Uncle Naffy, DNA, and the Butler Brick Wall

This blog will be a departure from my usual Frazer DNA Blogs. This is about my father in law’s Butler line. I plan to add some genealogy also. I have been working on the Butler line since about 18 B.D. That is 18 years before I got involved with DNA. This line has been a mystery. As far as we know, the first Butler of the family to come to the US was Edward Butler.

What Did I Know About Edward Butler?

edwardh

Here is a photo, believed to be Edward himself. I’m not familiar with the type of clothes he is wearing or when this may have been taken. My wife’s Aunt had done some research on the Butlers, so that was helpful. This research was done back in the day before computers. According to a Death Certificate Aunt Lorraine had from 1986, Edward Butler died 1915 and was aged 80. His parents were Michael Butler and Margaret Croke. They were all said to have been born in Kilkenny, Ireland. His wife was Mary E. Crowley. She died in 1905 at age 51. She was born in St. John, New Brunswick. Her father was Florence Crowley and her mom was Ellen Donavan. I had never heard of Florence as a man’s name before. Based on the death certificates, Edward would’ve been born about 1835 and Mary about 1854.

The Chicago Connection

This family had at least 2 sons: George and Edward Henry Butler. Both of these sons moved to Massachusetts with the parents and were said to have been born in Chicago. However, I could not find any record of the family in Chicago. Perhaps some will show up eventually.

A Possible Cincinnati Connection?

I had found some census information for families that looked similar to the family I was looking for, but something was always a bit off. The best census I could find was in Cincinnati. Here is the 1860 Census for the 17 Ward of Cincinnati taken on June 6th.

Cincinnati 1860

Here we have a young Butler family. The husband and wife were 25 and 23. The family’s net worth appeared to be $20 and the father was a laborer who couldn’t read or write. What I especially liked was the the father was born in Ireland and the wife was born in New Brunswick. New Brunswick was pretty specific. The enumerator could’ve written Canada but didn’t. I knew from Mary Butler’s death certificate that she was from St. John, New Brunswick. However, there were many problems. I had never heard of the family living in Cincinnati. I had never heard of the family having daughters. From this census Mary would’ve been born around 1837. Based on her death certificate, she should’ve been born around 1854. So I considered what I had found, but kept other options open.

Here is the same family in 1870 in the 3rd Ward of Cincinnati (taken from the FamilySearch website).

Cincinnati 1870

Now Mary and Julia are said to be born in Mass. Ellen is not in the house. Edward is said to be a citizen.

The Mellie Connection

After his wife, Mary (Crowley) Butler, died in 1905, Edward went to live with the Mellies on Clinton Street in Newton. Here is the 1910 Census.

1910 Census Mellie

Mary was actually Mary Butler. Her parents were James Butler and Mary and she was born in County Kilkenny. She married William Mellie in 1898 in West Newton. That could mean that James Butler was Edward Butler’s brother and seems to confirm the Kilkenny connection for the Butlers. Although this gave me more Butler family and a possible reason the family moved from Chicago to Boston, it didn’t answer many other questions. I was determined to find out more about Edward Butler, but it seemed like he was just as determined to keep his family history hidden.

The Crowley Family

At this point, I gave up on the Butlers and decided to focus on the Crowley family. They had been in North America apparently longer than the Butler family. Very often the female side keeps the family connections and history more than the male side.  Turns out the male name of Florence was not as unusual as I had originally thought. Also I found out that many of the Crowleys from Mary’s generation made their way to Boston. As I read about their lives, it is as if I was  seeing their lives in fast motion. This is because often I find their births, marriages and deaths in a short period of time. Sometimes I see their young children dieing. I see their lives in the Census in 10 year snapshots. I picture where they may have lived in Boston. Sometimes family invited other families to live with them in crowded conditions. One Crowley family member spent quite a bit of time at the Danvers hospital and apparently suffered from mental illness. I’m sure this put a strain on the family.

The DNA Phase

Late in 2014, I sent a Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) kit down to Florida for my father in law to take. This particular test is called the Family Finder. It actually tests your chromosomes and shows resulting matches to other people. The catch is that you don’t know how you are related to these other people. It could be on any branch of your ancestors and then any branch coming down in any direction. Many of those directions you may not even know about. Some of my father in law’s cousins had tested already which I was to find out. These were on his mother’s French Canadian side and not the father’s Butler side. If you are related to one French Canadian, you are related to many. So many of these matches crowded out the Butler matches which seemed few and far between.

I uploaded my father in law’s results to gedmatch.com. This is a place where you can find other matches from other testing companies. I took the results and put them in a spreadsheet. I grouped these by segments of the 22 Chromosomes. Further I grouped these matching segments into Triangulation Groups. These are groups where matches match each other. When this happens there is most likely a common set of ancestors in the group. Then I had to update the results when new matches came in.

Uncle Naffy

On April 14, 2015, I emailed “unclenaffy” (his email name). I noticed a few days previously he had a large match to Richard, my father in law at FTDNA. I included Richard’s ancestry chart. Uncle Naffy got back to me right away, “I dont have a family tree yet but i can tell you that Crowleys are related to me. I am living in Saint John where they had lived and still do live. My Aunt Mary Lou Reid knows the family connections so ill tell you later more.…” Well this had me interested. Then on April 16 Uncle Naffy wrote, “I have more news for you. I have chatted with my aunt mary lou reid and she has info on how i might be related to Butler. My GGgrandmother was a Butler from Cincinnati in 1870s and moved to New Brunswick to live with family” This was even more interesting as I never recalled mentioning Cincinnati to Uncle Naffy. Uncle Naffy further told me that his grandmother’s father was Thomas Joseph Murphy. He married a Mary A Butler. She was the one that moved from Cincinnati to live with family. Uncle Naffy filled me in further, “Rumour has it that when they were due to marry at a church in saint john, well it was during the Great Saint John fire of 1877 and the church burnt down .” I was able to find that marriage in the French Canadian Druin records. I wrote back:

Murphy Butler Marriage St. John

So that was enough to break down one of the Butler brick walls. Uncle Naffy had mentioned St. John, Cincinnati, Crowley and Butler. I also had the name of a Church in St. John where at least some Irish married. I no longer felt like I was searching for a needle in a haystack. Now it was more like looking for a pitchfork.

Finally this Summer, I made it up to the New England Historical and Genealogical Society (NEHGS) Library in Boston to look up marriages. There, I went winding through microfilm. Fortunately, there was an index on the film. Once I figured it out, I found an entry for Butler/Crowley. That was encouraging. Then I found the entry which, although it was legible as to quality, contained some of the worst 19th century handwriting I had ever seen. I took a photo of it on my phone. Here it is.

butler crowley marriage st john

It’s a good thing there was an index. In case you can’t decipher it, I gather that Edward Butler and Mary Crowley were both from St. John and got married May 1, 1855. It appears that someone named Quinn performed the ceremony. Edward Butler gave his mark – remember he couldn’t read or write. There were 2 witnesses: a Walter (someone) and Elizabeth Scott.

So DNA pushed our written record knowledge back 50 years from when Mary Crowley Butler died in 1905. She was considerably older than her stated 51 years when she died. This had thrown me off considerably also.

What I’ve Learned

  • Don’t trust death records. I knew this before but had to relearn it.
  • St. John had a large Irish immigrant population. I didn’t know this before.
  • The Butler/Crowley wedding did in fact take place in St. John. It is likely that Edward Butler came to shore here or nearby.
  • The Butler family was quite mobile moving from St. John, to Cincinnati. Then apparently to the Chicago area and finally to the Boston area.
  • DNA does not solve the problems directly but gives good clues and confidence for areas to look. This is especially true if DNA matches help out a bit and give family information. (Thanks Uncle Naffy.)

One thought on “Uncle Naffy, DNA, and the Butler Brick Wall”

  1. Hi I am really enjoying your website. My mom’s ggm was a Butler (County Mayo). You had written you had never heard the name Florence for a man. It was quite common in my McCarthy West Cork family. Crowley is a very common West Cork name, maybe that info will help.
    Tina

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