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.


  1. You make it look so easy but I'm sure it took a lot of digging. And I like how you accounted for the contradictions. That's always important. Congratulations~

    1. Thanks Wendy, it took a while over Christmas to link all the DNA matches to his tree. The NZ genealogy was easier as I did some same period research there last year on a different line. Then it was just a matter or ordering a copy of the death register.

  2. Congratulations, Dara! I wonder how long it would have taken to find your Maurice's brother Thomas without the DNA. Great work.

    1. Thanks Cathy, probably would never have found him without the DNA.

  3. I really like how you demonstrate the importance of using DNA with traditional genealogical research. Congratulations on this find!

  4. Thank you Marian, DNA might confirm you are related but, except for close family, it does not specify the exact relationship.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!