Saturday, 14 May 2016

His first family

If you’ve been doing genealogy for any length of time, you’ve probably already uncovered some family secrets. Occasionally these secrets are still shocking, even today – like bigamy, for example – that would probably still cause a stir.

There are no skeletons in our family closet, at least none I’ve found. And, maybe I wanted to liven things up a wee bit. Maybe, I just wanted to make some family skeletons dance. So, perhaps it was wishful thinking, when, for a brief moment, I wrongly suspected my great-great-grandfather of this woeful crime.

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance

John Byrne married Mary Markey in Dublin city in January 1860, a couple of weeks after their daughter Mary was baptised.[1] No further record of the family was found in Dublin. So, when John married my great-great-grandmother, Alicia Leahy, in the city, in January 1867, I assumed Mary had died - without having any more children. This was not the case, though.

While searching for what might have happened to their daughter, Mary, I came across another son, James. James Byrne was born on 16 August 1864 in Athgarvan, a small village near Newbridge in Co. Kildare.[2] John was from Athgarvan originally, so, after his marriage, he must have taken his young family home.

Four years and eight months separate the births of Mary and James, suggesting there were probably more children. And, the Newbridge Parish registers revealed a son Andrew was baptised on 24 August 1862 and a son John on 16 August 1863. The family’s address was recorded as ‘Kingstown and Athgarvan’ in 1862 and ‘Monkstown and Athgarvan’ in 1863.[3] Presumably, Mary lived in Athgarvan and John lived in Monkstown. He lived in Monkstown when he married Alicia, so this made sense.

Then, I searched forward in the baptism register and began to wonder just how long John and Mary were married. It was getting close to the time John met Alicia in Dublin. On November 1865, fifteen months after James was born, they had a daughter - Mary Anne Byrne.[3]

I admit; I held my breath as I searched forward once again. But, no more children were found. I probably owe a huge apology to my great-great-grandfather, but I did have a few reasons to fuel my suspicion:  

First, when John Byrne married Alicia, he incorrectly claimed to have been a bachelor, even though he was married to Mary for six years and had a bunch of kids with her. What was that about?

Secondly, Alicia did not live with John during their marriage. She lived in Kingstown, when he lived nearby in Monkstown. Add to that the fact John and Alicia lived in Co. Dublin, when John’s first family were in Co. Kildare!

Finally, until very recently, I knew nothing about my great-grandfather’s family or where he came from. That in itself was strange in the little village of Malahide, Co. Dublin, where Michael Byrne married my great-grandmother, and where everyone knew everything about their neighbours. So, I already half-suspected there was something to hide in my great-grandfather’s past.  

But, I was wrong. John’s first wife died in Athgarvan on 28 December 1865, a year before he married Alicia. Mary died of lung congestion after a six-week illness. John was with her at the time, and registered her death.[4]

I do feel sorry for John Byrne; he buried two wives before he reached his twenty-eight birthday. I wonder how many of his children survived, or did he bury most of them too. And, I wonder if my great-grandfather knew, or at least knew of, his (half) brothers and sisters. 
Genealogy Quick Tip:
Don't trust the index. If you know the Irish parish where a marriage or baptism likely occurred, always check the registers on the NLI website.  The transcriptions contain numerous errors and the identification of surname variants is not yet sufficiently comprehensive to be reliable. As a result, none of John Byrne and Mary Markey’s children were found using the Catholic Parish Registers on FindMyPast or Ancestry. Yet, all the baptisms were recorded.

[1] Church records, Parish of St Nicholas, 1859-60,
[2] ‘Ireland Births and Baptisms, 1620-1881’, FamilySearch, citing Irish Civil Records. 
[3] Newbridge Parish baptism register, microfilm 04209/06, Andrew Byrne, p. 8; John Byrne, p. 13; Mary Anne Byrne, p. 23, NLI
[4] Copy death register (Mary Byrne, Naas, 1865), General Register Office.
Image adapted from one on Pixabay.

© Black Raven Genealogy


  1. It's easier to suspect the worst and accept it as fact. Good for you for pursuing the truth and preserving your g-g grandfather's good name.

    1. Thanks Wendy, though I was the only one in danger of taking his good name away from him. :-(

  2. Like Wendy, I'm glad you continued the search & cleared his name! :)

    I have seen quite a few instances in the past where men with young children remarried very quickly after the death of their wife. This is understandable as they needed help raising the children. But, you said John lived in a different place then his second wife, Alicia. Do you know where the children were?

    Anyway, I'm glad this didn't turn out to be a skeleton in your family's closet! I've come across a few in mine, though.

    1. Thanks Dana. As far as I can make out, John was in service and lived with his employer, and Alicia lived nearby. I don't know what happened Mary's children after her death, but Alicia died within two years of marriage and her two boys went to live with her sister.

  3. I love the tips you're doing at the end now. I haven't come across any real skeletons either just a lot of farmers.

    1. and still they lived such interesting lives!!!

  4. Dara, love the genealogy tip! A great idea!

    1. Thanks Colleen, maybe someone can learn from my experience.

  5. We just never know what we are going to dig up do we? In this case it all turned out good and I am sure you are relieved. I like how have incorporated the tip!


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