This blog details my personal search for my Paternal Great Grandmother, Mary Angela Bridgeman.
In writing this post, I hope to provide a better understanding of the effort and tenacity required to undertake some family history research; and demonstrate to you the level of detail and style of story- telling I strive to deliver in my work.
I spent 3 years searching for Angie. This is the second time a great grandmother has eluded me; it took me 2 years to find my maternal great grandmother and the joy at finding her final resting place spurred me on to find Mary Angela.
Mary Angela was born in 82 Summerhill, Dublin on the 9th November 1870 to a Joseph Bridgeman who was originally from Roberstown, Shanagolden, Co Limerick and Margaret Bridgeman, née Kirwan, who was the daughter of the well-known sculptor Michael Kirwan. Her baptism took place in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral on the 14th November 1870.
Her birth was also reported in the Freeman’s Journal on the 10th November 1870. It baffles me somewhat when I read this type of record as it highlights the lack of value given to women in society in those days as neither the wife nor daughter’s name is listed. The address listed is 80 Great Britain Street however the family were living in 82 Summerhill, Dublin at the time. Great Britain Street was renamed Parnell Street after the death of Charles Stuart Parnell in 1891.
Mary Angela Bridgeman married Patrick Louis Farrell on the 10th August 1898 in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral.
During this period, Summerhill was an affluent part of Dublin. Her father Joseph Bridgeman was a Civil Engineer and Surveyor and would have been well known in Dublin circles. There is lots of evidence of his involvement in Dublin society throughout the newspapers of the day.
In particular, I love this newspaper article from the Freeman’s Journal from Saturday December 18, 1875 which reported that Joseph Bridgeman was summoned to court for not having the footpath cleared outside his house following a snowfall. What I love about the article that you can clearly see the man had a great sense of humour and a ‘slight’ disrespect for the proceedings.
Her brother Joseph Kirwan Bridgeman was a barrister-at-law and legal advisor to Hannah Sheehy Skeffington during the court martial of Captain J.C. Bowen-Colthurst, Royal Irish Rifles Regiment, for the shooting of her husband, Francis Sheehy Skeffington in 1916. The Bridgeman family were friends of the Sheehy Skeffingtons and great supporters of the suffragette movement. I believe Joseph’s parents gave him the name Joseph Kirwan and not just Joseph as a nod to his mother’s side of the family the Kirwans. I think this was a fantastic gesture.
Mary Angela’s maternal grandfather was the well-known sculptor Michael Kirwan who received great admiration for his work on church altars. He was an influential Dubliner and became both a champion of Irish Home Rule and of workers’ rights. In 1862, he was a key supporter for the creation of the statue of Daniel O’Connell.
Lots of our ancestors go missing in records as they were poor and had little or nothing. Women also get under reported in records as only head of households were mentioned. So, I was not surprised to find few records about Mary Angela. However, I did expect to find records about Mary Angela’s demise which is what eluded me for most of the 3 years. As her family were very well known about town, I would have expected to see some record of her death.
During a recent lecture by Fiona Fitzsimons at an Irish Family History Course in Trinity College, Fiona spoke about the importance of Oral History in families. Sometimes, these family stories can be lost or distorted in time however, during a conversation with my Aunt Dorothea Kelly, who was Mary Angela’s granddaughter, she recalls being told Mary Angela died in childbirth during the birth of her second son John Anthony, called ‘Shawn’, in 1910. She also mentioned that Mary Angela had a degree but didn’t know what the degree was in and from what university.
I had no reason to doubt this was the case as unfortunately infant mortality and maternal mortality would not have been unusual during this period in our history.
Armed with this additional information, I went about firstly searching for the birth certificate for John Anthony Farrell in 1910 with the hope of finding a death certificate for Mary Angela on the same day.
John Anthony was born in on 12th June 1910 at 28 Belgrave Square, Rathmines, Dublin although apparently, he was always called Shawn. I can see from the 1908 Thom’s Directory that the family were living there.
When I went looking for a death certificate for Mary Angela on the same day John Anthony was born, I was thinking this should have been a simple exercise. But I found nothing. I checked in the days, weeks and months following his birth but came up with nothing. No death certificate, no burial records, no newspaper death notice or obituary. I checked www.irishgenealogy.ie, www.familysearch.org, ancestry, cemetery records up to a few years after and found nothing. I visited the General Registry Office in Werburgh Street, Dublin and did a manual search of the death records over a few years and still came up blank.
I began to consider if the family story was true but that she didn’t die during the childbirth of John Anthony but another child. But again, searches came up with nothing. All records showed that she had only 2 children – my grandfather Patrick Joseph born 1902 and John Anthony born 1910.
My maiden name is Farrell and I didn’t realise until you start looking for a Mary Farrell or any Farrell in fact, that there are lots of us. Most of the records when transcribed don’t record the 2nd name so I had to look for death records for Mary Farrell and not Mary Angela Farrell. There were far too many Mary Farrells to be able to review them all and no specific criteria that I could use to reduce the number to a small group of possibilities.
However, over a 2-3 year period, I checked, double-checked to the extent that I began to recognise the death certificates of various Mary Farrells and could tell as the document opened on the various websites, which Mary Farrell it was and where and how they died. Clearly, I needed a change of approach but didn’t know where to go with this. I feel I wasted a lot of time with this as I had no doubt that the family story was true.
Mary Angela appeared in the 1901 census with her husband Patrick Louis Farrell in Kenilworth Square and I considered this to be 100% true. I also checked for her in the 1911 census and as expected, didn’t find her.
Looking back now, I should have paid more attention to the information in the 1911 Census Record. When I looked at the information initially, I assumed that this confirmed the story that Mary Angela died in childbirth as she is not listed with the family when the census was taken on the 2nd April 1911. When I didn’t see her with her family, I checked all over Dublin and Ireland but couldn’t find her anywhere else. Well if she wasn’t in the census records in 1911, she was either dead or emigrated? I ruled out emigration as she was unlikely to have abandoned her young family.
It was sometime after my search began that I checked Part B of the Census form more carefully. Her husband Patrick Louis made a correction to the information recorded in Column ‘Particulars As to Marriage’. It appears that he crossed out some word which I can’t decipher but it doesn’t appear to have been any of the four options provided i.e. Married, Widower, Widow, Single. He then recorded ‘married’.
I don’t know how I didn’t spot this sooner but he has clearly stated that he is married for 12 years and he has 2 children which was also correct based on my findings. So, Mary Angela must be alive?
I was beginning to feel Mary Angela had fallen off the face of the earth and I would never find her until a distant relative of mine, which I found through searching for Mary Angela, uncovered a photo of Mary Angela dated Christmas 1913. Roisin Fant O’Riordan is Mary Angela’s brother Joseph Kirwan Bridgeman’s (the barrister mentioned above) granddaughter. I had met her after I saw her photo appear on the Richmond Barracks website (see photo above) showing the photo of her grandfather Joseph Kirwan Bridgeman with Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington. I contacted Richmond Barracks and asked them to pass on my information to Roisin and we have been meeting regularly ever since helping each other find out more information about our family history.
I had heard through family history that she had a degree but this was the first time I had seen evidence to the fact. I don’t know who took the photo or where it is taken but the information on the back is incorrect. Angela Bridgeman was the ‘older’ sister of Joseph Kirwan as she was born in 1870 and her brother in 1874. It sounds to me like the person who took the photo and wrote the inscription did not know the family well.
Regardless, the information added more tell-tale signs that the death in childbirth in 1910 story that my aunt was told was incorrect as she was ‘alive and kicking’ in 1913. The photo above was very damaged by age and light so a friend of mine who is a photographer restored it to the best of his ability. My aunt was delighted to see the photo but noted that Mary Angela didn’t look particularly happy in it. It wasn’t until later in my research that this might have been explained.
I spoke with my aunt again but she was 100% sure the story was true. She also recalled being told that Mary Angela was not at the wedding of her son Patrick Joseph in 1926 and also that she had left money for him in her will. From my earlier research, I knew that John Anthony had died in 1927 from an ‘Appendix Abscess / Septicaemia’ so if there was a will, there was only one beneficiary.
I was also able to find out from the Thom’s Directories that the family moved from 28 Belgrave Square between 1913 and 1914 as in the Thom’s Directory in 1914, the family were living in Dollymount, Dublin. They moved address a few times but settled at 399 Clontarf Road, Dublin. As it happens, this house is currently for sale. It was great to be able to view the house online to see all the rooms where my ancestors lived however, I am not 100% sure whether Mary Angela ever lived there. I am not sure why the family moved there as it appears she lived around Summerhill all her life and he grew up around Rathgar / Rathmines. I contacted the estate agent and explained my story and the search for Mary Angela. I asked if, when the house is sold, if he could give my contact information to the new buyers with a view to checking through the deeds of the house. I realise I could also check with the Registry of Deeds in Henrietta Street which I plan do so shortly.
I decided a trip to the National University of Ireland was worth a visit to see if I could find any information about Mary Angela’s time there to help build more of a profile of her. I visited in Feb 2019 and found lots of information about her brother Joseph Kirwan but nothing about Mary Angela. I looked under her maiden name Bridgeman and her married name Farrell. The archivist was extremely helpful but again Mary Angela eluded me. Interestingly, the National University is still in the same building where the Royal University was back in 1890s in Merrion Square so it was lovely to step into the footsteps of my ancestors 130 years later.
The information I found about her brother was great. The Royal University was dissolved in 1909 and became the National University of Ireland. I found from Joseph Kirwan Bridgeman’s application to the Royal University that he went to Clongowes Wood College in Kildare which was and still is one of the most prestigious schools in Ireland. I could see the results of his graduation exams in the Summer of 1893 when he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree. I have been in touch with Clongowes Wood College recently and hopefully they can find some information about Joseph’s time there.
When I checked out the yearbook from 1929 (above), I could see Joseph Kirwan but there was no sign that Mary Angela graduated there. I thought that maybe she attended but didn’t graduate but we couldn’t find any application form for her. I was really bemused as why my aunt was told that she had a degree and also that it was written on the back of a photo, yet there was no reference to her that they could find. Despite the set-back, I was more determined I was to find her. People of her family’s profile don’t tend to go missing.
I had previously searched for the burial place of Mary Angela’s husband Patrick Louis Farrell. I could not find him listed anywhere so I got in touch with the Parks Department of Dublin City Council who checked their records and advised that he was buried in St John the Baptist Cemetery in Clontarf. I met an official from the Parks Department at the cemetery and he had all the charts, maps and the original register with him. We eventually found the grave but there was no headstone which might have provided additional information. I knew from my aunt Dorothea Kelly that Patrick Louis re-married and I was able to locate his marriage certificate. It noted that he married a Margaret McCormack in July 1941. Margaret or ‘Madge’ was not liked by the family as she had previously been the servant / nanny when Mary Angela’s children, John Anthony and Patrick Joseph, were young. The story goes that as a former nurse, when John Anthony ‘Shawn’ had appendicitis, the family felt that she should have known from her experience what was going on and she didn’t respond quickly and he died just after starting his first job in a bank (I’m told). Nonetheless, Madge is buried with her husband Patrick Louis in Clontarf – she died in 1965.
The only information I could ascertain from this is that if he re-married, Mary Angela must have died before 1941. So, my search window was now 1913-1941.
I knew from earlier online research that Mary Angela’s parents were buried in Glasnevin Cemetery so I decided to take a trip to Glasnevin to locate their graves. I knew from other research I had done, that the Glasnevin Trust online records were amazing and I knew from these records that Mary Angela wasn’t buried with her parents. The record shows all the other people listed in the same grave e.g. her parents, her brother, her sisters, her sister-in-law but no sign of Mary Angela. For example, below is the online record for Mary Angela’s father, Joseph Bridgeman.
It was lovely to see such a lovely headstone which lies in the shadow of the O’Connell Monument but sad to see that she wasn’t buried with her family.
Whilst in Glasnevin, I also checked the grave records of her son John Anthony ‘Shawn’ Farrell. I knew from the online records that he was buried his paternal grandfather John Augustine Farrell and I knew from the online records that Mary Angela wasn’t buried here either. When I found the grave, again there was no headstone to give me any more information.
When I searched for any Mary Farrells buried in Glasnevin, there were far too many listed to be able to discern which one might be her. I still had no idea when she died and there is no search facility on address; only First Name, Last Name and Year of Death.
I checked with Mount Jerome Cemetery and ran into the same problem. Lots of Mary Farrells and they couldn’t check unless I gave them a more accurate year of death. Thankfully there are lots of cemetery online records now and I checked ‘Buried in Fingal’ website www.buried.fingal.ie but again no luck. I checked Deansgrange online records at www.dlrcc.discovereverafter.com but no joy there either.
I had looked into the idea that maybe she emigrated… so I had a quick look overseas using Find My Past but soon realised this was a complete waste of time as it was unlikely this was the case and I hadn’t a clue where she might have emigrated to.
Although it was on my to-do-list for a while, I decided to schedule in some time to see if I could see if there was any testamentary records that might help me understand what happened to her. I had been lucky in the past with Will records for the Bridgeman family. Mary Angela’s mother died in Dublin in 1896. Despite the fact that most of the testamentary records that were lodged with the Principal Registry prior to 1922 were lost during the Irish Civil War on 30 June 1922 when, after a two-day bombardment, an explosion and fire ravaged the building. Luckily, I was able to find the Will of Mary Angela’s mother. I am not sure why but I think I that it may have been because her son was a barrister-at-law, and possibly copies of her Will were handed in after the fire in an effort to re-establish the collection of the Public Records Office. I was also lucky to find the Will of Mary Angela’s father Joseph Bridgeman in 1901.
I transcribed Margaret Bridgeman’s Will to the best of my ability and Mary Angela is mentioned in her Mother’s Will as an Executor and Trustee and that Margaret Bridgeman left ‘property and money worth about two thousand four hundred and eighty pounds’. I would need to be somewhat more proficient with language of the legal profession to understand the detail of the Will but it appears that her estate was left to her husband and upon his death, monies were given to their son Joseph Kirwan and the remainder divided equally amongst her two daughters. I saw no evidence in the Will record of anything to suggest anything unusual.
I also found a Will Calendar record for Joseph Bridgeman, Margaret’s husband / Mary Angela’s father
I was in the National Archives in Bishop Street in late 2018 and I was browsing while waiting for some records to arrive. Whilst killing time I decided to look through the testamentary index boxes. I found two interesting cards. One related to the Probate of the Will of Joseph Bridgeman and the other related to the Marriage Settlement between Mary Angela Bridgeman and Patrick Louis Farrell. A Marriage Settlement is what we would call a re-nup nowadays.
The Will of Joseph Bridgeman dated 1901 seemed a lot more straightforward that his wife’s Will so I could understand who got what. His unmarried daughter Margaret received £200, Mary Angela received £100 to and for her separate use. Not really sure what that means as it doesn’t specify this statement for her sister Margaret and brother Joseph Kirwan.
On the other hand, the Marriage Settlement dated 8th day of August 1898 between Patrick Louis Farrell of the first part, Mary Angela Bridgeman of the second part, Joseph Bridgeman of the third part, Margaret Bridgeman of the fourth part, and is a rather complicated affair. It is a four-page A3 document on waxy parchment paper with the tiniest of writing so again, unless trained in the legal profession, it’s difficult to decipher it but it appears to be discussing the inheritance that Mary Angela received from her mother Margaret Bridgeman in 1896 and seems quite a protracted and detailed discussion. I am working on transcribing the document and whilst it was great to find the Marriage Settlement document, it was written in 1898 and long before when Mary Angela went ‘missing’ from the records.
Whilst I often despaired and wondered if I would ever find Mary Angela, I never gave up. Over the Christmas in 2018, I was searching across various websites randomly and not paying too much attention. Just felt I had to search or do something with no clear methodology in mind.
I had checked the Mormon Site www.familysearch.org on many occasions previously but never was able to find it. In hindsight, this was due to the fact that I was checking for death records around 1910-20. This time I removed any dates and location and just searched for death records for a Mary Angela Farrell. Normally I don’t search with ‘Angela’ in the name as they often don’t record this. To my surprise, the search came up with one Mary Angela Farrell listed as dying in Carlow in 1941. I still didn’t pay too much attention to this as there was no family connection with Carlow.
What struck me initially about the record was that this Mary Angela Farrell died in 1941 and I knew Mary Angela’s husband re-married in 1941. The www.familysearch.org website doesn’t have images of the records so I went to www.irishgenealogy.ie to search for the same record. I searched for a Mary Farrell dying in Carlow in 1941. It was a ‘bitter sweet’ discovery. I knew this was my ‘Mary Angela’. The death certificate recorded her as dying in the Mental Hospital Carlow on 30th May 1941. I knew it was her as the death certificate also have her home address as Clontarf Road, Dublin. Without the inclusion of her home address, I would never have known this was her. The cause of death is stated as ‘Chronic Myocardial Degeneration / Undefined Pulmonary Congestion’ aged 70.
I quickly logged into Glasnevin Online records to see if there was a Mary Farrell buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in 1941 and I found her. It’s hard to describe the joy of eventually finding her but also the sadness about her death in a mental hospital. It’s also hard to describe how one can get totally emotionally connected to a deceased family member who you have never met but love dearly.
The Glasnevin Trust Online Records showed be some interesting information. Yes, she wasn’t buried with her husband in Clontarf, or her son in Glasnevin or the Bridgeman’s in Glasnevin but she did alright in the end. She is buried with her maternal grandfather Michael Kirwan, the famous sculptor I mentioned previously. I knew there would be a nice headstone considering his profession and status in Irish Society. The information in the record showed the following;
Normally, if you select the transcript, you can also see the image of the original register. But for some reason I couldn’t on this occasion. I got in touch with the archivist in Glasnevin and she advised me that due to GDPR, all records under 100 years were disabled. She was able to tell me however, that the funeral directors were Bourkes of Smithfield, Dublin.
Thankfully Bourkes Funeral Directors are still there and I emailed them asked if they could check their ‘Day Book’ for details of Mary Angela’s funeral and they very kindly sent me the following picture. It tells me that Mary Angela arrived by motor hearse from Carlow Asylum to Glasnevin. She was dressed in a blue habit, in a inch Elm coffin and her son Patrick J Farrell of 399 Clontarf Road was the contact.
I was actually quite surprised when I read this. My aunt Dorothea Kelly, which was Patrick J Farrell’s daughter, was always told that Mary Angela died in childbirth. Dorothea also felt that her dad understood this and he was raised without a mother from the age of about 8 years old. It turns out the he knew his mother was still alive in 1941. Whist I know that family research can uncover some sad and upsetting information, my intention was never to upset anyone or judge anyone. Times were very different 78 years ago and only now in 2019 is mental health more openly discussed but still with the stigma.
A week later my aunt Dorothea Kelly, my cousin Dorothea and myself went to visit Mary Angela’s grave in Glasnevin. As expected, it is a beautiful headstone. Luckily one of the Glasnevin staff was in the area when we were looking for the grave. He kindly escorted us to the grave and gave us a great history lesson on that part of Glasnevin, which is the oldest section of the graveyard. He knew of Michael Kirwan, the famous sculptor. Although Michael Kirwan died in 1867, I noted from the inscriptions on the headstone that Michael’s 3 sons – James, George and another child James were buried there with an inscription ‘who died young’ under the 3 names. They were buried there in 1833 and 1834. The staff member was able to tell us that the headstone was made from granite and the plaques (see below) with the inscriptions were made from white marble. There is no inscription on the headstone for Mary Angela Farrell. He advised that there was also originally a granite plinth over the grave which is no longer there. The reason that the granite plinth was placed over the earth was that Michael Kirwan would have been very well known and respected and he would have been a target for grave robbers. His body would have been more valuable than other bodies due to his notoriety. I recall a few years previously doing the history tour at Glasnevin Cemetery and the tour guide telling the story about Charles Stuart Parnell being buried in the Cholera Pit so no one would steal his body.
Inscription states ‘MAY THE LORD HAVE MERCY ON THE SOUL OF MICHAEL KIRWAN Sculptor WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE ON THE 30TH MARCH 1867 AGED 75 YEARS I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVETH AND IN THE LAST DAY I SHALL rISE OUT OF THE EARTH AND IN MY FLESH SHALL SEE MY GOD’
I contacted Glasnevin Cemetery the following day with the request to add the inscription of the interment of Mary Angela Farrell and also if it was possible to get the grave cleaned. I would love to be able to honour her memory by acknowledge her presence in Glasnevin. Hopefully some day soon.
I also got in touch with the HSE in Carlow regarding the medical records for Carlow Mental Hospital which is called St Dymphna’s. They were able to tell me that Mary Angela Farrell was admitted to St. Dympna’s Hospital on 15th July 1922. She was admitted from St. Vincent’s Hospital, Fairview, Dublin and would appear to have been there for quite some time. The staff member was extremely helpful and advised that I could come down to Carlow to inspect the records for myself. However, she did advise that I might find some of the information upsetting. I decided not to view the records as they go into detail of her mental and physical state.
I was wondering if the picture of Mary Angela, her husband and 2 children dated 1913 was taken in St Vincent’s in Fairview and maybe that’s why my aunt said he didn’t look particularly happy.
I got in touch with St Vincent’s Hospital in Fairview and applied to view her records under the Freedom of Information Act. I had to demonstrate that I was related to her so documented this and sent off for review. They responded by advising that they don’t have records going back that far so I do not know at this stage when she left there and why she got transferred to Carlow.
I have not completed my research. There is always some aspect that needs further research.
I hope this blog has helped you understand the process that one goes through to do family history research. It can take you down many rabbit holes, it can drive you to despair. It can keep you awake at night but it’s always, always worth it in the end.