Owen Shalvoy is the 4th great-grandfather of my girlfriend Tiffany Church. He is also one of the first of her Irish ancestors to make the journey to America.
Unlike all of my ancestors though, the information on my girlfriend’s ancestors (including Owen Shalvoy) is abundant and incredible. In fact, it turns out that a research group exists called The Shalvoy/Scollin Family Research Committee. And this group, all who descend from Owen Shalvoy, published a Family History Article entitled “A Short History of Our Shalvoy and Scollin Ancestors.” They also maintain a website with all of their genealogical research on their Shalvoy and Scollin ancestry.
According to their research, Owen was baptized on October 6th, 1819 at the Nobber Catholic Church. And as you will see, this date conflicts with all of the ages provided on census records and even the age listed on his gravestone. It is theorized though that Owen actually thought he was much younger than he really was, 13 years younger to be exact.
More on that later though…
On Owen’s baptismal certificate, his parents are listed as being James Shalvoy and Bridget Clarke Shalvoy, while his sponsors are listed as being Owen Clarke and again Bridget Clarke Shalvoy. It is also believed that Owen and his family were much better off than the majority of their fellow Irish farmers (an Irish middle class if you will).
In fact, leading up to their emigration, the Shalvoys leased a considerable amount of land and like many other Irish at the time, were farmers. In fact, a Tithe Applotment Report conducted in northern County Meath in 1826, shows that there were two Shalvoys renting land in Cregg townland in Nobber Parish: (1) Thomas who held 23+ acres and (2) James, Owen’s father, who held 14½ acres. It can be safely assumed that Owen along with his many other siblings spent their childhood and young adult life working on their family farm.
Eventually though, Owen, his mother and many of his siblings made the trip to America presumably to escape the devastating effects felt from the Great Famine. And based on the fact that they left at the tail end of the famine, it can be assumed that the Shalvoys were probably a bit wealthier than your typical Irish family since they were able to stick it out a little bit longer than the average Irish immigrant. This pattern seems to continue as they break free of the traditional mold of simply settling and looking for work in the port city in which they land.
Interestingly enough, the Shalvoys made their way to Danbury, Connecticut and established a residence there becoming a fairly prominent family in the community. So, what made them decide to trek northward to Danbury instead of just settling in New York City like the majority of their Irish comrades?
Well, based on the research performed by the committee, they believe that they must have known somebody in Danbury being that it was typical for Irish immigrants to only venture to new places when they knew someone already established in that city. Now, they don’t really have any idea of who that person was and thus cannot confirm why they chose to make the almost 70 mile journey. Nevertheless, the Shalvoys made it and established themselves in Danbury during the early 1850s. In Owen’s obituary, it is also stated that he immigrated to Danbury in May of 1851.
After a few years in Danbury, Owen must have met the love of his life, a woman who he spent more than 50 years with because on February 28, 1854, he married Margaret Scollin. Funny thing though is that Owen’s sister Rose ended up getting married to Margaret’s brother Henry Scollin. So, either way these four were destined to be brother-and-sister-in-laws?
Moving forward, between 1854 and 1866, Owen and Margaret had a total of 8 children: James Henry, Thomas Eugene, Mary Jane, Patrick Francis, Hugh (who died young), Hugh Christopher, Ann Elizabeth, and Joseph Clement (who also died young).
He became an American citizen on March 23, 1859 and he first appears in census records in 1860.
As you can see, Owen is listed as being a hatter, and according to the family history, it is said that he first worked as a farm laborer in Danbury, but then learned the trade of hatting.
By 1880, you can see that Owen and the majority of his children were all working as hatters. In fact, for many years Danbury was known as the “Hat Capital of the World” based on the number of hats manufactured there. If interested in learning more, the research committee wrote up a nice piece on their background as hatters which can be found here. They said it best when saying:
It offered the Irish immigrant and his children a way to earn enough money to support his family, to buy a house, to live in America. The story of the hatters of Danbury is the story of our Shalvoy family.
By 1900, Owen had retired and was tending his own land, which by this time, had grown quite large. Clearly, he had done pretty well for himself being just another Irish immigrant.
Personally, when I reflect on the idea of the American Dream, I see Owen Shalvoy. For me, a descendent of Irish immigrants, his story is inspiring as one day he was just yet another Irish immigrant, and the next he was an American landowner and success story. It is clear that the man was an extremely hard worker and cared very much about his family. He was a devoted husband and father as well as a prominent figure in the Danbury community and all of that is made abundantly clear in the way that he is described in his obituary.
Unfortunately, Owen Shalvoy, like his obituary says, lost his wife only two months after their 50th Wedding Anniversary and then subsequently passed away about 5 years later on May 29, 1909 following a stroke. Now, note on his death certificate that his birth date is given as May 16, 1832. Although the month and day may be correct, it is highly doubtful that the year is right. We know that he was baptized in 1819, which would mean that Owen was probably around 90 years old at the time of his death, not 77.
Nevertheless, Owen obviously lived a long, happy, and prosperous life, despite living through one of the toughest times in Ireland’s history whether he believed he was 77 or 90. And for me, he is a testament as to what can happen when you come to America and work really hard. Like I already said, one day just another Irish farmer immigrant, the next an American landowner and success story. Owen Shalvoy is exemplary of the American Dream and I’m glad others before me have already captured this great man’s story.
It certainly made my job writing about him much, much easier!