Oh what a tangled web

NOBODY told me things would get this confusing.

If you’ve been paying attention (and who could blame you if your mind had wandered, in these exciting times, from the task in hand) you would recall that I set out on this family history project with the intention of discovering exactly from where in Ireland my particular branch of the Feeneys originated.

Accepted family knowledge was that it was my great grandfather, William Henry Feeney, who emigrated from the emerald isle to Wales. Once I started searching old census returns, however, it quickly became obvious that narrowing down the search would be trickier than I’d anticipated.

Old William Henry had, at various times, recorded his birthplace as Belfast, Dublin, and Trimley. Initial searches had failed to turn up any evidence that he had been born in any of these places; and there was no such place as Trimley in the island of Ireland in any case.

I sought help by joining a family history forum run by the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? team. My first post produced some interesting results.

Firstly, an Army Regimental Board meeting at Pembroke Dock on January 14, 1870, agreed to discharge No 829 Private Henry Feeney of the 36th Regiment of Foot, because he was no longer fit for active service (the poor bloke had suffered and then aggravated a hernia while on Army duties). Private Feeney, 27, told the Board that he intended to work as a labourer and reside in the Pembrokeshire town of Tenby after leaving the Army.

Secondly, William Henry Feeney (my great-grandfather) married Elizabeth Protheroe at Pembroke Register Office on May 10, 1870. The 27-year-old bridegroom was a labourer residing in St George’s Street, Tenby.

Thirdly (and scandalously), the Tenby Observer newspaper of October 13, 1870, reported that Henry Feeney, a labourer, was a defendant in Police Court, charged by Thomas Protheroe Junior with assault.

Are the soldier, the bridegroom, and the defendant one and the same person; viz my great-grandfather? The circumstantial evidence – the ages, the town of residence, the Protheroe connection – seemed compelling.

How then, to explain this: Private Henry Feeney’s discharge papers state his place of birth as the Parish of St Helen’s, near Ipswich. Is it possible that my Irish ancestor was actually a son of Suffolk? But if that’s the case, why did he say on successive census returns that he was born in Ireland?

Oh, and one more thing. You know I said that there was no such place as Trimley in Ireland? Well, there is one in England. It’s called Trimley St Martin, to reveal its full splendour. And guess where in England it is?

That’s right; Suffolk. About midway between Lowestoft and Ipswich, to be precise.

Oh William Henry, what a tangled web you appear to have woven. Where did you come from really? Who were you really?

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