Inherited Craziness
A place to share all the nuts found on my family tree

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Regency Relatives or Early Eastenders

Regent's Canal, Limehouse, 1823

For many years I’ve had a passing interest in researching my family history, but generally hadn’t pursued this further than the last couple of generations of relations who were within someone’s living memory, not least because with a bunch of very commonly named folk, many of whom were manual (particularly farm) labourers, I didn’t think there’d be much recorded about them.

How wrong I was! Of course, it’s so much easier to research now that so many records are available online and, since communicating with other family members (some for the first time) who are researching their parts of the story, I’ve been unearthing all sorts of records I didn’t think I’d ever encounter and the further I go back, the more fascinating and magical it becomes.

One particular interest was my mother’s father, because now two of us, completely separately, believe him to have been Jewish (from his mother’s line), but while the circumstantial evidence is pretty great for having at least some Jewish blood - which probably applies to everyone with East End ancestors to be honest - I’ve yet to prove it conclusively. When the 1911 Census records were first made available online, I’d acquired copies of the records relevant to both my maternal grandparents, who were children at the time, but got no further as further searches had come up fruitless.

Throughout her life, my mother had been most pedantic that her maiden name was spelled Sweeney “with three Es.” Of course it should have occurred to me earlier to ignore that and, lo and behold, I find that most of the records from 1901 backwards are listed with the spelling of Sweney, sometimes Sweeny and even Swaney. (Important lesson: never, ever trust 'family stories'.)

Listing for John and Ann 'Swaney' in Stepney in 1841

Hence, by trying various spellings – double checking other details, such as locations, dates, ages, occupations and other family members listed, via census records, I’ve now got the line as far back as one John Swaney (as he’s listed in the 1841 Census in Stepney), Sweeny in 1851, Sweney in 1861 and 1871, born 1809, who died, in Stepney, as John Sweeney, in 1878.

He had married Anne Elizabeth Gabbaday (b.1811). They never stray outside the East End of London; an area famous for successive influxes of foreign immigrants - then, in particular, Irish weavers and Ashkenazi Jews.

The surname Sweeney is now most commonly found in the Province of Munster and in County Cork in particular where the majority of descendants can be found and, there are those who claim that John Sweeney (or his parents) were born in County Cork, but have yet to see any records that can confirm this.

And the origin of the surname Gabbaday, I'm told, is probably Jewish.

To put these ancestors into their historical context:
See: Timeline of the formal Regency

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