Cemeteries, terrebonne parish

The mystery of the Canning graves in Gibson

When you line up family graves like the Brady Bunch and just put names without dates, you confuse people.

The Cannings are buried in St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery in Gibson. They’re in an obvious family plot near the entrance close to the highway that runs between the cemetery and the bayou. Because the plot is near the garbage can for discarded flowers, they caught my attention during a recent visit – mostly because it’s a grid of graves with just names on them.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed the Cannings. The running theory on Find A Grave is that the Cannings had a bunch of children who died young. So many children.

All kidding aside, I can solve this mystery. Years ago, I discovered a book of burial records at the Houma library. It has burial records for St. Andrew, St. Lawrence and St. Patrick. I’ve tried to buy the book without success since it’s been out of print for years. So, over the years, I’ve Xeroxed the contents. In my defense, those burial records are an invaluable resource and I’m not posting the pages on the internet.

But back to the Cannings.

We have Sara, Margaret, Edward, James, Katherine and Madaline in the family plot.

James and Margaret aren’t in the burial records, but this resource says they’re James Canning and his wife, Margaret Whalen. I agree.

James Canning immigrated to Louisiana from Ireland and settled in Gibson, where he farmed and raised six children: Kate, Mary, Fannie, Sara, Edward and Madaline. According to census records, all of the children were born in Ireland. Census records are insistent – decade after decade – that the kids were born in Ireland.

Here I think the census records are wrong. James and Margaret married in Houma. It’s not likely they would’ve married twice. My theory is that James and a brother named John immigrated together to Louisiana, where James met Margaret. But, it’s a slippery path when you start making assumptions about the Cannings.

In 1900, Margaret (the mother) died, becoming the first occupant of the family plot in the Gibson cemetery. Exactly when James died is unclear, but he, too, went into the family plot.

Mary was the first of their children to die – at age 69 – in 1935. She is also buried in Gibson although I didn’t get a photo of her marker. Fannie – the only one of the siblings to marry – died next, at age 80 in 1954. Her husband, Ivy Rochelle, is buried in the Canning family plot.

Now we’re down to four children: Edward, Sara, Kate and Madaline. In 1950, they were ages 78, 82, 79 and 70. They lived together in Gibson, where they probably regaled each other with stories from their childhoods in Ireland if the census records are to be believed.

By 1960, the remaining siblings were dead. Far from dying as babies, all but one lived into their 90s.


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