Saturday, 13 August 2016

Granny’s favourite cousin

My grandmother had a first cousin named Margaret Byrne who grew up beside her at Jane Place in Dublin city.  Margaret is known to have married a man named Norton, in the mid-1930s. It’s also remembered she lived in Summerhill in Dublin, before moving to Clontarf. 

One day, I set out to find Margaret.

And, there was a likely couple, James and Margaret Norton, listed in the Dublin electoral rolls. They lived with the Burke family in North Summer Street, Summerhill in 1939 and 1940. Between 1941 and 1950 they lived at Larkhill Road, Whitehall. From there, they moved to Seapark Drive, Clontarf. Seems like a good match!

Margaret was Granny’s favourite cousin. But, as her father's name was forgotten, her place in the family tree was unclear. She was initially thought to have been the daughter of Benjamin Byrne, Granny’s youngest uncle. But, that didn’t pan out. Benjamin became a sailor, eloped with his Protestant bride in 1918, and lived happily ever after in Liverpool, England. So, he’s been ruled out as Margaret’s father. 

Next, I got a copy of her marriage register, as that would show her father’s name. And, in January 1935, at the time of her marriage to James Norton, Margaret lived at 31 Lower Jane Place - the same tiny row of cottages where my grandmother lived. It was all going swimmingly well. Her father was down as John Byrne, a labourer by occupation.

Marriage, James Norton & Margaret Byrne, 1935, General Register Office

And, my grandmother had an Uncle John - one of the gaps on the Byrne family tree I’m trying to plug. When last seen, at the time of the 1901 census, he was a fifteen-year-old factory worker, still living with his parents. He probably got married in Dublin North between then and the next decennial census, except so too did over forty other men sharing his name. 

But, of all those forty-odd men, one of them married a lady called Margaret Burke. Remember, in the aftermath of their marriage, James and Margaret Norton lived with the Burke family in Summerhill. I thought I had it nailed.

All that remained to do was connect Margaret’s father John, with my great-great-grandparents - Francis Byrne and Margaret McGrane.  So, I ordered the marriage certificate for John Byrne and Margaret Burke, hoping it would confirm John’s father was Francis. And, that’s where the trouble started.

At the time of their marriage, in September 1910, John Byrne was a sailor living at 9 Lower Jane Place. Margaret Burke lived at 15 North Summer Street. Despite being a sailor and not a labourer, it still seemed likely John was my great-granduncle. Others in the family went to sea, including John’s paternal grandfather and, of course, his brother Benjamin.

Except, according to this marriage certificate, John’s father was Thomas, not Francis!

Marriage, John Byrne and Margaret Burke, 1910, General Register Office

Was this a simple error? It might have been easy to mistake Francis for Thomas if the source handwriting was unclear. Or, maybe the confusion arose because the bride’s father was Thomas - Thomas Burke.

Still, this raised a niggling doubt. And, to make matters worse, the electoral rolls revealed there was a man called Thomas Byrne living at 9 Lower Jane Place, in 1909 - just a year before the wedding.  Who was this Thomas? Bizarrely, Francis Byrne was missing from the rolls in 1909.

I didn’t know what to think. So I parked it for a while.

Then, recently, I met a daughter of the James and Margaret Norton online.  She is planning a trip to Ireland later this year and hopes to meet her extended family. She confirmed her grandparents were John Byrne and Margaret Burke. My mother even remembers her from school in Clontarf.

Now, there is little doubt I've found Granny's cousin, and her father John Byrne, even with his father’s name wrongly recorded on the marriage register.

But, if this error had occurred at a time when no one still living remembered the family, it would be far more difficult to reach any conclusion.

See: More about my great-granduncle, John Byrne

© Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Well done Dara! Glad you found that online relative.

    1. Thanks Ellie, isn't it great when distant cousins get in touch and add to your understanding of the family?!

  2. Wow, Dara. That got complicated! Congrats on figuring it out. Will you be meeting this cousin when she visits? I hope so! :)

  3. I have recently run into a similar situation in which a distant relative's father's name in a record is NOT what it should be. Do I continue looking or do I shrug my shoulders and chalk it up to error? Why can't genealogy be easy?

  4. It's never easy with common names, Wendy, you just have to keep looking and hope that eventually something will turn up to prove or disprove the connection.

  5. Great detective work and lucky you did this before they took away the electoral register!

    1. It's infuriating Claire. I'm still trying to trace other great-grandaunts/uncles and these records were proving quite helpful. Many countries around the world, including the UK, have allowed their electoral rolls be published online. I'm thinking our DCP was a tad over-zealous in this instance. Plus, it's a kick in the teeth for the hardworking staff at the Library, operating on a shoe-string, who showed the initiative and managed to make them accessible world-wide.

  6. Good work Dara! Such conflicts are so frustrating and confusing! I'm glad you were able to find a living descendant to help you sort things out.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!