Friday, April 5, 2019

In the little grey cottage, a portrait trimmed in black crepe...

When you think about relatives whose homes you visited when you were a child, what do you recollect about those visits? What sorts of things struck you about those family members? Is it names or faces you recall? Maybe something else stands out for you, perhaps a piece of furniture or a portrait hanging on the wall in a reception room?

Such was the case for my mother. Mam recalled that when she was a very young child, her father Patrick would take all his children on visits to a family whose surname she believed was Pells. These jaunts to the home of the Pells were something my mam and her siblings excitedly anticipated. Although she did not know the exact nature of the relationship between the two families, my mother did recall some details about the family and the home in which they lived.

Visiting the Pells usually meant spending tea time with them, as they lived a long walk away from Ringsend. In fine weather the family would travel along the Liffey quays, delighting in all the sights of busy Dublin City. When they arrived at the Pells, there would be warm embraces from the mother and father of the household, greeting each child as they passed through the doorway of the little dove grey cottage on Liffey Street. When the tea was presented, it was with thick slices of warm bread slathered in creamy butter. There was the tiny table laid out especially for the children by the Pells' beautiful adult daughter, Rosanna, a girl with perfect posture who wore her mass of auburn hair piled high upon her head.

At the forefront of my mother's recollections of these wonderful visits was a photograph that enthralled her. In a beautiful dark wood frame, trimmed with a ribbon of black crepe, the picture hung above a side board in the front room. It was a portrait of a handsome young man in the uniform of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a tender looking man with an open face and bright clear eyes, a young man with the same perfect posture as Rosanna, a young man about whom no one ever uttered a word. 

When my mother was still very young, the family visits to the little dove grey cottage inexplicably ended, and the family, together their name, was forgotten for a long time. Their name re-emerged during a conversation I had with my mother a few months before she died. Mam recollected those lovely childhood visits and that intriguing portrait of the handsome young soldier. She felt sure their surname was Pells, spelled P-E-L-L-S.

While following a thread in the line of my maternal great-grandmother Jane Early, I discovered the surname is Pell, not Pells. The error is an understandable one, given that a visit to the family was probably preceded by the explanation, 'We're going to the Pells'; one Pell becomes all Pells. Also, I learned that Mrs. Teresa Pell had died in 1939 and Mr. John Pell had passed in 1943, thus the probable reason for the end of my mam's childhood visits. Better still, I uncovered the likely identity of the young man in the photograph.


William Francis Pell was born in Dublin Ireland on 8 September, 1891. He was the second born child, and first born son, of Teresa Early and John Pell. Teresa Early Pell was the youngest sister of my maternal great-grandmother, Jane Early Ball. At various times in the late 19th and early 20th century, the two sisters and their respective families lived together. William's first cousin, my grandfather Patrick Ball, was six years old when William was born.

The Pell family in toto appears on the 1901 Irish Census; William is notably absent from the 1911 Irish Census. He may have already been serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF); however, I have not yet found evidence to support such a conclusion.

William Pell served in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, as part of the 10th Brigade, 4th Division; his regimental number was 8328. Thankfully, over the years, I have been able to find some military records for young William, including the diaries of his battalion, William's medal card, the casualty list for his battalion, the Personal Effects Registry in which he is mentioned, and his entry in Ireland's Memorial Records, and I have been fortunate to visit his grave in Belgium.

Upon enlisting, William served in the rank of Private; however, both the casualty list and William's gravestone attest to the fact that he held the rank of Lance Corporal when he was killed. Other casualties among the ranks may have led to this 'promotion' or appointment. No matter the reason for this promotion, it meant that less than 3 months before his death, this young man was in command of a section of his battalion.

The war diaries of the 2nd Battalion, RDF, composed by their commander Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Loveband tell us that everyday from 9 October 1914 — the date William officially entered the theatre of war — as the battalion marched from Pisseleux to Hazebrouck, Sylvestre, Fontaine, Meteren, to Armentieres, on to Frelinghein, and on into Belgium, they faced heavy shelling, reverse fire and sniper fire. Every single day soldiers were killed or wounded 1.

On 24 Oct the brigade waited all day for a general attack by the 6th army, an attack that never came. It was on this day that William chose to write out his last will and testament on a page in his 'Small Book'.2 After all he and his comrades had been through, perhaps William had a presentiment that he was not long for this world. The rest of October saw a couple of quiet days. On 29 October the diarist Loveband noted it was a fairly cold and wet, but quiet day. The decision was made to build another trench.

November was marked by bitter cold, snow and icy rain, along with shelling and heavy sniper fire. On 22 November they marched to Nieppe where they were billeted. The only bright spot in these difficult months emerged at Nieppe, where the men were finally allowed to bathe. In a local brewery, the huge vats were filled with hot water so they could bathe. The soldiers were allowed to strip down and jump in en masse. While they bathed, local women repaired any uniforms in need of new seams or a stitch or two. Afterward they were issued clean underwear, and feeling refreshed, they happily marched to their billets on the outskirts of Armentieres.3

December brought more of the terror that November had brought, and with little respite.

7 January 1915 was a miserable day. It had snowed the day before and was bitter cold. On the 7th it rained all day long in trenches that were already in very poor condition. The enemy shelled the left trench rather more than usual on that particular day, and engaged in significant sniper fire. It was on this day that young William was killed; he was the only casualty in his brigade.

In an extraordinary coincidence, William Francis Pell is interred in Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium, the same cemetery in which my paternal great-grandmother's brother William Dunne is interred. They are two among a total of only two hundred and twenty-five interred, and their graves are only a few metres away from one another. I do not know how well William Pell and William Dunne knew each other, if at all. Their families were not yet connected, and would not be for some forty years to come. (See ...Following the road of my two Williams)

William Pell's grave marker, caressed by a rose.
According to his medal card, William Pell was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal. The card bears the telling phrase 'K. in A.', the benign way of noting that he was killed in action. The medals card also states his qualification date as 9 October 1914. As I noted earlier, this is the date on which William first entered the theatre of war, just three months before his death. The medals would have been sent to his family.

At the time of William's death, the Pell family was living in the little dove grey cottage on Liffey Street, the home my mam visited when she was a child. Although there is no slip of paper bearing the signature of his mother or his father for receipt of those medals at their door, I wonder what that day was like when those medals arrived, and just when it was that the Pell family added the ribbon of black crepe to the portrait of their handsome young man.

In July of 1915, William’s mother Teresa was sent his personal effects comprising £5. 1s. 6d (read 5 pounds, 1 shilling and 6 pence). In June of 1919, Teresa was sent a war gratuity of £3.4 Less than £10 for the life of her beautiful boy, William, lost to her when he was only 23 years old.

Some of records that helped to fill out William's story.


1. National Archives UK (NAUK); Kew, London, England: reference WO 95/1481/4: War Diaries 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, August 1914 - Oct 1916. (Accessed Sept. 2012)

2. Each man who served in the British Forces during the First World War was given what was referred to as a Small Book. All of the regulations of the branch in which these men served were laid out, chapter and verse, on the pages of this little book. There were also blank pages on which the soldiers could record information about the details of their training. Among these blank pages was the one entitled ‘Will’. When a soldier was called to active duty, this completed page usually would be given to his local army office. Sometimes the will page was not removed from his book until after his death, and some of these pages no longer exist at all. Although over 35,000 Irishmen were killed during the First World War, only 9,000 of their wills are extant.

3. National Archives UK (NAUK); Kew, London, England: reference WO 95/1481/4: War Diaries 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, August 1914 - Oct 1916. (Accessed Sept. 2012)

4. National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers' Effects Records, 1915; Pell, William/ Personal Effects, entry #153041. (Accessed Sept. 2012).

Click on photographs to view larger version.
Unless otherwise credited, all photographs ©jgg.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Documenting the lives of your Irish Ancestors

Here we are in March, the month in which — thanks to St. Patrick's Day☘️ — the focus often turns to Irish heritage. Perhaps you are just in the beginning stages of documenting your ancestors and family members who were hatched, matched and dispatched on the island of Ireland, or are continuing Irish family history and genealogy research already begun.

Of late, I have noticed a few so-called experts have been replicating my copyrighted blog articles and passing off the work as their own, so I have decided to put the kibosh on that by bringing together the URLs for a number of original articles that I’ve written over the years. As well, I have provided additional information I hope will prove helpful for your Irish family history research. As usual, please click on the blue links to follow the trail to another article or website.

As always, I wish you the very best of luck with your research.
Happy St. Patrick's Day ☘️ and Happy Researching in 2019!


St. Malachy's Church, Belfast.
Baptism site of my paternal great-grandfather.
1. Not all Roman Catholic parish registers are online. The Catholic Church has always borne sole responsibility for keeping and protecting its own original records, and although many were released in the National Library of Ireland Microfilm Project, some parishes still hold ALL of their own registers. For complete information please see my blog article: 'A Secret Stash of Roman Catholic Parish Registers?'

2. Many Church of Ireland registers survived the bombing of the Four Courts. In fact approximately 600 Church of Ireland parish registers survived. So many falsehoods about the destruction of the Public Records Office have been passed around online it makes my head spin. Also neither Catholic parish registers nor civil registrations of birth, marriage and death were destroyed in the 30 June 1922 bombing of the Four Courts during the Irish Civil War. To learn about exactly what happened on that seminal date, including what was destroyed and what wasn’t, please visit my blog post: Falsehoods, Fibs and other Fabrications: re: Four Courts Fire, GRO & '26 Census 


Civil registration of death for Thomas Christopher Ball

3. Civil registration records are something many of us rely on for the details of the births, deaths and marriages of those who have gone before us since 1864 (non-Catholic marriages since 1845). However, be aware that NOT ALL civil registrations of birth, death and marriage are online. Irish genealogy dot ie has civil registrations for births from 1864 - 1916 (soon to be 1918); marriages from 1870 - 1941 (soon to be 1943); deaths from 1878 - 1966 (soon to be 1968). As I have noted in parentheses, shortly the site will be updated, adding two extra years to births, deaths and marriages. Currently the GRO is updating more records of marriages dating back to 1845 as well as deaths dating back to 1864. These will be included in future updates to the website.


A page from the pension application of my paternal grandmother.
Information has been redacted.
4. If you have a family member who served with the Irish Volunteers or the Cumann na mBan during the Easter Rising, Irish War of Independence and/or the Irish Civil War, then you may be able to access their application for a military service pension online via the Bureau of Military History Archives. However, NOT all of these applications are currently online. Further, If your relative (or a surviving family member for those persons killed or executed) did not apply for a pension, then there will NOT be an application. The government did not award pensions to those who did not apply for them. Also, simply making application for a pension was no guarantee that a pension was awarded. Please see my blog article 'Grandpa was in the G.P.O.: Did he apply for a pension and a medal?'

Commemoration Tapestry on Liberty Hall, the SIPTU building Dublin, 2016.
5. The Bureau of Military History Archives also holds a large cache of witness statements written by some of those who served during the 1916 Easter Rising, The Irish War of Independence (1919-21) and/or the Irish Civil War (1922-24). A few facts about the witness statements are worth noting.
  • These statements were collected between 1947 and 1958, long after the end of the aforementioned conflicts. 
  • If your family member did not serve, or was not in some capacity involved, during these conflicts, then there will be no witness statement attributed to them. 
  • Not all participants submitted a witness statement. Some refused on the grounds that the passage of time made the production of a factually true witness statement less likely. 
  • The statements were produced in response to a list of questions provided by the Bureau.
  • The statements were 'cleaned up', so to speak. Curse words were redacted, spelling and grammar were corrected. 
  • The statements were accompanied by an interlocutor’s notes which speak to the veracity of the statement. Unfortunately these notes cannot be viewed online. Suffice to say some statements ring more true than others. Nonetheless, if your ancestor or family member participated in these seminal conflicts, then it is worth checking to see if they submitted a statement.
For further information about the witness statements and about searching for Irish ancestors and family members who served during conflicts on the island of Ireland, please follow the link to my blog article 'Records of the Military Service of Irish Soldiers, Volunteers & Freedom Fighters'.


Land Valuation Records for family members in Lecanvey, County Mayo.
6. Land valuation records are a wonderful asset for helping us to understand where our ancestors lived and when they lived there. Also, did they own their homes, or were they tenants? A change recorded in the rate books may help us to confirm details such as the date of migration for an ancestor, his/her date of death, or the date of sale for the property in which he/she lived.

However, not all Land Valuation Records are online. The National Archives of Ireland has valuation records dating from 1823 to 1856. These are the records which underlie and inform the Griffith's valuation, and they contain more information about households and landholding than can be found in the printed version. Unfortunately valuation records dating from 1860 forward into the 20th century are NOT online. Those records are held by the Land Valuation Office in the Irish Life Centre, Dublin, and there are currently no plans in place to post them online. You can access some Land Valuations records through your local LDS family history centre, but you have to be a member of the church in order to view them online. Also, be aware that these are on microfilm, so the images are black and white. Part of the practice of recording Land Valuation records involved the use of different coloured inks to mark changes; a significant factor that is lost in black and white microfilm.

Link to Land Valuation Records 1823 -1856 at the National Archives of Ireland

Link to the printed version of Griffith's Valuation

Link to my article 'Tracing the Tenancy & Ownership of a Family Home: Warblestown'


7. For those of you looking for professional assistance with research, beware of ‘experts’ with little or no expertise. Some persons declare themselves as genealogists who ‘specialize’ in Ireland, yet they have little or no education in Irish genealogy, and often are not even certified as genealogists. Worse still, some of them have spent little or no time in Ireland.

For too many, their so-called expertise stems solely from work with online records. Having an Ancestry account doesn’t make someone an expert. If you hire a professional genealogist outside of Ireland, be sure to ask about their education and credentials before handing over a penny to them. I have heard horror stories from a number of people who paid large sums of money to ‘experts’ only to wind up with a poorly researched and inaccurate family tree.

Consider commissioning research through Accredited Genealogists Ireland  to be sure you have an educated, certified and professional Irish genealogist working for you. (By the way, I am not in any way affiliated with this organization.)


8. Sometimes, no matter how much effort has gone into keeping the story straight, down through time some family stories go a little askew. For a look at how some stories have gone by the wayside, please see my blog article 'Is someone playing 'Telephone' with your Irish family history?

My shot, framed by small leaf shamrock, of a
monument of St. Patrick that stands over a family grave
at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
©Copyright Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman 2010-2019.

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