Saturday, 14 January 2017

Great-Granduncle John Byrne: Putting a face to the name

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I must say, I agree. Nothing quite brings your genealogy to life faster than finding a picture of a long-gone relative. And, this week I received a photograph of my mother’s granduncle, John Byrne. 

John was a sailor. He worked as a merchant seaman, serving as second mate on voyages between Britain and Ireland. In September 1918, towards the end of World War I, the British Merchant Marine introduced sailor identity books.

John’s identity documents describe him as being 5 feet, 5¼ inches in height, with brown hair and blue eyes. He had his initials ‘JB’ tattooed on his left arm, as well as a woman’s face and clasped hands. His wife, Margaret Byrne of 31 Jane Place, Dublin, was listed as his next-of-kin. The identity book also contained his photograph. 

John Byrne (1885-1930), Jane Place, Dublin
John Byrne (1885-1930)

According to his youngest daughter, John loved the sea. Tragically for him, however, as a young man, he went blind. He knew his ship so well he continued to work afterwards, concealing his sight-loss from his shipmates. No one suspected he couldn’t see. Then one day, someone left a trap door open on the deck and John fell in. John lost his job. The poor man missed the sea so much he was said to have died soon afterwards of a broken heart.

And, it was true. On 15 January 1930, John died of cardiac failure, having been ill for a month with congestion of the lungs. He probably suffered from a condition known as congestive heart failure, where the heart, being unable to pump effectively, truly was broken, even medically speaking.

See more about my great-granduncle John Byrne, here.

Source: Merchant seamen’s records for John Byrne of 31 Lower Jane Place, Dublin, held at the Southampton City Council Archives, England; Family knowledge about John Byrne’s loss of sight, recalled by his granddaughter. Copy death register, John Byrne, 1930, General Register Office.

Photograph from the Merchant Seaman Identity Certificate, 1918-1921 (form CR10), Southampton City Council Archives.

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© Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Birth of Ann Radcliffe

Happy New Year, everybody!

There were no new genealogy discoveries made in this house over the past week - I’ve been spending my time with living family. But, Ann Radcliffe’s birth certificate arrived in the post. She was born at 40 Addison Street in Liverpool, England, on 19 October 1849.

Birth Ann Radcliffe, Liverpool, October 1849

She was baptised on 28 October 1849 in St Anthony's Roman Catholic Church on Scotland Road nearby, though this record gives her birthday as 20 October.  

I'm fairly certain both documents relate to my great-great-grandmother, Anne Ratcliffe, who grew up in Malahide, Co. Dublin, and married Maurice Carroll in 1869. So far, she’s the only one of my ancestors found born outside of Ireland.

Her parents were named as John and Mary Radcliffe, which is correct. And, although Radcliffe was a common name throughout Lancashire, her father worked as a plasterer, also correct, narrowing things down a bit more.

Plus, a matching family were found in Rainhill, just ten miles east of Liverpool, at the time of the 1851 census. John, a plasterer, Mary his wife, and their two-year-old daughter, Ann, lived at 127 Kendrick’s Cross in the village. True, the Ann born in October 1849 was only seventeen months old when this census was taken, not yet two years as shown, so it’s not a perfect match.

Also, it’s still unclear who Ellen Slanety was, the ten-year-old school-girl sharing the Ratcliffe family's home in Rainhill. She was listed as John’s sister-in-law, so presumably Mary’s sister.  But, as far as I can tell at this point, Mary’s surname was Leonard, or Lennard - another kink yet to be overcome. 

Nevertheless, the John Ratcliffe in Rainhill in 1851 was born in Ireland, where the Radcliffe/Ratcliffe surname was extremely rare. Our John was a widower and living in Australia by the end of the decade, and this family were not found in any subsequent census returns in England. So, with all the matching criteria, the family cannot be easily dismissed.

It's also interesting to find a Thomas Leonard heading up a household of Irish-born agricultural labourers at 125 Kendrick’s Cross in 1851, just two doors down from the Ratcliffe family. Perhaps, he was related to Mary and maybe he’ll open the door to her past.

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© Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Genealogy Highlights of 2016

As 2016 ends, it’s time for a recap of the year’s genealogy achievements. And, quite a few proverbial brick-walls, once considered insurmountable, have come crumbling down this year. It’s easy to visualise the progress via numbers. 

In short, I can now prove 50% of my direct ancestors from the last seven generations. That’s up 5%, or seven people, from when I last quantified the position back in 2015. There’s still a lot of work to do, obviously, but it’s progress none-the-less.

Ancestor Scorecard*

The year started off spectacularly well - I uncovered the origins of my elusive great-grandfather, Michael Byrne. He had been a slippery quarry, and it was only by discovering and tracing his little brother Tom that I finally made any headway. Not only did Tom lead me to the boys’ birthplace in Dun Laoghaire, but from there I found the names of their four grandparents (my third great-grandparents), and traced our Byrne lineage back as far as Athgarvan, Co. Kildare, in the 1830s. 

The other two probable third great-grandparents discovered in 2016 were also on Dad’s side. Laurence Coyle and Bridget Corcoran lived in Dublin city from at least the 1820s. These were Granny Lena’s ancestors. 

But, my mother’s family were not to be outdone. Just this month I located the long-sought marriage of my third great-grandparents, John and Mary Radcliffe, in Liverpool, England, in 1848.  This provided Mary’s maiden name, and the name of my fourth great-grandfather, John Leonard, a labourer. 

Rita and Moira (probably)
Still, it’s not just about discovering their names. I also want to learn about their lives. And, in 2016, blogging proved to be one of the best ways of accomplishing this. When I share stories about my ancestors, their other descendants sometimes find my blog. These long-lost cousins then frequently help fill in the gaps in my story and occasionally even send me pictures of our relatives.

This year I ‘met’ Carli from the U.S. She is the granddaughter of Moira Mapes. Moira, born Mary Pauline, was the daughter of James Percival Wynne, granda’s first cousin. Moira was probably once better known by her stage name, Moira Martell. She was part of a famous juggling act, the Martell Sisters. I wrote about them last year, here.  

From the same branch of our family tree, I also ‘met’ Kerry. Kerry’s grandmother, Nora (Wynne) Fogarty was James Percival’s sister, making her Moira’s aunt. Nora emigrated to Australia in the 1920s and raised her family there. I shared her story, here, and wrote about her father, my great-granduncle, James Wynne, here.

Probably, Nora and John Fogarty (standing) with
 John’s brother Thomas and Nora’s sister Moira (seated), 
Wedding photo, 1920

And, on Mam’s maternal line, I ‘met’ Margaret. Although born in Dublin, she has made her home in Canada. It was with Margaret’s help that I finally discovered what happened to my granduncle, John Byrne. 

Can you imagine if we all had a crazy big family reunion! What stories we'd have to share! 

Roll on 2017! If it’s even half as good as this year, it will be great. Will you be coming along for the ride? 

'Family History All Done? What’s Your Number?', Ancestry blog, 16 August 2012.

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© Black Raven Genealogy