52 Ancestors, 52 Weeks – Week 1.
JOHN CORNELUIS O’CONNOR, my great, great martinal Grandfather, is one tricky subject and the hardest brick wall so far in my family history research.
This man draws me in, he gets under my skin, visits my dreams, and consumes my daily thoughts, way more than he should.
I need to know more!
I do not use the word NEED lightly, he somehow from the grave has a tight hold over my thoughts, my emotions but mostly over all my heart.
I don’t know what it is about him as I know very little. Maybe it’s his Irish roots that fascinate me, or just the fact I can only find very little information about his past, his up bringing, his life pre 1908.
I don’t even know what he looks like.
I’ve heard very little about his personality, his strengths, his weaknesses, but there is something unexplainable that draws me in, which drives me crazy at times.
Let me tell you his story, my journey to discovering his.
John was born at sea on the 29 February 1873, on his fathers vessel/boat. His family came from Ireland, we believe from CastleIsland, Co Kerry.
At some point, he packed his bags, boarded a ship either as crew or a passenger and sailed away to Canada in hopes of making a better life for himself, as many other Irish did.
His time there was short but sweet, he fell in love, married, fathered two sons whom we know nothing about, not even their names.
Tragedy struck and he lost the love of his life. He was heartbroken, the better life that he had sailed towards, had crumbled beneath him and he was a million miles from home. I can only imagine the pain, the heartache he would have felt.
Only John and his two sons will ever know what happened next, unless I finally uncover a document hiding in some dusty corner of the internet or at a records office.
All we know is he once again packed a few belongings, boarded a ship in 1907 and started his return to England on the Corsican, a journey to a very different future than he must of once planned, leaving his sons behind in Canada.
John arrived in Southampton docks, leaving behind not only the huge piece of metal they called Corsican but life as he knew it.
He took up lodgings with my 3rd great grandparents, Alfred William Wheeler and Emily Wheeler nee Shinkfield. Once again he fell in love with his landlords daughter, Ethel May Wheeler and they married on the 26 December 1908.
In 1911 he is living blissfully with his wife and their first born, a beautiful baby girl Eileen May O’Connor, my great granny. Now she was a pretty incredible lady, who I loved deeply and adored. (You will hear all about her soon in my 52 ancestors in 52 weeks series)
They were living at number 4 Crosshouse Terrace, Southampton, which was a dwelling of only 3 rooms.
John was 37 years old, Ethel 24 and Eileen was just 1.
John was working for a Coal Marchant as a coal porter.
His wife Ethel was pregnant with their second child.
Dorothy Rose E O’Connor was born on the 4th May 1911. I believe she was born at 4 Crosshouse Terrace, I haven’t yet been able to confirm this, as I can not get hold of a copy of her birth certificate even though it is listed on Ancestry. The records office where unable to find her registry and refunding my payment.
On the 4th of December 1913, John and Ethel welcomed their third daughter Kathleen Helena Florence O’Connor into the world. She was also born at 4 Crosshouse Terrace, Southampton, Hampshire. John was still working as a coal porter.
By 1915, the O’Connor family had moved home, just a few doors away to number 11 Crosshouse Terrace.
On the 2nd of July a new arrival, a son was born, Patrick John O’Connor. I can only imagine the delight they must have felt to hold a son in their arms, also the pain that John would have been feeling, as memories of his two sons in Canada would have come flooding back to him. I wonder if he was in contact with them, or they were just a painful memory that never got spoken about?
A few years passed, it’s now 1918, John is still porting coal and is still living at with his growing family at 11 Crosshouse Terrace, Southampton. Once again they welcome a new arrival into their humble home. Norah Margaret O’Connor was born on the 3rd May.
The family is rather large now, money must have been tight as the family grow in size and the Great war was still looming over the city.
It is believed his children were well feed, not one mouth went hungry, as John would go fishing on his boat Allanha, bringing home plenty of fish for everyone in the street to eat.
Allanha sadly got bombed and destroyed in Southampton waters where it was moored at Crosshouse Harbour.
The Great War is now over, it’s 1920, and the O’Connor family are still residing at 11 Crosshouse Terrace. John is still working as a coal porter. Life must have been returning to normal after the war, as once again Ethel finds herself expecting. On the 17th November, Brennan Cornelius O’Connor is welcomed into the world.
Their home life must have been busy and exciting as the children grow, learning all they needed to know, readying themselves for their own adventures.
Ethel’s childbearing days are still not over as she once again finds that she is expecting another baby. She gives birth to Molly E O’Connor, between April and May 1923.
Ethel has finally had enough of childbearing after having 7 children, she banishes John to live on his boat in hopes that she wouldn’t fall pregnant again.
John sadly passes away on the 4th October 1939 at 1 Botley Road, West End, aged 66. His occupation is now listed as a watchman on his death certificate.
His residence at the time of his death is 32 Canute Road, Southampton, Hampshire, where I have traced Ethel, Patrick and Molly as residences in the 1939 register.
John was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery, Southampton on the 7th October 1939.
This is sadly where his story ends but not his memory or the love his family still feel for him.
As for his two sons that he left in Canada, During the Great War, John took my great granny, his oldest daughter Eileen May O’Connor, to Netley Military Hospital, were he introduced her to one of her brothers, a Canadian Solider in the Great War. He sadly lost his life there, as did his brother.
After years of trying to trace John Cornelius O’Connors roots, I have hit one brick wall after another. I can not find any trace of his birth, due to him being born on a fishing boat, off the coast of Ireland.
My Grandmother Doreen Townsend nee Willats can remember that he had a soft Irish accent, so she believes he came from the west of Ireland. My mum has also told me that she intended to name my sister Kerry after her Grandmother Eillen O’Connor, the name Eileen was classed as old fashioned at that time, so she named her after the location the O’connors came from. The only proof I have off this is the ship log of his return to England.
We are lead to believe that John had one brother, Thomas and two sisters Annie and Rosina. At present I have not been able to trace their births, but I have managed to find his two sisters marriages. Unfortunately after ordering the certificates, they gave conflicting evidence about their fathers name and occupation.
On Johns marriage certificate, his father is named as John Cornelius O’Connor, Master Mariner. This complies with Johns birth at sea.
On Annie’s marriage certificate to James William Taylor, her father is named as John Patrick O’Connor, carpenter, deceased. On her second marriage to Albert Cranham, he is named as Patrick O’Connor, once again a deceased carpenter.
On his sisters Rosina O’Connor marriage certificate to Walter Wiseman Mason, their father is once again named as John Patrick O’Connor, deceased carpenter.
I can not find any trace of Thomas, as there doesn’t seem to be any family information/stories floating around.
We do know that the family moved to London after leaving Ireland. When they left or why they left is unknown.
It is definitely a great big puzzle with lots and lots of missing pieces but I’m sure as sure can be, I will not stop trying to find them. I NEED to find them.
If you somehow stumble across this blog and names, dates, anything pops out at you and you realise that these wonderful souls are part of your family history, your DNA, your roots, please don’t hesitate to contact me, I will be over joyed to hear from you.