Saturday, 26 April 2014

Finding Lena's mother (part 2)

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Lena (O’Neill) Byrne (1895 – 1956).
Having found much circumstantial evidence in the 1911 census return (see Finding Lena's mother, part 1) suggesting that Mary Agnes Ellis was my great-grandmother, the next step was to locate her in earlier records. The aim was to ultimately prove her connection to my grandmother, Helena (Lena) O'Neill, daughter of Charles O'Neill. In 1901, Mary Agnes and her husband Thomas Augustus Ellis were living in Middle Gardiner Street, Mountjoy, Dublin, with stepsons, Robert and John O’Neill. The younger children, Arthur, Mary Agnes and Teresa, seen with them in 1911, were not there, but, as Lena and her sister Joan were then in foster-care, it is reasonable to conclude that her other siblings were too.

A FamilySearch index recorded that Mary Agnes O'Neill and Thomas Augustus Ellis were named on the same page of a marriage register for Dublin South, in the second quarter of 1896, signifying their potential marriage. Ancestry’s marriage finder tool also listed this marriage and showed a Mary Agnes Donovan as having the same page references, giving the first clue as to my potential great-grandmother's maiden name – Donovan. 

The copy marriage register, when received from the General Register Office in Roscommon, confirmed that Mary Agnes O’Neill, the daughter of John Donovan, upholsterer, had married Thomas Augustus Ellis, in the Registrar’s Office, Dublin on 3 April 1896. 

Helena O’Neill, the daughter of Charles and Mary Agnes O’Neill, was born on 16 January 1895, and baptised in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral. This was a very promising find. Unfortunately, the General Register Office could not locate the birth register, which would have confirmed the mother's maiden name. Perhaps the birth was never registered. Nevertheless, this meant that there was still no proof that Mary Agnes Donovan was Lena's mother. 

Lena shared her early years with her sister, Johanna Mary (Joan) O’Neill. Proof of Joan's mother's maiden name would naturally yield confirmation of Lena's. While, no record of Joan's baptism has yet been found, the birth of a likely Johanna Mary O’Neill was registered in early 1892. The copy birth register confirmed that she was born on 6 March 1892, to Charles Francis, a clerk, and Mary Agnes O’Neill.  Lena's father was also Charles, plus he shared the same occupation. It seemed like a match. Frustratingly, Mary Agnes’s maiden name was clearly stated as Donaldson – not Donovan. With some further investigation, however, it became apparent that this could have been an error on behalf of Ellen Day, who had registered the birth. Ellen Day was seemingly an employed midwife who may not have known the family very well, for a nurse with the same name and street address lived in Fitzwilliam Street, at the time of the 1901 census. Yet, this all amounted to mere circumstantial evidence; there was still no actual proof.

Then I obtained a copy register for the marriage of Charles Francis O’Neill, a clerk, and Agnes Donovan, which had taken place on 19 April 1874 in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral.  Birth and baptism records have confirmed this couple as the parents of many children, including a Robert O’Neill, born on 30 May 1878 and a John O’Neill, born on 29 September 1879, both seen residing with Mary Agnes Ellis in 1901. Their marriage register, like the register of Mary Agnes O’Neill’s marriage to Thomas Ellis, confirmed that her father was John Donovan, an upholsterer. At last! This nicely, if a little awkwardly, finally tied in the two families and provided the comfort required.  Lena's mother was born Mary Agnes Donovan.  

Sources: National Archives of Ireland, 1901 and 1911 censusFamilySearch, Ireland, civil registration indexes, 1845-1958General Register Office, copy birth and marriage registers; Church marriage and baptism records.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

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