Family stories, when peered into with some rigour, can unearth some major surprises. This is one of those.
On Saturday, September 23rd 2016, a fascinating English couple arrived in to the Irish Family History Centre (IFHC). The lady was Cathleen Kelly and she arrived with her husband, Tim, who was a retired Cornish miner. Being a geologist myself, I found talking to him enthralling. But it was Cathleen who had come for a genealogy, not a geology, consultation.
We started with the following information: Cathleen’s maternal grandfather was Arthur Meredyth from Kildare; he had been married three times and was a composer of light classical music; and Arthur had been married to a Dublin-born dancer called Venetia Baxter, who went under the stage name of ‘Dinky’.
Given the musical and stage background and that Arthur was apparently on his third marriage, I thought that tracking the family might be difficult. It was. And it threw up some eyebrow-raising results for Cathleen. Arthur, listed as a musical conductor, turned up in the Irish 1911 census, in Londonderry, married to a Harriet Maud (his possible second wife), who was from Dublin, and with two children, both of whom had been born in England. A lot of moving about had evidently taken place. But Arthur himself was not from Kildare. He was from Canada! And tracing Arthur in England in the 1930s via the 1939 Register revealed that his (possible) third wife was not Venetia. It was Leonora.
Family stories often have grains of truth buried in varying layers of myth. Genealogists have to unpick the fact from the fiction.
The ongoing strategy I gave her was to get the English birth certificates for the two children on the Irish 1911 census – that will give the mother’s maiden name. With that, she could track down the marriage between Arthur and Harriet (his possible second wife). That certificate should give Arthur’s own parents’ names and help get into the Canadian records.
Cathleen left the IFHC in a curious state of happy shock. She did not have the Irish heritage she had expected or the ancestral relationships she had expected. But she was closer to the truth and completely invigorated to find out more.
By Patrick Roycroft, with permission from Cathleen Kelly