union after having had their mutual consent of marriage in the presence of Michel McLean [?] And F [?] Legault [?] Who were unable to sign”.
  • Why did they ask the bishop to waive the banns? 
  • In an email received from Paul, he stated “He met his future bride (Rancourt), but she was too young to marry, so she was raised by the nuns (in a convent, or school?) …” However, as of the date of marriage, Olive would have been 20 years old – so not ‘too young’.  PJ could have in fact married her much earlier than age 20 in those days. It wasn’t uncommon for girls as young as 13 to marry.
L’église Sainte-Anne est située au centre du village est un témoignage historique et culturel de la vie des gens habitants l’île. Fier bastion francophone du Pontiac cette église catholique réunissait les Irlandais et les francophones comme lieux de prière.

1869 – Their Daughter Mary Anne Was Born on February 27, 1869, In Vinton, Québec.

1871 • Cannot locate a census for them for 1871

  • The first national census of Canada was taken in 1871, as required by section 8 of the then British North America Act, 1867. The results of the 1871 census were reported in a five-volume set in 1873, in both English and French. Only the four provinces that were part of the Dominion of Canada at the time—Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia—were included in the census.
  • They would have been married 3-4 years by this time and had a daughter Marry Anne

1872 – Their son Patrick James was born on January 18, 1872, in Vinton, Québec.

1879 – Their son William Henry was born on January 17, 1879, in Vinton, Québec.

1881 – Their daughter Catherine Anne was born on March 25, 1881, in Vinton, Québec.

1881 • Residence – Bryson Village and Litchfield Upper Pontiac, Québec


  • Birthplace: Ireland
  • Nationality: Irish
  • Religion: Catholic
  • Occupation: School Teacher
  • Census spells the name MULLAN. PJ IS the census enumerator as his name is on the top of each of the 68 pages in handwriting. So, HE spelled HIS OWN name MULLAN.
  • In the census in which HE IS THE ENUMERATOR, he says he is 45 years old – meaning his DOB would be 1836, not 1825! I would suspect he would know his own DOB (wouldn’t he?). The YOB on the death certificate that we have been using for his DOB could be incorrect given it does not appear to be given by himself (clearly) or a family member – even that could be incorrect info, however. Let’s see what the 1891 census says – he should be 56 in that census.
  • He is living with Olive (he spells her name Olieve – he is a teacher, and her husband, wouldn’t he know how to spell her name correctly?) who is 34 years old which would make her YOB as 1847. Mary Ann, Patrick James, William Henry, and Catherine Ann are living with them.
1881 Census

1885 – Their son John F was born in 1885 in Pontiac, Québec.

1887 – Their daughter Bridget Angelina was born on January 3, 1887, in Vinton, Québec.

1889 – Their daughter Christine was born on December 9, 1889, in Pontiac, Québec.

1890’s – Education in Canada

For historical relevance, as PJ was a teacher:

 By this point, children were expected to attend free compulsory education throughout most of Canada.
 Although still taught in one room school houses, children were taught at different grade or “book” levels, the standard eight levels of education became the norm.
 Physical education and health, manual training, nature and agricultural study, and household science are introduced to Canadian curriculums.
 Electricity was introduced to classrooms.
 The first Kindergarten education is introduced.

1891 • Residence – Bryson Village and Litchfield Upper, Pontiac, Québec


  • Census has him listed as PJ Mullin *NAME SPELLING CHANGE FROM MULLAN* in the 1881 census – odd given he is the enumerator of BOTH census’.
    • So, he went from Mullin to Mullan, and we ended up with Mullen.
  • Occupation: Elementary School Teacher.
  • Religion: Roman Catholic
  • Age: 57 – this is what we would expect based on his YOB in the 1881 census age of 46. Perhaps his YOB was wrong on the death certificate, but by 11 years?
  • He again spells Olive’s name Olieve and living with them are: Mary Ann, Patrick J(ames), Katie Ann, William H(enry), John F, Angelina and Christine.
1891 Census – he changed the spelling of his last name to Mullin

1892 – Their daughter Minnie was born

1893 – Their daughter Mary was born on June 6, 1893, in Pontiac, Québec.

 September 12, 1895 • Death of Wife Olive

  • Olive passed away in Fort-Coulonge, Québec, at the age of 48.
  • They had been married 28 years.
  • Unable to locate a Death Certificate for her.
Photo Received with Thanks from Kim James Yarwood (distant cousin) on Feb. 28, 2022

1901 • Residence – Fort-Coulonge, Pontiac, Québec

  • PJ ‘Mullan’ is living in Fort-Coulonge, Québec
    • Fort Coulonge is a village in the Pontiac Regional County Municipality in western Quebec, at the mouth of the Coulonge River. By the mid 1860’s, the town had a population of about 500. Fort-Coulonge became a municipality in 1888 when it separated from the Township Municipality of Mansfield.
  • Census
    • His name is written as “Patt J. Mullin”
    • DOB is listed as Dec 24, 1824
    • Widowed
    • He is noted as being a Lodger in this household
    • He is staying with the family of Albert (52) and Marguerite Lee (52). Their children George, Fred, and William live with them, they are Shanty men for the Church of England. Their daughter Lily lives there. Helene Gregoire (2) also lives there, she is also listed as a Lodger.
    • Why is he staying with the Lees? Why was he not staying with any of his children? Who are the Lees to him? Is he doing Labour/Farm work for them?
    • Retired Teacher
    • Census indicates that he immigrated to Canada in 1861

Since we know he lived in Fort-Coulonge in 1901 and he died in 1909 in Sturgeon Falls – when did he leave Fort-Coulonge?  Where did he go?  Who was he living with during that time? Where/who was he residing with as of his date of death? Some of his kids were still young, where were they? The youngest Mary would be 16.

1906 • Occupation Labourer?

On Minnie Mullen and John Sloan’s marriage certificate, for occupation of Father Minnie put ‘Laborer’.

Did PJ formally ‘retire’ from teaching, and worked as a Labourer to earn some extra cash or to keep busy or pay for lodging?  Did Minnie not really know what her father did for a living?

Minnie Mullen and John Sloan’s marriage certificate, for occupation of Father Minnie put ‘Laborer’.

Between 1901-1909 – PJ moved from Fort-Coulonge, Québec to Sturgeon Falls, Ontario. I need to see if any of his children were living in Sturgeon Falls at that time, maybe he went to love with one of them?

 Death • 25 May 1909 • Sturgeon Falls, Ontario

  • Patrick James ‘Mullin’
  • Male, Irish
  • DOB: December 22, 1825
  • Died on May 25, 1909, in Sturgeon Falls, District of Nipissing, Ontario.
  • Age: 84 years, 5 mos and 3 days (this gives us the year 1825, again!)
  • Birthplace: County Londonderry, Ireland
  • Teacher
  • Widowed
  • Dr. Dales was the name of the physician who attended to him.
  • Doctor last saw him alive on May 21, 1909
  • Primary cause of death: chronic nephritis
  • Immediate cause of death: cardiac failure and dropsy x 1 month
  • Who gave this information to the doctor?

Burial • 27 May 1909 • Sacré Coeur Parish, Sturgeon Falls

  • Patrick James Mullin – Le 27 mai a été inhumé dans le cimetière de cette paroisse le corps de Patrick James Mullin ép. d’Olive Rancourt, décédé le 25 mai âgé de 84 ans et cinq mois.
Church Burial Log – Sacré Coeur Parish

1912 • Occupation Farmer?

On Angelina and Ambrose’s marriage certificate for occupation of father, Lina put ‘Farmer’.

Did he formally ‘retire’ from teaching, and worked on a farm to earn some extra cash, to keep busy or pay for lodging? Gramma Lina not really know what her father did for a living.

Angelina and Ambrose’s marriage certificate where Lina mentions her father, PJ was a ‘farmer’

We Hired a Genealogist in Ireland

At our wit’s end, 3 of us decided to hire a genealogist at Ulster Ancestry in an attempt to locate more info on PJ or his parents Michael or Nancy (it now turns out it could be Mary not Nancy).  He was unable to locate anything after 20 hours of exhaustive searching of the nearby church registries and Tithe Applotment Books. So, this means that Michael and Nancy (Mary) DID NOT own property or land. 

The information we have is too broad – just County Londonderry holds 52 parishes for catholic records.  It’s like trying to find a needle in 52 haystacks. 

Summary of email exchange with Robert @ Ulster Ancestry – Genealogy, family history and legal probate research in Northern Ireland

“Searched the Parish registers for those Co Londonderry RC Parishes where I found a Michael Mullan or Mullen living between 1848 and 1864. I searched for both the baptismal records of Michael born c 1825 and Patrick Joseph born c 1861. I covered year spans allowing 3 years on either side. i.e., for Patrick Joseph 1858-1864. I did this in every case. It was the only feasible way to do it as there are 52 Parishes in County Derry and to search every one would have taken me 20-30 mins per Parish amounting to maybe 20-24 hours. We had 12 hours in our budget, so I had to find a way to reduce the search to manageable proportions.

There is only one way {for me} and that is to search EVERY County Londonderry Parish for Patrick Joseph’s baptism but as I say that would take me about 24 hours. It’s a lot of research time. I don’t know if you want to go to that expense. I know that you understand, this was not an easy nor straightforward search, Tina. Without knowing where exactly PJ was born in a County where so many Mullan and Mullens were to be found {it’s possibly the most popular name}.

I NEED TO LOOK AT THE MAILED REPORT HE SENT – THE DATES ABOVE ARE INCORRECT – he says he searched Michael born 1825, but it was Patrick who was born in 1825.  He states that Patrick Joseph – not even his name it’s Patrick James and that he was born in 1861, I told him that was the year he immigrated to Canada! 


Can I see what was going on locally to get some idea?  Are there local
records? Need to make a trek up that way – need to get in touch with the town historian prior.

Since we know PJ became a Teacher, I suspect I should be able to locate teaching records somewhere. Get some more details … where would I go for this?  Maybe start with the genealogical society of the region? Where did he teach?  Which school?  Is this where he maybe met Olive?  Was he, her teacher?

Mullen’s in Derry 1858-9 –> Mullen households in Derry (johngrenham.com)

Variants in Derry with total households:

McMullan: 11
McMullen: 72
McMullin: 7
Mullan: 51
Mullen: 220
Mullin: 27
Mullins: 38
O’Mullen: 3

Mullen’s in Derry 1858-9

Derry – Surnames – Roots Ireland


2 thoughts on “On Genealogy:  My Irish ‘Patrick James Mullen’ Eyes are Smiling

  1. Hi my name is Jennifer Schaller’ and I saw your article blog on Ezra Cornell . Looking to get in touch as my maternal grandmother was Lenora Cornell of Westchester NY. I know nothing of her or her family as she passed away in 1957 when my Mother was 6? I would love to be in touch over this.

    Thank you and Happy New Year.


    1. Not sure that I would have that much to offer tbh, I don’t know a whole lot about this line that far back. If there’s someone specifically I can look into happy to try if you let me know who 🙂


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