I had been searching for my Uncle Jack’s first wife for over thirty years without even being sure where she was originally from. All I knew, from his marriage certificate, was that her name was Margaret Griffin and, at the time of their marriage, she was 25.
Her parents were named as John Griffin and Sarah Ann Jones Foster. As this marriage took place in Glasgow in 1913 and my research began before even the 1881 census was available, it was only gradually that the pieces of Margaret’s story began to fit together. Checks of each census as it was released, along with death records in both Scotland and England, proved fruitless.
The only sign of Margaret after her marriage was when she registered the births and deaths of her two infant sons. One other boy lived to adulthood, and when her husband Jack Forrest remarried in 1924, to my Aunt Kate, he was listed as a widower.
Having occasionally noticed people being less than truthful on certificates, I didn’t take this as necessarily being accurate, so I extended my search for Margaret’s death past Jack’s second marriage – still to no avail. I would habitually search for her name every time I came across a new set of records. This continued until 2010, when I was doing some research at the Glasgow City Archives in the Mitchell Library. As I was waiting for some records to be produced, I passed the time by doing my usual checks for brickwall names in the poor relief database…
To my surprise, the name “John Griffin” appeared in the computerised index! A double-check showed that his wife was Sarah, maiden surname Jones. It wasn’t a 100% match, but it was close. I ordered up the record and found my heart was starting to race as I realised that John and Sarah had a daughter called Margaret whose birth year was pretty close to what I had calculated for our Margaret Griffin. According to the record – an application for school places for their three oldest children – the family hailed from Fermanagh, although John himself had been born in Ballyconnell, County Cavan.
Was this my Margaret?! The Irish census records available online indicated that John and Sarah Griffin had returned to Ireland sometime between 1901 and 1911. It showed them living in Ballyconnell along with two of their sons and a couple of grandchildren, so… it was time for some serious on-site research.
A trip to Dublin was arranged and I headed for the General Register Office. It was only when I started searching the death indexes there that I realised I had completely forgotten to bring my notes on likely death dates for Margaret. I sent up a silent prayer and then looked at the spines of the death indexes on the shelf in front of me. After a rough mental calculation I picked a year, and took the book down. A search of its contents revealed a possible match.
Margaret’s married name, Forrest, didn’t seem to be a common name in the indexes, and I knew it was more likely that if she had died while married to Jack it was his surname that she would be registered under. So I ordered up the death certificate for the Margaret Forrest who had died in 1921 in Ballyconnell, and kept my fingers well and truly crossed!
There was a wait of about ten or fifteen minutes (it seemed much longer!) before I could see the certificate. Shakily, I took it and sat down at my desk. “Margaret Forrest, female, married, age 38”…I realised that this was a few years out, but still, hope prevailed…”jeweller’s wife”…Uncle Jack had been a watchmaker! But her maiden name wasn’t given. I checked to see who had registered her death, and there it was: ”Sarah A. Griffin, mother, present at death”. I tried not to cheer too loudly. I went on to find Margaret’s birth, her parents’ marriage and their deaths – they had all returned to live in Ireland – and later research in Scotland showed that some of her other siblings had stayed behind in Glasgow.
Obviously this Irish brickwall was a bit easier to break down because it involved people from less than a hundred years ago. Going further back on one of my mother’s direct lines, an Irish immigrant called William Muir arrived in Scotland before 1841 – and I know nothing more about him that would help me locate his place of origin in Ireland. So, I’m still looking…
David Ryan will be giving us an insight on oral history, the importance of storytelling and its connections with genealogy.