Tracing my ancestors with the common surname ‘Byrne’ is one of my biggest genealogy challenges and wading through line after line trying to track down the U.S. immigration of a woman named Jane Byrne was a big ask. Any one of the numerous so-named records in the late nineteenth century might well relate to my third great-grandmother, but, telling which one, if any, was a near hopeless task.
One proven way to increase the probability of discovering the right record is to find her with her immediate relatives – especially those with more unusual surnames. So, when Jane Byrne’s daughter Hannah married John Comiskey in 1869, and Jane was later found living with the Comiskey family, it greatly increased the probability I’d found a true match. This was how I first located her in New York.
Now with the Comiskey surname, you have to be prepared for its spelling variations. Inscribers and transcribers were far more inventive with this surname than they ever were with the name Byrne. As well as Comiskey, Cumiskey and Cuminskey, each with either one or two ‘m’s, it took far more determination to follow the family when they were documented as Conningbery. But, tracing their movements proved to be worthwhile.
Hannah’s husband, John Comiskey, arrived in New York on 9 June 1880, paving the way for Hannah and their three girls to follow a few years later. Presumably, the family did not have the money to pay for their passage all together and John went first to find work and save up enough money to enable the rest to follow.
In 1883, Hannah sailed with Rosanna, Jane and young Hannah, on board the SS Germanic, although there was no sign of the two boys. Michael and Francis would have been six and four years old at the time and were seemingly left behind with family in Ireland.
During the past few months, I ‘met’ Angela, my third cousin once removed, who descends directly from John and Hannah Comiskey. Angela knew her grandfather Francis was eight years old when he came to the U.S. She had even found a record of his immigration - to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1887.
With this information, I found the record of Francis and Michael ‘Cuminsky’, both of the right age, arriving in Boston, from Liverpool, on 22 September 1887. The passenger list for the steamship ‘Marathon’ confirmed their intended destination was New York. They were accompanied by Jane Byrne, aged fifty-five years, and even though she was said to have been married, when our Jane was by then supposedly widowed, presumably she was the children’s grandmother.
Jane’s daughter and namesake Jane (Byrne) Cunningham died in Dublin earlier that same year. Perhaps this was the reason my third great-grandmother followed her two other daughters to New York, or perhaps she had always intended to accompany the boys, as soon as funds allowed. One thing is sure, if Jane had not been travelling with her two Comiskey grandsons, I would never have identified this Jane Byrne as my ancestor.
Jane Byrne’s connection to my grandmother
Sources: 'Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820 to 1963'; 'Passenger Lists of vessels arriving at New York, 1820-1897; ‘New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in New York City, 1792-1989’, Ancestry.com.
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