Know your history & geography

Many of us are researching our ancestry from a great distance. We might not easily be able to travel to the location our ancestors lived and see the local landscape. This may be for many reasons but it’s especially true at the moment, when Covid-19 means we are safer limiting our movements.

The above marriage record shows that of Thomas Lawless marrying Rosanna Healy on 7/11/1886 in Glencullen, Co. Dublin. Both of them had been previously married. Thomas was a gardener living in Kilgobbin. His father’s name Laurence Lawless, and he was a labourer. Unhelpfully, the couple both just used the standard “of full age” which meant they were both 21 or older. I actually think Thomas was much much older than this.

I found this marriage last week when looking for something else and it sent me down a rabbit hole. It links back to some research I had done a couple years ago, which I wrote about on my blog previously.

Here we see a death certificate from 11 months before the marriage. It’s the death of my 3x great-grandmother, Bridget Lawless, née Kinsley. She was the wife of a gardener who lived in Kilgobbin and her death was registered by Martha Bradshaw, her married daughter. All of these factors make me sure it’s the right person.

However, when I now look at it in the context of the marriage, it makes me think that Thomas remarried after Bridget’s death. This wouldn’t have been uncommon, though in this case, I believe all of their children were already grown, so it wouldn’t have been a situation where Thomas urgently needed to provide childcare. This was often a major factor for swift remarriage.

What has this got to do with geography and history, I hear you ask? I’m getting there!

Take a look at this map and note the locations of the following places. I had to mark some of them in to get a nice resolution without a massive map! (Thanks Google)

  • Kingstown (modern day Dun Laoghaire)
  • Kilgobbin
  • Stepaside
  • Glencullen
  • Kilternan
  • Ballybrack
  • Shankill
  • Bray

The first reason that this new marriage is important is that it gives me Thomas’s father’s name: Laurence. Now, I already know that Thomas had a brother of the same name, so that’s a good sign.

Civil records didn’t show the name of mothers until 1956 (a disgrace, I know!) but church records often record both parents, so I went straight over to the National Library’s parish register collection and had a look at the records for Sandyford & Glencullen parish.

This is an excerpt from the register showing Thomas and Rosanna’s marriage and it’s a genealogical goldmine. It shows that Thomas lived in Kilgobbin at the time of the marriage. His parents were recorded as Laurence Lawless and Elizabeth Walsh of Shankill.

Flick back up to the map and look at the distance between Shankill and Kilgobbin. It’s about 10km. If this church record didn’t have an address for Thomas’s parents, I probably wouldn’t have made the connection to a family called Lawless living over there. Here though, I must acknowledge that a second cousin had found these Lawlesses in Shankill a year ago and shared the information with me. At the time, I was hesitant to accept it, despite significant name repetition, because of the distance between the known location of the family (Kilgobbin and later Glencullen/Kilternan) and Shankill, but here was this marriage to bring the missing piece of the jigsaw together!

So hello to my new 4x great-parents, Laurence and Bess, who married in 1820 (again in the Kingstown parish) and had children called Martha, Laurence, Thomas, James, and twins Henry & Elizabeth. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks researching these people and have added a solid 63 people into my family tree.

After I’d completed my own basic research, I’d uploaded the tree to Ancestry to see if I could find other people looking into this family and I found a few hits. Messages have been sent. None of them had anything of note for my Thomas, except one which had the Rosanna Healy marriage and a census link for 1901. Surely a man born in 1829 in Shankill and married in 1855 in south county Dublin doing manual outdoor work hadn’t lived into the 20th century? That census shows a man called Laurence Lawless (I’m up to 11 distinct men of that name now in the tree) and his three year old grandson, Laurence, with a boarder called Thomas Lawless, who was an unemployed gardener.

Both men were born in Co. Wicklow though. The border between Dublin and Wicklow is just a few km from Shankill, and a significant portion of Thomas’s siblings ended up in Old Connaught, just over that border near Bray. So it’s not impossible that they considered themselves Wicklow men.

I looked into the brother called Laurence. There was a man married in Kingstown parish in 1847 to a Catherine Murphy but no parents were recorded on the marriage, and it’s before the start of civil registration. Still I had a look for children just in case, and I found something interesting. A first child had been born in Shankill but then some other children born in Clontarf parish in the city of Dublin, with an address in Santry.

Normally speaking, you’d think this was just a coincidence, especially because Murphy is the most common name in Ireland, but hear me out.
The National Library doesn’t have the Clontarf parish records but transcriptions are available on Rootsireland so I haven’t got an image to show you here for this baptism.

Laurence Lawless (yes another one) was baptised in 1856. His godparents were James Lawless and Julia Doyle. My Shankill people includes a married couple (1860) by these names.

So I wondered why would Laurence and Catherine have moved from Shankill to Santry?

Step up history.
A lot of the Shankill area was owned by Sir Charles Compton William Domvile (1822–1884). He was your arch-typical evil landlord, deeply unpopular, caused a lot of evictions and misery. His actions forced a lot of movement away from Shankill in the middle of the 19th century. This might explain why the family moved south to Old Connaught and west to Kilgobbin.

However, the Domville family also owned substantial land in Santry. Perhaps Laurence and Catherine were able to relocate to other land owned by their landlord, which dragged the family much closer to Dublin city?

Certainly, I can make a plausible case, and I can also find their son James had a son Laurence born in 1897 in the Rotunda hospital, so perhaps that census is right after all!

The takeaway point here is that knowing the history of an area, the landowners, the wider picture of society can very definitely inform your own family history research. Never underestimate the value of pulling up a map and looking at the places.

Though my great-grandmother was born in Glencullen, her parents decided to move into the city and so my family became city dwellers. The link to Kilgobbin was not forgotten though. When James and Mary died, they were buried back in Kilgobbin cemetery, along with their son Thomas, who was named after his grandfather.

Here’s a picture of their grave, with thanks to my cousin Jim.