Meet the Conroys (oh, and the Dunns).
October 19, 2010 § 1 Comment
My obsession with genealogical research began with one person. I suppose this is how it is for a lot of people who set out to learn something of their ancestors, but over time the significance of that individual’s pull on your research – and your mind – continues to grow. Even when you’ve taken a break from it all or gone off on another branch of family members, you still end up coming back – at least in thought – to the one who started it all.
Sarah Conroy is my paternal great-grandmother and was born around 1885 in Ireland, and she was supposedly from a small town called Mountmellick in County Laois. It was with Sarah that I got my first real taste of the rush of triumph and excitement that comes when you find someone you’re looking for in a record you were hoping to find. I had travelled to the National Archives in Waltham, Massachusetts, hoping to find a record of immigration. I knew she had been married in Newton, MA., so it was likely that she arrived in Boston. I knew he marriage year, too, so I could narrow down the range of years I would have to search.
Within twenty minutes of playing with the search engine on Ancestry.com I had found her. In the search results the word ‘Mountmellick’ leaped out at me, and I gleefully followed the link to view the image. It was her and I had even discovered the name her older sister, Ellen, who had paid the price of her ticket.
Of all my ancestors she has been one of the most challenging to trace, for reasons I still do not understand. I know when she arrived in the US and I know when and where she got married. That event occurred in 1910 in Newton and she married a man named Thomas Francis Dunn, who, as listed on their marriage certificate, was from Waterford, Co. Waterford, Ireland. He had been living in Worcester, MA. with the family of his deceased older brother, William. Thomas himself would pass away, leaving Sarah with two boys, Joseph and James. She then moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where she is listed in a 1919 city directory.
She and her two sons next appear in the 1930 census for Providence as well as some later city directories.
When Sarah immigrated she was greeted by her older sister Ellen, who, as I said above, paid for Sarah’s passage. Ellen herself had immigrated around 1897. At some point she moved to Newton, MA. where she met and married Thomas M Harney, who had been previously married. They were married in February 1909 in Newton MA at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church. A little over a year later Sarah and Thomas would be married at the same church with Ellen as a witness.
Another member of the Conroy family was brother James J Conroy. He appears in the 1910 Census for Newton as a member of Ellen and Thomas Harney’s household and may have worked for the local railroad. He immigrated in 1904 on the SS Ivernia of the Cunard line, the same vessel that carried Sarah a few years earlier.
The trail for James becomes a little sketchy when I start looking forward through the census returns and cities directories, mostly because at this point I cannot confirm if I am still following the same James J Conroy. He appears to have married in 1914 but at this point I do not have any documentation to prove this. Making another trip to the Mass State Archives at some point will help tremendously in this. [Update! Check out the post, https://censusjunkie.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/james-joseph-conroy/]
Returning now to Ellen Conroy, on her marriage certificate from the church there is an Agnes Conroy listed as a witness. This is the first and only time that I have seen this name and I do not know who she is, although it is safe to assume that she would be a sister. My mother told me that Sarah was supposed to have close to fourteen siblings, so finding all of them will be challenging.
It has always been a goal of mine to try to trace the Conroy’s back oversees to their native Ireland, but doing so comes with some significant challenges. The first is of course is that I live here in the States and they came from a different country. The second is that Ireland is really thin when it comes to census information, and the reason for this is a complex one, a subject better left for a forthcoming post. But, for now, we shall just discuss the two major returns that are available in the country – the years 1901 and 1911. As far as the usefulness of census returns to genealogy these are rather late dates and it can make it difficult to trace a family line back very far. However, there are what we’ve got to work with, and in some cases they are all that exist.
For a long time the only way to access the returns was to make a trip to Dublin and visit the National Archives and do the research in person. I often would think and talk about the possibility of getting to the point in my own research when this would become necessary. Now, however, making the trip is not needed, for the entire returns for both 1901 and 1911 have been digitized and are available online for searching. This is really a wonderful thing because it is a great feat alone to digitize a set of extensive documents nevermind make them available as a searchable database online.
It took me a little digging around to find the Conroys in 1901 but eventually I did. At first the stumbling block was that I didn’t know exactly where they lived. I knew they lived in or near Mountmellick from documents I had from Sarah and James, but when I looked at Ellen’s marriage record I discovered that her birthplace was a town called Rosenallis. Thanks to the miracle of Google Maps I looked the town up and found that it was situated very near Mountmellick but a little to the west. In looking through the census returns I could not find anything that matched this location for the family members that I knew about (keep in mind that in 1901 Sarah and James would have both still have been in Ireland and I also knew the names of the parents). I broadened the search and finally I found them listed in a townland called Cones, in the Capard area, which, again according to Google Maps is very close to Rosenallis but just a little ways down the road, so to speak. This was very exciting. Listed were Catherine Conroy the mother as the head of household with her children, John, Sarah, Bridget, Patrick, Lizzie, Michael, and Thomas. A visitor, Peter Bennett, was also accounted for. The father, James Sr., was listed under his own return with no one with him, which is an interesting occurrence in a census and I’m not sure what to make of it. Perhaps he was away from the house but was counted somewhere else. The son, James Jr., was also listed elsewhere as a laborer. I would also find them again in the 1911 return, this time with James and Sarah gone, and most of the rest remaining.
Additional information provided by the return relates to the type of house the family lived in, what sort of outbuildings they might have, and whether ir not they had livestock. In 1911 the Conroys had one stable, one cow house, one calf house, and one turf house or shed. Another interesting tidbit from the 1911 census is the detail of how many years the present marriage has lasted (for the woman or wife), how many children have been born to her, and how many children are still living. The years of marriage help to identify when the couple was married, in this case around 1871, and the census shows that Catherine Conroy had twelve children, ten of whom are still living in 1911.
So this has been a brief (if you can believe it) introduction to the Conroy family. There many loose ends within this story that I am continuing to pursue and future posts will again come back to them. Going forward I hope to trace Sarah a little more thoroughly, as well as her other siblings, and hopefully her parents’ lives in Ireland. Thanks again for reading.