Saturday 29 October 2016

Reading between the lines

My great-grandfather, Michael Byrne, lost his mother, in January 1869, when he was barely a year old. Michael and his little brother Thomas were reared by their maternal aunt, in Malahide, Co. Dublin. John Byrne, the boys’ father, worked as a servant in Monkstown, on the other side of Dublin. It is not known if he kept in contact with his sons, following their mother's death. 

Did John Byrne ever visit his boys in Malahide? Did he send money towards their keep? Did Michael and Thomas spend holidays at the Byrne family home, situated in Athgarvan, in Co. Kildare? These are not the type of questions normally answered by standard genealogy documents – unless, perhaps, you can read between the lines.

As mentioned previously on this blog, John Byrne was married before he met Michael’s mother. His first wife was Mary Markey. Mary moved to Athgarvan, shortly after their marriage, presumably taking their infant daughter with her. We know John, who worked and lived in Monkstown, visited her often, as further children were born there at regular intervals. 

Andrew was baptised in August 1862, followed by John in August 1863, James in August 1864 and Mary Anne in November 1865. These were my great-grandfather’s half-siblings. I wondered what happened to them after their mother died in December 1865, and if any of them survived her passing.

And this week, I found out Mary Anne, the youngest girl, born only two months before her mother died, did survive. She married Michael Hickey in the parish church, in Newbridge, on 12 July 1886. Perhaps she was raised by her Granny Byrne, or maybe by her aunts and uncles, in Athgarvan, while her father worked in Dublin.

Marriage 1886, Michael Hickey, Rathilla and Mary Anne Byrne, Athgarvan
Hickey-Byrne, 1886, Naas, Copy marriage register, General Register Office

Anyway, by the time of Mary Anne’s marriage, John Byrne was working as a butler. He was only a mere servant when she was born, so this represented quite a promotion. It’s interesting - he was also down as a servant when Michael and Thomas were born, and when their mother died in 1869. But, when Michael married Elizabeth Mahon in August 1892, they also claimed John was a butler. 

So, reading between the lines, Michael knew of his father’s subsequent career advancement, suggesting they obviously did keep in touch over the years.  Now, isn’t that good to know!

© Black Raven Genealogy


  1. This is an interesting observation about reading between the lines. In addition to recording the FACTS in a document, we need to consider what those facts mean.

  2. Exactly Wendy, and I love how researching collateral relatives can increase our knowledge of direct line ancestors.

  3. Nice detective work! And, that's great to know. :)

  4. Dara, you are right. That's a great observation.

  5. I enjoy reading your blog as my mom's side of the family was from Ireland, and I've visited in the past, lovely country. Have you been able to discover the house where John Byrne was a butler?

  6. Thanks ladies. It is a lovely country Janice, especially when the sun shines! We're on a mid-week break in Donegal at the moment and it is spectacular with all the autumn colours. What part of Ireland were your people from? When did they emigrate?

  7. Congrats on discovering that Mary Anne did survive. How fortunate to be able to piece the clues together and infer that Michael did have some relationship or at least knowledge of his father's well-being and whereabouts.

    1. Thank you. Now, all I have to do is find his father's whereabouts for myself. Seems, like he lived long enough to earn a promotion, but with a name as common as John Byrne, he may be difficult to find.

  8. It is good to know Dara. Great blog.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!