I’ve been meaning to delve a little more into my Gray family history for quite a while now. My mother’s father, William Gray, died when she was nine years old and having missed out on a lifetime of stories she could only repeat what her older siblings told her. That said, it was also noted that although a jolly Irishman, he wasn’t given to telling stories about his family who remained in Ireland.
William Gray (29 November 1885 – 14 April 1941) was born in Drogheda, Ireland and married my grandmother, Annie Mullins (16 March 1899 – 3 May 1995) in June 1919. Theirs wasn’t a straightforward love story, however, they married and had three sons before moving to Liverpool in the mid-1920s and completing their family. I wrote about this time in their lives in Gray Family History: a Brief Overview of the Mullins/Southwell Branch.
William Gray was the youngest child of Patrick Gray and Mary Hand. I’ve previously written about Patrick Gray in this post. We know Patrick and Mary had six children. This is because the Irish census of 1911 tells us that to the question ‘total children born alive’ Patrick recorded six and to the question how many are ‘still living’ Patrick recorded three. But which three?
Irish genealogical research is actually quite difficult the further back in time that you go. Documents kept at the Public Record Office were destroyed in 1922 after an explosion and fire. Studying parish registers is also problematic as the oppression of Roman Catholics’ record keeping resulted in only one in seven pre-1800 churches having registers to explore.
I visited the General Register Office during two family history trips to Ireland, once in August 2002 and again in April 2005. During those trips I searched for records of births deaths and marriages. I came away feeling quite accomplished! I had photocopies of entries in the registers and several birth, marriage and death certificates enabling me to explore the families of each branch of my family tree and take my family tree further back in time. However, I had only managed to confirm the existence of five of Patrick and Mary’s six recorded children. There was a mystery with the missing child of Patrick and Mary but anecdotal evidence and obituaries offered me further clues. In my great-grandfather’s obituary, there is a reference to a son James who had died during the Great War. So I had the missing son, right? Wrong.
There was also the story of my grandfather’s brother living in Philadelphia, indeed, my grandfather also went stateside for a while. My grandmother was said to correspond with the brother’s wife. According to my mother, my grandmother once said on the birth of a grandson named Thomas, that my grandfather had a brother called Thomas. So who was the brother who crossed the Atlantic? Could it be that he was photographed with his brother and his young family when he travelled to America? (See below) My mother documented in her memoirs that this was his brother’s family.
My maternal cousin and I share a love of family history and an email exchange a couple of years ago left us pondering more unanswered questions. The obituary of Patrick Gray discussed James Gray, of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who died at Salonica during the Great War from wounds received in action. My cousin, after a bit of judicious searching, found a record on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for a J. Grey of the Royal Flying Corps. He died of malaria on 23 September 1917 aged 40, and aged 41 on his CWG commemorative certificate and that is only the first discrepancy. My cousin, much more informed on military history than me, explained that he was probably on detachment from the Royal Irish Fusiliers when he took ill and sadly, malaria was not uncommon in that arena. The image below is a picture of William Gray (seated) but with whom? Could it be that this was one of his older brothers, John or Henry?
We have more questions left: firstly, the death certificate and CWG certificate records John as five or six years younger than his actual age. However, many men lied about their ages when joining up. My grandfather originally joined the Enniskillen Dragoons underage, and on my paternal side, a great-grandfather joined up using his mother’s maiden name as an alias as he was too old for combat. Secondly, who is James? Could the answer to a son called James be that the author of the obituary got the name wrong? My cousin and I came to this conclusion.
And, if James didn’t exist and John died during the war, that leaves Thomas? Well, Thomas must have been the son that went to Philadelphia, right? Wrong.
So now you’re up to speed with my Gray/Hand research until this week.
I’ve tried over the years to dig a little further, but the reality is that for me I probably should head back into the archives and search some baptism and marriage registers to explore family groups and that would help me find ‘lost’ ancestors via tangential relationships. Essentially, I need to put some leaves on what really are bare twigs of the Gray/Hand branch of my family tree.
At a loss without going to Ireland and re-checking the the BMD registers I decided to go back to online research. I logged into Family Search website – the Church of the Latter Day Saints – they have done an amazing job over the years with a global troupe of volunteers who transcribe parish registers into a digital format. I first used it at the very start of my research in 2001. Within five minutes of searching for a ‘Gray’ born in ‘Drogheda’ I had a hit! I had found the ‘lost’ brother. Henry Francis Gray born 24 April 1875, there listed on the page along with his siblings. There was never a James or a Thomas. I’m left wondering if I simply missed Henry when examining the register (twice) or if the page was incomplete.
And so when I stated last week that grandad’s missing brother was ‘a tricky one’, I meant it. What I didn’t know at the time was that his great-granddaughter had uploaded her family tree onto Family Search and I was to recognise the connection and finally have Henry rightly recorded and remembered with his brothers and sisters.