Santa! That cheery, portly, white-bearded man squeezing down your chimney with a “Ho! Ho! Ho!” to deliver you a present on Christmas Eve. That’s the Santa Claus we all know and love.
But there is another Santa Claus. A very real Santa Claus. A Santa who possibly has Irish ancestry. In this very special Blog, I am going to trace, using genuine documentation, the life of Mr. Santa Claus. Then I am going to take some leaps back, using other people’s research, to pinpoint Santa’s Irish family. But I’m not going to reveal his alleged Irish origins – which even includes the townland – until the very end! So, with no peeking at the final paragraph, grab a sherry and a mince pie and read the tale of the real Santa Claus.
Santa Claus was born on 4 April 1888. In the county of Saline in the US state of Missouri. And here he is:
Because the entire 1890 US census got rather carelessly burned, the first census that we find Santa on is the 1900 US census living with his parents, William and Henrietta Clause. And at this stage, he had five other brothers and sisters, all at school and living in Liberty township of Saline County. His dad, William is listed as a farmer (see below).
In 1910, Santa is now a single man, living in the Liberty township and he has got himself a job as a ‘hired man’ on a general farm (see below).
As a farm hand, Santa didn’t stay single for too long. On 28 th June 1912 he married Minnie Mabel Hill, who was 18 years old, in the town of Marshall in Saline County (Missouri). The marriage record itself is a bit faint, but you can see Santa and Minnie on the top left page:
However, this stable family existence didn’t last too long. The dogs of war bared their teeth and
World War 1 broke out. Santa was drafted in to help with the war effort in 1917. He was 29 at the time, and he is listed on his Draft Card as ‘Santy Claus’ (see below).
Santa survived WW1 and makes a welcome reappearance on the 1920 US census (see below). However, things on this census are a bit odd. Santa is living at the house of one of his younger brothers, Earl, but he is listed not as ‘brother’ but as ‘boarder’. Furthermore, Santa is listed as single, which if the records are to be believed, he certainly was not. But then, where is his wife? Professionally, he is still a farm labourer. Maybe the enumerator or Earl (or both) got a bit confused.
Ten years later on the 1930 US census (see below) and we find Santa and Mabel (as Santa’s wife is now called) a happily married couple with five sons and one daughter, all living in Marshall ‘City’. And Santa is now working as a labourer on a river construction project.
Santa has to be admired for his perseverance at keeping a roof over the family’s head. On the 1940 US census (see below), he is now listed as 52 years of age and working as a sewer man on a drainage works. Not a great job, but at least it is a job. He now has seven children to support and, in a turnaround of fortunes, Santa is head of the household and brother Earl is now living with him – the ‘reverse’ of the 1920 US census! There is also a brother-in- law, too (Elbert Hill).
The dogs of war were once again let loose, and Santa had a surprise for me when I saw his World War 2 Draft Card. He was now 54 but he was no longer working in the sewers. He was a self-employed Minister of the Church! He even signs himself ‘Rev. Santa Claus’! (see below).
Minnie Mabel, Santa’s wife, passed away in 1944. And although Santa himself was getting on, he did remarry, this time to a Viola Margaret Clark, and he continued to have a good life as a Reverend for another decade. There are stories on the internet about people who remember getting married by Santa Claus! However, the end comes to us all and Santa Claus, with the God’s playing their implausible tricks, passed away 1st April 1957 in Marshall (Saline, Missouri). He was aged 68 and listed as a ‘Retired Minister’. The informant’s name is given as ‘Mrs Santa Clause’ (see below).
Santa is buried in Blue Lick Cemetery in Marshall City and here is his gravestone.
Bless you, Santa.
Santa’s parents were William Clause and Henrietta (‘Rittie’) Samuels. And here they are:
William was born 28 February 1856 in Saline County (Missouri) and died 25 April 1917, also in Saline. Like his son Santa, he is buried in Blue Lick.
William’s life can be traced using the US censuses, too. We won’t look at them all here, but, going backwards, we find him in 1880 as a married man but living alone as a boarder in St Louis, Missouri, and working as a labourer. The census notes that both his parents come from Germany (see below).
Going back to 1860 (see below), we find William himself as a young boy and living with his parents, Alex (or Alexander Joseph as he later appears) and Sarah. It is worth noting that on different censuses, the surname can be Claus/Clause/Klaus.
Now … let’s take a diversion. Because the woman who Alex (Santa’s grandfather) married was a Sarah Fanning. That name should cause the ears of anyone familiar with Irish names to prick up. ‘Fanning’ is an Irish surname. Could Santa have some Irish ancestry?
This is where readers will want to start verifying the evidence for themselves. Although some of it looks OK (i.e. there is accompanying documentation on various web sites), I have not personally verified what follows, but I will give some relevant web sites for you to follow-up on. Having said all that …. Here we go….
Alexander Clause marries Sarah/Sally Fanning on 13 March 1842. Sarah herself is from Ralls (Missouri), and she dies around 1880 in Camden (Missouri).
Sarah’s own parents are given as Middleton John Fanning (1785-1838) and Margaret See. Middleton was seemingly born in Kentucky and died in Ralls. Middleton Fanning does appear on the 1830 US census and there is a document on Ancestry.com that gives details of Middleton’s estate with a Joseph Fanning as the administrator.
Middleton Fanning’s parents were John Middleton Fanning (1761-1803) and Mary Parks. John was seemingly born in Sussex (Virginia).
John’s own parents were apparently Bryan Fanning II (1730-1767) and Rachel Rottenberry [a wonderful name!]. And Bryan was born in Amelia (Virginia) (see below).
Birth Year: 1730
Spouse Name: Rachel Rottenbury
Marriage Year: 1761
Marriage State: VA
Number Pages: 1
Household Members: Name Age
Now, Bryan Fanning II was the son of Bryan(t) Fanning I (1700-1765) and his wife, Elizabeth Echols.
And now we are honing in on the possible (?probable) Irish connection itself. John Fanning’s parents were Laughlin Terence Fanning and Elizabeth Ellis. It was Laughlin who was born in Ireland – possibly in Tipperary – and so, here we have Santa’s Irish connection.
But there’s more! If this is all true, then some researchers have continued on and connected this Fanning to the Fannings of Gortfree, Ballingarry Parish (County Tipperary, Ireland) and thence to the sheriffs of Ballingarry (who were Fannings) and allegedly right back to an Oliver Fanning of Ballingarry who was born around 1365!!
So, there you have it. Santa Claus probably has Irish ancestry, and he possibly has it specifically from Gortfree, Ballingarry in County Tipperary.
I would encourage any keen genealogists reading this to check up and follow-through on the veracity of the information provided herein.
Now there’s a little Christmas project – proving or confirming previous research that Santa Claus had Ballingarry ancestry.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas Everybody!
Ancestry.co.uk [record sets and selected online family trees]
http://www.geneamusings.com/2006/11/this-santa- claus-isnt- coming-to- town.html
By Patrick Roycroft