Visiting My Ancestral Homelands (Part 7) – Touring Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is a wonderful tourist destination. Dublin knows that it is a wonderful tourist destination. And, there is nothing wrong with that!

My wife and I were a couple of the tourists from around the world when we visited Dublin just a few weeks ago.

Our great hosts, Terri and Aylish were former neighbours from Canada who had moved back ‘home’ to Dublin.

For my wife and I, it was a triple pleasure: we visited a great city, re-connected with great friends, and we walked in the footsteps of our ancestors.

We used the Dublin ‘Hop On Hop Off’ bus tour (2-day package) as our means of getting around the city and seeing the sights. There are two routes used by the tour buses and we enjoyed both. The longer tour, about two hours in length, covers the city proper while the second shorter tour, about 45 minutes in length, covers the docklands.

The great advantage of these bus tours is that your ticket allows to to ‘hop off’ the bus at any stop to explore the various museums, sights, or shopping districts at your leisure and then ‘hop on’ a subsequent bus to continue the tour. Buses come by each stop at ten to fifteen minutes intervals so waiting isn’t really an issue. Each of the bus drivers follows the same basic tour script but each also infuses their own form of Irish wit and humour along the way.

Many of the sights were related to the 1916 Easter Rising (or Easter Rebellion) which lead eventually to Irish independence from Great Britain. I was particularly fascinated by the bullet holes still visible in some statues along O’Connell Street left from that time. Certainly, next year there will be many commemorations and events marking the centennial of the uprising.

The Spire of Dublin

The Spire of Dublin

The Spire of Dublin, also known as the Monument of Light, is pin-like monument rising almost 400 feet above downtown Dublin. The monument was built of stainless steel as a millennial project and our tour bus driver noted that it wasn’t completed, in true Irish fashion, until 2003. The stainless steel was to ensure low cost maintenance but quipped our guide, the government spends about 40,000 euros every two years to clean the monument now locally known as the world’s largest stiletto heel.

Safety First for Pedestrians in Dublin

Safety First for Pedestrians in Dublin

Knowing that not every visitor to Dublin will be from countries with driving on the left side of the road, the Irish have painted signs at pedestrian crosswalks informing people of which way to look for oncoming traffic. It must have worked as neither my wife nor I had any problems safely crossing the streets.

Dublin Convention Centre

Dublin Convention Centre

The Dublin Convention Centre opened in 2010 and is now known locally as the ‘Tube in the Cube.’

Dublin cemetery

Dublin cemetery

As a genealogist, I was dismayed at the condition of some of the cemeteries I observed in Dublin during our tour. Although the cemetery above is well enclosed by stone walls, you can see the deterioration of many gravestones and general lack of maintenance of the grounds.

Monument to Benjamin Lee Guiness

Monument to Benjamin Lee Guinness

Benjamin Lee Guinness (1798-1868) was a Dublin native who became Mayor of Dublin and also served in the House of Commons as the Dublin representative. He was also known for his philanthropy, oh, and for brewing a beverage that bears his name! offices in Dublin, Ireland offices in Dublin, Ireland

This photo was taken as we passed by the office in Dublin. A good reminder of my love for all things genealogy!






Visiting My Ancestral Homelands (Part 6) – Off To Dublin, Ireland

On May 6th, we had to say so long to daughter Jenna and my ancestral homeland of Aberdeen. We were off to visit our ancestral homeland of Ireland.

My wife and I both have Irish roots. My Irish roots lay in the southern counties of Clare and Waterford. My wife’s Irish roots lay further north in County Fermanagh.

Although we did not have a chance to visit those places (maybe next time?), the real purpose of our too brief a visit in Dublin was to visit former neighbours, octogenarian (but going on 40) Aylish and her daughter Terri, now permanent residents in Aylish’s native Dublin.

After passing through the routine, yet still cumbersome, security check at the Aberdeen International Airport, we entered the duty-free shopping area. There, we were greeted by a woman at a counter offering free samples of six varieties of single malt Scotch. Try as many as you like, all free, she says.

I’m not much of a consumer of alcohol and rarely imbibe but, when I do, my preference is for single malt Scotch. Unlike her mother, my wife doesn’t like it at all (her loss in my opinion!). I took the counter lady at her word and tried a few of her samples. The wee drams were wonderful nectar and likely ensured that I had a relaxing flight over the Irish Sea.

My first impression of Ireland – it really is green! Although I’m not really certain that it is greener than anywhere else.


An aerial view of the Irish countryside as our plane approached Dublin

Dublin is a magical city to visit. A tourist Mecca where we encountered visitors from literally all around the globe. And Dublin caters to all of their appetites for all things Irish.

Our hosts, Terri and Aylish, greeted us at our hotel and provided a magical, whirlwind two and a half days of Dublin sight-seeing, shopping, storytelling and Irish lore.

Ellen with friends Aylish and Terri enjoying a moment on one of the main shopping concourses in Dublin

Ellen with friends Aylish and Terri enjoying a moment on one of the main shopping concourses in Dublin

A highly recommended treat and trip highlight for us was an evening out at the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub, dating back to 1198. (For the reference of my children, should they ever someday read my blog, yes, that date is before I was born!).

The Brazen Head Pub, Dublin, Ireland (photo by Ian Hadden, 2015)

The Brazen Head Pub, Dublin, Ireland (photo by Ian Hadden, 2015)

An Evening of Food, Folklore and Fairies is an example of Irish entertainment and magic at it’s finest. Johnny Daly was our host and storyteller the night we attended the Brazen Head. A candlelit full Irish dinner mixed with live Irish music and storytelling of Irish history, especially the impact of the famine and diaspora times, Irish folklore and the still remaining beliefs in leprechauns and fairies.

If you have Irish ancestry, as I do, an evening such as this just might help explain a lot!

But The Date Is Set In Stone

First, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! A day described by some as a time when everyone is either Irish or wants to be!

It is a day when I immediately think of my own Irish ancestry. Specifically, my maternal ancestry.

When I began researching my family history, it seemed that ethnic ancestry was easily described as my maternal ancestry was Irish and Roman Catholic whereas my paternal ancestry was Scottish and not Roman Catholic.

I discovered eventually, through many hours over many years of research, that my maternal ancestry was Irish with a good dose of Scottish blood and that my paternal ancestry was Scottish with a good dose of Irish blood. Things are not always as simple as first presented.

My mother often regaled me with stories of her maternal grandfather. A man named John Foley whom it was claimed lead a rags to riches life. John died, so my mother told me, in 1927 in Florida on a business trip. He died before my mother was born so she didn’t know him but she did love to pass on the stories she no doubt heard from her mother.

Finding John Foley’s grave in Toronto’s Mount Hope Cemetery was the easy part and as a bonus, the family had ‘set in stone’ his dates of birth and death for me. Being set in stone meant according to most dictionaries that the dates were firm, immutable, permanent and unchangeable. As seen below, John gravestone states that he was born February 16, 1864 and that he died on January 13, 1927.

FOLEY John grave stone Mount Hope Cemetery Sec 20 Lot 360

As I researched my great grandfather’s life, I discovered that he died not in Florida as I had been told but rather in Los Angeles, California. His trip in January 1927 was not for business but rather it was a vacation. The State of California, various newspaper articles, and John Foley’s estate file all confirmed his date and place of death. But what of his birth?

John was born in what is now Ontario, Canada. He was born in pre-confederation Canada, at a time when there was no civil registration requirement for births. Therefore, there was no birth registration to be found. So I turned to the census records.

John can be found first in the 1871 Census of Canada recorded as being 8 years old and living with his parents William Foley and Bridget (McTeague) Foley in Barrie, Ontario. Both William and Bridget are recorded as being born in Ireland. Also in the household were John’s three brothers and two sisters. John is recorded as being the youngest of the four boys.

Based on that 1871 census, John was born about 1863. In the next census, that of 1881, John is recorded as being 18 years old, so again a birth year of about 1863. Unfortunately, John is (at least thus far) no where to be found in the 1891 census. However, in the 1901 census, John is recorded as being a widower (his wife, my great grandmother, Mary Jane Fitzgerald had died on April 9, 1899) living with his three young children along with a housekeeper and her two children. His date of birth is recorded as April 1865. The 1911 census records John’s date of birth again as April 1865, and finally in the 1921 census, John is recorded as being 56 years of age from which can be calculated a year of birth of about 1865.

Fortunately FamilySearch has posted the Roman Catholic Church records for numerous parishes in Ontario covering the period of 1760-1923 (there is no index available but images can be browsed which can be a lengthy but in my case rewarding bit of research) and so it was that I discovered John’s baptismal register record in the records of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church in Barrie, Ontario. The baptismal register misspelled the family surname as ‘Froley’ but provided me with what I believe is the first recording of John’s February 16, 1863 date of birth.

FOLEY John baptism record 1863 - Copy

Even when the dates of your ancestors appear to be ‘set in stone’, nothing can be taken for granted until all the evidence is in.

52 Ancestors: William Emmett O’Neill (1849-1924)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

William Emmett O’Neill, one of my great grandfathers, entered this world on 26 February 1849 in Barrie, Ontario, Canada – or as it was known at the time of his birth, Canada West. He was the son of Irish immigrants, John O’Neill and his wife, Mary Murphy. They were a Roman Catholic family who lived in a one-storey log house on land that John farmed.

When William was a young man of twenty-two, he found work as a labourer in Tay Township, close to Georgian Bay. By the time he was thirty years of age, he was caring for his widowed mother in Barrie, Ontario while working as a store clerk. William continued working for others in the Barrie, Ontario store into the early 1890’s and then decided, through an unknown inspiration, perhaps the death of his mother, that it was time to strike out on his own.

He moved to Toronto, found work again as a store clerk, but also found love. He met and married Margaret Graham on 4 June 1894 in St. Mary’s Church. Neither William nor Margaret were ‘spring chickens.’ William was 45 years old when he married, although he claimed to be only 42 perhaps in an effort to be closer in age to his bride Margaret who was 39 when she married. William and Margaret didn’t let age deny them the opportunity to have a family and so in 1895, just more than a year after their wedding, they welcomed their first child, and my grandfather, John Graham O’Neill into the world.

Two daughters would subsequently join the family. First, Kathleen Marie O’Neill, who would later join the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and be known by her religious name as Sister St. Edwin, in 1896, and then Avila in 1898.

Early in his married and family life, William would change careers. No longer content working as a store clerk, he became an insurance agent, the source of employment for the remainder of his life. He moved his family into a house on Claremont Street in Toronto from where my grandfather told me, they would push their children in a baby carriage through muddy roads to attend the annual Canadian National Exhibition, a little over a mile away. Later, William and Margaret moved to a house further west in the city on Golden Avenue.

On 24 July 1924, at the age of 75, William Emmett O’Neill died in St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. His cause of death was listed as “uremia” or kidney failure. At the time of his death, William and Margaret were living at 189 Pickering Street in Toronto, a home they had purchased from their son’s father-in-law John Foley. This was the same house that I would live in for the first nine plus years of my life. On 26 July 1924, William Emmett O’Neill was laid to rest in Toronto’s Mount Hope Cemetery where he would eventually be joined in the family plot by his wife, youngest daughter, son and daughter-in-law, and their infant son.

As a tribute to his father, my grandfather named his youngest son, one of my uncles, William Emmett O’Neill. Uncle ‘Bill’ as he is known to me, has told me often how creepy it is to visit the cemetery and see the headstone at the family plot bearing his name.

myOrigins – Mapping My Ethnicity

I posted previously about having my DNA tested and some of the results that I received from those tests. I tested with Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) and yesterday I received an email notification from FTDNA that they were launching a new tool called “myOrigins,” a feature that maps my ethnicity based on my autosomal DNA test results. 

The mapping also shows, with dropped pins, the location of individuals who are close DNA matches. Close matches in this case appears to mean either 2nd-4th cousin or 3rd-5th cousin. As far as know, no one else in my known family circle has tested with FTDNA but presumably, if they had been tested, they would be mapped and seen based on their relationship to me.

Below is the map of my ethnicity. No real surprises. My ethnicity is 100% European – 67% UK and Ireland (dark blue colour), 30% European Coastal Plain (light blue colour on France, Germany, Belgium, etc.), and 3% European Northlands (pale green colour on Norway and the Scandinavian countries).

I am admittedly no DNA expert so I cannot expertly interpret these results but they do make some sense to me. I have a lot of evidence of my ancestors coming from Scotland and Ireland. The influence of the European mainland is not surprising as that represents typical migration patterns to the UK and Ireland. Similarly, from an historic perspective, Norwegians, a.k.a. Vikings, used the north-east of Scotland as a base from which to launch further forays into the world.

The dropped pins feature is something that I found interesting even though it is certainly not conclusive evidence because it is based on the locations of living persons (I think I’m safe stating that). What I found interesting is that the map allows me to pin the closest paternal side matches or the closest maternal side matches from the FTDNA database. In my case, the database generated 17 paternal matches and 16 maternal matches.

These matches can be seen in clusters on the map. Of the 33 potential cousin matches, 11 are located in Ireland, 6 are located in Scotland, and 9 matches are located in the United States. Matches in Scotland and Ireland do not come as a surprise but I’m curious about the matches in the United States as there is a cluster in the Carolinas and Tenessee. Who knows this may well be a good clue for further investigation on where ancestral family members may have migrated at some point in history.

52 Ancestors: Dorothea Carson (Abt 1847-1916)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

This week I am turning the spotlight on one of my paternal great-great grandmothers, Dorothea Carson.

At the corner of Patrick and Ardgowan Streets in Greenock, Scotland, there stands a small church. Looking down Patrick Street, you can see the mouth of the River Clyde and the various Greenock shipyards along it’s banks. It was in this church that on 6 April 1869 that Dorothea Carson stood beside her maid of honour Margaret Forrest and married Thomas Commisky. 

The marriage record of the event describes Dorothea as being 22 years of age. Both she and her 21-year old groom Thomas recorded that they lived at 4 Sir Michael Street in Greenock. Thomas listed his occupation as contractor’s carter. He appears to have learned his carting trade from his by then deceased father Terrence who is listed in the marriage record as having been a master carter. Dorothea’s parents are listed as John Carson, a contractor, and his wife, Sarah Ann Jones.

As happy as the wedding day was for Thomas and Dorothea, it wasn’t to last long. Just four months later, on 11 August 1869, Thomas died of smallpox. Dorothea was left a young widow with a baby girl, a daughter that she and Thomas had in January 1869 before they were married. They named their daughter Annie. 

I don’t know what happened to Dorothea following the death of Thomas as neither she nor Annie appears either under the name of Commisky or Carson in the 1871 Census of Scotland. But Dorothea may have been used to tough times. Dorothea was born between 1846 and 1848 in Ireland, at a time when the infamous famine was ravaging that country. Dorothea first appears in the Scottish records in the 1861 census as a young teenager, working alongside two presumed Carson sisters as cotton mill workers. Dorothea and her presumed sisters, Susan and Janet, were boarders in the home of an Irish farmer in Bridge of Weir, Renfrew, Scotland.

It is known, however, that on 30 April 1878 Dorothea married for a second time in Kilbarchan, a small village outside of Bridge of Weir in Renfrew County. Her new husband was James Little. Although the record of this marriage states that James was a 30-year old forester, it is more likely that he was closer to 37-years of age.

Over the years, James and Dorothea settled into life together with James working in the nearby shipyards and Dorothea working working as a confectioner. On 2 April 1911, when the enumerator came to their door conducting the 1911 Census of Scotland, they recorded, I suspect with some pride, that they had been married for 33 years, had seven children (I know the names of six) of whom five were still alive. Just one week later however, James Little died. Dorothea followed James in death on 18 December 1916, a victim of Brights Disease.

Are My DNA Results Propelling Me Into A Whole New Direction Of Research?

Last year I decided to venture into the unknown, at least to me, realm of genetic genealogy by completing a DNA test. I completed both a Y-DNA and autosomal test using the services of Family Tree DNA. I shared an overview of the Y-DNA test results in November and the autosomal test results in December.

I really had low expectations about the test results connecting me with a lot of new cousins. Rather, I was just plain and simple curious. What haplogroup did I belong to? What would my DNA test results indicate about my deep ancestral past? I found the results to be useful and perhaps even mildly amusing.

All of that seems to be changing now. I have been contacted by researchers who are very seriously examining the possible, maybe likely, connection between the Hadden family in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and the Hadden family of County Tyrone, Ireland.

A connection between the two families has been at least anecdotal  based on references in old family letters written by the Irish Haddens to visiting the home of their ‘old ancestors’ in Aberdeen. As it appears likely that the ‘Irish Haddens’ may have left Scotland about 400 years ago, there are no written records found to date that can confirm the family connection.

That’s where my DNA comes in and may prove it’s worth. I can confirm my Hadden ancestral roots in Aberdeenshire. My grandfather left Aberdeen with his parental family in 1923. Many generations of my Hadden ancestors lived in or around Aberdeen, Scotland and there are fortunately plenty of paper records that verify these facts. 

Family Tree Finder test results indicate that there are 978 matches of my Y-chromosome DNA with the Y-DNA of others in their database. Only six of the 978 are an exact Y-DNA match and bear the Hadden surname. Interestingly, three of these six individuals can trace their roots to County Tyrone, Ireland in the early 18th century. Of the remaining three exact Hadden matches, two do not list their most distant Hadden ancestor and one has traced his Hadden ancestry to  mid-18th century Pennsylvania in the United States.

So did one of my Hadden ancestors move himself and possibly his family from Aberdeenshire, Scotland to County Tyrone, Ireland sometime around 1600 – 1650? I don’t know right now but working with other researchers, who fortunately are much more knowledgeable in the field of genetic genealogy than I am, I may find out, and soon!

My Autosomal DNA Test Results Included A Surprise!

On November 18th, 2012, I shared the the results that I received from Family Tree DNA for my Hadden Y-DNA test, including my Haplogroup. I have now received the results for my autosomal DNA test, called Family Finder by Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA states “Family Finder uses autosomal DNA (inherited from both the mother and father, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc.) to provide you a breakdown of your ethnic percentages and connect you with relatives descended from any of your ancestral lines within approximately the last 5 generations.” Autosomal DNA is from the 22 chromosome pairs beyond the gender determining X and Y chromosomes.

The first thing I wanted to review was the breakdown of my ethnic percentages. Having a paternal ancestry firmly rooted in Scotland and a maternal ancestry similarly rooted in Ireland, I saw little room for surprises.

My ethnic breakdown, by percentage, is 96.64% Western Europe (Orcadian), that is from the Orkney Islands, and 3.36% South Asia (Southeast Indian, North Indian). Huh? Where did that come from? The genealogy paper trails have led me to Ireland, Scotland (and from there to England) but nothing has suggested India but it seems like there might be an intriguing story somewhere in my ancestral past. The Orkney Island might also contain a great Viking warrior ancestry.

Family Tree DNA has also provided me with a list of individuals who have also been tested and who share DNA segments, measured in centiMorgans (cM), with me. A quick review of the list and the ancestral surnames associated with each of the matches doesn’t immediately reveal any ‘hits’ to me. There are a couple of individuals who may likely be cousins, second to fourth cousins, but I need to take a closer look at how we match up before I can really understand how I can best utilize this new information.