Saturday, 19 April 2014

Finding Lena's mother (part 1)

James and Lena (O’Neill) Byrne 
Both my paternal grandparents died years before I was born and when I first started my genealogy research, I realised how very little I knew about my Granny Byrne; she was born Helena (Lena) O’Neill, died in 1956 and was buried in the Yellow Walls Cemetery. My father did not remember much about his maternal grandparents, except that Lena’s father died when she was young, his grandmother, a gifted pianist, had remarried and Lena grew up in Yellow Walls, Malahide in north County Dublin.

Dad remembered an Uncle Arthur O’Neill, a barber, who once lived in Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo and who followed his family to England, after his wife’s death. He also remembered an Aunt Joan (O’Neill) Lockhead in England and an Aunt Tess (O’Neill) Greer who had lived in Drumcondra, Dublin. There had also once been a lady called Molly Pyke, living in Booterstown or Dun Laoghaire in south County Dublin, who was somehow related to his mother.  This was the extent of everything that ‘I knew’ when I started investigating Lena’s family.

The first port of call was the Irish census returns of 1901 and 1911. I found Helena with her sister Johannah (known in later years as Joan) living in Yellow Walls in 1901. They were both described as ‘Orphant’, aged six and eight, and were living with a Mary Power.  Orphant?  I had expected to find them living with their mother.

1901 Census of Ireland, Power household, Yellow Walls, Malahide, Dublin

In 1911, Helena Mary and Johanna Mary were still together, working as servants for the Smith family, in the nearby parish of Donabate, by then aged sixteen and eighteen. Their place of birth was given as Dublin city, but there was still no sign of their mother or their other siblings.

Lena’s copy marriage register confirmed that she married James Byrne, my grandfather, in St Sylvester’s in Malahide, on 11 February 1934. It gave Lena’s father as Charles O’Neill, deceased, formerly a law clerk by occupation.  As an aside, Keven Wynne, my maternal grandfather, was best man at their wedding.

GRO copy marriage register: James Byrne and Helena O’Neill 1934

As an aside, some of you may have noticed that Grandda Wynne was best man at the wedding of my paternal grandparents - how cool is that!

Back to the quest for Lena's birth family: A search for Lena’s brother Arthur in the Irish census returns revealed a twenty-three year old, Arthur O’Neill, living at North Summer Street, Mountjoy, in Dublin city, in 1911. He was with his mother and step-father, Mary Agnes and Thomas Ellis, both musicians, while Arthur was a hairdresser. Mary Agnes and Thomas were said to have been married for fourteen years.  Arthur had a sister Mary Agnes, married to a Robert Pyke and an unmarried sister named Teresa.

 1911 Census of Ireland, Ellis household, Summer Street, North, Mountjoy, Dublin 

There were too many ‘coincidences’ between this family and the information that Dad remembered. Even, though Dad did not recognise the surname Ellis, I was convinced that this was our family, so next I set about proving it.

To be continued next week …

Sources: Marriage register, General Register Office; National Archives of Ireland, 1901 and 1911 census

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The end of a lineage

My 4th great-grandparents, Peter and Anne Radliffe had six sons of their own, five of whom survived childhood and lived to carry on the family name – Peter (who probably died as a child), John, Thomas, Peter, Joseph and Christopher – all born between 1826 and 1841. Rumour has it that one of the boys had a son out of wed-lock, but the couple were not allowed to marry. The baby’s mother was said to have knelt and cursed the family and afterwards there were no more sons born, only daughters, and the Radcliffe name died out. This is typical of old Irish superstitions, so it was interesting to see whether or not it had come to pass.  I’ve now located all the known Radcliffe boys, the eldest two, having only recently been found in Australia.

John, the eldest surviving son, and his wife Mary had one daughter, Anne, my great-grandmother, born about 1849. They had no other children. John was widowed and ended up in Australia about 1859. He married Bridget Flanagan there in 1861, but had no more children.

Son, Thomas Radcliffe also went to Australia and married Mary Minogue from Feakle, Co. Clare in 1863. Thomas and Mary had three sons, Peter, Thomas and Joseph. This story should end here – three sons – case closed and curse disproved. However, research shows ‘the curse’ merely skipped a generation. Joseph died in a shooting accident in 1895, aged only twenty-two years, while Peter was childless when he died in a motor vehicle crash, aged sixty years in 1928 and Thomas, who died in 1932, aged sixty-one years, only had one daughter, Mary, who also died young.

Son, Peter Radcliffe married Jane Corr of Swords, in May 1868. Peter was a plasterer and Jane was a smith and they lived in Malahide. Peter died of chronic brights disease (kidney failure) on 20 April 1891, aged fifty-seven years and his wife, Jane, died one year and one day later.  I have found no record of Peter and Jane having had any children.

The next son, Joseph Ratcliffe, was thirty-two years of age when he married Bridget Grogan. The marriage was held in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough Street, Dublin, on 29 December 1867. Joseph and Bridget lived a long life in Malahide, where Joseph was a painter and farmer, like his father.  Joseph was in his eighties when he died in 1918, having been married for more than fifty years and his wife died in 1923. The couple were not blessed with any children of their own.

Finally, when Christopher was twenty-four years old, he married Mary Leahy, in May 1866, at Rathmines in south Dublin. There is no record of them having had any children. Within six years of their marriage, Christopher died of phthisis (tuberculosis) at their home in Malahide.  In March 1872, he was buried in the Abbey Graveyard, in the grounds of Malahide Castle. In August the following year, his widow Mary married Michael Power of Drynam.

While there may well be other sons, not yet found, tragedy certainly seemed to have followed this Radcliffe family. Their lineage appears to have ended with the death of grandson Thomas in 1932. Were they cursed? Maybe not literally, but perhaps the story of the curse was latched onto in later years as an explanation for the end of their lineage. This would mean that previous generations, more closely linked to events, also noted its end. Sad, to think I won’t find any Radcliffe cousins.

Sources: Church records at RootsIreland; Victoria birth, deaths and marriages; Australian newspapers; Church records at IrishGenealogy; General Register Office, copy marriage and death registers; Census of Ireland, 1911; Michael Egan, Memorials of the Dead, no. 9, 1996, p. 153; The image is an illustration of a dodo in the menagerie of Emperor Rudolph II at Prague, by Jacob Hoefnagel, c.1602 (Wikimedia commons).


© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 5 April 2014

‘Hello Ratty’

As you know from my previous posts, I have been looking at our Radcliffe lineage in the past few weeks and believe I have made another really exciting break-through. I may even have found some 5th great-grandparents.
Our Radcliffe Pedigree 

My 3rd great-granduncle, Joseph Radcliffe (1835-1918), brother of John above, was known to his neighbours in Yellow Walls as ‘Ratty’. I had always thought that this was merely an unfortunate nickname. ‘Ratty’ was the last member of our Radcliffe family known to have lived in Malahide, Co. Dublin. He died in 1918, yet memory of him survived. Until relatively recently, there was even a disparaging ditty recited locally concerning his abilities as a house-painter,  but unfortunately, I do not know the words.  

Ratty is certainly not a widely known variant of the Radcliffe surname, even though the renowned Irish genealogist, Edward MacLysaght, recognised it as an 'occasional abbreviation’.  No consistent spelling for 'Radcliffe' was used by my family over the years and I have searched for all the variants. However, never before did I think to check for ‘Ratty’ as a surname. Not until recently.

When I did, I found three more children born to my 4th great-grandparents Peter Radcliffe and Anne Sarsfield. Their baptisms were recorded in the same Roman Catholic Church, where I had found the baptism of John Radcliffe - St Colmcille’s, Swords.

Originally, I had discovered the following children:
  • Peter Ratcliff baptised on 4 May 1826; 
  • John Ratcliff on 15 June 1827, my 3rd great-grandfather; 
  • Joseph Radcliff on 1 November 1835; and 
  • Christopher Radcliff on 2 June 1841.
Now, I can add three more children to the list, nicely filling the eight-year gap between John and Joseph: 
  • Thomas Ratty baptised on 19 Jul 1829;
  • The only daughter, Mary Ratty on 9 July 1831; and
  • Peter Ratty on 6 August 1833. 

The first Peter, born in 1826, may have died in childhood, with the name being reused for the next boy born.

This Ratty surname has opened up a whole new avenue for further research into our Ratcliff(e)/Radcliff(e) lineage.  It has also provided the names of six additional Godparents, some of whom may well be related to Peter and Anne, and perhaps hold the clues necessary to extend their pedigrees back another generation.

Unfortunately, Peter and Anne’s marriage record is still not immediately obvious in St Colmcille’s records, or in the surrounding parishes. However, I may have found Peter’s baptism record.  A Peter Ratty was baptised in the nearby Baldoyle parish, on 25 November 1798. His siblings’ baptisms were also recorded - John Ratty in 1791, Thomas in 1792, a second John in 1794, Mark in 1797, Ellen in 1806 and Margaret in 1809. Peter’s parents, and possibly my 5th great-grandparents, were named as Thomas Ratty and Mary Cullen. Coincidentally, or not, these names were given to two of Peter and Anne's children. It's not a common name in Ireland, but it seems that there were two men named Thomas Ratty living in Baldoyle at this same time, adding complications to the search. 

My 4th great-grandfather, Peter Radcliffe, died on 17 March 1887, and his son Joseph registered his age as 90 years. A 1798 baptism is therefore quite feasible. Proving it, however, is another matter entirely.

Sources:  Edward MacLysaght, The Surnames of Ireland (Dublin, 1985), p. 255; Church records,

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Some truth in our family lore
Melbourne (including the Sandridge Bridge), by Nathaniel Whittock, 1855

Family lore:  In the second half of the nineteenth century, some of the Radcliffe brothers left Ireland for Australia, where they became wealthy and successful. They were even said to have founded a town there and named it after themselves, or at least a major highway.  Supposedly, one of the brothers, my great-great-great-grandfather, John Radcliffe, had no other children and Mary Carroll, a granddaughter in Ireland, kept all sorts of papers to prove that she was an heir. However, the story goes that it was John’s wife's family that inherited all their property in Australia.

So, I have finally tracked the Radcliffe brothers in Australia.  John, born in Malahide, Co. Dublin in 1827 and Thomas, born there in 1829, both settled in Melbourne, in the colony of Victoria. John arrived in Melbourne about 1857, possibly in the hopes of capitalising on the Victorian gold-rush, but, by January 1859 at least, he had resorted to his primary trade, that of plasterer. It seems business boomed for the brothers, and John, who became a building contractor, was mentioned regularly in the Melbourne newspapers between 1861 and 1865, as earning many valuable building contracts in the area. In September 1865, John applied for a publican’s license in respect of his new hotel in Bay Street, Sandridge [now Port Melbourne], where he resided with his wife, Bridget Flanagan, whom he had married in 1861. John built the hotel himself, having bought the site for £150 in 1863 and spent £1,000 on building costs. He named it the ‘President Lincoln Hotel’, after the U.S. president, assassinated only a few months previously. Coming from a small rural townland in county Dublin, the Radcliffes certainly believed that they had it made, so much so that John even titled himself ‘gentleman’ in this license application.
John Radcliffe, The Argus, 25 September 1865, p. 8

All changed within a year, however, and by July 1866, John Radcliffe, of the ‘President Lincoln Hotel’, a publican and contractor, claimed insolvency arising as a result of heavy losses on contracts and ill-health. His liabilities amounted to £1,495 and his assets only £439. The insolvency case is an interesting story in itself, suffice to say here that John, knowing that he was seriously ill and about to die, and with the help of the Flanagans, still managed to provide for his wife’s future. The mortgaged hotel and a £600 life insurance policy were left for her benefit.  John and Bridget had no children when John died, aged only 39 years, on 30 October 1866. Bridget did not survive him by very long, but died in March 1869. It appears that in this instance, family lore rang true and the Flanagan family inherited the remaining wealth, but before my poor grandaunt Mary was even born.

John’s brother, Thomas, lived until he was 75 years old and died at his residence,Annagh House’ on Dynon Road in West Melbourne, on 25 June 1905. He was survived by his widow Mary and two sons, Peter and Thomas, to whom he left property valued at nearly £6,300. Interestingly, Google Maps shows a Radcliffe Street, now running off Dynon Road in West Melbourne. Again, we may have found truth in the stories passed down through the generations, if this little street represents the fabled town, or highway, named after the Radcliffes.
Radcliffe Street, Dynon Road, West Melbourne

Sources: The Argus, 28 January 1859, 19 October 1861, 25 September 1865, 9 August 1866, 10 October 1866, 1 November 1866, 3 August 1867, 18 December 1867, 27 March 1869, 26 June 1905, 12 August 1905; South Australian Advertiser, 1 February 1862 (all accessed on Trove); Victoria copy death register, 1866; Victoria marriage index, 1861. Drawing of Sandridge Bridge, 1855, available on Wikimedia Commons.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy