Saturday, 20 December 2014

Just another brick-wall

In 1892, Michael Byrne married Elizabeth Mahon and moved into the Mahon home in Malahide, Co. Dublin. One hundred years later, the Mahons still referred to us Byrnes as ‘blow-ins from County Wicklow.’ Maybe they believed our ancestors actually came from Wicklow or maybe Wicklow was advocated solely as it was the historic homeland of the Byrne sept after the Anglo-Norman invasion – it is not remembered. On the contrary though, in both the 1901 and 1911 census returns, Michael Byrne was shown as born in Co. Dublin. He completed the 1911 return himself, maybe adding some credence to this claim. Whether from Dublin, or Wicklow, or from somewhere else entirely, the ‘blow-in’ gibe clearly labels the Byrnes as ‘unwelcome newcomers’ to Malahide, so, presumably not originally 'from' the area.


We might not know where he came from, but we do know Michael Byrne loved his greyhounds. The records for Swords courthouse show he first purchased a licence for a greyhound there, three months before to his marriage, in 1892. The absence of a dog licence in Michael’s name, prior to 1892, opens up the possibility he purchased one in another district, and perhaps in the district of his birth. 

It seems slightly surreal to trace one’s ancestors using the Irish dog licence registers, but that is exactly what I attempted to do. 

In 1891, the year before my great-granddad first appeared in the registers of Swords courthouse, eighty-two dog licences were issued to men named Michael Byrne in Ireland. Only one of these was issued in Dublin, twenty-five were issued in Wicklow and the remainder were issued across the country. Not all the registers have been indexed yet, but it is still possible that one of these eighty-two licences was purchased by my great-grandfather. 

The Dublin licence was bought in Swords by Michael Byrne of Pickardstown. He owned a brown terrier. This man also purchased a licence for the dog in 1892, so cannot be my great-grandfather. Our Michael was living in Malahide by 1892. 

Of the twenty-five licences issued to men named Michael Byrne in Co. Wicklow, only one was for a greyhound – a yellow greyhound. It was purchased on 20 March 1891, in Avoca, by Michael Byrne of Ballinamona. Michael also bought a licence for a cocker [spaniel] that year, but did not buy any dog licence in Avoca in 1892. In fact, no Michael Byrne bought a licence for a greyhound in all of Wicklow in 1892, at least according to the available registers. So, like my great-granddad, this Michael may have moved in the intervening year. If it was my great-granddad, and there is no real reason to think it was, he left both dogs behind, as our Michael licensed a blue greyhound in Swords in 1892.

Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register (greyhound), Avoca , 1891
Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register, Avoca courthouse, 1891

The only other potential Michael Byrne was a man from Edenderry in King’s County (now Offaly). He had two greyhounds in 1891, one was black and the other was brindle coloured. This Michael purchased a licence for three greyhounds in Edenderry in 1892, and four in 1893, so can be ruled out of the reckoning. 

So, I cannot say I found my great-grandfather this week and as my mother says, maybe he does not want to be found. A possible townland of origin may have been identified - on its own yielding nothing conclusive - just another brick wall really. Still, one day it may prove to be of interest. I’ll also check out the licences issued in 1890 and earlier years. I may need all the help I can get with this one!

Source: ‘Ireland Dog Licence Registers, 1866 – 1914’, index and images, Findmypast (subscription site).  

Dog image: From paintings by Louis Fuertes in Ernest Baynes, The Book of Dogs, National Geographic Society, Washington D.C., 1919, The Internet Archive. 

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Using Dog Licence Registers to find an elusive Great-Grandfather

Michael Byrne (c.1868 – 1927), Yellow Walls, Malahide
Michael Byrne (c.1868 – 1927)
In most countries, genealogists rely on decennial census returns to locate their ancestors’ whereabouts, but, in Ireland, these records have mostly been lost and we've had to adopt other means of research. One of the few facts I know about my Dad’s paternal grandfather, Michael Byrne, is that he owned a ‘prizewinning greyhound.’ I've even seen a photograph of him with the dog and from the time Findmypast (subscription web-site) promised to index the Irish dog licence registers, I have hoped they would contain a clue as to my great-grandfather's origins.

Last week Findmypast published the registers for the Swords’ Courthouse, in north County Dublin, near where my great-granddad lived. He was sure to have been included!

Concerned with the number of stray dogs roaming the country, the government passed the Dog Regulation (Ireland) Act in 1865, the same decade my great-grandfather was born, and the indexed registers for Swords are now available from then until 1914.  Dog owners were required to pay a fee of two shillings per animal, plus a six pence registration fee. The registers list the number of dogs each person owned, their sex, colour and breed. In 1914, Michael Byrne of Yellow Walls owned three female dogs, two black and white greyhounds and one red Irish fox terrier.  

Irish terrier in left foreground


Michael first obtained a licence for the Irish terrier in 1912. Up until then, he only ever had one dog, or at least only one dog licence. It was always for a greyhound, usually a black and white or blue one. He purchased the licence in Swords, during the last few days of March, every year from 1892 to 1914, except 1906. It was the licence granted in 1892 that was most interesting.

Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register, Swords courthouse, 1892
Michael Byrne, Dog Licence Register, Swords courthouse, 1892

On 29 June 1892, Michael Byrne married my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Mahon, the only child of James and Margaret (McDonnell) Mahon from Yellow Walls, Malahide. Michael’s address at this time was also Yellow Walls. At some point, around the time of his marriage, he moved into the Mahon family home, and the Byrne family have lived there ever since. Their marriage certificate was the very earliest document, so far found, relating to my great-grandfather’s existence. The dog licence, purchased in 1892, was dated three months prior to their marriage - only three months - but prior to their marriage nonetheless. Michael’s address was shown as the Swords Road, the road leading from Malahide to Swords, partly running through the townland of Yellow Walls. Although he did not purchase a dog licence in Swords in 1891, or earlier, this proves Michael owned a greyhound before his marriage. 

It means: either, Michael did not own a licenced dog prior to 1892, irrespective of when he moved to Malahide and nothing else will be learned from the country’s dog licence registers.  Or, it means, he purchased his dog licences elsewhere, prior to 1892, and the dog licence registers of another courthouse might yet hold the key to his origins. The search is on...

Source: ‘Ireland Dog Licence Registers, 1866 – 1914’, index and images, Findmypast (subscription site).  

Dog image: From paintings by Louis Fuertes in Ernest Baynes, The Book of Dogs, National Geographic Society, Washington D.C., 1919, The Internet Archive. 


Previous posts about Michael Byrne:  Terrazzo Byrne! and Black Sheep Sunday ~ an obtuse crime 

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 6 December 2014

A new ‘cousin’ and a sad accident

This week started out on a new ancestral trail, that of Joseph Sarsfield, a witness to my GGG-grandfather John Radcliffe’s second marriage in 1861. If you think tragedy only followed our Radcliffe lineage, think again, for poor Joseph met with a most horrific end. 

Church of St Francis, Great Lonsdale Street East, Melbourne, 1864
Great Lonsdale Street East (1864) by Francois Cogne (1829-1883),
with the Church of St Francis left-centre

On 5 January 1861, John Radcliffe, the son of Peter Radcliffe and Anne Sarsfield from County Dublin, married Bridget Flanagan in Church of St Francis, Melbourne. In the nineteenth century, ‘Sarsfield’ was an uncommon surname, both in Dublin and Melbourne, so their best-man, Joseph Sarsfield, was likely John’s maternal cousin, or uncle, or at least related somehow.  Identifying his roots in Ireland might just provide a clue to the origins of John’s mother, my GGGG-grandmother, Anne (Sarsfield) Radcliffe, so Joseph was worth pursuing.[1] 

Joseph Sarsfield married Catherine Buckley, on 6 November 1862, also in the Church of St Francis in Melbourne.[2] This couple went on to have twelve or more children: Emily (1863-1867), Mary (1865-1867), John Joseph (b. 1867), Michael Christopher (c. 1869-1920), Thomas (b. aft.1869), Catherine (c.1873-1962), Mary Ellen (1875-1875), Peter (c.1877-1923), Mary Josephine (1877-1933), Elizabeth (1877-1961), an unnamed male child who lived for only one day in 1878 and Joseph Patrick (1880-1945).[3] Joseph died on 7 April 1880, leaving his widow almost destitute, with eight surviving children, the youngest child being only days old. At the time of his death, Joseph worked as a porter with the Victorian Railway and was stationed at Toolamba, 180 kilometres north of Melbourne.[4] 

A search of contemporary Australian newspapers revealed just how tragically Joseph died. He was walking home along the railway, having apparently visited ‘some shanties’ nearby, when he was hit by the last train from Seymour to Shepparton, as it approached Toolamba. The driver told the station master at Toolamba he had run over something.  A search was organised and they discovered Joseph’s mutilated and decapitated body lying beside the tracks. His was the first fatal accident on the Goulburn Valley Railway. Luckily, for Joseph, he was killed instantly and did not suffer.[4] 


Death of Joseph Sarsfield, Toolamba, 1880
Death of Joseph Sarsfield, Toolamba, 1880
Bendigo Advertiser, 16 April 1880, p. 2.

It was thought Joseph may not have heard the train coming, though no further explanation as to why he did not hear it was reported in the newspapers - maybe he was hard of hearing, or just too drunk. It seems his death was not registered and there was no mention of an inquest in the newspapers, so it is unlikely we’ll ever now know. 

Joseph’s marriage certificate confirmed he was born in Dublin, Ireland, to Christopher Sarsfield and Mary Duffe, twenty-seven years previously.  I had already identified Christopher as being a potential sibling of my GGGG-grandmother Anne (Sarsfield) Radcliffe. Between 1829 and 1846, he and Mary Duff(e) had ten children baptised in Rush, County Dublin, which was less than twenty kilometres north of Anne’s home in Malahide. They had a son Joseph born in 1831.[5] Christopher Sarsfield was living on Lambay Island, off the Dublin coast, in 1847 and remained there until the 1860s.[6] 

So, it might be worth taking a closer look at this Sarsfield-Duff(e) family in Dublin!

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[1] Radcliffe-Flanagan marriage certificate, 1861, Birth Deaths Marriages Victoria
[2] Sarsfield-Buckley marriage certificate, 1862, same.
[3] ‘Australia Victoria BMD historical index’, Archive.org; Death notice, Catherine Sarsfield, The Argus, 27 August 1918, p. 1, Trove.  
[4] Bendigo Advertiser, 16 April 1880, p. 2; The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 15 April 1880, p. 2, Trove. 
[5] Baptism index, Rush Roman Catholic Church, Rootsireland.ie (subscription).
[6] Griffith’s Valuation, Ask about Ireland; McCullagh-Sarsfield marriage register, 1860, IrishGenealogy,ie


Image credit: Great Lonsdale Street East (1864) by Francois Cogne 1829-1883, State Library of Victoria.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Tragedy after tragedy

The Radcliffe family are one of my most interesting and charismatic lineages, but among the tales of court battles fought and surprising wealth are stories of devastating tragedy. From reports of road fatalities and spousal assault, to charges of fraud and fratricide, this family has acted as a magnate for misfortune. It is no wonder the bloodline was said to have been cursed.

The most recent tragedy found in relation to the family was discovered only last Sunday morning, when Jacqi Stevens, author of A Family Tapestry, read last week’s post on Peter Radcliffe and kindly drew my attention to the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Jacqi thought I might find some snippets from Peter’s daily life recounted in these old newspapers and she was not wrong.

Inputting the words ‘Radcliffe’ and ‘Melvin’ in the search field, I hoped to find mention of Peter Radcliffe’s marriage to Fannie Melvin in August 1903, but no such announcement was found.  Instead, the first article listed was entitled ‘Maniac shoots wife and child’.  You can imagine my astonishment when it turned out that this disturbing account actually referenced my ‘cousin’ Peter and his wife.

Branch Insane Asylum, Napa, California
Wood engraving by F. Wyatt, published in The Builder, London, 30 August 1873*

Peter’s father-in-law, Nathaniel Melvin, a retired foreman at the Mare Island navy yard, was mentally ill. On the morning of October 6, 1905, he was at home in Vellejo, California, on temporary release from the Napa Insane Asylum, when the unthinkable happened. Fannie Radcliffe, accompanied by her mother, was returning inside, having just waved good-bye to Peter who was heading back to work as a boatswain in the US Navy, when her father, still wearing his night-gown, and wielding a revolver, knife and baseball bat, appeared at the door and without warning shot her mother twice. Fannie pleaded with him for mercy, but he merely turned on her, cursed, and fired his last bullet, hitting her just below the heart. He then returned inside and threatened to kill anyone who followed him. The poor man believed his family were trying to take his life.

Neighbours and police officers were on the scene within minutes. They followed Nathaniel inside and found him barricaded in his room, trying to cut his own throat with a bread knife. Luckily, the knife was blunt and the sight of the blood brought him to his senses. After a three-hour stand-off, Nathaniel was finally arrested, placed in a straight-jacket and brought back to hospital. Only a week before the tragedy, Fannie’s brother had written to the hospital asking for the permanent discharge of their father. This request was still pending at the time of the incident, but I’d say it was later denied.

While initially it was not expected that Mrs. Melvin would survive, both women recovered from their ordeal, physically, at least.  

Sources: San Francisco Call, 7 October 1905, 10 October 1905; Los Angeles Herald, 7 October 1905. * Image credit: Wellcome Library, London  under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday’s Faces from the Past: Peter Edward Radcliffe

Peter Edward Radcliffe (c.1863 – 1928)

Peter Edward Radcliffe is one of the more interesting Aussie ‘cousins’ identified during the course of my genealogy research.  He was the son of Thomas Radcliffe from Malahide, Co. Dublin and his wife Mary Minogue, and an elder brother of Tom and Joe, discussed previously in the post entitled ‘Murder in the family?’ Peter was born about 1863-64, presumably in Melbourne. He shared his name with his paternal grandfather  my fourth-great-grandfather – Peter Radcliffe from Malahide.

The first time I came across my first cousin four times removed was in an obituary for his father, Thomas Radcliffe, published in a Melbourne newspaper in June 1905. It listed ‘Peter Radcliffe, United States Navy’ as his eldest son.[1] Mary (Minogue) Radcliffe’s obituary, nearly twenty years later, claims she was the mother of ‘Lieutenant P. E. Radcliffe, (United States Navy)’.[2] When Peter’s death was registered with the authorities in Victoria, his parent’s names were again confirmed as Thos Radcliffe and Mary Minogue.[3] Thomas and Mary had married in Victoria in 1863, but, no record of the registration of Peter’s birth has so far been located.[4] 

Peter was, it might be said, a spirited child and it would seem he drove his parents to the end of their tether. On 13 February 1878, when he was thirteen years old, his father even went so far as to have him arrested and committed to a reformatory school. Peter, a native of Melbourne, was declared ‘uncontrollable’. His father Thomas was described as being ‘well off’, a plasterer and a publican by trade. Peter was to serve his sentence, with other ‘criminal and neglected children’ until he was sixteen years old, nearly three years later. This must have come as a major shock to the young teenager. However, after just one month, on 13 March 1878, he was discharged back into the care of his father, more than likely on the understanding that he behaved himself, or be recommitted. Talk about tough love![5]

On 9 April 1887, the steamship ‘Catalonia’ docked in Boston harbour, in the United States, having taken on passengers at Liverpool, England and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. Peter Radcliffe, a twenty-four year old seaman from Australia was named in the passenger list.[6] Six months later, on 7 September 1887, Peter Edward Radcliffe, a mariner living in Philadelphia, joined the US Navy.[7] He gave his place of birth as San Francisco and his age as twenty-three years and nine months – making him a year older than the limited earlier evidence suggested. From then on, he consistently placed his birth in California, on or about 13 November 1863. But San Francisco! In 1863, his parents were in Melbourne, more than 7,500 miles away. At first, I thought there may have been two Peter Radcliffe's in the US Navy, but now, I am convinced all references are to my cousin. Claiming Californian birth may have been his attempt to bypass US citizenship controls or perhaps it was necessary for his promotion prospects in the Navy.

On 14 August 1903, when Peter E. Radcliffe was forty, he applied for a licence to marry Fannie A. Melvin, in the county of Solana, California.[8] They lived together in the San Francisco Bay area for twenty years and Peter continued his career as a boatswain in the US Navy. The couple do not appear to have had any children.[9] In 1913, they took a trip back to Australia, presumably to visit Peter’s mother and brother in Melbourne.[10] Sadly, ten years later, in July 1923, Fannie died of cancer.[11]

The following month Peter applied for his first US passport, with a view to spending a year in Australia. In his application, he ‘solemnly swore’ to a whole bunch of what I can only believe were untruths.[12]  Unfortunately, this casts doubts on the accuracy of all the fascinating information contained in his application. Peter produced no actual proof that he was born in the US, relying on the fact that he was a commissioned officer in the Navy as evidence of citizenship. He claimed his father came to the US from Ireland in 1847 and resided there continuously until 1873. This was certainly not entirely true; his father was documented as being in Melbourne, at least from 1863 onward and his obituary suggests he arrived in the town about 1855.

Peter E. Radcliffe, US passport application, 1924

Peter also swore he had never resided outside of the United States, except as an officer in the US Navy, undoubtedly, another untruth as there is documented evidence confirming him a native of Melbourne in 1878.

So, was his father Thomas ever in New York or California?

This is a most exciting prospect. Thomas arrived in Australia around the same time as his elder brother John, my third-great-grandfather, probably in the late 1850s. John Radcliffe married a woman named Mary, who gave birth to my great-great-grandmother, Anne, about 1849. Neither their marriage record, Anne’s birth/baptism record, nor Mary’s maiden name, have been found and apart from a potential sighting in Liverpool at the time of the 1851 census, they could have been anywhere. New York and California are new places to search – if only I could believe a word of Peter’s story.

During the Christmas holidays, in Australia visiting his brother, Peter Radcliffe, the retired lieutenant of the US Navy, was tragically killed in a car crash. The accident took place near Gisborne, on 16 January 1928, on route from his brother’s hotel in Baringhup to Melbourne. The car, in which he was a passenger, suffered a tyre blowout, skidded across the road, struck an embankment and overturned. Peter died instantly.[13]

In April 1929, the reading of his will caused some wonderment in the Australian press, specifically the clause: ‘I declare I have no children, but in the event that any claim to be such, I hereby give and devise to them, and each of them, the sum of one dollar.’[14] I wonder if Peter had any other Radcliffe relatives at the time of his death. As far as I know, his brother Tom was the very last of our Radcliffe lineage and he died in 1932.[15]  

Peter E. Radcliffe, Reading of will, 1929


[1] The Argus, 26 June 1905, p. 1, Trove.
[2] The Argus, 9 March 1925, p. 1, Trove.
[3] Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, Peter Edwd Radcliffe, 1928, Ancestry.
[4] Australia Marriage Index 1788-1950, Thomas Radcliffe, 1863, Ancestry.
[5] Ward Registers, no. 12, p. 384, Radcliffe, Peter [reg. no. 10622], Public Records Office Victoria
[6] Boston, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1954, index and images, Peter Radcliffe, 1887, Ancestry.
[7] US Naval Enlistment Rendezvous, 1855-1891, index and images, Peter Edward Radcliffe, 1887, FamilySearch.
[8] California, County Marriages, 1850-1952, index and images, Peter E Radeliffe and Fannie A Melvin, 1903, FamilySearch.
[9] US Census, 1920," index and images, Peter E Radcliffe, FamilySearch.
[10] California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1957, index and images, Peter Radcliffe, 1913, Ancestry.
[11] California, Death Index, 1905-1939, images, Fannie Radcliffe, 1923, FamilySearch.
[12] US Passport Applications, 1795-1925, index and images, Peter Edward Radcliff, 1923, Ancestry.
[13] Chronicle, 21 January 1928, p. 49, Trove.
[14] Mirror, 20 April 1929, p.14, Trove.
[15] Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, Thos Ernt Radcliffe, 1932, Ancestry.
Photograph of Peter E. Radcliffe from 1924 passport application form.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy