Saturday 31 January 2015

Clutching at straws
Searching for the origins of an elusive Byrne ancestor in Ireland is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Who am I kidding? These days, there are tools to make that search easier. Searching for my Byrne ancestor is more akin to searching for a specific blade of hay in the haystack - one with little to distinguish it from any other blade of hay. To make matters worse, my paternal great-grandfather was blessed with the popular name Michael and his parents with the even more fashionable names, John and Elizabeth. When that last clue came to light, an ancestral sleuth with any sense might have chosen a new hobby!

Michael’s occupation was of little help in narrowing the field of potential candidates, for, like so many of his contemporaries, he worked as a labourer, and sometimes as an agricultural labourer. The only saving grace, if indeed anything can rescue this search from near-certain failure, was his father’s occupation – John Byrne was said to have been a butler. I’m not suggesting ‘butler-ing’ was an uncommon profession then – just not as common and, together with everything else, it possibly could serve to shorten the list of potential candidates. 

If the 1901 and 1911 census returns are anything to go on, Michael was born between 1868 and 1870, or, as early as 1866, if you believe Peter Dignam, Michael’s son-in-law, who registered his death in 1927.  But, in my experience, Irish people in the past were very prone to ‘losing a few years’ off their age, especially as their lives progressed. I’d have happily lost a fair few years by now too, if the modern-day preoccupation with form-filling wasn't constantly reminding me of my true birth date. So, using the RootsIreland index to identify all (as in, all those in their index) the potential baptism records for my great-grandfather, I set the search parameters to include those born, in all Ireland, between 1856 and 1876. 

A list was made of all those Byrne (+variants) children, with names beginning with the letters ‘MI’, born to a father whose name began with ‘JOHN’, ‘JON’ or ‘JOA’ and a mother whose name commenced with ‘ELI’. Surprisingly, this resulted in only five Michaels, three baptised in Co. Wicklow, one in Co. Dublin and one in Co. Carlow. Perhaps one of these Michaels was my great-grandfather.

Date               Birth Place                            Father                      Mother
Feb 1858        Kiliney, Co. Dublin               John Byrne                Eliza [not recorded]
Oct 1862        Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow    John Byrne                Elizabeth Byrne
Oct 1863        Killaveney, Co. Wicklow      John Byrne                Elizabeth Kavanagh
Oct 1865        Arklow, Co. Wicklow           John Byrne                Eliza Dempsy
Sep 1868        Bray, Co. Wicklow               John Byrne                Elizabeth Toole

Although the father’s occupation was seldom recorded in Irish Catholic baptisms, it was normally available from the child’s birth certificate. Unfortunately, birth registration only commenced in Ireland in 1864, meaning the birth of at least three of these five children was not registered. If the father happened to be a butler by trade, it might only be confirmed by checking the birth register of one of his younger children - born after 1864. Laurence Byrne was the son of John and Elizabeth (Kavanagh) Byrne, baptised in Killaveney, Co. Wicklow in 1868, and was likely the younger sibling of the Michael baptised there in 1863. However, it is far more difficult to identify a sibling for Michael Byrne of Killiney, 1858, without the maiden name of his mother, so I’ll have to skip him for now.  I’ll also have to skip Michael Byrne of Bagenalstown, 1862. His parent’s marriage seemingly took place in that parish in 1861, confirming his mother’s maiden name was truly Byrne, but no subsequent children were found born to this couple in Co. Carlow. 

When I was checking the online birth indexes for the details necessary to order the copy birth registers from the General Register Office, a sixth potential candidate was identified. This Michael Byrne was born in Finglas, Glasnevin, on 15 June 1864, to John and Eliza (Kilbride) Byrne.  Glasnevin is only about fifteen kilometres from Malahide, where our Michael married my great-grandmother Elizabeth Mahon in 1892, and is in agreement with Michael’s own assertion that he was born in Co. Dublin.  So, I ordered a copy of his birth registration, along with those for the Michael born in 1865 and 1868 and the Laurence born in 1868… and guess what… the fathers’ occupations were gatekeeper, dairyman, labourer and labourer - not a domestic servant in sight! 

… so, back to the drawing board… or maybe… could a gatekeeper have been promoted to butler in the twenty-eight years between his son’s birth and my great-grandfather’s marriage? This was the Michael born in Glasnevin.

Sometimes, it feels like I’m clutching at straws!

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 24 January 2015

Targeting the FAN Club
Researching the FAN Club of an elusive ancestor is one way to find out more about them. FAN stands for Friends, Associates, and Neighbours. It’s an American acronym for a strategy I've often used in the past, even if I didn't have a name for it.[1] Learning more about these people can often help identify the place of origin of an elusive ancestor, or the maiden name of a newly found granny. Many times, this methodology has helped me extend my pedigree back another generation. But, it hasn't worked with my great-grandfather, Michael Christopher Byrne. Nothing has worked for him, yet.

Michael was probably born in the 1860s, I don't know where, he said Co. Dublin, but maybe not. His parents were John Byrne, supposedly a butler by occupation, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown).[2] He turned up in Malahide, Co. Dublin, at least by March 1892, married my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Mahon, in August that year, and remained there until his death in 1927. Where he was before this is a big mystery. In an effort to track him down, I've learned a lot about his FAN club. In actuality, they were more likely FANs of his wife, whose family definitely had roots in Yellow Walls, Malahide. Nonetheless, I thought you might like to know about them: 

Event                                                 Witnesses / Sponsors, or FANs        
Marriage Michael and Elizabeth, 1892   Thomas Reynolds, Maria McDermott [2]
Baptism, James Byrne, 1893                Thomas Reynolds, Sarah Mahon [3]
Baptism, John Byrne, 1894                  Michael Mahon, Mary Power [3]
Baptism, Margaret Byrne, 1897            Peter Fitzpatrick, Kate Langan [3]
Baptism, Michael Byrne, 1899              William Fitzpatrick, Mary Anne Russell [3]

It turns out Elizabeth Mahon’s bridesmaid, Maria (Mary) McDermott, was also her first cousin. Mary was born on 14 April 1867, to John McDermott and Jane McDonnell, near St Douloughs, on the Malahide Road. Elizabeth’s mother Margaret was also a McDonnell. She had been living at 2 L Strand Street in Dublin city, when she married James Mahon in 1866, but she named her parent’s as Thomas and Mary McDonnell from Navan, Co. Meath. When Jane married John McDermott in 1864, she too lived at 2 Strand Street and listed her parents as Thomas and Mary McDonnell from Co. Meath. No doubt, Jane and Margaret were sisters, meaning Jane was my great-grandmother’s aunt.  Elizabeth had no siblings, so it makes sense that she chose her first cousin as her bridesmaid.

Two years later, in 1894, Mary McDermott married Thomas Reynolds, the second witness at my great-grandparent's wedding.[4] Thomas later became my grandfather’s Godfather. He was a Malahide man, baptised in the chapel there, on 30 September 1862, the son of John Reynolds and Mary Dunne.[4] Both his parents had addresses in Malahide, when they married in 1860, so it is not clear how Thomas might have known Michael, or become his bestman.[4] It seems they may have shared an interest in greyhounds, so maybe they met at a race meeting or developed a friendship through their mutual hobby. Thomas held a dog licence for a greyhound in 1890 and 1893, and the earliest dog licence we know Michael purchased was in 1892.[5]

As well as being chosen to become Godparents to her children, Michael Mahon and Sarah Mahon were Elizabeth’s first cousins, on her father’s side. They were both born to her uncle Patrick and his wife Catharine (Dalton) Mahon, in 1870 and 1872, respectively, but no link to Michael’s life before he married Elizabeth has been identified.[3]

Mary Power, my granduncle John’s Godmother, was a close neighbour and friend of my great-grandparents in Yellow Walls. Yet, she was so much more than this to my wider family, even if no prior connection to Michael Byrne has been found. She was the lady that fostered and raised my paternal grandmother, Lena O’Neill. Lena’s father died in 1895, when she was only three months old, leaving her mother unable to provide for their large family. Lena’s parents lived in Dublin city and had no known connection to Malahide, so without Mary Power, Lena would probably never have even met my grandfather, James Byrne. 

This was not Mary’s only connection to my family though, as she was related on my mother’s side too. She was born in the 1840s, to Michael Leahy and Bridget Lynch, and married Michael Power of Drynam in 1873.[4] However, her first husband was Christopher Radcliffe, my maternal third-great-granduncle, who had died of phthisis in 1872.

The Fitzpatrick brothers were also neighbours of my great-grandparents in Yellow Walls. They were about the same age as Elizabeth, though of no known relation. Peter Fitzpatrick was born in 1876 and William about 1880. Their parents were John and Celia Fitzpatrick, from the Swords Road, Yellow Walls. John and Celia married in 1874, in the chapel at Malahide.[3] John was the son of William Fitzpatrick from Yellow Walls and Celia was the daughter of Peter McGrane from Swords. Neither had any known connection to my great-grandfather, prior to his arrival in Malahide. Michael also lived on the Swords Road in the months prior to his marriage, as did Mary Power; it’s a long road and just as likely a coincidence.

Kate Langan also appears to have been a neighbour of the Byrnes in Yellow Walls. In 1901, she lived there with her relatives, William and Bartte Nugent, but no prior connection to my great-grandfather, if one exists, has yet been discovered.

I remember, two elderly men, Billy and Bob Monaghan, who often stood at their gate on the Swords Road, when I was a child. They were well known in the area. "Where are they all going", Billy would ask, as he watched the passers-by. Well, Mary Anne Russell was their mother, born in Yellow Walls in November 1879.[3] Her parents were William Russell and Catherine Byrne and both had address in Malahide when they married early in 1879.[3] The Byrne surname initially piqued my interest, as you can imagine, but Catherine’s parents were named as James and Bridget, not John and Elizabeth, the names given for my own great-great-grandparents. It’s probably surprising there were not more unrelated Byrnes in the FAN Club.

It’s surprising how, like the threads of a tapestry, the lives of our ancestors were entangled, with many links woven down through the generations, back to us. Unfortunately, however, even though I've pulled all the threads connected to my great-grandfather, his origins have not yet unraveled.

Update 2 Jul 2016: At this stage I had not pulled the thread that was Mary Power hard enough, because it turned out, she was Michael Byrne's maternal aunt. Their relation has since been well-proven, but it is confirmed 'in writing' here

© 2015, Black Raven Genealogy

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, FamilySearch
[2] 1892, Byrne-Mahon, Copy marriage register, General Register Office.
[3] Church registers, St Sylvester's chapel, Malahide, 1864-1912, images, Ancestry.
[4] Church registers, index and transcriptions, RootsIreland.
[5] Dog licence register, Swords, 1866-1914, index and images, Findmypast

Saturday 17 January 2015

British wills, including those of Florence Nightingale, Winston Churchill and my own great-granny, released online

Florence Nightingale, England and Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1910

Wills are public documents and in December 2014, the UK government announced it was making millions of them available online. These documents date back to 1858 and include the last wishes of 41 million people who died and left property in England and Wales. So, if you are interested in social history, family history or are just plain nosy, for £10, you can order the will of Florence Nightingale or maybe that of your own granny and a copy of the document will be available for download within two weeks.

Teresa Wynne, England and Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1958

The will of my great-grandmother, Teresa (Carroll) Wynne, was listed in their index. Teresa died of cancer at her home in Newcastle upon Tyne, on 9 July 1958, when she was seventy years old. By then, she had been a widow for over twenty years and resided with her second eldest son Brendan. Brendan, who remained unmarried until after his mother’s passing was named as the Executor of her estate, which was valued at over £3,500.

This week, I received my copy of her last will and testament and it reads:
  1. THIS IS THE WILL made the First day of May, One thousand nine hundred and fifty eight of me TERESA WYNNE of 297/299 Two Ball Lonnen, Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Widow. 
  2. I GIVE, DEVISE AND BEQUEATH all my estate both real and personal, subject to payment of my debts and funeral expenses, to my son Brendan Patrick Wynne absolutely and I APPOINT him my sole Executor hereof. 
  3. I REVOKE all former Wills, AS WITNESS my hand

Signature, Teresa (Carroll) Wynne, Last will and testament, 1958 

It’s short and to the point and, from a genealogical perspective, a little disappointing. Her seven other children did not even get a mention – on reflection, maybe it was even more disappointing for them.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Friday 9 January 2015

Friday’s Faces from the Past: More Wynne cousins

James, Clarissa and Gerald Wynne, Dundalk
James, Clarissa and Gerald Wynne, the children of John and Maggie Wynne from Dundalk, Co. Louth, were first cousins of my grandfather, Kevin Wynne.  Clarissa’s story was told previously here, so today let me introduce you to James and Gerald. They too emigrated to New York in the early twentieth century. 

James Augustine Wynne, with an address at Chapel Lane, Dundalk, Co. Louth, was baptised on 9 August 1888, the son of John Wynne and Margt Ward. His birth date was 5 August 1888. He seemingly acquired his middle name later in life, perhaps as his confirmation name. Augustine was not recorded as part of his name at the time of his birth, either in the Dundalk baptism register or on his birth register. He may have taken the name in memory of his eldest brother, John Augustine, who died in 1893, aged only sixteen years. 

James followed his brothers, Joseph and Gerald, to Manhattan in 1915 and obtained U.S. citizenship on 2 May 1922. There, he worked as an elevator-man in a hotel, a career he undoubtedly never considered as a child growing up in Dundalk. While James registered for the US Draft in 1918 and again in 1942, there is no evidence that he served in either World War. He did join the US Army National Guard in 1920 and was promoted to Captain before his retirement in 1929. 

The 1940 US Federal census lists the fifty-one year old in Manhattan, still unmarried and living with his sister Clarissa. However, the transcript of his baptism register contains a note reading ‘Dominica Nordene 28121956 St Patrick's Dundalk’ that suggests James married a lady called Dominica Nordene (not your typically Irish name) in St Patrick’s, Dundalk on 28 December 1956. No reference to this marriage was found on the FamilySearch marriage index for Ireland, but, an unsourced family tree on Ancestry also shows James married to a similarly named, Dominea Nardoni. It’s nice to think, even if he had to wait seventy years, James finally met someone that made him happy. 

Gerald Patrick Wynne, with an address at Bachelor’s Walk, Dundlak, was baptised on 13 July 1890, the son of John Wynne and Margaret Armstrong (not Ward). His birth date was 10 July 1890. Gerald emigrated to New York about 1911, where he became a barber. There is no indication that Gerald ever married, but he remained in New York all his life and died there towards the end of 1967. 

There is a little confusion surrounding James and Gerald’s mother, i.e. was her maiden name Ward or Armstrong? Margarita Mary Ward, the daughter of John Ward, was said to have been a spinster at the time of her marriage to John Wynne in Dundalk on 11 July 1876. However, the surname Armstrong was recorded when their three eldest children were born, John Augustine in 1877, Margaret Isabel in 1879 and Mary Frances in 1881. She then used the name Ward at the baptisms of Joseph, Mary Agnes, Nora Mabel and James between 1883 and 1888 and reverted to Armstrong again, between 1890 and 1895, when Gerald Patrick, Mary Clarissa and Philip Camillus were born.

Initially, I thought John Wynne may have married twice - two Margarets - or that there were two completely separate Wynne families. Yet, the dates do not line up for a second marriage and many of these children can be seen together with their father in Bachelor’s Walk at the time of the 1901 census. When, I obtained the register of James Wynne’s birth, his mother’s name was recorded as Armstrong, not Ward as given at his baptism, suggesting there really was only one Margaret. Perhaps, Armstrong was the name of her ‘adoptive’ father?

Sources include: Church records on RootsIreland; BMD registers, General Register Office; FamilySearch, Ireland, civil registration indexes, 1845-1958; 1901 and 1911 census, National Archives Ireland; and Ancestry - New York Naturalization Records 1882-1944, 1920-1940 U.S. Federal Census, New York Military Service Cards 1816-1979, World War I Draft Registration Cards 1917-18, World War II Draft Registration Cards 1942, U.S. Social Security Death Index 1935-2014. 

Wynne family photograph courtesy of Gabrielle, a relative of the Dundalk family.

© 2015, Black Raven Genealogy

Monday 5 January 2015

Happy Handsel Monday!

An Irish Penny

Handsel Monday was a tradition celebrated in our house, when I was young. The custom is seldom practiced in Ireland today, but was still widely celebrated up to the mid-twentieth century. When my mother was a child in Dublin city, she remembers receiving a three penny bit from her Aunt Kate on the first Monday of each year. When we were children, Mam gave each of us a coin on this day. It was a token of good luck, to ensure our prosperity for the New Year. At least, she said, if we held onto our penny, we would never be penniless. 😂

The tradition, or at least a version of it, was also practiced in Malahide, Co. Dublin, in my Dad's extended family. Christopher Mahon, from the Swords Road, was my third cousin once removed. In September 1938, when he was thirteen years old, Chris participated in a scheme initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission, aiming to capture and preserve the folklore of the Irish Free State, and wrote an essay entitled 'Certain Days'. 'The Schools' Collection', as it is now known, has thousands of such essays, written by school children across Ireland. Chris wrote:

‘The first Monday after Christmas is considered very lucky. It is called Hansel Monday. If people transact any business on that day and receive silver in return it is said they are never short afterwards’.

Apparently, it is an ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition and not a Celtic tradition, as I might have imagined. The word ‘handsel’ apparently has roots in the old English ‘handselen’, meaning ‘delivery into the hand’ and the custom possibly crossed the Irish Sea with Scottish settlers. As the tradition was passed down in my maternal lineage, it might suggest a Scottish, or maybe Northern English, influence. Something to bear in mind as I search for their ancestors.

So, please accept this gift of a virtual penny today, to ensure your prosperity throughout the New Year!