Saturday, 20 December 2014

Ancestor Most Wanted: James Sherry aka James McSharry

Where did he come from?
Where did he go?
Ever since I started family history nearly thirty years ago, one ancestor has provided me with an “impenetrable” brick wall.
James Sherry is first identified in the “public” record in Tullamore, County Offaly (Kings County as it was then). On 21 May 1859 he married Bridget Furlong, a local girl from the townland of Shruagh, in the old Catholic Church, with witnesses John Horan and Maria SlavinTheir first two surviving sons, Peter and James Joseph, were also christened there, on the same date 29 May, in 1861 and 1865. Peter, is my direct ancestor. Their second-born son, Martin Sherry (named for Bridget’s father) was baptised in Arklow, Wicklow on 15 July 1863 with witnesses James and Margaret Halpin. Sadly he died as an infant in Arklow.

A typical Irish cottage (and cat) at Knockina, 1992.
During their years in Arklow, James was working as a ganger on the railway, presumably on the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford line. Several children were born and baptised in Arklow before the family moved to Gorey, Wexford where they settled for about 10 years. At the baptism of each child born in Gorey, the family states their townland as Knockina, just outside Gorey township. Having researched the Griffith Valuation revision lists for the period, it seems that the Sherry family must have been living in a caretaker’s cottage owned by the railway as all other properties are accounted for. This would suggest that James had reached some level of responsibility with the railway.

The interior of St Michael's Church, Gorey, Wexford 1992. Site of Sherry baptisms and Peter's marriage.
So far, so good, you’re wondering why I have a problem….after all I have quite a bit of information on them, thanks to the baptism of all those children. But there’s one thing missing – where did James come from and what’s his ancestry?Name distributions suggest he probably came from one of Ireland’s northern counties, possibly Monaghan, Fermanagh, or Meath. Dublin is also a strong contender but surely if he was from there one of his family might have been a witness to at least one of the baptisms.
In 1882 James and Bridget Sherry emigrated to Queensland with all their children, except eldest son Peter and his family. On arrival in January 1883, the family changed their name to McSharry, supposedly with the idea that he would ride on the coat tails of another James McSharry, the partner in O’Rourke & McSharry, railway construction contractors. If this was his goal, he certainly succeeded from one point of view. From that time forward my James McSharry cannot be readily identified. Despite the family’s horrendous luck with three children dying within a few years of arrival, James does not appear as the informant on any of the death certificates. By 1892, Bridget McSharry was listed in the post office directories as a boarding house keeper in Maryborough and later in Rockhampton, where she died in 1900. Had James died so that she needed to take up this work? Had he deserted her?
No problem, surely his death certificate can be found, and this will most likely tell us his place of origin and his parents’ names? Good theory, nil outcome. Despite searching around the country, this James McSharry/Sherry appears to have disappeared off the face of Australia at least. I’ve looked for him in Police Gazettes thinking he might appear there – if he had “done a runner” and left his wife with the children, they might have chased him for maintenance. Of itself this seems strange given they’d been married over 20 years and just made the tremendous decision to emigrate, but perhaps he hadn’t coped with the death of his children. I’ve searched cemeteries, inquest indexes and hospital admissions all to no avail. Trove throws up innumerable references to the construction company and even occasional documents found at the Archives remain ambiguous.
One clue appears when his daughter marries in Rockhampton in 1903, said to be the daughter of James McSharry, late of Sydney. Does that mean “recently of Sydney” or deceased…I suspect that in this case it meant the latter.  My suspicion is that it is a red herring to infer he may be the partner in McSharry & O’Rourke who was by then in Sydney. Searches of NSW death certificates did no resolve my problem.
To confuse matters further this James’s eldest son, Peter, arriving in Queensland in early 1884 with his wife and young family, changed his name to McSherry and also joined the railway immediately. To this day, many of the leaves on this family’s branches do not know of the interconnection between the McSherry and McSharry families or indeed within some branches of either.
Did James emigrate to New Zealand or elsewhere to work on the railways? Did he return to Ireland? Did he die but never make it into the records? Was he admitted to a mental asylum somewhere? Was there some sort of scandal? Questions, questions!

My bet is that his father’s name was Peter Sherry and that he was probably born somewhere in Ireland’s northern counties. Searches at RootsIreland have been unproductive or inconclusive. Without some proof, or some clue about what happened to James, or where he went from Australia, this line is stone-walled.
If you've any clues, I'd love to hear from you. The (Mc)Sherry genes offer great longevity. Perhaps he remarried and had more children elsewhere. This little mystery is one of the reasons I have had my DNA tested. I have had some "hits" that look promising but mainly seem to tie into Peter McSherry's wife's family, the Callaghans from Courtown, Wexford. Those limited Irish Catholic records certainly pose a challenge for us. However I'll certainly be waiting for further clues when the Irish parish registers are digitised around mid-2015.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Christmas Brings to Mind...

Christmas brings the thought of aprons to my mind both for gifts and for making delectable 

homemade dishes.

Below is a well worn poem  that has found its way into many email boxes bringing smiles, 

and tears to the reader's eyes.

Grandma's Apron
by Tina Trivett
The strings were tied. It was freshly washed, and maybe even pressed.
For Grandma, it was everyday to choose one when she dressed.
The simple apron that it was, you would never think about;
the things she used it for, that made it look worn out.
She may have used it to hold some wildflowers that she'd found.
Or to hide a crying child's face, when a stranger came around. 
Imagine all the little tears that were wiped with just that cloth.
Or it became a potholder to serve some chicken broth. 
She probably carried kindling to stoke the kitchen fire.
To hold a load of laundry, or to wipe the clothesline wire.
When canning all her vegetables, it was used to wipe her brow.
You never know, she might have used it to shoo flies from the cow.
She might have carried eggs in from the chicken coop outside.
Whatever chore she used it for, she did them all with pride.
When Grandma went to heaven, God said she now could rest.
I'm sure the apron she chose, was her Sunday best.
I miss you Grandma...

I associate aprons with my grandmother who raised 13 children and 2 grandchildren. She 

became a widow when her twins, the last two children, were 2 months old.  At that time she

had 6 children in her home to raise during the depression.  I love her indomitable spirit

I wonder if she ever sat and cried into her apron, when facing such daunting odds.  She had 

Always had an apron on for cooking and doing her chores.

All these thoughts started me on a search for information about aprons.  I found that many are 

interested in aprons, in fact, there are many out in the blogosphere that have aprons as their focus. 

This is a great one on the History of Aprons.

I think that Avis Yarbrough was very mistaken when he said in "A History of 1950's Aprons" in 2007

that the apron would never reach popularity like it had in the 1950's.  I go to the fabric store and 

there are a multitude of retro and new apron patterns. One of my favorites is a Daisy Kingdom 

pattern by Simplicity. 

The above apron is reminiscent of an apron pattern in 1912.

In my search about the apron 's historical use, I found a variety of information and many opinions.

 One use, which I knew but had not come to mind, was the leather apron of the blacksmith.  This is a 

fun story from the 1830s that I found when I just put Apron in the search engine on Chronicling 


I was also fascinatedby the styles of the different eras.  The early 1900's styles were much like my 

favorite pattern above, more of a smock which covered most if not all of the dress. For this part, 

old newspapers were a great source for stories and illustrations.
The work day apron and articles from the Minneapolis Journal 1906

Modern day journalists were not the only ones to have thought the apron was gone.  In 1859, a

journalist for the Edgefield, South Carolina newspaper noted the apron was  "coming back into 

fashion".  I think it is only fashion editors that think that, the every day woman prefers to have and 

apron in the house.

My quest has been a long one. I don't know if I have enlightened anyone, but I have had fun

researching such a nostalgic subject for me.  I was amazed to find out that the bib overall of today, 

was a full fitting bib apron that men wore while working in a shop in the 1700 - 1800's.  

I am in the middle of making aprons for Christmas for the grandchildren for learning to cook.

Thank you for dropping by. Leave a comment about your feelings about aprons if you feel so inclined. 

Merry Christmas! and a Happy New Year!  See you in 2015!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Christmas Truce 1914

This year is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.  It is also the centenary of a remarkable sequences of events which occurred in small pockets all along the Western Front over several days, now known to history as the Christmas Day Truce of 1914.

During recent weeks, in Britain, there has been heated debates across social media about a 2014 Christmas advert which is a reenactment of this famous truce.  The general consensus appears to be that the advert itself has been well acted and well staged.  However, it is of great discomfort to many people (myself included) because the reenactment is an advert.  And an advert for one of Britain's largest grocery shops, and so is distasteful because of its blatant commercialisation of a tragic event.  With the advert playing virtually every day in Britain since mid-November, it prompted me to do my own research on the Christmas Day Truce to determine what had actually happened.  Thus was the background to my post today - to discover the truth behind the Christmas Day Truce.

My primary sources are the many local and national British newspapers digitally preserved and kept by the excellent archive, British Newspaper Archive.  Rather then retell the story in my words, I thought it best if you read the newspapers of the time to see what had actually occurred throughout December 1914.  As there are so many newspaper cuttings in my post, I haven't transcribed them.  The quality of some of the print is poor, but I do recommend that you persevere with reading them, as this is a remarkable story.  Use your computer's controls to zoom into each article.

So that you can make up your own mind about the events, I have only written a brief commentary on the newspaper articles.  Whilst you read each article, remember that these were contemporary reports written at the very height of the "war to end all wars" so you have to use your own intellect to determine the unwitting testimony, hidden meanings, and motivation behind each newspaper's report.

Pope Benedict XV tries to secure 12-hour Christmas truce
In early December 1914, Pope Benedict XV tried to secure a 12-hour Christmas truce on all sides. Throughout the length and breadth of Britain, newspapers reported his attempts - below are two of the many reports - one from Scotland, and the other from England.

Pope's attempt to secure 1914 Christmas Truce
Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 09 December 1914
Pope tries to secure Christmas day truce 1914
Western Mail - Wednesday 09 December 1914

By the 11th December, newspapers were reporting that Germany was willing to have a truce. America, at that stage not at war with anyone, tried to introduce a resolution into the Senate that the truce should be 20 days (I wonder how on earth Senator Kenyon could possibly think that a truce could last 20 days!!).  The reports of a Christmas truce during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s was also reported.

Birmingham Daily Mail - Friday 11 December 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail - Friday 11 December 1914

Failure of the Pope's truce
However, by the 12th, the Pope's attempt had failed.

Birmingham Daily Post - Saturday 12 December 1914

Sunday Post - Sunday 13 December 1914

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Monday 14 December 1914

Of the many newspaper reports I read from these few days in December, none directly confronted Russia for opposing the truce. But only one newspaper mentioned (the glaringly obvious) reason why Russia had declined - and even then, that report wasn't printed until days after the original articles about a potential truce.  The absence of the reason for Russia's refusal in the majority reports shows unwitting testimony that the allies didn't always see eye-to-eye on matters of the war.  Also notable is the fact that I could not find a single newspaper report which stated Britain's view on the Pope's truce. From looking at just newspaper reports alone, it is very hard to determine Britain's stance - maybe the British government did have a firm view, but the newspapers were ordered not to print it.  Or maybe, the government (once again) refused to declare one way or another - a repeat of their failure to commit in June/July 1914 following the assassination in Sarajevo.

Birmingham Gazette - Monday 21 December 1914

Christmas Day reports from the trenches
The Pope's attempts to hold a truce proved to be a failure and the war rolled on.  Christmas Day 1914 was on a Friday - despite the bank holidays on Christmas Day and Boxing Day being on a Saturday, newspapers still continued to be printed and rolled off their presses to be read by an eager nation.

The newspapers on Christmas Day and Boxing Day all reported... Well, nothing.  Apart from the duplicity of the Germans.

Western Gazette - Friday 25 December 1914
At this early stage, news of any truce in the trenches had not filtered back to Britain. Instead, even on 26th December, newspapers were still lamenting the failure of the Pope's attempt to secure a truce after he addressed his Cardinals in Rome on Christmas Eve.  On Monday 28th December, newspapers were reporting that there had been a hard frost and a winter's mist on Christmas morning but hostilities continued.  Many of these early reports of Christmas Day in the trenches read much the same as below's report:

Nottingham Evening Post - Monday 28 December 1914

The first reports of the truce filter through
However, by Wednesday 30th December, soldiers' letters had started to be received at home by their loved ones.  Many of these letters were sent to the soldier's local newspapers and then filtered through to other local and national newspapers.  The story of the Christmas Day Truce had finally reached Britain.

Hull Daily Mail - Wednesday 30 December 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail - Thursday 31 December 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail - Thursday 31 December 1914

Birmingham Gazette - Thursday 31 December 1914
Birmingham Gazette - Thursday 31 December 1914

Derby Daily Telegraph - Thursday 31 December 1914

Southern Reporter - Thursday 31 December 1914

Liverpool Daily Post - Thursday 31 December 1914

Aberdeen Journal - Friday 01 January 1915

Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 02 January 1915

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Saturday 02 January 1915
Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 02 January 1915

Gloucester Journal - Saturday 02 January 1915

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915-Part 1
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915-Part 2

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 04 January 1915-Part 3
Daily Record - Tuesday 05 January 1915

Western Front Casualties Christmas 1914
The Christmas Truce was a remarkable event of the First World.  Even though the Pope was not successful in arranging a formal truce, the soldiers themselves achieved what generals, politicians and religious leaders could not. The varying stories in different newspapers shows that this was not a uniform truce with a set beginning and a set end.  Rather, each sector of the Western Front had their own version of the truce - some only allowing the burial of the dead on Christmas morning before hostilities recommenced, whilst other sectors held their truce throughout the entire festive period.

But did the Christmas Truce work?  Did it stop some of the carnage on the Western Front?

There is one way that the success of the Christmas Truce can be quantified with hard data - the number of casualties on the Western Front during Christmas 1914. Using the excellent Commonwealth War Grave Commission's website, I interrogated the number of United Kingdom casualties each day for Belgium and France during the later part of December 1914 and early January 1915.  The graph below clearly shows a dip in casualties over the Christmas period.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission data makes no distinction between whether a man was killed in action, or if he had died of his wounds days after injury.  Therefore it cannot be determined how many of the 50 deaths in France and 22 in Belgium on Christmas Day happened because of direct actions on that day, or if the men had died of wounds received days earlier.  Local newspapers in Britain did report news of deaths on Christmas day - such as the report below.

Gloucester Journal - Saturday 09 January 1915

The peak of casualties before Christmas can be attributed to the Battle of Givenchy which had raged between 18-22 December. This accounts for the massive number of dead in the pre-Christmas period. Indeed, some Great War commentators have remarked that the Christmas Truce had to happen so that the dead from this battle could be buried, as many of the men had died in no-man's-land and water-filled craters.  Their bodies, by that stage, decaying in a terrible state in between the front lines.

Aftermath - Christmas 1915
Throughout the beginning part of January 1915, British newspapers recounted many tales from soldiers who had taken part in the Christmas truce.  By mid January, the newspapers were terming it "the unofficial truce" and by late January "the famous Christmas truce".  As the war rolled on, the Christmas Truce passed into legend and little mention was made of it in newspapers from late February onwards.  By 29th November 1915, the newspapers started to report that Pope Benedict XV was, once again, trying to arrange Christmas Truce.  But this time, he had narrowed his scope, and the truce was to be between "Catholic orthodox countries". The Pope's previous year's attempt at world peace between all the various religions of the combatant nations had obviously proved to be insurmountable. However, this too failed and newspapers seem to have simply stopped reporting the Pope's truce by early December 1915.

A few days before Christmas 1915, some newspapers started to question if there would be another truce for that Christmas.  But the mood of Britain had changed: 1915 had brought the sinking of the passenger ship the Lusitania, killing 1,195 passengers - many of whom were women and children; along with the execution of nurse Edith Cavell.  The newspaper report below sums up the mood:

Edinburgh Evening News - Tuesday 21 December 1915
Other newspapers were more explicit in stating that there would be no truce

Dundee Courier - Thursday 23 December 1915

Derby Daily Telegraph - Friday 24 December 1915
In 1915, there was no Christmas truce and the war rolled on to the bitter end with no further truces...

Or did it?

Christmas Truce 1916
In my research for writing this post, it occurred to be that a couple of years ago I had purchased from that well known internet auction site a Christmas postcard from 1916.  When I bought it, I was intrigued by its message as it implied that something strange had happened in the trenches in 1916. Was there a truce in 1916?  I could not find anything in the British Newspaper Archive which states that there was one. But maybe there was one.

France 25 December 1916:
The flag we are willing to sacrifice our lives for in order that they may continue to float over free peoples.  What a tale I will have to tell you all of later of a Xmas day in the trenches.


I wonder what remarkable tale of Christmas 1916 in the trenches Fred had to tell when he got home? Was it as remarkable as the Christmas Truce of 1914?

German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment and British soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 26 December 1914

British and German troops meeting in no man's land, Christmas 1914

Christmas 1914 - burying the dead from both sides

Daily Mirror - Friday 08 January 1915

British and German officers in no-man's land - Christmas 1914

Soldiers fraternising in Belguim on Christmas Day 1914

You may be interested in
Imperial War Museum podcast: Christmas Truce
Imperial War Museum podcast: Christmas during the Great War
BBC Radio 4 broadcast: Voices of the Great War - The Christmas Truce
(the above include some incredible oral recordings from soldiers who took part in the truce)

First World War Centenary Partnership
(the above links to a site which details several events going on throughout the Christmas period in Britain, to celebrate the centenary of the Christmas Truce)


My Christmas Advent Calendar 2014
Throughout December 2014, I have been running a daily Christmas Advent Calendar with a door to open which reveals a website of historical interest. Please do take a peek at my calendar. 

To all readers of this blog, happy Christmas


I look forward to sharing with you more of my discoveries over the coming months - see you next time on this blog on 18th January 2015. In the meantime, you can catch me on my blog Essex Voices Past or on twitter @EssexVoicesPast

You may also be interested in my previous posts on this blog
November 2014: Men (and women) of courage
October 2014: Writing local history
September 2014: Hidden from history - the scandalous Redit women of Suffolk
April 2014: Happy Easter 1916?
March 2014: Who do you think they were?
February 2014: Family History Show and Tell
January 2014: Family history is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get

 © Essex Voices Past