Behind the scenes in the Genealogy Advisory Service

The fun of the genealogy service in the National Library is that we never know in advance who we’ll meet, or what stories we’ll hear.  Our job is to listen, to identify verifiable facts and events, and to guide enquirers in their research.  The search never ends, because family history isn’t just about the past, it allows people to construct their own personal identity.

This week we look at one family story that had its’ origins in a family tradition.

Madeline Provenzano Ingram of Michigan dropped in to the Genealogy Room in late September. She was newly married, and had stopped-over in Dublin for a few days to see the sights, before continuing on to Rome, where she planned to study for a semester. Madeline wanted to see if the Library’s Genealogy team could help her to trace her great-grandma Molly Burke.  Madeline believed that Molly’s family were strongly Nationalist. The family tradition was they were caught up in the Irish Revolution.

The first step was to establish a paper trail: we found a marriage of Mary Burke to David McEvoy in Dublin South in 1894, and a census return for the family in 1901.

In 1901 David Joseph McEvoy’s family, occupied a two room apartment in a tenement building in Dublin’s North Inner City. McEvoy was a newspaper clerk, aged 30 years. He was born in Dublin county, but unusually for a Dublin native, he spoke Irish and English. Molly (identified as Mary Florence) kept house, and cared for their three children, Josephine Mary (5); Florence Marinna (3) and David Joseph (2).

In 1903 the McEvoys planned to immigrate to Canada. David McEvoy travelled to the city of Montreal, Canada, to scope out work opportunities and living accommodation. Shortly after his arrival, David McEvoy was found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Mollie McEvoy was in her 20s when she was widowed, with three young children to support. She became a dancer in a Dublin theatre. In 1909 she married a second time to Robert Monteith, a former soldier in the Royal Artillery.

I showed Madeline how to find Monteith’s British Army Service record on

Between 1895 and 1901 Robert Monteith served in India and the Punjab, and in the relief of Ladysmith in South Africa’s Boer War.

We found the newly married Robert and Mary Florence Monteith in the 1911 Census. Robert was now a Commissions agent working for an insurance company, while Molly recorded no occupation. (Legend has it, she was still working in a theatre, but now in the box-office). Molly’s youngest two children by her first marriage were living with them – Florence (13), David Joseph (12); and a new arrival Violet Monteith aged 10 months.

Once we knew the names of Molly Burke’s family, we could focus research on tracing a revolutionary connection. Using the witness statements published online, we pieced together the story of how Captain Robert Monteith was caught-up in the Irish Revolution.

A couple of years after we found the Monteiths in the 1911 Census, Molly’s husband Robert Monteith enlisted in the Irish Volunteers. By 1915 Monteith was ‘deported internally’ within Ireland by the authorities. He was forced to leave Dublin, and relocated to Limerick where he became de facto commanding officer of the Limerick Brigade.

In 1915 Tom Clarke and the Military council of the Irish Volunteers sent Robert Monteith to Germany, to liaise with Roger Casement. They negotiated the support of the German Imperial Government to assist with weapons and men for the imminent Irish Revolution.

Madeline told me that before Captain Monteith left for Germany, he made sure that Molly and her children were safely out of harm’s way. On findmypast we found the ship’s manifest for Molly Monteith and her children, who sailed aboard the Philadelphia S.S. departing Liverpool on 11th September 1915.

Ship's Manifest Monteith & McEvoy family escape Dublin 1915

On 15th April 1916 the Germans provided a submarine to take Roger Casement and Robert Monteith to Ireland, ahead of a shipment of guns and ammunition on the Aud.

The Aud arrived in Tralee Bay, disguised as a Norwegian merchant ship. It was intercepted by the British Navy, and the crew scuttled the ship, sending the cargo of weapons to the sea’s floor.

On 21st April the German submarine with Casement and Monteith arrived in Tralee Bay. Failing to link-up with the Aud, it tried to land its’ passengers on Banna Strand. The dinghy overturned in the surf, and they were drenched. Casement, already seriously ill, hid in an abandoned building nearby and was captured. Captain Robert Monteith went on the run, eventually making his way to Liverpool, where he took ship for New York, disguised as a stoker.

Every family has a story of “how grandpa won the war.” We’ve learned to pay attention, and to weigh up the evidence of what we hear. One method is to identify elements of a family story linked to historical events, to try and anchor the story in real time. In this case, we found that Madeline’s family were intimately involved in the unfolding of the Irish Revolution.

Thank you to Madeline Provenzano Ingram for sharing her family history with readers of our newsletter.





This entry was posted in News.