Saturday, 23 May 2015

Genealogy Saturday: Where there's a will…

This week, I learnt something new about my great-great-grandmother, Anne (Radcliffe) Carroll. In the numerous records of her life, from the day she married until the day she was buried, she went by the name ‘Anne’. It now transpires her given name was actually Hannah Anne. I have to say, this new finding inspires renewed hope that one day I might also discover who her mother was.

Hannah Anne Carroll, Probate 1919, Dublin.*

Anne was born about 1849, but we don't know much about her early life. Her earliest confirmed record was dated August 1869, when she was said to have been twenty years old and marrying Maurice Carroll, in Swords, Co. Dublin. Her father was named as John Radcliffe and her mother as Mary. ‘Mary’ is not much to go on in a country so dedicated to the Virgin Mother!

When Anne was about eight years old, her father left Ireland for Melbourne, Australia and Anne probably never saw him again. He married Bridget Flanagan in Melbourne in 1861. Their marriage register confirmed his first wife had died in 1853 and he had but one surviving child. 

Anne may well have spent her younger years in Yellow Walls, Malahide, where her father's family were from. She was living there at the time of her marriage and maintained close ties with her friends in Malahide, even after the Carrolls moved to Dublin city. She may have been raised by her paternal grandparents, Peter and Anne Radcliffe, though we may never know for sure. Her mother's family might also have lived nearby.

Anne's grandmother died the week before Christmas in 1866 when she was about seventeen years old, only two months after her father had passed away in Australia. She was close to her uncles Peter Radcliffe and Joseph Radcliffe, who also lived in Yellow Walls, for they each sponsored the baptism of one of her two eldest children.

Anne is a derivative variant of the name Hannah, so it strikes me as a little odd for both names to have been given to the same child. Perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to honour two separate women – both her grandmothers. Anne's paternal grandmother was called Anne so maybe Mary's mother was called Hannah.

This new piece of information came to light when I obtained a copy of Anne's last Will and Testament, written in December 1918, seven days before she died. It is the earliest dated Will so far obtained in respect of any of my direct ancestors; basically, those who went before her had no real property to worry about. The extent of Anne Carroll's estate, on the other hand, came as something of a surprise.

Anne (Radcliffe) Carroll’s Will
I, HANNAH ANNE CARROLL of 20 North Gloucester Place, Dublin, Widow, declare this to be my last will.
I hereby devise and bequeath to my daughter Mary Carroll absolutely all my real and personal estate including my house No. 21 Upper Rutland Street, Dublin and all furniture and effects in my residence No. 20 North Gloucester Place, and my interest in a policy on the life of my uncle [Joseph] who died recently. And I appoint the said Mary Carroll sole executrix of this my Will IN 
WITNESS whereof I have hereunto signed my name this sixteenth day of December one thousand nine hundred and eighteen.
[signed]: Anne Carroll
Signed by the testatrix Hannah Anne Carroll as her last Will in our presence who in her presence at her request and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses.
[witnessed]: George Wheeler
86 Merrion Square, Dublin

[witnessed]: R. J. Simpson
53 [maybe Fitzroy Avenue]
Our Radcliffe Pedigree 

Source: *Hannah Anne Carroll, 1919, Dublin, ‘Calendars of Wills and Administrations, 1858 – 1922’, National Archives of Ireland; Copy will of Hannah Anne Carroll, 1919, Dublin, National Archives of Ireland.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Saturday's Genealogy Story: Our Family in Crisis

My great-great-grandfather, John Donovan, spent the last eleven days of his life in the North Dublin Union Workhouse, possibly in the infirmary, before dying of tuberculosis on 20 August 1875. When first discovered, this was the single saddest revelation of my genealogy research and really drove home just how hard life was for our ancestors.  But, the predicament the Donovan family found themselves in, in 1875, was even worse than I had imagined then. This was truly a family in crisis.

According to his death register, Thomas Donovan, the man I suspect was John’s father, also died in the North Dublin Union Workhouse, just a few months after John. But, unlike John, I found no trace of Thomas in the workhouse admission register, when I searched it on microfilms at the National Archives. And, one day last year, I searched for Thomas until my head hurt, watching the pages whiz across the screen, trying in vain to find any mention of his name.

Now, these registers have been digitised and made available online and the admittance record for Thomas was instantly apparent.  Aged eighty-five years on 20 March 1875, Thomas Donovan, a widower, was admitted to the workhouse, where he was to die of ‘debility’, some months later, on 13 October 1875. His admittance set in motion a chain of events that had devastating consequences for his family.

Thomas entered the workhouse just one month before John Donovan was convicted of larceny. John was then sentenced to serve six months hard labour in the Richmond (Bridewell) Penitentiary. The date Thomas entered the workhouse provides a likely explanation as to why my great-great-grandfather was tempted to commit such a crime. It is not hard to imagine him being desperate to provide for his aged father in the final months of his life and maybe feeling he had no alternatives, especially as it turns out John himself was terminally ill.

As it now transpires, Thomas was not the only member of the Donovan family to suffer when John was imprisoned. John’s wife died of tuberculosis two years previously, but the newly indexed records revealed an Alice Donovan entered the workhouse on 28 April 1875, the week after John’s arrest. Alice was a spinster and worked as a servant, though her clothes were described as ‘bad’ when she entered the workhouse.

Alice was of the right age to have been John’s sister. He was forty-nine years old at the time, while she was said to have been fifty. Maybe they were not siblings, but they were likely closely related, for they lived together in the same house. Alice was living at ‘121 L[ower] Gloucester Street’ at the time she was admitted to the workhouse, and John’s address was given as ‘121 L Gloster Street’ when he was arrested, both spelling variations for the same place.

This was seemingly the Donovan family home around this time. John’s daughter, Mary Agnes Donovan, lived at 121 Gloucester St L when she married my great-grandfather, Charles O'Neill, in April 1874. Thomas lived at number 95 L Gloucester Street when he entered the workhouse. Three days after his admittance, Mary Agnes gave birth to her first son at number 116, just a few doors down. It’s hard to believe the similarity of all their addresses was pure chance.

Alice presumably lost her home when John was arrested and had nowhere else to go. I don't know if she was sick at the time, but she never did get out of the place. The poor woman lived in the awful conditions of the workhouse for a year and ten months before her death, on 22 January 1877.  Although, John's prison sentence was reduced, by order of the Lord Lieutenant, he died in the month following his release and never got a chance to re-establish his household.

From a map of Dublin City, 1885* 

Source: Thomas Donovan, 1875 and Alice Donovan, 1875, Poor law records of North Dublin Poor Law Union, 1840-1918, workhouse admission and discharge records, Book 29 (18 January 1871) Book 32 (10 May 1875), item 4, FindMyPast (subscription site),  citing 'Register of admission and discharge of the North Dublin Union Workhouse', NAI/BG/78/, National Archives of Ireland.

* Excerpt from the Map of Dublin City, 1885, courtesy of

Previous posts of relevance:

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

    Saturday, 9 May 2015

    Newspaper archives - A genealogy goldmine

    James and Lena (O'Neill) Byrne, 
    Malahide, Co. Dublin, 1934

    When Lena (O'Neill) Byrne, my paternal grandmother, died in October 1956, her funeral notice in the Sunday Independent proclaimed she was ‘deeply regretted’ by a ‘sister and brothers’. I know Lena was the youngest child of nine, yet, I could not identify which of her siblings survived her passing.  

    So, I've spent my free time this week trying to plug the gaps, and although ‘O'Neill’ is one of those impossibly common surnames in Ireland, I'm getting there, bit by bit, partly with the help of family newspaper announcements (thanks to a recent three day free trial with the Irish Newspaper Archives).* 

    Lena's four Sisters
    Lena's sisters, Teresa (Aunt Tess) and Johanna Mary (Aunt Joan) O'Neill, both predeceased her, by five years. Aunt Tess married a widower, Richard Greer, in 1928 and lived in Drumcondra, Dublin.[1]  One of her step-daughters, Mary Greer, was Lena's bridesmaid, when she married my grandfather. Aunt Tess died on 1 August 1951 and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.[2] Aunt Joan married Jack Lockhead in England, in 1924, and seemingly also died in 1951, in England.[3]

    Lena's eldest sister was baptised Mary Catherine O'Neill, in Westland Row, on 25 August 1876.[4] Mary is not remembered in our family today and no further trace of her has been found; she may have died in childhood, hence the name Mary being used again, when Mary Agnes was born.

    Known as ‘Aunt May’, Mary Agnes (O'Neill) Pyke was the wife of Robert Pyke, and the mother of the illustrious Bobby Pyke.  She died, aged seventy-five years, on 24 May 1960. So, at the time of Lena's death, Aunt May was her sole surviving sister.
    Mary Agnes (O'Neill) Pyke, Obituary,
    Irish Independent, 25 May 1960, p.1.

    Lena’s Four Brothers
    Lena's eldest brother was Charles Joseph O'Neill, born on 23 March 1875, and baptised in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. So far, only his birth and baptism records have been identified, and like Mary Catherine, he is no longer remembered in our family and likely died before Lena.[5]

    Uncle Artie was definitely one of the brothers to survive Lena's passing as he lived in London until 7 January 1965. This leaves Uncle Jack, only remembered as having had a family, and Uncle Rob, who it is thought might have lived in Navan, Co. Meath. 

    John O'Neill (Uncle Jack) was born on 29 September 1879, at Queens Square, Dublin.[6] He became a house-painter and in 1901 married Lillian O'Grady, an Irish girl, born in Liverpool.[7] They went on to have a string of children and lived in Lower Dominick Street in Dublin City until, at least, the early 1940s, when the area became severely run-down.[8] The record of John's death has, so far, remained hidden, probably in plain sight among the myriad of others named John O'Neill, who died in Dublin.

    Uncle Rob, or Robert Joseph O'Neill, to give him his full name, was born at 2 Bath Street, in Dublin, in 1878.[9] In 1901, he also worked as a house-painter and lived with his mother and step-father.[10] There was no sign of him in Dublin in 1911, and when I searched the census for Navan, I came across a Robert O'Neill, of the right age, an insurance agent, living with wife Bridget, son Robert and three step-children.[11] Could this have been my missing granduncle?

    Next, I found a newspaper obituary for a Robert O'Neill, who died in Navan on 31 January 1957, and, although it contains no mention of Bridget, it most definitely features my granduncle.  

    This is one of those local newspaper obituaries every family historian dreams of finding. It provides a biography of Robert's life, which you can read below, but more significantly, it lists the chief mourners at his funeral. Starting with his wife and children, there follows a list of people, who taken together, provide absolute proof of his connection to my grandmother:  
    ‘Mr. Arthur O'Neill, England (brother); Mrs. May Pyke, Dublin (sister); Mr. Robert Pyke, Dublin, Mr. Richard Greer, Dublin and Mr. James Burne, Malahide (brothers-in-law) and Mrs. L. O'Neill, Dublin (sister-in-law).’

    Ok, they spelt my grandfather's name wrong - Lena's widower, one of Robert's brothers-in-law, was James Byrne of Malahide, not James Burne - but nevertheless, this answers most of my questions!

    Robert O’Neill, (1878-1957), Dublin, Navan
    Robert O'Neill, (1878-1957),
    Obituary, Meath Chronicle, 9 February 1957, p. 6.

    If you are descended from anyone mentioned in this post, it would be great to hear from you!

    * Note: If anyone else is tempted by the Irish Newspaper Archive's offer, don't forget to cancel the auto-renew setting, unless you want the free trial to convert into a paid monthly subscription.

    [1] Copy marriage register, General Register Office.
    [2] Copy burial register, Glasnevin Trust.
    [3] Free BMD, BMD index for England and Wales.
    [4] Church Records, index and images,; Copy birth register, GRO.
    [5] Same.
    [6] Same.
    [7] Church Records, index and images,
    [8] Civil records, index, (accessed July 2014); John O'Neill, 1940-41, Rotunda unit, ‘Dublin City Electoral Lists 1938 to 1964’, Libraries and Archive, Dublin City Council.
    [9] Church records, index and images,; Copy birth register, GRO.
    [10] Ellis household, Mountjoy, Dublin, 1901 Census of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland.
    [11] O Neill household, Ardbraccan, Meath, 1911 Census of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland.

    © 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

    Saturday, 2 May 2015

    Granny’s obituary

    Well, it's happened again! Each and every time I attempt to spend any time researching my father's family history, my mother’s side clamours for the return of my attention. Last month, I'd only just started, by investigating what happened to Dad's maternal Uncle Artie, when my maternal Byrnes dangled the carrot of some previously unknown fourth great-grandparents in front of me. And, of course, I took the bait. Who wouldn't? After all, there is nothing better than having a genealogy brick wall come tumbling down, but, I'm back on the trail of Dad's lineage again now.

    Newspapers are my all-time favourite genealogy resource. They are so full of fascinating stories about our ancestors' lives, and often contain details not available anywhere else. Regrettably though, in Ireland, it was the mid-twentieth century before most of my ancestors started gaining any column inches. Yet, when the Irish Newspaper Archives recently announced their three-day free-trial, I knew I had to take advantage of it. And this week, I signed up.* 

    First off, I searched for information about my paternal grandmother, Lena (O'Neill) Byrne. I know so very little about Lena and her eight identified siblings. Unfortunately, she didn't make the papers until her death from breast cancer, in October 1956, when her family inserted a notice of her funeral:
    Lena (O'Neill) Byrne (1895-1956),
    Sunday Independent, 28 October 1956, p. 7
    'BYRNE (nee O'Neill) – October 27, 1956, at her residence, Blackraven, Yellow Walls, Malahide. Lena, beloved wife of James; deeply regretted by her husband, son, daughter, sister, brothers and a large circle of friends. R.I.P. Funeral from St. Sylvester's Church, Malahide, today (Sunday) to New Cemetery at 3 o'c.'

    It was more than likely my Aunt Maisie, Lena's only daughter, who organised this announcement in the newspaper. She provided the date of death as 27 October.  The following week, on 2 November, Maisie also registered her mother's death with the civil authorities, but this time gave the date of death as 26 October. I'm now not fully sure which day she died; maybe she died overnight on the Friday night / Saturday morning.

    The month after the funeral, my grandfather, aunt and father, also inserted an acknowledgment in the newspaper, thanking those who cared for my grandmother during her final illness and comforted them in their grief when she died:
    Lena (O'Neill) Byrne (1895-1956),
    Sunday Independent, 18 November 1956, p. 9
    'BYRNE, (nee O'Neill) - The husband and family of the late Helena (Lena) Byrne, "Blackraven", Yellow Walls, Malahide, wish to thank most sincerely all those who sympathised with them in their recent sad bereavement, those who sent Mass cards, letters, telegrams and flowers, and all who attended the removal of the remains, Mass and funeral. A special word of thanks to Rev. Fr. Boland, Nurse T. Stroker and Dr. J. Bell, also kind neighbours. Hoping this will be accepted by all as a token of deep appreciation and gratitude.'

    On the second and third anniversaries of Lena's death, her family placed and an ‘In Memoriam’ notice in the newspaper. Here's the one for 1958:
    Lena (O'Neill) Byrne (1895-1956),
    Irish Independent, 27 October 1958, p. 1
    'BYRNE (Second Anniversary) - In loving memory of my dear wife Helena Byrne, late of "Blackraven", Yellow Walls, Malahide, who died Oct. 27, 1956. Masses offered. Will those who think of her today, a little prayer to Jesus say - inserted by her loving husband and family.'

    According to the death notice in 1956, Lena was ‘deeply regretted’ by her ‘sister and brothers’. I know her brother Artie was alive and well and living in London in 1956. I also know, her sister Tess (O'Neill) Greer predeceased her, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in 1951, but I do not know what happened to Lena's six other siblings. 

    Guess, it's high time to find out!

    * Note: If anyone else is tempted by this offer, don't forget to cancel the auto-renew setting, unless you want the free trial to convert into a paid monthly subscription.

    © 2015 Black Raven Genealogy 

    Friday, 24 April 2015

    Genealogy Arbor Day ~ A typical Irish family tree

    On Arbor Day, from the Latin Arbor, meaning tree, trees (as in the green leafy ones) are celebrated all over the world. In the U.S., Arbor Day falls on the last Friday in April, and this year, Colleen of the genealogy blog Leaves & Branches suggested we celebrate our Genealogy Tree on Arbor Day

    The Tree Council of Ireland organises National Tree Week in March each year and Tree Day is celebrated each October, but, we do not have Arbor Day, as such. Nevertheless, I thought I would participate in Colleen’s meme today and share some general information about our genealogy family tree.
    Our Family Tree Size
    Currently, there are 920 individuals in my genealogy tree – a fairly modest number by most international standards.  Serious genealogists, especially those with deep roots in the U.S., often count their ancestors in the tens of thousands, but 920 is probably a fairly average size for a native Irish tree. The renowned genealogist, John Grenham, recently admitted he had a ‘piddling 600’ people in his tree, and he has being researching far longer than I have.[1]

    Included in the tree, are my direct line ancestors (maternal and paternal), their siblings, and their siblings’ spouses and children. Researching the whole family like this helps to build a more colourful picture of our ancestors’ lives. Plus, it is often essential to piece together all the snippets of information available for each sibling, before the names of their parents finally become apparent.

    Our Family Tree Score
    In order to determine the dimensions of my genealogy tree, I counted the total number of direct ancestors in each generation, starting with myself, i.e. two parents, four grandparents, etc. Next, I counted how many of them, in each generation, I had identified.  Then, I charted the results, below, adding the percentage number of direct ancestors identified, to give a ‘tree score’. There was a bit of maths involved, but I am an accountant after all.

    The tree score for eight generations is 23 per cent, meaning I know the names of less than a quarter of my ancestors, up to and including my fifth great-grandparents. This includes some 'grandmothers', where only their given names are known and their maiden names are still awaiting to be discovered. So, there is still quite a bit of work to do! 

    When Crista Cowan of the Ancestry blog similarly calculated her ancestral number, in 2012, she based it on ten generations, not eight as I have done.[2] Each generation you go back doubles the number of ancestors, (everyone has two parents), so in ten generations, you have 1022 direct ancestors. But, I know the names of nobody in the two additional generations, so our tree score reduced to just 6 per cent. As only two of the 128 fifth-great-grandparents have been identified and as it’s unlikely the names of many others will ever come to light, eight generations is probably far more reasonable, for a native Irish tree. Why depress myself for not meeting someone else’s potential?

    Our Deepest Roots
    Our deepest roots currently belong to the Radcliffe family from north County Dublin. Peter Radcliffe was my fourth great-grandfather from Malahide. He was likely baptised ‘Peter Ratty’ in the parish of Baldoyle, on 25 November 1798, the son of Thomas Ratty and Mary Cullen, and as such, Thomas and Mary are the two fifth great-grandparents in the chart above.

    [1] ‘Irish Roots: The Other Clare Roots’, The Irish Times, 13 April 2015.
    [2]  'Family History All Done? What’s Your Number?', Ancestry blog, 16 August 2012.

    Images: Some old beech trees in the back paddock, Co. Kildare.

    © 2015 Black Raven Genealogy