Halloween Genealogy

We’re well into autumn now in Dublin, the leaves are falling, the evenings are getting darker and we’re anticipating Halloween. Decorated houses are popping up all over my town.

According to John Grenham, the surname Death features in Kilkenny, Wexford and Wicklow. In the 1901 census, 31 unfortunate Deaths lived in a variety of counties, but mostly in Wicklow.

1911 has 119 people who are named “Graves”. I haven’t found any of their graves but took this one in a local cemetery recently on a nice sunny day.

127 people in 1901 gave their occupation as something to do with funerals. I found it interesting that many had more than one job, listing themselves as publican and undertaker. John Park of Co. Down was a grocer, seed merchant and funeral undertaker.

Margret (sic) Keogh of Dublin was a funeral plume maker. I don’t imagine there’s many of those listed on the 2022 census. Perhaps she made the plumes on the horse pulling the funeral cortege of Archbishop Walsh in 1921.

6 men in 1911 were employed as gravediggers. 3 of them lived near to Ireland’s largest cemetery: Glasnevin, which claims to have 1.5 million people buried there. It opened in 1832 specifically to bury Catholics, who previously had not had their own graveyards, and still exists today. It does a tour of historic graves, although it’s overly focused on famous men who died for Ireland!

The tree-lined avenue in Glasnevin (my own photo)

The records of Glasnevin are extant and can be accessed for a fee on their website. They operate a credit based system. 1 credit = €1. 3 credits shows you a single burial entry. 8 credits shows you everyone buried in that grave. Sometimes but not always you can pay another 2 credits to see an image from the burial register which, depending on the era, will have some more information. Let’s take a look at some examples.

This is the record for my ancestor, Daniel Bradley. He died young in 1897. This is what you see if you spend €3.

I upgraded to see everyone else buried in the grave and found that it was a common grave with 4 unrelated people. There were no other Bradleys in it and long spaces of time between the burials. When an image is available, it spreads across 2 pages, so I’ve cropped it here.

The first half shows when he was buried, age, plot location and his address. So it’s most of the same information as the transcription.

But the second half really adds to my knowledge. It gives when he died, religion, cause of death and the name and address of the person who organised the burial, which is his wife, Maria. Of course, his death record is available online which would supply most of this information too, but Glasnevin’s records go right up to the present day so you can find burials after the cut-off point on (currently 1972). It also includes cremations.

Where Glasnevin’s impressive website falls down is the lack of photos of headstones. Daniel doesn’t have a headstone but of course many people do, and as a genealogist, you always want to compare what’s written on a headstone with a burial record if possible. It’s not always the same information and there are frequently extra people buried who aren’t mentioned on the memorial inscription. Many of the user-inputted graveyard websites do include photos. FindaGrave recently had a massive influx of records from Glasnevin, but Dublin Cemetery’s Trust has forced Ancestry (the owner of the site) to take them down. For more, see Irish Genealogy News’s report.

The headstone of Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell and her partner, Julia Grenan in Glasnevin. Elizabeth carried the surrender of the rebels in 1916 to the British Army. You can just see her boots in this photo, which were often airbrushed out in later copies of the photo.

I’m particularly tickled by this family in Lisburn who went through life with the surname Skeleton. My nephew is planning to dress up as one next week. He’s only two so was quite confused by my comment that he already has one inside himself.

Regular readers of this newsletter will know that I regularly mine the Duchas Schools collection for folklore stories and Halloween doesn’t disappoint there. Just dive in by searching the word. If you’re looking for a nice shelf addition, then the beloved Irish radio DJ, John Creedon, produced a delightful book about this collection last year.

Do you have any nice Halloween-themed stories in your own family? A cousin of mother’s was reported named Hazel because my grandfather, then a teenager, suggested the link to hazelnuts & Halloween when his new niece was born around this time of year. A most unusual name in Ireland for the 1930s but she wears it well.

Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh go léir!

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