Saturday, 18 April 2015

Catharine Byrne, a ‘fallen’ woman?

My third great-grandparents, Francis and Jane (Daly) Byrne had five children that I know of. Their son, Francis, my great-great-grandfather, lived and died in Lower Jane Place, Dublin and their daughter, Hannah (Byrne) Comiskey, emigrated, spending her last forty years in New York. But, prior to the 1901 Census in Dublin, I lost track of the other three. They were named Charles, Jane and Catharine Byrne.

Buoyed by the recent success at finding a record of my third great-grandmother's death in Brooklyn, I hoped to now pick up the trail of her missing children in New York City. I knew from Jane's obituary, in 1901, she was survived by two daughters and one son.  It was this genealogical quest that has yielded my latest, perhaps somewhat polemic, discovery.

I came across the marriage of Katherine Byrnes and Charles Carroll, on 27 February 1920, in Manhattan. Ignoring spelling variations in favour of phonetic pronunciation, Katherine seems a likely contender for one of my missing great-great-grandaunts, Catharine Byrne.  This lady was also born in Dublin and her parents were named as Frank Byrnes and Jane Daly. Charles Carroll was a widower, the son of Charles Carroll and Sarah McDonald.

Everything fit, apart from Katherine’s stated year of birth –1875. She was said to have been born fourteen years after our Catharine Byrne, who was baptised in O’Toole's parish in Dublin in January 1861. But, that didn't put me off, much; this family were notoriously inaccurate when reporting their ages, especially as their years progressed. Plus, back then, it might have been very difficult to admit to being fifty-nine years old at your first marriage – better to have only been only forty-five. You may think fifty-nine sounds just plain ‘too old’ for a first marriage back then, but bear with me.

The 1920 US Federal Census, showed Charles E. and Catherine Carroll, living together as a married couple, at 405 82nd Street, Manhattan. There were also three adult children, John aged twenty-one, Charles aged twenty, and Francis aged eighteen years. Catherine was said to have been fifty-one years old, or born about 1868, here only seven years from the 1861 birth date of my great-great-grandaunt. Charles senior worked as a plasterer.  Initially, I thought he might have had the children with a former wife, who had since died. But, all was not as it first seemed.

First, this census was enumerated on 17 January 1920, nearly six weeks before the marriage. Secondly, the birth registers for John, Charles and Francis, all born in Manhattan, confirm their mother was indeed Kat(i)e Byrnes, and not some former wife of Charles.

Using the census records to trace the family backwards in time, they were all together in Manhattan, in 1910, but with an elder daughter, thirteen year old, Catherine, who was not with them in 1920. Catherine senior gave her birthdate as about 1866, getting ever closer to the actual birthdate of my great-great-grandaunt.

In the 1900 census, the household included Charles and Katie Carroll, and their infant children Katie, John and Charles. Francis was not born until 1901. Katie senior’s birth date was given as January 1865, the same month as my great-great-grandaunt and now within only four years of her birth.  They said they were six years married, although no record of their marriage has been found in the New York City records. A birth record for young Katie, which, according to the census, occurred in New York in November 1896, has likewise not been located.

Working forward from 1920, Catherine Carroll, the wife of Charles E. Carroll, and the daughter of Frank Byrnes and Sarah Daly, died on New Year’s Day in 1930.

As you've probably guessed and while I've found no absolute proof, I'm thinking all these records relate to the same Charles and Catherine/Katie (Byrnes) Carroll. There may have been some impediment to their marriage, at least until 1920, but they lived together nonetheless. I'm also thinking that this might have been my great-great-grandaunt, although her mother was Jane Daly, not the Sarah Daly listed in the death register. I have an explanation for this ‘slip-up’ though; one of her children may have registered her death and confused the names of their grandmothers – remember, their paternal grandmother was called Sarah.

Maybe Catherine and Charles merely lived together as husband and wife and did not legally marry, until 1920. It was presumably easy to pull this off in New York City, with its ever expanding population of new immigrants arriving from all over the world. If Catharine was deemed to have been a ‘fallen’ woman, it would certainly provide one explanation as to why her mother, a devout Irish Catholic, seemingly disowned her in 1900 and told the census enumerator she only had one child, her daughter Hannah, with whom she was then living.

Of course, I may well have picked up the wrong end of the stick!

‘U.S. Patent D11023’ by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi -
licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.  

Main Sources

  • Catharine Byrne, 1861, St. Lawrence, Church baptism records,
  • Katherine Byrnes and Charles Carroll, 1920, ‘New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1866-1938’, index, FamilySearch
  • Carroll Family, New York, ‘United States Census, 1900, 1910 and 1920', index and imagesFamilySearch /
  • Katherine Carroll, 1930, ‘New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,' index, FamilySearch.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Good luck figuring this out! I have a 2nd great-grandaunt who did not marry the father of her 13 children (b. 1863-1892) until 1895 although they are seen in all census listings as married. I know why they didn't marry before the 1st 8 were born - her marriage to my 2nd great-grandfather was only dissolved in 1880, 17 yrs after they married - but why did they wait another 15 yrs before finally making it legal? Very complicated! The father of her children was my gg-grandfather's brother. ~ Cathy

  2. That is complicated, Cathy. I'm thinking maybe Charles was married previously. Maybe when the actual images for the New York BMD records become available, I'll learn more.

  3. Dara, what a great story! Have you looked back from the marriage date for a death of a female Carroll? I am betting that he was married to someone who wouldn't give him a divorce, since he's listed as a widower.

  4. Thanks Kat, you may well be right. There's no obvious former wife in the New York records, on FamilySearch, but I'll keep searching.

  5. Would there be a former wife in Dublin? Maybe they emigrated together?

    1. Maybe, Kat, no positive results to my searches, so far. Catherine immigrated about 1885-86, and Charles a year later (per the US Census returns) but I've not found any immigration records.


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