I was in Paris recently and had the great pleasure of going to dinner chez my 1C1R and his husband. My friends and I were made very welcome, treated to a delicious meal and great conversation. Early in the evening, I was told there was a surprise for me later. I don’t really like surprises but it was a good one.
My cousin’s now late father had made some audio recordings at a Christmas family party in 1962. Now digitised, he had cropped out a few selected snippets.
The first was my great-grandmother, May Walters, née Cullen, thanking everyone for coming to the party and for the gifts. She died a few years before I was born and so I never met her. Certainly, I never expected to hear her voice at all. My mother has often remarked that her type of Dublin accent no longer exists.
The second file was my mother and aunt as young teens singing a Cliff Richard song! These voices I recognised straightaway, having often heard each of them sing. Lastly, another aunt, as a four year old girl, sweetly singing some of Tonight Tonight from West Side Story.
There is also a recording of my great-grandfather, Fred Walters, singing, which I heard later. It was quite thrilling to hear these 60 year old recordings.
Today is the 110th anniversary of my great-grandparents’ first marriage. Yes, their first marriage. Now, stay with me, they’re not exactly Taylor & Burton! Here is their legal marriage record. Mary Cullen, a Catholic, married Frederick George Walters, a Protestant, in North Strand parish (Church of Ireland) on 20th May 1912. The witness were both from Fred’s side: his sister and their cousin.
The family oral memory held that they also had a Catholic ceremony sometime after their first child was born. Apparently, someone told them it was too late for the first child but others would be alright if the parents married in a Catholic church! I contacted the most likely church, St Laurence O’Toole, which was May’s home parish to ask if they could find any trace of a second religious ceremony. They confirmed a second ‘marriage’ took place in December 1913! It’s astonishing to think that a comment like that would be given the weight and consideration to actually go through with another ceremony, but the grasp of the RCC in Ireland at that time was good and strong, for better or worse.
Fred and May had 9 children: their first was actually born on her parents’ first wedding anniversary. They were expecting the second when had their second wedding. They had 28 grandchildren and have at least 91 more descendants today.
As we move through to the middle of the 21st century, it will become much more commonplace to have audio and video clips of our nearer ancestors, but for my generation, this is a still rare and special thing. Perhaps you have some audio recordings in your family? Let me know your stories.
Tools: people often ask me how I research these kinds of articles, so I’m going to include a section on how/where to look from now. For this post, there were 3 key components.
- Oral history/family memory. With these nearer ancestors, I was able to ask older members of my family about their names, dates and memories. Stories are just as valuable as pieces of paper.
- Civil records: I used the marriage records on www.irishgenealogy.ie to find Fred & May’s legal marriage. Even if I hadn’t known approximately when they married, I did have both spouses’ full names, so searching in conjunction allowed me to find them easily.
- Church records: the civil record showed the part of Dublin they lived in, so I then considered what Catholic churches were in the area that they might have used for their second marriage. In this case, I got lucky with my first try. A good map with RC parishes can be found on registers.nli.ie, which also has images of registers up to 1880.