Saturday 25 June 2016

‘A Good Death’

In September 1881, Miles McGrane died of tuberculosis. Margaret, his wife of thirty years, had celebrated her fiftieth birthday eight months before. She was left alone to finish rearing their children, the youngest of whom was ten years old. Death was not a stranger in the McGrane household, however. Only five of their twelve known children had lived to see their tenth birthdays.

The situation Margaret found herself in was far from uncommon in Ireland then. She was born Margaret Doyle in Dublin city in January 1831. In the years before her marriage, famine had claimed the lives of over one million people. Death, on this scale, was a shock to the Irish nation. But, in more normal times, early death was so prevalent it was an accepted part of everyday life. 

The path to Margaret (Doyle) McGrane

Sometimes, I wonder how people coped with seeing their relatives die so young and in such numbers. And, I’ve come to the conclusion, their belief in God allayed the fear of death, far more then than it does today. 

No doubt grief took its toll, but the focus was more on achieving a ‘good death’. Margaret’s husband died a ‘good death’. Having been sick for two months, as a Catholic, he would have received ‘the last rites’. This sacrament helps ensure the terminally ill are emotionally and spiritually prepared to die. Little else mattered, either to those facing death or to those who mourned their passing. And, as it still does today, belief in the afterlife provided a great comfort to those left behind.

When Miles died, Margaret became the head of the household. The responsibility for managing the family’s finances passed to her. And, even though she had never learnt to read and write, she proved herself a capable provider. Most likely, she had little choice.

Margaret set up a greengrocer's shop at her home in Lower Oriel Street. The venture was presumably a success as her eldest daughter followed in her footsteps.

My third great-grandmother even operated as a local estate agent of some kind. It’s hard to know now what this entailed exactly. But, the advertisements she placed in the newspapers of the day are a testament to her enterprise.

Freeman’s Journal, 4 August 1888, p. 1

Freeman's Journal, 31 January 1900, p. 1

In the eyes of Margaret’s surviving children, their mother was a rock of strength. She was usually present to help with the birth of her grandchildren. Then, if they died as infants, as many did, it was often Margaret who carried their remains to the cemetery.

Margaret resided in Lower Oriel Street for the rest of her days. She continued to share a home with her youngest daughter Alice. Alice married James Vickers and together they had three children, Alice, Patrick, and Myles. 

At the age of seventy-two years, Margaret developed asthmatic bronchitis. She suffered from the disease for five months, before it finally claimed her life. On 9 August 1903, she died at her home, surrounded by her family. Her funeral took place in Glasnevin Cemetery. There, she shares a grave with her husband, their infant children and a grandchild.

Without a doubt, Margaret also died ‘a good death’.

© Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 18 June 2016

More about Miles McGrane

We learn the most about my third great-grandfather Miles McGrane from a single, isolated incident in his life. In July 1867, he assaulted a police officer who was attempting to arrest him for fighting in the street, in Dublin city. The newspapers of the day covered the court case, although, as noted HERE last week, they failed to provide a reason for the fight or a motive for the assault on the police officer. Miles served two months hard labour in the Richmond Penitentiary for this crime. 

Miles worked as a general labourer, probably employed on a week-by-week basis. So, his stay in prison undoubtedly had devastating consequences for his family and their attempt to keep a roof over their heads, not to mention the toll it may have taken on his health. Most likely, his wife and children were forced to rely on the generosity of family and friends while Miles was locked up. Miles accepted his punishment and never spent time in jail again. 

Miles McGrane, General Register, 1866-67, Richmond Bridewell Penitentiary
Miles McGrane, General Register, 1866-67, Richmond Bridewell Penitentiary

The registers of the Richmond Bridewell contain a wealth of information concerning my errant ancestor. They provide a description of what Miles looked like when he was thirty-six years old – a fantastic find, given there are no known photographs of him surviving today. 
He was five feet, five and three-quarter inches in height, with brown hair, hazel eyes, and a dark complexion.

At the time of his arrest in 1867, Miles gave his address as 17 Aldborough Court, off the North Strand.  According to the Dublin Street Directory of 1862, houses 1 to 18 in Aldborough Court were divided into tenements.

Lodgers in such accommodation tended to change their address on a frequent basis, but this house, or a room therein, appears to have been a McGrane family home for many years. Although church records indicate Miles and his family lived at various addresses in Mecklenburgh Street (now Tyrone Street) in the 1860s, both before and after his imprisonment, Miles McGrane’s father John died at 17 Aldborough Court, over five years previously, in December 1861. 

The prison registers show Miles was born in Thomas Street, in Dublin city. And, a record of his baptism was found at the nearby Roman Catholic Church of St Catherine’s on Meath Street. It took place on 9 November 1830, naming his father as John McGrane and his mother as ‘McGurk’. Baptism records for his siblings confirm his mother’s given name was Margaret.

Miles was only fifty years old when he died of chronic bronchitis, caused by consumption (tuberculosis), on 3 September 1881.  He died at his residence, 1 Lower Jane Place, surrounded by his wife and family. He had been sick for two months.

His interment took place in the family plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, where he joined his daughter, Rosanna, who died aged six years in 1879, and his daughter Elizabeth, aged three years, who predeceased him by only two weeks.

Our McGrane lineage

Main source: Miles McGrane, General Register of Convicted Prisoners, 1866-67, Richmond Bridewell Penitentiary, accessed, (click on the image to enlarge).

© Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 11 June 2016

Looking for trouble – Miles McGrane

Genealogists researching their family tree face a constant risk of uncovering some unsavoury truths about their ancestors. But, up until now, for me, it has always been possible to distance myself from such would-be wrongdoers, by labelling them as in-laws or even as relatives on a collateral line. Now, though, on this occasion, we are talking about my third great-grandfather – on my mother’s side.

It seems Miles McGrane probably had a tendency to overindulge in alcohol, which, when he was in his thirties, got him into trouble more than once.

The first incident occurred on 31 March 1865, when Miles was in his thirty-fifth year and at a time when his wife was five months pregnant with their eighth child. There were two men named Miles McGrane living in Dublin city then, but the second Miles was a businessman and far more ‘well-to-do’ than my labouring-class ancestor. So, I strongly suspect this case involved my Miles McGrane, at a time when he was supposedly working.

On the day in question, there was a fire-escape stationed at Nelson’s Pillar in Sackville Street, Dublin. Miles McGrane came along driving a horse and dray and crashed into the fire-escape, knocking it over. One of the shafts broke, causing £3 worth of damage to the appliance.

During the resulting court case, the fire officer on duty claimed he had shouted a warning as the cart approached, but the driver was ‘under the influence of liquor at the time and took no notice.’

Luckily, Miles McGrane had the £3 necessary to cover the damages and lodged it with the court. The judge then closed the case, and Miles avoided a prison sentence. He was not as lucky the next time he ended up in court, though the circumstances of this second incident were entirely different. 

One Sunday night in July 1867, Miles McGrane and a man named Edward Denis were fighting at Mulligan’s Court, off Moore Street, in Dublin city, in front of a large unruly crowd. 

When a police constable attempted to arrest the two men, Miles McGrane became 'exceedingly violent'. He tried to draw his sword from the scabbard for use against the constable. (Presumably, the police officer wore the sword, not Miles, though the account is unclear.) A second police officer came to assist with the arrest. The crowd started rioting and throwing stones and launched an attack on the policemen. Edward Denis escaped their custody.
‘Both police constables lost their hats in the tumult, and constable 105 also lost his baton and gloves. Both officers were knocked down and kicked most unmercifully by the prisoner McGrane, and the crowd generally.’

The following morning, Edward Denis was rearrested, and he and Miles McGrane soon found themselves before the courts. Denis, who had not assaulted the police officers, got away with a five shilling fine. Miles McGrane got to serve two months in prison, with hard labour.

In this instance, the prisoner was my third great-grandfather, no doubt about it. There was no mention he’d been drinking again, but really, what else might explain his actions that night?

Hard to know what to say! :-} 

Our McGrane lineage

Source: Saunders's News-Letter, 3 April 1865, p. 3; Penny Despatch and Irish Weekly Newspaper, 27 July 1867, p. 8.

© Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 4 June 2016

Thomas McGrane - Merchant seaman

Thomas McGrane (born in Dublin in 1898, died in New York in 1964)
Thomas McGrane, c. 1919
Thomas McGrane was a first cousin of my great-grandfather, James Byrne. He was the youngest son of Francis Joseph McGrane and Margaret Byrne, born on 30 November 1898.[1] Thomas grew up in Lower Jane Place, off Oriel St. in Dublin city, where he was closer in age to James’s children than he was to James. 

His mother died when he was barely two years old, leaving his father with six surviving children - Elizabeth (14), Francis (10), Margaret (8), Bridget (6), Maryanne (4) and Thomas (2). His father married Mary Fay in June 1902, and it was Mary who reared Thomas. 

Like his cousin Benjamin Byrne, Thomas joined the British Merchant Navy in 1919. He first served on board the RMS Aquitania, travelling between Southampton and New York. Subsequently in 1919, he joined the crew of the SS Orbita,  again working on the North Atlantic route.[2] Presumably, on one such trip, he fell in love with New York and decided to make it his permanent home - at least, from 1922 onwards, New York became his base when he was not travelling the high seas.

SS Orbita, built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff, 1915

In November 1926, Thomas successfully petitioned for U.S. citizenship. At that time, he was living at 25 South Street, the address of the Seamen’s Church Institute, in New York.
[3] Many sailors of this era had no permanent home and instead used such ‘sailors’ accommodation’ when they were between ships.

The year after Thomas obtained American citizenship, while docked at the port of Los Angeles, he applied for a Seaman’s Protection Certificate.[4] Sailors often used these as passports, to prove their identity and nationality.

Various crew lists describe him as having brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion, and his height, though inconsistently recorded, was mostly given as about five feet, four inches tall. He was just a titch – like all the Dubs, then. His hair turned grey when he was still in his twenties.

Thomas McGrane (born in Dublin in 1898, died in New York in 1964)
Thomas McGrane, c. 1927

In common with many sailors then, Thomas wore tattoos. His right forearm featured a sailor’s grave and clasp hands, and the words ‘true love’. On his left forearm, he wore a cross in memory of his sister Margaret, who died, aged only thirty-two years, in 1924.[4]

Thomas continued to work as an able-bodied seaman for the next twenty years, first on steamships and then on motor-ships. The crew list of the Jeff Davis of New Orleans, arriving from Australia in 1935, records his next of kin as his mother ‘Mary of 6 Oriel Street, Dublin'.[5] He must have known his father died in 1931 - maybe the Seamen’s Church Institute operated a post-office service. Perhaps his travels even took him back to Dublin city every so often, where he got to spend a night or two with his family.

On 6 January 1946, Thomas arrived in Philadelphia from Gibraltar, on route to New York. This trip on the Royal S Copeland, a Liberty ship of World War IIwas his last ever voyage as an able-bodied seaman.[5] A few months later, on 22 April 1946, he suffered a 'paralytic stroke', changing his life forever.[6] He was forty-seven years old and no longer able to work. He must have been heart-broken.

For many years afterwards, he survived on social welfare and the kindness of friends. Then, in 1953, he successfully applied for admittance to the Sailor’s Snug Harbor, a retirement home for merchant seamen, on Staten Island, New York. There, he spent the remainder of his days. He passed away on 2 January 1964 and was laid to rest in the Sailor’s Snug Harbor Cemetery.’[6]

Genealogy Quick Tip:
In May 2016, Ancestry (subscription site) released a collection of U.S. Applications for Seamen's Protection Certificates, 1916-1940, containing over 300,000 records of ‘seamen’s passports’ issued by U.S. customs officials. A small percentage of the records relate to Irish- born sailors with U.S. citizenship. Typically the application form contains the seaman's name, birthdate, and place of birth, as well as his father’s name and birthplace. It also contains the applicant’s photograph, physical description, signature and thumb print.

[1] Copy Birth Register, General Register Office.
[2] Irish Mariners, transcription of ‘CR10 series’ index card’, held by the Southampton Civic Archives.
[3] New York, Naturalization Records, 1897-1944,
[4] U.S., Applications for Seaman's Protection Certificates, 1916-1940,
[5] New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,
[6] Thomas McGrane, 1953, Application for Admittance to Sailor's Snug Harbor, accessed on 6 Generations Dublin.

Image Credits: Thomas McGrane, c. 1919, The Southampton Civic Archives; SS OrbitaBj√∂rn Larsson collection; Thomas McGrane, c. 1927, U.S., Applications for Seaman's Protection Certificates, 1916-1940,

© Black Raven Genealogy