Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Family history

1900 map of Belfast: Avon Street is in the triangle at the top where the railtracks divide, just below the dock

I posted a few months ago about tracing our family tree in Northern Ireland. I've been trying to tie up a few loose ends since then, but without much success.

My great great grandmother, Elizabeth Jackson, was born in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, in 1878, and at some point moved to Belfast; she gave birth to daughter Frances Annie, my Gran's mum, in November 1900 in a place called Avon Street.

When we stayed in Belfast, we discovered that Avon Street had been demolished, but we found it on an old map in the Linen Hall library (just before my handbag was stolen, grr). It was in an area bordering the railway and just across from the docks, then one of the busiest in the world and the place where Titanic was built. According to our taxi driver, the area was popular with dock workers. It was something of a slum, too - the census returns we have for Avon Street show the houses consisted of only three rooms, some of them housing families of seven or more.

According to her birth certificate Frances Annie, my great grandmother, was born at 75 Avon Street. I searched a 1902 Belfast directory at the Linen Hall library and there were several Jackson families in the street, but none at 75. The Public Record Office has since sent me the census return for number 75; sadly it was unoccupied when the census was taken, so I've reached a bit of a dead end. All I can surmise is that at some point between the birth of her daughter and the census four months later, Elizabeth Jackson moved on.

The other mystery surrounds the identity of Frances Annie's father. Her birth certificate names William Graham; Elizabeth used to say that they were married but that he had died before their baby was born, from an illness caused by his work as a tanner. She also claimed that he was called Jimmy, not William.

We haven't been able to trace a marriage certificate, which suggests that Frances Annie was probably illegitimate. It's hard to know where to go from here - the truth may have died with my great great grandmother.

But we did discover one intriguing lead at PRONI - there was a Graham family living in Dee Street, round the corner from Avon Street, in 1901. They had several children, among them William, 19, and James, 25, neither married and both working in the iron industry. Elizabeth was 22 when she had her daughter; she may well have hung around with these Graham brothers. So perhaps the secret isn't lost after all.

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