The Irishman who Wasn’t

Finding the actual marriage certificate for Stephen Joseph McNally and Phyllis May Pearce started to put things into place. First, it confirmed for me that the WWI enlistment papers were almost certainly his, because the signatures generally matched:

On the left is the marriage certificate (1919); on the right is his enlistment in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force (1914). The initialism, the angle, the formal tail at the beginning of the N — I’m not an expert at handwriting analysis, but I believe these signatures came from the same man.

This means we can put the information from the marriage certificate and the information from the enlistment papers together to flesh out the story a bit more. Both identify Stephen’s father as a man named John McNally, and the marriage certificate provides further that his mother was one Margaret Ellen Shine. The marriage certificate identifies Stephen as a constable, consistent with the 1921 Census of Canada entry that listed his profession as “police.”

But the enlistment papers don’t match any record for a child born in London, the birthplace listed for him on that form. The only matching record I’ve found (though absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence, of course), is the birth index entry for Stephen McNally, born in July, August, or September of 1893 in Toxeth Park, Lancashire.

The matter of Stephen Joseph McNally’s birthplace is, in some ways, the most inconsistent thing we have about his documentation, such as it is. Perhaps the most accurate record in that respect, I think, is actually the bizarre entry in the 1921 Census of Canada. There, Stephen Joseph McNally is listed as having been born in England to parents also born in England, but his “Racial or Tribal Origin” is Irish, a designation also conferred on his daughter Mary in that Census.

This would arguably track with the boy born in Summer 1893 in Toxeth Park — it’s relevant to note that only the narrow Irish Sea separates Lancashire from Ireland. The listing of London as his birthplace on his enlistment papers and the listing of Ireland as his birthplace on his daughter’s birth certificate and on his marriage license may also be a simple matter. Each of those documents was filled out by someone else, and it’s not hard to imagine a clerk who asks “Where are you from?” instead of “Where were you born?” When he enlisted, for example, he gave his father John’s address in London for next-of-kin, which might have prompted the clerk to simply fill in that London was his place of birth, ignoring the possibility that John moved there later. I also have no image of Stephen Joseph McNally, but being ethnically Irish, he could indeed have been a classic Paddy, with red hair and green eyes, and Ireland might have been an assumption so logical the question wasn’t even asked.

So if we agree to place his birth in Lancashire, the next logical task is finding his family. The birth index for the boy born in Toxeth Park, Lancashire, does not list his parentage. But we know the names of his parents to be John McNally and Margaret Ellen Shine, based on his marriage certificate. The only Lancashire-based family I can identify with parents of these names almost certainly doesn’t work.

In the 1911 Census of England, one John Edward McNally, age 35, and one Margaret Ellen McNally, age 32, are recorded in Broughton, Lancashire. Their household includes three girls and a boy, all under the age of 10 (as well as what appears to be John’s 76-year-old mother, Mary). In 1911, our Stephen Joseph McNally would have been 18 and three years shy of his Canadian enlistment. Ellen, the eldest girl, is 8, and the children are all listed as born in Manchester. While might have been possible that Stephen Joseph McNally was born when his parents were 17 and 14 and living in Toxeth Park before moving to Manchester, the Census record reflects that John and Margaret declared they only had four children, all living and accounted for. It seems unlikely this is the right family.

The potentially more promising record, far from conclusive, appears instead in the 1901 Census of England, for “pauper inmates” at the Kirkdale Industrial School of Lancashire.

Pauper inmates were children whose families were too impoverished to take care of them, even if they weren’t orphans. They were taken from their families and sent to schools such as Kirkdale to learn a trade — this might be where Stephen Joseph McNally learned shoemaking, which he noted on his enlistment form as his occupation.

More on Kirkdale next.


One thought on “The Irishman who Wasn’t

  1. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives, 1901. Data imaged from the National Archives, London, England. The National Archives gives no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided. Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to the National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU. 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA), 1911. 1921 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2013. Original data: Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2006. Images are used with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Original data: Canada. “Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918).” Record Group 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4930 – 35. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

    FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London, England: General Register Office. © Crown copyright. Published by permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Office for National Statistics. You must not copy on, transfer or reproduce records without the prior permission of ONS. Database Copyright © 1998-2003 Graham Hart, Ben Laurie, Camilla von Massenbach and David Mayall.

    Royal British Columbia Museum, Marriage Registrations, British Columbia Archives, Genealogy Collection [database on-line]. Victoria, BC, Canada: Royal British Columbia Museum. Original Data: British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency. British Columbia, Canada. British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency: P.O. Box 9657, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC V8W 9P3.


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