Saturday 28 June 2014

Untangling the roots of Frank Byrne

The census of Ireland in 1911, which is freely available online, confirmed that Francis and Margret Byrne of Lower Jane Place, Dublin, my great-great-grandparents, were then thirty-seven years married. Their marriage would thus have taken place about 1873-74, well after civil registration began for Irish Catholics, but as their first son Myles was born in January 1873, they more likely married a year or two earlier, maybe 1871-72. Unfortunately, however, no record of their marriage was apparent, either with the civil authorities or in the church registers.

Baptismal records and copies of civil birth registrations for their many children, including those of my great-grandfather, James Byrne, confirmed that Margaret’s maiden name was McGrane (also often spelt Magrane). Byrne was a very common surname in Ireland and is often difficult to research. Actually, a study in 1893 identifies it as the most prominent surname in Dublin.1 However, McGrane was not so common and, even with its numerous spelling variants, the search should have been relatively easy.

The registers of most Roman Catholic parishes in Dublin in this timeframe are freely available online at St Laurence O’Toole’s parish, where their marriage likely took place, even has images of the original registers attached. Yet, there was just no sign of a likely Byrne-McGrane marriage in Dublin, nor indeed in the whole of Ireland, around this time.

O’Toole's register lists a Margarita [Margaret] Magrane, who married Franciscus [Francis] Bird on 17 September 1871. The original page of the register clearly reads Bird, not Byrne. Additional information on the register revealed that Francis was the son of Francis Bird and Jane Daly of Kingstown [now Dun Laoghaire] and Margaret was the daughter of Miles Magrane and Margaret Doyle living in Exchange Street. The marriage, with the ‘Bird’ and not ‘Byrne’ surname, was registered in the General Register Office and the copy register confirmed that Francis Bird senior was a fireman [as in a stoker for a steam engine], deceased, and that Miles Magrane was a labourer. After much searching, I concluded that this was my great-great-grandparent’s marriage record, but with an error in the groom’s surname.
GRO copy marriage register, Bird [Byrne] – Magrane, 1871

No other likely marriage record was located and no further evidence of the existence of this Francis and Margaret Bird was found.   The bride and groom signed the register with ‘their mark’ and being illiterate or semi-illiterate may not have been able to pick up the error in Francis’s surname. Francis Byrne confirmed he could not read in the 1911 census and although Margaret Byrne was recorded as being able to read and write, she signed the birth registers for my great-grandfather, James Byrne, and a number of his siblings with ‘her mark’. All evidence subsequently gathered suggests that this is the correct record for their marriage and the priest just got Francis’s surname wrong.

First, Margaret Magrane was bridesmaid for a Hannah Byrne, the daughter of Francis Byrne and Jane Daly, also of Kingstown, who married John Comiskey in St Laurence O’Toole’s church on 5 December 1869.  Secondly, Charles, son of Francis and Jane Byrne, then of 8 Upper Jane Place, married Mary McCarthy on 19 January 1878 in St Laurence O’Toole’s and their civil marriage register additionally records his father’s occupation as fireman, deceased. These records prove the existence of Francis Byrne, a fireman, whose wife was Jane Daly with a onetime address in Kingstown and prove a McGrane connection to their family. It is highly improbable that there was also a Francis Bird with these exact same particulars, with a son Francis who was living in the same street at the same time as my great-great-grandfather, who also married a Margaret McGrane, probably in St Lawrence O’Toole’s parish, in the early 1870s.

At this stage, I was fairly certain that I had untangled Frank Byrne’s roots and discovered my great-great-great-grandparents were Francis Byrne and Jane Daly. However, the next step was to prove that the Margaret McGrane, recorded as marrying Francis Bird, was in fact my Granny’s paternal grandmother. More on this, next week.

1 Robert Matheson, Special Report on Surnames in Ireland (Dublin, 1894) p. 27.
Note: click on images to enlarge.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Names are such a challenge sometimes, and it take so much detective work! Is there any way that Byrne could be pronounced that it might sound like Bird? For example, if a person had a cold; or if he had an accent; or if the priest had a hearing problem?

  2. Nancy, I also suspect something like that must have happened. I was cautious as this is the only instance of a spelling variant’ found in my Byrne family in Dublin, and, for my sins, two of my grandparents had the surname!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!