The Cassidy Matriarch – Mary Sweeney, 52 Ancestors #5

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The prompt for 52 Ancestors challenge for Week 3 2018 is ‘Longevity’.  I struggled to think which ancestor I could choose, after trawling through my tree of over 6000 people I could not find anyone who lived to be 100 or even 90.  I have chosen to tell the story of my 2nd great grandmother Mary Sweeney, also known as Mary Cassidy, who lived just short of 80 years, a woman who had a tough life from start to finish, a strong woman who outlived all but three of her 12 children.

Mary Sweeney, photo restored by M. Dann 2015

Arrival in Australia

On 22 January 1839 Mary emigrated to Australia aboard the Roxburgh Castle with brother Terence as a bounty immigrant. Mary was brought out by a Mr Marshall, her occupation listed as a housemaid or children’s maid, age 20.  Her character certified as very good, by persons in County Clare.  Bodily health, strength and probable usefulness also stated as good.  Roman Catholic and able to read.  C O’Gorman, curate of County Clare, has certified her baptism indicating the year as 1817.  Mary and Terence arrived in Sydney on 26th May 1839.

Roxburgh Castle

It took some time to determine the exact place of origin for Mary and Terence, but some clues were left throughout her life.  Both arrival records state their parents names as John and Johanna Sweeney from County Clare.

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Whilst Mary’s record states she is a native of Clare, Terence’s record indicates he is from Clones, County Clare.  This is not a valid place name for Clare and was suspected to perhaps be Clooney, a townland and civil parish in Clare.  Family stories suggest Mary used to proudly proclaim she was a native of Ennis, County Clare.

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It was the birth certificate of her daughter Margaret in 1859 that provided more information.  In this record Mary states her place of birth as Moresk, Co Clare, Ireland and that she was married in 1840 at Prospect.   It is believed that this is Moyriesk, a townland in County Clare.  Moyreisk townland is just over a square mile in size, and nearly all of it is located in Doora civil parish, with 77 acres in Clooney civil parish which aligns with the stated native place of Terence.  Mary gave this information herself so is more likely to be accurate.

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Irish Records

With some help from the Clare Heritage Organisation and the newly released Roman Catholic registers it appears that Mary was born in about 1816 and baptised on 21st May 1816 at Clooney, Clare, Ireland.  The daughter of John Sweeney of Rathclooney and Joan Enright.  Her sponsor at the time of baptism was noted as Catherine McNamara.

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Mary’s mother may have died shortly after her birth, as her father remarried on 30 April 1820.  A woman by the name of Honor MURPHY, the marriage registered at Tulla, Clare, Ireland.  Mary would have only been about four years of age at this time.  Parish baptism registers only started in Clooney in about 1816 and there are no other baptisms registered to John and Johanna (Joan), but there may well have been other siblings born before 1816. This would explain why no baptism record can be found for her brother Terence.  Being approximately 3 years older, it is presumed he was a full brother. 

Prior to her emigration to Australia conditions in Ireland were tough, with widespread hunger throughout the country in 1838.  Her father John and his new wife Honor went on to have at least another 8 children by 1839, half siblings to Mary and Terence.  No doubt a difficult time for all the family and not surprising that Terence and Mary who were by then aged 23 and 20 decided to take advantage of the colonial bounty system and emigrate to Australia.

Spouse and Family

Soon after arriving in the colony of New South Wales in 1839 Mary must have taken up with Thomas CASSIDY, a convict from Fermanagh Ireland who had been transported for life, but by that time had obtained his ticket of leave after serving as an overseer and constable.  The couple had their first child together in April 1841, John was given a private baptism at St Patricks Church Parramatta, he is listed as illegitimate and the record states his name as John CASSIDY or John SWEENEY probably to reflect that the couple were not married at this time.  We know that when Thomas was transported in 1830 that he had a wife and two children still living in Ireland so it is presumed he was still not free to marry.

Was the marriage date in the birth record of Margaret in 1859 just stated to account for having their first child in 1841, or was there really a marriage?  My uncle, Laurie Roberts, tried unsuccessfully to find a marriage as long ago as 1955.

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Mary and Thomas went on to have twelve children together.  The family bible gives more information about their children.  It is not known who completed this page and some of the information may have been recorded by different people. One child is not listed, the female twin of Patrick Thomas who died at birth in 1843.

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The family lived at Prospect, near Parramatta and the couple worked as farmers.  In a book written by Fr Peter Klein (about their grandson Phillip Cassidy) Mary is described as a ‘strongly built woman with fairer and wavy hair’.

Mary and Thomas had three children who died as infants, the female twin of Patrick Thomas in 1843, Austin at 7 days old in 1850 and Edward at 4 days old in 1851.  Her husband Thomas later died in 1862, aged about 62, after a long and painful illness.  He is buried in St Patricks Cathedral.  Mary was left a widow with 8 children to care for, although her eldest John was by this time about 21 and probably a great help to his mother.

It must have been heartbreaking when her son Phillip William died just 2 years later in 1864 at the young age of nine years.  His older sister Anna Maria following soon after in 1866, aged only 19.  Both are buried in St Patricks with their father.

Mary Cassidy – Farmer and Grazier

In 1871 Mary applied for and was granted a freehold lease of 140 acres of land in Glenn Innes, County of Gough, Parish of Beardy Plains. 

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The Glenn Innes area is rich in Celtic History, the original settlers were Scots, but many people of Irish descent followed.  Like many other Celtic families she made the trek north, close to 600 kilometres – quite an effort in those days. The rent was set at 13s 2d per annum. The property was known as Shannonvale.  

Glenn Innes, circa 1900

Having lost her husband in 1862 it was no doubt a tough move at age 54 to take up farming on her own. However, six of Marys seven surviving children also made the move later marrying there or in nearby towns.  Patrick Thomas was the only exception, he married in Liverpool but did later move to Glen Innes to be near his family.  Mary and her family worked hard and had success, continuing to acquire more property.  It appears she never married and remained independent throughout her life.

Glen Innes Examiner and General Advertiser (NSW : 1874 – 1908), Wednesday 28 April 1875, page 2

Free Selection. — The following selections were made at the local Land Office, on Thursday — Donald M’Master, 100 acres, county of Gough, parish of “Waterloo, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres. Mary Cassidy (widow), 160 acres, county of Gough, parish of Beardy Plains, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres.

Mary had to endure tough times as well.  It was not that long after the move north that she lost her son Patrick in 1879 aged 34.  Some time later in 1887 daughter Mary Clancy aged 39, eldest son John in 1888 aged 47 and youngest daughter Margaret Collopy in 1893 aged only 33.  All have elaborate headstones in Glenn Innes Cemetery, with the exception of Margaret who is buried in Rookwood Cemetery.  All headstones are annotated that they have been erected by their ‘affectionate mother’ suggesting Mary may have been reasonably affluent by that time, probably due to her successful farming endeavours.  

On 11 Mar 1896 Mary died aged about 80 years from anasarca (an accumulation of fluid in the body due to heart failure) and gastritis.  She is buried in the Cassidy family plot at Glen Innes with her children.  Her death certificate lists her occupation as ‘Farmer’, a comment that wasn’t lost on the various feminists in our family who were very proud of the fact that she had her own occupation and was so independent.

Mary was survived by only three of her children, Eliza BICKLEY who died in 1919, Terence who died in 1930 and lastly my great grandmother Rebecca MURPHY who died in 1931.

In 1987, 90 years after her death, I visited Mary’s grave at Glenn Innes with my son and Aunt and Uncle, Margaret and Lionel GILBERT.  The hair was quite wild in those days!

4 generations, including Mary

NSW probate papers indicate that at the time of her death in 1896 Mary’s estate was valued at 951 pounds, consisting of 940 pounds of real estate and 10 head of cattle, described as a ‘farmer and grazier’.  The real estate by this time consisted of 510 acres of freehold land valued at 780 pounds as well as lands and a cottage situated in Hunter Street, Glenn Innes valued at 160 pounds.  Much more significant holdings than when she first made the move in 1871.

Extract from will

In 2016 my husband and I visited the area known as Shannon Vale, the conditions today probably quite different than they were in Mary’s time, but no doubt it has always been rich and beautiful grazing land.  We discovered what appeared to be the Shannon Vale property but it is a much larger station today (over 3000 acres). 

DNA Analysis

It wouldn’t be fitting if I didn’t mention what we have found through DNA analysis in this post.  As I have mentioned in previous posts we now have a number of Mary’s descendants DNA tested.

Autosomal DNA Testing

It was wonderful back in 2016 to connect with my fourth cousin Torin who lives in the United States.  He is a descendant of Mary’s brother Terence, his great great grandson.  It was though our DNA matches that we were able to confirm we were all descended from a common ancestor using a technique called triangulation.  There are two segment areas on chromosome 12 where Torin currently shares DNA with multiple descendants of Mary.  This suggests these segments have been inherited from the same shared ancestor, in this case from one of their parents John Sweeney or Johanna Enright.  At this point we don’t know which, or it could be a combination of both.  It has also been confirmed that all testers all match each other in these same segment areas, which is the key test to prove a triangulated segment.

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mtDNA Testing

Mary is on my direct maternal line, so from the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test I took at Family Tree DNA we know that Marys mtdna is most likely Haplogroup J.  People bearing haplogroup J settled in Europe from the Near East during the late Paleolithic and Meliolithic periods.  Our sub clade J1c5 is aged between 8,300 and 13,000 years.  Screenshot 2018-01-23 09.15.59So far all I only have nine full sequence matches.  All of them are at a genetic distance of 3, which is not considered close enough to be of genealogical significance, our connection could be up to 1000 years ago!  They all lead to Ireland though, so that is promising.  Hopefully 2018 will bring closer matches to help further expand the line.

Descendants of Mary who inherited her mtdna should also belong to the J1c5 haplogroup.  You can see other known descendants (who are on Wikitree) in the DNA Descendants View at Wikitree by clicking here.

Y DNA testing

Mary being female doesn’t carry the Y chromosome but our match with Torin was doubly pleasing as he carries the Sweeney Y DNA, being in the direct paternal line.  We hope that in the future we will be able to make more discoveries regarding Mary and Terences father John Sweeney, but that will be the subject of a later post.

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As always, if you can help me further expand my research please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog, or by private message via Wikitree.

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Which Noll is it? 52 Ancestors #4

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The 52 Ancestors challenge for Week 2 2018 is ‘Favourite Photo’.  Those of you who know me would not be surprised about which photo I chose for this weeks challenge.  If you have been following my research you will known that one of my main brick walls is finding the father of my paternal grandmother Thelma Griffin, my great grandfather.  All we know is that he must have been in Adelaide, South Australia in about August 1903.

Unknown man

This of course isn’t the favourite photo, but solving the mystery of who he might be is one of my primary DNA goals.  I had my first DNA test in 2010, but it took nearly 7 years for me to be able to piece together enough match information to be able to come close to solving this mystery.

I’ve tested everywhere.  I’ve tested my mother everywhere.  I’m very lucky to have been able to do that.  After 7 years I’ve been able to find enough matches on my fathers paternal side to be able to be isolate matches that are probably on his mothers side.  I had a breakthrough at AncestryDNA in early 2017 where I found several 4th cousins who all matched each other and didn’t match any of my other paternal matches, so it was a high chance they were matches on my ‘unknown’ line.

As is the way, very few of these matches responded to me on AncestryDNA, but analysing one of the trees and seeing some South Australian ancestry enabled me to search for more possible matches.  I searched my more ‘distant’ matches for similar names, at all my testing sites and this led me to identifying some possible common ancestors.  I found several matches that all had one of two sets of possible 4th great grandparents in their trees.  From there I worked forward in time trying to identify likely ‘males’ who may have been in ‘the right place, at the right time’.  Then I worked back in time from my matches, making sure that all the matches still tracked back to these ancestors and that the DNA shared with them also seemed appropriate for the relationship.

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This research suggested that my mystery great grandfather may have been Prussian, descended from early emigrants to South Australia.  This could explain my high European West ethnicity, showing about 29% at AncestryDNA, when I can only account for about 3% from my known ancestry.  Although this ancestor should only account for approx 12.5%!

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Ethnicity information at 23andMe is much more interesting, they suggest my predicted German ethnicity is quite close, between 1840 -1900 – so if my theory is right it’s spot on!

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I need to say a big thank you to the South Australian Family History Groups who wrote such wonderful histories of the Noll, Wedding and Wohling families back in the 1970’s and all the wonderful pedigrees and photos that they included. It was through these books that I was able to piece together many of the connections between my DNA matches and my possible shared Prussian ancestors.

After extensive research I became fairly certain that I was descended from one of the sons of Johann Friedrich Wilhelm NOLL and Maria Elizabeth WOHLING.  The ‘Noll Family History 1850 -1976’ actually provided me with photos of these three sons.  This became my favourite photo for 2017.  I carried it around everywhere with me, often producing it for informal discussions over dinner, taking straw polls and comparing facial features!  What do you think?

3 brothers and us

The candidates

My great grandmother Edith (Edie) Griffin is stated as living in Croydon Adelaide in April 1904 when Thelma was born, aged 17, occupation machinist.  Interestingly, the youngest sister of the Noll brothers, Louisa Wilhelmina Noll, was exactly the same age and also worked as a machinist.  Edith grew up in Brompton and the Nolls lived close by, so perhaps Edith and Louisa were friends. They probably went to school together and may have worked in the same place too.  Croydon and Brompton are very close in proximity and may well be references to the same place.

Heinrich Charles Otto NOLL – In 1903, Henry was married to Anne Frances Balfour (nee Richards).  He was living in Brompton in 1902 at the time his son Alfred was born and had moved to Ridleyton by 1905.  He became a minister in 1911 and died in 1938 aged 58.

Friedrich Wilhelm NOLL – The eldest of the three brothers and in 1903 he was also married, to Anna Mabel Emery.  He had three children by this time, but two had died as infants and his wife Annie was said to have never recovered, suffering poor health for the rest of her life.   His fourth child was born in November 1903 so wife Annie would have been six months pregnant at the time Thelma was conceived.  He lived in West Street Brompton after he married in 1897, but by the time his daughter was born in 1903 he was living in Bowden and by 1909 in Hindmarsh. He died in 1933, aged 57.

Otto Eduard NOLL – The youngest of the Noll brothers and in 1903 he was 21 and single.  Perhaps the most likely candidate, still living at home in Brompton.  He married Laura Elizabeth NICHOLS in 1908 and died 20 years later in 1928, aged 45 – far too young.

DNA results so far…

To test my theory I managed to find a grandson of Otto (Cousin A) and his DNA test confirmed that we were quite closely related.  If Otto is my great grandfather then our relationship would be half 1st cousins once removed.  If Fred or Henry were my great grandfather then my relationship to Cousin A would be 2nd cousin once removed.  As luck would have it, after looking at the expected cMs for these relationships our match is somewhere between the two. Our shared DNA was between 164-210 cMs depending which testing site you looked at!  We also have a large X match at 74cMs, which does suggests a relationship via Maria Wohling.

Subsequently we both matched another descendant of Maria’s parents (Cousin B) which provides a triangulated match on the X chromosome suggesting the Wohling line is confirmed.  All three cousins match each other on identical segments.

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As far as chromosomes 1-22 go, Cousin A and I share on multiple segments many of which are not yet triangulated, but this is largely due to the fact that the 40+ matches we have at AncestryDNA have not uploaded their results to www.gedmatch.com, so they cannot be compared at the chromosome level.  The sheer number of matches that all fit this hypothesis are strong evidence (I believe) that I am on the right track.

Of the matches at AncestryDNA only six have uploaded their results to GEDmatch.  Triangulated matches have confirmed relationships to distant ancestors on both the Noll and Wohling sides, but more are needed.

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More DNA tests required…

Are you descended from any of the ancestors listed below?  Have you DNA tested?  If so, I would love to be able to compare our results at GEDmatch.   I am particularly interested in anyone descended from the three NOLL brothers and would be willing to fund autosomal DNA tests, on the understanding that results would be uploaded to GEDmatch.

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To access the tree at Wikitree, please click here.

As always, if you can help please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or via private message at Wikitree.

The Mysterious Mr Courtenay? 52 Ancestors #3

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Prompted by the new #52Ancestors challenge for 2018, I decided to revisit one of my favourite brick wall ancestors, my second great grandfather Arthur or is it George?  Courtenay or Courtney?  He is the father of my mothers grandmother Abigail (Courtney) Roberts who was born in 1871 in Woolwich, Kent, England.  It was this mystery that got me ‘started’ in genetic genealogy.  In 2010, I thought I may have solved the mystery through traditional research and wanted to test my theory via DNA testing.  At the time, I had expected some instant ancestors.  How naive that was!  Nearly 8 years on and I am still no closer to identifying him.  You can read about my many possible theories on his profile at Wikitree.

Tree_Courtney-408 (1)To access this tree at Wikitree, please click here.

Here are the facts.

The first record of Abigail’s father is found in the 1871 Census where the family was living at 14 Sun Street, Woolwich, Kent, England.  His name is recorded as Arthur G COURTENAY aged 30, born in Marylebone, Middlesex, England.  This suggests he was born in about 1841.  He is listed as the head of the family living there with wife Abigail (nee Paice), three daughters and a visitor nurse in attendance Ann Muggeridge who was also born in Marylebone, Middlesex, about 1821.  The census was taken on 2nd April 1871 and at that time he was unemployed, but his usual occupation was stated as a labourer in a brass works.

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The three daughters present in 1871 are 3 month old twins Abigail and Alberta, plus older sister Edith aged 3.  Research suggests that Edith is an illegitimate daughter of his wife Abigail, born December 1867 so presumably from a previous relationship.

And who is Nurse Ann Muggeridge?  She holds particularly interest for me given she was born in the same place as Arthur G, could she be a relative of some kind, there to help with the newborn twins?

Both Abigail and Alberta’s births were registered on 28 April 1871 stated as being born on 26 Mar 1871, which is slightly inconsistent with being 3 months old on census night on 2 April 1871.  On the birth certificate their fathers name is recorded as George William COURTNEY, a silver and brass moulder.  Their mother Abigail was the informant, so it is perhaps more likely that this might be the correct name of their father.

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The twins were baptised at St Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, Kent, England on 28th May 1871.  In this record the fathers name is once again stated as Arthur George COURTNEY, Brass Founder.

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Arthur is not found with his wife Abigail in any earlier or later censuses, or anywhere for that matter!  Nor can a marriage be found.  Neither Arthur nor Abigail nor Alberta can be found in the 1881 Census – where could they have gone?  By the time of the 1891 census Abigail is listed as a widow.  Had Arthur died or was this a way for Abigail to explain her circumstances having perhaps never married and then deserted?

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The only remaining record is that of his daughter Abigail’s death in Australia in 1925, the information was provided by grandson James George Roberts so it may not be entirely accurate.  In this record Abigail’s father is recorded as being George Arthur COURTNEY, a civil engineer. No trace can be found of her twin Alberta, it is also unclear when/where she died.  Interestingly, both Abigail’s sons were given middle names from her father, did she know him during her life?

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So is he George or Arthur, or even possibly William?  Is his surname Courtenay or Courtney?  For the purposes of the rest of this post, I plan to call him ‘George’.

Other anecdotal evidence from family stories may be relevant, or not?

  • My grandfather Edward Arthur Roberts states in his memoirs that his mother had some Irish in her make up which is presumed to have been a reference to her paternal line – could George have been of Irish descent?
  • My grandmother, Mona (Murphy) Roberts when asked by her children where in the South of Ireland their ancestors came from, the response was ‘Waterford and Wexford’.  Her ancestors – the Murphys, came from Wexford.  Could it be the Courtenay’s on their fathers side that came from Waterford?
  • My mother always said that the Courtney’s were talked about as being a bit ‘better’.  Did that mean more educated and upper crust?  Could they have been gentry of some sort?  Could Arthur George ‘COURTENAY’ – the name originally listed in the 1871 census, somehow be connected to the Courtenay’s of Devon or perhaps the Courtenay’s of Ballytransey, Cork?

DNA Testing Possibilities

YDNA – In the 1891 England Census, Georges wife Abigail is recorded as living with her grandson Albert COURTNEY aged 4.   I lived in hope for many years that this might also be a grandchild of George and that a YDNA test by a male descendant might be possible.  Unfortunately, Albert Edward COURTNEY was found to be the illegitimate son of Edith Courtney, the half sister of twins Abigail and Alberta.  As such he would only share DNA with ancestors of their mother Abigail Paice, not George Courtney.  Tragically, Albert died on 12 Oct 1918 in Syria World War 1, leaving no descendants.  I know of no other Courtney direct line male descendants.

mtDNA – As we don’t know anything about George’s siblings or parents we have no potential testers for a mitochondrial DNA test – yet!

atDNA – Since my initial test in 2010 there are now 7 descendants of George and Abigail who have taken autosomal DNA tests.  To date, only the ancestry of Abigail’s mother has been able to be confirmed.  Three of George’s great grandchildren, the ROBERTS siblings, have now been tested enabling the technique of Visual Phasing to be employed.  This method is being utilised to identify all the chromosomal segments that were inherited from Georges’s daughter Abigail Courtney and provides the best hope for tracing his origins in the future.

The Most Promising DNA match so far

Two first cousins, Sharon and Jon, whose shared ancestors are William Thomas FOSTER and Ivy Thomas WESTON share DNA with my family on a number of chromosomes, including chromosomes 4, 5, 9, 10 plus the X chromosome.  It is disappointing that no one in my family triangulates with both cousins on the same segment, however all our matches are in segment areas where these two cousins don’t share any DNA, so it is entirely possible that due to the random nature of DNA inheritance that these segments could still all have be inherited from the same common ancestor.

The Roberts siblings only have one paternal 1st cousin once removed who has tested that could have inherited Courtney DNA.  He does match Sharon on chromosome 9, but we currently have no way of confirming which of the paternal lines they match on.  Jon however matches my mother on the X chromosome.  Visual Phasing of the X chromosome confirms that the segment shared with the Jon was inherited from George’s daughter Abigail Courtney.  Due to the unique inheritance characteristics of the X chromosome, Jon could only have inherited the segment from a limited number of his maternal ancestors.

McLellan Jon

After some initial research, imagine my surprise when Sharon and I found Ann Muggeridge the nurse in attendance in 1871 (nee Webster, aka Ann Rudd), in Jon’s direct X chromosome inheritance path!  Surely, Ann must be a relative of some kind?  I’ve tried to contact other matches who triangulate on these segments, but there aren’t many and those who do either don’t reply or don’t know much about their ancestry.  Sigh, how disappointing!

If there is anyone out there who knows more about Ann or her relatives, and/or any possible connections to my George Courtney, I would love to hear from you!

Traditional Research Theories

As always, I am continuing to pursue possible theories associated with traditional genealogical research.  Whilst back in 2010 I was convinced that George Courtney of Shoreham, Sussex was my ancestor, today I am not so sure.   The following leads seem more likely – what do you think?

  • Henry Courtney – In 1881 George’s daughter Abigail and her half sister Edith are found living with William BROWN in Holdenhurst, Hampshire, England  It is unclear where her parents and twin sister Alberta have gone, as none can be found in the 1881 census.  In the small village of Holdenhurst there is a family of older female Courtney’s living there is 1881.  Could these be relatives of some kind?  These females are of the age to possibly be aunts of George.  Their heritage is traced back to Ireland to parents Henry Courtney and Sydney Gosselin from Dublin, Ireland. Henry’s mother was Anna Marie D’Olier.  The D’Olier family are known Huguenot emigrants to Ireland and one of their ancestors was said to have been imprisoned in France during the French Revolution.  My grandfather Edward Arthur Roberts was well known for his story that one of his ancestors was imprisoned during that time, a story that was often treated with much chagrin from his children, suggesting it was more likely that his ancestors were one of Madame Defarge’s compatriots!  Could there be some truth in this story?
  • George Courtney– this George was born in Middlesex in 1843, he is married to a woman named Sarah, living in Staffordshire and working as a brass dresser in 1881.  Could this be him?  Could he be connected to Henry in some way?
  • Of course, there is also still George Courtney from Shoreham Sussex born 1842, who was my original suspect due to a range of circumstantial evidence.

This photo is believed to be George’s daughter Abigail Courtney at school in England.  Could it have been taken in Holdenhurst?  She’s said to be the one with the scarf around her neck near the tear on the bottom left hand corner.

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George Courtney continues to be a brick wall for me, I’ve chased down every possible George and Arthur I could find – they are all on Wikitree.  Can you help?  I would love to hear from anyone who has any ideas about how these families might be connected.  Of course, contact from any potential DNA testers of descendants of any of these families would also be welcomed.

If you can help please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or via private message at Wikitree.

Stephen Cassidy or ‘Captain Rock’? My 3rd Great Grandfather. 52 Ancestors #2

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The Australian Context

My fascination for the Cassidy’s probably stems from the fact I was always told told by my grandmother Mona Murphy Roberts that I was like her mother Rebecca.  She used to say I was the only one of her grandchildren that could sing the Irish songs, even though my mother used to protest that I was the least Irish of all her grandchildren. When I started doing family history in earnest in 2006 I was very surprised to find that I was actually a fourth generation Australian on my mothers side! My grandmother and all her relations used to proudly say that they were Irish.  Well they were, but their ancestors had been in Australia since the early 1800’s! My great grandmother Rebecca Cassidy was born in Australia in 1852, she reputedly rode sidesaddle and was considered the finest horsewoman in the New England district.  That wasn’t a skill I inherited but it could explain my canny luck with the horses!  

Rebecca CASSIDY c 1880

Rebecca c1880

It was always said in Mum’s family that the Cassidy’s were holier than the Pope.  The Murphy side, were supposedly the black sheep and scallywags!  Not surprising as Rebeccas first cousin Phillip Cassidy (1848-1922) was recognised as the first ‘Australian Born’ ordained priest (aka Brother Melitus).  He reached the status of Venerable Archdeacon (from what I’ve read, that is only two levels away from being made a saint!).  His work with the Australian Indigenous population in the small town of Moyura in Southern New South Wales was particularly of note.  There were many others who took up religious professions on the Cassidy side of the family, including Phillips sister Catherine – the first ‘Australia Born’ postulant of the Good Samaritans, who designed the ceiling of the Rosebank Chapel at Five Dock.

CASSIDY Phillip Catholic Weekley 1922

Phillip Cassidy

Who would have thought they were of convict stock!  It was through the association of Rebecca and Phillip that we were first able to trace the family connection, their fathers Thomas and Phillip being brothers.  My third cousin Marnie, a Cassidy descendant, later sourced a book written by Father Peter Klein about the ecclesiastical life of Father Phillip Cassidy. In the first chapter he talks about the Cassidy’s roots in Ireland and suggests they came to Australia as early farming pioneers.  In reality they were convicts, now proudly referred to in Australia as ‘Australia Royalty’.

Crime and Punishment

The Cassidy brothers, Thomas, Phillip and Edward were convicted and transported for life, for reputedly throwing a horse over the precipice at Cullaigh, Belmore Mountain, Fermanagh.

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Courtesy Boho Heritage Organisation

They were sent to Australia on board the Hercules II in 1830. Whilst their father Stephen was also charged, he obtained a reprieve on account of his age and newspaper reports suggest he was to be imprisoned for 2 years, whilst his 3 sons were transported for life. It seems odd that he was not transported along with his sons, as many persons of advanced years were.  What became of him remains a mystery.

Hercules II 1830

Hercules II 1830

In about 1874 Peter Magennis wrote a story that included information about Stephen that was published in the Lisbellaw Gazette 1879-89 called ‘The Treasurer, A Story of the Great Irish Famine’.  This series was kindly given to me by local historian Seamus MacAnnaidh in 2009. Whilst the work is a mix of fact and fiction Magennis indicates Stephen was probably over 70 years of age in 1835, so he may have been born as early as 1765, he also says Stephen had a large family.  Stephen is described as a senarchy (sennachie) which is understood to mean ‘one occupied in the study of traditional history, genealogy and legend’.   Magennis suggests he was the best senarchy and historian in the country.

Secret Societies?

We don’t know much about Stephen Cassidy.  In Father Kleins book it says he was based with the military at the garrison in Fermanagh in the North of Ireland and was referred to as ‘an outstanding young catholic captain‘.  We now know that Stephen was from Boho, near Enniskillen and lived in the townland of Gortgall, where there is a nearby village called Garrison.  As a Catholic, it seems unlikely that Stephen would have been a captain in the British Army and it is more likely that the term ‘captain’ may have been a nickname.

The 1820’s were a turbulent time in Ireland with many disputes between landlords and tenants. Protestants and Catholics. The Cassidys had been evicted from their land in 1826.  Catholic Emancipation being finally gained by 1829.

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A number of newspaper references suggest that Stephens landlord Reverend Andrew Clarke wanted the Cassidy’s ‘out of the country’ (the inference being transportation) and that there had been previous litigation between the Cassidys and Clarke.  It was also implied that the local prosecutor Henry Fausett may have been offered money to prosecute the Cassidy’s.

One newspaper article in 1828 reports that Stephen and his son Thomas (my second great grandfather) were charged with making threats and menacing James McCourt of Upper Gortgall, near Garrison on 7th April 1828.  McCourt was the new tenant now residing on their old land, having lived there for about a year.   The evidence suggests that McCourt believed the intruders to be the Cassidy’s, also stating there were references to the murder of Dominic Noone and that the intruder making the threats referred to himself as ‘Captain Rock’, known to be the leader of the local group of Ribbonmen. The Ribbonmen were an agrarian secret society, their objective to prevent landlords from changing or evicting their tenants.  Whilst McCourt stated he didn’t see the intruders he said he had previously chased ‘Captain Rock’ and knew his voice.  The court returned a verdict of not guilty for both Stephen and Thomas, but could this be the reason Stephen was known as the outstanding young ‘Captain’?   There is a lot more information about the Ribbonmen and the murder of Dominic Noone at Derrygonnelly in Peter Magennis’ earlier  book ‘The Ribbon Informer”, but Stephen Cassidy is not mentioned by name in that account.

Later in July 1829, around the time of Orangeman’s Day there was an incident that is well known in Irish sectarian history, known as the Macken Fight. The persons involved in the incident were tried on the same day as the Cassidy brothers and also transported to Australia on the Hercules II in 1830.  Whilst our Cassidy’s were not named as being involved, there was a Hugh CASSIDY named in some reports but he was not among those finally charged and I have yet to identify him.

It was somewhere between 9-12 September 1829 when the horse owned by Andrew Whaley (a protestant tenant) was driven off the lands of Upper Gortgall, near Moyleat, Belmore Mountain into the precipice. References differ about the date but most suggest it was the night before the Enniskillen Fair, probably 10 September.  The Cassidys were charged, the Belfast News reporting on 22nd Sep 1829 the exact location of incident on Upper Gortgall lands and the effects on the horse. The report also suggested there had been many ‘degradations’ over the last few years since the Cassidy’s were ejected from their lands. Thomas may have been living at Tobradan by this time.  At the trial,  Stephen refers to Andy Flanagan, concerned about what had happened to him.  I have been unable to determine whether there is any significance in this comment?

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Could the events at Macken and the charges against the Cassidys be linked?  The Cassidys continued to claim their innocence over the horse incident.   If Stephen was involved with the Ribbonmen and was their leader it does seem probable that he may also have been connected to the events at Macken.  Was Reverend Andrew Clarke instrumental in bringing into play his desire to see the Cassidy’s deported?

Where Stephen was imprisioned remains a mystery.  I have been unable to source any relevant gaol records, or find a death record.  However, given his age Stephen would have died before civil registration was introduced in Ireland.

The  ‘extended’ Cassidy Family

Stephen was married to Catherine Britton, the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, who had abandoned her faith and become a Catholic when she married Stephen, which at the time would have been known as a ‘mixed’ marriage.  To date, we know the couple had at least three sons, but it is suspected that the family would have had many more children as Peter Magennis also suggests.

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Several other potential family members Cassidy’s have been identified during this research.  Could they be connected to our family?  If anyone out there has information to share,  I would love to hear from you.

  • Pat Carron was uncle to Andrew and Catherine Cassidy.  He was transported on Hercules II in 1830 for his involvement at Macken, he may be the same person who was involved at Inismore riot in 1824.
  • James Keenan was also transported in 1830 on Hercules II for his involvement at Macken.  His wife was named Mary Cassidy, they had a daughter Ann, both of whom remained in Ireland due to Marys ill health.
  • Patrick Cassidy born c1790, m Mary McCaffery  The Derrygonnelly Cassidy article by Janet Cassidy-Strop, outlines more detail.  The geographic closeness of Patrick is of particular interest as well as the suggestion of the family’s involvement in Ribbonism.
  • Hugh Cassidy involved in the events at Macken.  Hugh Cassidy born 1827 is too young to be the Hugh Cassidy suggested as being involved in the events at Macken, but perhaps his father Owen Cassidy born abt 1788, also from Derrygonnelly, may have had a brother Hugh?  Could Owen be connected to Patrick? Or, perhaps our Stephen might also have another son or brother named Hugh?  
  • Stephens son Thomas Cassidy was also said to have left a wife in Ireland with two daughters.  No application was made for her to join him in Australia so perhaps she may have died soon after Thomas’ transportation?
  • John Cassidy is listed in Griffiths Valuation in 1859 at Tobradan where Thomas Cassidy previously rented lands before his transportation.  John is married to a Mary Maguire, whose father is probably named Patrick.  They have a son Owen, who married Margaret Wynne.  Also living in Tobradan townland at that time is another James Keenan.
  • There are also number connections to the McManus family, including several involved at Macken, however it is quite a common name.

The Y-DNA story

In late 2010 I became interested in DNA testing soon afterwards I began looking for a male CASSIDY to help me confirm the CASSIDY line back to Ireland.  Enter Des Cassidy my third cousin!  He did an autosomal test for me in 2012. I soon followed that up with a Y-DNA test in 2013, looking for our extended Cassidy line back in Ireland. We had no Y-DNA matches for the first two years – none at all, not even at 12 markers!  It wasn’t until 2014 that we got our very first Y-DNA match, we had to upgrade to 67 markers to finally get it!  A Cassidy from the USA who listed his oldest known ancestor as Patrick, that’s all, no years, no locations and uncontactable.  How frustrating!

By 2016 Oliver Cassidy from Ireland tested, his ancestor Owen lived at Coolarkan a short distance from Stephen at Gortgall and we thought perhaps they may have been brothers.  Oliver matched both Des and our US Cassidy at 67 markers and whilst the matches suggest a patrilineal relationship, it is more likely that Stephen and Owen were cousins when you look at the genetic distances of the two matches.  With the help of another US Cassidy descendant Don, a 4th cousin once removed, we were able to trace the ancestors of our mysterious match, identifying his oldest ancestor as James Cassidy 1861-1840 from Derryrealt Cavan, very close to the border of Fermanagh.  I suspect James was the son of the Thomas Cassidy from Drumcask, Cavan who was listed in Griffiths Valuation in 1859, his wife Mary McManus.  As can be seen on the map below, the places where all three ancestors lived is quite close, particularly Owen and Stephen, with Thomas not too far away at 25 kilometres.

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Autosomal DNA

It was autosomal DNA tests that gave us the breakthrough we were looking for to confirm our relationships back to Stephen.  Des’ initial autosomal test confirmed the relationship of our family back to Thomas and Mary Cassidy our Australian convict ancestor, but it wasn’t until early this year that we managed to get back to Ireland.

Earlier in the year we confirmed the relationship of our family back through another son of the Cassidy family, James.  An X chromosome match with my US cousin Don, enabled us to confirm Stephens wife as being Catherine ‘Kitty’ Britton.  To read more about how we identified Kitty through DNA and our relationship through her son James, please refer to my earlier blog post, by clicking here.  It’s a long story and for another post, but I have long wondered whether this James is actually Edward, one of the three brothers transported to Australia, who escaped the colony in 1833 and was said to have gone to the United States.

Leaving that aside, we now have autosomal results from descendants of Thomas, Phillip and James that confirm the three brothers are all from the same family.  We have no less than five triangulated segments and two more on the way!  Chromosomes 1, 4 and 21 are the only ones that triangulates all three brothers, but we are close on the others as you can see.  These segments must be coming from the ancestral couple of Stephen Cassidy and Catherine Britton.  It might take some time to unravel which segments belong to which side of the family but its a great start!

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Whilst I am currently aware of 13 DNA testers whose ancestry can be traced back to Stephen and his wife Catherine there must be more out there. We know the brothers had at least 33 children between them, potentially more if we could identify more siblings.  Unfortunately so far, the descendants of Stephen do not share any autosomal DNA with either of our Y-DNA matches, but that is not surprising given that those genetic relationships may be much further back in time.  However, you never know what new tests might reveal.  If you have tested your DNA and think you might be related to this family, please let me know.  I would love to compare results, but results need to be uploaded to GEDmatch for comparison.  The chart below outlines our new possible family, taking into account ‘possible’ relationships based on Y-DNA testings!

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The Clan Gathering – July 2017

It was a great thrill on our trip to Ireland in July this year to actually stand on the spot near Eagles Knoll on Belmore Mountain where the horse was reputedly thrown from the precipice after my many years of researching the Cassidy story.  Special thanks must go to the efforts of a lot of people from the Boho Heritage Organisation, especially my ‘predicted’ 4th cousin once removed cousin Oliver Cassidy.  It was a delight to finally meet Oliver and his family.  It doesn’t look like much of a precipice in this photo, but take a look at the surprise BBC coverage of the event here.

At the Cassidy Clan Gathering I was appointed to the Executive Committee as the DNA officer.  I hope to be able to assist members to connect with other Cassidy’s around the world.  If you are a Cassidy and have tested your DNA please join our Facebook group.

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Our newly formed Cassidy ‘cousin’ Clan – Oliver, Magdalan, Des, Donna and Veronica

You can read more about the Clan Gathering at both the Cassidy Clan website and in my private travel blog rayver33 – Here and There.  If you need access, just ask.

As always, if you can help me expand my research please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or via private message at Wikitree.

References

  1. Belfast Newsletter, 6 April 1830.  Indicates transportation for life. Identical article in Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet, 6 Apr 1830, p4.  Identical article in Impartial Reporter, Apr 1830.
  2. Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet, 31 July 1828, p1.
  3. Excerpt from Rituals and riots: sectarian violence and political culture in Ulster, 1784-1886 By Sean Farrell.
  4. Belfast News 22nd Sep 1829, p4.
  5. Most of the sources for my Cassidy research have been published on Wikitree and can be found here.

Meet Catherine ‘Kitty’ Britton, thanks to the X chromosome, 52 Ancestors #1

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It is very true that DNA is just one tool in the genealogists basket, but it is wonderful when it can come together and help to validate theories established by traditional research.  Confirming the identity of Catherine Britton as my maternal 3rd great grandmother has been one of my goals for about 10 years. Her name has now been confirmed thanks to DNA testing and my first ancestor to be confirmed using the X chromosome.

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I started seriously researching my family history in about 2006.   One of the first exciting discoveries I had was finding out that Thomas Cassidy (my maternal 2nd great grandfather) was a convict transported to Australia on Hercules II in 1830, along with his two brothers Phillip and Edward for throwing their landlords horse off a cliff!  Their father Stephen was also imprisoned. Edward escaped from the colony in 1833 but both Thomas and Phillip had families and died in Australia – but more about the Cassidy’s in another post! This is about their mother, now known to be Catherine, or Kitty Britton.

Traditional Genealogy

Both the death certificates of sons Thomas and Phillip who died in Australia list their mothers name as ‘Unknown Britton’. After exhaustive searching I was unable to find any records in Australia that indicated her first name.  There are no parents names on the convict indents but they do indicate their native place as being Fermanagh, Ireland. Thomas’ death certificate suggested he was from Bow, Fermanagh, which we subsequently identified as being the small hamlet and Civil Parish of Boho, near Enniskillen.

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It was my 3rd cousin Marnie who first alerted me to a possible marriage record on the IGI.  The record had been submitted by a member of the LDS church in the US by a woman by the name of Mary Fear (now deceased). This record indicated a marriage between Stephen CASSIDY and Catherine BRITTEN in Ennis, Killeen, Ireland in 1809.  Could this be them?  At the time we had thought this may have been a reference to Ennis in County Clare. Clare and Fermanagh are not next door to each other, so could it be a different couple?  The record suggested Catherine was born in abt 1788.  At the time I had no way to contact Mary to find out more information.  Thomas and Phillip were born before 1809.  

It seemed a long shot, these US Cassidy’s descended from a James Cassidy and Margaret McElroy presumably who emigrated from Ireland before 1828.  At the time of this discovery, my aunt Mary ROBERTS (now deceased) was very keen to have these connections confirmed, she was thrilled with the fact they had named one of their descendants Jefferson Davis Horan, having long been a supporter of the Southern cause.  A pity she couldn’t be here to celebrate.

It was Marnie again who turned up the only document we have that tells us a bit about the family’s history in Ireland.  It is actually a book written about the ecclesiastical life of Father Phillip Cassidy (Catherines grandson) who was the 1st Australian born ordained priest.  The first chapter talks about the Cassidy’s roots in Ireland, this is what he says about their mother, who we now know is Catherine:  

”She renounced the church at the beginning of the 19th century which her forefathers had followed for over 200 years, and returned to the church of her earlier ancestors, to the Holy Catholic faith and married an outstanding young catholic captain Stephen Cassidy.’’(Source:  Fr Peter Charles Klein SYD, Life of Father Philip Cassidy, PP Archdeacon, Benedictine Monks, Arcadia, NSW, Fr Peter Charles Klein SYD).

Brittons of Boho, Fermanagh

Armed with this information I tried to find records in Ireland of Britton’s who were clergymen.  It was then I first made contact with Ruth, an avid Britton researcher in the UK who has become one of my ongoing correspondents, as we agonise over these Brittons.  Her Britton family were indeed clergymen in the Church of Ireland and were from Tullyholvin, a townland also in the Civil Parish of Boho.  Ruth’s oldest known Britton ancestor is James Britton/Britain, who married Mary Laird, born abt 1788.  Could he be a brother of Catherine?  We only know Catherine had a brother named Thomas.  In 1828 Thomas Britton was living at nearby Mullaghdun Townland about 3 and a half miles from the Cassidy family, he was married had only one son and at least one daughter. It would not be surprising if the family was much larger. 

Some time after this I met Don online who was a descendant of the US James CASSIDY (believed to be the son of Catherine Britton and Stephen Cassidy). Don told me of a relation who he understood had a family bible which he was hoping to inspect.  It turned out this was Mary Fear the person who had originally submitted the IGi record.  Shortly afterward in 2010 I stumbled upon the email address for Mary Fear on the internet, so I quickly wrote to her about the family bible.   Mary kindly copied the bible pages for me even though she was very unfamiliar with scanning, it showed the births, deaths and marriages of the family.  Mary told me the bible pages had been given to her by her aunt, Hortense Horan, prior to her death.  

From my observation it looked as if someone had later tried to make sense of the some of the information and added to it after it had been originally recorded, particularly for the later entries.  However what was clear was that the parents of James, were recorded as Stephen Cassidy and Catherine/Kitty Britton, and indicated that James married Margaret (Granny) McElroy in Enniskillen, Ireland.

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It seems likely that the IGI record for Catherine Brittens birth was estimated based on this record.  If James was born in 1810, then a marriage in 1809 and a birth date for Catherine of 1788 suggests she would have been at least 21. So it is plausible that the marriage could have been much earlier, and consequently her birth date also much earlier too.  Her husband Stephen was not transported due to his age in 1830, so perhaps both could have been much older, or not.  

DNA testing

About this time I became interested in DNA testing and tried to encourage all my Cassidy/Britton contacts to have theirs tested too, hoping to solve this mystery or at least confirm a connection.  It was early days and I didn’t have much joy there.  

We made our first visit to Enniskillen in 2011, examining the headstones in both the Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland cemeteries at Boho looking for clues, we found some headstones for other Britton’s, could they be connected to our family?

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Roman Catholic Church, Boho

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Church of Ireland, Boho

Fast forward to 2014, Ruth agreed to do a DNA test for me.  We had by now several of my family members tested and we hoped we would get a match.  Alas no, not to any of my direct family anyway but she did have a very large match on chromosome 17 with my second cousin John.  The segment range 62.2 – 75.3, segment length 32.9cMs.  Whilst it may include an old population segment (Identical by population – IBP), which could explain the size, I believe well over half of the match to be an ‘identical by descent’ (IBD) segment.  

John and Ruth would be 4th cousins once removed if Catherine and James Britton were siblings, so a match this large might be considered unusual. There are however multiple people who triangulate in this same segment area, and whilst we cannot definitively confirm a connection the segment is shaping up to possibly being a Britton segment, or at least one from Fermanagh. At least two others have links with the name Britten or Fermanagh, the known ancestors in this triangulated group are shown below.  

If anyone has more information on how these families might connect please let me know.  I live in hope I might get more responses from others who also triangulate on this segment.

Using visual phasing techniques for my mother and her two siblings, then John and his uncle, we have established that my mother and her brothers all inherited the same DNA from the same maternal ancestor on these segments on chromosome 17.  Their first cousin Michael (Johns uncle) also appears to have inherited the same segment as the Roberts siblings.  So John may have inherited this segment from the opposite maternal grandparent (to that of the Roberts siblings and Michael).

Unfortunately, we have no other confirmed matches on chromosome 17 to give us more clues about which grandparent gave them the segment, so the question remains – is Johns segment the Britton line, or is it a segment belonging to his mothers paternal side? 

Details of the triangulated groups can be found here.   

 

The X chromosome

In studying Ruth’s matches one day I discovered that she and I had an X match. Funnily enough Ruth and I are possibly related on two lines, she is also a 4th cousin once removed to me on my paternal side, shared ancestors Thomas Ellard and Elizabeth Risley.  However when I checked our possible X DNA ancestors, neither Ellard/Risley or unknown Britton could have contributed to her X-dna, so this match was probably just ‘identical by chance’ (IBC).  So once again, we have nothing to confirm!

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Imagine my surprise, when recently Don’s name popped up in my AncestryDNA matches!  How exciting, he matched me and my mother.  After he uploaded his results to GEDmatch I was very quick to examine how he matched all our known Cassidy/Britton connections.  He had quite good size matches with my mother and one of her brothers Barry and their 1st cousin Michael, however none of them triangulated.  Don and Mum (and her brothers) would be 3rd cousins twice removed so we needed triangulation to confirm the relationships.

As I was getting dismayed, I suddenly remembered I hadn’t looked at the matches on the X chromosome.  Hallelujah!  We have a triangulated segment, between Don and two cousins, Michael and Mums brother (another John), different descent lines, triangulated between locations 99.7-115.4, about 14cMs.  

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The two other cousins who match Don follow a similar X inheritance path, just on their maternal side, both being male.  The following image is my X chromosome inheritance path, but the X inheritance paths for both cousins follow the same ancestral lines back from Rebecca, and descend from different children.  

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At last, we have confirmation that the US and Australian families are connected and finally our “Unknown’ Britton has a first name, Catherine or perhaps ‘Kitty’ Britton!!  But, we still haven’t managed to connect her to other Brittons in Fermanagh by DNA, that is still works in progress.

Onward and upward

When we visited Boho in 2011, my husband and I went to ‘The Linnet Inn’ and had a Guiness to toast my Cassidy ancestors, thinking they would have gathered in this very same place.   It was many years later that I found out the original owners of this wonderful establishment were none other than Ruth’s Tullyholvin Brittons!  Could there be a Britton ancestral connection to this place for us as well?  I hope to be having another visit here when several of Catherine’s descendants will be meeting in Enniskillen for the 2017 Cassidy Clan Gathering!

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The Linnet Inn, Boho 2011

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Having a quiet drink at the Linnet Inn, 2011

By now Ruth and I have amassed a possible family for our Catherine and her James.  We can’t confirm it yet, we need your help.  Anyone descended from the Britton/Britten/Britain families of Fermanagh, please consider DNA testing.   It is our strong belief that most of the Brittons in the area were related.

For a list of Catherine’s known descendants please click here.

Here is a list of the other possible family members, please contact me if you have any further information about them, their ancestors and/or descendants:-

Catherine Britton bef 1788 m Stephen Cassidy, at least 4 sons

Thomas Britton bef 1780? – married with son and daughter

James Britton bef 1788 m Mary Laird, at least 11 children.  Descendants in UK and Canada.

John Britton bef 1785 m Mary Hamilton, at least 7-10 children (one DNA match so far, but not triangulated).  Some descendants in Australia.

William Britton bef 1786, at least one son Noble Britton

Margery Britton bef 1800 m William Elliot, at least one son Robert Britton Elliot.  Some descendants in Australia.

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Ruth in Boho Fermanagh, 2004

The X Ancestors of Catherine

One final point of interest is in relation to Catherine parents.  In examining other potential matches on the X chromosome, it may suggest that either Catherines paternal grandmother or more likely her mothers family, may have had German ancestry. Baden Wuttenberg being a common location.  The Brittons may well have come from Scotland or England during the Plantation of Ulster, but could her mothers family be German Palatines?  Time will tell…….perhaps we will discover more when we visit Enniskillen again later this year!

Postscript….

After writing this article I had another discovery.  I’ve been staring at an ‘anonymous’ predicted 3rd cousin match at 23andMe listing the surname Cassidy, for several months.  I was recently finally transitioned to the ‘new’ 23andMe experience, which allowed us to contact anonymous matches, which we couldn’t do on the ‘old’ experience.  I quickly made contact and found this person was indeed another descendant of Catherine Britton, from her son Phillip!   Remarkably she matches my mother and I on the same segments on Chromosome 1 as we match Don.  I long to be able to get her onto GEDmatch to make sure she matches Don, then we would have another confirmed triangulated segment!

Finally in closing, it is with great sadness I have to report that Michael Stevens, my mothers first cousin referred to in this post, passed away in the last week after a long illness.  Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time. However, his DNA sample lives on and we hope in time it will provide many more clues for his descendants and extended cousins on their journeys to discover more about their ancestral origins.

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Michael Stevens  1937 – 2017, circa mid 1960’s

As always, if you can help me expand my research please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or via private message at Wikitree.

An historic event – 52 Ancestors, DNA confirmed!

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The journey so far

A momentous milestone was achieved last month, and no, it wasn’t that I have written about ANY of my ancestors for the 52 ancestors challenge, the main reason for starting this blog site 2 years ago!  At the time, I was very enthusiastic and excited by the thought of the project but I must have known I couldn’t keep up the weekly challenge given the tagline ‘starting small!’  It’s probably fitting that my inaugural post is about my genetic research, when you think of how totally obsessed I have become with solving various mysteries associated with my ancestral roots in the past few years.

Cause for celebration –  I now have 52 confirmed DNA ancestors!  It has however been a long hard slog and don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy.  You might think 52 confirmed ancestors is a lot, but if we go out 7 generations (that’s to 6th cousins) we all have a total of 254 direct ancestors who may have contributed to our DNA.  So after 6 years since my Family Finder autosomal test with FTDNA I am about 20% of the way there, but don’t forget much of what I have achieved so far is what they call ‘low hanging fruit!’  Of those 52, 28 of those are clearly confirmed and the remaining 24 we have confirmed connections back to 12 sets of ancestral couples.

To start doing DNA research, getting your head around the 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is the most important first step, no one can explain that better than Roberta Estes.  Reading her stories about how DNA has helped her in understanding her family history as part of the 52 ancestors challenge is always inspiring.

I just thought I’d share some quick comments about my progress to date on each of the 4 Kinds of DNA:

Y-DNA

Passed down from father to sons.  Being female I don’t have any Y-DNA passed to me from my father.  A common problem in our family, particularly on my maternal side, is that the male line had a tendency to die out.   So I have had to rely on the generosity of other extended male family members to help me.  So far, I have test kits for my COAT, ROBERTS, CASSIDY and SWEENEY lines.  I am still searching for possible candidates for my BRADLEY, GRIFFIN and MURPHY lines.  In particular the COAT line has given me loads of interesting follow up research, but I’ll tell you more about that in a subsequent post! These tests helped me confirm 7 of my 52 ancestors, so 13%.

Mitochondrial DNA – better known as mtDNA.

Only females can take this test, but unlike Y-DNA which only gets passed down to sons, women pass this on to all their children.  I had the full sequence mtDNA test back in early 2011 and six years later only have six matches and all of them at a genetic distance of 3, which many say is too far out to worry about!  My maternal haplogroup is J1c5, it is said to have originated between 8-13,000 years ago, European, but often found in West Asia, South Asia, Central Asia or North Asia.  My maternal line traces back to County Clare in Ireland.  By contrast, my fathers maternal haplogroup (which I was able to obtain by testing a distant cousin), is H1a1e, also European and originating 15-20,000 years ago, also found at significant frequency in the Near East and in some Middle Eastern populations.  It is the most common haplogroup for most Europeans being about 14% of the population. Consequently, it is not so surprising that we have 192 full sequence matches, with 37 of them a genetic distance of 1.  Unfortunately, no DNA confirmations have yet come from these two tests.

Autosomal DNA

I like to think of this as the ‘cousins’ test.  It’s the part I love best, trying to untangle lines and identify where your DNA segment matches are coming from, a great big puzzle! Unlike Y-DNA and mtDNA it can’t just be attributed to one person up the line, but any of them! This means finding other cousins to compare your results to.  You can either recruit more testers or just build on your results as you find matches.  Every new confirmed match is a clue to finding more matches.  The remaining 45 confirmed ancestors (including the 12 couples) I have found from this type of analysis.  After about 5 years of research I was only up about 17 of these, mainly confirmations of my known tree through targeted testing.  In 2015, I reached a turning point, a Mac version was released of Genome Mate Pro and I haven’t looked back.  The program helps you be systematic in your approach to your research and results show for themselves. If you haven’t used it yet, I’d encourage you to give it a go, it’s a free download and they have a great support network.

X chromosome

Not to be confused with mtDNA,  the X chromosome has special inheritance patterns and in theory can help you find your common ancestor.  I’ve had a lot of fun colouring in my charts which you can find on The Genetic Genealogist, by Blaine Bettinger which I do for all my known cousins so I know when ‘X’ might be relevant.  I haven’t had any success, YET, in having this help me confirm any ancestors but it has helped me narrow down the possibilities for some of my autosomal matches.

screenshot-2016-11-06-07-17-48See my full tree at Wikitree !

Why did I start this and where to from here?

I started out on my DNA journey to test a theory about my very elusive 2nd great grandfather, the father of Abigail COURTNEY, Arthur George COURTENAY or is it really George William COURTNEY?  I am no closer to finding him than I was when I started but I have now finally established that there are no known male descendants who may have carried his Courtney Y-DNA.  So, its only autosomal testing that can help me – one segment at a time!

The other major goal is to identify the father of my paternal grandmother, Thelma Irene GRIFFIN.  The mystery man who must have been in Adelaide, South Australia around 1903. I am in search of cousins from her known GRIFFIN line to help me isolate that DNA from the segments I have inherited from her father.  I thought I had a contender, right place, right time, but as will happen with DNA, subsequent testers have proven that those segments came from my fathers paternal side.  Back to the drawing board….  If you are a Griffin cousin please let me know if you are interested in helping with this research.

Bye for now, back to marking DNA match segments for me.  Hope it won’t be another 2 years between posts!