Moreover, my ancestors' souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.

Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Don't be daunted by Irish Family History research! How I found my Joyce family in Armagh

Thomas Joyce 1925

NOTE: For convenience, I have placed the resources I mention on a separate page. 'Blogger' tends to not save my links, forcing me to re-do the whole thing....on this, my third attempt I decided to try another way!

Embarking on research into one of my Irish families for the first time, I felt a bit stumped. I had read so much on the internet about ‘all records destroyed’ and ‘we’ll trace your Irish roots but don’t even think of asking us until you have the Townland’ stuff. I had no family information about my great grandfather, Thomas Joyce except he was a very fierce Protestant, and that my grandmother, Mabel Joyce, did not get along with him. The inference was that they argued, and certainly my grandmother was known to have a temper. You can see them here in the photo on the occasion of Mabel's wedding to my grandfather, Gordon Huia Samuel Clarkson.  As I researched Thomas Joyce’s marriage, and wife, Elizabeth Charlotte Scott, I realised that my grandmother may well have had good reason to distance herself from her father – all of this will make for an interesting Blog feature another time! The Joyce side in Ireland was essentially unknown.
However I did have Thomas Joyce’s death certificate giving his father’s name, Andrew Joyce, mother’s maiden name Rachel Black and the county as Armagh. The first thing I did was a Google search, and found nothing. There were no other families on ancestry or any other website searching for my family. At that stage, I was not in touch with the children of my great uncle and I did not know if they had any other information. Message boards yielded some help, but no real contacts.
So I started by searching for surname clusters in Northern Ireland for the Joyce family. These come up as mostly in county Galway, but there were some in Armagh.
I looked up FamilySearch, the New Zealand passenger lists, and found a number of men with the same name – Thomas Joyce. However, since I knew the date of my great grandparent’s marriage, and Thomas’ approximate birth year, I could eliminate a few of these. Only one stated that Thomas Joyce was from Armagh, and it was 5 years prior to their marriage. It seemed possible, and what was interesting was that on the original document (so much more useful to view this than an index) was another young man, also from Armagh called Joseph Thompson. Perhaps they were travelling together? No other immigrants from Armagh on that ship.
To get more information, I ordered the ‘Intention To Marry’ from the New Zealand archives. There is a column on the page for the time which the person has been in the area. This can be a trap – clerks interpreted this differently, and some took it to mean ‘in the parish’ and others ‘in the country’. It could give me a guide for further elimination purposes though. He was apparently in the area 6 months before he and Elizabeth Charlotte Scott were married in 1879. Enough time for them to have become acquainted! Thomas has his profession listed as a ‘baker’. Maybe they met when he served her in the shop?
I found a number of Irish Thompsons in Auckland – their landing place – but no information as to where they came from, so the Joseph Thompson connection was not all that useful in that context. A search of the Joyces in the area in which my great grandfather lived and died yielded no connections that I could see. A wider search in FamilySearch of all Joyce’s from Ireland and particularly Armagh coming to New Zealand yielded nothing prior to 1900.
So, back to Ireland. His age is fairly consistent on documents. On the passenger list of 1874 he is listed as 20. On his marriage certificate he is listed as 24, about 5 years later, which is reasonable. He seems to have been born about 1855 (that’s what I thought at the time), so his parents could have been born anytime between 1810 and 1837. It was possible that they could have been alive for the 1901 census. These are online, free and very easily searchable at the National Archives site.
Here I found a Rachel Joyce aged 75 with two unmarried sons John (48) and Henary (38) living in Brackagh (Townland), Mullahead (District), Armagh (County). She is not in the 1911 census, but her sons are. FamilySearch again found a possible death in the area for her, so I obtained the certificate, which identified the informant – very usefully not one of her sons, but a married daughter, Rachel Fowler.
This certificate also identified the Rachel Joyce (no maiden name, a pity) as the widow of Andrew Joyce. The slightly uncommon names, the combination of them, and the ages were compelling evidence that these were the parents, a sister and two brothers of my Thomas.  Andrew’s death certificate confirmed him as a farmer in the area, and the informant was also his daughter Rachel.
Griffiths valuation search sees Andrew Joyce along with possible other family, and he was an executor to the will of James Sinton, a prominent family in the area from FamilySearch. A look at the PRONI site (Public Records Office Northern Ireland)  found that John, Thomas’ brother, had made a will and left his money to a nephew, one of Rachel Fowler’s children, firming up the evidence that Rachel was a sibling of my Thomas.
A bit more looking in the British newspaper archive and the Orange Lodge website fleshed out some background. Andrew Joyce apparently had a brother, James, who had some trouble with a debt in 1881. But census searches did not find the name ‘Black’ in the district, but ‘Blacker’. Who Rachel’s own family are not yet certain.
The Irish database site (pay per view) identified the marriages of George, Rachel and Elizabeth with a father Andrew.
It was at this stage that I sought a professional researcher and I chose Ulster Ancestry – I wanted some parish records if possible, and they were able to find baptisms at the Church of Ireland, Mullavilly for George, Elizabeth, Rachael, Thomas, Henary (also spelled Henry) and another Andrew (whom I think died young) plus some speculations that nearby Joyce families were connected.  The professionals also added their opinion that this was most likely the family of Thomas Joyce. It was money well-spent, and netted me maps of the area and good background information.Thomas turned out to have been born on the 6th May, 1853. Although two years out from his own reckoning, I am reasonably certain this is his date.
In this research, I was aided by the fact that the combination of names Andrew and Rachel were uncommon, and Thomas’ death certificate information was fairly accurate. But I did get most of the information from free sources on the internet. My next move will be to join a local family history society, to see if I can find links back, and a bit more about the family and their lives.
One thing I will add about a problem with this research – the ages of the children of Rachel and Andrew can be variable. Rachel’s age shows her 75 in the 1901 census, indicating a birth year of 1826, but her death certificate claims she was born in 1821. Son George’s date seems to be out five years too. This means I will need to buy a few more certificates to really identify these siblings of Thomas.
Don’t be daunted by Irish family history research! I’ve made great gains with my Ross and Cuttle family in Cork too….. same method, and a lot of free sources plus sending for selected certificates. My White and Nellon/Neilan/Nellan   families….. another story!

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