Chasing dead ends is a research hazard

Common surnames like McCabe create myriad conundrums for family historians. Preceded by first names with widespread popularity during a particular era – like Patrick and Bridget – means there are hundreds of individuals identified in a search, any one of which could be the person you are looking for.

Or more often, not.

Countless hours and gigabytes of bandwidth are wasted in the forlorn pursuit of unrelated families with tantalising name patterns.

It’s a lesson learned often in the growing of family trees and many amateur genealogists have pruned whole branches that eventually proved to have nothing to do with the roots they were investigating.

My McCabe maybe, but more likely not

So my curiosity was not especially piqued by this entry in the list of graves at Old Boulder Cemetery, but I did mark the entry for routine investigation.

McCABE female 14 Oct 1899 1hr 164/10 RCOutback Family History

Later research in the Western Australia online BDM index revealed this DEATH entry.

This records the death of an unnamed female McCabe, one day old, father Patrick, mother’s maiden name Bridget Farley, registered at Boulder in 1899.

Interesting and coincidental perhaps, another path in the maze of common names, but not the McCabes who were of interest to me. My Bridget Farley was 59 years of age, a little old for child-bearing and my Patrick McCabe was married to Jane Clark.

The index also listed another record in that year, the a BIRTH record for my McCabe family history.

So that was the piece of information I filed away. I kept the other snippet in research notes for no particular reason other than the example of fortuity.

My Bridget Farley was 59 years of age, a little old for child-bearing and my Patrick McCabe was married to Jane Clark.
In the goldfields town of Boulder, a Patrick McCabe and his wife Bridget lost a baby girl in the same year as my Patrick McCabe and his wife Jane had a baby girl.

You get what you pay for

Family history takes time and every family historian has their own approach to research. I like to establish an outline, to grasp the overview of events and circumstances.

To continue the metaphor of the family tree, the first goal is to get the roots and main branches in place, then sub-branches and twigs.

Final verification of data and completeness of information adds the leaves with all their colour and variety to complete the picture.

Gathering evidence

The first goal for me is primarily a web task. Sites like are invaluable in building the tree quickly because much of what I want to establish has been often explored previously by others.

Similarly, forums and discussion groups can corroborate findings. A twenty entry thread on RootsWeb in November 2007 seemed to confirm that the unnamed baby McCabe was no relation of mine.

Family historians also learn, although not so quickly, that the web is a great source of misinformation. Genealogy sites can give authority to mistruths which are accepted through ubiquitous ‘hints’ by dozens of researchers. False trails become established as facts just by the number of instances in use; a credibility by consensus founded on error.

And so it was for baby Jane.

The cost of proof

Family history starts to get expensive when the historian moves to the stage of verifying information, usually from original source documents. Some information is available free, or at minimal cost, but now that web genealogy is becoming almost totally corporatised data comes at a price.

In Australia government bodies have become increasingly mercenary too. Western Australia and NSW provide free basic online BDM searches, but Victoria charges you for the dubious privilege of discovering they don’t have what you want.

Once you have confirmed your record obtaining the original document is the next financial hurdle. A digital image from Victoria costs $21 and you can download it immediately. Western Australia and NSW both charge $31 and can take up to 4 weeks to deliver by by post.

When researching the McCabe family in Boulder I needed to verify quite a few events. John and Bridget had eight children, six of whom went to Boulder. Between them there were five weddings, fifteen grandchildren and a dozen or more deaths all in Western Australia.

Getting all the original documents for just one branch of the McCabe family in one location would cost more than $1000. It was a natural aversion to unnecessary spending that kept me from finding out the truth about baby Jane McCabe earlier.

What really happened to Baby Jane?

But I had hit a brick wall. I couldn’t find any information on what happened to Jane McCabe.

All of Pat and Jane’s other children appeared scattered throughout newspaper and school reports in Boulder and of course I knew them.They were the parents of my mother’s cousin’s and lived until I was in my twenties and longer. But no Jane.

Inevitably that lead to the purchase of her Birth Certificate. And I was disappointed that there were no surprises. Patrick and Jane were parents to Jane McCabe born 12th of October 1899 on the Golden Gate Lease at Boulder.

Couldn’t be clearer than that.

Baby Jane McCabe's Birth Certificate

Baby Jane McCabe’s Birth Certificate

Too much coincidence

I don’t recall why I took the next step of buying the Death Certificate for the unnamed baby McCabe. Maybe just frustration, or a growing suspicion. But it proved to finally solve the mystery.

There would be too much coincidence for the baby born at the Golden Gate Lease on October 12th 1899 fathered by Patrick McCabe, miner, to not be the same child as the one who died the next day, one hour old, with the same father.

Death Certificate of Unnamed McCabe

Death Certificate of Unnamed Female McCabe

And so finally, the truth of what happened to Baby Jane McCabe. Patrick and Jane’s first child died just after midnight on Friday 13th of October 1899 having been born one hour before. She was buried at [Old] Boulder Cemetery on Saturday 14th October 1899.

But what about the error in the Death Certificate, and the baby’s name. Well that’s where the family historian has to become the family storyteller and create a narrative that can be supported by the known facts.

Jane’s death was registered by the undertaker A. Read of Burt Street Boulder on October 25th, a week and a half after the burial.

The short trip to Kalgoorlie to comply with statutory requirements was a regular part of the undertaker’s routine. He read the details from his notes for the Registrar, Mr. Clancy, to enter in the book.

It’s all too easy to imagine the conversation between Patrick McCabe and the undertaker Mr. Reid on the Saturday of the baby’s death.

“I’ll need your details for the paperwork, Mr McCabe” said Mr. Reid, “and then I’ll leave you to be with your wife.”

“I just want your name and occupation …… ”

“Patrick, Patrick McCabe. I’m a miner.”

“…… and what’s mother’s maiden name Mr McCabe?”

“Bridget Farley” replied Patrick.

A loosely worded question, a misunderstanding perhaps.

But from that point on, at least in the official records of Western Australia, Bridget McCabe was her own grand-daughter’s mother.

Naming Baby Jane

The only loose end in the story is the baby’s name, but that’s a simple tale.

In all probability, baby Jane was named before her funeral, but it wasn’t until October 30th that her birth was officially registered by her mother Jane McCabe. And that of course was nearly a week after the death of unnamed female McCabe was registered.

After 115 years it would be nice to set the records straight.

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