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


  1. Though it might be frustrating for you now, Dara--and, granted, Irish genealogical research presents its own unique challenges--it may turn out that these seemingly unrelated people with that same surname were distant cousins. I am seeing surprising outcomes in my own research now, following lines back in time and coupling that with "what if" explorations plus heeding family lore. Makes me want to trace each of these lines down to the present, and see if the current day descendants would be willing to participate in autosomal DNA testing to explore possibilities...

  2. Dara, I had not heard of FAN Club before. Just one more avenue of research to add to my To Do List. ha!


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