How I traced my Irish roots through 1911 Census


It was here on the hill, when I clicked on the surname Sullivan, that my dearly departed made themselves known to me.

I was quite stunned at that precise and precious moment, and to my surprise my first reaction was to shed a tear upon reading my grandfather's name. He was someone, after all, and here he was.

He was 50-years-old and he could read and write, it said so there on the carefully filled out form. And he was a "general laborer.”

I felt proud to read his own fine handwriting. He was alive at a time when despite hardship and deprivation, great importance was placed on being educated in the three Rs.

His wife, Mary, was 44, and I remember her coming to live with us for a few years when she was very old, and she died in 1954.

She was from Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay, and I love the idea of having “double” island blood in me. She could read and write, too.

They had four sons, Connie, who was 12, my father, John (Jack), 11, James, nine and Michael, eight. They were down as "scholars" and could read and write, also.

Well done, lads.

O'Sullivan vs. Sullivan

I must add here that my search began by looking for O'Sullivan, and when this trawling was unsuccessful, I included Sullivan in my quest.

My father never used the Ó in his name, but all of his four children have Ó Sullivan on our birth certs.

I feel this came about because of an unspoken command to be seen to be Catholic, and the Ó holds this strange connection.

There was no such pressure in my grandfather's era, apparently, and I now have the evidence Sullivan was indeed our official name. The census tells me they were all Roman Catholic.

Incidentally, and for no other reason but in a kind of deference to my own father, who died in 1978, I have taken to signing my name Sullivan for the past two years. Lovely to now find out it is my real name. Important.

My father and his brothers were involved in the independence struggle in the Bantry area during those terrible years. Little could they have known, as they sat around the kitchen table as young boys while their father signed the form by tilly lamp or possibly just candlelight, that their country and indeed their lives, would reach such turmoil but a decade later.

Jack, and two of his brothers, Jimmy and Michael, went to Canada after being on the losing side of the civil war, and Connie remained at home, even refusing his old IRA pension, in protest.

So sad to see one's family so torn and hurt. He drank too much and died too young.

My uncles never returned from Toronto, died and are buried there. My plan is to visit where they and my father lived in Toronto to see the places and addresses which are familiar to me from letters sent home.

I will be, if I live until 2010, the first of the family to visit my uncles' graves.

Researching my mother's side

My father came home to Bantry in 1945, having married my mother, Margaret (Dolly) Lynch, also from Bantry, in England, to where he had arrived from Canada in 1943.

I was born in 1949, the year my mother's father, Robert Lynch, died.

So now I was searching for Robert (Bob) Lynch. More mystery.

Couldn't find him either, initially, at his known address on Farmers' Lane, off the Glengarriff Road, in Bantry.

I'm off again, and once more beginning at letter “A” of the street alphabet.

I had only arrived at “C” when he popped up, as a "boarder" at the home of a family in number 4, Chapel Street.

I quickly established it was him because he was the only Robert Lynch in Bantry and was listed as a “baker.”

I knew from my mother he was very proud of his profession. Back on track.

The head of household at the address was also a baker, and he wrote my granddad's name as "Robart.”

A spelling mistake, obviously, yet so exciting to learn so much of that one night of a century ago. It was like being right there with them, so close did it all feel.

Could Bob Lynch have been working there that night, baking bread for the morning with his colleague, or was he off gallivanting when he ought to have been at home filling out his own census?

His details as "boarder" (term used if one is in someone else's house on census night at a certain time, according to accompanying notes),are that he was 23-years-old and was married with one child of a year old. He could read and write and speak Irish and English.

The child was my uncle Jerry, and my mother and his other sister and brother were not yet born.

Because he was not at home, his own census form was not filled out, I suppose owing to fact the head of the house was absent. (Feminists take note.)