Category Archives: Personal Genealogy

The proof is in the pudding

There’s been a lot of negative press recently about DNA testing and at least some of it is ill-informed. Personally, I don’t feel it’s any more “dangerous” than posting on Facebook or any other social media. The value for me far outweighs the risk. Just look at this family mystery I solved with the help of DNA tests. It’s also on its way to helping me finally add Ebenezer Ure to my family tree!

People who know me will be aware that I’m famously bad at maths, but here’s some even I can understand. I took my first DNA test with Family Tree DNA in Autumn 2016. I just looked at a back-up of my main family tree file from then and I had 1416 people in the tree. It was the result of about 15 years proper research.

I subsequently tested with Ancestry as well. Today’s end of year back-up of my pc and family tree files shows my tree now has 2047 people. 631 extra people in 2 years. Of course, they weren’t just added casually. All of them can be backed up with solid traditional genealogical research. There’s other connections clear from DNA but not from records, so I’m being conservative and not adding them yet. My genealogy goal this year was to break 2000 people in the tree & am thrilled to have achieved it.

Who knows what 2019 will bring? Happy New Year!

William George Kent 1888-1915

William George Kent is, to the best of my knowledge, the only member of my extended family to die in World War I, though many others, closer to me, fought and lived. He was my first cousin three times removed, or to put it another way, he was my maternal great-grandfather, Frederick Walters’ first cousin.

William was the third child of Harriet Ure and Richard Kent. Harriet was my great-great grandmother’s sister. Though both his parents came from Dublin, William was born in Belfast on 21/09/1888.

Richard Kent was a prison warden and he worked variously in Dublin, Derry and Belfast throughout his career.  His elder siblings  were Richard and Elizabeth. 3 further sisters: Mary, Margaret and Elsie did not survive childhood, and his final sibling, Jonathan, was born in 1897. The family was Church of Ireland.

By the time of the 1901 Census, the family was living at 26 Bennett St in Londonderry. In 1911, the family had moved to Abercorn Road and taken in some lodgers. However, William had already moved out and joined the army. He was in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was stationed for a time in India with the 1st Battalion before the regiment was recalled at the beginning of the war in 1914.

The 1st Battalion was part of the force which landed at Helles in Turkey in April 1915. Private William Kent was killed in action at Gallipoli on 22/05/1915.  He was 26 years old.

William was survived by his parents and siblings, who received a war gratuity in 1919 along with his pension.

He is buried in Twelve Copse Cemetery in Helles in Turkey. His entry in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is here.

William is also remembered in St Columb’s Cathedral in Derry, where he sang in the choir and on the city’s Diamond War Memorial.

We remember him with honour.


Remembering the RMS Leinster

RMS Leinster

The story of the sinking of the RMS Leinster on 10th October 1918 is one that always loomed large in my family because my great-great grandfather, Michael Joyce MP, was aboard when it happened. He survived the disaster but more than 550 people lost their lives. The figures are not exact because travel between Ireland and Britain was unregulated.


In this centenary week, several commemorative events and talks are taking place. Although it is Ireland’s worst maritime disaster, public memory often remembers the Titanic and the Lusitania over the Leinster. While I have no wish to reduce the memory of these other tragedies, far more Irish people died on the Leinster. Its memory was perhaps forgotten with the whirlwind of the coming War of Independence and the Civil War. In the early year of the Free State, events that happened under British rule were often brushed aside in a wave of new nationalism. Similarly, many men who fought in Word War I did not speak of their experiences.

For a very moving eye witness account of the sinking, see the Irish Times Saturday 6/10/2018 for Hilda Dudgeon’s experience, recounted in a letter to her husband, then serving at the front in France. Her story mentions Michael Joyce in passing.

Michael’s own account was given in the Freeman’s Journal on 11th October 1918. Click on the thumbnail below to open in a larger page. Some quotes from the article:

“I knew at once that the ship had been struck by a torpedo. I put on a lifebelt and went to deck.” 

“After a while, we found that there were people in the water, some of them quite close to us, but we found it impossible to get them aboard. Some were within an ear’s distance of us but they were washed out of our reach. It was heartbreaking to be in such a helpless position, but absolutely helpless we were in the circumstances. Eventually, we succeeded in getting three people aboard…”

“I cannot speak with anything like certainty, the rescue ships arrived in about an hour and half or two hours….I cannot speak in terms too highly appreciative of the officers and men who did all that was possible to make us comfortable.”

Working with the team at the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, I’ve helped write some biographies of people who were aboard the RMS Leinster.  This page from the 1918 death registers of Dublin North shows the following people who drowned in the disaster. Their families were perhaps lucky to recover their bodies; many were never found. RIP.


Mary Anne Johnson
Patrick Gilligan
Martha Bridge
Lydia Maria Webb
Arthur Adshead
Edwin George Farber
Leslie B. Milkin

A descendant of a woman who should have travelled aboard the Leinster (but did not) told me of his grandfather searching the bodies on the pier in Dun Laoghaire before he knew his wife was safe. What an awful experience to have, and the relief he must have felt when he discovered she was ok.

For further reading on the RMS Leinster, I recommend Philip Lecane’s excellent book Torpedoed! Several of Michael Joyce’s (many many) descendants will attend the commemoration on Wednesday in Dun Laoghaire.

The anchor of the RMS Leinster in Dun Laoghaire

Perseverance is worth it!

One of the common problems for the family historian exploring the new world of DNA testing is people not replying to your messages.

I tested my great-aunt (now 92 & going strong) in the summer of 2015 with Family Tree DNA. As one of only two remaining in my grandparents’ generation, I thought it was important to capture her autosomal DNA. As a nonagenarian, her matches are often of a lower quality reflecting the average age of testers being middle-aged. However,  I was very interested in a match that appeared in April 2017. I have removed the people’s names in this article to protect their privacy.

As you can see, it’s a good strong match of 301 centimorgans and FTDNA estimated a 1st-3rd cousin match. When I reviewed the shared matches, it didn’t really add to my knowledge – apart from close family, I didn’t recognise any of them. So I sent an email. And got no response. This is unfortunately a very typical problem. People are doing DNA tests at the drop of a hat these days and they may have only a casual interest in the results. Add to this the possibility that they’ve changed email or may have even died, and it’s pot luck whether you get a response. I followed up with another email 6 months later and also got no reply.

Last month, a new match appeared for my great-aunt and this person also shared DNA with the first match. They were estimated as a 2nd-3rd cousin with 188 centimorgans in common. Luckily, this person was interested and replied quickly. We soon established a very good contender. We both had someone called Mary Jane Mahony on our trees – their direct ancestor, and a sister to my great-great grandmother, Annie Mahony. A key factor was a surname in common between both these matches. 
Working together, we soon had a good tree for this woman, who died in 1891, but left many children. After a couple of days intensive trawling the records, I had found a second connection between our 2 families and was ready to confirm the second match as a 2nd cousin twice removed of my great-aunt. However, 2 of the lady’s sons were unaccounted for. Based on the census, it was possible one had died young but I wondered about emigration. I decided to send one final email to the first match. This time I asked directly if they might be descended from either of the sons. Bingo! I finally got a reply which confirmed the match was the youngest child of the younger boy, who had gone to England between the 1901 & 1911 censuses. I was able to add almost 100 people to the family tree!


  • I’ve started to add in DNA kit numbers to people I have confirmed the link to on my family tree and I’m marking them in a different colour so I can find them easily.
  • Make notes in the DNA database if you have suspicions of how you connect or if you’ve tried to make contact & what success you’ve had.

The stranger in the grave

Glasnevin cemetery claims to have 2 million people buried within its walls, and a substantial portion of my Dublin ancestors are there.

John Long

I got the full details of a grave for a family of Longs, who were related to my great-grandmother, Mary Agnes Long. John Long, a butcher, his wife, Mary Teresa Long née Waters and their son, David Long were all known to me and members of her immediate family. David Long was an electrician and he never married, which explains why he was buried in a grave with his parents. However, it was the fourth person who intrigued me. Mary Anne Long, aged 44 died in 1915. She was a butcher’s wife living at 36 Bride St. I have research my own Long family extensively and her name was not familiar to me. She was chronologically the first person in the grave too. I found her death record on Civil Registers

Unfortunately, she died in the Richmond Hospital and they registered her death, so there’s no helpful family member name but the 1911 Census came to the rescue. This showed her husband was a Myles Long, a butcher, and they were the parents of a large family of then 8 but later 9 children before her untimely death in 1915. Her birth name was Mary Anne Moran.

Myles’ father was also a Myles and he had a brother called Mathew. These brothers were butchers, living on Patrick St. Their families used the same church as mine, St Nicholas de Myra, on Francis St. I suspect that Myles Long, Mary Anne’s husband, was a cousin of John Long.
However, a definitive link, beyond the fact that Mary Anne was buried in their grave, eludes me. John Long’s father, David, does not appear as a godparent or witness in the other family. There’s no death record for him, and only 2 confirmed children – perhaps he died young. John Long does appear as witness and godparent, but it’s a common name.

None of these 3 couples, who are roughly contemporary, all butchers, called Long, living in or around Patrick St, have their parents’ names recorded on their marriages.

I spoke to Lynn Brady, the excellent resident genealogist in Glasnevin and confirmed that John Long purchased the grave in 1908 for the princely sum of £3. There was also a relationship policy in Glasnevin. People buried in the same plot had to be spouses, children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Mary Anne Long was listed as John Long’s wife! However, my John Long was married in 1868 and pre-deceased his wife, who is also buried with him. It seems more likely that he fudged the relationship to get Mary Anne buried, especially given the alternative: a bigamous marriage with a woman 30 years his junior, who had 9 children with another man! The fact that this happened underlines the connection between the two families.  One branch was older, more financially secure and prepared for the future.  Mary Anne died unexpectedly and her husband was perhaps in a more precarious position.  Sadly, Myles Long died himself only 5 years after his wife. I don’t know what happened to their children when they lost both parents so young.

Further research produced a tree of some 80 people related to Myles Long, which I’ve now put up on Ancestry in the hopes of making contact with some descendants of this family. There are some partial trees created by people working on this family and I’ve sent messages to all of them. If one or more of them has taken a DNA test, we might be able to prove my hypothesis.

DNA helps solve a family mystery

My ancestor Thomas Henry Guerins had a younger brother called Joseph Francis. Here is the family on the 1911 census in Limerick city. He disappeared at some stage in the late 1910s and was never seen again.

Using a combination of traditional genealogical research methods and DNA testing, I’m thrilled to say that I found out what happened to him. My research is detailed in an article in this months Irish Roots magazine, which is now available in all good newsagents or you can buy a digital edition on their website.

Ancestors in surprising places

I’ve written extensively about my MP ancestor, Michael Joyce before but I had never identified his parents’ marriage. Richard Joyce and Bridget Tubbs‘ oldest recorded child was born in 1847, so there was a likely marriage date of 1-2 years before that but nothing showed up in the various Limerick city church registers. There was some suggestion from a distant cousin that Bridget might have come from Bruff and it would be usual to marry in the bride’s parish, but those records also yielded nothing.

Like many genealogists, I use Ancestry. They have a first-rate hint system which searches your uploaded family tree, then suggests records and user-inputted material that might match your people. In its early days, it was hit and miss but these days is rarely wrong.

So it was a great surprise when it suggested a hint for Richard and Bridget’s marriage on Thursday night, when I was up doing genealogy late into the night after a disappointing evening on another front.

The marriage it suggested was in Quebec in 1846. Luckily for me, I still remember my school French as the transcription only gives the bride and groom’s names.

I already knew that Richard’s parents were John Joyce and Joan/Joanna McGrath, and given that there were 2 sons called Cornelius and a daughter called Margaret, I felt this record was spot on.

But why they got married in Quebec remains a mystery for now. Richard Joyce got a river pilot’s licence in 1847 but perhaps he, like his sons Michael and James, had a career on the sea. Why Bridget was also in Canada is a puzzle. This is of course the Famine decade and there was much early emigration to Canada. However, Bridget & Richard came back to Ireland almost immediately because their first son was born here, approximately 9 months later.

It’s not every day you get 2 new great-great-great-great (4!) grandparents but I’d like to welcome Cornelius Tubbs and Margaret Fogarty to the family memory once again. Having their names brings that generation to a total of 9/64 – it’s a particularly tough generation to work on, as Catholic records are really only getting going in this period. By comparison, the next generation of 3 x grandparents is much easier and I know names and details for 29/32 of them. These earlier people would have been born around the turn of the 19th century. Going back to the Bruff link, I can see that they had most of their children there but Bridget, my direct ancestor, eluded me. Years ago I had seen a birth in Dublin of someone with that name but I had discounted it because nothing suggested to me that she ever left Limerick. But I saw something in the records in Bruff that made me think again.

Cornelius Tubbs had an illegitimate son called Edmond with a woman, Mary Hartigan in 1823. That sounds like a pretty good reason to skip town, right?

Take a look at this marriage from October 1824 in St Andrew’s church in Dublin. Connor Tubbs & Margaret Fogarty. Con is the usual short form of Cornelius* and Connor is considered a variant.

And further more, here’s the record I had found years ago and discounted.

It seems a pretty good working theory that Cornelius, or Con, hightailed it out of Bruff after getting a local woman pregnant, came to Dublin, where he met and married Margaret Fogarty a mere 13 months later. They had Bridget here, a respectable 10 months after, and they then returned to Bruff, where they went on to have 7 more children.

*Ó’Corráin, Donnchadh & Maguire, Fidelma, Irish Names, Lilliput Press, Dublin 1990

Mystery Man

mystery manWho is this man? I found this photo, and another copy of it in my grandmother’s photos. There’s no name or any writing on the back and he doesn’t look like any known member of the family. She has photos of other family members in this bundle but most date from the 1920s/1930s. This man’s clothes look more Edwardian in style. The family lived on New Bride St in Dublin.

I’m just putting this online in case someone comes across it and can shed some light.

Michael Joyce, Mayor of Limerick & MP for Limerick 1900-1918

This article has been compiled from various published materials and my own personal family research.  See the bibliography at the bottom of the page.

Michael Joyce Reproduced in Old Limerick Journal No. 27 (Autumn, 1990), p.42 - by permission editor of Old Limerick Journal

Michael Joyce
Reproduced in Old Limerick Journal No. 27 (Autumn, 1990), p.42 – by permission editor of Old Limerick Journal

Michael Joyce was one of my maternal great-great grandfathers.  He was born in September 1851 to Richard Joyce and Bridget Tubbs and baptised on 6th September in St Mary’s Church, Limerick.  His godparents were named John Tubbs (his maternal uncle) and Bridget McGrath, who may well also been a relation, as Michael’s paternal grandmother was a Joan McGrath.  Richard and Bridget had 9 other children including two called Richard and two called Cornelius.  Presumably one of each named child did not survive but they were born before death records began.  They also had one set of fraternal twins.  Michael was the fourth child.  His mother Bridget died in 1872 and Richard Joyce remarried the same year to Ellen McInerney.  He went on to have four more children with her and died in 1883.  Ellen herself also remarried.  Family stories suggest that Ellen kicked Michael out of home and this drove him to sea, but the dates do not match up.  Michael was already in his early 20s when his father remarried.


Family Tree of Michael Joyce

In 1878, Michael Joyce first appears on the registers for river pilots.  Research in the House of Commons papers shows that he maintained this licence until 1918. Much of the published material on Joyce discusses his short but extensive shipping career, which took place in early youth before he became a river pilot, including 4 harrowing shipwrecks. Applicants for a river pilot licence had to have spent 5 years at sea.

1878 was also the year he married Annie Mahony, a Limerick woman whose father, Patrick, was also a river pilot.  They had four children:

Mary Joyce 1886-1973
She married Michael Cunningham Dineen in 1905 and had 12 children.  After his early death, she married John Lively in 1931.  She briefly contested her mother’s will in the 1940s, settling outside of court.

Richard (Dick) Joyce 1890-1958
He emigrated to America, and married May Kinnane, a woman of Irish descent, there.  He fought in the US army in World War I but was discharged due to injury. They had four children and this branch of the family is entirely US based now.

Joseph Joyce 1892-1914
He died young of peritonitis after an operation.  Due to his father’s public role, there are a number of published obituaries and condolences in newspapers. After Joseph’s death, Michael and Annie moved to his house “The Moorings” on O’Connell Avenue.

Kathleen Joyce 1895-1968
She married Thomas Henry Guerins and had 5 children.  Due to his job in Woolworths, the family moved around, eventually settling in Dublin.  She died at her daughter’s home in Dudley, UK but was buried in Sutton cemetery in Dublin.

Michael Joyce was elected  an Alderman of Limerick Corporation in 1899, and became a Member of Parliament for Limerick city the following year.  He retained his seat until 1918.  He also became Mayor of Limerick in 1905-1906.  He hosted the Lord Lieutenant and his wife in 1906.  Family lore records that it was suggested to Joyce by Lord Aberdeen that if he were to invite King Edward VII to Limerick during his tenure, and the visit went well, that he could expect a knighthood.  As a proud member of the Irish Party, Joyce felt he could not do so.

During his time in the House of Commons, he was heavily involved in the Pilotage Act of 1913, and also became President of the United Kingdom Pilots Association.

1901 Census Michael JoyceThe 1901 census shows Michael Joyce in London, rather than at home in Limerick.  He is listed as single and aged 40 living at 77 Denbigh st as a boarder with other members of the Irish Home Rule party.  I suspect he may not actually have been home on the night, as he was not only married but also 10 years older than recorded.

The 1911 census also shows Michael in London, now at 67 Kennington Oval.GBC-1911-RG14-02003-0015
This time he is married and his birthplace is recorded as Limerick.
He has started to complete the information about years married and children, which he states as 30, and 4 but it is crossed out.  His age and the years married are both slightly off.

His family are back in Limerick on both censuses (1901 & 1911) and no indication (as one would expect) of where Michael stayed that night is given.

At the very end of the Great War, Michael Joyce was travelling on board the RMS Leinster when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. Over 560 people drowned.  As both an experienced sailor and person of note, Joyce was interviewed in newspapers afterwards (The Freeman’s Journal of 11 October 1918).  He helped steer a lifeboat.. It was the fifth shipwreck of his life, and I wonder did it contribute to his decision to retire and not contest the 1918 election, which saw Sinn Féin gain a landslide victory.

golden jubileeOn 6th November 1928, the Irish Times recorded the occasion of Michael Joyce’s golden jubilee wedding anniversary.  The article lists his accomplishments and guests at the party but fails to mention the name of his wife or children.

Michael Joyce died on 9th December 1940 at the age of 89.  The Irish Times published an initial death notice and a full obituary the following day.  Winston Churchill sent a condolence telegram to Annie Joyce but it no longer survives.  Probate of his will was granted 19/2/1941 to his widow, he left an estate of £1452 12s 4d.  Michael Joyce is buried in Mount St Lawrence cemetery in Limerick city, with his wife and other family members.

Close up

Joyce family plot


Donnelly, Brian, Michael Joyce: Squarerigger, Shannon Pilot & MP, Old Limerick Journal, Volume 27, Autumn 1992
O’Griofa, Ciarán, Michael Joyce, Maritime Mayor 
Lecane, Philip, Torpedoed!: The R.M.S. Leinster Disaster, Periscope Publishing, Cornwall

RMS Leinster 
National Archives
Rootsireland (Limerick Genealogy)
Irish Times Digital Archive
House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
Find My Past

© Claire Bradley 2018