Nov 092014
Richard Burke

I’m still chipping away at one of my most interesting genealogical problems: Where did my third great grandfather David Burk (abt 1824-1891) come from in Ireland? When did he come to Canada? And who did he come to Canada with?

What do we know already?

We do know some important things about David:

  • We know that by the early 1850s, he was settled on a farm in Mariposa Township, Victoria County, Ontario. There are several tax assessment rolls which place David Burk in Mariposa at this time. (See my earlier post on this).
  • We likely know as much as there is to know about his children and their descendants.  (A lot of this work was done by our Burk cousins here).
  • We know that David was Protestant, an important detail in Ireland.
  • We know that David and his son Benjamin took up land in Minden near Haliburton around 1870.  This is where David and his wife Elizabeth die.

In other words, we have solid information about David’s life after he came to Canada and after 1850.  Before David appears on the tax assessment rolls in Mariposa, everything is murky.  There was some oral family history that suggested that David came with several siblings–one person posted on this blog that they believe 12 siblings came together.  Not surprisingly, finding these siblings has been the most successful way to piece together this puzzle so far. That said, there is a lot of conflicting information about David’s siblings: some of which I’m going to try to sort out here.

*Just a reminder that the surname is spelled Burk or Burke.  It seems to have been a random choice. I try to use the one that each individual preferred.

Almost-confirmed siblings

There are two almost-confirmed, as-good-as-we-can-tell siblings of David Burk: Richard Burke and Esther Burk Graham. Although there is no birth information that absolutely confirms Richard and Esther as David’s siblings, there is strong circumstantial evidence.

Richard Burke

Richard Burke

Richard Burke (1836-1907).  Richard Burke and his children moved from Mariposa Township to Carievale, Saskatchewan in the 1880s.  Several of David Burk’s children joined Richard and his family there, which, I believe, suggests that Richard and David were brothers.  I’ve written about these connections here. Richard’s descendants knew that Richard had been born in County Monaghan, an important breakthrough!

Esther Burk Graham (1839-1916).  Richard’s descendants also wrote down their family history!  One of Richard Burke’s sons wrote a family history, in which he recounts how his siblings stayed at an aunt’s farm in Manitoba on the way to Saskatchewan.  The aunt was married to David Graham.  A little digging and I was able to find a marriage certificate for Esther Burk and David Graham, a marriage certificate which listed Esther’s parents as Benjamin and Jane! Another breakthrough.

Because the family likely came from County Monaghan and the father of David, Richard, and Esther was Benjamin, another researcher on quickly pointed out to me that this family could be the Burk family from Aghabog parish in County Monaghan, listed in the Church of Ireland Survey of 1821.  Here, a Benjamin Burk is living in Drumacreeve and has one son and two daughters. If this is David’s father, we can deduce that he had three older siblings in addition to the younger siblings Richard and Esther.  Note also that there is a big age gap between David and Richard (about 12 years), which makes it quite likely that there are additional siblings to fill this gap.

Other possible siblings or relatives

There have been clues to the identities of the other siblings.
Joseph and Richard.  Oral family history that was passed down in one branch of the Burk family suggested that there were brothers Richard and David. This is a quote from a previous version of our Burk cousins’ web site.

Family history indicates that David did have brothers in Canada. An older brother, Joseph Burk was married also to a Roman Catholic and was  not to be recognized by David, or associated with. There is a possibility that Joseph went west with the opening of the New Territory.

There was also a younger brother, Richard, who had a lot of children and went off to Australia.

Obviously, the details in this oral history might be a bit wrong.  However, there still might be some clues here to follow.  Richard was the one who went west, however, perhaps there was a brother Joseph who married a Catholic.  And perhaps Joseph or another brother went to Australia. I have tried to trace Joseph but haven’t had much luck.

William and Bridget. The Burk cousins’ web site suggests that there were two siblings named William and Bridget.  I’m not sure where this information came from, but it could be an interesting clue.  Bridget is the name of an Irish Catholic saint, so I’m not sure that the Protestant Burks would name their daughter Bridget.  Nevertheless, it is good to keep this information in mind.  Perhaps Bridget was the Catholic wife of William, and William was the brother who was ostracized?
Mary Jane Burke Puley obituary from the Lindsay Post, 1906

Mary Jane Burke Puley’s obituary from the Lindsay Post, 1906

Mary Jane Burke Puley (1837-1906).  Now Mary Jane is an interesting one.  I came across Mary Jane when I was researching the Puley family.  Benjamin Burk, son of David Burk, married Mariah Puley, the daughter of another Bible Christian named Philip Puley. Mariah had an older brother named Thomas who was married to Mary Jane Burk.  According to Mary Jane’s obituary, she was born in Ireland in 1833 to David and Mary Burk.  She came to Canada in 1843 with her brothers who settled in Mariposa. Mary Jane and Thomas Puley did not have any children, but they raised Mary Jane’s niece, the daughter of Ellen Burke and Robert Casey.

Of course, we know that David’s father was Benjamin and not David, but there are some facts that suggest that these two Burk families were closely related:
  1. Two Puleys married two Burkes.  Thomas Puley married Mary Jane Burke.  Benjamin Burk married Mariah Puley.
  2. Both families were Bible Christians, and this community was a small one in Mariposa and in Victoria County.
  3. OK, this one’s the kicker.  Mary Jane’s sister Ellen Burk Casey is buried directly next to David Burk’s infant daughter Violet in the Little Britain Bible Christian Cemetery, perhaps even in the same plot (it’s hard to tell the plot divisions from the cemetery transcripts). In addition, Ellen Casey is buried next to Jane Graham, possibly the grandmother of Esther Burk’s husband David Graham.

So what does this mean?  It is possible that the obituary lists the wrong names for Mary Jane and Ellen’s parents.  I’ve certainly seen that before.  By 1906, there would have been few Burkes left in Victoria County to help with the obituary and the names could be wrong.  It is also possible that David and Mary were Mary Jane and Ellen’s parents, and David, father of Mary Jane and Ellen, was a cousin of Benjamin.  Regardless, I think that it fair to conclude that the two families are related in some way.

Ellen Burke Casey (1826-1860), sister of Mary Jane, is therefore another possible sibling of David Burk.  There is some additional evidence of a relationship between the Casey family and David Burk.  David Burk bought property with John Casey who is likely the father of Robert Casey.
Catherine Burk Pogue (1812- 1887). Catherine and her husband Alexander Pogue have a farm on Con A, Lot 18 in Mariposa, which is very close to David Burk’s farm. We know that Catherine and Alexander came to Canada in 1839 because their eldest daughter Margaret was born at sea. David Burk is married to Elizabeth Pogue, a potential relative of Alexander Pogue.  Born in 1812, Catherine would have to be the eldest sibling in the Burk family if she is indeed David’s sister.

Here’s what we are left with

If we assume (and this is a BIG, ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE assumption) that all of the above people are David Burk’s siblings, we would have a family tree that looks like this.  Note: please don’t copy this without all of these qualifiers.  I’m really not sure that this is right–it is just a guess at this time.

  1. Catherine Burk Pogue (1812-1887)
  2. Unknown daughter (per the Church of Ireland 1821 survey)
  3. Unknown son, possibly Joseph.  Oral family history has it that David had an older brother Joseph.  Church of Ireland 1821 survey lists a son to Benjamin.
  4. David Burk (1824-1891)
  5. Ellen Burk Casey (1826-1860)
  6. Gap – possibly other siblings like William
  7. Richard Burke (1836-1907)
  8. Mary Jane Burke Puley (1837-1906).  There are 10 months and six days between Richard and Mary Jane, making it possible that they are siblings.
  9. Esther Burk Graham (1839-1916).  There are 27 years between Catherine and Esther.  If there were twelve siblings, this is not impossible.  Usually, I calculate two years between siblings which would be a total of 24 years in this case.  Add in an unfortunate miscarriage or a bit longer between some children, and you easily reach 27 years.

Where to go from here

I have been whittling away at this problem for quite some time.  Here’s what else I’m doing:

  • I have list of all of the Burk(e)s in Victoria County.  So far, no luck matching them up or connecting them.
  • There are two other David Burk(e)s from Aghabog who live in Ontario.  Definitely relatives, but I’m not sure how.  I’ll write another post on these Davids at one point.
  • I’m looking at all of the connections between the Burk, Shouldice, Pogue and Casey families in Mariposa. This makes my head spin, but it could be a useful line of inquiry.

Please do let me know if you are interested in this family and/or if you have any relevant info!