Finding the solution to a case that spanned three centuries and several countries proved particularly satisfying for the team at Fraser and Fraser

Occasionally Fraser and Fraser’s researchers encounter cases where timelines are so long and complicated that a solution can seem out of reach.

That was the situation we faced with Patrick McGrath, who died in 2018 aged 77.

We realised almost immediately that he had no children, no siblings and no surviving maternal family.

Not only that, we discovered his father had been in his late 60s when Patrick was born and had died when he was just 13, meaning there was little or no knowledge of the paternal family.

Case manager Ben Cornish explains: “The deceased’s father, David McGrath, was born in the 1870s in what is today Northern Ireland. His own parents had married in 1858 and had their first child in 1859, so we knew our search was going to take us back a very long way.”

The mid-19th century in Ireland is a challenging time for genealogical researchers. Following the Great Famine of 1845-49 many people emigrated and records were either lost or individuals were just never registered. Factor in a relatively common name such as McGrath and a variety of ways in which it could be spelt and the task becomes even more difficult.

By looking through church records we discovered that Patrick had two uncles who had neither married nor had children and one other who had died in infancy, but the trail soon started to go increasingly cold.

Ben explains: “We were reaching a stage where we were sure there were no other leads either in Ireland or the UK. We were almost certain that the next of kin must have gone abroad, but we couldn’t be sure where. We were running out of options.”

Then, when one of our researchers was sifting through passenger lists for ships going from Ireland to the US in the 1880s, they suddenly spotted the names John and Mary McGrath.

It proved to be a crucial breakthrough. John, born in 1865, was the deceased’s uncle and we were able to trace his descendants to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Ben says: “This family tree covers a huge amount of time. It’s very unusual to find an uncle who’s born in 1865, for example. We’d normally expect to be finding first cousins, but in this case we’ve got cousins up to four times removed. And, because of the amount of time involved, there are around 50 heirs involved from the Pittsburgh branch of the family alone.”

This case was particularly satisfying for Fraser and Fraser because it spans three centuries, several countries and a huge amount of history. Add to that a relatively common surname and all the issues relating to the 19th-century Irish diaspora, such as missing records, misspelt names and unclear destinations, and we have solved a particularly challenging case.

Names, locations and dates within this article have been changed to protect client confidentiality.