‘To actually have it all there in black and white was amazing.’
Orphaned at a young age, Valerie Kenny’s father, Nicholas, had been longing to find out about his family for years.
‘My father would have been around seven or eight at the time he and his siblings were orphaned,’ explains Valerie. ‘They were all sent to orphanages and were separated – the boys and girls went to different places and at different ages they were moved.’
Valerie and her father had been trying to trace his family history for a while when they came to Eneclann. ‘We’d been doing bits of research on and off for a good few years,’ says Valerie. ‘He could find his father’s family to a degree, but when he looked for his mother’s he came up against a brick wall every time. We weren’t really sure how to go about things, and would get so far and then get stuck.’
They talked to locals to see if they knew more. ‘People would say ‘I knew the family’ but it was all hearsay really. My father had been told the family came from Meath and had done a lot of research around that area. But we found out that a lot of the stories he was told weren’t right really!’
Valerie decided to approach a professional. ‘I thought it would be terrible if he never got to find out about his family,’ she says, ‘so I just started searching on the internet to see what was available in Ireland and came across Eneclann.’ After she had completed an assessment form, the research team started investigating the case for her. She decided not to tell her father that she had commissioned them, in case the research team were also unable to find much information.
Eneclann’s research team started by tracing the civil marriage certificate of Nicholas’ parents, Nicholas and Kate. The internal evidence in this document gave them a paper trail to follow, and they soon found that Nicholas (his father) had been born in 1889 in Dublin and that his father (also Nicholas) worked there as a coachman. By the time of the 1901 census the family had moved back to Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, their place of origin. However, within the year Nicholas’ grandfather had died from heart disease at the age of 46.
While Valerie’s father’s paternal line was relatively straightforward to trace, his mother, Kate McDonnell, remained elusive. Valerie’s family believed that Kate was born ca. 1893 and the marriage record proved that Kate’s father was called Michael. Working from this scant information, the Eneclann team found some possible civil birth records for Kate and entries in the 1901 and 1911 census, but the information didn’t add up. None of the birth records were for the right child, and they didn’t have enough evidence to clearly pick out Kate and her family from their dopplegängers in the census. It was frustrating to say the least.
‘Eneclann’s researchers said they needed a good deal more research in order to be sure of finding the right Kate,’ says Valerie. ‘So at that stage I decided I would tell my father and see if he wanted to go further – once he knew there was a possibility of getting the end product he was definitely going to keep going!’
Helen Moss, Eneclann’s principal researcher, picks up the story. ‘On a hunch I decided to contact the parish office of Mullingar Cathedral to see if there were any further details about the couple because sometimes, but not always, the register may contain more information than the civil record,’ she explains. ‘The office staff were very helpful and the register had additional information including Kate’s mother’s maiden name, which was the breakthrough we needed.’
The researchers were then able to locate the family in both the 1901 and 1911 census returns. The additional information contained in the census showed that Kate was born in 1900 – so she was actually 7 years younger than her family believed. Knowing Kate’s mother’s maiden name enabled the researchers to locate her parents’ civil marriage certificate, which gave the names of their fathers. At each generational step, Eneclann’s researchers corroborated the evidence they had to ensure they were on the right track. They eventually brought the search back to Nicholas’ maternal great-grandparents in 1861.
‘Once they found Kate, it was amazing,’ says Valerie. ‘There was so much they found – not just her, but her parents and grandparents. One of the things that surprised us was the size of Kate’s family; my father and his siblings had no idea that there was a big family out there at the time they were orphaned. We were fascinated to discover that my father’s maternal grandfather was a farmer and a miller.’
So, how did Nicholas feel to finally have this information about his family? ‘To actually have it all there in black and white was amazing. The report was very clear, and shows where all the information came from as well’, says Valerie.
‘When it arrived, there was an awful lot for him to take in – there was just so much information, all of a sudden,’ Valerie comments. ‘But he is delighted with it. At this stage it wasn’t so much an emotional journey, as he’s been trying to do it for so long; he just felt, ‘at last we have it!’’
‘His siblings all have copies of the report and are thrilled to have all the information there’, Valerie continues. ‘The fact of just realising there was this big family out there that they didn’t know at all, was amazing. One of his brothers was here in Donegal when the final report came in – they went through it together – he was just delighted, he couldn’t believe he had all that information.’