Saturday, 19 April 2014

Finding Lena's mother (part 1)

James and Lena (O’Neill) Byrne 
Both my paternal grandparents died years before I was born and when I first started my genealogy research, I realised how very little I knew about my Granny Byrne; she was born Helena (Lena) O’Neill, died in 1956 and was buried in the Yellow Walls Cemetery. My father did not remember much about his maternal grandparents, except that Lena’s father died when she was young, his grandmother, a gifted pianist, had remarried and Lena grew up in Yellow Walls, Malahide in north County Dublin.

Dad remembered an Uncle Arthur O’Neill, a barber, who once lived in Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo and who followed his family to England, after his wife’s death. He also remembered an Aunt Joan (O’Neill) Lockhead in England and an Aunt Tess (O’Neill) Greer who had lived in Drumcondra, Dublin. There had also once been a lady called Molly Pyke, living in Booterstown or Dun Laoghaire in south County Dublin, who was somehow related to his mother.  This was the extent of everything that ‘I knew’ when I started investigating Lena’s family.


The first port of call was the Irish census returns of 1901 and 1911. I found Helena with her sister Johannah (known in later years as Joan) living in Yellow Walls in 1901. They were both described as ‘Orphant’, aged six and eight, and were living with a Mary Power.  Orphant?  I had expected to find them living with their mother.

1901 Census of Ireland, Power household, Yellow Walls, Malahide, Dublin

In 1911, Helena Mary and Johanna Mary were still together, working as servants for the Smith family, in the nearby parish of Donabate, by then aged sixteen and eighteen. Their place of birth was given as Dublin city, but there was still no sign of their mother or their other siblings.

Lena’s copy marriage register confirmed that she married James Byrne, my grandfather, in St Sylvester’s in Malahide, on 11 February 1934. It gave Lena’s father as Charles O’Neill, deceased, formerly a law clerk by occupation.  

GRO copy marriage register: James Byrne and Helena O’Neill 1934

As an aside, some of you may have noticed that Grandda Wynne was best man at the wedding of my paternal grandparents - how cool is that!

Back to the quest for Lena's birth family: A search for Lena’s brother Arthur in the Irish census returns revealed a twenty-three year old, Arthur O’Neill, living at North Summer Street, Mountjoy, in Dublin city, in 1911. He was with his mother and step-father, Mary Agnes and Thomas Ellis, both musicians, while Arthur was a hairdresser. Mary Agnes and Thomas were said to have been married for fourteen years.  Arthur had a sister Mary Agnes, married to a Robert Pyke and an unmarried sister named Teresa.

 1911 Census of Ireland, Ellis household, Summer Street, North, Mountjoy, Dublin 

There were too many ‘coincidences’ between this family and the information that Dad remembered. Even, though Dad did not recognise the surname Ellis, I was convinced that this was our family, so next I set about proving it.

To be continued next week …

Sources: Marriage register, General Register Office; National Archives of Ireland, 1901 and 1911 census

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy  

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