Sunday 22 January 2023

Shining a light on Charles F. O'Neill - revisited

This is an update of a post originally published in December 2021.

Charles Francis O'Neill is my longest standing and most frustrating genealogy brick wall. He was named as my Dad's grandfather at the time of Granny's baptism in 1895. The earliest record of his existence, so far found, was dated a mere twenty one years earlier, 19 April 1874, when he married [Mary] Agnes Donovan in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin city. There, his parents were named as John and Margaret O'Neill of Dominick Street, Dublin.

The goal is to obtain every surviving piece of paper mentioning his name and perhaps one piece might prove be the key that opens the window to his past.

All records relating to Charles' death have been examined. First, his death certificate confirmed he was a law clerk by occupation, and was forty-six years old when he died at Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, Dublin, on 23 April 1895. A copy of his admission record at Sir Patrick Dun's was requested, but it transpired the records had a five-year gap spanning the date of my great-grandfather's death. He was buried in a poor-ground plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, not in a family grave - yet another dead end. Pardon the pun!

But the burial register did point to the undertakers being at 30 Lombard Street, which after some investigation turned out to have been the address of J & C Nicholls', funeral directors.

1895, Burial Charles O'Neill, Glasnevin Cemetery

The historic records of J & C Nicholl's were traced to the National Archives, and now, thanks to my friend, the Irish genealogist Claire Bradley, who recently visited the Archives, I have a copy of the relevant entry from the Day Book. If I'm reading it correctly, Charles' funeral cortege included the hearse, a horse-drawn coach and two horse-drawn carriages.

Can you picture his funeral procession? It was led by a black hearse, harnessed by four black horses, their coats gleaming, their long manes flowing, perhaps each topped with a tall head plume? Can you hear the thunder of their hooves and the rattle of the carriage wheels as they all made their way across the city, and out to Glasnevin?

My poor great-grandmother! Her seven surviving children ranged in age from sixteen years to only three months old. How would they all survive? I can only imagine the shock she felt at losing her husband and her fear for their future. Did she follow the hearse in one of the carriages? Or, was the funeral a male-only affair?

1895, Charles O'Neill, J & C Nicholls, Funeral Directors, Day Book

Also of interest, the record shows the funeral expenses were paid by a Mr. Reeves of 51 Merrion Square. Thom's Directory of 1894 places S.S. and E. Reeves & Sons, solicitors for the Scottish Provident Institution, as well as Richard S. Reeves, solicitor and Robert Reeves, solicitor, at 51 Merrion Square. Maybe 'Mr. Reeves' was Charles O'Neill's employer. We know Charles was a law clerk. I wonder how my great-grandfather landed a job at such a prestigious law-firm. One thing is for sure, he didn't just walk in off the street, he must have had 'connections', probably family connections.*

* Update 1: Another possibility, and probably the more likely scenario, is that Charles had an insurance policy with the Scottish Provident Institution, who paid the undertaker via its solicitor. (Thanks to my friend Paddy Waldron for this suggestion).

Thom's, 1894

So where to now? Well, I still need to track down the baptism records for some of the younger children. Catholic records show the names of the Godparents, and may contain further clues.

Update 2: Recently I heard from the great-grandson of Thomas Turley, who confirmed Thomas was employed as a clerk in the Solicitor-Generals' Office at Dublin Castle, i.e. the historical seat of British rule in Ireland. We have already concluded Thomas and George Turley may have been colleagues of my Charles O'Neill in Dublin, all three friends having been law-clerks by profession - see here. It goes without saying, perhaps Charles worked in the Solicitor-Generals' Office too. Now wondering if such employee records exist and survive.

Someday, all these little pieces of diverse information might help me recognise Charles' origins.

Main sources:
i. Charles O'Neill, 1895, in the burial register for Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin Cemeteries Trust.
ii. Charles O'Neill, 1895, in the Day Books for J & C Nicholl's (DUB 19/1/3, Day Book no. 15), National Archives of Ireland.
iii. Thom's Dublin Street Directory, 1894, accessed Ancestry.

Sunday 16 January 2022

1921 Census of England & Wales - Wynne household

There was huge excitement among many genealogists this week with the publication of the 1921 census for England & Wales. I didn't expect to find any direct ancestors living in England, apart from one set of great-grandparents. Patrick and Teresa Wynne had emigrated to Newcastle-upon-Tyne during the previous decade.

This census could show:
  • whether my grandad Kevin, born 1909, was still with the family, or if he had already been sent back to Dublin, to live with his Aunt Mary
  • An example of my great-grandfather's signature
  • the family's home address
  • the name and address of Patrick Wynne's employer in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • confirmation of the total number of children born to Patrick Wynne
  • confirmation of each person's age, in years and months

The family were easily found in the index. Well, Teresa and five of the children were. There was no sign of Patrick or Kevin anywhere in England and Wales. Déjà vu! Patrick was not at home on census night in 1911 either. He'd been in Cork, probably for work. Where was he this time?

The family were living at 136 Violet Street, Benwell, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

This census was enumerated on 19 June in 1921, and probably missed numerous people away on their summer holidays. Patrick may have been home in Dublin during his break. It's unlikely we'll ever know for sure as no census was taken in Ireland that year. The War of Independence was in full swing.

On census night in England, the Wynne household included:
  • Teresa, wife, 33 yrs, 1 mt, married, b. Dublin, Home duties.
  • Maurice, son, 14 yrs, 6 mts, b. Dublin, Machine boy, Armstrong Whitworth.
  • Brendan, son, 13 yrs, 2 mts, b. Dublin, Wholetime school.
  • Eileen, daughter, 5 yrs, 1 mt, b. Benwell, N/C on Tyne, Wholetime School.
  • Brian, son, 3 yrs, 0 mts, b. Benwell, N/C on Tyne.
  • Norah, daughter, 8 mts, b. Benwell, N/C on Tyne.
No surprises there, except maybe that Maurice was already working at 14.

Granddad must have been given to the Aunt Mary by then. He was company for her. She'd been left on her own back home when they all emigrated to England.

But the next part is surprising, and sad!

Teresa said she had only 5 children 'residing as members of this household or elsewhere'. And clearly she had 6! What about her 11-year-old son, Kevin? What mother forgets a child? Did she misread the form? It was only supposed to have been completed by Patrick, had he been home, and other 'married men, widowers and widows'. Married women had answered an equivalent question in 1911. Another misinterpretation on her part? Maybe Teresa just had her hands full, on her own, with all the kids.

Did she forget Kevin, aged 11 years?

I missed out on seeing Patrick Wynne's signature, as Teresa signed the form - a lost opportunity, maybe the last opportunity. The 1931 census returns were destroyed by fire, and Patrick died in 1937.

It's the second example of Teresa's signature found. See her Signature Silhouette for comparison. Unusual for a married woman to leave more records than her husband in this day and age.

Source: $ FindMyPast, 1921 Census.

Sunday 9 January 2022

2021 in Review – Accentuate the Positive

So, yet another year has passed. Looking back, using fellow blogger Jill Ball's annual meme and prompts, here are some of my 'positive' genealogy experiences in 2021.

My main focus was on DNA. I've been happily analysing my DNA matches, and those of my extended family too. It is a great way to discover forgotten branches on my family tree and locate those I couldn't trace with paper records alone. It hasn't led to any 'new' ancestors YET, but I'm sure that's only a matter of time.

For example, last year, with the help of genetic genealogy, I discovered and wrote about a great-great-granduncle Thomas Carroll in New Zealand, and a great-great-granduncle James Byrne, a bottle-maker, in Dublin.

A lovely genea-surprise I received was this picture of Grandda Wynne, with some of his children. Isn't it fab?
I remember it as a tiny snap, much the worse for wear. But Aunt Bernadette had it restored and generously got copies made for everyone she thought might like one. It's of Kevin Wynne, with his daughters Frankie and baby Dympna on his knee, and Bernadette holding their hands. Colm watches from his seat on the windowsill.

They are out in the yard at the back of their home, 3 Lower Jane Place, Dublin. It must have been the summer of 1957. They're wearing their summer clothes and Dympna, who was born in April 1956, looks about a year old. The twins look about four years old.

Thank you again Bernadette, I love it.

A Facebook Group that helped me during the year was Old Malahide History, where members share their old photos of Malahide, Co. Dublin. Here I came across many previously unseen pictures of my Dad as a child and of the townland where we grew up - see Amazing family history to be found on Facebook.

My 2021 social media post journal article that I was particularly proud of was about my maternal third cousin once removed, Frank Teeling, an Irish Volunteer. It was published in The Irish Genealogist, the well-regarded journal of the Irish Genealogical Research Society.
Frank Teeling participated in the Irish War of Independence and was captured by the British on Bloody Sunday in 1920. He was imprisoned and sentenced to death by hanging, but escaped from Kilmainham Gaol, in this country's most dramatic jail-break. My article uses Frank's story as a case study demonstrating how the descendants of key players in modern Irish history, as opposed to the State, keep their memories alive, and in so doing, write the public history of Ireland and define Irish national identity.

I finally found Margaret Parsons, née Carroll six feet under. Margaret was my great-grandaunt, who I tracked to Gateshead, England, where she married Christopher Penrose, in 1923. I lost all trace of her after that. Now, her great-granddaughter has turned up in my DNA results and helped solve the mystery.

Margaret married Martin Parsons in Romford, in 1943 and moved to Yorkshire, where she lived to be some 80 years of age. She was buried beside her husband Martin, at Driffield Cemetery, East Yorkshire, in July 1974. Her great-granddaughter sent me this picture of their grave. Thanks again, Maria.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for their support, for reaching out to me, for helping me research our ancestors, for leaving comments on my blog, for liking and sharing my posts and generally for taking an interest in my family-history research.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

So excited to see what discoveries next year brings!

Happy New Year!

Friday 24 December 2021

Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas!🎄

My Ancestors' Surnames on a Christmas Tree, made at Word Art

Sunday 28 November 2021

Signature Silhouette ~ Mary Carroll

For many of my ancestors, there are no photographs, no treasured heirlooms, not even a funeral card to remember them by. But of those who could read and write, a few left their signatures behind. They often signed historical census returns, for example, copies of which still survive.

Apart from their descendants, a signature may be all that remains of them today. So, it's my intention to feature a Signature Silhouette for each of my ancestors, whenever their signature is found. Surviving copy signatures in my family are few and far between.

Here's one for my great-grandaunt Mary Carroll. Mary never married or had children of her own, but she did raise my grandfather Kevin Wynne. Kevin was her nephew, the third child of her sister Teresa (Carroll) Wynne. He stayed in Dublin with his Mary when his parents and siblings emigrated to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.

Mary Carroll (1871-1941)

Source of signature: Will of Mary Carroll signed in 1937, The National Archives of Ireland.

Sunday 31 October 2021

Are genealogy to-do lists a help or a hindrance?

I have to admit, I'm not generally into creating to-do lists. Why waste time writing about what has to be done, when you can just get on and do it? Plus, I don't feel that sense of satisfaction other people say they experience when they complete a task and tick it off their list. So I rarely make lists, except for my genealogy task list.

This list makes sense. When I'm happily engrossed researching a family tree and have a brainwave moment about another line, or come across a promising new source that's not readily available online, it gets added to the list. Then it no longer distracts me from completing the task in hand. Otherwise, I'd probably hop from one thing to another and never finish anything. My genealogy to-do list ensures no potential clues are forgotten in the process.

Then, when I find myself with a few hours to kill in Dublin city, it helps to have a pre-prepared list of the items wanted at each record repository. And there are often a few quick-wins listed too, for when I've a spare hour or two in the evenings. This all makes for the efficient use of my genealogy time.

Recently however, my to-do list has become a place of procrastination, a never-ending list of tasks added and put on the long finger. More time is spent managing the list than completing the tasks. It's nearly overwhelming. I'm even starting to feel a sense of underachievement and associated guilt... when genealogy is supposed to be fun!

It all started during the first Lockdown. Granted, the archives were closed and most of their staff were cocooning at home and not available to respond to queries. In fairness, there was nothing I could do. But many places have been open for a while now, albeit with restrictions. It's past time to get motivated and take back control.

Yesterday, I selected five tasks to work on this week. Three of them have been actioned already, one has even had a response. Five more will be selected when these are complete. Soon I'll be back on top of things, and may even find a new story to tell you.

Already I anticipate that sense of satisfaction.

Sunday 24 October 2021

Reconnecting a lost branch to the family tree: James Byrne

Periodically, I revisit each line of my family tree in turn to examine any documents released since my last round of research. This time, while checking my maternal third great-grandparents Francis Byrne and Jane Daly, I discovered a new branch on my family tree.

Francis and Jane married in Dublin city on 11 October 1846 and had five known children:


Birth date

Death date

Spouse, marriage year
Francis Byrne
Bef. c. 1850
19 Dec 1912
Margaret McGrane, 1871
Hannah Byrne
Oct 1852
3 Apr 1926
John Comiskey, 1869
Charles Byrne
c. 1858
19 Nov 1888
Mary McCarthy, 1878
Jane Byrne
c. 1860
24 Jan 1887
William Cunningham, 1878
Catherine Byrne
4 Jan 1861
1 Jan 1930
Charles Carroll, 1920

Over the last few years additional Irish death records have been released online, including those of Charles Byrne and his sister Jane (Byrne) Cunningham.[1] Sadly, both of them caught phthisis (tuberculosis) and died young, but interestingly, Charles' death was registered by his brother - a new-to-me brother - James Byrne.

Death of Charles Byrne, Irishtown Road, Dublin, 1888

Subsequent searches showed James Byrne of 12 Upper Jane Place, the son of Francis Byrne, married Ellen Sweeney in St Laurence O'Toole's church, on 2 October 1885.[2] Their son James was born on 8 September 1887, followed by daughter Julia on 16 November 1890, son Francis on 12 July 1892 and daughter Ellen Mary on 12 August 1894.[3] They were all together at 16 Brighton Terrace, Ringsend, in 1911, along with Charles' children Edward and Ellen.[4]

Household of James Byrne, Brighton Terrace, Dublin, 1911

James, who was born about 1851, worked as a glass bottle maker. Charles had been a bottle blower. I'm not sure what the difference was between a bottle maker and a bottle blower, though obviously the blowers were the ones who shaped the molten glass into bottles. I suspect the bottle maker was the boss.

Charles and James settled in Ringsend, on the other side of the River Liffey to Jane Place, where their mother and brother Francis, my direct line, lived. Ringsend was known for its bottle factories.

The Byrnes had known ties to Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), further south along the coast, but perhaps they had a prior connection to Ringsend too. Records for St Mary's, Star of the Sea, the church serving the area, were not captured as part of the National Library's Catholic Parish Registers, so it could explain why so few baptism records for the family were found.

Like all specialist trades, sons followed fathers, and it would have been nigh on impossible for an outsider to get an apprenticeship as a bottle blower. So the question is, who got the Byrne boys in? Their father Francis Byrne, who was dead by 1869, was a stoker or fireman. I always suspected he worked in the engine room of a steamship, but maybe not.

This discovery presents a number of new clues. And it shows, even when you think you've found all there is to find, there may be something new waiting to be discovered. 

Granny's relationship with James and Charles Byrne

  1. Copy death register, Jane Cunningham, Dublin North, 1887, Group Registration ID 6873739; Copy death register, Charles Byrne, Dublin South, 1888, Group Registration ID 7051208;
  2. Copy marriage register, James Byrne & Ellen Sweeney, Dublin North, Group Registration ID 2344539,
  3. Copy birth registers, Dublin South: James Byrne, 1887, Group Registration ID 11893293; Julia Byrne, 1890, Group Registration ID 9536729; Francis Byrne, 1892, Group Registration ID 9342758 & Ellen Mary 1894, Group Registration ID 11441412,
  4. Byrne household, 16 Brighton Terrace, Pembroke West, Dublin, 1911 Census, National Archives of Ireland.