OF JOHN KIRBY
My Great Grandfather
I was born in 1956, in Oxford to parents who were from Scotland. My dad’s father’s family were all originally from County Down and came to Troon about 1896/1897 from the Cloughey/ Kirkistown area near Newtownards. His mother’s family were from Ballyhalbert, but moved to Newtownards. Due to a family split, unusual in those times, my Grans dad moved Troon to stay with the “Young’s”. My Grandmother later fell out with her mother in Newtownards and then also moved to Troon to stay with her father, where she met my grandfather.
It was not to be my father’s family though who sparked my interest in family history. It started earlier than even I originally thought in a sort of subversive manner. Living in Oxford far from our relations, every holiday, birth, marriage and death were spent in Scotland. We stayed mainly with my mother’s grandmother Jeannie Kirby “Nahma” and her sister Agnes Miller, “Aunt Agnes”. They lived in what we regarded as a big house called “Aldersyde” in Monkton Road,Prestwick.
Sundays were always a pretty boring day as both Nahma and Agnes were Brethren folk and not much was done except a family gathering in the large front room. Nahma and Agnes sat by the large window to the left and right respectively and read newspapers. Without leaving the house but observing people’s movements there was not much they did not know about what was going on in the neighbourhood. Sunday afternoon was storytelling and gossip time. Unconsciously I heard a lot and got totally bored, but some things stuck and some went over my head. If only now I could recreate those times.
Nahma died in 1967 and I remember travelling to Scotland aged only 11 and held a cord at the funeral at Ayr Cemetery in Holmston Road as the eldest male great grandchild present. The inscription on the gravestone left a lasting memory and a deeper mystery.
A deeper interest started in my teens when I asked my Grandfather, Ralph Kirby what his dad was like? He told me he never knew his father, John Kirby. Apparently he walked out the door and was never seen again. No one knew where he came from or where he went to. Of course I sort of knew this story before but now it seemed to make more sense. It was a sort of family mystery even a dark secret. I was already determined to find out. Unsure of how to start it was not until I was in my early twenties before I kicked off and it is now taken nearly 40 years and masses of research and different leads and dead ends to get to where I am today.
Somewhere today still lies still more facts from which can be constructed the true story of John Kirby, my Great Grandfather. It may be fair to say that of all my Great Grand Parents, several of whom I knew personally, I know the least about him. In fact, I still know more about his Father and Mother, Joseph Kirby and Lucy Payne. My Grand Father, Ralph Kirby, never knew him either and here lay the problem. Sometime around 1912 he disappeared. In 1999, I said,” I would prefer to say missing, as there must be an answer”. Since then very little had been uncovered until January 2015. I have now been able to re assemble lots of facts about him, his mother and father and his brothers and sisters. Along with the few family stories I gleaned, I have built up a visual picture in my mind about him. I also knew my Great Grand Mother Jane Miller, John’s wife who died in 1967 when I was 11. My mother lived with her when she was young and they were very close.
This is the latest version of a continual attempt to put the story in written form. The more that you learn about a person you do not know, the more you find you either like or dislike their character. For example, both of John’s parents Joseph and Lucy had such full and interesting lives that they come to life and you cannot fail to like them. As far as John Kirby is concerned the jury is still out. Whilst the family inferences may not be so great, from what is emerging of John’s early life and there is still no real reason yet to doubt his character.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
With little to go on and very little family help a good start seemed at least his marriage certificate to Jeannie Miller. This was rather easy and this was obtained from New Register House in Edinburgh.
This confirmed most of what I knew but I learned his father was Joseph Kirby and mother Lucy Payne. Why oh why did I leave it till 2000 to get a certificate? Only on Scottish certificates are mothers maiden names shown, that now gave me a fundamental clue. But I still did not know where he came from. Researching English records in Scotland was not easy time, consuming and expensive. Back in those early days before the internet there were only two real sources of information, England and Wales BMD records only available in Libraries south of the border or at Somerset House. There was also the International Genealogical Index, the IGI available at some Mormon Churches and by the mid to late 1990’s these were available online.
I had no idea where to look for him even in Scotland. As John Kirby and Jeannie married after the 1901 census and John disappeared before the 1911 census, things were beginning to get tough. Moreover, the 1901 census was not available at that time and little prospect. I had a good idea he would be in the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census, but where? We thought we knew he was married before, but in England with just an idea it might be Weston Super Mare. There were loads of John Kirby’s too nothing in Weston Super Mare. This brick wall was too difficult.
Here I learned the first lessons. I had a very limited budget and even with lots of money I could have spent a fortune and still not got the right answers. These lessons were, take your time, examine every step. Don’t go headlong into what seems the obvious, examine every minor clue. Put it down and go away and do something else. Think laterally and out of the box, then go back and try again.
I decided to look at Jeannie Miller and her family. This was because her father Peter Miller was friendly with Peter Hynd an important Brethren figure in Scotland at the time and also he knew John Kirby through the Brethren. This in itself did not help however another accident did.
In order to get all the Millers sorted and to get more complete information for births marriages and deaths of my more immediate family, I went during the summer holidays one day to New Register House in Edinburgh. At that time most information although initially searchable on computer was held on microfiche. It took me a day to learn how to get what I wanted and I went home excited with lots of information. I still consider this the shortest day of my life and the last minute scramble when the bell rang at 16.00.
I had so much information my head was buzzing, masses of notes, the last 30 minutes I decided to have a look for Kirby’s. Looking only in Ayrshire there were not that many. There seemed too many to have a connection with us.
It took nearly two weeks to write up all the notes. I now had a programme call Family Tree Maker version 1 to enter all the details in.
My attention turned to Kirby once again and I decided to go back to New Register House and concentrate solely on Kirby. But when? I couldn’t get time off work so had to wait till Christmas and hope my wife would agree to a day out and I could use some Christmas money to research.
Christmas seemed to take forever to come but I went in between that and New Year. I could find no John Kirby however I looked at all the Kirby’s in Ayr and Troon and a pattern gradually emerged. I stumbled across a number of girls who got married whose father was a John Kirby a seaman or master mariner. Somewhat confused and unexpected, I looked up their birth certificates and they all had their father as John Kirby and mother as Elizabeth Kirby (M.S. Taylor).
It was now quite easy to find John Kirby’s marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, but again what a surprise it was in Troon right under my nose in my father’s home town. Not only that I recall Jeannie Miller always saying she lived in Troon and hated it and yet no one in our family knew of these children when in fact John Kirby and Jeannie Miller lived in the same house initially as his previous family.
It had always been thought within the family that John may have been previously married, maybe with children. During this period, it was already thought that he married and had possibly had children. However, it turns out he had eight children. It also turns out 4 were still alive at the time of his second marriage. However, it is hard to understand that Jane never seems to have known this, particularly as she lived in Barassie Street in Troon as well after their marriage.
So now I pretty well had all John Kirby’s children from his first marriage, I knew his first wife but more importantly, I knew his father’s name Joseph Kirby and a good idea of his age.
Now it was time to turn to the census information. I went and purchased a CD set of the 1881 UK census from the Latter Day Saints. Somewhere in the 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 census lay the information but only the 1881 census was available at that stage. There were still too many John Kirby’s even with connections to the sea. So work started on finding a Joseph Kirby who had a son John and again trying to keep a connection with the sea.
At this stage the only one really fitting the bill was a Joseph Kirby and his wife Lucy in Cornwall but no John Kirby. However, in the 1881 census I discovered one John Kirby on HMS Firefly who seemed to fit the bill. Working alongside the IGI I found a number of Joseph and Lucy’s children including a John.
I decided to invest in a birth certificate for John and it took two or three weeks for it to arrive from Liverpool. Yes, this was the right John Kirby and his parents, but still there was not a lot to go on.
It was time once again to reassess where I was going with this as things were beginning to start to cost a bit. It is hard to focus on the question what happened to John Kirby when we are still trying to find out something about him. Progress was slow and I could not wait around for information that might never appear. My interest in my father’s family was accelerated on my first visit to new register House. So in between I worked on that in fact far more intensely.
On the Kirby problem two avenues seemed to potentially offer solutions. I knew Joseph Kirby was a Coastguard and coastguard records might have an answer. Scottish records at that time were close to home, easier to find and access, more detailed and least expensive. Time was the issue.
So I decided
- To go to the national Archives at Kew and get Joseph Kirby’s coastguard record.
- Try and find living descendants of the Kirby’s born in Scotland to Elizabeth Taylor.
A trip to Kew was planned and undertaken in a long day trip from Edinburgh and an early morning flight. The Coastguard records of Joseph Kirby and the Royal Navy records of him and John Kirby as well as John Thomas were obtained.
Another trip to New register house involved the tracing forward of all the children of John Kirby and their descendants in order to get a handle. With this information it was still difficult to trace anyone. Two breakthroughs came about. One right under my nose and almost unbelievably why did no one know about it?
By this time, I had started purchasing what is now the Troon and District family history Societies publications of Ayrshire monumental Inscriptions. I became a member and I photographed many of the cemeteries thought I had an interest in. These were released slowly by location. The visit to New Register House had identified David A Thomson and Christina Kirby as having married. By accident I spotted Christina Kirby’s name in St. Quivox churchyard. A quick trip down there and I spotted flowers on the grave. Someone was alive and still tending it. I eventually traced a family in Ayr who were very interested and were connected but could tell us very little. All they knew was that John Kirby ran off with a “Kilmurray” woman. Similarly, I traced the Gralton family in Glasgow and visited them. They too were interested but no knowledge of what happened to John Kirby.
Once again another brick wall was. Things were now moving on the family history front. I was now able to trace back Joseph Kirby. In the early days in Gloucestershire we have a lot to thank Gordon Beavington for. His painstaking transcriptions of all the census enabled me to trace the family of Joseph Kirby his children, his parents. Alan Taylors “All the Cotswolds website was a big bonus too. Free Census online and Freebmd were beginning to make thinks a little easier but still no sign of John Kirby.
I now decided that as John Kirby had so many brothers and sisters one of them might know the answer. The quest was now on to trace forward and find living relatives a task still very difficult even today although the recent “1939 register” is helping bridge a gap. Meanwhile old folk are dying all the time and memories are being lost. I was beginning to think the race against time was against me.
Quite a bit of work and the use of 192.com phone directories and lateral thinking led me to Alan Kirby in Solihull. After some phone calls we arranged a meeting in Moreton in the Marsh. I travelled down to Abingdon and went to Moreton one evening where he and his cousin John Kirby (RIP) spent the night in the Redesdale Arms Hotel and had a great time of stories. We were all amazed we were distant cousins, but were definitely the right family. No one knew of my elusive John Kirby.
Over the next ten years in between other research I gradually pieced together missing descendants. I joined Findmypast and reluctantly Ancestry.com and as further records and information was released little bits came forward.
So to recap where we are at this stage I know quite a bit now about John Kirby’s early life but nothing of his disappearance and have been searching for about 35 years. Family searches by Harry Kilmurray a solicitor found nothing and Jeannie Kirby (miller) never had a death certificate nor was she divorced. John went missing after Alfred was born and before Alfred died sometime between 1910 and 1915. Rea Young (nee Kirby) has suggested that it was after Alfred was born and Jane was still in bed. This suggests 1910. Ralph Kirby never remembered his father. Jane was allegedly in bed and Agnes had a go at John for not working. He probably was waiting for a ship. Agnes probably did not understand this as most other men went to work every day, seamen waited for ships.
In 2012 two new records turned up in Ancestry.com
New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922 about John Kirby
Name: John Kirby
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1862
Port of Departure: Troon Scotland Via Capeton
Port of Arrival: Sydney, New South Wales
Voyage Arrival Date: 23 Dec 1911
Vessel Name: Coramba
Name: J Kirby
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1863
Port of Departure: Geebong
Port of Arrival: Sydney, New South Wales
Voyage Arrival Date: 6 Mar 1912
Vessel Name: Junee
New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922 about Jno Kirby
Name: Jno Kirby
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1863
Port of Departure: Newcastle
Port of Arrival: Sydney, New South Wales
Voyage Arrival Date: 21 Mar 1912
Vessel Name: Junee
It turns out that the Coramba was a new ship built in Troon and was delivered to Australia. Whilst in Sydney, John worked “locally” presumably until a return passage was available. Finally, I know something no one seemed to know ever before but once again the trail went cold. However, I felt that it was only a matter of time that something may emerge.
I had also discovered a John Kirby on a ship called “John Bowen” in 1919 and although I felt it was him it just seemed too vague. Also being a Merchant Seaman I considered surviving the First World War as fairly unlikely. Yet there were no death records for him
Suddenly in January 2015 a record appeared in Findmypast of WW1 medals issued to a John Kirby of 13 Robert Street, Newtownards.
By yet another turn of fate, I had already done a lot of family history work in Newtownards. My Grandmother Mary Jane Palmer was born and raised there. Between 2000 and 2011 I had visited Belfast Newtownards, Cloughey and Portavogie tracing my father’s family. I had walked Movilla Cemetery several times and looked at houses in Newtownards
A further search based on this in GRONI (General Records Office of Northern Ireland) found a death record most of which is true although technically he was still married not widowed, but then he was widowed by his first wife.
A call to Movilla cemetery records at Newtownards Council found this;
John Kirby of Mill Street
Buried Newtownards Movilla, Section 29 grave 9.
William Jamieson purchased plot 1936
Winifred Kells buried there 10/1994
Grave 10 also owned by William Jamieson
Eleanor Jamieson grave 10 buried 30/10/1936
William Patrick Kells buried 8/5/1973
A telephone call to a U. Kells of Scrabo Newtownards, confirmed she knowledge of this man who had no known relatives who was buried in their family grave. John Kirby had been her father’s friend. When John died there was no known family so William Jamieson arranged for the burial in his plot. William Jamieson and John Kirby had both been members of the Christian sect called the Cooneyites. The Cooneyites also known as the Two by Twos, the church with no name, the tramp preachers were a subsect of the Brethren. The originator of this cult was a Mr. William Weir Irvine, a Scotsman, who went to Ireland many years ago as a preacher in connection with the Faith Mission. After that time, followers who were expelled from the Two by Twos along with Edward Cooney are called "Cooneyites". In some areas, the Two by Two church, which has gone under various labels, has continued to be labelled as "Cooneyite" by outsiders up to the present. Both the Cooneyites and the Two by Twos reject the term "Cooneyite".
My mother’s family have no known Newtownards connection so why would I have thought of looking there? The story continues, the moral is, never give up!
There are still may unanswered questions but no photograph of him is known to exist.
The number of coincidences are massive and here are some more. Why was I born in Oxford when my parents had no known Oxfordfordshire connection? Why did I work at Chipping Norton depot, even as relief depot manager covering for the then depot manager morris. Why did I drive the X50 bus service from Oxford to Birmingham in the evening so often, partly as I seemed to know the route, through Moreton in Marsh? Why did I buy my mother a clock for her silver wedding with a picture of Broadway on it? Why did I choose to walk the Cotswold way in 1979? Why did I marry a girl whose father family hailed from Quinton and John Kirby’s brother have a child by a Beatrice Emma Neal from Honnington? Why does Newtownards crop up so often in my family history?
As known and researched by R. L. YOUNG as at 22/05/2016