So it’s October already. Halloween is coming. In Irish, October is mí Dheireadh Fómhair, which literally means the end of autumn. However, there’s still a lot of leaves on the ground, and being a genealogist, leaves make me think of trees, and well, you get the picture.
In between working on other people’s family history, I like to work on my own. It’s the original gateway drug & it helps me hone my skills. I recently had the last of my mother’s siblings tested (I now have her and the complete set done) on Ancestry and it’s been fascinating. First off, I confirmed the family connection, not that it was in doubt! She had all the expected matches that I had but of course I was interested to see what we did not share. Testing an older generation than yourself will always yield more results that can be interpreted.
I soon began to see that some people who matched my aunt had a shared ancestral surname of Johnson. This is a very common name but I do have an great-great-great grandmother by the name of Anne Johnson. Unfortunately, I only know a few bits about her.
- Anne was married to Alexander Ure in Dublin in 1847 in a Church of Ireland ceremony.
- She gave her age as full – meaning she was 21 or older. Her husband indicated he was 20.
- Her father was named James Johnson. He had no business – perhaps meaning he had independent means or delusions of them!
- The witnesses were James Johnson (maybe her father?) and John Johnson.
- She died in 1893 allegedly aged 60, which must be wrong, as she was hardly 14 on marriage!
I later learned that Anne was a Methodist and that her husband was a Presbyterian. Neither dissenting denominations could hold their own legal marriages in 1847, hence the Church of Ireland setting.
Irish Methodists are difficult to research. There’s very little on the internet, so you need to get straight into repositories, but most of the records are in Belfast, as the majority of Methodists in Ireland live in Northern Ireland. I’m in Dublin, so that’s not easy for me to do. However, I thought they too might be ‘hiding’ in the Church of Ireland records and I did some preliminary research, finding some people called Johnson in the right area of Dublin who had similar naming patterns, but it wasn’t really enough to go on, especially because it’s a common name.
Enter the cluster! In browsing the user inputted trees of some matches who linked to my Ure cousins, I saw people called Johnson from Dublin. One of the names, Isabella, rang a bell, and I pulled out my older research. Unbelievably, there she was! Of course, I wasn’t just going on a name match, but her & her husband, and an address. Since I’d originally worked on this particular family, many more records had become available for Irish research, so I put aside the cluster and I worked the traditional methods, tracing the Johnsons (sometimes spelled as Johnston) in Dublin.
I won’t tell you how many hours I spent on it, but here’s what I have now.
5 siblings were established by common father’s name, locations, and familial networks (witnessing each other’s marriages, the same address or registering the births of children with an indication like ‘grandmother’ as the qualification of informant). The tree has a total of 270 people in it.
Margaret, who married Alexander Woods. From them, 2 DNA matches to either myself, my aunt or 2 of her first cousins.
Isabella, who married Thomas O’Neill. From them, 5 DNA matches to the same group.
James, who married Mary Woods (a sibling of Alexander), netting another DNA match amongst their descendants.
Jane, who married Edward Blunden, giving me another descendant DNA match.
Eliza, who married Frederick McComas, resulting in 6 more DNA matches.
This is looking very promising, isn’t it? Best of all is the fact that my own uniquely named ancestor, Alexander Ure, was himself a witness to the marriage of Isabella and Thomas. I’ve done a one-name study on the Irish Ures and am confident he was the only person of that name in Ireland at the time. But I’m not ready to add them to my tree yet. There’s some discrepancies I can’t quite reconcile.
- These couples all married between 1857-1880. Anne seems too old to be a sister to someone who married in 1880 (she would have been born in the 1820s at latest, whereas someone getting married in 1880, is only likely to be born in 1850s-60s. Might it be that she’s their older half-sister?
- On the other hand, if Anne was their aunt, they’d all still share the common DNA, but how likely is it that Anne’s husband would be a witness at her niece’s marriage?
- The 5 siblings give their James Johnson father the job of either clerk or law clerk, whereas my ancestor had ‘no business’.
- For people whose father was a clerk of some kind, his children seem remarkably illiterate. Many of their children’s births are signed with an X. You wouldn’t expect Protestant people with middle-class professions to have only basic literacy.
- They also are quite slippery. I haven’t identified some of them in the censuses of 1901/1911, which means I’m only able to extrapolate age.
My work on the Johnsons is very much still in progress. But it’s given me a chink in a brick wall that I didn’t think it was possible to break down. Watch this space! I’ve only begun to look at this same cluster in the other databases, so there’s sure to be more matches to add into the puzzle.