Friday, November 03, 2006

The Driscoll family - 1800-1900 Ireland & Birmingham

My father's father (and my Y-chromosome sharing ancestor) was Cornelius Curley, born in 1905 in Birmingham, England. His parents were Thomas Curley and Mary Driscoll. Both the Curley and Driscoll families are of Irish extraction. Apparently, 1 in 4 British people claim Irish descent, so I suppose I would be among those.

I knew all of this from talking with family relations, but was also able to confirm it by finding the birth certificate of Cornelius (known as Con) and also his sister Doris. This gave the address of his parents, Thomas' occupation, which was "cycle polisher", and the maiden name of their mother, which was Mary Driscoll. I then got the marriage certificate of Thomas Curley and Mary Driscoll, which showed that they married on 26th December 1904 in Birmingham.

This also told me that Mary's father was John Driscoll, a comedian! The family had told me that they thought that in the Driscoll family background there were 'artists' or 'actors', but I didn't expect comedian. It probably explains a lot about my dad.

Birth certificate of Mary Driscoll, daughter of John & Mary Driscoll - 23/10/1883:

Marriage certificate of John Driscoll & Mary Lines - 25/12/1882:

Knowing a little about John Driscoll and his family from the vital records, I was able to do census searches for the family. I have not yet had the time or opportunity to add extra vital registration records or parish records to this data. The family were all Roman Catholic, and I believe these records are housed at St Chad's Roman Catholic Church, Birmingham. Unfortunately I've not had the time to visit just yet.

In the 1901 census, I found John Driscoll and family living at Tennant Dr, 6 Court, House 9. This appears to be a low working-class area populated with numerous families living in separate rooms within the same house. It is in the Emmanuel parish area. I believe the housing would have looked similar to those above, which are a court in William St. This picture is from the Birmingham Council Victorian collection; it was originally taken for the Housing Committee to record 'slum' properties in around 1904.

From earlier censuses I found that John's birthdate was actually around 1862 not the 1865 it would seem from this census. They are living with three children, Mary (b. 1883), Ada (b1898) and Clement John (b1900). I think there must have been children between Mary and Ada, as 15 years seems to be an extremely large gap. It is likely that these children died in infancy, as it appears did Clement John in 1902 as there is a death record for him in the vital registrations. All of the family were born in Birmingham.

John Driscoll in 1901:

In 1891 the family are living at Cardigan St. in Aston, and it would appear that the comedy is not going so well for John, as he is described as being a 'brass turner'. Interestingly, his widowed mother, Susan Driscoll, is living with them - she was born in 1828 in Birmingham. It's revealing that she was born in Birmingham and not Ireland. Being born in 1828, this is before the mass immigration of Irish, so she could be of either Irish or British ancestry.

John Driscoll in 1891:

From this census, it appears that Mary Driscoll (Cornelius' mother) is the eldest child of John and Mary Driscoll. I've not yet managed to secure their marriage certificate to find out more about the family of Mary. Relations have told me that they think her name may be Mary Lines. This is literally a 'line' that I need to do some more work on.

Knowing that John's mother was called Susan, enabled me to find him in the 1881 census before he married Mary. I found his family living in the Market Hall area at 17 Bastle? Street - at the back of the house, sharing the same dwelling with two other families. John is living with three siblings and his parents, Dennis and Susan Driscoll. Dennis Driscoll was a 'porter jobbing' and was born in 1809 in Cork, Ireland. He seems to have died in March 1889, aged 80, though I need to get a copy of his death certificate to find out more information why. John Driscoll is working as a "negro comedian". Now, this is quite a strange occupation! I'm not sure if the comedy he does after 1901 was also as a 'negro comedian'. However, I have tried to do a bit more research into this strange occupation which I talk about on this page.

As a side note, the Driscoll name is very common to the Cork area of Southern Ireland and more information about that can be found here.

The earlier life of Dennis Driscoll

Dennis Driscoll in 1881:

In 1871, Dennis Driscoll and family were still living in the Market Hall area of Birmingham, at 7 House, 10 Court, Howard Place. Dennis a labourer. Here, we also see John's elder brother Cornelius.

In 1861, the family were living in the same area but at 1 Court 7, Howard Place. Next-door are living Patrick and Mary Christie. This appears to be the widowed Mary Christie who is living with her daughter and the Driscolls in 1871.

The 1851 revealed that Cornelius and his elder brother Thomas are the product of Dennis' first marriage to a Julia, who was born in Cork, Ireland, like Dennis. John and his two younger sisters Ellen and Catherine are the children of Dennis' second marriage to Susan. Mary Ann, the middle child may have been the daughter of either Julia or Susan.

The family are living at Greens' Village, St. Judes parish. Also living with the family are three young girls from Ireland working in jobs like 'candlestick polisher'. There is also a Thomas Connor and Mary Ann Connor who are said to be born in Kiddiminster, who are about 13-15 years younger than Dennis and Julia. They are unmarried, but described as 'brother' and 'sister' to Dennis. I think it likely that they are the brother and sister of Julia, but it might just be that they are brother and sister to each other. It is important to try and work this out, as it would enable us to put a date on when Dennis and Julia came to England. The working hypothesis would be that it is after 1845-9 and the Irish Famine. It is possible that they knew each other in Ireland, but they may have met each other when in Birmingham. Tracing their movements from Ireland to Birmingham will be very challenging. I cannot find Dennis Driscoll in the 1841 census, so I presume that he left Ireland as a result of the famine. However, Irish immigration to England has occurred for a number of reasons.

This is a direct quote from John Haskey's piece in the British Medical Journal, Volume 312, Pages 1373-1374, (1 June 1999) available here:

"Emigration from Ireland has occurred at least since the Act of Union in 1800 (in which Ireland became part of the United Kingdom), the rate of emigration depending on the degree of economic hardship and population pressure at home and the demand for labour and service in Britain. When potato blight destroyed the crop for four successive years in 1845-8, causing the Great Famine, the population of Ireland is estimated to have fallen by as much as one fifth, with possibly as many dying as emigrating. The population stood at 8.2 million in 1841, but was reduced to 6.6 million in 1851. Of those who emigrated, between one in five and one in seven settled in England and Wales. However, the first wave of large scale immigration started earlier, in 1841, when there were already 290 000 people born in Ireland living in England and Wales. By 1861, that number had swollen to over 600 000--representing over 1 in 40 of the population of England and Wales."

Note: Anyone with an interest in Birmingham family history should visit the Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Family History.

The Irish in Birmingham

  • Brief Info on Irish Quarter of Birmingham
  • History of Birmingham Irish
  • Book by Carl Chinn on Birmingham Irish
  • Description of Irish Birmingham Streets (familiar to my family!)

  • The Irish in Victorian England

  • History of the Irish in UK - i really like the graphics on this site
  • Book Review of The Irish in Victorian Britain
  • A nice Summary of The Irish Immigration to Britain
  • Links to newspaper articles from the Cork Examiner with Irish views on the famine

  • General Birmingham history

  • Birmingham history in wikipedia
  • Birmingham Local and Family History Studies
  • More Birmingham history
  • Virtual Brum
  • A brief history of Birmingham
  • Victorian Birmingham in Photos
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