Tracing family history in Ireland is not easy when compared with England.
Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths didn’t begin until 1864 whereas it started in 1837 in England.
Censuses in Ireland were taken from 1821 onwards but we have no access to any of the information which they contained. The censuses from 1821 to 1851 were destroyed in a fire at the Public Records Office in 1922, the censuses for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed as soon as the required information had been extracted. And the censuses for 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War, probably because of paper shortage.
So, we are reliant on the church records. As with England, parish registers were kept but not all parishes are yet available online. Given their age, unfortunately not all the entries are legible. So a failure to find a particular entry should not be taken as any indication as to whether the event did or did not take place.
At that time, not only was there little standardised spelling but there was a high level of illiteracy and, if the people didn’t know how to spell the name, the vicar or parish clerk wrote what they thought they heard. If they weren’t from the local area and therefore not used to the local accent, variations in spelling would occur. Evidently this presents the family historian with problems, ones which are not confined to Ireland but occur in England as well.
During the course of my research I found that not only could the name Wyer be spelt Wyre but also as Ware, Weir or even Waire, depending on who was writing it down. Throw in other possibilities such as Wier or Wire and this family historian’s hair became greyer by the minute, as my brother John can testify.
And so, as you read this history you will find most of those spellings. It may appear confusing but I must report the spellings as they appear in the parish registers, censuses, army service records or any other document.
Such spelling variations have given many family historians frequent headaches. Many years ago, when I first encountered surname spelling variations and was complaining loudly about them, my brother told me “don’t look at the spelling of the name, listen to the sound it makes and then look for all possible spellings”. Since then I have muttered that advice to myself many times.
Genealogical research in Ireland from afar was almost impossible when I started in 2004 and not much better when I wrote up the first history in 2009. Whilst the parish registers were being transcribed by volunteers at family history centres, the information was not yet online so there was no central database. The family history centres were not open to the public and researchers had to be employed but without knowing which area of the country, let alone in which parish the ancestor was born, married or buried, it was almost impossible.
In recent years both FindMyPast and Ancestry have begun uploading the Irish parish register transcriptions and so I have been able to trace the family of Patrick’s uncle, Francis Egan Wyer, or rather, the baptisms of those who I think were his siblings and of his father.
As the English censuses are our starting point for the research in Ireland, we should remember that only the ages were given, not the year of birth, and that, unlike today, people weren’t always sure of their precise age and so we note the birth years as circa, meaning approximately. Plus, we are reliant on the person giving the information being sure about the ages of those in the household.
Clearly, connecting Patrick and his uncle Francis Egan Wyer and family back to Ireland is not going to be easy.
There were several Wyers in Birmingham in 1841 and 1851 but, apart from Francis and his wife Sarah and their children James and Francis, there were just three other Wyers who were born in Ireland at that time.
James, aged 30 and a baker, was staying with Francis and Sarah in 1841. Relationships weren’t given on the 1841 census but was James the brother of Francis? Was he just visiting or actually living with Francis and his family. There is no sign of him in the 1851 census.
Ann and Mary were both servants, living at a house in Great Charles Street. Were Ann and Mary related to Francis? Sisters or cousins?
In 1841 Ann’s age was given as 35 and Mary as 20 but, in the 1841 census the ages of those over 15 were rounded down to the nearest five years, so Ann may have been anything between 35 and 40 and Mary between 20 and 25.
In 1851, Francis’ unmarried sister Ann, aged 46, and his nephew Patrick aged 10, were shown as staying with Francis and his family in Birmingham. Both were born in Ireland. Was Ann the mother or the aunt of Patrick?
It is possible that the Ann of 1841 and the Ann of 1851 were the same person but, as the 1841 census was taken on 7 June we must ask where Patrick was then.
The army records say that he was born on 11 February 1840, so it was possible that Patrick remained in Ireland, perhaps with his grandparents or his mother’s siblings, whilst she moved to or returned to Birmingham to work.
However, there is a family legend to take into consideration and which implies that Ann was not Patrick’s mother. We’ll come to that later.
The Dublin Connection
The 1851 census has Francis aged 50 and Sarah aged 36, so born c1801 and c1815 respectively, both born in Ireland.
The children of Francis who were born in Birmingham all have Sarah Dixon as their mother.
In the later censuses in Birmingham, Francis’ sons, James Egan and Francis John are shown to have been born in Dublin, c1833 and c1836.
The parish registers show that James, the son of Francis and Mary Wyre, was baptised on 7 April 1833, at St James’ Church, Dublin City, Ireland and that Francis, the son of Francis Wyre and Sarah Dixon, was baptised on 21 May 1835 at the same church.
It seems likely that James’ mother Mary died and that, with a young baby to care for, Francis married Sarah Dixon.
So far I have been unable to find a marriage record for Francis and Mary or Francis and Sarah.
Nor have I found a baptism record for Francis Wyer/Wyre but there is one for a Sara Dixon in 1812, at St Mary’s Cathedral in Dublin City. Her parents were Henry and Elizabeth Dixon. Further research is need to establish if this Sara Dixon was Francis’ wife but if so, as the grandfather’s name was often given to the grandchildren, this might explain why Francis and Sarah’s son was named Patrick Henry.
Now we turn our attention to James, who was staying with Francis and Sarah in 1841. Relationships weren’t given on the 1841 census but it is possible that James was Francis’ brother.
From the 1841 census, it seems that James Wyer was around five years younger than Francis and, based on the age of Francis in the 1851 census, that would make James born c1806.
There is a record for a James Wyer, baptised on 3 March 1806 at St Michael and John’s Church, Dublin City. His parents were Patk Wyer and Cathe Healy.
Patrick Weir married Cathe Healey on 17 November 1802 at St Michael and John’s Church, Dublin City.
Looking for the baptisms of the children of Patrick and Catherine, we find the following:
|John||1803||St Catherine’s Church, Dublin||Patt Ware & Catharine Healy||Patrick||1804||St Michael & St John’s Church,
|Patk Ware and Cathe Healy||James||1806||St Michael & St John’s Church,
|Patk Wyer and Cathe Healy||Cathe||1809||St Michael & St John’s Church,
|Patk Weir and Cathe Healy||Petrum||1812||St Andrew’s Church, Dublin City||Pati and Cathe Waire||Eleonoram||1814||Westlands Row, Dublin City||Patritu and Catha Ware||Mary Anne||1820||St Catherine’s Church,
|Pat Weir and Cath Hayley|
Petrum and Eleonoram were both baptised at a time when the names were Latinised and therefore I assume their names were actually Peter and Eleonora.
Unlike the English baptism registers, the Irish ones noted the names of the sponsors or godparents, in this case very helpfully as one of Eleonora’s sponsors or godparents had the surname Healy.
Mary Anne: given that the ages were rounded down to the nearest five in 1841 census she could certainly have been the Mary in Birmingham aged 20 in 1841.
So, at the time of writing, October 2017, I’ve identified seven children for Patrick and Catherine Wyer (with varied spellings of the surname) between 1803 and 1820.
It is a great pity that, so far, I cannot find a baptism for a Francis Wyer (or variations) born c1801 or his sister Ann, born c1805, anywhere let alone as a member of the above family. We may have been chasing up a blind alley but, as we have the baptism for James in 1806, my inclination is that we do have the right family, particularly as Francis named two of his sons Patrick, another son John and a daughter Catherine.
Based on the possibility that James Wyer was indeed the brother of Francis Wyer and therefore uncle of our Patrick, we are now into the realms of conjecture, which takes me somewhat out of my comfort zone, as I prefer practising safe genealogy, ie genealogy supported by evidence. But the further back we go, the harder it is to be precise.
James had two brothers whose name began with a P, Patrick and Peter, and that is of interest because our Patrick, noted in 1851 as the nephew of Francis, gave his own father’s name as P Wyer on his marriage record. On his death record, in 1912 in Colombo, Ceylon, Patrick’s father was named as Captain Wyer.
Now we are looking for a baptism of Patrick Wyer, the father of James and the other children named above.
As the parish registers didn’t give the ages of the people getting married we have to consider how old they might have been. Patrick and Catherine married in 1802 so, making an assumption that he might have been aged between 20 and 30, we start our search for a baptism record for Patrick in 1775, +/- 10 years, which gives us 1765 to 1785.
The only suitable candidate was Pat Wyre, baptised at St Michan’s Church, Dublin City, on 5 December 1779. His parents were Hugh and Judith Wyre. Judith’s maiden name isn’t given but it may have been Andrews as Hugh and Judith Andrews had a son Mathew Wier baptised in the same parish in Dublin in 1784. So far, I’ve not found a marriage record for Hugh and Judith or a baptism record for Hugh.
When looking for a Catherine Healey, we have several candidates. The first was baptised in the same parish as Pat but was six years older than him and, whilst she may have been the right person, there are also younger candidates:
Catherine Healy baptised in 1783, at St Paul’s, Dublin City.
Catherine Heeley baptised on 29 December 1784 at Skerries, Dublin,
Catherine Healey baptised on 25 June 1786 at Rathfarnham, Dublin.
Until we can find some further information, I think it is impossible to identify which Catherine we’re looking for, so we’ll park that line of enquiry for the moment.
So, what have we got so far which definitely connects our Patrick with Ireland?
On the 1851 census he was staying with his uncle Francis and aunt Sarah Wyer in Birmingham. They and their two eldest children, Francis and James, were born in Ireland, as was Patrick – at least according to the census.
The 1841 census shows a James Wyer, born in Ireland, five years younger than Francis, staying with the family in Birmingham. Unfortunately relationships to the head of the household weren’t given in the 1841 census but, just as Francis had a sister, Ann, staying with him in 1851, so we surmise that James was Francis’ brother.
Francis’ two sons were baptised in Dublin:
James (jnr) the son of Francis and Mary Wyre, was baptised in 1833,
Francis (jnr) the son of Francis Wyre and Sarah Dixon, was baptised in 1835.
We haven’t found a baptism for Francis or his sister Ann but we have found suitable baptisms for James (snr) together with brothers John, Patrick and Peter and sisters Catherine, Eleonara and Mary Anne.
Patrick and Cathe Healey married in November 1802 but according to the 1851 census and his death record, Francis Egan was born c1801. So it is possible that Francis was the son of Patrick but that his mother died and Patrick then married Cathe Healey. Ann may also have been a daughter by Patrick’s first marriage but this would mean that she was at least five years older than 46 as given on the 1851 census.
Plus, we have to consider that if Francis and Ann were siblings of James and the others, as our Patrick gave his father’s name as P Wyer, on his marriage record, either Patrick or Peter was our Patrick’s father.
All may become clearer as more church/parish registers are made available on the internet. After all, when I looked for the Irish records in 2009, even the baptism records of James jnr and Francis jnr were not available.
Proof of the Irish Connection
We have proved an Ireland connection for our Patrick through the baptisms of his cousins James in 1833 and Francis in 1835.
Evidently we cannot prove that Patrick Wyer/Wyre and Catherine Healey were Francis Egan Wyer’s parents, or were our Patrick’s grandparents. However, Francis named a daughter Catherine, his son John Henderson Wyer named a daughter Catherine and, as we shall see, our Patrick named a daughter Catherine. This reinforces the idea that one of their sons, Patrick or Peter, was our Patrick’s father.
My father knew of the Birmingham connection. Indeed, the letter from the Commonwealth Relations Office clearly stated that Patrick was born in Birmingham, but in February 1840, not as the certified baptism record for Patrick Henry stated, in 1843. So perhaps he may be forgiven for doubting his mother’s claims of Irish origins.
However, since we are now certain of the Irish connection I do think that, if my father meets his mother in the afterlife, he really should apologise for his scepticism, for doubting her.
A Tenuous Connection
Patrick Wyer’s uncle was Francis Egan Wyer and his cousin was James Egan Wyer.
When Patrick adopted a double-barrelled name for his sons, he made their surname Egan-Wyer.
Was this simply because he knew that Francis and James had the middle name Egan and liked it or was there a stronger connection?
A mother’s maiden name was frequently given as the second name for children and then passed through the family, often through several generations until the initial reason for the name is lost in the mists of time.
So it is reasonable to consider that, at some time, a member of the Wyer family, had married an Egan.
Unfortunately, Egan was a much more common name than Wyer so the likelihood of establishing a connection using the parish registers is remote.
So is there any other way of bringing the Wyers and the Egans closer together in Ireland?
Who were the Egans?
And why did Patrick misrepresent the place of his birth?