Who are you Mary Heenan?

Doing a deep delve into the census records for instances of the Heenan surname in Wales has thrown up a mystery.

The first record I can find for anyone with the Heenan surname is in 1861 when a Mary Heenan is recorded as resident in Brecon Road, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.

She was a child of approximately one year at the time of the census and was the niece of the head of the household Ambrose Neville and his wife Mary. Ambrose is a stone cutter born in Ireland, she was born in 1828 in Lantorman, Monmouthshire (I think this is actually Llantarnam). They have a son Patrick, aged 11 who was born in Scotland about 1850. Mary Heenan is recorded as being born in Pontypool, Monmouthshire in 1860.

The problem is I can’t find any other trace of this child.

There is no birth of a Mary Heenan registered anywhere in Wales let alone in Monmouthshire. In fact there are no births with surname of Heenan registered in Wales until 1864 when James Heenan is recorded as born in the Swansea area.

She doesn’t appear on any of the subsequent census returns for Wales.

Did she die in between the census years? Not according to the registered deaths for Wales or England.

Did her mother die or move around and May then take the name of her uncle/aunt? If she did, there is no record of that. The next time Ambrose and Mary make an appearance is as lodgers in St Woollos, Newport in 1871. There is no female living with them.

Did Mary move away? She may have done but as yet I’ve found no trace of her in any census in England. Or any death of a Mary Heenan born in about 1860.

Working on a theory that Mary Neville is Mary’s aunt, I was hoping to find her maiden name and work backwards from that but to no avail. No record of a marriage has materialised as yet.

Very frustrating. But I haven’t given up. I’m just hoping for inspiration……



Finding a father for Patrick

Just when I think I’ve made progress in tracking my great great grandfather Patrick Heenan in Ireland, I come up against another stumbling block.

I set myself a task earlier this year to find a record of his marriage to Ellen Brian (variations of Brien and O’Brien) and it seems I might have succeeded. I’d already drawn a blank in trying to find a marriage in Wales, England or Scotland so switched attention to Eire, thinking that they could have married shortly before leaving for mainland UK.

The only possible match is this one from 1867:

Patrick - ellen marriage

This might not fit the Genealogical Standard of Proof in its entirety but a few things make me confident that this is ‘my’ Patrick.

  1. Location of the marriage – Mitchelstown is the nearest location to Carrigeen mountains (home of the Heenans) where a ceremony could have been registered
  2. Patrick’s father is shown as Maurice – this name is also used by Patrick and Ellen for their second son
  3. Ellen’s father is shown as William – this was another name common in my family tree – my great grandfather was William as was his first son
  4. The marriage date is close to the time when I first pick him up in the records in UK – which is the baptism of a son called Patrick in March 1868

But then comes the question of linking Patrick with other records showing people with the surname of Heenan in the Kilbeheny parish in County Limerick. Some of these are land records, others are census returns but I also have received, via a Heenan descendant still living in Kilbeheny, a letter to one member of the family who emigrated to Australia.

Which is where it all gets a bit confusing as I try to connect them.

For example, Patrick’s father is a Maurice Heenan. I haven’t found anyone with that name in the Kilbeheny area but I did find a Marcus Heenan in the Tithe Applottment Books compiled between 1823 and 1837 who has 20 acres worth 5 shillings at Coolatin Glen.

There is a Maurice Heenan baptised Feb 1829 in Kilbeheny Parish, son of Denis Heenan and Ellen who are resident at Carigeen. It’s unlikely this Maurice is the same as Marcus (Maurice would be at most 8 years old at the time of the tithe records).

There is another Maurice Heenan baptised in Kilbehenny parish on Jan 1833, son of a John Heenan and Mary Mullan resident at Carigeen.

Could either of these be the father of ‘my’ Patrick? Possible but only if we ignore some of the info Patrick gave on census recors about his year of birth. The earliest date he gave is 1836 so impossible for him to be the son of either of these Maurice’s ( they would have been aged 7 or 3 at the time of his birth!). The latest date he gave in census returns is 1847 making his father 18 or 14 at the time. The latter is unlikely which rules out the Maurice Heenan baptised in 1833. But I still can’t prove that the Maurice baptised in 1829 is the right one.

I tried searching the Griffith’s Valuation Records which are later (they indicate who owned or rented land in Ireland between 1847 and 1864) but drew a blank on the name Maurice in the Knocknascrow townland.

I did find a Denis Heenan who was occupying land in Knocknascrow townland leased by Mary Heenan from the Earl of Kingston.

Griffiths Valuation 1852 - Denis Heenan - Mary Heenan


Griffith valuation 1852 - Mary Heenan - Knocknascrow

There are no records of any Maurice Heenan in Griffiths Valuation for the Kilbeheny Parish.

For now the trail seems to have gone cold….


Notable Heenans: Sir Joseph Heenan

Occasionally my news feed brings me little nuggets about various individuals around the world that bear the surname Heenan.

One that came to my attention today is from New Zealand and concerns Sir Joseph William Allan Heenan who was apparently a senior public servant, administrator and drafter of legislation. Born the son of a bootmaker and dressmaker in Greymouth, New Zealand on January 17 1888 he died on October 11 1951, two years after he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his service as undersecretary of Internal Affairs.

He used his legal talents not only for the benefit of his country’s government but for a number of sporting bodies. He re-wrote the rules of the New Zealand Racing Conference in 1931 and those of the New Zealand Trotting Conference in 1949, and twice revised the rules of the Boxing Association.  He considered the highlight of his administrative career to be the New Zealand centennial celebrations of 1939–40, of which he was chief executive officer.


This is an extensive biography of Sir Joseph Heenan and his illustrious career in New Zealand Biographies 


Taking the next steps

I’ve taken my research into a different dimension in recent weeks by registering the surname HEENAN for a one name study via the Guild of One Name Studies. The idea is to document all instances of the name in as many parts of the world as possible so we can understand migration patterns.

it’s very early days yet but already i’ve made some discoveries. For example, I had expected the main density of people with this surname outside of Ireland would be around the ports of Liverpool and Merseyside.  But in fact it turns out that there were more clusters in Scotland. Looking worldwide I thought I would have found concentrations in North America and Australia, Surprisingly though New Zealand had more individuals than Australia. Looks like this One Name study is going to challenge my thinking and open up new ideas. Take a look at these maps for more information.

I’ve also been learning a little about the origin of the surname and its meaning.

William Burton: A Soldier’s Story

william burton - WW1

William Burton. 7th Batallion, South Wales Borderers (left) with wife Ada.

As we approach the centenary year of the outbreak of World War 1, it seems fitting to reflect on some of the war time experiences of my great great grandfather, William BURTON.

William enlisted for service on September 1, 1914, travelling from his home at Abertysswg to Newport to join the South Wales Borderers. Unlike many of the other men who made a similar trip that day and in succeeding months, he already had experience of serving as a soldier. At the age of 18 he had enlisted with the Royal Worcestershire Regiment and went on to serve with them for eight years as a drummer and then as a reservist for a further four years. During his time with the colours, he saw active service in the Boer War, South Africa, between 1902 and 1903.

In 1914 William was working as a coal miner and living at 32 Charles Street, Abertysswg with his wife Ada (nee CREWS/CROOSE) and their three children: Elizabeth, Henry and Ellen (my grandmother).

Shortly after his enlistment he was attached to the 7th batallion of the South Wales Borderers and subsequently sent for initial training. The location is unclear – the official history of the Borderers shows they were stationed variously in 1914 at Seaford and St. Leonards on Sea in Sussex. In May 1915 the batallion moved to Aldershot prior to departure for France in September of that year as part of the 22nd Division of the British Expeditionary Force.

The war diary of the batallion shows they landed at Boulogne on September 6 and then marched towards the lines along the Somme. They were one of the most fortunate of batallions, escaping serious loss of life and injuries during their 3 months at the Front. Most of the diary entries are about training, gas demonstrations and inspections rather than attacks though they did experience some shelling incidents.

On October 1, 1915 while on the road between Vauvilliers  and Framerville they did come under fire. The commanding officer noted:

The battalion went to Hot Baths at Harbonniers in the morning

The battalion marched from here to Framerville at 3pm.  The road is open to shell fire for about 1/2 mile. Platoons were at 100 paces intervals and when the leading platoon had crossed the danger portion, the Germans opened on the road with shrapnel – several shots fell short and one too far over. None hit the road. the battalion was lucky to get over without casualties.

More serious incidents occurred a few weeks later. On October 11 two lieutenants went on early morning reconnaisance to a sniper’s post

…it was exceedingly difficult to locate and Lieutenant Wiguard had constructed a special observation post and had watched many hours to try and locate it. ….they were fired upon and saw 4 Germans in a concealed trench. The two officers then moved to a flank but temporarily lost the position of the trench which had been given away again by one of the Germans firing. Ltd Davies then threw a Mills bomb timed exactly which exploded in the air in the trench, Two Germans only came out – one running straight for the German lines whilst one followed Ltd W Wiguard fired two quick revolver shots at him whether wounded or not was not ascertained – but as daylight was appearing rapidly the officers returned at one to our lines – it was reported to the brigadier who congratulated the two officers upon their enterprise

The following day, the officer recorded the death of  a Private Buck who was killed by a sniper. Private Thomas Buck, number 18357 from Newport, was aged 29 at the time. And then on October 20, Second Lieutenant C G (Claude Gladstone) Robinson was killed in a trench about 20 yards behind the front line – he was shot through the head and died an hour afterwards.

Within 24 hours, they batallion received news of new orders – they were to prepare immediately to leave France and to join the forces holding the Serbian front. William set sail from Marseilles on HMT Lake Manitoba on October 30, 1915. He arrived in Salonika on November 7, 1915.