Friday, April 1, 2016

Catherine Conlon, found.

My ancestry Patrick Conlon came to Australia as a member of the 50th Regiment of Foot in 1833. He was from Kinvara, Galway and brought his family with him; there is no direct record of the family on arrival (unless muster records list it), but the NSW 1841 census states that two girls aged 7-14 born overseas lived in the home - two daughters of Patrick and Catherine CONLON.

Given the absence of Irish church records, I'd been unable to find any record of the names of the daughters who arrived in Australia with the Conlon family. I'd also had no luck finding their fate based on NSW BDM searches, but knew there were children unaccounted for.

But I had been contacted by several CONLON descendants thanks to this blog. More than one of these told me that they had been told that "several sisters are reputed to have left NSW for 'America' together", some were possibly born in Ireland, others after arrival in NSW. Another comment I have is specifically that the sister Elizabeth CONLON "married USA Johnston, Alice told Dad that the girls married miners who ended up as timber merchants.". Well, there is no documentary evidence of Elizabeth in NSW, and she was likely born in Ireland!

But despite trawling US census records and various random BDM indexes (US registrations were not organized, and were/are regulated on a county and state basis in a fairly ad-hoc way), I found nothing. Nothing.

Till finally I found a death notice published in the Sydney Morning Herald while searching Trove ( giving a clue to the name and fate of a daughter:

Sydney Morning Herald
6th January 1862
On the 13th October, at San Francisco, Catherine, the beloved wife of James Phillips, aged 28, and fourth daughter of Patrick Conlon, of Parramatta-street, Sydney, after a long and painful illness, which she bore with Christian fortitude. Galway papers please copy.

So this is full of information. First, San Francisco as a destination makes sense given the discovery of gold the subsequent goldrush around 1849 - many people travelled from the Australian colonies to the US seeking their fortune. We learn that Catherine was the 4th daughter of Patrick, was born about 1834, and she had married James Phillips. If she was born in 1833 then she would have been born on a ship or in NSW, but no record of her baptism can be found - given that the family were Catholic where records were poor, this is not surprising.

Adding to my frustration in following up on this lead, it transpires that all San Francisco civil records were destroyed in the fire of 1906, so no luck there. Furthermore, there's an excellent site that has digitized CA newspapers (, but again I can find no marriage, birth or death announcements related to Caroline and James, or any other Conlon/Conlan that might have an Australian connection. I followed up on several leads with no luck, but a fellow Conlon descendant put out a request on rootschat ( that yielded some answers.

First, the Burial Registry for Calvary (Catholic) Cemetery shows the burial of Catherine Philip, born in Sydney, married, died 14 Oct 1861, at St. Mary's Hospital, aged 27 years, cause of death Pthisis (usually tuberculosis).

No headstone exists, as this cemetery was resumed in the 1930s/40s to make way for development. As part of this process graves were excavated and remains transferred to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma (nearby in SF). As part of this, a card was recorded with details for each.

Of note is that 2 family members were buried in the plot (bottom right corner). Unfortunately the site index does not allow for cross-referencing to other graves ( and family names don't link to anything obvious.

And so there it is, Catherine's fate, but still so much to learn. When did the sisters sail to California? What was the sister Elizabeth's fate? Were there any other sisters in the US? What happened to the widower James Philip/Phillips? Lots to do! Hopefully this post is a good launch-off point.

1 comment:

Jill Ball said...

Congratulations on the find.