Sunday, January 24, 2016

Surname Saturday - Gibson origins

I blogged a while back about my great-great-grandfather John H. Gibson. I've pondered for years whether Henry and Ann Gibson were the parents of my John Gibson, and though I've looked for proof one way or the other, I've never really found any to answer my question. Until today. But first, a little back story.

I've had a thought in the back of my mind for some time that I needed to contact the New Brunswick Genealogical Society for help in finding info on my Gibson and Cain ancestors. I don't know much about the area, and getting help from those on the ground there would be invaluable. But I kept putting it off, and putting it off, until finally this week I decided to give it a shot. I sent two emails, one asking for info on John Gibson, and the other about the family of Catherine Cain, John's wife.

Within 24 hours, I got a response from someone at the society with info about the Cains, He has some Doherty ancestors that married some Cains, and had Cain godparents or witnesses for their children's baptisms and weddings. That sounded interesting, so I took his info down and looked at my own files. Turns out, his Dohertys appeared in my Cain records, as witnesses for their children's baptism! After searching for years for anything on these families, this is huge! We've emailed back and forth and are still trying to figure out where we might match up. I'm wondering if our people knew each other back in Ireland, or developed these relationships after they got to Canada. Exciting to think we may have more ties back to Ireland to look into and learn from!

While I was pondering on these connections, a thought occurred to me. While pulling up info on the Cains and Dohertys at's huge database of Catholic records, I realized I've never looked in there for my Gibsons. I guess my assumption was that John was Church of England and Catherine was Catholic, so John probably put his foot down and raised his kids in the Church of England, and left Catherine the lone family Catholic. But what if that wasn't the case? What if Catherine had her kids baptized in the Catholic church? Time to go check!!

I went looking for Gibsons, and within minutes I found a baptism record for Thomas Louis Gibson, John and Catherine's son! I couldn't believe my luck! I went searching for more, and soon found the baptism for his older sister Anne as well. (Incidentally, I'd seen Anne listed in many records as Anne M. Gibson or Anne M. Condon, her married name, but nothing ever revealed what her middle name actually was. Her baptism record reveals it - Martha!)

But the biggest discovery of all was the third record I found. It was for the baptism of John Henry Gibson born in November 1881. I was expecting to find John Frederick Gibson, the name of my great-grandfather, who was reportedly born in January 1884. I did search the records for 1883-1885, and found nothing that could be John Frederick, which I thought was odd since Thomas and Anne were both in there. It seems unlikely that Catherine would have two of her children baptized but not a third. It's always possible that the record was missed, but the fact that the other two were in there, as well as John and Catherine's marriage, makes me think that that's unlikely. Plus it's not impossible that, with the passage of time, moving to Montana, and lack of necessity in maintaining an exact record of birthdates, that they either forgot or misremembered the exact day of his birth.

The hardest part to reconcile is the name - John Henry vs. John Frederick. It could be that they wanted to change it later, or that Fred was given as a nickname or pet name (I do have a relative named Donald Roscoe Wagner that went by "Bill", so it's not unheard of in my family). If John Henry is not the same as John Frederick, then they must have reused the name, and I don't know if Irish families did that. I've seen Germans and Norwegians do it, but haven't heard of the Irish doing it. I'll have to check on that.

But whether John Henry and John Frederick are the same or not, the biggest part of the discovery was the child's name itself - John Henry Gibson. I know that John and Catherine's last child was named David Henry Gibson, but seeing another child with the name Henry immediately reminded me of the Henry and Ann Gibson I'd come across years ago as possible parents for John. Why use the name Henry twice if it's not a family name, and probably a close family name? Also, John Henry was born in 1881, which would have made him John and Catherine's second child and first son. Thus their first two children were named Anne and John Henry, with David Henry following years later. This seems to me too much similarity to be just a coincidence. Maybe their deal was Catherine got to have the kids baptized Catholic if John got to pick the names. Either way, I feel much more confident now that Henry and Ann Gibson were in fact John Gibson's parents.

This is doubly exciting, because I already have statements from New Brunswick newspapers telling me where in Ireland Henry and Ann are from. So with that settled (unless future evidence proves otherwise), I can move forward in searching out information on their family in New Brunswick and back in the little town of Pettigoe. Can't wait to get searching!

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