Gray Family History: a Brief Overview of the Mullins/Southwell Branch

Gray – maternal line

My mother’s family, her parents and three older brothers, arrived in Liverpool in the mid-1920s. Her father was William James Gray (1885 – 1941) and her mother Anne Southwell (1899 – 1995), their marriage certificate states that my grandmother’s father was ‘unknown’. This is not strictly true: her birth certificate states that her father was John Mullins. However, I have been unable to find an official record of the marriage of my great-grandparents Margaret Southwell (1869 – 1951) and John Mullins. 

Photocopy of birth certificate of Annie Mullins (Anne Southwell)

Annie Mullins (later known as Anne Southwell) was born in Holles Street Hospital, Dublin and raised in Mell, Drogheda, Ireland. Margaret’s parents were John and Anne Southwell (c1830 – 1923). From my research, I learned that Margaret was one of five siblings. The only known (to me) sibling of Margaret who reached adulthood was John, born 1870, and most likely died in the spring of 1897.

Granny Southwell or Granny Gray? I’ve spent years thinking this photo was Margaret Southwell, my cousin has similar photos and thought that they were Granny Gray (nee Hand). Who is correct? We’ll probably never know

What is known, is that my grandmother never knew her father. The story Nanna told my mother was that John Mullins wanted to take Margaret and Annie to Australia, leaving behind my grandmother’s older half-sister Mary (known as Molly) Southwell. My great-grandmother refused to leave her first daughter behind and so John Mullins emigrated alone. 

My grandmother met my grandfather, fourteen years her senior, when he returned to Drogheda after the Great War, as the First World War was known then, he proposed and she accepted, soon regretting the decision. She wrote to him to call the engagement off, however, her mother and sister got wind of her change of heart and insisted she marry William. At the time my grandmother and her mother were living in Molly’s marital home, she was told that if she didn’t go ahead with the marriage she had to get out of Molly’s house. William and Anne married in June 1919 at Tullyallen Church. She told my mother that she was forced into the marriage.

William James Gray (seated) and Anne Southwell (standing to his right) on their wedding day

When I began researching my Gray/Southwell ancestry I discovered that Nanna’s marriage certificate was damaged from being folded for several years. I purchased a new copy and when I compared the two awareness dawned, the original wasn’t just damaged, the offending words ‘father unknown’ had been cut out. Nanna admitted in her later years that she had always feared she was illegitimate, but her marriage certificate offered her proof. It contradicts her birth certificate and so we are left to think that a marriage between her parents never took place. 

This suggests her birth certificate, a legal document, was falsified, raising doubt about the veracity of the father’s information on the certificate. Why did Margaret give birth in a Dublin hospital rather than Drogheda? Had her relationship taken her away from Drogheda or was she hiding a secret from her community?

Is it true that my grandmother’s father abandoned the family as he didn’t want to look after another man’s child resulting in Margaret and her daughters reverting to her maiden name? That account may have offered a crumb of comfort to a distressed child who was possibly taunted at school for being fatherless. 

Molly’s marriage certificate states that her ‘reputed father’ was Dan Soraghan. This supports the hypothesis that Margaret Southwell bore both children outside of marriage; if she had one child outside of marriage a second illegitimate child was probable. 

Molly’s marriage to Joseph McNulty resulted in five children, but Nanna didn’t get on with her sister and mother, therefore there was limited contact between the families. However, Nanna did offer a home to the McNultys, along with her mother, when the McNultys first moved to Liverpool. They later settled in Blessington Road, Anfield, in a corner property that was also a barber shop, for Joe to practice his trade. 

They later returned the favour and looked after my mother’s youngest brother between 1942 – 43, whilst a widowed Anne worked in a munitions factory, as it was thought he was too young to be evacuated. This arrangement only ended when he developed rheumatic fever and needed medical attention. When eventually discharged from hospital, he was placed in the care of the nuns at the convent where my mother was also evacuated in Freshfield, near Formby.

My mother’s sister remembered an occasional visit to her cousins in Anfield, later though, there was a permanent rift and all contact was broken off.

My mother remembered little to no contact with the family. She arrived home one day in October 1951 to see my grandmother watching a lady walk across the square, ‘Who’s that, Mam?’ She asked.

‘Your Auntie Molly’, she replied, ‘My mother’s just died.’


I recently wrote an article about my grandmother and a book that she owned until the end of her life.

Other family history posts can be accessed here.


Images author’s own

12 thoughts on “Gray Family History: a Brief Overview of the Mullins/Southwell Branch

  1. That’s very sad about your grandmother’s marriage, though I’m certain it wasn’t unusual for the time. The whole thing sounds like a terrific puzzle to solve. Interesting photos. I hope you can eventually identify which grandmother you have there!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is sad, but maybe if they had allowed her time to think she could have reached the decision herself. She would only have been 19 or 20, very young by our standards to be deciding something life changing. I don’t think there are any more photos around, it would be great to have a third person to share a photo to be the deciding vote!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is SO cool. I love reading about family history – it always drives my imagination wild thinking about what kind of fictional stories I could come up with based on things that actually happened. Major props to your research abilities!

    Liked by 1 person

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