On Tuesday, I’m going to the State Archives to review the court records for King v. Titus (1767), but since I’m all caught up with bibliography and not able to add more about Titus until then, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell a story from my own family tree.
One side of my family has been in America since before the Revolution, but the other side mostly came much more recently and, as a consequence, is more of a mystery to me. When genealogists hit a relative past whom they cannot research, they call it a “brick wall,” and Stephen Joseph McNally is one of my brick walls.
All I knew about the man was his wife’s name, his daughter’s name and birthdate, and the fact that she was born in Canada. Stephen Joseph McNally married Phyllis May Pearce/Pierce in British Columbia in 1919. Their first child, Mary Ellen McNally, was born in 1920. A son, John Arthur McNally, was born in 1921, and another son, Stanley Gordon McNally, followed in 1923.
But by 1926, he disappears from the record entirely. Phyllis remarried, and the children took their step-father’s last name. He did, however, leave two other records in Canada besides his marriage and the births of his children: enlistment papers for World War I and a bizarre entry in the 1921 Census of Canada. While I couldn’t be 100% sure about the enlistment papers, the 1921 Census entry was definitely his.
According to that Census, the house in Fernie, British Columbia, contained three generations: a 27-year-old Irishman named Stephen McNally, his 18-year-old English daughter Phyllis McNally, his 16-year-old English daughter Agnes Pierce, his 14-year-old English son Horace Pierce, his 12-year-old English daughter Doris Pierce, his 10-year-old English son Leonard Pierce, and his 11-month-old Irish granddaughter Mary McNally. This was nonsense.
This was, in fact, two generations — a husband, teenage wife, and baby daughter living with the wife’s siblings. When lined up with what I knew about my family, their ages and nationalities told the story: baby Mary would only have been listed as Irish were her father Irish, and since 18-year-old Phyllis was listed as English, it had to be Mary, not Phyllis, who was Stephen’s daughter. Knowing that Phyllis’s maiden name was Pearce or Pierce meant that the English Pierce children in the house were much more likely to have been her siblings, whose names I then confirmed with my living relatives.
Less clear, though, were the enlistment papers that predated the marriage and 1921 Census — a time before I had any other connections to moor him to or verify his identity. I knew only that he must have been born in approximately 1893, and the enlistment papers were for a man called Stephen Joseph McNally who claimed to have been born in London on July 1, 1893.
One interesting aspect, though, was that the Stephen Joseph McNally who enlisted in Canada (along with about 30,000 other young men) in 1914 identified himself as Roman Catholic. This is interesting, because I can find no record of a boy of that name born in or around London within a year or two of 1893, neither in government records, Church of England records, nor Catholic parish records.
But there was a Stephen McNally born in July, August, or September of 1893 in Toxeth Park, Lancashire, just across the Irish Sea from Ireland.
The absence of any other Stephen Joseph McNally in the right place or right time offered a strong suggestion (though not definitive proof), that the Canadian enlistee was really the child born in Lancashire. I also uncovered an entry in the 1901 Census of England, though, that gave me pause. In 1901, an 8-year-old Joseph McNally was listed as a “pauper inmate” of Kirkdale Industrial School in Lancashire. I cannot state with any certainty that this is also my Stephen Joseph McNally, but more on that in my next post.
The real breakthough came, though, when I found his marriage certificate. I’d done battle with the vital records office in British Columbia for some time to try to get a copy of his daughter’s Canadian birth certificate (on which he’s listed as Irish!), and while I didn’t relish doing the same for her parents’ marriage certificate, I didn’t have access to anything other than an index entry via Ancestry that provided nothing beyond the basic details of the two spouses’ names and the wedding date. Imagine my surprise when I found that the Royal British Columbia Museum had it easily accessible in their online collections.
Suddenly, I had real details. I had his parents’ names. I had his father’s profession. And I had his handwriting. A story was finally coming together.