Feeling Stuck. Not sure where to search from here.

Burke Family PlotThere is nothing like being stuck in genealogy, because when you’re stuck, you’re stuck. For some time, finding information about my great-great-grandfather John Burke such as where was he born in Ireland and when, who were his parents, and possibly any other information about him has proven especially difficult. The information about him is generally the exact same about his wife Ellen Kerwin because I am just as stuck with her and all the records I have begin from the time of their marriage. Trying to get ideas and taking a step back to review, I came across Crista Cowan with Ancestry.com who has a video the YouTube very fittingly called Genealogy Brainstorming: I’m Stuck. Now What? Crista Cowan’s advice from the video that stuck with me was what do you know and how do you know it. Along with documentation, I have made contact with as many older relatives as possible, and none of them have been able to definitively say where John Burke was born and how they know it, and not one knows the names of his parents. Reviewing what I know about my great-great-grandfather John Burke, I have come to find that there is nothing I have before 1886. Even with the information I have, where do I go from here? If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear it. The following is everything I have including marriage, census, death certificate, obituary, and his children’s birth, death, and obituaries (the children’s info is a sum-up since it is not as informative). So here is what I know and the documents I have to say why I know it:

Church marriage register from April 29, 1886 at Nativity Church in Chicago, IL
Marriage license and certificate issued April 22, 1886, married on April 29, 1886, and filed with the county clerk on July 30, 1886 stating John Burke was 27 years old and Nellie Kerwin was 22 years old (John born approximately in 1859 and Nellie born approximately in 1864)
On both documents the witnesses are Michael Burke and Maggie Dougherty. From contact with a relative, John Burke had a brother named Michael so it appears his brother was a witness for his marriage. I have no other information about his brother.

John Burke and Ellen Kerwin had 10 children—9 boys and 1 girl—unfortunately, their only girl did not survive childhood. There are other records for each child, but only repeating the same information about John and Ellen, but not cities of their parents’ birth only Ireland or the names of grandparents.
Baptismal records from Nativity Church for all children include the name of the child, the name of the parents, child’s date of birth and date of baptism, name of the sponsors, and the name of the priest.
Here are the children in order of birth:
1887 – Thomas Burke
1888 – Michael Francis Burke (baptism male sponsor is Michael Burke)
1890 – John Joseph Burke
1892 – William Burke; also Cook County Birth Register, no first name but same date of birth and parents, includes number of child born to mother: 4, address: 938 38th Street, father’s age: 35 (born approximately 1857)
1894 – Patrick Burke; also Cook County Birth Register, no first name but same date of birth and parents, includes number of child born to mother: 5, address: 988 38th Street, father’s age: 38 (born approximately 1856)
1895 – James Burke; also State of Illinois Birth Certificate, no first name but same date of birth and parents, includes number of child born to mother: 6, place of birth: 938 38th Street, father’s age: 39 (born approximately 1856) and mother’s age: 29 (born approximately 1866)
1898 – Edward Daniel Burke
1900 – Mary Burke; also State of Illinois Birth Certificate as Mamie Burke with same date of birth and parents, includes number of child born to mother: 8, place of birth: 3765 So. Morgan Street, father’s age: 41 (born approximately 1859) and mother’s age: 36 (born approximately 1864); Cook County Birth Register with the same information
1903 – Christopher Burke and Joseph Burke (twins)

US Census Records:
address: 3765 So. Morgan
John Burke is listed as the head of the household that is rented, showing Nellie as his wife and their 8 children born up to date. He is 42 years old and born April 1858. The home is not shared with any other people or families. This census record is interesting because it lists the month and year of birth of every individual. The dates of the 8 children appear to be so close to the actual dates that it seems likely John and Nellie gave their information to the enumerator because there is so much potential to get all of the names with their month and year dates to be incorrect. It does not seem likely that a neighbor would know with the information for each person with such accuracy.
This census states John arrived in the US in 1869, which would make him a minor at his arrival with the relative consistency of his age from his marriage in 1886 up to the 1900 census. The next field is redundant, but it states he lived in the US for 31 years and that his immigration status is “Na” for naturalized. Sadly, it does not give a date of naturalization because that is a long span of time to search such a common name. Either way, immigration records prior to 1906 are not very informative for genealogical purposes.
address: 605 38th Street
John Burke is the head of household for a rented home. He is 54 and listed as a widow (Nellie died in 1907 – no information is listed because the record did not ask) and living with his sons Thomas, Mike, Willie, Patrick, James, Edward, Joseph, and Christopher. John Jr. is living somewhere else and Mary died in 1902 (same issue as Nellie’s death certificate, no information about parents were fields on the record). It shows John and his parents all born in Illinois and no information regarding citizenship is filled in.
There is another family living with John and his boys. They are a husband and wife with their three children. The parents were born in Germany and the children in Illinois. I have not looked into this other family, but likely not related if the husband and wife were both born in Germany. Still, a quick Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org search couldn’t hurt.
address: 3802 South Halstead St.
John Burke is the head of household for a rented home. He is suddenly 42 but still listed as a widow and now only living with his two youngest sons Joseph and Christopher. Here, John is listed again as being born in Ireland as well as his parents. However, his citizenship information is very different than the other information on previous records. This census records shows he immigrated in 1890, which is not possible four years and 3 kids in Illinois, that he is naturalized, and that he naturalized in 1896, which may be possible since he naturalized prior to 1900. But then again, he may have naturalized around 6 years after arriving at approximately 18 years of age. That is still a good gap of time to find naturalization records that are lacking much detail.
There is also a “brother in law” James De Ross living with them who is 47, a widow, and an alien who arrived in the US in 1905 born in England. I have not been able to find any other information about this guy, but John and James both are listed as laborers at a packing house. Since the information about John is far less consistent here than his other documentation, it seems likely a neighbor may have submitted the information to the enumerator and as an easy answer for a co-worker and friend, this James may be mistaken instead as a brother in law. I still look for information about him when I think of it just in case anyway.

Death Certificate – State of Illinois, Cook County
died: May 20, 1922 in Chicago, IL at age 64 of aortic regurgitation
residence: 3813 Wallace St. (same address as his son John Jr. in the 1930 census)
how long in the US? not answered
name of father and name of mother: unknown
birthplace of father and mother: Ireland
informant: John Burke [son], address: 3813 Wallace St
buried: Mount Olivet in Chicago, IL
From the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 21, 1922 and mentions only his immediate family of wife and children, residence at 3813 Wallace St, and states funeral notice later, but no other information found in obituaries within the following week.
Plot information at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Chicago, IL in Lot 368, Section 31; buried with wife, daughter, 3 of his sons, a daughter in law, and a granddaughter.


6 thoughts on “Feeling Stuck. Not sure where to search from here.

  1. We have some Burkes. The daughter and one son landed in Louisville, I’ll do some checking for you. Helen and,,,ooh ,,,can’t remember off the top of my muddled head …let ya know

  2. Births in Ireland are notoriously tough to trace. I have an Irish GG Grandfather who moved to Scotland, and I admit to not even trying to trace him back to Ireland.

    Have you looked at passenger and emigration lists for the time frame you suspect, for a family including two sons John and Michael?

  3. Burke is such a very common family name in Ireland! Many Irish settled here in northern Michigan ’round 1860, and Burke is a familiar name here on Beaver Island. Many Irish came through Canada, Good Luck!

  4. Some Irish families named their children according to a traditional pattern. First born son is named after mother’s father. second son born is named after the father’s father. Something like that. Might be worth looking into if you haven’t already.

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