Saturday, May 11, 2013

Brick Walls: Why some might remain unbroken

This is my second "brick walls" blog, inspired by James Tanner's recent posts.  In this case I want to explain why some brick walls will never be breached, no matter how many obscure sources you know about and check.  This is because sometimes there never were any records about a person created in the first place. This could be the case (at least in New South Wales) well into the 19th century.

The example I am going to use is William Flynn, known to have existed in the Parramatta area of NSW in the 1850s.  How do we know he existed? He first came to light on the death certificate of his daughter, Mary Ann Julia Annesley (nee Flynn).  She died in 1930, aged 78 (indicating a birth about 1852).  Her death certificate gives her parents as William Flynn, labourer, and Lucretia.  As an aside, we are lucky with New South Wales and Victorian death certificates, which contain much more information than their English equivalents.  They are much closer to Scottish death certificates. The NSW death indexes also contain the death of a William Flynn aged 76 in 1919 (thus born about 1843). His parents were William Flynn, labourer, and Lucretia Haslam. The NSW birth indexes include a reference to a baptism of Albert Flinn, son of William and Lucretia Flinn, at Parramatta in 1852.  This is before the start of civil registration in NSW (which commenced in 1856), so this is a church record.  It is a baptism in St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church at Parramatta, and says that Albert was born 6 Jun 1852 and baptised on 10 June.  His father is stated to be a labourer, living in Parramatta. 
St Patrick's in Parramatta c1860.  Photo from National Library
of Australia
So we appear to have three children, but there is only a baptism of one of them.  I have checked through the microfilm of the original register in case a relevant entry was omitted or mis-transcribed, but there was nothing else for the name Flynn or Flinn (or other variant).

William and Lucretia obviously married before civil registration started. That is if, indeed, they ever did marry.  No record can be found in the church records of a marriage between them. I then tried to look for deaths.  As you can imagine, there are a lot of deaths of people named William Flynn/Flinn (47 in NSW between 1850 and 1930, none of them from the Parramatta area), so the logical step would be to find Lucretia's death (nice unusual name, isn't it) and see if there was a clue as to whether William was alive or not at that time. But no death can be found for Lucretia (or any obvious variant of that name) in any state of Australia or New Zealand. Their son Albert is probably the infant who died in 1852, though I haven't checked that church record. William the son died in country NSW in 1919, and had married a woman called Annie Amelia King.  His death certificate says that the marriage took place in Parramatta, but doesn't give a date.  No such marriage can be found. There is nothing else on his death certificate that gives us any further clues about his parents.

So that is the sum total of what I can find about William Flynn the father.  He had children William (c.1843), Mary Ann Julia (c. 1852) and Albert (born 1852).  He was a labourer, and lived in Parramatta. He baptised one child in the RC church, so we can deduce that he was probably RC himself.  Given that, and that his name was William Flynn, it is probable that he was either born in Ireland, or the descendant of someone who was. But we don't have any clues as to where or when he was born, or the names of his parents.

So here comes the reason why I may never find anything else.  It is possible that both William and Lucretia died before civil registration started in 1856, which would account for the failure to find death certificates.  As a labourer he probably would not have owned land. He wasn't a tradesman advertising his services.  If he did not get into trouble he would not be in official records (like court records).  And if he did nothing notable he would not be mentioned in the newspapers (I forgot to say that I keep checking those with no success).  Even if there was a baptism for him in NSW (and at various times Catholic masses and churches were banned within the colony) I wouldn't have the information to know that a baptism I had found was the correct person.  He just didn't leave a paper trail.

I will never stop looking for him when any new information becomes available, but I'm not holding out any hope.


  1. Hi Jenny. I may be able able to knock down some the wall.
    my interest in william & Lucretia, were my great great grand parents on my mothers side.
    the information I provide comes from internet sources , NSW BDM & State Archives.
    the william flynn I found was born in 1801 , mallow parish , cork ireland. i can't find how he got to australia.
    i have a date of marriage to lucretia of 1841 but no information on the birth of mary ann.
    there is a reported death of a william flynn in 1860 , aged 59 ( ref 122/1860) I have not purchased the doc. so no verification.

    I have a dob for mary ann of 8/6/1852 & yes she did die 26/1/1930 aged 80 & is buried in an unmarked grave with her husband beside her .(yet another unanswered question)

    as to lucretia hers is a tragic story. her mother cordelia white was convicted of stealing & transported on the lord sidmouth arriving in sydney in 1823. she left behind 2 of her children but took the other 2 children including lucretia who was aged 10 years old. on arrival the girls were put into the parramatta orphange. cordellia received permission to marry in 1824 & the children were released. I think lucretia marries thomas higgins in 1832. it was shorted lived then married john haslam in 1833. they part ways & she then marries william flynn.
    for what ever reason lucertia returned to the uk perhaps to find her father & other siblings.
    I understand her mother died in 1853 ? & father 1864. she died aged 49 in cornwell. hers is a sad story of a family ripped apart never reunited.
    thank you for yout information as it fills in some blanks about mary ann

    regards paul

    1. Can you please contact me direct at jenny.joyce[at] (replace [at] with the usual).

      I would love to know about your connection, and I have some extra information about Cordelia and her daughters (there was a 5th one born after her trial).


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.