Saturday 9 May 2015

Newspaper archives - A genealogy goldmine

James and Lena (O'Neill) Byrne, 
Malahide, Co. Dublin, 1934

When Lena (O'Neill) Byrne, my paternal grandmother, died in October 1956, her funeral notice in the Sunday Independent proclaimed she was ‘deeply regretted’ by a ‘sister and brothers’. I know Lena was the youngest child of nine, yet, I could not identify which of her siblings survived her passing.  

So, I've spent my free time this week trying to plug the gaps, and although ‘O'Neill’ is one of those impossibly common surnames in Ireland, I'm getting there, bit by bit, partly with the help of family newspaper announcements (thanks to a recent three day free trial with the Irish Newspaper Archives).* 

Lena's four Sisters
Lena's sisters, Teresa (Aunt Tess) and Johanna Mary (Aunt Joan) O'Neill, both predeceased her, by five years. Aunt Tess married a widower, Richard Greer, in 1928 and lived in Drumcondra, Dublin.[1]  One of her step-daughters, Mary Greer, was Lena's bridesmaid, when she married my grandfather. Aunt Tess died on 1 August 1951 and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.[2] Aunt Joan married Jack Lockhead in England, in 1924, and seemingly also died in 1951, in England.[3]

Lena's eldest sister was baptised Mary Catherine O'Neill, in Westland Row, on 25 August 1876.[4] Mary is not remembered in our family today and no further trace of her has been found; she may have died in childhood, hence the name Mary being used again, when Mary Agnes was born.

Known as ‘Aunt May’, Mary Agnes (O'Neill) Pyke was the wife of Robert Pyke, and the mother of the illustrious Bobby Pyke.  She died, aged seventy-five years, on 24 May 1960. So, at the time of Lena's death, Aunt May was her sole surviving sister.
Mary Agnes (O'Neill) Pyke, Obituary,
Irish Independent, 25 May 1960, p.1.

Lena’s Four Brothers
Lena's eldest brother was Charles Joseph O'Neill, born on 23 March 1875, and baptised in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. So far, only his birth and baptism records have been identified, and like Mary Catherine, he is no longer remembered in our family and likely died before Lena.[5]

Uncle Artie was definitely one of the brothers to survive Lena's passing as he lived in London until 7 January 1965. This leaves Uncle Jack, only remembered as having had a family, and Uncle Rob, who it is thought might have lived in Navan, Co. Meath. 

John O'Neill (Uncle Jack) was born on 29 September 1879, at Queens Square, Dublin.[6] He became a house-painter and in 1901 married Lillian O'Grady, an Irish girl, born in Liverpool.[7] They went on to have a string of children and lived in Lower Dominick Street in Dublin City until, at least, the early 1940s, when the area became severely run-down.[8] The record of John's death has, so far, remained hidden, probably in plain sight among the myriad of others named John O'Neill, who died in Dublin.

Uncle Rob, or Robert Joseph O'Neill, to give him his full name, was born at 2 Bath Street, in Dublin, in 1878.[9] In 1901, he also worked as a house-painter and lived with his mother and step-father.[10] There was no sign of him in Dublin in 1911, and when I searched the census for Navan, I came across a Robert O'Neill, of the right age, an insurance agent, living with wife Bridget, son Robert and three step-children.[11] Could this have been my missing granduncle?

Next, I found a newspaper obituary for a Robert O'Neill, who died in Navan on 31 January 1957, and, although it contains no mention of Bridget, it most definitely features my granduncle.  

This is one of those local newspaper obituaries every family historian dreams of finding. It provides a biography of Robert's life, which you can read below, but more significantly, it lists the chief mourners at his funeral. Starting with his wife and children, there follows a list of people, who taken together, provide absolute proof of his connection to my grandmother:  
‘Mr. Arthur O'Neill, England (brother); Mrs. May Pyke, Dublin (sister); Mr. Robert Pyke, Dublin, Mr. Richard Greer, Dublin and Mr. James Burne, Malahide (brothers-in-law) and Mrs. L. O'Neill, Dublin (sister-in-law).’

Ok, they spelt my grandfather's name wrong - Lena's widower, one of Robert's brothers-in-law, was James Byrne of Malahide, not James Burne - but nevertheless, this answers most of my questions!

Robert O’Neill, (1878-1957), Dublin, Navan
Robert O'Neill, (1878-1957),
Obituary, Meath Chronicle, 9 February 1957, p. 6.

If you are descended from anyone mentioned in this post, it would be great to hear from you!

* Note: If anyone else is tempted by the Irish Newspaper Archive's offer, don't forget to cancel the auto-renew setting, unless you want the free trial to convert into a paid monthly subscription.

[1] Copy marriage register, General Register Office.
[2] Copy burial register, Glasnevin Trust.
[3] Free BMD, BMD index for England and Wales.
[4] Church Records, index and images,; Copy birth register, GRO.
[5] Same.
[6] Same.
[7] Church Records, index and images,
[8] Civil records, index, (accessed July 2014); John O'Neill, 1940-41, Rotunda unit, ‘Dublin City Electoral Lists 1938 to 1964’, Libraries and Archive, Dublin City Council.
[9] Church records, index and images,; Copy birth register, GRO.
[10] Ellis household, Mountjoy, Dublin, 1901 Census of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland.
[11] O Neill household, Ardbraccan, Meath, 1911 Census of Ireland, National Archives of Ireland.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy


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