Family history brick wall: who was Luke O’Grady?

Posted on March 3rd, 2014 by Paul Stainthorp

One of my great-grandfathers was Frank Corr a.k.a. Frank O’Grady (1888-1962) of Birmingham and Sheffield. I’m trying to discover the origins and fate of his biological father Luke O’Grady, my great-great-grandfather. What follows is an outline of the life of Frank O’Grady Corr, notes on the possible identity of Luke O’Grady, and my ideas for further research.

Paul Harland Stainthorp (paul@paulstainthorp.com). Version 1.6.0, updated 12th August 2014.

  1. The life of Frank O’Grady Corr
  2. Who was Luke O’Grady?
  3. Where next? Ideas for further research
  4. Note on links to sources

The life of Frank O’Grady Corr

Back yard, Court 15, Inge Street, Birmingham

Back yard, Court 15, Inge Street, Birmingham
A rare preserved example of the thousands of back-to-back courts that used to provide housing for workers and their families in the years of the 19th and 20th centuries.
© Copyright Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Frank was born on 22nd January 1888, at the back of 135 Brearley Street in the Lozells area of Birmingham.

His mother was Emily née Farley, born in 1854, the widow of Edward Corr, a turner & fitter from Wolverhampton. Emily and Edward were married on 14th July 1872 and had seven children together: John Felix (1873-1956), Florence (1876-77), Beatrice (1876-77), Alfred Edward (1877-1900), Emmett (1880-81), Edward (1883-1933), and Harold (1885-1952). In 1881 the family lived on Burbury Street, Lozells.

Edward Corr died in 1887, more than ten months before Emily gave birth to my great-grandfather.

The informant on Frank’s birth certificate was his father Luke O’Grady. Luke gave his occupation as glass embosser (journeyman)—a skilled trade connected to the glassmaking industry common in the English Black Country since the 17th century—and his address as 135 Brearley Street where Frank was born. Frank’s mother is named as Emily O’Grady (sic) formerly Farley.

This use of the surname O’Grady for or by Emily must have been a common-law arrangement, or else a polite fiction on behalf of Luke O’Grady for the registrar’s benefit: there is no record of a marriage between Emily and anyone named O’Grady, and Emily never used the name again.

It seems that Emily could not read or write; perhaps that’s why she didn’t register the birth herself.

In the 1891 census, Emily and Luke’s three-year-old son Frank O’Grady was with his maternal grandmother Emma Farley in Barr Street, Birmingham; Emily Corr was a few streets away at 6 Tower Street working as a machinist, with John, Alfred and Edward, three of her four surviving sons by Edward Corr. (The fourth son, Harold, was also being cared for by relatives locally.) Frank’s father Luke O’Grady is nowhere to be found.

After this point my great-grandfather Frank used Corr exclusively as his adult surname.

Blaco Road, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Blaco Road, Attercliffe, Sheffield
Blaco Road looking towards the gates of Carbrook Park, showing No. 5. 25th April 1966. Photographer: H. Ainscough.
Found on the Picture Sheffield website
© Copyright David Ainscough – used with permission

By 1901, Frank Corr had left Birmingham and moved to Sheffield with his mother and half-brother Harold, and was working as a labourer in the steel industry at the age of just 13. Emily, Harold and Frank lived at 46 Blaco Road, Attercliffe-cum-Darnall, along with ‘boarder’ Charles Tillbrook and two of Charles’s children. Emily Corr née Farley married her ‘boarder’ later the same year and became Emily Tillbrook.

(In 1911, Frank’s mother Emily and her second husband Charles Tillbrook were living at 83 Clifton Street, Sheffield, with Charles’s daughter Elizabeth and Emily’s son Harold Corr – albeit recorded on the census under his stepfather’s surname as “Harold Tillbrook”. Emily died in 1919; Charles Tillbrook in 1930. Of Frank’s three surviving half-brothers, John Felix Corr stayed in Birmingham and became a brassworker. Edward Corr joined the Army and was stationed at Whittington Barracks near Lichfield in Staffs: he served with the 3rd South Staffordshire Regiment in WWI. Harold Corr settled in Sheffield and worked as a gas stoker in the steel industry.)

Frank stayed in Sheffield for the rest of his life, marrying Lily Bowden on 16th February 1907 at Sheffield Registry Office. To the registrar he gave his father’s name as Luke O’Grady, occupation glass embosser. Frank’s marriage certificate included both names for the record (“Frank O’Grady otherwise Frank Corr“) – this is the last recorded use of the name O’Grady. By 1911, Lily and Frank Corr—occupation steel dresser—were living in Carbrook, Sheffield, with their first two daughters of an eventual eleven children.

I have been told by a distant cousin that Frank and Lily’s eldest daughter Emily (born 1907) certainly knew of something relating to her father being of Irish decent and that he was probably illegitimate.

Frank Corr died on 19th January 1962 and was buried with his wife Lily in Tinsley Park cemetery in Sheffield. He didn’t leave a will.

Frank and Lily’s seventh child was my maternal grandfather Harold Corr (1921-1999). Harold served in WWII, Korea, Hong Kong and Germany before leaving the Army and settling in Lincolnshire in the 1960s. Harold Corr and my grandmother Ruby née Howson had six children and fifteen grandchildren including the author of this document.

Who was Luke O’Grady?

“Wolverhampton Luke”

The most likely candidate for Frank’s father is Luke Grady of Wolverhampton, born 1867, the son of Irish-born cordwainer (i.e. master shoe & bootmaker) William Grady, of Armagh, and Wolverhampton native Jane née Spooner, who married at St George’s church in Wolverhampton on 23rd April 1859. Luke Grady had four sisters: Ellen or Helen (born 1860), Martha (1864), Agnes (1871) and Winifred (1876), plus one older brother Mark (1862). They lived at 80 Temple Street, Wolverhampton.

The patronymic “O’” in Irish surnames was often dropped in the 19th century, at least in England, so “Grady” and “O’Grady” would have been almost interchangeable. The Wolverhampton family appear as plain “Grady” in almost all registration/census records and in an 1880 newspaper report concerning a court case, although Luke’s father was recorded as “William O. Grady” on one census.

Jane Grady died in 1878 and William in 1884, so Luke was pretty much alone in the world by the time of Frank O’Grady’s birth in 1888.

There isn’t a single record of “Wolverhampton Luke” Grady in England after 1881: no marriage or death records; nothing to connect him with the Black Country glass industry or to to place him in Birmingham in 1888; nothing—other than proximity and suspicious timing—to suggest that he is Frank’s father. I’ve also been unable to trace the fate of all of Luke’s siblings – what happened to them all after they lost their father in 1884?

(Luke’s brother Mark [O']Grady seems to have become a general clerk for the Great Western Railway in London & Cardiff. He died in 1889 in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales. His youngest sister Winifred married Austin Horsley in 1897 and had one daughter; she died in Sussex in 1930. Agnes is recorded working as a domestic servant in London in 1891, but then disappears. Of Ellen and Martha, nothing.)

“Buffalo Bill Luke”

I am not the only person searching for Luke O’Grady. I have been contacted by a descendant of Francis Patrick O’Grady (c.1893-1971): Francis’s father was also called Luke O’Grady, and seems also to have disappeared somewhat mysteriously.

Francis P. O’Grady was born c. 1st March 1893, possibly in Ireland, although no birth or baptism records have been traced for him. When he married in England in 1925, and again (having been widowed) in 1930, he gave his father’s name as Luke O’Grady, occupation ‘house decorator’.

According to a family story, Francis’s father Luke O’Grady left his wife Mary Ann [maiden name unknown] and their young son, to travel with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and may have had one or more children with another woman. Francis P. O’Grady apparently grew up in Ireland and England, had an adopted/step-sister called Mona, and a cousin (either paternal or maternal) named Sammy. When Francis’s mother Mary Ann O’Grady died in 1940 she was recorded as being the widow of Luke O’Grady, house decorator (master).

It is possible that the same Luke O’Grady was the father of both Frank O’Grady Corr and Francis Patrick O’Grady, making them half-brothers. Even if this is not the case, “Buffalo Bill” Luke O’Grady seems to have been just as elusive—both before and after the birth of his son—as ‘my’ Luke O’Grady.

“Holbeach Luke”

There was one other Luke Grady alive in England at the time of Frank’s birth (Luke Grady b. 1848 in Holbeach, Lincolnshire – d. 1891 in Cockermouth, Cumberland) but “Holbeach Luke” raised a family in northern England and doesn’t seem to have had any connection to Birmingham or to glassmaking.

Germanic Luke”

The Germanic, before 1895

The Germanic, before 1895
White Star Line steamship, built 1874 at Belfast by Harland and Wolff, as she appeared before her funnels were lengthened and an extra deck added in 1895.
Courtesy of the Norway Heritage Collection – www.norwayheritage.com
Source: www.heritage-ships.com

On 10th August 1888, eight months after Frank was born, the ship the Germanic docked at New York, late of Liverpool and Queenstown (Cobh). On board was Luke O’Grady, a labourer, aged 35, nationality English. The age and the occupation are wrong, but the timing is suspicious! On 20th July 1894 at the Common Pleas Court in New York, Luke became a naturalized American. His address at the time was 419 East 22nd Street, New York City and his sponsor was Timothy Maloney.

I have been unable to trace “Germanic Luke” O’Grady in England before 1888 or in the USA after naturalization in 1894. He does not appear in any of the US censuses as far as I can tell.

So: was Luke Grady of Wolverhampton the father of Frank O’Grady Corr – and of Francis Patrick O’Grady? Did Frank’s father emigrate immediately after the birth in 1888? Or were these Luke [O']Gradys two or three different people (in which case: what happened to them all, and to “Wolverhampton Luke”‘s siblings?).

Finally, there is the possibility that Luke O’Grady was simply a pseudonym used by whomever registered the birth, and that Frank’s real father’s name was something else entirely.

Where next? Ideas for further research

These are my ideas for further research to prove the identity, origin and fate of my 2-greats-grandfather:

  1. Track down more records from Frank’s own life – there is at least one other descendant of Frank Corr who is researching the family history.
  2. Buy birth, marriage and death records as needed for Emily Farley, Edward Corr, Emma Farley, Charles Tillbrook and all of Frank’s half-siblings (est. cost: £150+).
  3. Buy copies of “Wolverhampton Luke” Grady’s birth certificate and his parents’ marriage & death certificates (est. cost: £37).
  4. Try and determine the fate of “Wolverhampton Luke” Grady’s brother and four sisters.
  5. Search the UK censuses for glass embossers in 1891, in the possibility that Luke O’Grady changed his name but continued in the same occupation.
  6. Find out who lived at 2 Back 135 Brearley Street, Lozells, Birmingham, immediately before and after Frank’s birth in 1888.
  7. Determine the whereabouts of “Holbeach Luke” Grady in 1888, if only to rule him out.
  8. Share all information with anyone who is researching the identity of Luke the father of Francis Patrick O’Grady; in particular for possible records of Luke O’Grady living with a wife Mary Ann in Ireland, and/or as an employee of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in the early 1900s.
  9. Trace any living descendants of Emily Farley’s children Frank Corr, John Felix Corr, Alfred Edward Corr, Edward Corr jr and Harold Corr, and those of William Grady of Wolverhampton.
  10. Look for records of Luke [O']Grady in Ireland and Scotland both before and after 1888.
  11. Investigate Y-chromosomal DNA testing between a living male-line descendant of Frank Corr (there are four in my immediate family) vs. a proven patrilineal descendant of William Grady if one can be found.
  12. Contact local family history societies in the Black Country/Birmingham area (e.g. the Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy); also surname special interest groups for Grady/O’Grady.
  13. Visit the Birmingham ArchivesBlack Country Museum, and Broadfield House Glass Museum in Stourbridge, specifically to look for documents from the Black Country glassmaking industry – are there apprenticeship records for Luke O’Grady or is he otherwise mentioned?
  14. Visit New York to try and find out what happened to “Germanic Luke” [O']Grady who became an American citizen in 1894.
  15. Look for evidence of emigration other than to New York in 1888: not necessarily to the USA.

Note on links to sources

Hyperlinks in the text of this document point to source documents and catalogues/indexes which contain or illustrate the information referenced. Where possible I have linked to free & open sources (FreeBMD; BMDshare; catalogue/archival records). In other cases where the source is not freely available, I have linked to a record within Ancestry Library Edition: these links will display an error message unless you first establish a session on Ancestry within a subscribing library building (e.g. in Lincolnshire).

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One Response to “Family history brick wall: who was Luke O’Grady?”

  1. Ray Wilson says:

    Fascinating work, Paul. Good luck with the search!

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