Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Contact info

Hi.  I should have put this up here a long time ago.   I'm afraid I have little time to upkeep this blog.  If you would like to get in touch with me about this family history, I would love to hear from you. The best way of getting in touch with me is by email.  

The email that I check most often is:

jc3181 AT columbia DOT edu

thank you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dennis Driscoll born c1806 Cork, Ireland

My great-grandmother was Mary Driscoll, born in Birmingham in 1883 to John and Mary Driscoll. John Driscoll in turn was the son of Dennis Driscoll and his second wife Susan. John was born also in Birmingham in approximately 1862 and lived a varied life doing various jobs including being a gas fitter, brass turner and comedian. Dennis Driscoll was born in Cork, Ireland in about 1806-9, though it is hard to be specific as his age varies in the records. I previously wrote about what I knew about him in this entry.

Dennis Driscoll

I am about to hire a local researcher to look through the Birmingham Catholic Archives to get more information about my Irish ancestors and in preparation for this I have been doing some extra work to try and put together dates and relationships amongst my Driscoll relatives. Since I last wrote about the Driscoll family the index to the registrations of births, marriages and deaths has improved vastly on and now appears to have extensive coverage.

Using this index I have managed to produce a much improved family tree. The biggest improvement is finding the potential maiden name for Dennis Driscoll’s first wife Julia (Connor). Secondly finding the death date of Julia and the marriage date of Dennis to his second wife Susan has allowed me to discern that John Driscoll’s sister Mary Ann Driscoll is likely to be the child of Dennis and Julia not Dennis and Susan. I am of course ordering many certificates to find out if the family tree and other information below is accurate – therefore don’t assume that this is all 100% accurate (though I think it is).

Additionally, I think that I have now found Dennis Driscoll in the 1841 census, something which I previously did not manage to do. I have located on Hill St, Green’s Village, Birmingham – which is a heavily Irish area at this time - a Dennis Driscoll aged 35 (born approx 1806) a labourer who was born in Ireland. All these details fit with my ancestor, as does the fact that a Julia Connor (the presumed name of his first wife) aged 20 who was also born in Ireland is living in the same house. This would mean Julia would have been born around 1821 which is close to my previous estimate of about 1817. There is also a Joseph Connor aged 25 living in this house who possibly could be a brother of Julia.

Congruent with this in the 1851 census Dennis & Julia Driscoll are still living in Green’s Village. Also living with them are Thomas Connor (b1830) and Mary Ann Connor (b1833) who are described as brother and sister of Dennis and Julia. Interestingly, they were born in Kidderminster – this suggests that the parents of Julia Connor (b1817 in Cork) had come over to England prior to 1830.

Children of Dennis Driscoll

Using the censuses and registration index, I have found out what I assume happened to Dennis’ children in addition to my own 2xgreat-grandfather John Driscoll. I am quite confident that what I have found is correct, though it shouldn’t be read as definitively true until I have accrued more sources to back it up. Interestingly, it was only after I widened my search to include all possible spellings of DRISCOLL – (DRISCOL, DRISCALL, DRISCAL, DRISKAL, etc.) that I found many of the individuals. I should note that it is always important to follow the siblings of relatives as they may give leads as to extra information about your own direct ancestors. This is especially true for Irish ancestry research if we wish to know more about where in Ireland our ancestors came from.

Chidren with Julia Connor:

1. Thomas Driscoll b.1846 - Thomas seems to have married Elizabeth Lane and gone on to have several children. I don’t know how many as I have not looked at the full 1911 image. Thomas lives with his family in 1871 at Howard’s Place Birmingham, the same place as Dennis Driscoll is living in 1871. By 1881 he has moved to Latimer St. where he is still living in 1911. Thomas worked as a marble mason, though by 1911 he was ‘out of work’. The 1911 census also tells us that his daughter Kate is married and now called Kate Warwick with a son Henry Warwick (b1906). This census also shows that Thomas’ only son (as far as I can tell) also called Thomas (b1876) was still unmarried at the age of 36 – he was a brass worker. Interestingly, one of Thomas and Elizabeth’s first daughters was called Julia – probably after Thomas’ mother Julia Driscoll (nee Connor). This Julia does not appear on any censuses after 1871 and there is a registration in 1876 that is likely to be her death. I also think I have found a match for the death of Thomas (b1846) in Apr 1914.

2. Cornelius Driscoll b. 1853– I cannot trace Cornelius beyond 1871 and I have found a death certificate in the index for 1872 which would appear to explain this.

3. Mary Ann Driscoll b. 1857 – Mary Ann only appears in the 1861 census. I do not know what happened to her after this time point.

Children with Susan:

4. John Driscoll b. 1862 – this is my great-great-grandfather.

5. Catherine Driscoll b. 1867 –Catherine appears to have married a Clement Wollaston in 1892 – I cannot find Catherine in the 1891 census. In 1901 the couple are living at number 185 Lightwood Road, Smethwick with Clement’s widowed mother Susan. Clement is employed as a gold and silver smith. The 1911 census reveals that they had had by this time 3 children during their marriage but only one, Ellen (b1906 in Smethwick), had survived. The jump in social class from her early life seems to be quite great for Catherine Driscoll – this made me concerned that I maybe had the wrong person, but I believe that this is the right Catherine. Especially as her sister Ellen Driscoll is living with her.

(Catherine & Ellen in 1901)

6. Ellen Driscoll b. 1871 – The 1891 census finds an Ellen Driscoll living as a lodger in the house of a John Hanbury on Albion Rd. Yardley. I believe this is the right Ellen – she is described as a ‘nut maker’. In 1901 she is living with her sister Catherine and Catherine’s husband Clement Wollaston. Also there is a Harold Driscoll (b1893) who is presumably Ellen’s illegitimate son. By 1911 Harold is still living with Catherine and Clement and is now working as a jeweler, presumably with his uncle Clement. I cannot find a death record of Ellen Driscoll, though there is a marriage entry in the indexes for 1910 in Aston which may be her.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Death Certificate of Michael Hennigan

Michael Hennigan was one of my 3xgreat-grandfathers. I wrote previously about him and his family. One hindrance to this line of research is that his last name can be (mis)spelled in many ways including Hennigan, Hannigan, Henigan, Hanigan, Hennighan, Hannighan, Hennigon etc.

In this entry I am showing a copy of Michael’s death certificate. This was kindly provided to me by Mrs K. Moreton a couple of years ago, but I have just got round to looking at some more of my Hennigan ancestry.

(click to enlarge)

Michael Hennigan was born somewhere in Ireland between 1832-1834. I believe his father’s name was Charles Hennigan. The family moved to England in the 1840s or early 1850s and Michael married Catherine Grogan (b1840), daughter of Thomas Grogan, on 14th Oct 1860 at St. Peter’s Chapel, Birmingham (this information is from their marriage certificate though I have yet to get a copy myself).

He died on 5th January 1885, at the Weston Road Workhouse, Birmingham. His name is spelled “Michael Hannigan” and he is 51 years old. His occupation is described as “labourer of Birmingham” which is quite general. The cause of death is given as “Chronic Bronchitis Dilated Heart” – though it’s not hard to imagine that he was likely in terrible physical condition. He was born in Ireland before coming over to England during the worst of the potato famine and ended up living in quite awful poverty.

The first census record that Michael appeared in is the 1861 English census (clicking the link will take you to a copy of the image). I cannot find him in the 1851 census suggesting he move to England after this date.. In 1861, he is living in one room of a house on Tindal St., Birmingham and is working as a paper maker. In 1871 Michael is working as a bricklayer’s labourer living in one room on Windmill St Birmingham. Things got worse for Michael as by 1881 he had moved to the Marston Green Cottage homes which were actually part of the Birmingham workhouse. Sadly, he is living here with his four youngest children – Margaret, Ellen, James and Michael.

The informant of the death in 1885 was his wife Catherine Hennigan who was apparently in attendance at the death. Her residence was 10 Beak Street. She was living on the same street four years previously in 1881 (the time when Michael was in the workhouse) when she described herself as a ‘laundress’. She also said that she was a widow on this census. Her older children John, Jane and Catherine are living with her as is Jane’s illegitimate son John Curley. Jane went on to marry my 2xgreat-grandfather Thomas Curley.

I do not know how long Catherine went on to live for. I cannot find her in the 1911 census or find her death certificate. I do know that she lived until at least 1901 as she appears in this census living on Beak St. She is unemployed and living with her unmarried daughter Mary Ann (b1860-2) who is a spoon polisher. They are living two doors away from one of the sisters who in 1881 was forced to live in the workhouse – Ellen Hennigan (b1875) and her husband Thomas Moore.

Mary Ann Hennigan can be found in 1911 living with Thomas and Ellen Moore (Ellen had had 9 children by this time but only 5 had survived). Mary Ann is still a spoon polisher. Mary Ann Hennigan possibly died in Apr-Jun 1930 according to the death register indexes, though I’d need to get the certificate to confirm this.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


My 3xgreat-grandmother Mary Wright (nee Benson) had three younger brothers that survived until adulthood. This post describes what I have found out about their lives – each of them led very interesting lives in 3 different places – Newcastle, York and Acomb.

Click here for a family tree showing Mary & her siblings

George Gowland Benson - the railway worker

George Gowland Benson was born in York in 1849 just before his parents George & Eliza moved back to George’s family parish of Acomb. George’s middle name “Gowland” comes from his mother Eliza’s maiden name. It is possible he was baptized on 29 Apr 1849 at All Saint’s Pavement, York ( this record appears in the database but not in the database – I will need to consult the original records).

In 1871 George was still living with his parents and was described as a farmer’s son. I do not know what George was doing until 1880 when he married Mary Bristow in Jan-Mar 1880 in Newcastle. Mary Bristow was born in Fridaythorpe in 1862 and so was 14 years the junior of George. It is likely that the wedding was a quickly arranged affair as their first daughter Eliza E. Benson was also born in mid 1880.

In the 1881 census, George and Mary were living with Mary’s parents James & Elizabeth Bristow in Pottery Lane, Westgate, Newcastle. I do not know if George Benson knew the Bristow family before coming to Newcastle, though it is interesting to note that James was born in Escrick and Elizabeth in Fridaythorpe, so it is possible he did.


In 1881, George’s occupation is given as a ‘checker for N.E.R’ (North Eastern Railways). This is the same occupation as he held in 1891 whilst living at 48 Brussel St., Gateshead. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses George is still employed in the railways but is called a “rolly loader” or “loader on railway co”. Throughout this time, George and Mary are living at 10 Dale St., Pottery Lane, Newcastle with Mary’s brother Thomas Gray Bristow (b.Jul-Aug 1866 Newcastle) and widowed father James Bristow.

1911 census

George Gowland and Mary Benson had a total of 12 children together, with 9 of these being still alive in 1911 (according to that census). The following is a list of these children & their birthdates:

  1. b1880 Eliza E.
  2. b1881 Elizabeth
  3. b1882 Mary E
  4. b1885 George
  5. b1886 Lilly
  6. b1889 Christiana
  7. b1892 John Thomas
  8. b1894 Jane Ann
  9. b1901 Hannah
  10. b1904 Frederick John

All were born in Newcastle except for John Thomas and Jane Ann who were born in Gateshead. I cannot find the last two children – they may have been born any time between 1880-1911. Nor am I sure that Eliza E. and Elizabeth are two separate children or different spellings of the same daughter.

From the index of wills and administrations, it seems that George Gowland Benson died on 15th July 1922. Interestingly, he died whilst living at Poplar Grove, Acomb – the same house that his elder sister (my 3xgreat grandmother Mary Wright nee Benson) was still living in. I do not know why George Gowland Benson moved back to Acomb. The majority of his will was left to “George Benson, railway clerk”. I presume that this is his son George b1885.

William Benson - the butcher

William Benson was born on 27th September 1851 along with his twin sister Martha Emma Benson in Acomb. William seems to have left home in the late 1860s to go and start an apprenticeship with John Shilleto (b1842) as a butcher. John Shilleto’s butcher’s shop was at 27 Micklegate, York.

1871 census

In the 1881 census, William is now living at 36 Micklegate (which is today called the Micklegate takeaway!) in his own butcher’s shop. He is living with his wife Fanny (b1851) and son George A. Benson (b1880). An older son William Herbert (b1877) was spending the night of the census with his cousin John George Wright and grandparents George and Eliza Benson in Acomb.

1881 census

An investigation of the marriage indexes suggests that William Benson married Fanny Flower between Apr-Jun 1876 in York. Fanny was the daughter of George and Jane Flower, both of whom were from York. They appear to have been fairly well-to-do as they were living in 1871 at 18 The Mount, an elegant street just off Micklegate, and George Flower was a ‘coach proprietor’.

In 1891, William Benson has moved back to 27 Micklegate, York to take over the butcher’s shop where he served as an apprentice. Living with him is his wife Fanny and children William Herbert, George A., Frederick (b1882), and Fanny (b1886).

1891 census

By 1901, William Benson, his wife and daughter Fanny had moved to the other side of York – to 9 De Grey Terrace. William is still employed as a butcher and interestingly has 5 lodgers including four ‘actresses’. Three of these are sisters Norah (22), Flora (21) & Emma Stewart (18) from Blackpool. The other is Nellie Freeman (22) from London.

1901 census

In the last census we have available in 1911, William is now a widowed retired butcher and is living with Chistopher Cawood and family as a lodger at 23 De Grey Terrace. This is only four doors down from William’s previous address and it seems the families knew each other for some time as the Cawoods were also living there in 1901. Fanny Benson appears to have died between Oct-Dec 1908 whereas William Benson seems to have died between Jul-Sep 1917 (according to the death indexes).

More information about their deaths and that of another daughter is available from a monumental inscription in St. Stephen's Church, Acomb:

"In loving memory of Florence Muriel, the dearly loved child of William and Fanny Benson of York b July 13 1883, d July 22 1884.

Also Fanny Benson who died at York, Oct 29 1908 in her 59th year.

Also William Benson husband of the above who died Aug 21 1917 in his 87th year.

Also George Alfred, 2nd son of the above and beloved husband of Annie Violet Benson who died Jan 14 1922 aged 42 years."

Frederick Thomas Benson - the innkeeper

Frederick Thomas Benson was the youngest son of George and Eliza Benson and was born in Acomb on 9th May 1861. He was the only son to remain in Acomb all of his life.

At the age of 19 in 1881, Frederick was still living at home with his parents and working as a farmer’s son. He married Sarah Hardcastle between Apr-Jun 1885 in Acomb. Sarah Hardcastle was born in 1865 in Hessay to Thomas (b1829) and Mary Ann Hardcastle (b1839). Mary Ann was originally from Hessay, but Thomas Hardcastle was himself born in Acomb. In 1881, prior to the marriage of Frederick Thomas Benson and Sarah Hardcastle, Thomas Hardcastle had become widowed and had moved back to Acomb and became the innkeeper of the Sun Inn, which looks out on the village green. At this time, Sarah was working as a barmaid and it’s probable that this is where she met her future husband. . Their marriage may also have been prompted by the death of Thomas Hardcastle in late 1884, as by 1891 the couple were now running the Sun Inn. Interestingly, Frederick’s eldest sister Mary Wright (my 3great grandmother) was at this time running the Marcia Inn also in Acomb.

The couple continued to operate the Sun Inn at least until 1901 as they were living at the Sun Inn in both the 1891 and 1901 censuses. The couple had at least 7 children - Walter (b1886), Rose (b1887), Eliza Mary (b1889), George Frederick (b1890), Florence (b1892), Annie (b1893) and Amy (b1895). Also living with them in both censuses were two of Sarah’s younger brothers - William (b1862) and David (b1868).

1901 census

Frederick Thomas Benson died in 1902. His wife went on to live for 51 years more than her husband. Their monumental inscription in St. Stephen’s Churchyard also contains details of one of their sons and reads:

"In affectionate remembrance of Frederick Thomas BENSON, died Dec 20 1902 aged 41 years. Also George Frederick BENSON son of the above died June 4 1946 aged 55 years. Also Sarah BENSON, wife of Frederick Thomas, died March 9, 1953 aged 88 years."

Apparently there is an obituary of Frederick in the Yorkshire Gazette dated 27 Dec 1902, though I have not had a chance to see this yet (available at York Reference Library).

The last piece of information I have regarding Sarah Benson (nee Hardcastle) is that in the 1911 census she is living in a 6 roomed house at "The Green, Acomb". She is living with her out of work son George, and her two youngest daughters Annie (a confectionary maker) and Amy (a box labeler). Her unmarried brother William Hardcastle is also living with her still. Interestingly she also has another son – Fred Benson (b1904), whose father is obviously a mystery.

1911 census

The Sun Inn meanwhile was by 1911 being run by Robert and Ada Barnett who had previously lived at Ash St., Holgate.

The Benson grandchildren of George & Eliza Benson

Finally, in this entry discussing the lives of the brothers of Mary Wright (nee Benson), I have not gone on to trace much about the lives of the children of the brothers. However, in the next post I shall discuss a bit more about the life of George Frederick Benson, (1890-1946) the son of Frederick Thomas and Sarah Benson – specifically, his service during WW1.

Friday, May 20, 2011



In the previous post, I wrote about how I found out that my 3xgreat grandmother Mary Wright was born Mary Benson and that she was the eldest daughter of George and Eliza Benson. George & Eliza had (as far as I can tell) 9 children, with three dying in infancy. I do not know why each of the three died, though it would be possible to get their death certificates to find out. This entry will follow what I have found out about the two younger sisters of Mary that went on to live to adulthood. Most of this material has come from the census and parish records as well as monumental inscriptions and newspapers. The next post will deal with the three brothers of Mary Benson that went on to have children.

(click to enlarge)

Elizabeth Benson

Elizabeth was baptized on the 6th January 1845 at St. Michael’s Spurriergate, York. She was younger than her elder sister Mary Benson by three years. She was living at home with her parents in Acomb in 1851 and 1861. By 1871 she is living in nearby Holgate (which is a sub-parish squeezed between Acomb and York itself). In 1871 Elizabeth is working as a parlour maid in the house belonging to two elderly sisters - Sarah & Elizabeth Backhouse - who both appear to have been born in Darlington and are said to be ‘living off dividends’. They also live with their widowed nephew a Joseph Cranfield who is a tea merchant.

In 1879 she had a daughter Florence Anne Benson (named after her youngest sister who had died in Feb 1878 aged 12). This daughter was born out of wedlock as Elizabeth does not appear to have ever married (at least not by 1911). I believe Florence Anne was born in Filey (according to 1901 and 1911 censuses, though the 1891 census gives Acomb as Florence’s birthplace). If she was indeed born in Filey, this would suggest that Elizabeth went there to secretly give birth. Interestingly, I cannot find either Elizabeth or her daughter in the 1881 census – finding her may shed some light on to who the father was?

Elizabeth is living with her daughter in the house of her parents (1891) and her widowed mother Eliza (1901) in Acomb. By 1911, she is living in Long Marston (which is about five miles from Acomb) with her now married daughter. Florence Anne married James Hields (b. 1880 Acomb) who was a farmer. Their marriage certificate (Jul-Sep 1903) would also glean possible information as to the father of Florence Anne. Interestingly, on the marriage index she is listed as Florence Anne C Benson, but I have no knowledge as to what the ‘C’ stands for. It is possible that it could be the surname of her father as illegitimate children often were given their father’s name as a middle name. In 1911, James and Florence Hields had already had four children, all of who were still living (Harold James b1907/d1980, Wilfred George b1908-9/d1968, Lilian Alice b1909-10, Frederick Thomas b1910/d1978).

I'm not sure when Elizabeth Benson died as there are far too many matches for that name in the death registers, even when taking birth date and location into account. However, I have found Florence’s death in Jan-Mar 1963 in Hull. She is registered as Florence A. C. Hields. Florence's husband James Hields is registered as having died in Holderness in 1938.

Martha Emma Benson

Martha Emma was born on the 27th September 1851 along with her twin brother William Benson (more about him in the next post). Both were baptized at St. Stephen’s Church, Acomb on 2 November 1851. Martha lived with her parents in Acomb until 1881 when she married Alfred Ballans (b.1854, son of George Ballans) on 21 Nov 1881 at Acomb. Alfred was born to George and Mary Ballans in North Stainley near Ripon, the 3rd of 6 children. The Ballans family moved to Ulleskelf from North Stainley around 1857 and came to Acomb by 1871. The family lived at Parks Farm in 1871 and in 1881 at Hambleton Farm, Carr Grange.

The wedding of Martha Emma and Alfred Ballans was announced in the Yorkshire Gazette of 26 Nov 1881:

"BALLANS-BENSON - On the 21st instant, at St. Stephen's Church, Acomb, by the Rev R P T Tennant, vicar, Alfred, eldest son of Mr Ballans, Carr Grange, to Martha Emma (Pattie), youngest daughter of Mr George Benson, all of Acomb"

Martha and Alfred Ballans had two children both of whom survived. Cecil Benson Ballans was born in 1884 (bp. 17 Sep, Acomb) and Linda Mary Ballans was born in 1895, also in Acomb.

In 1891 Alfred and Martha are living at West Field Villas, Acomb, next door to Martha’s parents James and Mary Wright who are living at the Marcia Inn. Alfred is listed as being a cattle dealer and having been born in Tanfield (this is less than a mile from North Stainley). In this census, his surname is mis-spelled as ‘Ballance’.

In 1901 Alfred Ballans is living at Green Lane, Acomb and is a ‘manager on a farm’. Perhaps this was the farm of his recently deceased father-in-law George Benson?

In 1911 Alfred and Martha Ballans are living at ‘Glenholm’, Acomb. This is probably the name of the house, though I’m not sure where in Acomb it is. Alfred is now a labourer in a warehouse, which I believe is named as ““Rly Co Warehouse” which is likely short for “railway company”.

According to the death register index, Martha died in Aug-Sep 1918 and Alfred died in Jan-Mar 1916.

Their son Cecil was training to be a cabinet maker in 1901 but by 1911 was a worker at the N.E. Carriage works in Acomb. By this time, Cecil was married to Annie J Ballans and had one child – George B. Ballans. The family are living at Grange Lane, Acomb. Cecil signed the census return as “Cecil Benson Ballans”.