Irish Ancestry and County Clare research

Irish family history research and County Clare

It’s popularly believed that Irish research is nigh on impossible and that all the records were “lost” in the Troubles.

Not so, there are a range of records which can be used but it does require a little lateral thinking. Of course it is critical to know where your ancestor came from, and in particular their nearest town or preferably their townland. Without this all the O’Briens, Byrnes, Hogans etc meld into one undifferentiated mass. So if you strike this problem, don’t focus only on your own immediate ancestry. The Irish are famous for migrating as families -either in one migration or in sequences (known as stage migration). Australians are very fortunate to have at least the possibility of  a wealth of information on their birth, marriage and death records. However if you find you’re unobliging ancestor repeatedly says they’re born in Ireland or just “Co Clare” try to follow up whether other siblings came. You may be more fortunate if you obtain the certificate for their sibling. eg my ancestor Mary O’Brien Kunkel (or her husband) was very fond of the easy “Co Clare” option, however her sister Bridget O’Brien Widdup’s death certificate stated clearly that she had been born in Broadford, Co Clare. All of a sudden the oral history that she came from somewhere like “Longford, Co Clare” made some sense and the records could be verified to establish the link. Also the presence of other siblings lets you triangulate the children’s names and their connection, verifying that you have got the right family.

If you’re lucky enough to have ancestry from County Clare I can highly recommend the County Clare Library website.:

Check out the tabs for history and genealogy for a wealth of information, both general and family-specific, on Clare, its residents and its history. The site is not only fantastic but also reliable because information is cross-checked before publication.

While so many counties in Ireland are determined to extract maximum dollars from enthusiastic family historians, Clare is a beacon which shows its belief in the importance of its history and people. The Clare Local Studies Project or CLASP have published several fantastic books on Co Clare history.

Check them out, they’re great!!

This is my absolute favourite Irish site, probably because I have Clare ancestry but even so it offers so much information. The team at CLASP and the library in Ennis, and the powers-that-be who continue to fund the projects, can’t be commended highly enough! Well done County Clare!

Gloom and doom and no power

Like many Territorians we woke up on Saturday to find that we had no power. Life’s tough without the first cup of coffee for the day so thank heavens for the gas camping kit.The house was gloomy until about 8am except for the glow of the laptop screen and the fluoro torch. It makes you realise how hard it would be to live in a climate where gloom is the norm for many months of the year. Suddenly humidity and hot weather doesn’t seem so bad.

An unprecedented lightning strike had taken out both high voltage transmission lines leaving a huge geographic area without power. While many shops were shut being unable to function without power, some showed adaptability, leading their customers through the store by torch-light. The Saturday markets at Parap were heaving with people desperate for a morning coffee, smoothie or a breakfast of Asian food….the generators and gas burners worked overtime and people were mostly happy. The Police took the opportunity to remind residents that this was a pale shadow of life if a cyclone struck: no power, no cooking, no ATMs, no petrol pumps, no opportunity to recharge the mobile and all the other modern conveniences we take for granted. Their message: think of your cyclone kit & like the Guides & Scouts: Be Prepared!

Actually considering the scale of the outage PAWA did a good job to get the power back on within 6 or so hours. Some poor employees must have been working like mad, so well done people!

Widdup Hodgson and Bracewell connection updated

One of the positive things about internet genealogy is the capacity to make connections with relatives or other family historians around the globe.

A couple of years ago I posted my research on the connection between the John Widdup family from Urana and his cousins John Bracewell (UK) and Jesse, Jonathan, and Joseph Hodgson from near Bendigo. This posting was on the One Guy from Barlick website which is great resource for people from that area of England. It has become clear too in the course of the research that Jesse Hodgson who emigrated with his brothers Joseph & Jonathan was not a bachelor but had married prior to emigrating, leaving his wife and two sons behind.

A personal message from Anne in Yorkshire has now helped to confirm that the parents of John Widdup were James and Mary Widdup and that Mary was originally Mary Wright, sister to Amy Wright who first married Henry Bracewell and after his death, Daniel Hodgson. (thanks Anne for additional information on this family). The Hodgson family went to Glossop, Derbyshire with Mary’s brother, John Wright, where they set up as cotton spinners in a factory. Their involvement in the cotton industry was unsuccessful and they filed for bankruptcy.  They later moved to Bugsworth (aka Buxworth) where they took up running the Navigation Inn (1851 census) and later the Dog & Partridge Inn (1861 census).

John Widdup’s parents lived at Sand Holes a farm in Foulridge, Lancashire. This farm had previously been owned by Mary’s grandfather, Jonathan Wright, a yeoman from Oakworth near Keighley whose will required that it be sold after his death. John & Mary Widdup lived at Sand Holes over several decades. Thanks Anne for providing additional information on this family.

I also believe that John Widdup was probably the John Widdup a merchant seaman who was documented on the 1851 census living as a boarder in Hull and stating his place of birth as Salterforth (spelt slightly differently on the record).  The Widdup family anecdote is that he was a sailor from Denmark but educated in England. This seems highly likely to be one of those stories that become changed over time -perhaps he sailed to Denmark as part of his job, but as the Widdup name is heavily concentrated in the Yorkshire-Lancashire area and there are no indications of it in the Danish IGI records it seems highly probable it is a red herring.

My original purpose in pursuing John Widdup was to try to see if it led back to his wife’s (Bridget O’Brien) arrival in Australia which unfortunately it hasn’t done, but at least it appears to have expanded our knowledge of John’s own ancestry. It may be this John who arrives in Australia on 19 June 1853: Mr J Widdup, 23, sailor (but not crew), English is on the list of intermediate pax on board barque “Jane” from San Francisco via Auckland to Melbourne.

One day a photo of Bridget Widdup may turn up which will let us see whether she looks like her sister Mary O’Brien Kunkel who lived in Queensland and her sister Honora O’Brien Garvey who lived near Bodyke in Ireland.

Meanwhile it seems the puzzle of the pioneers Hodgson brothers from Eaglehawk near Bendigo and John Widdup a pioneer from Urana in southern New South Wales seems to have been solved.

Some mystery remains as to which John Bracewell we’re looking at in the English census and whether indeed he remained in England rather than emigrating perhaps to north America. However that puzzle remains for another day.

Widdups from Urana & Bracewell-Hodgson connection

Grass Roots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family. History of the O’Brien family of Ballykelly, Clare, Ireland; Widdups of Urana, NSW. Urana and Narrandera are places where the Widdup family had branches. links to the Hodgsons from Eaglehawk near Bendigo in Victoria

I originally posted this question on another site. My interest in the Widdups from Urana arises from the fact that Bridget Widdup nee O’Brien was the sister of my original Australian ancestor, Mary O’Brien later Kunkel. They came from the townland of Ballykelly in the Parish of Kilseily in East County Clare, Ireland. This is centred on the small town of Broadford which is not that far from Limerick.

The two girls emigrated from Ireland around the mid-1850s but no shipping records have been found (despite looking at every O’Brien entry in the records). Bridget O’Brien Widdup’s death record shows that she spent a year in Queensland before moving to New South Wales where she married John Widdup. Although rumour has it that he was a Danish seaman I have found no proof of this and I believe he was probably born in the north of England.  I have put what information I had on this family at the time into my family history of the Kunkel family, which also included the O’Briens from Ballykelly. The book is called Grass Roots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family and was published in 2003.

Information from another family historian suggests that there is a connection between this Widdup family and the Hodgsons in Victoria. There does not appear to be a connection to the Widdops in Victoria though spelling can vary as we all know.

This is a somewhat convoluted saga but hopefully someone, somewhere may know more….every tiny tip helps. 

I am seeking help in finding the origins of John Widdup born circa 1828 or 1829. He came to Australia in the 1850s and settled at a small place called Urana in southern NSW, near the Victorian border. He married a woman called Bridget O’Brien from Co Clare circa 1860. In theory his Australian marriage or death certificates should give his parents’ names and place of birth. However, neither of these appear to have been registered so no joy there! He is, in summary, elusive. Oral history suggests he was a mariner with the British Navy and born in Denmark. My own view is that his roots are almost certainly in Yorks-Lancs. I did find a mariner named John Widdup born 1829 living in Hartlepool and lodging with a couple on the 1851 census. He states his place of birth of Salterforth.  It is possible this could be him I suppose. 

His Salterforth origins may tie in with a posting on the OneguyfromBarlick site & also with a letter between a John BRACEWELL and John WIDDUP (late 19th century), searching for Jesse, Johnathan and Joseph HODGSON who had settled in Eaglehawk near Bendigo in Victoria. John Widdup is said to be John Bracewell’s cousin.  

By searching the IGI and also census records I think I have found the correct family of Hodgsons in 1841. In Hayfield & Glossop district, Derbyshire, Daniel Hodgson is head of household with his wife, Amelia (later Amy) and children including Jesse, Johnathan and Joseph who emigrated, as well as other children including Wright Hodgson and also John Bracewell (relationships not being stated as we know for 1841). Amy Wright’s birthplace is stated in later census records as Keighley, Yorks. 

Daniel married Amy Bracewell nee WRIGHT at Manchester cathedral in 1825. Amy had previously been married to Henry Bracewell in 1816 at St Bartholomew’s Colne (per an LDS member submission-not an extracted entry). Hence John Bracewell, baptised St Bart’s Colne in 1818, is probably half-brother to the Hodgson children incl Johnathan, Jesse and Joseph.  

Wright Hodgson remained in England and married a Martha WIDDUP on 29 April 1860 at Manchester Cathedral, Lancs. They had a daughter, Amy Hodgson, who was born c1861 in Derbyshire. It seems that she would be the one staying with James Widdup and wife Mary Wright at Sand Hole Foulridge on the 1871 census. This would mean that it was their daughter Martha (b 1834) who married Wright Hodgson.  

At this point I wondered if Amy Wright-Bracewell-Hodgson and Mary Wright-Widdup might be sisters as both are listed as born Keighley per the census. The IGI suggests this is the case as Amy DOB (1794) and Mary’s (1801) fit closely with census info.  

If so then this provides a possible link which would fit with John Widdup being cousin to John Bracewell and the Hodgson boys. HOWEVER, the John Widdup who is son to James and Mary Widdup apparently has died in England in 1882.

Perhaps people with more familiarity with the area might see something I’m missing or there might be a rellie out there who knows more. 

The following are the names of John & Bridget’s children with a note of which don’t “fit” with O’Brien naming patterns. 

Children of John & Bridget (O’Brien) Widdup (NSW):
Amelia                          c1859  (no known family link for name re O’B)

 Louisa                          c1860  (no known family link for name) married Edward (Harry) Luckie.

John                             c1863  (probably after father, John Widdup)

Michael James              1864    (after her father Michael O’Brien; James-may be his father ??)

Walter Ireland              1867    (no known family link for name re O’B)
Alfred England                c1869  (no known family link for name re O’B)

Martha                         1870    (no known family link for name re O’B)

Bridget Ellen                 1872    (her  sister Ellen O’Brien)
Catherine Agnes           1874    (her mother Catherine O’Brien; Agnes??)  

For interest: in Australia John Widdup became a pound-keeper in charge of impounding wandering stock. Some of his sons became shearers and drovers.

I’d be grateful for anyone’s insights/comments.

New Year in the Top End

The New Year kicked off with rain, rain and more rain as the monsoons arrived with a vengeance…the ducks and magpie geese have been enjoying the puddles. On the upside it also brought lower temperatures and strong winds which made the days more pleasant. However it’s nice to see the sunny skies again even if it’s now more humid. Yesterday on the way home I saw a family of curlews settling in for the night: two sitting in a concrete circle in the carpark looking like soldiers with their heads up over a turret, another hunkered down in the midst of the carpark and the fourth one keeping an eye on proceedings. The baby plovers (aka “mini-evil” in some circles) have not been seen for some time. The parents spent most of November on guard duty bombarding anyone who came anywhere within range: no point telling them you didn’t mean to hurt their babies. The little ones were so cute with their stick legs and indifference to danger -except when a parent chittered their warning to “hide, hide, hide!”. Presumably the family is old enough now to be able to fend for itself or they’ve taken off somewhere on their summer holidays.

LDS films & their usefulness to family history

One of my bugbears about current family history is the near-total reliance on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the internet but there’s a time and place for everything. Yes the IGI does provide a glimpse into potential ancestral families but this is a plea for people to move beyond that and look at the actual record. Don’t forget: not every parish has been indexed in the IGI so you are only seeing part of the story. Early or damaged films are probably less likely to be indexed just because they are such a challenge. 

With all the microfilmed parish records held by the LDS church, and a LDS library in most towns/cities, there’s little reason not to take advantage of these records, especially as they only cost around $A5 for a 90-day hire…one of the cheapest family history options around. As of next week, you can even order them from the comfort of your own study.  

The first records most people will want to look at will be the parish registers (some back to the 16th or 17th centuries) -either the actual original record, or if that’s not available you can try the Bishop’s Transcripts which are a transcription of the original records as sent to the Bishop. Where one of these records has been damaged over the centuries, the other may provide a more-easy-to-read option. Sometimes the date span covered by one of these records is wider than that for the other, letting you take your family back a little further. 

Another disadvantage of the IGI is that is only includes marriages/banns and baptisms. It doesn’t include burials and you need these to know when older family members die, or when a child dies in infancy. Also it is worth remembering that not every child is recorded in the registers -they may have been baptised but a clerical error might have omitted them from the records, or they may not have paid the fee so their name wasn’t entered (I have seen this situation referred to explicitly in some Scottish parish registers).

Another advantage of reading the actual film is that it may tell you a little more eg the occupation or place of residence of the family, so you can differentiate between two families with the same Christian names…or even find out there is more than one family in the mix. A burial may tell you that a child you thought was your ancestor can’t possibly be because she was buried as an infant some months after burial. A burial record may also give you a clue about where the person lived, letting you link up families and confirm which person you’re looking at, or you may find they were buried as a pauper…sending you down another research trail.

Don’t forget, too, to check both marriages and banns if both have been recorded -one may tell you more than the other.

Of course the sad reality is that the records are only as good as the person documenting the event -if the parish clerk or minister was lax in his documentation, you may learn very little more than you would from the IGI, but you won’t know until you read the film, so give it a go.

What else might you find? Some parishes will have no records, some will have many. I recommend you try them all…you’d be surprised what you’ll find. Sandon, Hertfordshire records include a couple of  manor rolls, none of them useful to my own research but without checking how would I know?

Parish chest records -the workaday records of the parish’s operations -can be a gold mine or a complete fizzer. Some are purely accounting records, though you can still learn a lot from those. Others include the election of parish officers over the centuries eg election by the vicar/parish of “surveyors of the highway”, “overseers of the poor”, churchwarden or parish constable. In the case of my Kent family from Sandon, Hertfordshire, there are records of the family’s involvement in these roles over a period of 200 years…certainly a great way of adding to my family’s story.

Transcriptions of monumental inscriptions could be very helpful if they’re available for your parish and may add more info to what is available via online services such as findmypast.

To use examples, LDS films have enabled me to:

  • confirm the marriage from another parish is that of an acestor I theorised it might be
  • find that the IGI baptism I thought was an ancestor was that of an earlier child of the same name who died in infancy
  • a signature of an ancestor -written in 1722
  • confirm the names of parents through burial records placing parents and child in the same small laneway
  • learn about the involvement of ancestors over many generations in their official parish roles
  • learn about the neighbours of my ancestors and study birth and death patterns as part of a wider migration study.

I hope that this post encourages you to give the LDS films a try and see if you can enrich your own family’s history. It won’t always solve your brick wall problems but at least you know you’ve tried.

Lightning & thunder

Lightning, thunder and heavy rain have been the theme for the start of the New Year. No amateur natural fireworks here – a full-scale crashing of  heavenly furniture being moved around with accompanying light displays. It seems odd to say that when the airconditioning is on and the sky turns dark grey with heavy Wet Season clouds prior to a pelting downpour, it feels like winter without the snow…weird I know, when it’s 37C outside.

Many people in the Top End leave town for the Xmas-New Year period and those who stay enjoy just being with friends and family who aren’t on a rellie-run down south. Yesterday in our part of town was quieter than Edinburgh on New Year’s Day! No doubt there were lots of hangovers being nursed but others were just chilling out with family history, books, or patchworking. In the evening we had the pleasure of watching the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s concert -always a great pleasure & aren’t those flowers from San Remo gorgeous?!

Let’s all hope for a wonderful, healthy and happy 2010 for each of us and our families. Enjoy the small moments.

In the garden

This morning as I sat drinking the first coffee of the day I was treated to the sight of a gorgeous, crimson-headed finch hopping through the trees. He was certainly in his Christmas finery. Squadrons of black cockatoos flew overhead making their distinctive call (think of an out-of-tune crow). They’re also distinctive in flight because they look rather like they’ve flown into a wall with their stubby-head profile.

Today is fine again but yesterday we had a good downpour following the heavy Wet Season clouds. Still not all that much rain or thunder and it’s still hot and humid.

Introducing my family

This is an introduction to my family history interests: Names: Kunkel, O’Brien, Partridge, Kent, Gavin, McCorkindale, Sim, McSherry, McSharry, Sherry, Melvin, Cass
Places: Dorfprozelten, Bavaria; Broadford, County Clare; Coleford, Gloucestershire; Sandon, Hertfordshire; Ballymore Eustace, Kildare; Davidstown, Wicklow; Loch Awe and Ardkinglas, Argyll; Tullamore, Offaly; Gorey, Wexford; Glasgow, Lanarkshire; Leith, Midlothian;

Hello blog-world

This is my first posting on what I hope will be my family history blog, with occasional snippets about travel (another interest) and life in the Top End of Australia. While the research interests will be my own family and those from Dorfprozelten and Broadford which I’m researching, I hope to talk about the ways I go about finding new information and new discoveries that emerge, with luck and perseverance, like all family history.

My focus is more on the history of the families, their places of origin and their life history, rather than just their genealogy.

At different times I’ll be referring to my ancestral family – branches and individuals -but not to current-day people. So I thought I’d start by introducing the earliest members of my family who arrived in Australia, most of them in the mid-nineteenth century.

George KUNKEL who came from the village of Dorfprozelten am Main (on the River Main) in Bavaria. George married Mary O’BRIEN from Broadford in East County Clare, Ireland. They lived for about six years in Ipswich, Queensland before moving west with the construction of the railway line to Toowoomba. After a few years living on the Toowoomba range at Highfields, they moved down the range to the Fifteen Mile, an out-settlement of Murphy’s Creek, where they bought, and built, their own farm. Murphy’s Creek had been a major staging post during the railway’s construction. George and Mary were both working as servants when they married but in later years George was pork butcher, boarding house keeper, railway worker, and farmer. Both Mary and George were what we often refer to as “swimmers” as no record has yet been found of them in the records, despite 23 years of searching. It is believed that Mary O’Brien travelled with her sister, Bridget O’Brien, who later became Bridget WIDDUP and lived at Urana, New South Wales

William PARTRIDGE was born in London, but lived most of his early life in Coleford, Gloucestershire with his parents John & Eliza (nee Thompson).  He stated his occupation as “groom” when he arrived in Moreton Bay on board the Fortune in December 1855. He married Hannah KENT who arrived in Moreton Bay with her parents and siblings on the General Hewitt in December 1854. William Partridge was the brother of Lucy ROSEBLADE who emigrated with her husband John and family,arriving in Queensland on the Duke of Westminster in July 1866, first settling in Ipswich but later being pioneers at Yungaburra.

Also on board the Fortune in 1855 were Denis & Ellen GAVIN from Ireland (Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin) and their small daughter Mary. The family immediately went west out near Roma where Denis worked as a bullock driver.

Stephen Gillespie MELVIN and his young wife (Janet nee Peterkin) and child, Lawrence, arrived in Moreton Bay on the Woodlark in January 1877. Janet died while in quarantine soon after arrival. Stephen remarried in August 1878. His second wife was Emily Partridge, daughter of William and Hannah Partridge, and a first-generation Queenslander. Stephen and Emily lived in Ipswich and Charters Towers and after Emily’s death in 1912, he moved to Sydney. Stephen came from many generations of merchant seamen from Leith, the port for Edinburg, and had worked in that occupation himself after completing his pastry cook’s apprenticeship in Edinburgh. He was a skilled pastry cook gaining recognition in his new home for his sweets and cakes. Stephen’s mother, Margaret Gillespie (later Melvin, Ward and Wheaton) also emigrated and died in Charters Towers where she and her daughter-in-law are recognised with a large memorial stone. Margaret also came from a sea-faring family and indeed worked as a stewardess herself. She was born in North Shields, Northumberland.

Later arrivals included the McCORKINDALE family (in different immigration waves) who came to Australia from Glasgow but whose roots lie in Loch Awe and Kilmorich (Ardkinglas) in Argyll, Scotland. 

The SHERRY family emigrated from Gorey, Wexford and became two branches: the McSHERRY branch and the McSHARRY branch. The earliest identified origin for this family is Tullamore, Offaly (then King’s County) where James Sherry married Bridget FURLONG in the 1860s. James was a railway worker in Ireland and probably in Queensland but his home place is unknown. The surname is typically concentrated in the north of Ireland.  The McSherry/McSharry family worked on the railways of Queensland, building new lines and always being closely involved with the Catholic Church wherever they went.

My husband’s family, the CASS family, arrived in Victoria in the mid-19th century from Bath, England but the family originally lived in West Drayton and Retford in Nottinghamshire.

My wider interests are in emigrants from Dorfprozelten in Bavaria and Broadford in eastern County Clare. Although I’m primarily interested in those emigrants who came to Australia, I’m still keen to hear from anyone with connections back to those places.

As I dig further back into the records other names will come to light.

Happy hunting

Cassmob NT