Digging Up More Family Bones.

The Case of Maria Bridget “Whosywhatsitmecallher”

If I could jump in a time machine right this minute and go back to any moment in history, I’d set the dial for the 19th November, 1915. Or, to be on the safe side, even a day earlier. The place would be 42 Colin Street, North Sydney (Now in modern Cammeray. By the way, the house is still standing).

Obviously, this seems like a totally random time and place to go back to. Indeed, I’m sure many of you would choose to back to a much more significant point in history, and rewrite events for the greater good. Perhaps, you might go back to the 4th April, 1968, fighting to prevent the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Or, perhaps you’d go back to the 28th June, 1914 in Sarajevo and deal with Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife. As you may recall from your high school history lessons, their assassination was the final spark which triggered World War I.

Above: Perhaps you’d like to go back in time and prevent these events.

These are noble gestures, and I commend you. Normally, I would be more concerned about making a valuable contribution to the greater good. However, right now, my needs are simple.

I’d just like to ask my 3rd Great Grandmother to fill out her own death certificate, instead of leaving such an important family document in the hands of her daughter. Unfortunately, she not only left out some significant details, but also included misinformation. Not that I’d go so far as saying she lied. However, the people filling out these forms need to consider the people following in their footsteps, who not only need answers, but also the truth. After all, filling out a death certificate is NOT a creative writing exercise!

wind-from-the-sea

Andrew Wyeth, The Wind From The Sea, which conjures up images of ghosts, absent friends etc.

This brings me back to Maria Bridget Flanagan, who went on to marry John Alexander Johnston and gain another surname. Recently, I posted a story about how a vagrant set fire to her house , after being inspired by the actions of the Mosman Bomber. However, while I was thrilled to bits to stumble across this story, in so many very basic areas of family history research, Maria or Bridget (this seems to vary with the wind) is a very slippery fish and she’s determined not to get caught. The questions remain.

Getting back to her death certificate, it states that she was 79 years old, making her year of birth around 1836. Her father is given as Martin Flanagan. She was born in County Clare, Ireland. She spent 6 years in Victoria before leaving for New Zealand. After returning to Australia, she spent 32 years in NSW, putting their arrival in NSW around 1879. Age at first marriage is unknown and his name is given as __Flanagan. Age at second marriage was 26. Spouse: John Johnston.  These details conflict a little with her marriage certificate, which said she as 23, making her date of birth closer to 1841.

map New Zealand

Maria Bridget Flanagan immigrated from Victoria to New Zeland and Married John Alexander Johnston at Invercargill in 1864.

Recently, I came across this message online:

“Any lister with knowledge of Bridget Maria Flanaghan nee Docherty, aged 23 years, possibly employed in or around Invercargill c.1864. She was the widow of one Quintin Flanaghan and was Ireland-born (County unknown). Not known if he came to NZ or she arrived as a widow. She married from the home of Richard Pilkington, Dee Street, and witnesses were Louis and Alice Cramer, hotelkeeper of Tay Street. Any advice appreciated. https://lists.rootsweb.ancestry.com/hyperkitty/list/new-zealand@rootsweb.com/thread/USLOAJOWTWJWECJU2ABMXTX3FCIKGWQE/

Well, you would think this message provided great hope, insight, a Eureka moment worthy of jumping out of the bathtub and running naked down the street. Well, I would’ve run naked down the street, if only I’d been able to confirm the details of the message. I haven’t been able to find a Quintin Flanagan, but I have managed to find a Bridget Doherty with a father Martin, but they were living in Kerry. That said, this Bridget’s brother was later living in Ennis, County Clare. It might not be all wrong, but surely Mary Ann Wilson, her own daughter, would’ve known which county her mother came from. Then again, so many things fly under the radar in a busy household, but I would’ve thought it’s an odd thing to get wrong.

Map of ireland_1808

Map of Ireland 1808

In the meantime, I started looking for a Bridget Doherty with a father called Martin who fitted into the right time framework and I did find somebody. There as a Bridget Doherty christened 15th February, 1841 in Currow, Kerry, Ireland and her parents were Martin Doherty and Ellenora O’Brien who were married at the Roman Catholic Church, Castle Island, Kerry. Following on from this, I found an arrival of a Bridget Doherty as an Unassisted Immigrant  onboard The Sultana arriving in Melbourne 1st April, 1858. She was 18 years old, which places her date of birth as around 1840 and in the picture.

However, if you’ve ever tried your hand at this family detective business, you should know that 1 +1 doesn’t necessarily = 2. Indeed, a myriad of random details all need to align. Even then, you might have doubts, and end up with a “cold case”. Of course, you don’t throw your hands in the air and chuck all your research out. However, you also need to switch off, or at least shift, that stubbornly obsessive detective focus. Or else, you’ll go mad. After all, we’ve all heard about those cops who turn to drink after being unable to solve that elusive case of the crim who got away.We don’t want to be next.

When I get stuck like this on one of my people, I usually start sniffing around their known haunts for clues, looking for even the scantest hint of a scent. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky and I’ve found the missing piece. However, there have been a few particularly slippery fish determined to slip out of my grasp. There’s also a point where the records run out. Then, you simply have to accept, that you’ve reached the end of the road.

So, still intent on finding out what I could about this Bridget Doherty, I set the ship into reverse and sailed back across the seas to Curnow, a very pretty town on the Ring of Kerry. I must admit that I felt a bit lost arriving in Curnow, and wasn’t entirely comfortable in my new-found shoes as a “Doherty”. Did they really fit? To be honest, it felt like plucking names out of a hat, and goodness knows which name I’ll be looking for down the track if I’ve got my Bridget wrong. It’s moments like this, that I ask why women change their names just to get married? It makes them very hard to track down, and more often than not, it deletes their personal history altogether. After all, Bridget was a someone long before she became a Mrs!

Anyway, thanks to Google, I found myself in this gorgeous Irish town of Curnow, where she was Christened, and then onto Kenmare where some of her siblings got married. It was in Kenmare that I was in for quite a surprise, although it had nothing to do with finding Bridget’s origins. Rather, it was a case of seeing an almost identical twin.

Above- The Cammeray Suspension Bridge, Sydney, completed in 1892. Below:Kenmare Suspension Bridge Completed in 1841. Perhaps, not identical twins on closer inspection but pretty close.

Kenmare Suspension Bridge

You see, the Kenmare Suspension Bridge, which was completed in 1841, was almost identical to the Cammeray Suspension Bridge built by Maria Bridget Johnston’s brother-in-law, Alexander Johnston, and her husband. Indeed, while Maria as living at The Boulevard, she was only a stone throw away. If this is indeed the right Bridget, isn’t that incredible that she travelled all the way from Ireland to Sydney and then gets to see a piece of home appear stone by stone before her very eyes. Of course, I love the pure poetry of that. The sense of that beautiful bridge, which has provided a link between numerous descendants here in Australia, now connecting Bridget and her descendants in Australia back to her home in Ireland.

If only I could be sure that it’s true!

Just to add insult to injury, I’ve also been able to find out so much about this Doherty family. Details which have eluded me with other branches of the family, where I know who’s who, and equally who is not. This just added salt to the wound, and I can’t tell you how much I was wanting this Bridget Doherty to me mine. Indeed, I was even thinking of bending the facts ever so slightly to make them fit, which is an unforgivable sin for even a novice researcher.

Dromore Castle

Dromore Castle, Templenoe, Kerry.

In the Griffiths Valuation, I actually found Martin Doherty living at Templenoe and his landlord was a Reverend Denis Mahony, who was a rector of the Church of Ireland. He also owned and built Dromore Castle in Templenoe, looking out over the Kenmare River. A keen proselytiser, he set up a soup kitchen at Dromore during the Irish Potato Famine, and preached to the hungry, who came for food at the chapel at Dromore. His proselytizing activities made him rather unpopular. In 1850, he was attacked in his church at Templenoe. On returning to Dromore, he found another angry mob had uprooted flower beds, felled trees and were about to set fire to the castle. It is claimed, that they were only stopped by the intervention of the local priest[1].

As you can see, without any confirmation that she was my Bridget, the story was running away all by itself, and I was like that poor dog owner being pulled along by their dog at an alarming rate, and almost becoming airborne. The story had me by  the short and curlies.

Of course, I had to put on the brakes. Take stock. Find the line between fact and fiction, and not let myself be lured over into dark side. Reject this evil temptation to fabricate the evidence, and do that boring, methodical Police work… going over and over the data again.

“Yes, it is very true, that. And it is just what some people will not do. They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant.”
Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile

What was it going to take to find those missing pieces, which would complete Maria Bridget’s story and discern our Flanagans, from our Docherty/Doherties?

Moreover, why does it matter? Is it only the thrill of the chase that leads me on, and nothing to do with who I am, my DNA and genetic heritage? Am I something of a sham?

I don’t know. Hoever, I’ve come so far in such a short time, surely this mystery will be kind to me and let go of her secrets.

Maria Bridget Flanagan, Doherty, Docherty…Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Writing all these details up has indeed been rather helpful. I’m now thinking that more information may have been captured when she married John Johnston. Although I ordered the marriage certificate, it contains very little information. Indeed, it doesn’t contain enough information for a legal marriage. I think that information is out there somewhere. That’s my next port of call. Wish me luck!

 

[1] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/2014/06/dromore-castle.html

13 thoughts on “Digging Up More Family Bones.

  1. Léa

    So true. It isn’t just death certificates but such documents can haunt us our entire life. My own birth certificate is a bigger work of fiction than a book by J.K. Rowling. The woman who gave birth to me never wanted children and took care to make sure I could not be linked to her in the future and that it would cover up some of her sins such as being in the Country illegally, not divorcing her first husband before marrying my father… And there is nothing that I can do to correct this bogus document.

  2. Rowena Post author

    Lea, I hear you on this one. It’s been frustrating with my family research, but these are people going back over a hundred years. Not meaningless, but not relating to myself. That’s really rough that you can’t have your own birth certificate corrected. Am I correct in assuming you were adopted? I’ve just been reading some awful stories about babies being abandoned back in the 1950s, and one died in the hospital. However, while he was there, the community rallied and he had offers of adoption and even kids coming in and donating their pocket money to help him. It’s amazing how some people can be so horrid and others so unbelievably kind.
    It must be hard for you to reconcile all of this with her being your birth mother.
    xx Rowena

  3. Léa

    As a very young child, I often imagined I was adopted wanting to believe no biological parent could be so cruel. It was, unfortunately, wishful thinking. She had much to hide and there is nothing, they telll me, that I can do. But in fact there was something. I moved abroad and surround myself with people who are kind. Home isn’t always where one is from but where one finds acceptance and can belong. xx Lea

  4. Rowena Post author

    So sorry you grew up with that, but it’s been good that you’ve created your own path. You must have a lot of character and courage. It’s not easy to overcome a difficult start.
    xx Rowena

  5. Léa

    I’m all to aware how difficult it is and consider myself most fortunate. Many of those I saw in my practice as a therapist and most of those as saw in my work as a Child Protection Officer were not as fortunate. We must start with what was handed to us but we have to search for more and if we are extremely fortunate, we will find someone who believes in our right to do so and support us. xx Lea

  6. Rowena Post author

    Well said, and I’m sure your experiences as a child would’ve helped you connect with others in your precious work. I don’t know if you ever get to see how you’ve touched people’s lives in that line of work, but I’m sure you would’ve made a difference.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  7. Léa

    There is little chance to see if anything the workers have done mattered. The system is so completely flawed and there is no real intention to fix it.
    Kind regards,
    Lea

  8. Pingback: Weekend Coffee Share -18th June, 2018. | Beyond the Flow

  9. Rowena Post author

    That’s a shame, Lea. That seems to be a problem the world over. Such a pity as people need the help.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  10. Alistair McDonald

    Hi Rowena, tremendous research since your last post, Yes, the conflict between the imagination and the hard facts which may be mundane, dammit!
    A minor pinprick – while I like the Curnow/Cammeray symmetry, suspension bridges of very much that style were the tried and tested regardless since the early 1800s – Brunel, Clifton Suspension etc. But yes, replicating the old world’s gardens, architecture, train stations etc eased the tough transition for the settlers, up to a point perhaps. Look forward to more!

  11. Rowena Post author

    The Currow Bridge appeared in engineering journals etc at the time. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if it offered some inspiration in the design. I’m going to follow it up with people here and see what I can find out. I’ve never read anything connecting the two bridges before so it could add a new dimension. Stay tuned.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  12. Rowena Post author

    Our Prime Minister shuttled some paperwork and then went fishing.
    Congratulations on the new addition to the NZ village. Are you offering your services for baby sitting services? I have found the the village seems to work on a quid pro quo basis although helping the Prime Minister out would probably be perceived differently.
    Jokes aside, I think it’s great that NZ is onto its third genuine female PM and that having a baby while being PM is possible these days. I did hear comment by an older person about her also being unmarried but that flies under the radar these days for most of us.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

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