An Elusive Family Connection
November 13, 2012 § 2 Comments
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.
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.
In 1895, presumably after Henry’s return trip from Ireland, he has relocated and is now living with Thomas Harney, 327 Cherry (see above).
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.
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….