#52 Ancestors 52 Weeks – Week 2 Challenge

Any brick wall we have in our genealogy family history research is a challenge. Some of these brick walls last for years. The information may not be on the internet or the records could have been destroyed and of course the further we go back in time the greater the likelihood that the records or not there or if we find them we need to look for creative ways to find the proof that this is our family and not someone else. One of the greatest challenges is to think outside of the genealogical black box and look at what the information could tell us.

I have two Irish women who are major challenges on the family tree. Mary Ann IRWIN is the person that we will focus on. The first we know of Mary from her marriage record to Thomas GIBBS at Trinity Church Adelaide on 12 March 1855 [3].

Marriage Record [4]

The first thing we notice about the record is the how Mary Ann’s name is spelt, rather than IRWIN it is IRVING. This has caused a considerable stumbling block when looking for further information and based on what family history has always said. When you review the baptismal records of the children born to Thomas and Mary Ann you notice that variations on the spelling of her last name occurred including Irving, Irvine Irwin and Evering. The marriage record tells us that Mary was illiterate as she did not sign her own name so the spelling of her name would not have been something she could do. It is also likely that her Irish accent was not easily understood by the people taking the records leading to variations in the name. Irwin seems the most likely name for a number of reasons.

Obituary [5]

Mary’s obituary published in the Naracoorte Herald and her death certificate provide some clues to support us in our search for who she could be. Both records tell us that she came from Ireland, as a member of the Church of England Church family lore suggested that she came from the Northern Ireland. There were no ships called the Trovolga that came to Australia, but there was one called the Trafalgar although that did not come to South Australia in 1852, it did come prior to this and in 1854. On board the ship at this time was a Mary Irwin from County Tyrone aged 21years. As she was traveling by herself it is likely that Mary Ann lied about her age when applying to emigrate. This Mary came from County Tyrone. Is this the right Mary we don’t know. Certainly Derby does not exist in Ireland, yet the death certificate clearly states Ireland so what could Derby mean.

Shipping Record [6]

When Mary Ann passed away in 1927 her death certificate states that she was 92, this provides with a range to look for a certificate of baptism in the 1830’s in County Tyrone. The name Irwin appears to be the best choice to search for based on the shipping record and also on the fact that Helena Gibbs named her first son Albert Irwin Steel. Was this to acknowledge her mothers past or not?

Looking and reviewing the information has provided a starting point for researching the Irish connection. Without DNA testing to confirm suspected lines we may never find the genealogical proof that we have the correct line. One of the biggest challenges when following the Irish lines of females in the family has been the lack of information, lots of family stories misspellings and different spelling of names that make it difficult to determine what one should be looking for. The next challenge is to look for those records in County Tyrone, Ireland.

Death Certificate [7]
  1. Simon Matzinger. Brickwall. Photographed on: October 13, 2017. Software: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic 7.0 (Windows). Accessed at 
  2. Nick Youngson. Challenge. Alpha Stock Images – License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0. Accessed at:  
  3. Holy Trinity Church Parish Register 1855 / 2640 GIBBS Thomas and IRVING, Mary Ann.
  4. Photograph of the Marriage Record taken from the microfiche records at the State Library of SA.
  5. Death of a Nonagenarian. (1927, February 1). The Narracoorte Herald (SA : 1875 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved January 11, 2019, from 
  6. State Records of SA. Passenger Lists 1845 – 1940, 1854 14/1854 Trafalgar. Accessed online at
  7. South Australian Registry Office. Death Certificate Mary GIBBS 1927.

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