The Brick Wall is something all genealogists come up against, whether amateur or professional.  When we meet it, we are flummoxed; disbelief that we can’t seem to get past it and stubbornness to keep trying is the usual reaction.

Last Summer I had one of these experiences.   I received an enquiry from Noni in Australia enquiring about finding a Margaret Cooper in Kerry:

‘I know from several documents that my gg grandmother’s maiden name was Margaret Cooper and she came from County Kerry.

I think she emigrated to Australia in the late 1840s to early 1850s. There are several certificates that state she came from County Kerry. She had a child in Ipswich in the mid 1850s and was presumably married to the child’s father, Edward Sullivan, also Irish.’

Noni, went on to say that she had been unable at that time to find a certificate of her marriage to Edward Sullivan or of her first two children Edward and Ellen, but details on their death certificates would place the first child as born in Ipswich c.  1854.

‘Apparently Margaret took up with James Cosgrove Snr a few years after my great grandmother was born and had quite a few more children.  there is no documentation of her entering Australia, so I don’t think she was a convict. Because her eldest child was born in Ipswich, Queensland, I think it likely she went to Moreton Bay and they didn’t always record the arrivals of assisted passages there.

I do think she was probably poor and uneducated as her children were illiterate. She was definitely Roman Catholic   ….It is always stated that her mother’s name was ‘unknown’.  Her death certificate suggests she was born around 1823′.

By Summer of 2012, Noni was up against her brick wall.  She had researched extensively in Australian records and had exhausted ‘several databases of baptisms in County Kerry’.  2013 being the Year of the Gathering, she had also been in contact with Ireland Reaching Out and all searches were proving negative.

When I got Noni’s request, having also checked all current databases for Margaret Cooper, I went back to her in a kind of schoolmarmy way – explaining very patiently to her that going on her current research, there were only three ways that an illiterate female from a poor Kerry family could have afforded to travel to Australia in the 1847-1850 period and none of them would have applied in her case:

  • Margaret was a convict – this had been discounted already by Noni
  • Emigrated by a Landlord –  there were no cases of Landlord assisted emigration to Australia from Kerry in this period.
  • Workhouse Scheme – there was the Earl Grey Scheme in 1849/150 and 117 Kerry girls went to Australia on this.  I was at that point in the middle of writing a book (to be published now in April) called The Kerry Girls – Between the Famine & The Crown, and I had the full list of girls who travelled from Dingle, Kenmare, Killarney & Listowel on this scheme, BUT the name Margaret Cooper was not on the list.

We kept up our correspondence digging, and digging for any clues.  Margaret’s life had not been easy by all accounts and it appeared that she had not got a divorce from Edward Sullivan before taking up with James Cosgrove and bearing his children.  Because of this, or so we thought at the time, there seemed to be deliberate false trails in the births/deaths certifications for her children and herself.

Working together, Noni and I sifted out the facts from the ‘maybe’s’.  It seemed like the Earl Grey Scheme was the most likely option .  While there was no trace of a Margaret Cooper,  on any Kerry list, there was a Margaret Sullivan of Kilgarvan, from Kenmare Workhouse, who travelled on the John Knox arriving in Sydney in April 1850.   Her arrival papers stated that her parents were ‘ Connor & Mary, both dead’.  Most of the girls on that ship had then been sent to Moreton Bay (now Brisbane) which would tie in with Margaret’s later marriage to Edward Sullivan.  Then her marriage certificate was found and while both she and her husband were illiterate and signed with an X, it stated that her maiden name was ‘Sullivan’.

Book 045 Logbook John Knox arrival 30 April 1852

Bingo!  While this looked like ‘our’ Margaret Sullivan, it was not definitive, why was she calling herself Margaret Cooper?   Trying all kinds of histories/journals and the good old Google, for O’Sullivans who might have been coopers in a district, up popped a death notice from the Irish Times of 2012 for Con O’Sullivan Cooper of Kilgarvan.  Genealogists will understand how this excited me,  I went to the telephone directory and found Joan, who happened to be the widow of Con.   She was marvellous and explained that her branch were the Cooper Sullivans to differentiate them from the many more Sullivans in the Kilgarvan area.   In Griffith’s Valuation of 1852, there were 87 families of Sullivan or O’Sullivan in Kilgarvan parish.   Many of these Sullivans are descendants of O’Sullivan Beare Clan.

Margaret’ Sullivan’s  Baptismal Certificate of 15 July 1829 gives her home address as Keelbunau (sic), Kilgarvan and her parent are named as Cornelius Sullivan and Mary Sullivan

This is the story of just one brick wall surmounted –  next week we will continue with Margaret’s story in Australia.  Margaret married one Irish convicts, and lived with another, who was transported (but not guilty of ) for  ‘wilful murder’ at age 14.