Leap day thoughts

I often find it happens in genealogy that I’m researching someone and discover that it is their birthday or death anniversary on the very day I’m looking them up. Earlier this week, I was adding a distant cousin to my tree, newly discovered, but then found that it was the second anniversary of her death.

The same thing happened today. I was updating my tree on My Heritage (after playing with those amazing new colourising tools). I realised that I didn’t have the recently discovered death of my great great grandmother, Mary Swan, in this online tree. This information came to me via a 2C1R who I matched DNA with on Living DNA. When I looked it up, I realised she died on the leap day, 29th February 1936. Sadly, there are no known photos of her, but here’s what I know about her life.

Mary Swan was born in August 1855 to William Swan and Eliza Maguire. She was baptised in Sandyford church. Her godparents were Denis Leary and Elizabeth Tully – neither appears to be a relation. Mary was the fourth of eight children. At least five of those children made it to adulthood. For the generation born just after the Famine, this is good. She would have attended at least some schooling. Unusually, Sandyford church has some confirmation records. In 1868 a Mary Anne Josephine Swan was confirmed, which could be her. One of her daughters was called Josephine.

Mary married James Lawless in Glencullen church in 1876. She was recorded as illiterate but had a job as a servant. I always wish the job column gave more detail. Where was she a servant? Who did she work for? This marriage record unusually mentions that one father was dead and the other alive. While all marriages were supposed to record this info, in practice, most did not.

Mary and James’ first four children (of 11) were born in south county Dublin, and then the family moved into the city. Impressively, all but one of their children lived to adulthood & they collectively produced 30 grandchildren.

Mary is found on the 1901 census at 8 Harty Place in Dublin, where 10 people occupied just 2 rooms. By the 1911 census, they had moved to 26 New Street, living over a shop, and had now 4 rooms for the 7 people in the family.

Though I’ll never know her opinions on any of these events, Mary Swan lived through the most turbulent 20 years of Irish history. She would have been an eye witness to the 1916 Rising – Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, now the site of the National Archives of Ireland, was just 450m from her home. The back drop to the Easter Rising was of course World War I. Her son-in-law, my great-grandfather, was away in Egypt & Palestine with the Army Service Corps from 1915 to 1919. She registered the birth of one of my great-uncles shortly before his father went away to war. One of her daughters moved to Scotland during the war and married there, but later came back to Ireland. Though women attained the right to vote in 1918, conditions were limited. As far as I can tell, she met the criteria – being over 30, and the wife of a householder. However, her limited ability to read may have hindered her exercising this precious vote. And of course, she was around to see the birth of the Free State, when Ireland became an independent nation in 1922.

When Mary died, aged 81, in 1936, she had far exceeded the life expectancy for the time (it was 53 in 1916!) She outlived her husband by some 16 years as well as four of their children and four of their grandchildren. This headstone was erected by her daughter, Brigid, in Kilgobbin cemetery, close to where Mary was born.

Though I never knew her, writing a blog like this brings me closer to my ancestor.