Quite often when I’m doing my family history research it feels like my dead ancestors are throwing themselves at me because of the speed and quantity with which information is revealed. I can grow a tree very quickly if the records are available for me to research. Sometimes I will set a target for myself and say I will just complete this family group and finish up for the day but then it will be the last person I’m working on that is usually the linchpin to opening up a whole new undiscovered branch of the tree and suddenly there are droves upon droves of ancestors to be added again. Some branches however are very guarded and take a lifetime to reveal themselves only parting with snippets of information in droplets. Those lines can be the most frustrating to work on but patience can bring results.
I have a branch like this on my mother’s side of the family. Whilst on many other lines of my tree I am 5 and 6 cousins deep my maternal Grandfather’s line has remained stuck at his Grandmother for at least as long as I am old. My mother spent at least all her married life searching for further information on this line and I picked up her research over 20 years ago and have been searching for all of that time on and off. There are many reasons why a research line fails to give away any information – movement of families resulting in census records not being filed, adoptions making tracking difficult, spelling anomalies and changing of names leading to difficulties in record searches. In this instance it has been the fact that my Grandfather had Irish Ancestry which has made it notoriously difficult to trace.
If you have been trying to trace Irish Ancestry you will have an idea of what I’m talking about but the digital age is making it easier and more and more Irish records are being made available online now so re-visiting your Irish research from time to time is worth it as new information is always coming to light and might just be the answer to your research problem. This week has seen me doing such a re-visit and has brought forth a few more droplets to add to their story and today I’m sharing their story with you not least because I have no idea who may view this and new information has a funny way of revealing itself I’ve found and often comes from the most unlikely sources so there may be someone out there who this reaches who knew the family personally and has more information that can help.
(Ellen McNamara, 1864-1945 & Henry McNama, 1886-1943)
These images are of my Great Grandfather Henry (or Harry as he is known to family) McNama and his mother Ellen McNamara. When I inherited this image of Ellen it was a black and white photocopy of an original and was already faded and in poor shape hence the detail is unclear but I treasure it nonetheless as it is the only image the family has of her and I can still see a likeness between mother and son so get that sense of connection from them.
Henry McNama was born out of wedlock. His marriage certificate identified a Michael McNama (a deceased soldier) as being his father and left us wondering for a long time if maybe his mother had ever married a Michael McNama just because we couldn’t understand why Henry was a McNama but his mother was a McNamara but just this week I discovered Henry’s Baptism record. I knew it was his because the birth date was the same as what had been passed down to family. What was revealed from that record was that Henry was born Henry McNamara not McNama. There is no father listed on the baptism record so with that and her marriage certificate recording her as a Spinster we can safely conclude that Ellen was never married to a Michael McNama if he even ever existed. Quite often illegitimate children “invent” fathers to place on their marriage certificates for the sake of propriety and to remove any possible stigma associated with illegitimacy. Henry’s birth may well have been the result of a brief fling with a Michael McNama or Michael may have been a complete figment of imagination – we will probably never know in this lifetime but I am now satisfied that there is no need to search for a Michael McNama. What was also revealed from that record was that Henry was born in Dublin and not Boyle as we have believed for years. His baptism record states clearly that the child was born in the Rotunda which is a name given to a maternity hospital in Dublin. We had always assumed that he was born in the place where his mother married. She married when Henry was aged 10 to a man named Thomas Callaghan and went on to have 4 more children with him (half-siblings for Henry), one of whom died in infancy before 1911 and as yet remains unidentified to family. The 1901 Irish census which became available online a few years ago revealed that Henry was still called McNamara then at age 14.but his Military Reserve Certificate when he was aged 17 and which lies in my possession shows that he had by then shortened his name to McNama and that is the name that appears on every record subsequently.
All I inherited of his mother Ellen’s history is a copy of her marriage certificate to Thomas Callaghan with a belief that she was born about 1864 in County Mayo, Ireland. Her marriage certificate reveals her father as being a Patrick McNamara but that is all we have had to go on for years. Have you any idea how common the name Patrick McNamara is in Ireland? The availability of the the 1901 and 1911 census records for Ireland meant at least that I could search for her and Thomas living together without the need to physically travel to Ireland which I did and discovered Henry’s half-siblings successfully from that search but they wouldn’t show me Ellen living with her parents and so research over the years has focused more on the other family members rather than Ellen.
The discovery of Thomas Callaghan’s baptism record revealed further baptism records for his siblings a couple of years ago and a chance discovery of another Ancestry user’s tree online opened up Thomas’s sister Mary’s line with the discovery that she emigrated to the United States and married over there having an extensive line of cousins descending from that side of the tree. That is perhaps another long story to be told another day but was an exciting discovery for both sides of the family.
All of Henry’s “Callaghan” brothers at some point came to England including Henry himself – probably for work. Henry and at least one other brother Patrick took employment on the railway and became signalmen with my Great Great Grandfather working at Guide Bridge Station, a stone’s throw away from where I live today. The youngest brother Andrew died young (aged 20) and it was thought he died in England too but again this week, newly available records revealed a different story and revealed more about the circumstances of his death and even more valuable for me revealed just a snippet more about Ellen. I had a death date obtained for Andrew scrawled on a bit of paper along with some other notes that was in my mother’s possession but had not found a death record to confirm it’s accuracy. (As a side to this story – how important those scraps of paper with handwritten notes are! Don’t throw them out – you never know the significance of a detail!) A quick look to see if anything new in terms of records had been added brought up a record for an Andrew Callaghan with the same death date that had been scrawled on that paper. The record was from the Ireland, Military Service Pension Index, 1916-1923 which is a collection of records being posted on a relatively new site for Irish Military Archives and can be found here.
That record revealed that Andrew did go to live in England with his brothers but returned shortly after back to Boyle to help his now aging mother who was on her own. He joined the National Army and was killed not long after joining whilst working at an outpost near to where he lived. He had sustained gunshot wounds on the 16 Feb 1923 and died from peritonitis which had developed as a result of those wounds 4 days later on the 20 Feb 1923. The record contains extensive PDF files highlighting the communication following his death between military personnel and Andrew’s mother Ellen as she applied for her entitlement to pensions and gratuities and includes her original application form which gave her date of birth as 15 July 1864 – I now have a date of birth for her!
Sharing a tree to an online site such as Ancestry or FamilySearch means that you have the support of the site in helping you to grow your tree and they often suggest research hints or possible matches for individuals based on the information you supply. The input of a new date of birth for Ellen has thrown up a possible match for her with an Ellen Mcmanna with parents Patrick Mcmanna and Ellen Leydon born on the 13 July 1864 in Boyle. The similarities for me are just too enticing to ignore and I really feel like this could be a match for my Ellen. (Sometimes you do just get a strong impression from a discovery and it “feels right”!) The record this information came from unfortunately is of a transcript only and I cannot view the original but it is certainly possible that McNamara could be mistaken for Mcmanna in a transcript as could the numbers 15 and 13. I am also inclined to believe that our Ellen came from Boyle and not County Mayo as family stories have suggested. Every record I have found for her so far suggests she was born in Boyle and not County Mayo.
I’m not in the habit of “making something fit” so I may have to wait a while longer before an original record becomes available to view but my story so far has taught me that even the most difficult of families reveal their secrets in the end – all that is required is a little patience or a lot of it in some cases! The longer the wait, the stronger the desire to find and the more profound a mark is left on you by the individuals long gone. Ellen McNamara is more than my Great Great Grandmother in name – I have come a long way with her. She is mine and I am hers!