The fun of the genealogy service in the National Library is that we never know in advance who we’ll meet, or what stories we’ll hear. Our job is to listen, to identify verifiable facts and events, and to guide enquirers in their research. Research constantly throws forward something new or unexpected.
Here is one of the stories heard from a recent visitor to the Library’s Genealogy Room.
Despite her eastern European name, Celia Zidar has extensive Irish roots in Galway, Sligo and Mayo. She brought to the Library a photocopy of an original 19thCentury document created in Ireland, which for 150 years passed down through Celia’s family until it came into her possession.
This document was a deposition – a legal statement taken under oath in Ireland – on June 1864 by the Petty Sessions Courts.
The Irish Petty Sessions records are online, and they’re a great “catch-all” collection. They include people of all backgrounds, from the very rich to those who didn’t have two farthings (¼ of an old penny) to rub together. The Petty Sessions records survive as an almost complete collection from about 1852 onwards.
The online records are mainly ‘Order-books’ that record the outcomes of court-cases, and books of dog-licenses which can be used as a census substitute.
Celia’s document was something much rarer than either of these. Over 25 years I’ve only seen a handful of similar documents, and with Celia’s permission, here’s a transcript of the original.
In the Matter
Mary Ward of Treanfohanaun… Petty Sessions District of Swinford County of Mayo. I Mary Ward… do solemnly and sincerely declare, That my Son Michael Ward who is now in the State of Ohio, Lawrence County, Ironton, N. America, was born in the month of September 1812 at Treanfohanaun in the parish of Bohola Barony of Gallen and County of Mayo, and will be 52 years of age next September. And I make this solemn Declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true… Made and subscribed… this 20 Day of June in the Year 
In 1864 what was Mary Ward’s purpose in giving this information by solemn oath? The document was sent to Michael Ward in Ohio; a copy was made by a Notary Public; and the original document passed down through the family.
Celia told me that she believed the deposition was prepared at Michael Ward’s request, to support his application after 1865 for American citizenship.
If this were accurate and Irish immigrants to the U.S. had to provide documents as evidence of their origins – what a bonanza that would be for genealogists today!
Sometimes a story doesn’t have a clear conclusion, and raises more questions than answers. Does anyone reading this know of any other reason why Michael Ward in Ohio, may have asked his elderly mother at home in Ireland, to provide a solemn oath to confirm his date and place of birth?