Saturday, 2 September 2017

DNA Diary: Seeking to demolish a brick wall

John WYNNE, my great-great-grandfather, claimed he was ninety-one years old in 1911, and said he was born in Dublin city. Yet, in the years since this record was first found, nothing has shed light on his origins. He is my longest standing genealogy brick wall. All leads have been painstakingly exhausted, more than once, and my guess is DNA is our only chance of making progress.  

So, I was delighted when my mother received a new DNA match, with a lady in Australia, whose pedigree chart says she descends from Henry WYNNE, born in Dublin city, about 1825. The amount of DNA they share signifies a relationship between third and fifth cousins. She is Mam’s closest match, when our known relatives are taken out of the equation.

DNA match, at GEDmatch

I may be chasing a bunny down a hole, as far as our Wynne brick wall is concerned–the relationship could be on another line entirely–nonetheless, I’m happy to see where this clue takes us.

It turns out Henry Wynne was convicted of larceny in Dublin, twice, once in 1843 for stealing tools and again in 1844, when he helped himself to somebody else’s ‘stone lead’.[1] After his second offence, Henry was transported, for seven years, to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), even though it meant leaving a wife of two months behind in Dublin.

Quite a lot can be gleaned about Henry from his ‘convict papers’.[2] In 1844, aged nineteen years, he was 5 feet, four and a half inches tall, of stout build, sandy hair and hazel eyes. The prison registers, on the other hand, say his eyes were grey. He worked as a slater. His father was John Wynne, and his brothers were John, Edward and Richard.  JOHN, like my great-great-grandfather! Except, Henry was Protestant.

And, when our John Wynne married Bridget Hynes, on 16 September 1849, the ceremony took place in St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church, Meath Street. A mixed marriage, you might think, except at that time in Irish history, a marriage between a Protestant (practising or otherwise) and a Catholic was invalid in law, unless it was conducted by the Protestant clergy. John and Bridget would have known this. And, from 1845 onward, it was compulsory for all non-Catholic marriages to be registered with the civil authorities. John and Bridget’s wasn’t. So, we ‘know’ they were Catholic.

Consequently, it’s doubtful John was Henry’s brother. But, there are some unsubstantiated rumours our Wynne family was once Protestant. Plus, the DNA match suggests a more distant relationship. It’s possible John’s father, or grandfather, married a Catholic and brought the children up in the Catholic faith, while Henry’s line remained Protestant.

If the fourth cousin relationship is anyway accurate, we’re looking at our common ancestors being John and Henry’s grandparents. They were probably born about 1770, or so. That’s likely too early for documentary evidence to ever confirm the precise relationship, and the connection might go back even further. Still, if we can locate Henry’s origins, it just might provide a vital clue regarding where to look for John’s.

Continued at Is it a Wynne match? #2

[1] Irish prison registers, 1790-1924, accessed on Findmypast. 
[2] Convict register, LINC Tasmania. 

© Black Raven Genealogy


  1. DNA certainly narrowed the field of possibilities for you. Even the slightest breakthrough is exciting.

  2. I'd would dearly love to make a family history discovery from our DNA results. It's not easy, but sometimes it is exciting and this match seems full of promise.

  3. Have you considered that Henry just changed to a more convenient denomination in Australia?

    1. Definitely not, Claire, though thanks for your suggestion. He was down as Protestant in the prison records before he left Ireland, and I've since traced two/three of his brothers, who were all Protestant too.

  4. Hope this pans out for you. Sounds promising.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!