Beyond the Internet Week 1: Church interiors

Stained glass memorial windows for the Garvey and Hogan families

On his Graceland album, Paul Simon sings of “angels in the architecture”, a phrase that has always resonated with me. But have you considered that perhaps church architecture and interiors are also a source of references to your ancestral angels.

Where possible most of us try to locate and photograph the churches of significance to our family’s history: where our ancestors worshipped, were married or buried and where children were baptised.

Nothing on this window gives a clue that John and Honora Garvey lived and died in Ireland.

But how closely do we look at the church’s architecture and features for family inspiration…probably not often enough.

Thanks to oral history I found these wonderful memorial stained glass windows in the Catholic parish church of St Peter’s in Surry Hills, Sydney. This church didn’t feature in any of my direct ancestral history but preserved there are the links between the Irish and Australian branches of my great-great-grandmother’s family. The Hogan family is that of Patrick and Catherine Hogan who lived in Sydney after immigrating there. The Garvey family is that of John and Honora Garvey of Bodyke, County Clare. Some of their children migrated to Australia while others went to the United States. Honora and Catherine were sisters to my 2xgreat-grandmother Mary O’Brien Kunkel and her other sister Bridget O’Brien Widdup. Without my 3rd cousin’s personal knowledge and her generosity in sharing, I’d never have known these existed.

Patrick and Catherine Hogan were Clare emigrants living in Sydney.

Have you looked at your family’s churches to see if there are clues about your angels in the architecture? Stained glass windows, bells, donated items, plaques or kneelers might provide valuable clues.

Have you got other tips about what might be found?

This is the first in a series of posts drawing on my Beyond the Internet geneameme from 2011.

I’m delighted that others have joined in and posted on this theme. See Julie’s post at Anglers Rest and Aillin’s at Australian Genealogy Journeys.

I’m more than happy for anyone to join in on the Beyond the Internet themes.

24 thoughts on “Beyond the Internet Week 1: Church interiors

  1. You may be interested in the ‘church recording’ work of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. Here is a quote from

    Throughout the years churches have been a source of history and beauty. Often the earliest buildings in an area, they have had the most continuity of use, and have become repositories of records and memorials, objects of great beauty and significance, as well as the more practical tools of regular usage. NADFAS Church Volunteer recorders have over the last 30 odd years recorded over 1800 churches in the UK… and in Australia there are some 13 completed records so far with some 14 in progress.”


    1. Thanks so much Judy -I had absolutely no idea this society existed. There’s even one in Toowoomba and the Sunshine Coast -both areas “of interest” to me. There are days when being in Darwin I feel so deprived. What’s not clear (or perhaps I’m missing it), is what happens to the information they record. It would be interesting to know whether the information is accessible.
      I’m intrigued, too, that the Sunshine Coast Society took on the church recording of the Tiwi Island church at Nguiu, Bathurst Island. Our daughter taught over there for two years so we’ve been lucky enough to see it a few times.


      1. Marianne Eastgate was involved with this work, but since her death I don’t know anyone else to ask. Perhaps someone in the Queensland Family History Society may know more about it.


  2. I followed up a lead from my great uncle about a piece of ecclesiastical furniture in a church on the other side of Sydney that was supposed to be dedicated to a relative. Unfortunately the church minister either couldn’t find the original item – I think it was an altar from memory – or the plaque was missing (which would be unusual – these things are usually almost sacred!) Not quite architecture, but supposed to be within the church all the same.


      1. My parents in law are members of ADFAS and have been for a number of years. : )
        As for the church in question, its not one of the traditionally beautiful or historical churches of Sydney, so I’d be very surprised if it had caught ADFAS’s attention!


      2. Ah, is this one of those things where once you finally hear about it, “everyone” seems to be involved? You know like suddenly seeing the car you’ve bought everywhere. What a shame about the church not being one of distinction -might have solved your problem.


    1. Thinking about Prue’s comment, it occurred to me that in genealogy circles we don’t see many indexes to dedications, memorial plaques etc inside churches. In 1989 I transcribed and indexed the plaques on the pews etc in St. Alban’s Church of England, Cunnamulla (south-west Queensland). In some cases they revealed information that was not in traditional sources such as headstones.


      1. That’s very true Judy. I can’t recall seeing anything like that either. We do war plaques and the like sometimes but not church ones. I don’t think Catholics do names on pews as much as CofE but I could be entirely wrong about that…may just be the ones I know.


  3. A very different approach, which i enjoyed reading. In my own Danson family history, I found in the church, where they were all baptised, married and buried, an old boxed pew with the family name on the wood and date of 1786, a panel listing churchwardens back to the 18th century that incuded my direct ancestors, and of course a war memorial with my great uncle’s name on it. To find a stained glass window would be very special. .


    1. Wow Susan! That would be exciting, especially with such an old date on it (well in our terms it’s an old date). The churchwardens panel would be fascinating too. Shows what just might be out there lurking, doesn’t it.


  4. It is extraordinary to make such a find. How wonderful that you made these discoveries. The windows are very beautiful. I love the idea of using alternatives to documents to aid us in uncovering connections to our ancestors. In my own ‘Kettle’ line, I was able to make additional connections when I discovered a ‘Station of the Cross’ donated by a Kettle family member in St. Colmcille’s church in Swords, County Dublin. I’m now working on a lead found in a dedication on a stained glass window in Mayo.

    Cheers to you!


    1. Thanks Jennifer. I was very lucky to be told they were there and I particularly love the fact it links the sisters and families across the world. How wonderful that you have found similar Stations of the Cross for your family. Good sleuthing with the Mayo window.


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