Saturday, 13 February 2016

The brick wall crumbles!

My great-grandfather’s copy birth register arrived in my inbox this week, shattering my longest standing genealogy brick wall. It’s been over a week since I ‘found’ him, but with all the false starts previously, until I held the certificate in my hands, I was afraid to believe it was really true.  Two separate records, sixteen years apart, had told me Michael Byrne’s father was a butler, and this is what I waited to see confirmed.

The document didn’t quite describe John Byrne as a butler, though. It said he was a servant. Being a butler was probably far more prestigious than being a mere servant, yet it is not unfitting for a man’s family to remember him well, after his death, and maybe even elevate his status a little, too. Possibly John Byrne aspired to become a butler, and maybe he achieved that goal, after Michael’s birth. In any event, I’m taking this as a match.

Until this week, much of what I ‘knew’ about Michael Byrne was contained in the registers of his 1892 marriage to my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Mahon. Here, his father was named as John Byrne, the butler, and his mother as Elisabeth.[1] Additionally, the 1901 census indicated Michael was born about 1867-68, in Co. Dublin.[2] It wasn’t much to go on, but it ought to have been enough to find him, had all the details been correct.

More recently, I learnt of Michael’s brother, Thomas, who died in childhood at the home of Mary (Leahy, Radcliffe) Power. Thomas became the linchpin connecting the boys with their parents. It turned out Mary Power was their maternal aunt – and their mother was Alicia, not Elisabeth.

Michael Byrne was born on 2 December 1867 in Kingstown, Co. Dublin, the son of John Byrne, a servant, and Alicia Leahy. His brother Thomas was born the following year. Mary Power, who looked after Thomas in his final days and Alicia, the boy’s mother, shared the maiden name ‘Leahy’. And, sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed, Mary and Alicia were sisters.

When Alicia married John Byrne in 1867, her parents were named as Michael and Bridget Leahy of Cuffe Street, Dublin. When Mary married Christopher Radcliffe the previous year, her parents were named as Michael Leahy and Bridget Lynch.[3] Sisters!

Now, I can take some comfort from having extensively and unsuccessfully searched for Michael Byrne, the son of Elisabeth.  If his mother’s name was Alicia, I was never going to find him.

And, the clues were there all along, except I failed to recognise them. Margaret Byrne, her fifteen-year-old grandniece, was staying with Mary Power on census night in 1911.[4] With hindsight, I can easily conclude this was my great-grandfather’s only daughter, Margaret Byrne. Maggie, as she was known in the family, was born on 2 October 1897, making her only thirteen years old on the night in question.[5]

But the age difference was not the reason I didn’t recognise her.  The truth is I wasn’t looking for her. I had already found her, or so I thought, tucked up in bed in her father’s household, on that same night, and her father said she was fourteen years old.[6]

Next, I have to figure out why Thomas Byrne was staying with his maternal aunt at the time of his death, and if something had happened to his parents, John and Alicia Byrne.

© Black Raven Genealogy

Continued further at:  All about John Byrne.

Update July 2016 - And, if there are any lingering doubts that Mary Power was Michael’s aunt, here it is confirmed in writing: Q.E.D.  

[1] Copy marriage register, Balrothery, 1892, General Register Office.
[2] 1901 Census, James Mahon household, Malahide, Co. Dublin, National Archives. 
[3] Church records,
[4] 1911 Census, Mary Power household, Malahide, Co. Dublin, National Archives.
[5] Ireland, Select Catholic Birth and Baptism Registers, 1763-1912,, citing baptism register for Malahide parish. 
[6] 1911 Census, Michael Byrne household, Malahide, Co. Dublin, National Archives. 


  1. Congratulations on finding your "missing ancestor." Sometimes it's slow going but the results are rewarding. ~ Cathy

    1. Thanks Cathy, all the better for having taken nearly five years.

  2. Congratulations on using your genealogy tools to break through that brick wall! Marvelous!

    1. Thanks Colleen, it is very exciting.

  3. Solving one mystery often reveals a new one. That's my definition of a "love-hate relationship." I enjoy trying to solve a mystery, but sometimes I just want all the work to be done.

  4. LOL Wendy, I know what you mean. I'm already stuck trying to find out what happened to his father.

  5. Congrats! What a terrific breakthrough. :)

    1. Thanks Dana, I'm still on a high!

  6. Replies
    1. Much appreciated, Ellie, and you're nearly there too, with your Whites!


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