I previously mentioned the challenges that accompany research using the old Catholic Church records. The handwriting used by the priests is beautiful, yet extremely difficult to decipher. The elaborate script coupled with the content being (primarily) in Latin, makes it nearly impossible to read the record upon first viewing. Since most of us don’t read Latin, we must rely on patience, an online dictionary, and a little imagination to make sense of the entries in the Church logs.
Something caught my eye as I muddled through the baptism records from the last quarter of the 19th century. There were several entries from the 1880s where the baptism took place the same day as the birth and where the witnesses were usually listed, the words “ab obstetrici Jane Kenna” appear.
“Obstetrici” is some form of the word for midwife, so I took these entries to mean the midwife, Jane Kenna baptized the babies. They would have been born alive, yet fragile, and their chances for survival slim, so the midwife went ahead and baptized the infants.
You might ask, “So what?” For me this was interesting because although none of my ancestors were baptized by Jane Kenna, the Kenna family lived on the quarter section north of my great-great-grandparents place in section 22 of Tara Township. There is a good chance Mrs. Kenna was present at my great-grandfather’s birth. The family names for the babies she baptized all lived within a mile or two in that part of Tara – Conlogue, McAndrew, and McGraw. These families were neighbors (and relations) of my McMahon great-great-grandparents.
It may seem like such a minor detail, but learning that Jane Kenna was a midwife in Tara Township further expanded my understanding of what life was like in 19th century Tara Township. Who knows…maybe Catherine McMahon (my great-great-grandmother) and Mrs. Kenna couldn’t stand one another, but it is likely that as such close neighbors they relied on eachother’s help and support over ther years.
In a more general sense, information like this reminds us of how heartbreaking life could be out on the prairie. The burial records show one infant delivered and baptized by Jane Kenna, died the same day and was buried the next.
I wonder if there are any Kenna descendants out there? Make sure to post a comment here.