Sunday 27 April 2014

DNA Diary: Our Family Tree DNA - Population Finder Beta Results

Do you remember that I got the DNA kits for Christmas?  Well, the results are in. The first results that I looked at were the Population Finder results, attempting to identify the geographic origins of our ancestors.
Family Tree DNA - Population Finder Beta Results

Dad’s DNA results show 99.15% Orcadian (British Isles), as expected, while Mam’s show 95.16% Orcadian (British Isles) but have a surprise 4.84% South Asian (Southeast Indian, North Indian) element.

The Population Finder program examines DNA called 'autosomal DNA', which we inherit 50% from each parent, who in turn inherited 50% from each of their parents, so all lines are theoretically represented. We have about 25% DNA in common with each grandparent, 12.5% in common with each great-grandparent, etc., but by the time we go back further than the great-great-great-grandparents, the DNA gets so diluted it’s difficult for it to be attributed to anyone in particular. So, the test is supposedly only looking back about five or six generations and for our family we ‘know’ that these ancestors were probably mostly Irish. Given the surnames Radcliffe, Sarsfield, etc. in our family tree we might expect the odd English ancestor too. 

I suppose you were wondering what Orcadian (British Isles) DNA is. Well, the Population Finder compares each person’s DNA to 'the DNA of hundreds of ethnic groups around the world', except they didn’t incorporate a sample of ‘Irish’ DNA per se. The British Isles were seemingly represented by DNA samples taken in the Orkney Islands, which is an isolated spot to the north of Scotland. Obviously, Orcadian DNA is quite different to Irish DNA, so, to better represent average Irish DNA, 'the computer' then mixes in DNA from elsewhere, e.g. South Asia. You can see how this process might give rise to some spurious results. Given Mam’s surprise element is only about 5%, we probably don’t have any Indian ancestors in the past five or six generations.

Dr. Doug McDonald helped FTDNA write the Population Finder program and helpfully explained how results like Mam’s might be read.1 If I understand him correctly, roughly speaking, with 5% Indian DNA, Mam may have had an ancestor(s) who came from southern England, which is where you’d be if you were 240 miles (or 5% ) of the way from Dublin to middle-India (4,750 miles). This is a crude calculation and I’m not sure if maybe you should start the journey from the Orknies as opposed to from Dublin, but you get the gist – we might have an ancestor from Britain, not India.

So, does that mean that Dad’s results are the strange ones after-all, given that they match the Orknies so well?

1 Roberta Estes, ‘Doug McDonald on Biogeograpical Analysis’, accessed 24 April 2014.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 26 April 2014

Finding Lena's mother (part 2)
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.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

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

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy  

Saturday 12 April 2014

The end of a lineage

My fourth great-grandparents, Peter and Anne Radcliffe had six sons of their own, five of whom survived childhood and lived to carry on the family name – Peter (who probably died as a child), John, Thomas, Peter, Joseph and Christopher – all born between 1826 and 1841. Rumour has it that one of the boys had a son out of wedlock, but the couple were not allowed to marry. The baby’s mother was said to have knelt and cursed the family and afterwards no more sons would be born, only daughters, and the Radcliffe name would died out.

This is typical of old Irish superstitions. I’ve now located all the known Radcliffe boys, the eldest two having only recently been found in Australia, so it was interesting to see 'the curse' come to pass.

John Radcliffe, the eldest surviving son, and his wife Mary had one daughter, Anne, my great-grandmother, born about 1849. They had no other children. John was widowed and ended up in Australia about 1859. He married Bridget Flanagan there in 1861, but had no more children.

Thomas Radcliffe also went to Australia and married Mary Minogue from Feakle, Co. Clare in 1863. Thomas and Mary had three sons, Peter, Thomas and Joseph. This story should end here – three sons – case closed and curse disproved. Except, research shows ‘the curse’ merely skipped a generation. Joseph died in a shooting accident in 1895, aged only twenty-two years, while Peter was childless when he died in a motor vehicle crash, aged sixty years in 1928 and Thomas, who died in 1932, aged sixty-one years, only had one daughter, Mary, who also died young.

Peter Radcliffe married Jane Corr of Swords, in May 1868. Peter was a plasterer and Jane was a smith and they lived in Malahide. Peter died of chronic brights disease (kidney failure) on 20 April 1891, aged fifty-seven years and his wife, Jane, died one year and one day later.  Peter and Jane had no children.

Joseph Ratcliffe, was thirty-two years of age when he married Bridget Grogan. The marriage was held in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough Street, Dublin, on 29 December 1867. Joseph and Bridget lived a long life in Malahide, where Joseph was a painter and farmer, like his father. Joseph was in his eighties when he died in 1918, having been married for more than fifty years and his wife died in 1923. The couple were not blessed with children of their own.

Finally, when Christopher was twenty-four years old, he married Mary Leahy, in May 1866, at Rathmines in south Dublin. There is no record of them having had any children. Within six years of their marriage, Christopher died of phthisis (tuberculosis) at their home in Malahide.  In March 1872, he was buried in the Abbey Graveyard, in the grounds of Malahide Castle. In August the following year, his widow Mary married Michael Power of Drynam.

While there may well be other sons, not yet found, tragedy certainly seemed to have followed this Radcliffe family. Our Radcliffe name appears to have ended with the passing of grandson Thomas in 1932. Were they cursed? Maybe not literally, but perhaps the story of the curse was latched onto in later years as an explanation for the end of their lineage. This would mean previous generations, more closely linked to events, also noted its end.

Sad, to think I won’t find any Radcliffe cousins, closer than those descended from my great-great-grandmother Anne (Radcliffe) Carroll.

Sources: Church records at RootsIreland; Victoria birth, deaths and marriages; Australian newspapers; Church records at IrishGenealogy; General Register Office, copy marriage and death registers; Census of Ireland, 1911; Michael Egan, Memorials of the Dead, no. 9, 1996, p. 153; The image is an illustration of a dodo in the menagerie of Emperor Rudolph II at Prague, by Jacob Hoefnagel c.1602 (Wikimedia commons).

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 5 April 2014

‘Hello Ratty’

As you know from my previous posts, I have been looking at our Radcliffe lineage in the past few weeks and believe I have made another really exciting break-through. I may even have found some 5th great-grandparents.
Our Radcliffe Pedigree 

My 3rd great-granduncle, Joseph Radcliffe (1835-1918), brother of John above, was known to his neighbours in Yellow Walls as ‘Ratty’. I had always thought that this was merely an unfortunate nickname. ‘Ratty’ was the last member of our Radcliffe family known to have lived in Malahide, Co. Dublin. He died in 1918, yet memory of him survived. Until relatively recently, there was even a disparaging ditty recited locally concerning his abilities as a house-painter,  but unfortunately, I do not know the words.  

Ratty is certainly not a widely known variant of the Radcliffe surname, even though the renowned Irish genealogist, Edward MacLysaght, recognised it as an 'occasional abbreviation’.  No consistent spelling for 'Radcliffe' was used by my family over the years and I have searched for all the variants. However, never before did I think to check for ‘Ratty’ as a surname. Not until recently.

When I did, I found three more children born to my 4th great-grandparents Peter Radcliffe and Anne Sarsfield. Their baptisms were recorded in the same Roman Catholic Church, where I had found the baptism of John Radcliffe - St Colmcille’s, Swords.

Originally, I had discovered the following children:
  • Peter Ratcliff baptised on 4 May 1826; 
  • John Ratcliff on 15 June 1827, my 3rd great-grandfather; 
  • Joseph Radcliff on 1 November 1835; and 
  • Christopher Radcliff on 2 June 1841.
Now, I can add three more children to the list, nicely filling the eight-year gap between John and Joseph: 
  • Thomas Ratty baptised on 19 Jul 1829;
  • The only daughter, Mary Ratty on 9 July 1831; and
  • Peter Ratty on 6 August 1833. 

The first Peter, born in 1826, may have died in childhood, with the name being reused for the next boy born.

This Ratty surname has opened up a whole new avenue for further research into our Ratcliff(e)/Radcliff(e) lineage.  It has also provided the names of six additional Godparents, some of whom may well be related to Peter and Anne, and perhaps hold the clues necessary to extend their pedigrees back another generation.

Unfortunately, Peter and Anne’s marriage record is still not immediately obvious in St Colmcille’s records, or in the surrounding parishes. However, I may have found Peter’s baptism record.  A Peter Ratty was baptised in the nearby Baldoyle parish, on 25 November 1798. His siblings’ baptisms were also recorded - John Ratty in 1791, Thomas in 1792, a second John in 1794, Mark in 1797, Ellen in 1806 and Margaret in 1809. Peter’s parents, and possibly my 5th great-grandparents, were named as Thomas Ratty and Mary Cullen. Coincidentally, or not, these names were given to two of Peter and Anne's children. It's not a common name in Ireland, but it seems that there were two men named Thomas Ratty living in Baldoyle at this same time, adding complications to the search. 

My 4th great-grandfather, Peter Radcliffe, died on 17 March 1887, and his son Joseph registered his age as 90 years. A 1798 baptism is therefore quite feasible. Proving it, however, is another matter entirely.

Sources:  Edward MacLysaght, The Surnames of Ireland (Dublin, 1985), p. 255; Church records,

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy