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My Story: Ivan Yeats {Series 2}

Ivan Yates happily admitted he had never found the time to look back through his family history, he was so intent on crashing forward through life like Mr Magoo! The fact he knew so little may have made it harder for the researchers to start their work, but it also made Ivan all the more enthusiastic for every new revelation, no matter how small. He was a very willing blank canvas!

The Yates Dynasty:
Initially, the programme research team put together a folder of information for Ivan, hopefully to catch his eye and generate enthusiasm for his family history. Ivan knew that the family business of importing goods along the Slaney river had been started by his Great Grandfather, John Francis Yates. From his wedding certificate in 1875, we discovered that the father of John Francis was also John Yates, a 'sub-sherrif' from Enniscorthy. Further research in the National Archives suggested that this John Yates was originally a Royal Irish Constabulary policeman in the town in the 1850's, originally from Co. Offaly. This proved that John Francis was the first to become an entrepreneur... and a deal-maker: he married Anne Armstrong, the daughter of an accountant!


John Francis Yates made a small fortune in his lifetime, and set in motion a family importing dynasty which would last until Ivan's father's time. Ivan's Grandfather (also called Ivan) inherited the family business, but made headlines for an entirely different reason. Researchers came across an article from the Irish Times in November 1934, which helped Ivan to open up a side of his family history he was utterly unaware of. Ivan Sr. was taken to court, alongside a number of other local Church of Ireland men, for sending children to a small private school in the town which did not teach Irish. The local judge found Ivan Sr. guilty and fined him, which allowed Ivan Sr. to appeal the decision to a higher court.

Meeting up with Professor John Coolihan at the National Archives, Ivan was able to go through original Department of Education records from the time. It transpired that his Grandfather's stance (that Irish was not a useful language for his daughter to learn) came at exactly the same time that the new Fianna Fail government were laying down the law to make Irish a cornerstone of the new Free State. Ivan's grandfather's appeal was seen as a constitutional test case, and a real face-off against the minister of the day, Thomas Derrig.
Eventually, the judge sided with Ivan Sr., declaring the Minister's opinion that Irish was the language of the future as “a pious hope”.
(www.irishtimes.com, www.nationalarchives.ie)


Flour & Whiskey:
Ivan was aware that somewhere on his mother's side were the Davis family, who ran a successful flour-milling business in and around Enniscorthy for generations. Visiting his cousins Tom & Dorothy Davis, they perused an old family tree which turned up some revelations...
Ivan's Great Grandparents were Francis Davis & Anna Davis. The fact that their surnames were the same before marriage was not a coincidence: they were first cousins, because their fathers (Samuel Davis and Abraham Grubb Davis) were brothers. Samuel & Abraham were the founders of the milling company, 'S & AG Davis'.

But interestingly, Samuel Davis was a Quaker, and married in the Quaker Meeting House, while his brother Abraham was married in the Church of Ireland. Ivan's cousin Tom believed that by marrying a Church of Ireland lady, Abraham would have been ejected or 'disowned' from the Quakers...

Ivan headed to the Quaker Historical Library in Rathfarnham to learn more about their history in Ireland and to go through their comprehensive archives. To his surprise, he learnt that his Great Great Grandfather Abraham was not 'disowned' by the Quakers for marrying outside of the religion, but for an earlier transgression: he had become insolvent in business. Not only that, but his father Francis had been disowned for the same reason!

Intrigued by the 'disowned' Abraham, Ivan looked into the Church of Ireland woman he married: Helen Jameson – according to the wedding certificate she was the daughter of a 'gentleman' named Andrew Jameson. With the help of expert Peter Mulryan, Ivan discovered that Andrew was a local distiller in Enniscorthy, whose business was threatened and then closed by the growing rise of Fr. Theobald Mathew's Total Abstinence Society in the 1840s. Ivan also discovered that this Andrew Jameson was actually the son of a much more famous distiller: John Jameson!

At the Jameson Visitor Centre in Smithfield, Ivan also discovered that John Jameson was married to a lady called Haig, from the Scottish Whisky dynasty of the same name... And one of her direct ancestors had been admonished by his Presbyterian church elders for distilling on the Sabbath, in one of the very first written mentions of Scotch Whisky!

Haig Whisky & Jameson - History of the Whisky Cousins

Guglielmo Marconi & Henry Jameson Davis:
Two sides of Ivan's family tree – the Jameson distillers and the Davis family of millers – were about to come together in a very unique way...

Andrew Jameson the distiller had four daughters. One of them, Helen, was Ivan's Great Great Grandmother. Another, Annie, had married an Italian man in Bologna. Their son was Guglielmo Marconi – the man credited with the invention of radio.

Slightly chuffed at this distant famous relative, Ivan began to research the young Marconi's life, and discovered a much closer family connection. When Marconi arrived in London to try to get his ideas off the ground, the person he turned to was his cousin, a milling engineer called Henry Jameson Davis. Henry was a brother of Ivan's Great Grandfather, and was witness at his Great Grandparent's wedding!

The Bodleian Library in Oxford is home to the Marconi Archives, covering in great detail the early years of the company, and Marconi's efforts to patent his inventions and get them to actually work. Ivan was able to read original letters between Marconi and Henry, and discovered that most of the early investors in the company were actually Corn & Flour merchants – Henry had used his business contacts to raise capital for his Italian cousin's hare-brained idea! Further records from the Bodleian also showed how the relationship between the two men broke down, with Henry eventually resigning and taking a pittance in compensation.
(www.bodley.ox.ac.uk, www.gb2gm.org)

Keen to learn more about Henry, Ivan uncovered an obituary and coverage of his funeral. Although he was survived by a wife and daughter in Enniscorthy, neither attended his funeral in London. Ivan ordered Henry's will from the Probate office in London, which revealed a great deal. Henry had formally dis-inherited his wife & daughter for being “undutiful”, yet left the majority of his estate to his three “adopted” children, and made provision for their mother, Amelia Cooper...
Genealogist Laura Berry found birth certificates which proved that these three 'adopted' children were in fact Henry's blood children. Their mother Amelia had taken the married name of Davis, but it's very unlikely she and Henry were legally married, since he had a wife and daughter back in Enniscorthy.
www.irishtimes.com, www.timesonline.co.uk, www.gro.gov.uk, www.lawontheweb.co.uk/basics/probateoffices.htm

Finally, Ivan visted Highgate Cemetery in London, where Henry is buried. The records there showed that not only did he pay for his own plot, but the plot beside him, where Annie Jameson (Marconi's Irish mother) is buried. As Ivan noted, there are many monuments and buildings in Guglielmo Marconi's memory, but among the nettles and the weeds of Highgate cemetery are the twin towers of his success – his Irish mother and his entrepreneurial cousin.

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