My interest in genealogy began over twenty years ago, long before I had the idea of writing genealogy-based mystery novels. Read on if you’ve heard this story before, but it began with my mother attending a family history evening class and deciding to research her Irish background. To help her record her findings, she bought a laptop. She never learned how to properly use it and turned to me for help. In working out how to record her findings, I became at first interested, then fascinated, then obsessed, which is where I am today.
The story that obsessed me then and still does is that of my mother’s grandfather, my great-grandfather, William D. Twenty years on, the only information I have discovered is that most of what he told his family about himself isn’t true. He may or may not have come from Ennis in County Clare in Ireland. His father may or may not have been called Martin. The story he told about walking across Ireland to Cork, then crossing to Liverpool to find his mother, also unlikely. Boats didn’t go from Cork to Liverpool. They went from Dublin. He never mentioned his mother other than to say that he followed her trail down from Liverpool to South Wales, couldn’t find her, and settled in Newport.
The date of birth he gave on the 1939 war census is also false. There was no child of his name born on the given date in Ireland.
His place of birth on census records is likewise probably false. He is not on the 1891 census but married in Newport in South Wales in 1893. In 1901 place of birth he gave Ireland. Probably true. In 1911 he offered Fermoy, County Cork. Not true. In 1921 he said: Newport, Wales. Definitely not true.
So who was he and from where did he really originate?
There is one further piece of information that I cannot share publicly. I have yet to find a way to verify it. It’s very delicate. All I can say is that he was a Fenian.
Twenty years later, I still have no idea, despite four visits to Ireland, including two to County Clare. But I won’t stop trying.
That was my introduction to family history research and to brick walls.
I’ve had more luck with the other side of my family, the Collins family of Cork. I’ve spent the past two years researching them, with much more luck. I’ve traced them back to the city of Cork, beginning somewhere around 1750-ish. There are over 100 pages of that history.
There are many stories, some amazing, some funny, some very sad. The latter are more frequent. From now until Christmas, I’ll be telling some of those stories. I don’t have many pictures, although I do have some documentation that I can share.
The first story will be about my mother and father, who were two very different people from very different backgrounds. She was Irish Catholic, he was Welsh Baptist. Enough said.
You’ll find the blog on my website each Friday from now until Christmas.