An Elusive Family Connection

November 13, 2012 § 3 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.

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….


Gearing up for the 1940 Census

February 20, 2012 § 4 Comments

Hi folks, it’s been a very long time since I paid much attention to the blog, and indeed I took quite a long break from researching my genealogy all together. I was quite busy at my job over the holidays and I needed to put most other things on the back burner for a while. But, it is now the new year, and Spring is in the air, if only a little, and I’m feeling a little antsy to get back into the swing of things.

Perhaps the main motivation for picking back up again with family history is the very exciting event that is soon to take place. On April 2, 2012, the 1940 US Federal census will be released to the public after it’s mandatory seventy-two year-long isolation from prying eyes. The release of the census is perhaps the single most exciting thing to occur in the world of family researchers and self-made genealogists for quite some time. It is true that most middle to later-aged individuals listed in the census are most likely dead today (hence the whole 72 year privacy thing), but it is highly likely that their children, or their grandchildren certainly, are still alive today as adults. The census might not reveal anything completely unexpected, but it might help to confirm what a researcher has only been able to guess at until now.

There will not be a searchable index of names for quite some time after the initial release, so researchers will have to know something about the address of the person they are looking for. Luckily, if you already have information from the 1930 census, it is pretty easy to determine where to look within the 1940 census. City directories are also very valuable in this regard, since they potentially can provide an exact address of an individual living in 1940.

Anyone interested in doing research in the 1940 census shortly after it is released would be well advised to become familiar with how the census was organised and other such bits of information. The best place to start would be with the National Archives itself. They have a great website available to get you up to speed.

A second site, one that can actually help you figure out where in the 1940 census to look for someone for whom you already know where they lived, is Steve Morse’s One-Step available here. It is not the most straightforward site, and it gets a little “wordy” after a while, but if you play around with it you’ll soon get the hang of it.

It’s very exciting to have so much new genealogical material on the cusp of public release, and you’ll want to stay tuned around here to see what I can come up with. I also hope you are successful in your own searches. Good luck!

Baseball History

October 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I guess it started when my son began playing in Little League baseball this spring and summer, but this past year I’ve been really taken with baseball. I’m Boston born and raised, so I took a strong interest in the Red Sox’s season. I’ve been accused of being a “fair-weather friend” in the past, so I wanted to try to keep up with the team a little more this time. I grew up going to Red Sox games at Fenway with my father, and the history of the team and ballpark seem entwined with my own history as a native of Massachusetts. So when in the last half of this year I discovered that an ancestor of mine became a professional umpire in the National League, I was super excited. Researching his career has led to a invigorated curiosity and interest in the history of the game, especially of those teams and games in which my distant cousin was involved with. What follows is my own little history of those times and events.

I recently began watching Ken Burns’ terrific film on the history of baseball, and I was really excited when, during the national anthem played at the beginning of the film, several shots of the South End Grounds, early home of the National League Boston Braves, are shown. I don’t know how many folks in Boston today realize that Boston was, and might have stayed, a two-team town. Imagine that rivalry! The Boston Braves would eventually move and become the modern Atlanta Braves, but the club can trace its earliest days back to Cincinnati when a small franchise was established in 1839 and known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1869.

The club was the first professional team in the history of the sport, but after early succes the team was disolved. Some of its members moved to Boston where they founded the Boston Red Stockings (sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But it’s not who you think…!) and eventually became one of the founding teams of the National League. Meanwhile, Cincinnati spawned yet another team, also known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, so the Boston club was sometimes called the Redcaps, but eventually settled on the Beaneaters by 1883.

The Boston Beaneaters, 1888.

Meanwhile, the American League Redstockings (also known as the Americans, as in the American League) were making a name for themselves, playing well and winning many games. They grew so successful that some players from NL Beaneaters jumped ship and joined their rival club. During the period between 1900-1913 the Beaneaters did terribly, and in 1907 the team owners dropped the color red from the uniform altogether, although it would only prove temporary. The American League Redstockings took advantage of this and renamed themselves the Red Sox, a name which stuck.

Boston Amricans, later the Red Sox, 1901.

In 1912 the Beaneaters became the Braves, and in 1914 turned their bad forturne around, but at first the season didn’t have a good start. By July their record was a terrible 26 wins and 40 losses, putting themselves in last place, 15 games behind the first place New York Giants. Despite this record the Braves settled into a winning streak and by September were now 41-12 and actually took first place away from the Giants. They entered the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, and although they were not favored to win, swept the A’s in four games (this should stike a chord with modern day Red Sox fans….). The Braves’ home field at the time, the South End Grounds, were too small to host the contest, so the series was played at the AL home, Fenway Park. Largely considered the greatest upset in sports of all time, the 1914 Braves became know as the “Miracle Braves.” The success of the 1914 season inspired the Braves’ owners to build Braves Field, off Commonwealth Ave in Boston, and at the time was the largest ballpark in the league and offered fans easy access through public transportation.

World Series, Fenway Park, Oct. 12, 1914

My own ancestor, Thomas Dunn, who was a National League Umpire, would work many games at both Braves Field and Fenway Park. The Braves success would eventually wane, and the franchise was moved, ultimately to Atlanta. Braves Field was largely demolished, although some of the original stands are still part of the modern sports complex that stands there today. I have really enjoyed learning this chapter of baseball history and relish my own personal connection to it. Too bad the Sox did so piss poor this post-season. But hey, how about them Cardinals!?

Summer Greetings

July 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Hello everyone, long time no speak. How’s it been? I hope the summer has been treating you well. My away-from-home work schedule has increased quite a bit lately, leaving only a little room for ancestral adventuring. I have also been quite busy with a new preoccupation of mine, which is beekeeping. If you’re interested in learning any more about that, head over to to see what’s been up.

Despite my busyness I have poked away at my research activities here and there along the way, so let’s get caught up, shall we?

I mentioned a while back that I had reached out to a relative I had discovered and I’m pleased to say that she reciprocated in turn, and we had a lovely conversation via telephone. Her name is Patricia and she is the great-great granddaughter of my great-great grand-uncle, which makes her my third cousin. We talked at length about the history of the Dunn family and she provided some great stories to help fill out the family story. Most notably she mentioned how many of the Dunn males died very young, mostly in their forties, and that her branch of the family referred to this as the “Dunn Family Curse”! When I looked back it proved to be true; many of the men descended from Daniel Dunne all died quite young, leaving behind widows who long out-lived them. Another tidbit she mentioned was the belief within the family that one of the brothers, or perhaps a cousin or uncle, had been a Major League Umpire! It is quite exciting to think that we have some professional baseball in our family.

One of the great things about this blog has been how folks have found me by searching online for family names, place names, and other such details of their own histories. One such event happened recently when an individual found the genealogy report for Daniel Dunne on this blog. He contacted me mentioned that he was relative of Ellen Flynn, the wife of John J Dunn, one of my great grand-uncles. He was able to confirm that it was in fact John Dunn himself who was the baseball umpire, and helped provide some other details relating to that branch of the family. This particular Dunn family has proved to be one of the more difficult to research, but I hope to have more of their story to tell soon.

Thanks for sticking around, and I hope to have some more fresh material up in the near future.

Up for Auction

April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m very pleased to announce that I will be offering a research consultation as an item for bid in the annual ‘A Social Masterpiece’ fundraising auction for our local Waldorf school, Shining Rivers Waldorf School, of which my son is a student. The top bidder will get to spend an one-on-one session with myself during which I will help them to get started in online family research using such databases as and The winner will also receive a free copy of the latest version of Family Tree Maker 2011, which I will also help them get started using.

I’m hoping there will be a lot of action on the item and that it will become a popular item to attempt to secure, if not this time around perhaps in future auctions. I do not know if it will be part of the silent auction or the live auction, but it should be fun all the same. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Comments on the blog

March 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

I believe I owe everyone who has posted a comment an apology. I assumed that when I replied on the blog you would get the reply via email. After doing some testing of my own it looks like that is not the case. There is the option at the end of the comment box to get follow-ups via email, but this actually requires you to subscribe to that comment chain, a process which I think is a pain in the butt.

The other option you have is to subscribe to all the comments via the ‘Stay with It’ option on the right hand side of the main screen.
However, going forward I will make sure to post a reply to you via email. I may also put something up online for everyone’s benefit, but if I want to make it more one-on-one I’ll just send you the email.

Sorry guys!

Some musings on the course of things.

March 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

So I’m feeling compelled to ramble on a bit. After publishing the post on my grandfather I’ve taken a bit of a downshift in research. I think I went through an intense period of work which was largely inspired by discoveries in the Conroy family tree. While I will no doubt pick it up again, I think my focus is shifting a bit. I have also uncovered some new information regarding the Dunn family in Worcester County and I hope to have that posted up on the blog at some point soon.

In the meantime, however, I think I’m changing gears. For one thing, Spring has decided to finally arrive here in St Louis, and I will be taking up beekeeping in the next few weeks, and I have a bit of work to do to get ready. But this doesn’t mean I am putting genealogy on the back burner completely. I intend to refocus on trying to work out the mystery of my grandfather’s birth. The catch with this is that it may require some regional research that must be done in person, and I do not expect to get to that anytime soon. However, I have tracked down another living relative who is descended from the Dunn family, and I have written them a letter and I hope to hear from them soon.

I am also anticipating applying myself to my own development as a researcher, but more about that at another time. See you around.

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