Sunday 31 October 2021

Are genealogy to-do lists a help or a hindrance?

I have to admit, I'm not generally into creating to-do lists. Why waste time writing about what has to be done, when you can just get on and do it? Plus, I don't feel that sense of satisfaction other people say they experience when they complete a task and tick it off their list. So I rarely make lists, except for my genealogy task list.

This list makes sense. When I'm happily engrossed researching a family tree and have a brainwave moment about another line, or come across a promising new source that's not readily available online, it gets added to the list. Then it no longer distracts me from completing the task in hand. Otherwise, I'd probably hop from one thing to another and never finish anything. My genealogy to-do list ensures no potential clues are forgotten in the process.

Then, when I find myself with a few hours to kill in Dublin city, it helps to have a pre-prepared list of the items wanted at each record repository. And there are often a few quick-wins listed too, for when I've a spare hour or two in the evenings. This all makes for the efficient use of my genealogy time.

Recently however, my to-do list has become a place of procrastination, a never-ending list of tasks added and put on the long finger. More time is spent managing the list than completing the tasks. It's nearly overwhelming. I'm even starting to feel a sense of underachievement and associated guilt... when genealogy is supposed to be fun!

It all started during the first Lockdown. Granted, the archives were closed and most of their staff were cocooning at home and not available to respond to queries. In fairness, there was nothing I could do. But many places have been open for a while now, albeit with restrictions. It's past time to get motivated and take back control.

Yesterday, I selected five tasks to work on this week. Three of them have been actioned already, one has even had a response. Five more will be selected when these are complete. Soon I'll be back on top of things, and may even find a new story to tell you.

Already I anticipate that sense of satisfaction.

Sunday 24 October 2021

Reconnecting a lost branch to the family tree: James Byrne

Periodically, I revisit each line of my family tree in turn to examine any documents released since my last round of research. This time, while checking my maternal third great-grandparents Francis Byrne and Jane Daly, I discovered a new branch on my family tree.

Francis and Jane married in Dublin city on 11 October 1846 and had five known children:


Birth date

Death date

Spouse, marriage year
Francis Byrne
Bef. c. 1850
19 Dec 1912
Margaret McGrane, 1871
Hannah Byrne
Oct 1852
3 Apr 1926
John Comiskey, 1869
Charles Byrne
c. 1858
19 Nov 1888
Mary McCarthy, 1878
Jane Byrne
c. 1860
24 Jan 1887
William Cunningham, 1878
Catherine Byrne
4 Jan 1861
1 Jan 1930
Charles Carroll, 1920

Over the last few years additional Irish death records have been released online, including those of Charles Byrne and his sister Jane (Byrne) Cunningham.[1] Sadly, both of them caught phthisis (tuberculosis) and died young, but interestingly, Charles' death was registered by his brother - a new-to-me brother - James Byrne.

Death of Charles Byrne, Irishtown Road, Dublin, 1888

Subsequent searches showed James Byrne of 12 Upper Jane Place, the son of Francis Byrne, married Ellen Sweeney in St Laurence O'Toole's church, on 2 October 1885.[2] Their son James was born on 8 September 1887, followed by daughter Julia on 16 November 1890, son Francis on 12 July 1892 and daughter Ellen Mary on 12 August 1894.[3] They were all together at 16 Brighton Terrace, Ringsend, in 1911, along with Charles' children Edward and Ellen.[4]

Household of James Byrne, Brighton Terrace, Dublin, 1911

James, who was born about 1851, worked as a glass bottle maker. Charles had been a bottle blower. I'm not sure what the difference was between a bottle maker and a bottle blower, though obviously the blowers were the ones who shaped the molten glass into bottles. I suspect the bottle maker was the boss.

Charles and James settled in Ringsend, on the other side of the River Liffey to Jane Place, where their mother and brother Francis, my direct line, lived. Ringsend was known for its bottle factories.

The Byrnes had known ties to Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), further south along the coast, but perhaps they had a prior connection to Ringsend too. Records for St Mary's, Star of the Sea, the church serving the area, were not captured as part of the National Library's Catholic Parish Registers, so it could explain why so few baptism records for the family were found.

Like all specialist trades, sons followed fathers, and it would have been nigh on impossible for an outsider to get an apprenticeship as a bottle blower. So the question is, who got the Byrne boys in? Their father Francis Byrne, who was dead by 1869, was a stoker or fireman. I always suspected he worked in the engine room of a steamship, but maybe not.

This discovery presents a number of new clues. And it shows, even when you think you've found all there is to find, there may be something new waiting to be discovered. 

Granny's relationship with James and Charles Byrne

  1. Copy death register, Jane Cunningham, Dublin North, 1887, Group Registration ID 6873739; Copy death register, Charles Byrne, Dublin South, 1888, Group Registration ID 7051208;
  2. Copy marriage register, James Byrne & Ellen Sweeney, Dublin North, Group Registration ID 2344539,
  3. Copy birth registers, Dublin South: James Byrne, 1887, Group Registration ID 11893293; Julia Byrne, 1890, Group Registration ID 9536729; Francis Byrne, 1892, Group Registration ID 9342758 & Ellen Mary 1894, Group Registration ID 11441412,
  4. Byrne household, 16 Brighton Terrace, Pembroke West, Dublin, 1911 Census, National Archives of Ireland.

Sunday 10 October 2021

Celebrating 8 years at Black Raven Genealogy

This week I celebrate 8 years blogging at Black Raven Genealogy. 

On 6 October 2013, I wrote my first blog post - Welcome to Black Raven Genealogy – where I  promised to share my ancestors’ stories with family and friends. My main goal was, and still is, to keep my ancestors alive in living memory.

Now, as the 8th year ends, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you to my family and extended family, and all the other readers I have ‘met’ along the way. I really appreciate you leaving comments, sharing your knowledge and research stories with me, and returning to read my blog again and again. Your support means the world to me.

Here’s hoping, I never run out of stories to blog about!

Sunday 3 October 2021

Maria Radcliffe - a farmer at Yellow Walls

Is a family tree ever finished? Even when you think you have found all there is to find for a branch of the family tree, someone or something else always crops up, eventually.

This week, I came across a record for a Maria Radcliffe.[1] Maria died in Yellow Walls, the same townland in Malahide, Co. Dublin, where my Radcliffe ancestors lived. She was 56 years old when she died on 2 February 1888, indicating she was born about 1831-32.

Death of Maria Radcliffe, Balrothery, 1888

My family tree shows a great-great-great-grandaunt, Mary Ratty, baptised on 9 July 1831.[2] She was the only daughter of Peter Radcliffe and Anne Sarsfield. Mary is the English spelling of Maria and Ratty was a nickname commonly used in my Radcliffe family, so presumably Maria and Mary were one and the same person. Also, Peter Radcliffe, Maria's brother, and my great-great-great-granduncle, registered her death.

Baptism of Mary Ratty, Swords, 9 July 1831

Maria never married. She worked as a farmer. Isn't it unusual in Ireland for a woman's occupation to be mentioned! Most of my female relatives of the nineteenth century were described as 'wife of a carter', or 'daughter of a labourer', etc. But, Maria farmed.

Do you think she rented her own land, or did she live most of her life in her parents home and farm land rented by her father? Probably the latter. Her father died on 17 March 1887, less than a year before Maria. She is not recorded in Griffith's Valuation, created about 1850 in Malahide, but this was before Maria reached adulthood. It would be interesting to check the succeeding Cancelled Books, at the Valuation Office in Dublin, to see if she ever did lease land in her own name. 

During the last year of her life, following the death of their father, relations between Maria and her brother Joseph were seemingly quite strained. She even took him to court.[3]

Petty Sessions registers, Maria Radcliffe, Swords court, 1887

On 26 November 1887, at Swords petty sessions court, Maria gave evidence against Joseph to the effect that he:
'did unlawfully, willfully and maliciously damage, injure and destroy a lock on an out-office at Yelow Wallls, the property of [Maria], in the month of June 1887 under the value of £5'.
What had Maria got in that shed? We never had locks on the sheds at home when I was growing up in Yellow Walls, one hundred years later. We didn't even always lock the front door. Maybe the sheds had belonged to their father, and Joseph was seeking whatever he thought was rightly his inheritance.

The court concluded it had no jurisdiction in the case.

And Maria died of pulmonary congestion, as a result of valvular heart disease, barely two months later. And Joseph probably got whatever he was looking for.

Relationship Chart - Maria Radcliffe and my Grandfather

[1] Death, Maria Radcliffe, Balrothery, 1888, Group Registration ID 6320631,
[2] Baptism, Mary Ratty, Swords, 9 July 1831, National Library of Ireland.
[3] Petty Sessions registers, Maria Ratcliffe, Swords court, 1887, FindMyPast.