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.
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….
March 7, 2011 § 3 Comments
“The area’s history is one of ancient myth, a record rich with the tales of outlaws and highwaymen and the search for sanctuary, as well as the universal Irish themes of war, confiscation, strain and struggle between landlord and tenant, famine and emigration.”
-Brendan Lehane, Wild Ireland
“On the far side of the valley a solitary ruined house stands in a grove of trees, a reminder that once this valley supported many families, the last of which left fifty years ago. The Ridge of Capard, crossed by the Slieve Bloom Way…forms the horizon ahead, while below the infant River Barrow is hidden by a cordon of birch and mountain ash trees.”
-Michael Fewer, The Way-marked Trails of Ireland
Previously I have discussed my desire to learn exactly where the Conroys first came from in Ireland, and I’m pleased to say that I have reached that goal, at least up to a certain point in history. I would not have managed this without the help of a few individuals, most notably John Conroy of Worcester and Michael Flanagan of Dublin, both of whom also happen to be my second cousins once removed. Actually, I think I owe a great debt of gratitude to the much of the Flanagan family, as Michael has often consulted with other family members on my behalf, even including the 85 year old neighbor of his brother, still living in the area of the old Conroy farmstead. John was also kind enough to provide several of the photos in this post; so to both of them I say, thank you.
I have been on a small quest to trace the Conroy family as far back as I can, not just in terms of lineage but also geographically. I have reflected on this some more since I last wrote about it, and I’d like to share my thoughts here. I feel very blessed to have grown up where I did, in a small town rich with history, making the slow but unavoidable transition from its form rural heritage to a more modern, suburban reality. The house I lived in was small, but the backyard ran up against over one hundred acres of abandoned farm land that is now held in conservation. I spent my childhood roaming the old cattle fields and woods, and because of these early influences I developed a strong sense of the importance of what people these days call place, or the sense of history, connection, and belonging to a particular spot or area to which we are familiar.
Many descendants of Irish immigrants can say little more than they know their family, in fact, came from Ireland. Perhaps less can actually identify the county of their ancestry, and even less the very townland their family members occupied. I feel extraordinarily lucky to able to not only identify the very townland, but in fact the very land and farm they lived upon. Having this very tangible link through the past is a real gift, I and feel very humbled by it.
Critical to this quest was correctly identifying who my great-great-great grandfather was. In Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland in 1854, there are two Conroys listed occupying land in Cones, James and John. With the help of Mike Flanagan I’ve been able to correctly nail down John as the man in question. Who then was James is still a mystery, although it would seem like the two must be related in some way. Almost all of the Conroy children were born here, including my great-grandmother, Sarah.
The farm itself rested on the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, lying in the heartland of County Laois. A few short miles lies the village of Rosenallis where the Conroy children were baptized, and where the family more than likely came to for supplies or to trade for needed goods. The area is described in colorful detail in a testimony by a man named Owen Clear, who was the last person to leave the Cones townland (also called Coen). The Clear family would have been very familiar with the Conroys, and in fact a few of them were the sponsors for some of the baptisms of the Conroy children. The story is available on the Village of Rosenallis website, found here.
John Conroy has actually visited the Flanagans, as well as the actual site of the old farm, now located within the natural park area of the Slieve Blooms. It is a dramatic thing to imagine how your family was the last to live in a wild and rugged area, now swallowed up by the trees and hills surrounding it. The region is considered one of the most beautiful in the country, and many walking trails are scattered through the area. John was kind enough to send me some picture of his visit, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that viewing them brought tears to my eyes. It is my desire to visit the area myself sometime in the future, but for now I am very fortunate to have these pictures to treasure.
My search will not stop here, however, and I will continue to dig back in time and place until I can go no further. I have recently been trying to learn more about my great-great-great grandfather, John, and what his story might be. The Conroys were among the last people to live on the side of the mountain, very near where the River Barrow is born and flows through the lowlands below. I wonder what they would think of all that has happened since.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
January 13, 2011 § 5 Comments
It is a goal within my research to attempt to identify as closely as possible the place of origin of the two families from which I directly descend, in this case the Conroy and Dunn families. I am compelled to find as many details as I can, and simply knowing the county or townland is not satisfying enough to me. I guess that’s the perfectionist in me coming through. For now, I have been principally focusing on the Conroy family, and I believe I am getting close to knowing exactly where they came from, right down to the actual farmland they lived on.
I have commented before (see post) on the interesting experience of learning more and more about an ancestor’s place of origin, as I go from more broad and general details to more exact and specific ones. This has been the case with the Conroys. At the beginning of my research I knew they came from area of Mountmellick in County Laois but over the past few months I have narrowed that down considerably.
In the 1901 census return for Ireland the Conroy family is listed as living in the Cones townland. James Conroy, my great-great grandfather, is the head of house, and at least a few of his daughters, including Sarah my great grandmother, are also present. James is about fifty four which puts his date of birth at about 1847, right during the height of the Famine.
I have recently been looking through Griffith’s Valuation and located the index listing for the Cones townland. For a while I have been a little confused about under what parish did Cones exactly lie, but comparing the results from the valuation and the 1911 census leaves me with no doubt that I am on the right track. Cones is clearly within the Rearymore parish of the Mountmellick Poor Law Union. Consulting Griffith’s Valuation I discovered that there is a Hugh Conroy living in the Drummond townland, as well as a Matthew Conroy. In Cones there is a James and a John Conroy. Since the Laois valuation was supposedly completed in 1854, I doubt that a five or seven year old James Conroy would be the owner or occupier of his own farm, so perhaps the James listed in Cones is an uncle or some other relation. I cannot yet prove that the Hugh Conroy in Drummond is my great-great-great grandfather, but perhaps when his son James grew older he then moved to the Cones townland where James later appears in 1901.
A while ago I was at the local Family History Library branch, looking through the registers for the Roman Catholic parishes of Rosenallis and Mountmellick. Among the records for baptisms I found what I believe to be James’ baptism. Below is the record. Unfortunately the quality is a little poor, as it is a scan of a paper print out from a microfiche reader, but I hope to replace it with a straight digital copy at some point. Under the April 1847 heading James Conroy, appearing at the end, is listed as the son of Hugh Conroy and Cath(erine) Beu, with witnesses Nat./Mat. (Nathan or Matthew?) Conroy, and possibly another Conroy, although it is difficult to read. The place of birth is then listed, and for a long time I was not sure what it said, but after my recent discoveries I am certain that it lists Rearymore as the birthplace. Rearymore can be seen listed as the birthplace of the last individual under the March heading, and I think it is plausible to believe that they are the same.
In order to be sure about any of this I think a consultation with the current Valuation Office is likely in the future, and locating any other birth and marriage records would also help. I really hope to be able to identify exactly where the Conroys where living, and it would sure be fun to do so.
January 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
As predicted at the end of last year, it wasn’t too long before I returned to doing research into my family’s history, and the New Year brought a flurry of activity, much of it done in a short time. I cannot do the full story justice in this post, but I’ll at least hit the highlights.
Perhaps the most exciting moment was being contacted here through the blog by a distant cousin living in Dublin, Ireland, who has been very generous with his time and has helped to fill in some details of the family tree. I have to say that it feels like one of the great goals of family research has been accomplished, namely, making contact with living relatives still living in the country of your family’s origin.
The next exciting thing has been the unearthing of an entire group of ancestors living in Newton, Massachusetts that I had no idea existed. I had one of those classic research moments when you realize that names of persons in records you have already viewed once were in fact members of your family tree, only you didn’t know it the first time around. I hope to be able to tell this story a little more fully in a future post.
And lastly, I have been pushing to try to determine where exactly in County Laois the Conroy family is from, and I think I have narrowed down the possibilities, thanks to the help of Griffith’s Valuation, which was a landowner survey conducted in Ireland between 1847 and 1864. It is hard to know for sure if I have found my actual ancestors listed in the index without consulting the “house” books held in the National Archives, or perhaps commissioning the actual Valuation Office to research it. However, I think I am on the right track, and hopefully I will be able to figure this out for sure sometime soon.
More coming soon…!
November 19, 2010 § 2 Comments
An interesting phenomenon that has occurred in my research has involved the discovery of the actual townland that the Conroy family hailed from. When my research first started out all I knew was the County they were from, and at some point along the way that was narrowed to the town of Mountmellick from information gained from Sarah Conroy’s immigration record. This would be collaborated later with similar information from her Brother James’ ship record, as well.
In the process of researching Ellen Conroy’s marriage license in Newton, Mass., I learned that her birthplace was listed as Rosenallis, also in County Laois. At first this concerned me. Had I discovered an error? Was the information from earlier records false, or did I perhaps even have incorrect individuals? A quick search on Google Maps would assuage these fears as I would see that Rosenallis was located not far from Mountmellick, and I would also learn that Rosenallis is a Civil Parish located within the Poor Law Union of Mountmellick itself. The Roman Catholic parish for the area is split between Rosenallis and Mountmellick as well.
When I first began to search through the 1901 Irish census I was unsuccessful in finding the Conroy family in either Mountmellick or Rosenallis. This was frustrating because I felt that I had the correct information and I rarely have had too much trouble in locating individuals for too long in census returns. But when I broadened my search to other districts I made the discovery that the townland of Capard is located within Rosenallis, and within that again is the townland of Cones. Looking at Google Maps again I could see that this was true; Capard itself is an even shorter distance from Rosenallis than the latter from Mountmellick. Cones is then a short ways down a small country lane from there. In fact I can’t even remember where I found that because Cones is so small and remote that it doesn’t even show up on Google.
Making this discovery was very exciting. I felt that I had made a journey not only through the geography of a place but also through time. I then reflected on how the Conroy’s had continued to list Mountmellick as their place of origin on later documents, including marriage and death records. I realized this is a bit like living near Boston, or any other major urban area. If you actually come from a smaller town thirty or forty minutes away, when you meet a stranger who asks you were you are from, in most cases you will simply say the name of the city, since that is what most people are familiar with. Only with people who may have a more specific knowledge of the area might you be more accurate in saying your true home town. I think this same principle must have applied for the Conroys, and perhaps most immigrants.
Later on while searching the Catholic parish registers I would find Ellen Conroy’s baptism recorded and the place would be listed as ‘Coen’. I thought this was curious so I contacted the Irish Midlands Ancestry Heritage Centre in Co. Offaly regarding the spelling. I was very happy when I received a swift reply confirming my suspicions that the two spellings were most likely the same place, and that Irish history is filled with similar examples of name changes over the centuries. I have also since seen the name spelled one or more different ways, even on documents of other members of the Conroy family.