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The Chameleon-like Identity of Honora Dinnehy/Riley/Vickery


The following summarizes efforts over the past few years to improve my understanding of the identity of my Irish-born GGGM Honora (Dinnehy) Riley:


·         To date some 25 North American records have been found for Honora Riley/Vickery, ranging from an 1846 christening record for daughter Mary in Saint John, NB to her 1905 death record in Plympton, MA. The records of her later years show that she was unable to write other than the occasional signing of her name, although the 1900 census indicates she could read. In one instance she did manage to sign her name instead of making her mark. As a result it is unlikely that she would have been able to control the spelling of her name as records were being created for and around her. This helps to explain at least some of the inconsistencies found in the records as noted below.


·         Two additional records that likely refer to our Honora were found in mid-2005. The first is a christening record for Hannah Dinnehy dated March 10, 1927 in Killarney, Ireland. The connection here is that Hannah’s parents were Jeremiah Dinnehy and Ellen Drew, and that these same parents also had a daughter Ellen Dinnahy christened April 1, 1829. A third and fourth spelling of the last name within the family was Dennahy (brother Jeremiah’s christening) and Denahy (brother Timothy’s christening). There is a good likelihood that these are the right parents/siblings.


·         A second additional record that likely refers to Honora is found in the Saint John Alms and Workhouse Records where the entries for 1844 show the admission of one Bridget Donahy, 20 years of age, on July 11 for a period of 82 days. The record shows the young lady was pregnant and that she delivered on August 25, and left on October 1 of her own accord.  The file appears to relate her stay to “Folio Kelly, Cork, June 9th/’44” which further research indicates was her date of landing in Saint John and the name of the Captain of the ship which brought her to Canada. That same research suggests that she indicated she had departed Louth, Ireland, on the Clio, with Captain Kelly in charge. However, a few details of her story do not match the facts. The 1840's ship Clio was a barque of some 473 tons built in Granville, NS and originally sold to a merchant house operating out of Padstow, Cornwall. The Clio generally delivered Canadian lumber into Cornwall, and passengers, generally US-bound, back to Canada; up until 1845 her captain is recorded as being a Mr. Brown. The Clio is known to have sailed from Padstow for North America on April 23, 1844. Ship records would suggest that Clio's sailing time across the Atlantic probably averaged 4-5 weeks. "Bridget's" stated crossing on the Clio and her landing date of June 9, 1844 appear reasonable for the April 23, 1844 departure. Identifying the captain as Mr. Kelly, that departure was from Louth (north of Dublin), and that she was born in Cork may provide some cause to question the veracity of some details of her story but further reference to that folio does not appear to be available. Three points re: this file are significant – i) The name Donahy and its variations is very uncommon in Saint John Records, ii) The birth date of August 25, 1844 can be readily reconciled with Honora’s affidavit-proffered August 26th date, iii) Honora in her 1853 marriage documentation falsely gave her mother Ellen’s name as ‘Bridget’.  The Cork reference could have been provided simply as a reference point for her departure from Ireland; the age difference may simply reflect some of the inconsistency in her age found throughout the record, and it is likely she would be more comfortable as an teenager reporting in as a 20 year old than a 17 year old.


·         Throughout the North American record collection her first name is variously annotated as Honora(12)/Hanora(1)/Hanorah(1)/Hennora(1), Hanna/Hannah(6), Ann(3), and Anoriah(1). My interpretation would be that in her New Brunswick years she used Hanna(h), converted to Honora during her early days in the US, including the 1850 census, reverted back to Ann/Hannah during the second half of the 1850’s, switched again to Honora for the early 1860’s, then apparently consciously switched to the simpler Ann after her second husband left in 1870, a name she continued to use through to at least 1880. She then went through a period in the early 1890’s where she interchanged Hannah and Honora but by 1894 she had reverted back to Honora and she stayed with that version of her name until she died in 1905. In my family compilations I have tended to go with Honora, partly because it was used in the first record I came across (the 1850 census) and partly because over time it and its immediate variations appear to have received the most usage.  Irish searches will require the use of both names. It is necessary to remember that Norry/Nora is another name for Irish girls that is sometimes derived from Honora.


·         Her maiden name is becoming more definitive and appears to be some variation of Dinnehy/Dennahy. Recent examination of the 1846 record of the baptism of her second child, Mary Riley, gives a maiden name that is now confidently interpreted via digital enhancement as Donnehy. Her maiden name was given on son Seth L Vickery’s birth certificate as Denahy. Her parent’s last name is given as Dennethy in her 1863 marriage documentation, and the maiden name listed on her death certificate, information provided by son Hiland Vickery, is given as Denhue. Finally, Ellen Leddy, whom I believe to be a sister of Honora, gives her maiden name as Dennihy, and the 70 year old widow living with the Leddy’s in 1860 is recorded as Ellen Denahy.


·         The last name of what appears to be her mother, Ellen, and possible brothers but more likely simple lodgers Thomas and Patrick , who are sharing accommodation with her in Boston in 1850, is given as the uncommon Donnehoe. An alternate interpretation is that the trio are simply borders, perhaps with Killarney roots, with no family connection, or that the boys are borders and that the census taker incorrectly associated Honora’s mother with them to the point of assigning her their last name. I lean to the latter interpretation.


·         A follow-up to the above shows that Ellen F’s death certificate lists her last name as Denehy. However, what is even more important, her father’s name is listed as Jeremiah (as opposed to a couple of John’s in the birth records of her children, and supporting the Jeremiah listing in one of Honora’s records) and her mother’s name is given as Ellen (giving strong credence that the Ellen Dennehy found living with the Leddys in 1860 is probably her mother) but just as important we get a last name for the senior Ellen of “Drew”. 


·         Honora's reported age varies over a decade. The 1850 census would have her born in Ireland c 1820; the 1855 MA census would have her b c1825 in Ireland;  the 1880 census would have her born c1830; the 1900 census gives her birth date as March 1825. Three other records would set her birth year as c1825, the Killarney christening record suggests it is 1927, and other single records set it as c1823, c1827, and c1829. Closer definition of her birth year awaits the confirmation of the Killarney church records. If she was born in 1825 it begs the question as to why in 1850 she would have advanced her age 4 years, a tendency I’m sure was not common to women even in 1850; it may be that she actually did not know the year of her birth.


·         Her marriage record appears clear if somewhat strange. She appears to have been first married to Timothy Riley Sr. in the early 1840’s, Likely in Ireland although distinct confirming records are not available to this point in time. The Ireland hypothesis derives from the fact that we have a record of the marriage of one Timothy Rahilly and one Nora Dinnahy in Killarney on July 31, 1843. This date would allow the couple time to emigrate to NB before the admission of “Bridget” to the Saint John Alms House in July 1844. A New Brunswick marriage hypothesis derives from the presence of an 18 year old Timothy 'Rilley' arriving in Saint John on the ship Matilda in 1834. Honora’s relatively youthful age and the absence of any records suggesting she may have arrived Saint John either alone or with other family members tends to weaken this case.  


·         An Honora affidavit in Timothy W Jr.’s pension file fixes his father’s death as April 10, 1847. Honora continued in a state of widowhood from that time until March 31,1853, when she married Seth C. Vickery in Plympton, MA. The record shows that Honora and Seth got married a second time on July 31, 1863, supposedly, according to a letter in Timothy W Jr.’s pension file, to ensure the legality of their union. (This likely had something to do with long term considerations around Civil War pensions). Seth had in 1846 been married for a short time as a 20 year old to a then 13 year old Mary Elizabeth White, a marriage that was reportedly later “dissolved”. (The remarried Mary White had died of TB some six months after the 1853 marriage of Seth and Honora). Seth and Honora appear to have split up by 1870, a split which may have been precipitated by Seth’s being incarcerated as we find him as an inmate in the MA state prison in 1870. There is no evidence in the record to date that the couple ever reconciled.


·         By 1880 Seth, now 53, was boarding in Wareham, MA, and was employed in his shoemaker trade. Later in 1880 the record indicates he married 19 year old Emma Badger, a marriage that appears not to have lasted because in 1884 we find Ms Badger being married a second time to one David Cook. This Vickery-Badger marriage appears to have taken place without the benefit of divorce between Seth and Honora, as she and at least two witnesses indicated to the US Pension Commission, in support of her accessing Seth’s civil war pension, that she had never been divorced from Seth. There is no record that Honora was aware of the Vickery-Badger ‘marriage’, but it is likely that she was. The record does suggest i) a closer relationship with her grown children post-1890 and ii) the potential for some form of reconciliation with Seth in the early 1890’s as both appeared to have been living in the Middleboro, MA, area at that time.


·         Honora had two known offspring with Timothy Riley - Timothy W Jr. in August, 1844, and Mary in July, 1846, both born in New Brunswick. There is a potential record of TWR Jr.'s birth associated with the records of the Saint John Alms and Work House mentioned above.  Her second child was Mary Elizabeth Riley born July 2, 1846 and baptized in the Catholic Church in Saint John on July 10 of that same year. Mary is not present with the Vickery family in 1855 or 1860 which suggests that she may have been ushered out of her stepfather’s house as soon as she was capable of taking on domestic servant chores (she would have been 14 at the time of the 1860 census and 14 year old servants were not uncommon in 1860s MA.). Mary married William S Bryant in Plympton, MA in 1867, had three children between 1868 and 1871, and died of consumption in Plympton on Apr 28, 1874 at the age of 26 years. Her death record correctly notes that she was born in Saint John, NB. What is perhaps most significant is that her death record sets her parents birthplace thus: “both of Killarney, Ireland” becoming the first record in North America to make the connection back to County Kerry. This is a most welcome change after the inconsistent record in her mother’s file! It also assists in confirming the likelihood that the the Hannah Dinnehy christened in Killarney on March 10, 1927 is indeed our Honora.


·         With Seth Vickery Honora had four children that lived - Hiland in Jan. 1854, John Gammon in Dec. 1855, Mary Elizabeth in Feb. 1858, and Seth L in June 1860. The record shows that Seth L was part of a set of twins, the female of which was stillborn. 


·         In the 1900 Census, Honora, living with son Seth L in Rochester, MA, reported that she had had six children, of which five were still living. All the boys were alive as of that date. Of the two girls, Mary Elizabeth Vickery married Benjamin F King in 1880 and the couple, along with their 20 year old daughter Edith, was living in Plymouth County in 1900. Therefore Mary Riley who died in 1874 would have been the lost child identified by Honora in the 1900 census.


·         Honora was somewhat “well traveled”. While the record is inconsistent, the bulk of the evidence suggests that Honora was born in Ireland, with Cork the designated location in two individual entries. I have assumed this to be a possible but unlikely location; the strongest evidence now points to her having been born in Killarney. She then obviously immigrated to New Brunswick where she lived for at least a few years. The year 1847, after the death of Timothy W Sr., saw her leaving NB and moving to Boston, a path well marked by the passage of so many other Irish immigrants due to the fact that it was less expensive to reach America via Canada. She lived in Boston for perhaps up to five years, and then moved south into Plymouth County, giving her location as Hanson, MA when she married Seth in 1853. Hiland was born there in 1854. The births of John, Mary Elizabeth, and Seth L were all recorded in Plympton, MA, where it appears she made her home for at least five years. Interestingly, she gave her address at the time of her second marriage to Seth, which occurred in 1862, as Delaware, most likely referring to the state but there is an outside chance that it could have been Delaware, NJ (unlikely Delaware Twp, Nebraska!). This anomaly might be explained by the fact that she had prematurely pulled up stakes and had moved south with the kids to stay with friends or relatives anticipating that Seth would be away fighting with the 18th Mass Infantry during the Civil War. On the other hand, it may have simply been the recording of incorrect information, intentionally or otherwise. For the rest of her life Honora appeared to confine her ramblings to Plymouth County living variously in Plympton, Plymouth, Rochester, and Middleborough (Rock, MA postal address), with her final days in Plympton with son Hiland and family.


·         Inconsistent information shows up throughout the record. We have already referred to the inconsistency around both her first and last names and her age. In addition we see her birthplace variously give as Hanson, MA; Liverpool, NS; and Liverpool, Eng. The Liverpool reference is interesting. If she did come from Cork it does not make good sense that she would have embarked for NB from Liverpool, Eng., although many of the Irish from northern and eastern Ireland did follow that route; her birthplace (as well as that of her parents) is given as England in the 1900 census. It may mean that the family actually did initially immigrate via Liverpool and I’ll need to pay closer attention to Liverpool passenger lists. We see her father’s first name given as Henry in her 1853 marriage record and as Jeremiah in her 1862 marriage record. Likewise her mother’s name is given as Bridget in 1853 and as Ellen in 1862. We have tentatively taken Ellen as the correct reference based on the presence of a 54 year old Ellen with her in Boston in 1850, and a 70 year old Ellen with the Timothy Leddy household in 1860 (we are presently assuming these two Ellen’s are one and the same and Honora’s mother). Timothy Leddy, by the way, appeared as a witness in an affidavit stating he had direct knowledge of Honora’s first husband’s death as he attended the funeral in NB with his parents in 1847 or thereabouts (I am highly skeptical!). In addition, one Margaret (Danehy) Kelliher was a witness for both Ellen F. Leddy and Honora in their pension quests, stating she had known Ellen F. since childhood and that she had gone to TWR Sr.’s funeral (more skepticism!)! Thus the connection into the Leddy family. The Irish connection with Margaret has not yet been firmly established.


·         Several instances of Honora appearing in records associated with Timothy W Jr.’s quest for his Civil War pension have been noted. She introduced some four affidavits designed to establish TWR’s birth date and the fact that he did not have permission from his parents when he, underage at 16 yr, 9 months, joined the Mass 11th Infantry in Boston on June 13, 1861. The first affidavit showed up in April of 1894 (some 8 months after he told the Pension Commission that his parents could not confirm his birth date as all had died!). We note from TWR’s pension files that he made at least one trip to Plymouth County, MA in the summer of 1891, during which we assume he visited his mother, as he gave his address as Rock, MA in an August 6 letter to the Commissioner of Pensions. We also note that TWR was in Boston/Stoneham/Weymouth in April of 1888 but it is not clear whether or not he may have visited his mother at that time.  


RAR:  08.01.07

Updated:  29.06.13