Monthly Archives: June 2010


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.


Filed under Early Settlers, Tara Township

Swift County Historical Society: Annual Meeting & Banquet

The May/June issue of The Echo, the newsletter of the Swift County Historical Society, arrived last week.  Marlys (executive director) writes:

The Swift County Historical Society’s Annual Meeting & Banquet will be held at the Hall in Clontarf on Monday evening, July 12.  Doors open at 6PM.  The meal will be served at 6:30PM.

A brief meeting with election of Board Members will be held after the meal. 

The society is excited to have Eileen & Aine McCormick (sic) as presenters for the evening’s program.  Eileen is a former curator of the Hill Family Papers at the James J. Hill Reference Library and current owner of Archival Solutions, an archival & historic research business.  Aine is a writer and family researcher.  The program will include the history of the Clontarf area and family history research activities.

Tickets to the Annual Meeting & Banquet may be purchased at the museum or from a Board Member.  Deadline to purchase tickets is July 1.  Cost per ticket is $12.

If you are going to be in the Clontarf area on July 12th, make sure you get your ticket!  Anne Schirmer (Board Member) emailed me yesterday and said she has tickets to sell.  If you know Anne, you know where to find her!  You can also get tickets at the Swift County Historical Society:

2135 Minnesota Avenue | Benson, MN 56215
Phone: 320-843-4467


Should be a good evening and you can’t beat the speakers!  Don’t forget to get your ticket by Thursday, July 1st!


Filed under Clontarf

A bit more on the Reardon family…

Back in April I received a question on a Clontarf message  board about Andrew Reardon.  To refresh your memory go here.  I wasn’t able to find a St. Malachy’s marriage record for Andrew and Mary Callaghan.  A comment from a visitor, a Reardon descendant, to the blog said that he thought Andrew never married.  Maybe he was married at a neighboring church – St. Bridget’s in DeGraff and Visitation in Danvers  might be a couple of possibilities.

The second marriage recorded at St. Malachy’s in Clontarf was Elizabeth (Eliza) Riordan (Reardon) and William Little on May 20, 1878.  William and Catherine Shinnick were the witnesses.  I wonder if Eliza was Henry’s sister?  I haven’t seen the name Little in the Clontarf area.

I have noticed several people have found the blog by doing web searches related to the Reardon family, so I thought I would pass along this tidbit of information.


Filed under Clontarf, Early Settlers, Family Histories

Extra, Extra: The St. Malachy Gazette?

Newspapers are usually a great resource for learning about the history of a small American town.  They provide glimpses into the daily lives of the town’s residents.  In any given issue of most small town papers, you may learn anything from the details of a young couple’s wedding reception and honeymoon to the price of butter and how the weather is affecting that year’s planting.   

But, you are going to have a problem if the small American town you hope to learn about is Clontarf, Minnesota.  Clontarf never had a newspaper.  The Benson papers covered the major news from Clontarf and the Hancock Recorder sporadically included a couple of columns called Clontarf Clippings and Tara Tidbits, but with no newspaper of its own, the daily happenings of Clontarf  are largely undocumented.  

Fortunately, all is not lost, and there are other routes we can take to learn about Clontarf’s history.  We have previously mentioned how the development of the Clontarf community was closely tied to the Catholic Church.  The Church attracted many of the settlers to Clontarf and remained a vital component to their lives.  The Church kept comprehensive records from the beginning, in 1878.  If you can get past the Latin and the fancy script, these records are both informative and fascinating.   

At the very least, church records provide the basic information – names and dates of baptisms, marriages, and burials.  St. Malachy’s records almost always provide additional information such as names of witnesses.  This information may tell us which families were friendly or related.  Baptism records can clear up confusion on names and birth order of siblings, while confirmation and marriage records clue you in on how long people stayed in the area.  

First Communion

Sometimes you get lucky and come across information in church records such as notes in the margins of a baptism entry stating where and to whom the individual married or a previously unknown place of birth will be revealed.  You may learn of a child who was born and died within a few hours or was still-born.  These details go a long way in fleshing out the stories of the past.

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Filed under Clontarf, Uncategorized

This could be…

My grandmother, like many grandmothers, had a box of old photographs tucked away up on a closet shelf.  Over the years I would take that box down and an afternoon full of “Who’s this?”, “Now, she married who?”, and “I kind of look like this one!” would follow.  Nine or ten years ago, I set out to identify the photos, once and for all.  Armed with a pad of sticky notes and a pencil, I sat down with Gram at her kitchen table.  We did a pretty good job, but there were many she had no clue about.  “That must be your grandfather’s people, I don’t recognize them”, she would say.  Down the road, even that tiny tidbit of information has proven helpful in identifying people.  (My advice: write everything down!)

The folder titled “Unidentified” on my computer continues to grow.  Relatives share old albums and their own boxes full of photographs with pristine backs – rarely a name or identifier to be found.  I have resigned myself to the fact that I may never know the identities of the three dozen portraits of smiling babies and children in their First Communion finery, but there are some of the photographs that almost haunt me.  For instance, there is the handsome guy from the early 1900s with a moustache who appears in far too many photos for me to not know him.  Then there is this couple:   

Unidentified #1

 Both of them look vaguely familiar, sort of like my relatives, but I really can’t say.  Could they be neighbors from Tara Township or Clontarf?  When my mom and I look at the unidentified photos we say, “This could be…” again and again until we get tired of guessing and put them away.   This is truly a mystery photograph! Maybe someone out there has an idea?  Jackie and Tom, could they be Dohertys?

If you have any ideas, please leave a comment!  This could be…


Filed under Clontarf, Family Histories

Memorial Day, Part II

I just ran across this listing of service veterans buried in the Clontarf cemetery:

Mexican War: William Schinnick

Civil War: John F. Boyd, John Connolly, S.H. Connor, Michael Donovan, Felix Duffy,Frank McMahon, Martin Mear

Spanish-American War: Maurice Cain

World War I: Frank Ascheman, John Chamberlain, Lawrence Chamberlain, Leon Chamberlain, C.C. Chevalier, Eddie Chevalier, Elmer Eve, Leo Eve, Joseph McDermott, Elliott Nelson, Roy Perrizo, John Reardon, James Reynolds, Cecil Robertson, Verdie Smith, Silas Tillotson

World War II: Ed Boutain, Joseph D. Christopherson, Dewey Eve, Bernard Fennell, James Kent, George Leslie, John McCarthy, Patrick E. McCarthy, John S. Nelson, Sylvester Reardon, Howard Regan, Donald Reynolds, Cecil Robertson, Chet Schirmer, Joseph Tillotson

Korean War: Elmer Brown, Lawrence Kepner, LaVern Robertson

(from p. 38 of Clontarf: A Commenorative History, 1978)

Note: This list was compiled in 1978 and is therefore missing veterans who passed away and/or served after this date.

McMahon headstone, Clontarf cemetery


Filed under Clontarf