How I found my family in the 1911 census


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.)

Bob Lynch, like the Sullivans, was involved in the "Troubles,” and once for his pains was sent in handcuffs to an internment camp at Ballykinlar, County Down.

A patriotic endeavor

This document, discovered and pored over until often five o'clock in the morning, is a joy to possess, and while it would be unwise to consider that long ago period was some kind of golden era in which to have lived, it is indeed a treasure, and brings local history alive.

The undertaking of this labor of patriotic endeavor by the compilers is highly commendable.

This is who I am - who we all are - the children of courageous grandparents, who must have sometimes felt, as we all do, that life and its difficulties had become so hard to cope with.

Yet they went on, because they knew they must. Time doesn't change the way we are emotionally attached to our bloodline, and should we wish to express gratitude to our forebears, then a fleeting thought warmly felt, suffices.

I am so glad to have been involved in unearthing the little gems of family information which are available at the click of a computer mouse.