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13 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: An Irish cousin provides vital clues

This Quarantine Quests story was shared by CGS Vice President Maureen Hanlon.

In August of 2015 Maureen made an Ancestry DNA connection with a fourth cousin, Michael Clarke. Michael lives in Warwickshire, England. He and Maureen share third-great-grandparents with the surname Reilly through their respective maternal lines.

As part of their initial correspondence Michael shared the research he’d done in south county Dublin – the area from which Maureen’s great-grandfather, Charles Downes, immigrated from in the 1860s. Most helpful was that Michael was able to provide the location of a cemetery and headstone with names and dates for three generations. This helped to confirm the critically important name of the townland where her ancestors had lived. But even with the new information neither Maureen or Michael could determine the first names of either of their third-great-grandparents. 
Chart showing the relationship between Maureen and her cousin Michael Clarke
Fast forward five years to March 2020, when Maureen found herself stuck at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Seems like a good time to tackle this brick wall and see if I could find the elusive Reilly great-grandparents.” Back in 2015, Michael had pointed Maureen to the 1911 Ireland census, where she had found her grandmother’s Downes first cousins. Armed with this information Maureen was able to build a tree backward and connect those cousins to her grandfather’s siblings, parents and grandparents!

Now Maureen used that same 1911 census to identify the only Reilly family still in the same geographic area. Again she built a tree backwards, using civil records which cover 1864 onward. She used the free website https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/, which also holds the church records for Dublin. Once she had built this theoretical tree she sent it to cousin Michael seeking his opinion of her hypothesis.

Michael agreed that she was on the right track up to a point, but because of missing early records and the number of families in the area in those times with the same name, it was impossible to confirm Maureen's proposed tree.  The land records Michael had thoroughly reviewed were in conflict with Maureen’s thesis.  Michael believes that Maureen is probably missing a generation.
Saint Ann’s Cemetery, Glenasmole, Tallaght Civil Parish, Dublin, Ireland,
where Maureen’s third-great-grandparents Thomas and Honora Downes are buried

So this mystery is yet to be solved, but there is a silver lining. During their recent correspondence Michael, whose paternal line is also from the same area, shared, “a recent discovery with a new vocabulary word for me," Maureen said. A relative of Michael’s had found a letter dated October 1921, which revealed that Michael’s father was the company quartermaster of the Glenasmole IRA. According to the letter, Michael’s father had turned over custody of the parabellum (weapons) which were stashed in a secret cave to Thomas Downes, Maureen’s first cousin twice removed, proving that Maureen’s ancestors were actively engaged in the Irish fight for independence – new knowledge to embellish Maureen’s family history.


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