Saturday, 27 September 2014

Open letter to my GG-Grandfather, John Wynne

To: John Wynne,
c/o Heaven.

Dear John,

Let me start by saying, thank you, not only for your existence, but for your survival and success in raising your family, my family. I’m sure living in Dublin in the nineteenth century was difficult enough at times. You’ll be delighted to know that life is good for your descendants (at least, the ones I know). We certainly wouldn't be where we are today, without you.

It would be nice to know more about you, John. What did you do for fun, after work? Where did you meet my GG-Granny, Bridget Hynes? Oh, and where did you come from?  Especially that one, John, please tell me where you came from. You are what's known as a brick wall ancestor, John, but I know you’ll give up your secrets in time. It’s only that, well, patience is a virtue I wasn't blessed with. Did I inherit that trait from you, John?

From 1848 onwards, you made sure you were well documented. It’s not your fault the parish failed to record your parent’s names on your marriage register. It’s not your fault either that the census reports from 1861 to 1891, which I’m sure you filled out with lots of helpful hints, were destroyed by order of the government. Had they not been, they would probably have perished during the Civil War anyway, along with those from 1821 to 1851.  I know you lived long enough to claim your old age pension in 1909, but, sadly, no documentation has survived relating to your claim. They must have pulped that too.

Where were you before 1848 though, John?

Oh, there are plenty of tall tales about where you originated. I hear our Wynne family was originally Welsh and came to Ireland with the Huguenots during the reign of Louis XIV – interesting – but not very helpful in the search for your parents. Rumours abound of a relationship to the illustrious Wynne family of Hazelwood, Sligo. Even if true, any common ancestor likely lived in the early eighteenth century. So, again, it’s not helpful. We need to work backwards, one step at a time, generation by generation, starting with your own parents.  

Some people have you in their family-trees on (That’s a web-site, John, but, we’ll have to leave an explanation of ‘the internet’ for another day). They say you were from Dundalk, Co. Louth, a brother to the famous church-builder. They don’t cite their source though and couldn't tell me how they knew. I've searched high and low to prove it true, but it’s not stacking up for us, John.

In 1920, your daughter, Mary, claimed you were from Scotland. I don’t believe her either. In the four other census returns between 1900 and 1940, she admitted it was Ireland. She left Dublin for a better life in America and must have met with much anti-Irish discrimination. It was presumably better to be Scots-Irish than Irish - posher, maybe. Poor Mary, she just wanted what was best for her boys.

So, this leaves my final clue.  You said it yourself, John. You were born in ‘Dublin City’ about 1821. It’s what you wrote in the 1901 census and I do want to believe you.  I’m not short of possibilities either, e.g. a John, son of John Wynne and Honora Minor, was baptised in SS Michael and John church on 23 December 1822.  Was this you, John, a Christmas baby? You had three grandkids named Nora. I hate to be difficult, but I really do need some kind of corroborating evidence, please, if it’s not too much bother.

It’s not my place to be critical, John, but you really didn’t leave behind much in the way of the ole ‘evidence’ concerning your origins.  Had you no brothers or sisters with the Wynne surname that could have witnessed your wedding in 1849, or sponsored the baptism of one of your ten children in the following decades? It would have opened up a whole new avenue for research, John. Did you not have even one trusted first cousin? 

Thank you for always being such an upstanding and sober member of society – not a single mention of you in the prison records and they were meticulous at recording the exact place of birth in those prison records.  I wouldn't have thought any less of you, John. Everyone knows they locked people up, in those days, for merely looking in the direction of a pint of stout.

You did leave behind some other clues though, John. Your very essence remains in the DNA of all your descendants. Two of your great-grandchildren have been tested, as well as your great-great-granddaughters, Aileen in Dublin and Phyllis in California. We’re all searching for you, John. Do you know any of your other descendants, or better still, the descendants of your siblings?  Whisper to them in their dreams, “Do a DNA test, get tested, get tested…” Start with the one with the old family-bible!

We really do need some help here, please.

your loving GG-Granddaughter,

Image: ‘Carrier pigeon with letter’ courtesy of the Graphics Fairy.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Dara, such a lovely and clever way to 'address' your great-great-grandfather John, asking those questions which we all dearly wish we could ask those who left this world long before us. I think he would be very proud of his great-granddaughter and the efforts you are making to uncover his history.

    1. Thank you Jennifer, I really appreciate your kind words. It is nice to think he may be looking down on me, encouragingly.

  2. Dara, I love the open letter concept. Well done! If only the little pigeon really could delver your letter and bring a reply.

    1. Thanks Ellie, I’m counting on the pigeon delivering the letter and just hope I understand the response when it arrives!

  3. This is the letter I was beginning to compose in my mind this morning -- except to my own ancestor, of course. If only they would help just a little more....

    1. Oh, if only we could spend a few hours with them, Nancy!

  4. Dara, this is a wonderful letter. I'm sure many of us would like to write similar letters to our ancestors if only we could get a response.

    1. Thank you, Colleen. If only! I’ll let you know if I have any success.

  5. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful letter. I do hope John gives up more of his secrets soon. I read this after reading your newer post, and it really underlines my previous point about documenting sources. I’ve not been good at that so far, but I intend to get better.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!