An Elusive Family Connection

November 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

Some time ago I stumbled upon a fascinating clue regarding the relationship between two families. I had been searching for the immigration record of one of the Conroy sisters and by happenstance discovered the true immigration record for Ellen Conroy which I had not found til then. The discovery of it was made possible by an interesting example of human error. In this case, the information transcribed by whoever had indexed the document was incorrect. Specifically the spelling of the place of origin had been absolutely butchered. Had the glaring misspelling not leapt off the computer screen I might have missed it, coupled with the fact that the result was listed on the fourth page of search results, it was a very happy accident, indeed.

The ship manifest for Ellen Conroy, age 21, was dated 1895 and she sailed from Queenstown, Ireland on the SS Cephalonia of the Cunard Line, and landed in Boston. Interestingly she was traveling with one of her sisters, Mary, age 18, and their last residence was correctly listed as Rosenallis, Queens Co. Even more interesting was the revelation that they were traveling with a male companion, named Harry Burns (at least according to the transcription). Closer scrutiny confirmed that the first name was actually Henry, although it is difficult to read at a distance.

Incredibly Henry is described as having already lived in the States, and that on this voyage he is returning “home” to West Newton, Massachusetts. Ellen and Mary’s destination is also listed as West Newton. The next detail regarding their intended final destination really floored me when I read it. Not only are they travelling to West Newton, but specifically they are going to the residence of a Mrs. Harney, Cherry Street, West Newton who is described as Ellen and Mary’s cousin.

Immigration 1895

Flash forward in time a bit to the year 1909 when in February Ellen Conroy is married to a man named Thomas Martin Harney, who was previously married but is now widowed. Thomas is the son of Thomas Harney and Margaret Lynch both of whom were born in Ireland and later immigrated and were married in America. Thomas Martin himself was born in Newton. The senior Thomas Harney is the son of a (you guessed it) Thomas Harney and Bridget Nunderkin (not sure on that last name, though…), who have another son whose name is (don’t hold your breath) Martin and is about 10 years older. Both sons seem to have been born in a townland in Ireland called Skerry, Queens, County, which is not all that far from the region near Rosenallis from which the Conroys hail.

Here’s the catch: In 1895 when Ellen was travelling to America to meet her supposed cousin, Mrs. Harney of Cherry Street, the woman who fits that bill is the wife of Martin Harney, Eliza Byrne, residents of 271 Cherry Street. Please note the difference in spelling of the last name, an issue which repeats itself throughout my research. Martin Harney and Eliza Byrne seem to have been married in Ireland. They also have a son named Thomas (shocker, I know) who I believe was in fact born in Ireland and then later immigrated to Newton as well. In the Newton city directory below Martin is seen as well as his brother Thomas, the future father-in-law of Ellen Conroy, also living on Cherry Street, not to far away. Thomas Martin is also present on the next page.

So who are these Byrnes who appear to be related to the Conroys? And what degree of relation are we looking at? As best I can figure one of Ellen’s aunts would have to have married a Byrne (back in Ireland) in order for Eliza and Ellen (and her other siblings) to be cousins, at least first cousins. In an attempt to answer some of these questions I decided to see what I could discover of Henry Byrne/Burns and his whereabouts after 1895.

Henry Byrne shows up in the Newton City Directory of 1893 (below) living at 271 Cherry Street with Martin Harney, husband of Eliza Byrne, stong suggestive evidence that perhaps Henry and Eliza are siblings. A careful reader will also notice one John Conroy also residing at that address. Who he is remains a small mystery to me and must remain the subject of another post, another time.

271 Cherry Street. Harney, Byrne, and Conroy all under one roof! 1893.

In 1895, presumably after Henry’s return trip from Ireland, he has relocated and is now living with Thomas Harney, 327 Cherry (see above).

Henry Byrne 1895 Newton

Extra careful readers will notice a Mrs. Fannie P. Byrne and a John Byrne both residing at 64 West – could they share a family tie with Henry and Eliza…? We shall soon see.

After 1895 Henry disappears and I have not yet been able to locate him elsewhere or discover what may have happened to him. I suspect he may have returned to Ireland for good but have found no proof of that. For example, he does not seem to be present in the 1901 Irish census. For now this particular trail has run cold. So where else might I find clues?

At one point I went back to immigration records. Perhaps I could find traces of other Byrne family members which would in turn provide some more information. It wasn’t long before a curious tidbit turned up.

Below is the passenger manifest of a ship from Ireland in 1899. Listed is one Andrew Byrne who, according to the record, is coming from none other than Rosenallis and traveling to West Newton.

Andrew Byrne Imm 1899

Sure enough, Andrew first appears in the Newton City Directory in 1907, which is difference of a few years for which I’m not sure why this is the case. However, note who he is living with. He is residing with the same Mrs. Fannie P. Byrne as listed just above but who is now a widow. We see that John Byrne, clearly her husband, passed away in 1905. The address has changed, but clearly the same people.

Andrew last appears in the directory in 1915, and what becomes of him is also a mystery. Fannie ends up moving to Boston, where she in fact had lived before with her husband. So who then is this John Byrne, and are he and Andrew related to Henry and Eliza?

John Byrne’s own death certificate offers some clues. His parents are named as Richard Byrne and Sarah Morgan, but no place of birth is listed. John and Fannie had son also named John, who tragically died at the age of 16 after falling down an elevator shaft, an incident which was recorded in a local police almanac.

On his death certificate we see some more detailed information. John Byrne, the senior, was born in County Down, while Fannie Pope came from Cork. It is worth noting that he is buried in Calvary cemetary in Waltham where Ellen Conroy and most of the Harneys are also buried.

So the great question next was, who are Eliza Byrne’s parents and where did they come from? It seems slightly puzzling that a family that seems to be coming from Rosenallis, Queens County might actually be originally from County Down, but perhaps this is not so strange after all.

I wrote away to the Newton City Clerk for Eliza Byrne-Harney’s death certificate, which I recently received. Unfortunately it only lists her place of origin as Ireland and does not offer any more specific details. However, her parents are listed, but, incredibly, they are not Richard Byrne and Sarah Morgan. Eliza’s parents are named Patrick “Burns” and Bridget Conroy. Yup. A Conroy yet again. Could this be the elusive family connection? Could Bridget Conroy be somehow related to Ellen and her siblings? If so, why does there seem to be such a close relationship with this other branch of Byrnes who have at least one set of parents named differently and come from a different region in Ireland?

It is certain that a connection between my branch of the Conroy family has a connection to at least one of the Bryrne families, but so far the piece of evidence that proves it eludes me. However the travelling habits of these families clearly supports the pattern that people from the Old World often moved to the same neighborhoods in the New. More to come, I’m sure….

Researching Parish Registers… again.

March 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

I recently made a trip to the Saint Louis County Library, home of the local Family History Library, to take another look at the Roman Catholic Church registers from the parish of Rosenallis. I had two goals in mind, the first being to locate James Conroy SR’s birth record, and the second, to try to locate any of the Harney, Byrne, or other Conroys who had lived in Newton, Massachusetts, who had roots in Queens County. In regards to James I am pleased to report that I was successful in quickly locating his baptism record which confirms that his father’s name was John, and not Hugh (see Finding Hugh), and he was born in Capard itself.

James Conroy, Baptized 6 Aug 1848, second entry. Sponsored by Thomas Walsh & Biddy Molloy. Capard, Queens County.

In another parish register, this time Mountrath, Co. Queens, I was able to find James’ marriage record to Kate/Catherine Heffernan. Kate was from Redcastle, a town nearby, and a Joseph Flanagan and Eliza Heffernan (Redcastle) were the witnesses. The date was 17 May 1871. It would seem that James, who was born in Capard, travelled to Mountrath for his wedding, which very likely was arranged, although I’m not sure.

 

Marriage entry for James Conroy of Capard and Catherine Heffernan of Redcastle, Mountrath. 17 May 1871, bottom of image. In Latin!

I happened to stumble upon the baptismal record for James and Kate’s first child, John, born 20 Oct 1872. His birthplace was a little hard to see, although it clearly started with “Derry”. I checked it against a list of all the Conroy children sent to me by John Conroy of Worcester (great-grandson of James), and it would seem that he was born in a place called Derrycon, located a little northwest of Mountrath in what looks like a very rural area on the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains, near where the Mountrath river comes down from the heights above. I know very little of James and Kate’s life at the time, but perhaps they were slowly moving back to Capard when John was born. They may have started farming in the area of Mountrath, and then moved on for whatever reason. Perhaps my friend (and second cousin once removed) Michael Flanagan in Dublin will weigh in on this one!

John, the first born son. Baptized 20 Oct 1872, bottom of image. Note 'Derry...' at end of entry where image is unclear.

As mentioned above, I was also looking for other Conroys, Harneys, and Byrnes, in an attempt to nail down a relationship. I know for a fact that the Conroys of Coen were in some way related to the Byrnes, because Eliza Byrne, wife of Martin Harney, is most likely Ellen Conroy’s cousin, based on information found in an immigration record. Eliza’s husband, Martin Harney, had a brother named Thomas Harney, whose son, Thomas Martin Harney, married Ellen Conroy. Are you still with me?! Anyway, I also know that the Harneys were from the townland of Skerry, located adjacent to Capard, home of the Conroys. In Griffith’s Valuation there is a Peter Byrne listed, sharing land with a Thomas Harney, who is most likely Thomas and Martin’s father. Could Peter be related to Eliza? I’m willing to think so.

The townland Skerry did appear in the Rosenallis collection, but no Harneys or Byrnes to be found. However, the entire Catholic Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin is split between the parishes of Rosenallis and Mountmellick, so perhaps the Byrnes and Harneys will appear in the Mountmellick registers instead.

The parish registers for Rosenallis.

Looking for a needle, found a haystack.

January 20, 2011 § 6 Comments

I think there are two great discoveries that one can make when researching a genealogical project. The first is locate a document that you set out deliberately to find, and the other is to find something unexpected that you weren’t looking for at all. This second kind of experience can be very exciting and lead to even more discoveries, and it is the kind of moment that keeps Junkies like me coming back for more.

It was a discovery such as this I made recently that really stunned me, and uncovered details that I am still working to sort out. I had been searching for an immigration record for Agnes Conroy, daughter of James and Catherine, and was not having much luck. But as I was looking through one search result after another, one stood out dramatically from the rest. It was actually an immigration record for Ellen Conroy which I had never located. I had found records that seemed plausible, but nothing that was without a doubt hers. This, however, was different. It stood out from the other search results mainly because the spelling of Rosenallis, Co. Queens had been so badly butchered by whoever had keyed in the document that it was impossible to miss, and when I took a look at it the manifest itself I knew I had found the right one. All the details matched, listing her birthplace as Rosenallis and her final destination as West Newton, Massachusetts. Also traveling with her was her sister, Mary B Conroy. As I looked at their names I was drawn to another detail. Accompanying them was a man named Harry Burns who was of Irish descent but apparently was already living in the States in Newton. It was clear that he had made the trip back to Ireland and then helped to bring Ellen and Mary across the sea. But the most amazing detail would be the destination information listed under Ellen. According to the manifest Ellen was traveling to meet her cousin Mrs. Harney living on Cherry Street in west Newton. When I read this my jaw hit the floor. Several years in the future, in 1907, Ellen would marry a Mr. Thomas B Harney of West Newton, and Ellen herself would then live out her life on Cherry Street. Did this mean that her future mother-in-law was also her cousin? This seemed unlikely, so I began to look a little further.

1895 immigration for Ellen and Mary Conroy, and Henry Burn/Byrne.

When I went referred back to the Newton city directory I would make some pretty astounding discoveries. Suddenly there was Conroy’s popping out all over the place (well, mostly on Cherry Street). I found a John W. Conroy, whom with his son, Eugene, owned a painting business, J. W. Conroy & Son, which is referred to in the Illustrated Boston, the metropolis of New England, 1889.  Ellen Conroy’s sister-in-law, Mary Elizabeth Harney married a man named John (J?) Conroy, born in 1870, but I do not know if he is related. The thing that intrigued me the most was the relationship between Ellen and this “cousin Mrs. Harney.” At first I attempted to locate Harry Burns, the gentleman listed on the ship manifest who was travelling with the Conroy sisters, but after a brief search I couldn’t find anything. However, as I looked through the city directory I discovered a Martin Harney, also living on Cherry Street, and in 1893 Martin is living with a John Conroy (possibly the son of JW Conroy Sr or the man who marries Mary Elizabeth Harney) and a Henry Byrne. When I saw this I grew very excited (and also kicked myself for not checking a different spelling for ‘Burns’) and I went back and look more closely at the immigration record. Upon closer inspection with a magnifying glass I could see that the ‘Harry’ was actually a Henry, just that the ‘e’ had been squished into the ‘H’ a little bit. Eventually I found Martin’s marriage record and he married a girl named Eliza Byrne from Ireland. Although I haven’t been able to prove it just yet, I think that Ellen must have an aunt (on either her mother’s or father’s side) who married a Byrne at some point, and thus began the family connection. Mrs. Eliza Byrne Harney then is Ellen Conroy’s cousin as mentioned on the ship manifest.

271 Cherry St - Harney, Conroy, & Byrne. 317 Cherry - Thomas Harney Sr and Thomas M Harney, future husband of Ellen Conroy. 182 Cherry - J. W. Conroy, policeman.

I cannot show that Martin Harney is in anyway related to the Harney family that Ellen marries into, but I cannot imagine that they’re not given the circumstantial evidence. I also don’t know that the JW Conroy family is related either, but once again it seems very likely that they must be. An initial search of birth and marriage records from Ireland would suggest that all the Conroys, Byrnes, and Harneys all originally came from Queens County, now called Laois. It would make sense, then, that families who knew each other in Ireland would congregate near each other in the New World, even marrying together. Another piece of the puzzle that suggests this is that all of the marriages that occurred in Newton all took place at St Bernard’s, the same place that Ellen and Sarah, my great-grandmother, got married at, and everyone who died was buried in Calvary cemetery in Waltham, Massachusetts (Sarah herself had moved to Rhode Island and is buried there).

Even though there are some loose ends, uncovering this treasure trove of information has been a real exciting experience, and I’m somewhat awed by the realization of how important Newton, Massachusetts has been in the history of my maternal great-grandmother’s family. It is amazing to discover that you’re even more connected with ancestor’s than you had previously imagined.

1909 - John W. Conroy & Son, painters, 87 Derby St, Newton, MA.

PS I did find Agnes Conroy’s immigration record after all, only she’s listed by her birth name of Bridget. My friend Michael from Dublin reminded me that girls named Bridget would not like being called Biddy back in the early 1900s, so she most likely changed her name or used a nickname or even her middle name.

Finding Family

December 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

With the last post published (see Conroy & Coakley) I had intended to take a break from active research and blogging, and to focus on the holiday season, my family, and some other similar things. However, as it turns out, it seems there was a little more work to do, and new discoveries to report. Hopefully this will be it for the year.

Near the beginning of November I had sent away for a death certificate for a certain Evelyn Harney, the daughter in-law of my great-grand aunt, Ellen Conroy. I had one main goal in doing this and that was to attempt to discover the name of a potentially living relative whom I might contact. In a  death certificate the person listed as the informant, or the individual providing personal details about the deceased, is usually a family member, or next of kin. Evelyn’s husband, Thomas Harney, had passed away a few years earlier, but if I had requested his death certificate it was likely that Evelyn herself would be listed as the informant, not one of their children. Hence, going after the spouse who dies second holds the most promise for a name. In the event that no informant is listed, or it is a name that does not seem familiar, the next best thing is to have the place where they were buried listed. If that should occur you can then contact the cemetery directly and get information regarding who is buried as well as any details on plot ownership, which often includes the name and address of the next of kin.

In my case I got lucky, and sure enough, the name of Evelyn and Thomas’ daughter was listed, only now a married woman herself. It would also be revealed that the Conroy/Harney clan had continued to call Newton, Massachusetts their home for several generations. In addition, Evelyn’s parents’ names were listed and I have been able to already start making significant connections in my research regarding them, including a bombshell of a discovery I will mention later.

As for contacting Evelyn’s daughter I believe her to still be living and I have even found references to her own offspring and their families online. I intend to write her a letter and I hope to hear back. I can only hope that my communication will be received positively. It would be amazing to be able to establish a connection with living family members in my home state, and indeed a town in which I worked for a while.

US Census showing the Coole family, with Evelyn and her brother Simeon.

Evelyn’s maiden name was Coole and it appears that her family hailed from Newfoundland, Canada. I have managed to discover more than one individual with related family trees on Ancestry.com, and in the process of viewing those I made a startling discovery. Evelyn had a brother name Simeon, after their father, who apparently lived and died in Littleton, Massachusetts, the very town in which I was raised. In fact, he was even living there while I was kid, going to school and growing up. I think he may have married but I haven’t conformed that yet. It is simply stunning to me to find this out. He is for sure a distant relative, but a connection can still be made. All the same it is quite exciting. We’ll have to see what comes from it….

In the meantime, I now turn my attention to the holidays and the end of the year. With the coming new year I plan to get going with another of my passions, beekeeping. But, rest assured, a Junkie can never stay away too long, and I’m sure I’ll have more to report soon enough. I also hope to get some of the other pages on the blog finished, such as the resources and research focus areas. Until then, Happy Holidays.

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