Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Family Research So Far...

Last night I was informed that Ireland has completed putting its 1911 census records online. This is a major cause for celebration, and I'll talk about it later in this post. But I created this blog in order to document the progression of my family research, so let's begin at the beginning.


This expedition began when I (perhaps foolishly!) had my mitochondrial DNA tested. To make a long story short, mitochondrial DNA is passed only from mothers to their children. So my mitochondrial DNA results would be the same as my mother's, and her mother's, and her mother's, and so forth. In addition, my sister and my cousins who are the children of my mother's sisters have the same DNA pattern.

In theory, a matrilineal line can be traced back over millennia. Scientists have worked out matrilineal classifications of European ancestry, of which there are roughly seven. These classifications are called haplogroups. I say "roughly" seven haplogroups because it turns out that some haplogroups have many subdivisions, called subclades. Scientists are still working to establish which are the older haplogroups and subclades and which are the newer ones. The older ones are maybe 40,000 - 50,000 years old; the newer ones might be 10,000 - 15,000 years old.

What I understand of mtDNA testing is as follows. There are three types of matrilineal DNA testing one can undergo, depending on how deeply one wants to test. The theory is that when somebody matches your DNA pattern, you share a recent common ancestor. "Recent" has a lot of wiggle room, but the more detail you have that matches another person's DNA pattern, the more recent the ancestor that you and the matching person share.

Assuming one has European ancestral origin, hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) testing will likely result in an assignment to one of the seven major European haplogroups. I am in Haplogroup H. Roughly 40% of native Europeans fall into Haplogroup H, so this is of little help.

Therefore, I went ahead and tested my hypervariable region 2 (HVR2). Now the number of matches I have in Family Tree DNA have plummeted because of the constraint of additional criteria. I am down to only about 27 other matches. So my DNA pattern is rather uncommon.

By the way, my Family Tree DNA kit number is N73108, and my DNA pattern is as follows:

HVR1: 16362C 16482G

HVR2: 239C 263G 315.C

The third type of test is the Coding Region test.

The full genomic sequence (FGS) is assessed when all three tests are completed.

My DNA pattern matches a number of others who have been assigned to subclade H6. So if I were to do the Coding Region test that is what I'd look to confirm (or refute). It turns out that H6 is a big mystery. It is thought to be a very old branch of H. It shows up a little bit in Ireland, is less common in the UK, pops up again in Scandinavia, and has a substantially heavier presence in the Balto-Slavic areas and the middle East. Go figure. Here is a great webpage on the subclades of Haplogroup H.

Seeing what a European misfit I was, it certainly started me thinking about Grandmom. Where did she come from? It was time to start digging into her's and Granddad's family histories.


Here is the information I started with that I was 100% certain of:

  • Mom grew up in Bunalun (Bunalunn), Skibbereen, the third oldest child of John and Mary Collins.
  • The children were (not sure about the birth order): Margaret (Peg), Humphry, Mary (my mother), Eileen, Denis, Brendan, and Teresa.
  • Granddad had been in the IRA prior to the formation of the Irish Free State.

The rest of what I know is with varying degree of uncertainty:

  • There was either a stillborn or a child who died shortly after birth named Nora.
  • Grandmother was 16 and Granddad was 28 when they married.
  • Grandmother and Granddad were cousins. Grandmother's maiden name was also Collins.
  • I initially did not know with certainty if both Grandmom or Granddad were originally from Skibbereen.
I visited Ireland once with my parents, in July 1974. I vaguely recall visiting my Grandmother's brother "Bob." He lived around Bantry Bay. I remember the visit, because Mom started shrieking to him "You're left-handed!" Yes, I am ciotógach. Neither Dad nor my Mom could figure out where the left-handedness came from, until the day she witnessed her Uncle Bob slicing a loaf of bread.

I confirmed Grandmother's age at marriage in a rather amusing way. During that 1974 visit, I was not yet 16. Grandmother said something to me about 16 being too young to date. "But," I said, "You were 16 when you got married!" I don't remember how Grandmom responded but I do remember Mom smirking.


I started out by getting a copy of Mom's birth certificate. The first thing I learned was that she was born in Bauravilla, up the road from Bunalun. So the family lived in Bauravilla before Bunalun. This was completely new information to me.

The Southern Star is the Skibbereen newspaper. I spent two days querying the Southern Star news archives, searching for everything I could find about any Collins in Bauravilla or in Bunalun. I expanded my search to more Collinses in the Skibbereen area in general, and I extended my search backwards to about 1900. I have a stack of printouts from all these endeavors.

From these searches I was able to determine that the family "materialized" in Bauravilla prior to 1930 and moved to Bunalun roughly around 1940.

I was also able to find obituary notices for not only Mom, but also Grandmom and Granddad. I sent away for Grandmom's death certificate, but the certificate does not provide much background information. It did say she was a "Drinagh worker's wife." I had thought she was 69 when she died, but the death certificate said 71. (The death certificate does not provide a birth date, only the age at death. Aunt Peg was the informant.) Granddad's obituary notice provided details on his military service, but perhaps more importantly gave his middle initial "H." Right now I am assuming that stands for Humphry.

The news archives are a goldmine of information in a number of ways. When a funeral was written up, the newspaper often provided a list of mourners and their relationships to the deceased. This was particularly true 80 years ago, but unfortunately that quality of reporting has deteriorated over time. From funeral information I was able to work out some partial family trees of other Collinses in the Skibbereen area (which I hope to join one day to my own family tree).

Second, if a family relative was in the Roman Catholic clergy, that family got press.

Third, if somebody got ticketed by the police (garda), even for the trivial offense of driving a vehicle with expired tags, that often made it into the newspaper. In my case it was practically a Collins family tradition! I am pretty sure I have found instances of Granddad, Uncle Humphrey, and Uncle Denis all being cited.

Fourth, Granddad and Grandmom were farmers. They turned up in the papers in agriculturally related endeavors. Grandmom entered produce and agricultural products in local agricultural fairs. She and Granddad also posted advertisements for cows, straw, eggs, etc.

At this point I had found out all I could about John and Mary Collins from these information sources. I purchased a genealogy software package and started entering everything I could about my family, as well some of the other Collinses I encountered from the newspaper archives.

I started searching around on the web for further genealogy resources, and started looking at the resources provided by the Mormon church (LDS). The Mormons have incredible resources! But I knew I needed to seek out some blood relatives and get information from them before I started looking around for John and Mary.


Happily, I found cousins over the Internet! It was amazing to talk to them after not seeing them for 35 years.

Cousin Jeanne was able to provide me a crucial clue. Apparently, Granddad had two brothers named Michael and Humphry. This ended up being extremely valuable information.


One of my immediate goals was to search the 1911 census records (courtesy of LDS) in the hopes of finding either Granddad's or Grandmom's household. In order to search the census, one has to know the District Electoral Division (D.E.D.) a townland is in. (D.E.D.'s do not necessarily have the same boundaries as the local civil parishes. They are somewhat like U.S. Congressional districts, which can get shifted over time.) Skibbereen Heritage Center got me started with that information. With listings of townlands in each Skibbereen D.E.D., I was then able to search the LDS 1911 census index and obtain D.E.D. numbers. With the help of the folks at the Orange Family History Center (OFHC) here in Southern California I was able to figure out what other LDS films made sense to look at in order to find my grandparents.

Skibbereen is a big place, and I wanted to improve my odds of searching the right townlands for Collinses, so starting from the Woodfort D.E.D., which includes Bauravilla and Bunalun, I wanted to spread out from there. Another resource I thought would be helpful is the surname frequencies listed by civil parish in the 1851-1853 timeframe, provided by the Irish Times. Enter Bunalunn, and a record comes up for the civil parish Caheragh. Click on Caheragh, scroll to the bottom, and you'll see the most common surnames in that parish back in the 1850's. (I am assuming that the relative proportions of surnames stayed pretty much the same by the time 1911 rolled around.) The Collins surname is #3, so yes I want to spend lots of time poking around in the Caheragh civil parish. Scroll further down and you'll see the civil parishes adjacent to Caheragh. Click on Kilmocomoge, check the surnames, and you'll see that Kilmocomoge, has NO Collinses. I don't want to spend my time looking around in Kilmocomoge.

During my visit to the OHFC I went ahead and ordered census record film for some of the Skibbereen D.E.D.s. I also looked at Irish birth index records. This was quite tedious. Even with an approximate year of birth, there are just too many Johns and too many Marys. The index does not give middle names or initials; it does not say WHERE in Skibbereen somebody was born; it does not give the exact date of birth, only the quarter of the year of birth (three month period); it does not provide any parents' information. Even worse, it turns out that from this source of information, birth record details are just not available between 1881 and 1900. I don't yet know if this means that it is 100% impossible to ever get a birth record from the Ireland civil registration for somebody born in that time period. But this blackout period is a bummer.


And then last night, I got a wonderful piece of news. At this point I have been waiting to get the LDS film of the 1911 census. I found out last night that Ireland has completed putting 1911 census information online, and that now includes County Cork.

I thought I'd give the search a try and entered: Collins, John, Cork, left Townland and D.E.D. blank, age=17, Male. Miraculously, I found a household in the Bredagh D.E.D. in Tooreen with not only a John but a Michael and a Humphry.

Eureka! Even though Granddad is a few years younger than I expected, I think this is him. Knowing the names of some of the brothers helped me identify the household. What really helped is that Humphry is a rare name.

The Bredagh D.E.D. was on some of the films I ordered from LDS, so if these records had not come online, I still would have found the correct census record by looking at the films.

Oddly, there are no parents listed in Granddad's household record. Brother Michael is listed as the head of the household. Were Granddad and his siblings orphans? The only other adult listed is a grandparent, Mary McCarthy. Is Mary McCarthy listed by her maiden name or her married name? If she is listed by her maiden name, she could either be Granddad's paternal or maternal grandmother. If she is listed by her married name (which I think is more likely for Ireland), then she must be his maternal grandmother. Argggh! More unanswered questions!

From the online census you get information not only about the family but even the neighbors. Leave all search fields blank except townland=Tooreen, D.E.D.=Bredagh, and you'll see that there were lots of McCarthys and Hourihanes (two major southern Ireland clans) as well as Kingstons, Lynches, and others. There was a Michael McCarthy next door to Great-great-grandmother, Granddad and his siblings. What was Michael McCarthy's relationship to Granddad's household?

Not having parental information in a household census record is abnormal. So where do I go from here? I want to recheck the birth indexes from the 1890's. While I was busily scanning for John Collins and Mary Collins in Skibbereen, I noticed that there were numerous Collinses named Denis, or Michael, or Jeremiah, or Cornelius, something else, but not Humphry (or Humphrey). So I want to go back and look for a Humphry Collins, born around 1900. He might have been born after that "blackout" period, so I might get lucky. The other avenue I want to pursue is the 1901 census. If I can turn up the 1901 household record surely it will list the parents. I'll start with LDS film #865092, index of townlands for the 1901 census. According the Ireland census office the National Archives are working on putting 1901 records online also. But I am too impatient to wait!


Grandmom was the whole reason I started this trip! The only piece of information I have about her, other than possible birth years, is that she had a brother she called Bob. If Bob was her brother and Bob was a nickname for Robert, this might be helpful. Robert is almost as rare as Humphry in the 1911 online census.

Searching for Robert Collins in Cork turns up five records, three which are of interest. Robert in Wolfe Square, Bantry Urban was apprenticed to a non-family household. Where did he come from? Robert in Canning Place, Monkstown (across from Cobh, I believe) had a younger sister named Mary (about the right age). Robert in Ballynidon (alt: Ballyidon), Kinsale Rural not only had an older sister named Mary Kate (also about the right age), but the father was Denis. If this is indeed Grandmom's family, I find it interesting that Uncle Denis could have been named after the father. The only thing that does not "fit" is that these matches are outside of Skibbereen.

There are plenty of other Marys about the right age in the online database, only there are no Roberts or Bobs in those households.

I hope when I visit in July either Denis or Teresa can provide a few details. In the meantime, what I have constructed so far for Granddad is available on my website.