Ellen O’Reilly: Round & Round with the O’Reilly’s

What’s in a name?


Rookwood Necropolis is a very large cemetery in Sydney which opened in 1868 and soon had it’s own mortuary station & hearse carriages. The staff of the various churches in Rookwood are very helpful but can be very busy so it helps to research as much as you can beforehand, especially as the catholic, anglicanindependent churches and Sydney War Cemetery now have online search facilities.

Searching for O’Reilly, Reilly, Reiley, Rielly, Riely and Rielley

Starting with only the photograph and one birth certificate, we began a search of the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages Indexes (BDM) for the births of John & Ellen O’Reilly’s children. A search for O’Reilly gave us six possible children, Ellen in 1883, James J in 1890, Joseph B in 1892, Frances H in 1895, Stephen P in 1899 and Lilian B in 1902. Reilly gives us Peter D in 1896. John born in 1881 and Mary E born in 1888 were eventually found under Rielly, that makes nine children. But Lilian wasn’t born yet and there was supposed to be another daughter Hannah so that’s eight children from the photo and Hannah. The birth certificate told us that there had previously been one more boy & girl, so that made at least twelve children.

The next search was for records at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery. Starting with Ellen we found her in the database with her daughter, Ellen Mansfield’s family and next to her husband, John O Reilly and their daughter, Johanna. Now we know that Ellen died in 1933, aged 74, John died in 1907, aged 52 & Johanna in 1904. Back to the BDM and we find Johanna’s death but no birth even only with parents John & Ellen. After many attempts I finally discovered her in 1885 as Johannah Reiley.

Fortunately, there was only one John O’Reilly in the BDM’s who died in 1907 so we ordered it online through the Index. In 1907, there were the nine children we know living but also included were the four children who pre deceased him. Unfortunately, they are not named. One is obviously Hannah (Johannah). We also find John’s father was John O’Reilly and his mother, Bridget Costello. John was from County Kerry Ireland, where he also married Ellen O’Sullivan when he was 23 years old in about 1877, which fortunately matches our birth certificate!

A further look at the BDM death records for O’Reilly show Johanna who died in 1904 who must be Hannah and Agnes M who died in 1901 (parents were shown as John & Ellenor but have now been corrected to Ellen). Rielly gives us a Michael or Jane from 1879. Back at Rookwood online we find Agnes Mary was 7 weeks old & shares a grave with Michael Riely, aged 1 who died in 1879 and Mary Riely who died in 1880, at 6 weeks. Back to the BDM’s I eventually track Michael down as Michael Rielly who died in 1879 and Mary Rielley born and died in 1880. Their death certificates confirm that they are indeed the missing children. Get’s confusing doesn’t it!

According to the death certificates Michael was born in Ireland and travelled all that way only to die within a few months of his arrival. Imagine the heart break for John & Ellen to have their first two babies die within nine months of each other. Perhaps the photo was taken in 1901 after baby Agnes’ death. Johanna’s death must have been devastating as she was only 19 years old and was confused with Frances in the picture. Perhaps it was just too hard to talk about your big sister who had taken ill and died. At least we can remember them all now.

With the O’Reilly, Reilly, Reiley, Rielly, Riely and Rielley names sorted out we now have the grave locations and will hopefully find their graves soon at Rookwood.

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