Saturday, January 09, 2010

Was I Somebody?

I make no apologies for pinching and amending the title of one of the late Nuala O'Faoláin's books. The book dealt with biography in the more or less present tense. This post deals with it in the definite past tense.

I thought it might make sense to do a sort of mini-review of developments in my pursuit of my family history and to draw attention to some odd angles.

Famous Relations
When I started out on this adventure I assumed we were nobodies, in terms of national fame and celebrity that is. And indeed we are for the greater part. But I recently discovered relationships to three national VIPs. Unfortunately they are all inlaws rather than blood relations so they really belong to someone else's family, but, what the hell. They're all I've got. So here goes.

The first, and most celebrated, is Eoin Mc Neill, the man who tried to cancel 1916 and who was subsequently Minister for Education in the Free State Government. The second is Michael Tierney, former President of UCD, who presided over a conservative Roman Catholic university and collaborated closely with John Charles McQuaid, Archishop of Dublin, to enforce strict religious and social conformity on campus. The third is Eoghan Fitzsimons, SC, who became Attorney General in the very brief period between the resignation of Harry Whelehan following the Fr. Brendan Smyth affair and the fall of the Government a mere month later.

Michael Tierney's son married a descendant of my grandfather's brother, and Tierney in turn was married to Eoin McNeill's daughter. Eoghan Fitzsimons's grandfather's sister married my granny's brother.

Distant enough, you might say, but at the rate relations are coming out of the woodwork I may have a longer and more closely related list for the hall of fame at the next review.

New Contacts through the Internet
One of the great things about putting your family history up on the web is that people find you. I have had three major breakthroughs from people finding me through internet searches.

Nora Meehan: I was in Kilkenny when I got an email from Nora saying we were related. I turned up on her doorstep the following day. She was living on the old homestead in Cappanahanagh in East Limerick. Thanks to her I was able to trace my father's people back to around 1789, the year of the French Revolution.

Helen Thornton: is descended from my grandfather's sister and she filled in another gap on my father's side, which led to Tierney and McNeill (see above). Helen is also helping me in my efforts to fill in details on the Mortimers of Creewood (Co. Meath) on my mother's side. They appear to be Protestants. Helen's next door neighbour is a member of the Navan Select Vestry and has opened an avenue to Canon John Clarke, Rector of Navan.

Marie van Thiel: another email out of the blue, this time from Bavaria. This was actually Marie Burgess, a second cousin on my mother's side, who, unknown to me, used to live down the road, had married a German and is now living in Bavaria.

My personal pursuit of history has had two threads.

The first was a local history one. I started digging into the history of Ballybrack (Killiney) in the early 1970s, published a few articles, hawked a slideshow around a number of local history societies and, last year, gave a talk in the Dublin City Library and Archive on about 400 years of history in 45 minutes.

The second, and more recent thread, was a family history one. Nothing to do with Ballybrack, or so I thought. I had lived in Ballybrack between 1954 and 1975, but I had no roots there.

However as time went on I came across a number of what I call crossovers connecting my Ballybrack and Family histories. Tenuous though some of them were they fascinated me.

John Barrington: was a tallow merchant with a residence and factory in Parnell St. He was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1865, the year of the Great Exhibition and the visit of Prince Albert, and he was knighted the following year. My great grandmother was in domestic service in his household when she married in 1866. Barrington eventually moved to Killiney (St. Annes and Santa Severina, now Summer Hill). After his death his widow moved to Campanella and a descendant of his was living there when we moved to Ballybrack in 1954. My mother, who ran the local newsagents, delivered papers to Barrington's descendant. Service over a century.

Antóin Mac Unfraidh: I was in school with Antóin but only recently found out that his father's people are from Murroe parish in East Limerick, which includes the townland of Cappanahanagh, and that we may even be related. That's on both our family history sides. Antóin's great grandfather on his mother's side turned out to have been Stationmaster in Killiney/Ballybrack from 1878 to 1895. That's the local history crossover.

Fr. Gerry Fleming: is a newly acquired second cousin (family history side) and he was for a period Parish Priest in Shankill, which in my day was a chapel of ease to Ballybrack (local history side). Incidentally, Shankill became a fully fledged separate parish after the fruits of the first "planned giving" experiment had financed that chapel's extension. Ballybrack was not amused.

Bono: how could I possibly leave him out? Bono's people lived two doors down from my great uncle John in Cowper Street. John's mother (my great grandmother) was a Rankin as was Bono's mother. My side were Catholics from Queen's County, while his were Protestants from Belfast. Bono is now living in Temple Hill, Killiney. This was formerly the residence of the USA Military Attaché and situated just on the outer limit of my mother's newsagent's catchment area.

New Sources
I think it is worth briefly mentioning some online sources which have recently become available. They don't always replace the original records but the capacity to search them digitally is a huge advantage and greatly speeds up the research.

The greatest boon in recent times must surely be the 1911 Census of Population online. This is a tremendous piece of work, beautifully executed, and is a great credit to the National Archive of Ireland. Another boon is the pilot digital family search which includes indexes to Irish civil records and also to a lot of records from RC and some Protestant parishes. It covers a wide selection of sources worldwide. A new service, Irishgenealogy, hosted by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, contains a selection of records from churches in Dublin and Kerry, and while incomplete, could just happen to cover that elusive event.

Another great arrival free online are the Ordnance Survey historical maps of Ireland. [The lower box on the right hand side gives you access to both modern and historic maps: "HISTORIC" is the ~1840s in colour and "HISTORIC B&W" is the same without the colour; "HISTORIC 25i" is the ~1900s series. The really clever bit is that you can overlay the new on the old: every time you click "Modern Map Overlay" the modern becomes slightly more prominent until eventually the historic disappears (one more click brings it back)]. Guaranteed hours of fun.

I should also take this opportunity to compliment the National Library of Ireland. They recently faced down one RC Bishop, in particular, who was refusing permission for the viewing of the Library's microfilm collection of parish records from his diocese. This was forcing researchers to use the regional heritage centre whose database was not always completely reliable and who also charged a whack for their services.

And finally a few stats. I am amazed myself every time I look at these.

There are 837 individuals, 249 marriages and 198 different surnames recorded in my family tree on the computer. The longest span covers 9 generations and the earliest entry is Ellen Humphries, born around 1789, and married to John Dwyer of Murroe parish, East Limerick.

1 comment:

Póló said...

In the original of the above posting I forgot to mention the OSI historical maps which are available free online. I have been using these with great results in both my local and family history researches. Until recently you had to go to your local library to get access for free, but a new,free, and more sophisticated version has gone up online and is well worth a visit.

I have incorporated a reference into the amended post above.