Saturday, 30 May 2015

Genealogy Saturday: Evidence or coincidence?

In genealogy, we often seek out patterns to further our goals. We use naming patterns to help predict grandparents' names, and migration patterns to identify potential places of origin. But sometimes, as humans, we observe patterns where they do not in fact exist – we see a face on the moon, animals in the clouds, and occasionally even hear voices in the breeze. Sometimes this works in our favour. Sometimes it leads us down false paths. And, sometimes it’s hard for a genealogist to tell the difference.

Recently, I learnt William and Hannah Daly were the parents of my third great-grandmother, Jane (Daly) Byrne. Hannah's maiden name was not revealed.

Richard Daly's parents were also named William and Hannah Daly. Richard was born in Spring Gardens, Dublin, in December 1818 and my hunch is he was Jane's brother. When he married Sarah McGrane, his mother's maiden name, and potentially that of my fourth great-grandmother, was confirmed as ‘Dillon’.

There is nothing to prove Richard and Jane were siblings. All I can do is check the surviving documentation for any sign of a relationship between the two.  Yet, even this is complicated!

First, Richard's wife Sarah and my second great-grandmother, Margaret McGrane, were sisters and Margaret was married to Jane's son, Francis Byrne. So, in proving a relationship between the Byrnes and the Dalys, I have to be mindful of this McGrane connection. Secondly, in the 1870s, Jane and Richard were neighbours in Upper Jane Place, Dublin, which could be indicative of a familial relationship, but might also, in itself, account for any perceived relationship between the pair.

Nevertheless, there is some evidence of a pre-McGrane relationship between the Dalys and the Byrnes:-

Francis and Margaret (McGrane) Byrne lived with Richard Daly at 18 Upper Jane Place, in November 1879, when their daughter, Margaret, was born. Richard and Sarah were married over three months by then, so it could be argued they were staying with Sarah and this was a McGrane connection.  

But, and I missed this initially, the Byrnes were also living with Richard Daly when their infant son, Charles, died in April 1879, three months PRIOR to Richard and Sarah's marriage. Now, it could be argued, there was a pre-exiting connection between the Byrnes and the Dalys, one that might even have led to the incongruous match between the seventeen year old Sarah and the sixty year old widower, Richard.

So, as Francis Byrne's grandparents were William and Hannah Daly, and as Richard Daly’s parents were William and Hannah Daly, and as Francis was living with Richard, it's quite easy to surmise he was living with his uncle. Right? Else, it was an amazing coincidence!

Separately, William Daly, Richard's father, died on 27 July 1876, at 18 Upper Jane Place. Copy death registers in Ireland were not usually very informative, genealogically speaking, except they did record the name of the informant, and that person was often a relative. My hope, when I ordered a copy of William's death register, was the informant would be named as ‘Jane Byrne, daughter’, and I would have the ‘proof’ I needed. Ha!

That was too much to ask for, but the answer was probably better than I expected. The informant was Catherine BYRNE of 16 Upper Jane Place. Catherine was present when William died. Jane (Daly) Byrne's youngest daughter was named Catherine. She was fourteen years old at the time. Is this another amazing coincidence?

Or, was it a coincidence at all?

Would a mere neighbour have been with William in his final hours?  - ok, maybe she would, if she had ‘nursing’ experience. But, would she have registered his death?

Looking at the copy death registers obtained in respect of all my direct ancestors, unless they died in a hospital, ALL the informants were close family members of the deceased. Sometimes their relationship was stated and sometimes it was not. Yet, the most distantly related informant in my family was a son-in-law and he had been living with the deceased. Based on this, the chances are Catherine and William were closely related.

The relevant legislation for registering deaths in Ireland was introduced in 1864 and the responsibility for completing the task fell to ‘some person present at the death’ or ‘the occupier of the house or tenement in which the death took place.’ So, a neighbour, if present at or around the time, might have registered his death, even if this did not normally happen in practice.[1] 

It is interesting to note though, an amendment to the legislation in 1880, within four years of William's passing, made it a requirement, in the first instance, for the informant to be ‘the nearest relatives present at the death.' Failing this, the responsibility next fell to ‘every other relative of the deceased dwelling or being in the same district as the deceased’.[1]
So, on the balance of probabilities, it would seem the informant, Catherine Byrne, was a close relative of William. And, since our Catherine Byrne's grandparents were William and Hannah Daly, we might easily conclude this William was her grandfather and her grandmother, my fourth great-grandmother, was his wife, Hannah Dillon. 

Or, and my fear is, looking at anything long enough might cause such analogies to appear and I might be seeing patterns that do not actually exist.

Our ancestral path to William and Hannah Daly

[1] Source: The Registration of Births and Deaths (Ireland) Act, 1863 (Part III, Section 36); Registration (Ireland, Amendment) Act, 1880 (Section 10), accessed HISTPOP

Other posts in this series:

    © 2015 Black Raven Genealogy


    1. I can totally relate to this dilemma, Dara. I have for years struggled with my Sarah and William Sampson (mid 1800s) because there were 4 sets of couples with those same names. I can eliminate 2 based on age, but the other 2 couples were the same age. Both were neighbors of MY Sarah's siblings or nieces/nephews, so looking for a connection based on location isn't helpful. I keep studying patterns too.

      1. Wendy, I guess it's typical of any place where records have not survived. I can add, from much experience with incomplete records, if you keep digging, often you will come across a piece of evidence to confirm your theory, maybe not beyond all levels of doubt, but enough to give sufficient comfort you are correct. Don't give up hope and one day, a solution may become apparent!

    2. Good post. I feel your pain. Do you have any idea how many John Snyders and Catharine Snyders there are in the U.S.? It really hasn't helped that they married each other and that each family has a tradition of repeated Johns and Philips and Catharines. Driving me nuts! Thanks for sharing! I've included this post in my NoteWorthy Reads post for this week:

    3. I can imagine, Jo, two of my grandparents were Byrne, but, at least, they did not marry each other! Thank you for including my post in this week's Noteworthy Reads - I always love your selections.

    4. Dara, like Wendy and Jo, I can relate to your frustration, especially at those times when it seems as though you're just a hair's breadth away from as close to definitive proof as you can get, and it comes to naught. Like you I turn to the balance of probabilities, and worry that I may be seeing a pattern that is not there.

    5. Thank you, Jennifer. I'm out of ideas as to where to look next for this one, but hopefully I will receive a burst of inspiration in the near future!.


    I look forward to reading your comments, even more especially if you're related to someone mentioned in this post.

    Comments are visible publicly. You may also contact me privately by email - blackraven.genealogy [at] gmail [dot] com.