Tracing my great grandmother’s genealogy has been a challenge. For one thing, I had no idea what townland in Ireland she was from. All the information I initially knew was only that she was from Kilkeel. Even though Kilkeel is a small fishing village, it’s a large civil registration district that encompasses the south end of the Mourne Mountain area in Northern Ireland.
The second challenge has been a bit more daunting. In fact, it’s a conundrum and I don’t know quite what to make of it – there is a three-year difference in my great grandmother Mary’s age from her birth records than future records that document her life. Mary’s later records – those when she lived in Birkenhead in Britain and subsequent records after she immigrated to the United States give her age as three years younger than her original Irish birth records state.
I’ve been doing genealogy for a long time now and I know even if it’s written down on an official government document doesn’t mean it’s factual. People make mistakes all the time: they make stuff up, government workers incorrectly document facts, and there are misspellings, etc. etc. But my great grandmother Mary’s records after 1890 are consistently three years off, all the way to her death in Burien, Washington.
Was it deception?
This begs the question: was Mary deliberately deceiving people of her age? I’d like to think not but I don’t know the answer. If someone has an explanation why something like this happens, I’d like to hear it.
Now, it was common in the mid-19th century for people not know the exact date they were born, especially before civil records existed in Ireland, but my great grandmother was born in 1866, four years after civil records were implemented in Ireland. Also, I imagine 9-year-olds know they are not six-year-olds. In birth records, Mary was born before her sister Rose. Later records give her age as younger than her sister.
This is probably why I’ve had such a difficult time “looking” for my great grandmother in genealogical records. I even went as far as hiring a professional genealogist a few years back. The problem was I also had her incorrect birthplace, which is common since the survivors giving the information may not know the exact birthplace. Her obituary, which I came in possession of about 10 years ago, states she was born in Downpatrick (maybe a mistake for County Down).
I may never know why there is a discrepancy, but he following is a short narrative of my Irish great grandmother’s life that I’ve compiled with genealogical records:
Mary Rogers O’Rourke – an Irish immigrant and my great grandmother
Mary Rogers was born March 16, 1866 in County Down in the townland of Moneydorragh More in what is now Northern Ireland. The name “Moneydorragh” comes from the Irish Muine Dorcha meaning “dark thicket/scrub” and the word “More” means great in Irish. There is an adjacent townland named Moneydorragh Beg, “Beg” meaning little in Irish. Moneydorragh More encompasses most of the town of Annalong and the surrounding farms in between the Mourne Mountains and the Irish Sea. Annalong is located about 5.5 miles northeast of the fishing port town of Kilkeel. Here is a link to the map of the Kilkeel Parish that shows the location of the Moneydarragh townlands: Kilkeel Parish map
Mary’s parents were Hugh Rodgers, and Mary Roney, according to the Irish Civil Registration Birth Index. Again, the spelling of names in 19th century were not standard, so Mary’s mother’s name can also be found spelled “Rooney” and her father’s name, of course, was often spelled “Rogers.” Mary’s sister Rose was born two years later in 1868.
When Mary was not quite three years old, her mother died of heart disease on Dec. 2, 1868. (Source N. Ireland Death Registration). According to the death certificate, Mary’s mother died at home and her father was present when Mary’s mother died.
According to family legend, Mary’s father, Hugh, also died when Mary and Rose were very young and the two girls went to live with grandparents. Unfortunately, I cannot verify this with genealogical records as I could find no death certificate for Hugh Rogers or any information on who the sisters went to live with.
Like Mary’s future husband, John O’Rourke, not much is known about her childhood in County Down, other than the early deaths of the girls’ parents. Her father was a “labourer,” according to Mary’s mother’s death certificate.
Emigrates to England
Other sources that I have yet to verify claim that Mary and Rose were taught to be seamstresses so they would have a profession in later life. This is verified in the 1891 England census where Rose’s profession is listed as “dressmaker.” Mary also has a listed profession, but unfortunately it is illegible.
In 1891, both Rose and Mary are listed as living in Tranmere, Birkenhead (near Liverpool) on 15 Spring Street. The sisters are listed as living with an older couple, Richard and Bridget Ward, who were also born in County Down. The sisters probably knew the Wards or Ward family members when they were growing up. It is not known when the sisters left County Down and immigrated to the Liverpool area.
Later in 1891, Mary married my great-grandfather John Rourke, who was also living in Tranmere and also from County Down. As I wrote in my great grandfather’s narrative it is not known if they knew each other growing up even though they were both living about 10 miles apart in County Down.
Mary and John’s family emigrates to the United States
In the last decade of the 19th century, and while they were living in the Liverpool area, John and Mary had four children: James Francis in 1892, John Aloysius in 1894, Wilfred Hugh (my grandfather) in 1897 and Mary in 1899. In 1904, their youngest daughter Eileen was born. She and my great grandfather and their entire family immigrated the US in 1907, making the trip on the ship “Teutonic” from Liverpool to New York and then traveling by train to Puyallup, Wash. the home of Mary’s cousin, James Cunningham. The Cunningham family paid for their tickets, enabling the whole family to travel second class instead of in steerage, the class that most immigrants traveled. Ellis Island records describe Mary as 5-feet tall, “fresh complected,” with fair hair, and blue eyes.
Except for subsequent US Census records in 1910, 1920 and 1930 stating that Mary and John lived most of their life in Bellingham, Wash., not much else is known. In 1935, my great grandfather John died. In 1940, US census records give Mary’s residence as Burien, Washington near Seattle. After 1940, she shows up in public records in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index. It was in these records, I finally found the clue to her birthplace. It states “Monadorrow D, Republic of Ireland.” There is no townland “Monadorrow” but a fellow amateur genealogist who has helped me out on occasion theorized it was actually “Moneydorragh” and that is where I found her birth records.
Mary died on March 3, 1948 in Lake Burien, Washington. Her funeral program states her birthdate as June 12, 1869. Her obituary states she was survived by all five children, 10 grandchildren, two great grandchildren and her sister, Rose, living in McMinnville, Oregon. My great grandmother is buried with my great grandfather in Calvary Cemetery in Seattle.