Irish ancestry, or the lack of it

Earlier this year there was a genealogy idea doing the rounds online, tagged #MyColorfulAncestry. The suggestion, which originated with American genealogist J. Paul Hawthorne (GeneaSpy), was to create a five-generation pedigree/ancestry chart for your ancestors, using a Microsoft Excel template with the cells colour-coded according to each ancestor’s place of birth (U.S. state, or country).1

It’s an interesting way of showing the geographical spread of your ancestors over time. There were some very colourful examples – like this one – shared via social media, showing how people’s ancestors had migrated from many different lands and throughout the U.S.A.2

I joked that my own five-generation chart would not take long – every cell would be the same colour and would just read “England”. I could introduce more variety by labelling and colouring the cells according to the historic county of England in which each ancestor was born (over the last five generations, there would be nine: County DurhamDerbyshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Northumberland, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and Yorkshire).

To reach my first non-English ancestor I would have to extend the chart to six generations so that it displayed my 32 great-great-great grandparents, including cordwainer (master shoe and boot maker) William Grady who was born in County Armagh in about 1830 or ’31.35 I am now fairly certain that William’s son Luke (O’)Grady (1867-????) was the mysterious absentee father of one of my great-grandparents.6 (I still don’t know what happened to Luke O’Grady after his child was born in 1888.)

This makes me about 3% Irish. When I started looking into my family history I had assumed – because of the extent of Irish immigration to Britain, and because my mother’s family name is an Irish surname (see below) – that I was going to find much more Irish ancestry, and more recently than the mid-C19th.

The #MyColorfulAncestry chart below covers seven generations. The top half is my ancestry back to three-greats grandparents; the bottom half shows my wife’s ancestors, who were also all born in England, making my children about 1.6% (1/64) Irish. Any lines that I have traced back further than my children’s four-greats grandparents have been wholly English. There may well be more Irish or other countries of origin in the lines I haven’t yet researched. There are Scottish names (notably Gray) amongst my paternal grandmother’s ancestors, but no proven connection to individuals born in Scotland.

Colour coded pedigree chart

Seven-generation pedigree chart colour-coded by birthplace
From an idea by J. Paul Hawthorne (GeneaSpy) #MyColorfulAncestry
Click on the image for a larger version.

I do not know when William Grady (or O’Grady) came to England. There are hundreds of people of that name in the 1841 + 1851 English censuses, including several Irish-born shoemakers of approximately the right age.7,8 The first definite sighting of William is at his marriage to Jane Spooner on 23 April 1859 at St George’s Church (C of E) in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire.9 According to the entry in the marriage register William was born around 1831 and that his father was James Grady, also a shoemaker. Later censuses (1861-’81) established that William was born in Ireland, in Armagh.35

There’s a good chance William left Ireland during the Great Famine between 1845 and 1852.10,11

St George's Church, Wolverhampton: now a branch of Sainsbury's © Copyright Roger Kidd and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

St George’s Church, Wolverhampton, where William Grady and Jane Spooner were married in 1859, is now a branch of Sainsbury’s. © Copyright Roger Kidd and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The National Library of Ireland has digitised its entire collection of Catholic parish registers and made them available for free, at:

I have only found one baptism entry in that collection for a William, son of James Grady or O’Grady in the whole of County Armagh around the right time period. This William was baptised on 3 May 1830 in Armagh City. His mother’s name was Mary Fitzsimmons or -simons. The father’s occupation was not recorded.12

The same James Grady and Mary Fitzsimmons also had a daughter, Jane Grady, baptised in Armagh on 10 January 1829. I cannot find a corresponding marriage for James and Mary.12

The baptism records above may well not relate to the family of ‘my’ William Grady. I have no way of knowing how many potential candidate baptism records have not survived (notoriously, many Irish records have not), or even whether William’s family were Catholic (an even higher proportion of the records of the Anglican Church of Ireland were destroyed – by fire, in 1922).13

Baptism of William Grady

Entry in the register of baptisms for William Grady, 3 May 1830, Armagh.
National Library of Ireland, reproduced under licence.

After William Grady and Jane Spooner were married in 1859 they moved initially to Lock Street in the city of Worcester.3 From 1867 onwards they were living back in Jane’s home town of Wolverhampton, at number 80, Temple Street.4,5,14,15 They had six children:

  • Ellen (b. 1860, Worcester – d. maybe 1900, Birmingham?)
  • Mark (b. 1862, Worcester – d. 1889, Newport, South Wales)
  • Martha (b. 1864, Worcester – d. ????)
  • Luke (b. 1867, Wolverhampton – d. ????)
  • Agnes (b. 1871, Wolverhampton – d. ????)
  • Winifred (b. 1876, Wolverhampton – d. 1930, Newhaven, Sussex)

Jane Grady née Spooner died in Wolverhampton in 1878 – William passed away five years later. He was fifty-three.14

You can see from the number of question marks in the list above that William and Jane’s children have a habit of disappearing without trace…

  • By 1891 Ellen was living in Camberwell, London, with her daughter Kathleen Turner (1887-????) and her sister Winifred (Winnie). I cannot find a marriage of Ellen (O’)Grady to Mr Turner. She may have died in Birmingham in 1900.14,16,17
  • Mark became a railway policeman with the G.W.R. and was posted to London then to Cardiff, Newport, and Crosskeys. He died in South Wales in 1889, aged twenty-seven.5,14,18
  • Martha was living in Lambeth, London in 1881, working as a professional dancer and lodging in the home of Edward Owden, clown(!) – she then disappears.5
  • Luke fathered a child in January 1888 – then disappears.6
  • Agnes was in Lambeth in 1891, working as a general servant. However ten years later she appears in Westminster, occupation: professional dancer (the same as her sister Martha twenty years before) – she then disappears.5,6
  • Winifred (Winnie) was living with her sister Ellen in 1891; six years later she married master grocer Austin James Horsley, settling down in Lambeth. They had a daughter, Elise Mary Horsley (1899-1993). Winifred died in Sussex in 1930.14,16,19,20

I have also traced the ancestry of my mother’s family name, Corr. My great grandfather Frank Corr was born an O’Grady (above)6 but used the name Corr throughout his life, giving it to his eleven children and thirteen of his grandchildren. Corr was the surname of Frank’s mother’s late husband, Edward Corr (1853-1887). Edward was also the first cousin of Frank O’Grady/Corr’s biological father, Luke O’Grady.

Edward was born in Wolverhampton in 1853 and worked as a machinist/turner and fitter in Birmingham before his early death.3,4,5,14 He married (Frank O’Grady/Corr’s mother) Emily Farley on 14 July 1872.21 Edward’s parents were Felix Corr (1834-1874) and Harriet Spooner.22

Harriet Spooner was the elder sister of Jane Spooner the wife of William Grady (above). On 27 December 1852 at St Peter’s Church in Wolverhampton she married file maker Felix Corr.23 Felix was born in about June 1834 in St Neots in Huntingdonshire and had moved to Wolverhampton to be apprenticed to a file maker, Elihu Price. His parents were another Felix Corr (about 1806-1838) and Emma Hancock.3,4,8,22

It’s very likely that Felix Corr, senior, was from Ireland – again, probably from Armagh. The surname Corr (Ir. Ó Corra) is particularly common in Ulster generally and in counties Tyrone and Armagh in particular.24

In Bradshaw’s 1819 Directory for Armagh City there is an entry for Felix Corr, huxter (i.e. hawker), of Castle Street.25

St Mary at Quay, Ipswich

St Mary at Quay, Ipswich, where Felix Corr (senior) and Emma Hancock were married in 1834. Now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and home to a corporate events and ‘complementary therapies’ centre.
© Copyright Robert Edwards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

On 1 April 1834 in the church of St Mary at Quay, Ipswich, Suffolk, Felix Corr and Emma Hancock were married. The witnesses were Emma’s sister Sophia Hancock and her future husband Shadrach Chaplin. (Sophia and Shadrach are ancestors of the actor Charlie Chaplin.)2628

Emma and Felix had two sons: Felix junior, and John, who died in infancy.14

Felix Corr, licensed hawker, died in Ipswich aged only thirty-two, of “decline”.29 His widow remarried in 1839; her new husband Peter McDonald was originally from Dundalk, County Louth and was also a hawker.7,8,14 Emma and Peter had a son, Michael McDonald, in 1840.14 The whole family including Emma’s son Felix Corr spent the next decade travelling round East Anglia, presumably engaged in hawking their wares.7,8

Michael McDonald later joined his half-brother Felix in the industrial West Midlands.5,17,19,20 The extended Corr/McDonald family were typical in one sense – huge numbers of Irish people migrated to Wolverhampton and Birmingham in the C19th, and Birmingham still has a large Irish community – but were unusual in coming to the West Midlands via rural East Anglia, which never had a big Irish population, and in their parents having been in England well before the huge wave of immigration from Ireland in the 1840s.30

Hancock sketch family tree

Sketch family tree of the Hancock, Chaplin, Corr, (O’)Grady and Spooner families.
Click on the image for a larger version.


  1. Hawthorne, J. Paul, “A Little Thing That Went Viral… #MyColorfulAncestry,” GeneaSpy, 26 March 2016 ( : accessed 3 October 2016).
  2. Last, Jana, “My Five Generation Birthplace Pedigree Chart,” Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog, 24 March 2016 ( : accessed 3 October 2016).
  3. “1861 England Census,” digital images, Ancestry Library Edition ( : accessed 18 December 2015); The National Archives, Kew.
  4. “1871 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  5. “1881 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  6. England and Wales, birth certificate (certified copy); General Register Office, Southport.
  7. “1841 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  8. “1851 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  9. St George’s Church (Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England), parish registers; digital images, Findmypast ( : accessed 3 December 2014).
  10. Swift, Roger, editor, Irish migrants in Britain, 1815-1914: a documentary history (Cork University Press, 2002).
  11. Neal, Frank, Black ’47: Britain and the Famine Irish (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998).
  12. St Patrick’s Cathedral (Armagh, County Armagh, Ireland), parish registers; digital images, National Library of Ireland ( : accessed 3 December 2014).
  13. “‘All Irish genealogical records were destroyed in the 1922 fire’: Myth or fact?” Irish Genealogy Toolkit ( : 5 October 2016).
  14. “FreeBMD,” digital images, FreeBMD ( : accessed 29 March 2016); General Register Office, Southport.
  15. Birmingham Post, 20 July 1880, p. 5.
  16. St Mark’s Church (Kennington, London, England), parish registers; digital images, Ancestry Library Edition ( : accessed 25 April 2016).
  17. “1891 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  18. “UK, Railway Employment Records, 1833-1956,” digital images, Ancestry Library Edition ( : accessed 26 April 2016); The National Archives, Kew.
  19. “1901 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  20. “1911 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  21. All Saints’ Church (Hockley, Warwickshire, England), parish registers; digital images, Ancestry.
  22. St Mary’s Church (Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England), parish registers; digital images, Findmypast.
  23. St Peter’s Church (Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England), parish registers; digital images, Findmypast.
  24. Grenham, John, Irish Ancestors – Irish Surnames ( : accessed 5 October 2016).
  25. Brown, Sharon Oddie, “Bradshaw’s 1819 Directory for Armagh City,” transcription, 23 June 2008, The Silver Bowl ( : 20 March 2015).
  26. Church of St Mary at Quay (Ipswich, Suffolk, England), banns; Suffolk Record Office, Lowestoft.
  27. Church of St Mary at Quay (Ipswich, Suffolk, England), bishop’s transcripts; Suffolk Record Office, Lowestoft.
  28. Suffolk Record Office, research service report, 5 October 2015, ref. 9/1/S/KEM.
  29. England and Wales, death certificate (certified copy); General Register Office, Southport.
  30. Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan, editors, The Irish in Victorian Britain: the local dimension (Four Courts Press, 1999).