Sunday 31 January 2021

Tracing your ancestors in the Irish Constabulary – Thomas Carroll

Thomas Carroll, or O’Carroll as he became known in Maungakaramea, New Zealand, is the first member of my family found to have served in the Irish Constabulary. The Irish Constabulary, granted the ‘Royal’ prefix in 1867, was the military-like force policing in Ireland, under British rule. Initially, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Thomas’s involvement in a police force often viewed with suspicion by the general population and disbanded as soon as the Irish Free State was established in 1922. Nonetheless, genealogically speaking, the opportunity to explore a new-to-me record set was pretty exciting. And, while the senior ranks of the force were predominantly made up of Anglo-Irish Protestants, the rank and file mirrored the Irish population in terms of religion and social class.

The entire General Register for the force is now online and includes Thomas Carroll's service record. Starting with his registered number, 21814, the Register reveals he was appointed on 18 May 1857, aged 20 years, indicating he was born between 19 May 1836 and 18 May 1837. Thomas claimed Tipperary as his native county.

This fits nicely with what we already know. My great-great-grandfather Maurice Carroll claimed he too was born in Co. Tipperary, about 1838, and the baptisms of their siblings, Mary Carroll in 1841 and David Carroll in 1847, were found in the registers of the RC church, in Fethard, Co. Tipperary.The Register confirms SI Heard, i.e. Sub-Inspector Heard, recommended Thomas for the post, meaning they knew each other personally. So, if we can trace where SI Heard was in 1857, we'd probably learn where Thomas lived too. The Register only names the county, and not the specific parish where each man was stationed.

SI Heard was appointed in 1837 and initially spent two years in Kilkenny, followed by over five years in Clare and then nearly ten years in Limerick. On 1 March 1857, he was transferred to Clare for a further five years, and on 1 March 1862, by which time Thomas was settling into his new home in New Zealand, SI Heard commenced a stint in Tipperary.

References to SI Heard in the newspapers place him in the station in Castleconnell, Co. Limerick in 1847 and in Carrick on Suir, Co. Tipperary in 1863. And, we already know Thomas Carroll's parents, David and Catherine (Cummins) Carroll, had moved to Castleconnell by 1859, so we can now be reasonably sure this was where Thomas lived when he joined the Constabulary in 1857.

Thom's Irish Almanac, 1857

After four months training, Thomas was allocated to a barracks in Co. Clare. On joining, he would have held the lowest rank in the force, that of Second Sub-Constable. No mention of him was found in the newspapers, nor in the Petty Session court records, where he might have been named, had he charged someone with an offence. So we don't know where exactly in Co. Clare Thomas was stationed. We do know SI Heard also served in Clare at this time, and in 1858, trade directories place him in Ennis. Perhaps Thomas served with him in Ennis too. We'll probably never know for sure.

Thomas stood 5 feet, 8¾ inches tall when he joined the Irish Constabulary, a ¼ inch short of the standard height requirement. This condition was sometimes relaxed when the force was under-staffed. Thomas worked as a labourer before his appointment, although we know he was literate, as this was a condition of joining.

Thomas resigned his position on 8 January 1861, with a gratuity of £6 15 shillings and 5 pence. This fits with him settling in New Zealand in 1862, having first 'travelled a great deal'. And, it clarifies how he funded his trip. Unusually, the reason for his resignation was not documented, although the record clearly shows the man joining immediately after him left 'to emigrate' and the man who joined immediately before him left 'to join the Pope's army'.

  1. Thomas O'Carroll, Obituary, 1918, Northern Advocate, 21 October 1918, p. 2, Past Papers.
  2. Ireland, Royal Irish Constabulary Service Records 1816-1922, $ FindmyPast.
  3. Kerry Examiner, 5 November 1847, p. 3; Freemans Journal, 10 January 1863, p. 1.
  4. Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI, Mary Carroll 21 November 1841, David Carroll 6 January 1847, Fethard, Baptisms 1 March 1836 - 30 January 1847, Microfilm 02504 / 06.
  5. Thom's Irish Almanac 1857 and 1858, Government Departments of Ireland, Thom's Directory, 1844-1900, $ FindmyPast.

Sunday 24 January 2021

Spelling is irrelevant, in Irish genealogy!

It drives me mad when, having undertaken some 'free' research for someone, they respond with something like, "Oh, that can't be my 'Hynes' ancestor. It looks like them, but our family always spells the surname 'Hines', with an i". 😖

I get it. I do. When you were born, your birth was registered. You needed a copy of your birth certificate to get a passport, to get a driving licence, and/or to obtain a national identity card. You’re pretty much stuck with the surname your parents gave you, probably spelled the same way it was given to them by their parents. You’d have to jump through hoops to change the spelling of your surname now.

But this was not true in the past!

Your earlier ancestor's name may have been spelled differently. They may have used several different variants during their lifetime. You might even see different spellings within the same document. Why did your ancestors vary the spelling? The simple answer is  Because. They. Could.

Remember, they didn’t have a birth certificate to keep things on track.

If your ancestor was illiterate (or perhaps an Irish speaker), they may not have been aware of the changes in spelling. Someone else wrote their name for them, and spelled it according to their own experience, or transcribed it phonetically based on their best interpretation of your ancestor’s accent.

Or, maybe your ancestors deliberately chose a different spelling. Several of my mid-nineteenth-century Byrne relatives changed their name to Burns in the US. Maybe they were illiterate and this was the more common variant where they were, or maybe they wanted to appear Scottish, to avoid the discrimination often shown towards the Irish at the time. Who knows!

Or, perhaps they were proud of their origins and wanted to highlight their Irishness. As in, they may have reinserted the traditional ‘O’ or 'Mc' prefix in their surname, a prefix probably dropped by their family many generations previously when their name was anglicized.

For example, my great-great-granduncle, Thomas Carroll, became Thomas O’Carroll soon after his marriage in New Zealand. He wasn’t illiterate. He signed his ‘Carroll’ surname perfectly on the register of his marriage to Ann Sloane in 1864, but then fairly consistently used the O’Carroll variant for the rest of his life. His brother back in Ireland never reinserted the ‘O’ prefix in his surname. It was during a Gaelic revival in Ireland when some of the next generation took back the O' prefix.

1864, Carroll-Sloan, marriage register

Such a surname change could cause many researchers to hit a genealogy brick wall. Even with the New Zealand death register that provided the full names of both of his parents, if subsequent researchers specifically searched for only the O'Carroll name, and discounted all other variants, their search of Irish records would fail. Thomas's roots in Ireland might never be found. His parents were recorded in Ireland as Carroll.

The O’Carroll-Sloane marriage in New Zealand may have been missed if researchers concentrated solely on the later spelling variant, as the marriage record shows Thomas Carroll (with no ‘O’ prefix) marrying Ann Sloan (without a silent ‘e’ at the end). Some researchers may have been fooled into suspecting the couple married elsewhere, throwing them off track.

Worse still, his obituary confirms Thomas was a policeman in Ireland before he emigrated, but the only Thomas O’Carroll of the right age, found in the records of the Royal Irish Constabulary, was born in 1838, in Co. Kerry. Our Thomas was named in these records as Thomas Carroll, born in 1837, in Co. Tipperary. This clue might well have been missed, and set many researchers down the wrong path entirely, had their search not included surname variants.

So what if you have a silent ‘e’ at the end of your surname? So what if you spell your name with an ‘O’ prefix, or use 'i' instead of 'y'? Your ancestors at some point probably did not.

So, I’ll say it again, when it comes to researching your ancestors, the spelling of your surname is quite literally irrelevant! Don’t restrict your research by seeking only the exact spelling of your family name now. Be very flexible. Search with every variant. And, if your search initially fails, actively seek out more variants. Check out John Grenham's surnames' website at Irish Ancestors.

Don’t build an unnecessary genealogy brick wall. Irish genealogy is hard enough without creating your own obstacles.

Sunday 17 January 2021

Traditional genealogy verifies genetic genealogy find

It is perhaps one of the great ironies of traditional genealogy that we often learn more about a man's life in the records created upon his death. This is certainly true for my newly discovered great-great-granduncle Thomas O'Carroll, a father of four, whose descendants were recently linked to my extended Carroll family through genetic genealogy.

The details concerning Thomas's life in Ireland, before his emigration to New Zealand, are of primary interest at this stage, given the goal is to first confirm Thomas O'Carroll was the brother of my great-great-grandfather, Maurice Carroll. With that in mind, let's examine his probate file, his obituary, and the civil register of his death:-

This is the last will and testament of Thomas O'Carroll, the elder, of Maungakaramea in the Provincial District of Auckland in New Zealand, settler, made the twenty-ninth day of June, one thousand nine hundred and nine. I revoke all wills and other testamentary dispositions by me hitherto made and declare this to be my last will. To my son Thomas O'Carroll, the younger, I leave and devise the whole of the real property, which I may own at the time of my decease, for his use during his life and after his decease, to his son David James O'Carroll absolutely, provided however in case my grandson David James O'Carroll should die without leaving issue him surviving, then I wish all my real property to go to his brother, my grandson Thomas Emmet O'Carroll absolutely. All my personal property, after the payment of my just debts and my funeral and testamentary expenses, I wish to have divided equally amongst my daughter-in-law, Anastatia O'Carroll, wife of my son Thomas O'Carroll, Mary O'Shea, my daughter, the wife of Michael O'Shea, and my daughter-in-law Nellie O'Carroll, the wife of my son Francis O'Carroll. And I appoint my son Thomas O'Carroll and my friend Francis Henry Sloane executors and trustees under this my will. In witness whereof I have hereto subscribed my name, the day and year above mentioned.

Signed by Thomas O'Carroll, the elder, as and for his last will in our presence, who at his request, in his presence and in the presence of each other, all of us being present at the same time, have hereto subscribed our names as witnesses.

[Signature of] Thomas O'Carroll,
J. M. Killen, Solicitor, Whangarei,
Jas. I. Wilson, Solicitor, Whangarei.

Signature Silhouette: Thomas O'Carroll, 1909

Excerpt from the Oath of the executors to the will, filed in the Supreme court of New Zealand, in 1919:-

Many old residents of this district will sincerely regret to learn of the death of Mr. Thomas O'Carroll, Maungakaramea, at the age of 81 years. The deceased gentleman, though not suffering seriously, felt that a change in town might do him good and he therefore paid a visit to Whangarei on Sunday 13th, inst. On the following Tuesday he went up to the hospital and consulted Dr. Frazerhurst, who advised him to stay in the institution, and this course Mr. O'Carroll followed. Unfortunately, however, the old gentleman did not rally and passed away during the early hours of yesterday morning. Mr. O'Carroll had been in rather indifferent health for the last three years, and had recently lost weight considerably, therefore his demise did not come as a surprise to his relatives and friends.

During his early days Mr. O'Carroll travelled a great deal, but 56 years ago he decided to stay in New Zealand and finally, four years later, he became a farmer at Maungakaramea, where he lived continuously until the time of his death. Before coming to New Zealand the deceased was a member of the Irish Constabulary and on arrival in Auckland he sought the old calling and became a policeman. The early training and discipline is held to be, in no small measure, responsible for the excellent health he enjoyed throughout his life. He took a keen interest in local affairs and was a prominent member of the Catholic Church. His wife predeceased him four years ago at the age of 84. He leaves three sons and one daughter (Mrs O'Shea) and no fewer than 25 grandchildren. The internment is to take place at Maungakaramea on Wednesday.
Northern Advocate, 21 October 1918.

So, what do these documents tell us about Thomas's life in Ireland?
  • Thomas was born about 1837, in Co. Limerick, Ireland.
  • His parents were Irish.
  • Thomas was literate.
  • Thomas was a member of the Irish Constabulary, in Ireland. (Update 31 January 2021: Thomas Carroll's service in the Irish Constabulary - here.)
  • Thomas left Ireland in or before 1862 (1918-56 years), when he settled in New Zealand.
  • Thomas spent some time travelling, before settling in New Zealand.

Thomas O'Carroll's last will does not tell us anything of his origins, but it confirms we are looking at the right man. The Oath of his executors however confirms Thomas's birthplace as Co. Limerick. But remember last week, we read a newspaper announcement of his daughter's marriage to Michael O'Shea, published during Thomas's lifetime in 1889, which states he was born in Co. Tipperary. This was where my great-great-grandfather, Maurice Carroll, claimed to have been born. But, even this apparent contradiction provides helpful evidence.

Obviously, his executors were not witnesses at Thomas's birth, so their belief stands some chance of being inaccurate. But, if Thomas and Maurice were brothers, his son would have had good reason to suspect Thomas was from Co. Limerick. We know my third-great-grandparents moved from their home near Fethard in Co. Tipperary to Castleconnell, Co. Limerick, before 1859. This was probably before Thomas went to New Zealand, so his son may have remembered that his father and/or his grandparents lived in Co. Limerick.

These documents help pin-point Thomas's death in the civil death registrations of New Zealand. Death registrations there, at this time, include place of birth, as well as parental details. A printout of Thomas O'Carroll's register was obtained to confirm, one way or the other, if Thomas and Maurice were brothers. And it seems they were.

Excerpts, death register, Thomas O'Carroll, 1918

The death register shows Thomas was born in Limerick, Ireland, to parents David O'Carroll, a house carpenter, and Katherine Cummins.


My third-great-grandparents were known in Ireland as David Carroll (without the 'O' prefix), a carpenter, and Catherine Cummins.

It's a match!

1. Thomas O'Carroll, Probate, 1919, Archives New Zealand Probate Records (1843-1998), FamilySearch.
2. Thomas O'Carroll, Obituary, 1918, Northern Advocate, 21 October 1918, p. 2, Past Papers.
3. 1859. Maurice Carroll and Mary Anne Frazer, Marriage register, Parish of St Nicholas,
4. Death, Thomas O'Carroll, 1918, Printout from death register, $ Births, Deaths & Marriages Online.

Sunday 10 January 2021

DNA cultivates a new branch of the family tree

I love autosomal DNA! Last year, just to humour me, my Aunt Anne took a DNA test. Her DNA match list includes descendants of her 64 GGGG-grandparents, i.e. my maternal GGGGG-grandparents, and maybe even earlier generations too. So far, I know the names of only two of my GGGGG-grandparents, creating soo much potential for discovery.

Before Christmas, I started examining Anne’s highest unknown match (56 cM/5 segments), labelled below as P. P has no online family tree, but she shares several matches in common with Anne, including those labelled T, S, L, M, and C below. Many of them appear to live in New Zealand. Some had partial trees attached to their DNA results, including T who traced his ancestry back to Thomas O’Carroll.

Over Christmas, I extended the family trees of these genetic cousins and found they all descended from one or other of Thomas O’Carroll’s four children.
As seen above, Larry, Anne’s first cousin, shares several of these matches too. Their grandmother was born Teresa Carroll (without an 'O' prefix). Also Michael, not included above, but a descendant of Teresa’s father Maurice Carroll and his first wife Mary Anne Frazer, also shares over 20 cM DNA with P and L (and thus appears in the Shared Matches lists at So, it seems we may be all related via my GG-Grandfather Maurice Carroll, or his forefathers.

Some of the online family trees show Thomas O’Carroll was born in Tralee, Co. Kerry, about 1837-38, and was buried in Northland, New Zealand in 1918. Our branch of the Carroll family did not include the ’O’ prefix in their surname, at least not before the Gaelic revival in Ireland around the turn of the twentieth century. Maurice Carroll also claimed to have been born in the late 1830s, but in Co. Tipperary, not Co. Kerry. 

So, were Maurice and Thomas related? The amount of shared DNA suggests they could possibly have been brothers, though maybe it's a tad on the low side for that. But, further research shows some consistencies with what might be expected in a family relationship.

While the online family trees suggest Thomas and his wife must have married in Ireland, Thomas Carroll (without the ‘O’ prefix) can be seen marrying Anne Sloan in New Zealand, in 1864. This couple then had four children, David James O’Carroll born in New Zealand in 1865, Francis O’Carroll born in 1866, Thomas O’Carroll born in 1869 and Mary Ann O’Carroll born in 1872. So he started off as a Carroll (without an 'O').

David Carroll was the name of my GGG-grandfather, Maurice’s father. Maybe Thomas O’Carroll was following traditional Irish naming practices whereby the eldest son was named after his paternal grandfather – i.e., Thomas O'Carroll's eldest son was called David. David wasn’t that common a given name in Ireland then, so this might mean something.

O'Shea-O'Carroll marriage, New Zealand Herald, 25 February 1889

Also, the above announcement of Thomas's daughter Mary Ann O’Carroll’s marriage to Michael O’Shea, in 1889, confirms Thomas WAS from Co. Tipperary, NOT Co. Kerry, after all.

BEWARE the information found in online family trees! It could lead you astray if you let it.

Updated 17 January 2021, see here: Traditional genealogy verifies genetic genealogy find.

Sunday 3 January 2021

2020 in Review – Accentuate the Positive

As 2021 begins, it offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on the year just gone. 2020 was a bizarre year, to say the least. It presented us all with so many new challenges. But, as Jill Ball of GeniAus always says, we should focus on the positives, and for 2020 that means the positives that arose in spite of Covid19, or maybe even because of it. And surprisingly, there were quite a few positives in 2020. Here are some of mine... with Jill's prompts highlighted in bold.

An elusive ancestor I found was Mary, the wife of John Radcliffe, and the mother of my maternal GG-grandmother, Anne (Radcliffe) Carroll from Malahide, Co. Dublin. At least, I suspect I found Mary - her maiden name being Mary Leonard. She was living with the Slattery family in Liverpool in 1841, quite probably with her mother Mary (Riley) Slattery, which gave me two new ancestors for the price of one!

A DNA discovery I made was a previously unknown GG-grandaunt, Mary Anne Hynes, in Western Australia. Mary Anne married Jerome Rodoreda in Perth in 1856. The register of their marriage included her parents’ names, confirming the maiden name of my GGG-grandmother as Margaret Hayes. Her maiden surname had not been recorded in any of the marriage records relating to Mary Anne’s siblings in Ireland, emphasising once again the importance of tracing ALL collateral lines.

My 2020 New-Year’s resolution was to attend more genealogy events, in person, and meet other like-minded folk. The year started well with a very enjoyable weekend in Belfast in February, where I attended the Back to Our Past/Genetic Genealogy Ireland Conference. We had so much fun, my cousin Aileen and friend Claire decided to overnight in a hotel and attend the equivalent event scheduled for September 2020, in Dublin. Sadly, Covid19 put paid to that.

But I joined Twitter (@DaraMcgivern) and met up with many other genealogists online, and especially enjoyed participating in #Ancestryhour and #ANZAncestryTime. Virtual conferences became the norm, and Zoom gave me an opportunity to catch up with Aileen and Claire throughout the year and talk all-things-genealogy, among other topics.

A genea-surprise I received was a batch of digital photographs from my half third cousin Rose, a descendant of my GG-Grandfather Maurice Carroll and his first wife Mary Anne Frazer. Rose requested assistance identifying some of the people pictured in the photos. So far, I have been unsuccessful in naming any of the unknowns. Perhaps someone reading this blog may be able to help.

James Carroll (1865-1943), Bardon Mill,
my half-great-granduncle

Maurice Joseph Carroll (1887-1964),
my half first cousin, twice removed

Maurice’s son, James Carroll and his wife Anne Molyneux emigrated to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, about 1901, bringing their children Maurice Joseph Carroll and John Joseph Carroll with them. Maurice Joseph Carroll married Mary Agnes Leckey in St Joseph’s Church, in Benwell, Newcastle in 1915. These photographs have been passed down through their family, in England.

Mary Agnes (Leckey) Carroll in white hat (1889-1946),
Others unknown

Two striking ladies (identity unknown), at Bardon Mill,
home to James and Anne Carroll, later 1930s, maybe

I am excited for 2021 to share with you some stories about a newly discovered branch of our Carroll family. A previously unknown GG-Granduncle, Thomas O’Carroll, suspected as being a brother of Maurice Carroll senior, has come to light. Thomas emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1860s, where he soon reinserted the 'O' in his surname. My Aunt Anne, her cousin Larry, Aileen and I share varying amounts of DNA with descendants of each of his four children. It's so exciting! Thank you for doing the DNA test, Anne, we have so many more connections concealed in your DNA.

And finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for their support, for reaching out to me, for leaving comments on my blog, for liking and sharing my posts and generally for taking an interest in my family-history research. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

So, out with the old, and in with the new. Here's to a safer, joyful and more successful 2021 for all!