Finally, I think I’m a MacNamara!

For many years I have been researching my Irish roots attempting to bridge the gap in paper records through the power of DNA analysis. I recently wrote about my Sweeney family who came from the townlands of Rathclooney and Moyriesk in County Clare. You can read about them here.

From DNA matching, I have long felt that the MacNamaras, McInerney’s and McMahons must have had close associations with our family. I’ve been told that every second person in Clare was named MacNamara so perhaps it’s not that surprising. However our trip to Ireland in 2017 was to reveal more close associations to the family.

We had known from Mary Sweeney’s baptism record in 1816 (my maternal second great grandmother) that her sponsor was Catherine MacNamara. Who was Catherine and how was she related? Sponsors were usually close family members.

1816 Baptism of Mary Sweeney

It was in my discussions with Antoinette from the Clare Heritage Genealogy Centre in 2017, that she told me of a conversation she had more than 20 years ago with Joseph MacNamara who had acquired the landholding at Rathclooney. He had told her that after the death of Thomas Sweeney in 1960, the Rathclooney property had been transferred to Lizzie MacNamara and subsequently to himself. Who were these MacNamaras and how were they connected to the Sweeney’s?

Later that same day, we had a chance discussion with neighbour John Daffy who said he ‘barely remembered Thomas Sweeney when he lived at Rathclooney’. However he was able to tell me that Lizzie and Joe MacNamara had lived there together, he didn’t think they were related as Joe wasn’t ‘entitled’ but recalled that Lizzie may have been a niece of the Sweeney’s. Lizzie had lots of brothers and was the housekeeper for Thomas Sweeney who had never married. John thought Lizzie might have come from Drunmore but had lived most of her life in the Barefield-Ruan area. The final interesting piece of information, was that Lizzie and Joe were buried together in the nearby Clooney cemetery.

The headstone at Clooney describes a number of family members, most of whom seem to be connected to Joe. The entries for Lizzie and Joe’s brother John looked like they had been added long after their actual deaths, probably at the time the inscription was made for Joe in 2002. Joe’s parents were named but not Lizzies.

Clooney Cemetery, 2017

My quest when I returned to Australia was to research these clues more thoroughly, hoping to find our connection!

Ancestry of Joe McNamara 1914-2002

From the wealth of information on the headstone, I was able to piece together Joe’s ancestry back to his great grand parents Cornelious MacNamara and Nancy Keeney. (Click on the link above to view the extended family tree at Wikitree.com).

Ancestry of Lizzie McNamara 1897-1992

Identifying Lizzies ancestry was more challenging but eventually it was discovered that Lizzie was actually Joe’s paternal first cousin, sharing grandparents Daniel MacNamara and Johannah ‘Ann’ McKeogh! However no Sweeney’s were identified – how could she be a niece of Thomas Sweeney 1881–1960? Was the connection on her maternal side via the McMahon or Quinn families? (Click on the link above to view the extended family tree at Wikitree.com).

Gathering DNA clues

My first big clue came back in 2019 when I discovered a large match of 47cMs with several siblings of the Worthington family. I soon discovered we also triangulated with their second cousin, which suggested our connection was coming from their shared ancestors William Clayton or his wife Bridget Helena McNamara. This McNamara line extended back to Jeremiah McNamara and his wife Margaret Haiskins, of Clooney, County Clare, it was definately looking promising, but I was unaware of any of these names in our family tree. Utilising the Visual Phasing technique with my mother and her 3 siblings DNA kits, it did suggest the match was on our Cassidy-Sweeney line, but where and how?

My maternal uncle and his first cousin also had a small 13cMs triangulated ‘X’ match with the female sibling. Tracing the X inheritance path on both sides suggested that it could have been inherited from John Sweeney or Johanna (Enright) Hanrahan on our side and Clayton, Haiskins or O’Sullivan on their side. Being such a small match it could well be a long way back, further than any of the known ancestors we have identified so far. This ‘X’ chromosome match was also part of a small triangulated group. Another cousin in the group has ancestors from County Clare with names in contention that included Walsh, McInerney, McMahon, Clarke plus of course potential unknown females! Where did this leave us?

The information was very tantalising! My mother always used to say we had McInerney relations back in Ireland, but no one in the family knew exactly how they were connected. We also had more DNA matches leading back to the McNamara, McMahon and McInerney families in County Clare. One particular group of matches all went back to a McMahon-McInerney couple. Could these be more clues?

Combining genealogical and genetic research

By pouring over the parish records and other genealogical research of my Sweeney family I looked for our possible connections to the MacNamara, McInerney and McMahon families.

  • 1816 – Catherine MacNamara sponsor of Mary Sweeney, daughter of John and Johanna Sweeeny.
  • 1821 – Freeholders list of Clare, Canny’s and McMahons leasing from MacNamara’s at Moyriesk.
  • 1821 – Martin and Bridget McNamara sponsors at baptism of Ellen Sweeney.
  • 1824 – Michael McNamara, sponsor at baptism of Joan Sweeney, daughter of John Sweeney and Honor Murphy.
  • 1825 – Tithe record, John Sweeney residing at Rathclooney sharing 61 acres with McNamara’s.
  • 1830 – About this time, Michael McNamara married Mary Hanrahan.
  • 1830 – Tom McNamara – sponsor at baptism of John Enright, child of Patrick Enright and Mary Sweeney.
  • 1839 – Michael McNamara and Bridget Doloughty sponsor of John Sweeney, son of John Sweeney and Honor Murphy.
  • 1846 – Bridget Sweeney sponsor of Thomas MacNamara, daughter of John and Norah Sweeney.
  • 1846 – Thomas McNamara baptism, sponsors John Hays? and Bridget Sweeney.
  • 1860 – Cornelious Sweeney and Bridget Hogan, sponsors at baptism of Michael MacNamara, father of Lizzie.
  • 1860 – Patrick McNamara, witness at wedding of Daniel Sweeney.
  • 1871 – Honor McMahon m Michael McNamara. Lizzie McNamara’s parents.
  • 1874 – Bridget McNamara m William Clayton – Shared ancestors of McNamara/Clayton DNA Group, Chromosome 18.
  • 1896 – Lizzie McNamara born, believed to be niece of Thomas Sweeney. Sponsors Margaret McNamara and Peter McMahon.

  • 1811 – Hannah McInerney (spouse Michael McMahon). Ancestors of DNA match with triangulated X segment, also matches on chromosome 11.
  • 1818 – Michael McInerney holding property at Rathclooney, ‘life’ on the lease John McInerney.
  • 1849 – Eliza McInerney marries James Ryan at Tulla. Witness Tom McInerney probably a brother. Ancestors of an AncestryDNA match who appear in a potential Sweeney cluster.
  • 1855 – Margaret McInerney acted as sponsor with Daniel Sweeney to a child also named Margaret McInerney.
  • 1885 – Bridget McInerney marries John McMahon (date estimated). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in the Worthington AncestryDNA cluster.
  • 1901 – Denis McInerney residing at the home of Daniel Sweeney, described as a cousin. Son of John McInerney and Eliza O’Grady who had 10 children. From their baptismal records it appears John may have had at least two other siblings named Margaret and Mary.

  • 1792 – Miss McMahon married John McNamara at Dronmore (where Lizzie reputedly lived), her father Terence McMahon.
  • 1811 – Michael McMahon (spouse Hannah McInerney). Ancestors of DNA match with triangulated X segment, also matches on chromosome 11.
  • 1817 – Patrick McMahon held a lease dated 15 Oct 1817, the ‘life’ on the lease was Daniel Sweeney.
  • 1838 – John McMahon (spouse Mary Canny). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in a cluster with the McNamara/Clayton siblings.
  • 1838 – Michael McMahon (spouse Margaret Quinn). Lizzie McNamara’s grandparents.
  • 1850 – John McMahon marries Honor Hanrahan (date estimated).
  • 1871 – Honor McMahon m Michael McNamara. Lizzie McNamara’s parents.
  • 1875 – Bridget McMahon sponsor at the baptism of James Sweeney.
  • 1885 – John McMahon marries Bridget McInerney (date estimated). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in the same McNamara/Clayton AncestryDNA cluster.

Other research yet to be completed suggests additional Sweeney links via the Mahon family and connections to Clonroad Beg near Ennis, County Clare.

  • 1800 – Circa this date, a daughter of Roe Sweeney married an Hehir 
  • 1817 – Daniel Hehir held a lease dated 15 Oct 1817, the ‘life’ on the lease was Daniel Sweeney.

So where does this all leave us?

Piecing together the MacNamara family

Based on consolidating all the clues mentioned above, the following pedigree image seeks to outline my probable links to the MacNamara family. The current hypothesis (after following the land transfers and associated BDM sponsors etc) is that Daniel Sweeney’s wife was a MacNamara (52Ancestors #11). Daniel and she would be my maternal 4th great grandparents. The MacNamaras are associated with the townlands of both Rathclooney and Moyriesk and her father was probably born in the mid to late 1700’s. Whilst we are unclear of her name, it is believed she may have been an older child in the family, one of at least 8 siblings including:-

  • Catherine MacNamara bef 1795
  • Martin MacNamara bef 1800, married Bridget
  • Jeremiah MacNamara bef 1800, married Margaret Haiskins
  • Cornelious MacNamara bef 1800, married Nancy Keeley
  • Francis MacNamara bef 1800
  • James MacNamara bef 1800
  • Michael MacNamara bef 1803, married Mary Hanrahan

Limited tree – only includes 31 DNA tester lines (as at Nov 2021). See Wikitree descendants list for more information (up to 5 generations).

Connections with Lizzie MacNamara

This hypothesis suggests that my family is potentially linked to Lizzie McNamara on both her paternal and maternal sides.

Based on what I have been able to establish on her maternal side, it would appear Lizzie’s maternal grandfather Michael McMahons mother was a Sweeney. If correct, Lizzie was a second cousin once removed to Thomas Sweeney rather than his niece. It also suggests Lizzie would be my third cousin twice removed.

On the MacNamara side, if the hypothesis is correct the wife of Daniel Sweeney was Cornelious McNamara’s sister. Cornelious was Lizzie’s paternal great grandfather. Whilst I have not yet identified any DNA segment matches down this line, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist!

DNA matching is providing clues on relatedness, however the close marrying of these families means that it is essential to undertake chromosome analysis to be able to determine how segments have been inherited by DNA testers. Extreme care needs to be taken when assigning these segments to ancestors, as they could have been inherited from multiple common ancestors. Many of our clustered matches who currently only have their results on AncestryDNA need to upload to a chromosome site to be able to contribute to further research.

The MacNamaras of Moyriesk

The MacNamara name is a common one in County Clare, however there is a well documented MacNamara family associated with Moyriesk. These MacNamaras were resident from the 17th century and can trace their lineage back to Maccon MacNamara Fionn – the Chief of Clann Kullen in 1379.

Could we also be part of this prodigious family? Only time (and a lot of work) will tell!

Very interesting that John MacNamara’s 2nd wife was a MacMahon from Clenagh!

Where to next?

It’s taken a lot of work just to be able to add Miss McNamara to my tree as my potential 4th great grandmother, but it’s all about one step at a time. Whilst the DNA evidence is not conclusive, it has certainly helped to be able to point us in the right direction and piece together these fragmented families.

I will be continuing my search through DNA matching to assist in confirming or refuting (hopefully not!) my hypotheses. I plan to create a Family Finder project at FamilyTreeDNA for ‘Rathclooney and Moyriesk, County Clare’ in the hope of attracting more DNA testers with documented ancestry to these townlands to connect more of the family. I will update this post when those details when available. As always, I am keen to find suitable Y-DNA testers for both the MacNamara and Sweeney lines. Please contact me if you are male, descend from either of the Sweeney or MacNamara families mentioned in this post and are willing to take a Y-DNA test.

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In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Elsie Ritchie for encouraging me to get a wriggle on with my Sweeney and MacNamara research and for helping to put some of the final pieces of the puzzle together.

Do you know more about the families mentioned in this post? If you are connected to any of them (particularly if you have DNA tested) I would love to hear from you. It’s the power of DNA that can help us breakthrough those brick walls in Ireland!

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or by private message via Ancestry, Wikitree or Facebook.

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Featured Image: Green Tunnel, Spancelhill Moyriesk, 2017.

Which Noll is it?

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 (52Ancestors #4). Thelma always knew she was illegitimate, her birth certificate lists her father as ‘not known’.  All we know is that he must have been in Adelaide, South Australia around August 1903.

Unknown man

This of course isn’t the favourite photo, but solving the mystery of who he might be has been 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 ‘probable’ relationships.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 18.27.46

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%!

Screenshot 2018-01-06 18.28.01

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!

Screenshot 2018-01-06 18.28.19

I need to give 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 my grandmother Thelma was born.  Edie was 17, working as an occupation machinist.  Interestingly, the youngest sister of the Noll brothers, Louisa Wilhelmina Noll, was exactly the same age as Edie 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 even have worked in the same place.  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 who in 1903 was 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, at the early age of 45 – far too young. Could he be my great grandfather?

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 cousins 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 Cousin A’s great grandmother Maria Wohling.

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

Screenshot 2018-01-10 19.38.41

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.

Screenshot 2018-01-10 20.53.15
Screenshot 2018-01-10 21.00.42

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, or another testing site that provides chromosome analysis.

Tree_Noll-576

To access the tree at Wikitree, please click here.

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

2021 Postscript: You can now hear me talk about this DNA journey on You Tube.

Featured Image: Brompton Hotel

The Mysterious Mr Courtenay?

Prompted by the new #52Ancestors challenge for 2018, I decided to revisit one of my favourite brick wall ancestors, my second great grandfather (52Ancestors #3) 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.

Screenshot 2018-01-02 09.22.53
1871 England Census

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.

Screenshot 2018-01-02 20.15.03
Birth certificate of Abigail

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.

Screenshot 2018-01-02 20.35.50
Baptism register for the twins Abigail and Alberta

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 senior nor Alberta can be found in the 1881 Census – where could they have gone?  In 1881 daughters Abigail and Edith are away at school in Holdenhurst, residing with a family named Brown.  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?

Screenshot 2018-01-02 21.11.02
1881 England Census

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?

Screenshot 2018-01-02 20.45.12
Death Certificate of Abigail Roberts (nee Courtney)

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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Do you recognise this photo or place?

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.

Featured image: By Richard Rixon, 1841 – Saint, A., Guillery, P. (ed.), Woolwich – Survey of London, Volume 48, p. 60. Yale Books, London, 2012. ISBN 978 0 300 18722 9, Public Domain.

2021 Addendum – Check out my new research blog:

Finding George Courtney

Meet Catherine ‘Kitty’ Britton, thanks to the X chromosome.

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 (52Ancestors#1). 

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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.  Her father was an Anglican clergyman who was a military chaplain for the garrison at Fermanagh in the North of Ireland.’’(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
 
Boho
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!

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 to about 17, mainly confirmations of my known tree through targeted testing.  In 2015, I reached a turning point, a Mac version of Genome Mate Pro was released 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.

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See my full tree at Wikitree ! embeddable family tree updated live from 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.