Sunday, 24 September 2017

The Ryan Herd

The parents of my grandfather, William Sherlock (John Sherlock and Mary Ryan), both had Ryan ancestry.  John and Mary were granted a special dispensation to marry as they were blood relations in the second degree, meaning they were first cousins, and after much investigation I determined that Mary's father (Michael Ryan) & John's mother (Bridget Ryan) were siblings.  So began my involvement with the surname Ryan.

In 1891 Sir Robert Matheson issued a special report on surnames, which identified Ryan as the 8th most common surname in Ireland, and in North Tipperary it is extremely common, making it very difficult to identify one Ryan family from another, with so many Michaels, Patricks, Marys and Bridgets.  So much so that the Irish invented a system of nicknames to help identify the different families.

Chart of Ryan Nicknames (see at North Tipperary Heritage Centre)
My Ryan ancestors had the nickname "Herd", so the great grandparents mentioned above were known as Michael Ryan (Herd) and Bridget Ryan (Herd).  To make the situation more complex, Michael Ryan (Herd)'s daughter, Bridget Ryan (Herd) married Patrick Ryan (Honesty).  Needless to say, Ryans have not been a focus of much further research, as I get cross-eyed trying to keep track of the families.

So I was surprised a few weeks ago to see a new close DNA match on 23andMe, with a Thomas Ryan whose profile identified that he had both Ryan (Herd) and Ryan (Honesty) ancestry.  We corresponded, and confirmed that Tom is a grandson of Patrick Ryan (Honesty) and Bridget Ryan (Herd), making us 2nd cousins once removed.  Tom and I share 44 cM of DMA across 5 segments.

The following week, I noticed a new DNA relative on Ancestry, who turned out to be Tom's niece, Paula Crooks, who is my 3rd cousin.  Paula and I share 96 cM of DNA across 6 segments, which is more than I share with her uncle (one of the vagaries of DNA inheritance patterns).

It is amazing that DNA testing has allowed us to confirm our relationship, when just a few weeks ago we were not even aware of each others existence.

Friday, 1 September 2017

England GRO Website for BMD Certificates

The 1841-1911 decennial census returns for England and Wales are a wonderful tool for tracing a family back through time, but for married women the census returns do not provide a maiden name.

The FreeBMD online index to births marriages and deaths is another great tool, which can be useful for finding a marriage entry for these women, and thus a maiden name, but often there are several possible marriage entries, especially if the given name is Ann, Elizabeth, Mary or Sarah.  So after many years of researching, my database has accumulated a lot of women without surnames.

But the website of the General Record Office certificate ordering service is hugely helpful in finding these women's maiden names.  The search capability is intended to help you find the correct entry, when ordering birth or death certificates, but in the case of births, the search capability and the search results include the mother's maiden name, which on the FreeBMD website is only available from 1911.

If you know the mother's maiden name, it is easy to find all children born to a couple with surname x and mother's maiden name y over a 5 year period, which is useful for finding children who may have been born and died between census years, as long as the surname and maiden name are not too common.

If you know the names, district and approximate year of birth of a couple's children (obtained from the census), you can search for the birth reference of each child, and the search results will provide the mother's maiden name.  By searching for multiple children of the same couple, you can confirm that the mother's maiden name is the same for all children, pick up alternate spelling possibilities, and identify which children belong to which mother in cases where the father married more than once.

Once you have the woman's maiden surname, it is much easier to find her marriage entry in the FreeBMD online index.

I have just been through this exercise for all women without maiden names in my database, and have found the maiden name of at least 50% of them, which is a great improvement, considering that some were not in England or Wales and others did not have children born after 1837.

The GRO website has a similar helpful trick for early death entries.  The FreeBMD website identifies age at death from 1866, which is useful for isolating a death entry when there are multiple entries for the same name, but the GRO website provides age at death starting in 1837, so is helpful for earlier deaths.

Kudos to the GRO for providing this useful search functionality.