DNA breaks through a brick wall... and shakes things up!

 I have recently learned that my great-grandfather, John Joseph Hill, was not, in fact, deposited in Geneva, New York by aliens.

With a name like "John Hill," I knew I'd never find where he came from before he turned up in Geneva, listed as "laborer" in the city directory for 1894.1  There are any number of men with this name who came to America in the 1890s.  Without any identifying information distinguishing one from another, I had little hope that I would find my ancestor among all the anonymous, random Hills out there.  All I knew about his past came from his 1896 marriage record and his death certificate from 1916, both of which named his parents as "Thomas Hill and Elizabeth Scott."  In later years, his children variously identified their father's country of origin as either England or Ireland, and there were vague stories floating around that he or his father had been a "Bobby2" back in England, but that was literally all I had to go on.

All this changed a few months ago, shortly after Ancestry opened sales of their DNA kits to the UK.  I noticed that my father and my uncle had a new match at the 2nd-3rd cousin level, and I was intrigued by the fact that this match was from a person living in England.  Almost certainly, then, this was a match on my father's paternal side, since his mother's family has been in the U.S. since the earliest settlements.  So I looked at our match's tree, and saw the proverbial shaky leaf pointing straight back to.... Thomas Hill and Elizabeth Scott.

And what a story this has turned out to be!  Our Hill family was from Cork, Ireland, where Thomas Hill and Elizabeth Scott had a family of ten children:  eight girls and two boys.  One of these boys was my great-grandfather, John, and the other was named Robert Albert (John gave that name to one of his sons in America.)  Several of the girls emigrated to Australia and New Zealand.

Our DNA match knew about my great-grandfather's existence, but it was otherwise a blank spot on his family tree.  My cousin's family had preserved letters written by John's sisters in the early 1900s, and one in particular struck me as poignant.  It was written just after their mother's death in 1901, and lamented the fact that John had gone off to America and never looked back, causing her a great deal of sorrow in her final days.

Some of the information our new cousin shared will shake this American family's identity to the very core... and since they are from Ireland, naturally it has to do with religion.  My grandfather, George, and his four brothers, Earl, Warren, Robert, and Vincent, were raised as staunch Catholics by their mother, Julia Mary Flynn, who in 1896 married John Hill at St. Francis de Sales RC Church in Geneva.3  We always assumed that John was Catholic, too.  Not so!
John Joseph Hill, Julia Mary Flynn Hill, and son Vincent, in Geneva, NY, sometime before John's death in 1916
In fact, John's family belonged to the Church of Ireland.  Not only were they Protestant, but his father, Thomas, was a Sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary, the armed police force that was notorious as a symbol of British oppression. 

Well, at least we know that those vague rumors we have heard about the Hill family being in the police force were true.  As it turns out, quite a number of other family members were involved in police work, too:  spouses of some of the sisters, as well as an uncle.  And there are more mysteries....an undated news clipping of Elizabeth Scott's 1901 obituary (another bit of information sent by my new cousin), suggests that my great-grandfather John might also have joined the force before emigrating:  

"A Record:  -- On Friday, 18th inst., at her residence in Cork, and surrounded by her daughters, there passed away at the great age of 81 years, Mrs. Hill, widow of the late Sergeant Thomas Hill, R I C.  Sergeant Hill, in his young days, served in Scull under his father (who was one of the first R I C men).  He afterwards had charge of the station midway between Cork and Mallow, in the year of the famine, and on retiring in Donaghmore, some 37 years ago, obtained a lucrative position in the Steam Packet Company's office in Cork, which, at his demise in 18__ was filled by his son, who afterwards joined the R I C, so that the family was associated with the Force in one direct line from its origin to the present day, which is indeed a record."4

This last statement in the obituary is a little confusing, since Elizabeth probably only had two sons, neither of whom was working in Cork in 1901:  John was in the U.S. by at least 1894, and a cryptic comment in one of the letters my cousin shared suggests Robert was most likely dead that same year. Add to this the mangled, chronologically impossible story in our family that Grandpa John fought in the Boer War before coming to America  -- but you know those family stories!  

Genealogists are used to conflicting data, though...it gives us something to work on. Next time, I will summarize the research I've done corroborating the information in the letters shared by my new cousin.

1Geneva Village Directory For the Year Beginning May 1, 1894, p. 86 (Geneva, NY:  W.F. Humphrey, Publisher, 1894); original volume consulted at the Geneva Historical Society, 543 S. Main St., Geneva, NY. 

2The term "Bobby" is slang for a policeman, from the British police force raised by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.  (see: http://content.met.police.uk/Article/The-Metropolitan-Police-how-it-all-began/1400015336362/1400015336362 )

3St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church, 130 Exchange St, Geneva, NY, Marriage certificate for Julia Flynn and John J. Hill, 23 Jan 1896.

4Transcript of undated, unattributed news clipping, shared by DNA cousin.