Tiearney Mysteries – USA, South Africa & Australia

In years gone by, much of the information on the parents of my husband David Christian’s grandfather Godfrey Tiearney known as Christian, viz Thomas Aron Tiearney (1869 – 1915) and Rosetta Charlotte Roberts (1879 – 1903) had all gotten pretty hazy. But with technology, some of the details are starting to emerge, just over a century further on.

Here are the outcomes of Wollongong resident, David Christian‘s virtual “electronic” journey to unlock the mysteries of his great grandparents. It would cross four continents and six countries Australia, South Africa, Namibia, USA, Canada and UK.

Since 1997, David has used the traditional Genealogical Forums, as well as South African archives,  and more latterly, sent messages to all South African males named Tiearney via Facebook – but  regrettably only got a couple of possibly useful replies.

By the time we found it, the South African site, Ancestry24, had only just shut down in early 2013, but Ancestry.com (unrelated)  may resurrect it. And Ancestry.com and FindMyPast were useful resources – I even resorted to an Ancestry.com real-time on-line Twitter Chat where they  confirmed that East St Louis was in Illinois and not California as a 1915 South African death notice erroneously stated – then they coached me through the 1912 US Consular Registration document – we hadn’t realised it had 5 pages ! We’d only looked at the 1st page .. LOL !

And then the documentation – inconsistencies in dates, places, names, spelling and relationships !

Precise details of Thomas Aron Tiearney’s parents remain  a little of a mystery. However it is highly likely that there was Irish heritage – many people named Terney / Tierney / Tiearney emigrated from Ireland to the USA in the 19th Century. It is possible that Thomas A(a)ron Tiearney was the son of Edward Tiearney and Catherine E Colligan/Corrigan – with a number of siblings – John Edward Tiearney (1866 – ), James Tiearney (1867 – ) – married 1907 –1, Edward Tiearney (1870 Missouri – 1942 Los Angeles California – 1, ), Peter Franklin Tiearney (1871 St Lous Missouri – 1945 Los Angeles California) – with Peter living in Dakota. Interestingly the 1900 Census record for Peter Tiearney of Dakota, indicates that both of his parents were born in Ireland.

There are some details below , which may, or may not, relate to Thomas Aron Tiearnay – including Thomas A Tieareney – Kalsominer in Kansas City in 1887 and Thomas A Tiearney – Plasterer in Kansas City in 1888.

Note the 1887 document shows a John E Tiearney, Painter at a similar address in Kansas City. It is believed that John E Tiearney was born in Missouri in 1866, married in San Francisco in 1890 where he lived until 1900. Subsequently John E Tiearney moved to Los Angeles where he married  Elsie Brown in 1903, daughter of Catherine Brown. John E Tiearney’s address was 1936 Staunton Avenue Los Angeles, California and later 159 E 4 3d Los Angeles California. By coincidence Thomas Aron Tiearney had given his mother’s name as Catherine Brown in Los Angeles California – on his Consular Registration Application of 1911-1912.

Thomas Aron Tiearney seems to have been in South Africa from the mid 1890′s. In 1911, under threat of losing his US citizenship, Thomas made an application to retain his US citizenship. From the US Consular Registration documents issued in 1912, when Thomas Aron Tiearney, occupation Bricklayer, was resident in Springfield, Johannesburg, Transvaal South Africa, it was revealed that :

  • he was born September 3 1869 in East St Louis, Illinois, USA.
  • he stated that his mother was Catherine Brown resident at 1300 East 48th Place Los Angeles, California.
  • also that he  still owned a farm in Missouri, had a sister in Kansas,  and a brother in Dakota – could this have been Peter Franklin Tiearney (1871 – 1945) ?.
  • he had lived in Chicago USA before leaving for South Africa
  • he wanted to return to the USA but had lacked the funds to do so 

It seems that Thomas may have gone to Cape Town South Africa from London England in 1894  – sailing on the Warwick Castle where his occupation was given as Miner and birth year 1865 on the Shipping List.

There  seems to have been a legal case in 1895 – Declaration of Rights of Selina Reece vs Thomas Tiearney in 1895 in South Africa – NASA Reference – 2990/1895.

Thomas had then apparently been in Melbourne, Australia in 1897 where he met Rosetta Roberts, before returning to South Africa where he married Elizabeth Cecilia (Harris ??)  had 3 children:  2 sons (George (21.6.1898-1966) & Edward (1.3.1905-1967)) and a daughter (Dorris/Doris May 25.9.1909- ?). Perhaps he was unaware that Rosetta was also bearing him a son, Godfrey Tiearney, back in Melbourne, Australia born on 7-11-1897 ?

While in South Africa, Thomas enlisted to fight in the Boer War (1900-1902), with the Colonial 1st Railway Pioneer Regiment (against the Boers) led by an American Major Lewis Seymour,  where Thomas was a Sergeant  (more) – medals awarded. The Railway Pioneer Regiments were crucial in facilitating mobility and logistics – of manpower and supplies  (a, b, c). His Attestation Paper for enlisting in Anglo Boer War (d)  24cd962392f98484503e9fb6784b7233-tiearney-boer-warand Nominal Roll transcribed (e) – Records held by the National Archives in the UK (f). The Boer War presented the USA with some interesting philosophical and political challenges – an interesting analysis (g).

Additional information – (h)

Thomas Aaron TIEARNEY
Age: 33, Nationality: American, Trade: Mason
Wife: Mrs Elizabeth Tiearney, Broomwell St, Woodstock, C(Cape ?)   Colony
Enlisted: 15 Jan 1900
Promotions: 13 Feb 1900- Lce Corpl, 1 Mar 1900 Corpl, 1 Jul 1901 Sergt
Discharged on disbandment 30 Jun 1902 after 2 years 169 days service
Character: Very good
Address after discharge: GPO Germinston

Along with 146, 000 other men in South Africa, Thomas then enlisted again, as a Private,  with the Allied Forces in WWI. Unfortunately he died of Belladonna poisoning  at Aris, near Windhoek in German South West Africa (aka Deutsch-Südwestafrika) on June 8 1915 – see South African War Graves Project entry.

Atropa Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade is a very poisonous flowering plant which may cause death by tachycardia, but one which has been used in medical treatments eg for pain relief. There are also Belladonna Lilies aka Amaryllis Belladonna Lilies,  which are natives of Africa and have been known to cause death by cardio respiratory failure in some cases. Belladonna / Deadly Nightshade containing  medications may well have been in use by some military treatment facilities in WWI. And some still advocate its use in emergencies where other medications are unavailable. Perhaps Thomas had been prescribed Belladonna containing medication and unfortunately severely reacted to it ?

Thomas had been part of the Kalahari Horse (Civilians ?) UnitMounted Commandos Regiment of the South African Forces – information on the establishment of the Commandos – also a list of the units – a description of the German South West Africa campaign in WWI, including the participation of the Kalahari Horse. See South African WWI Campaign medals including for the Kalahari Horse Unit. Scanning of individual South African WWI service records had commenced in 2012. We are now in possession of his WWI War Service Records and a photograph of his gravestone – a thank you to the Commonwealth War Graves Office in Canada who responded to our inquiry.

Thomas was buried in Windhoek Municipal Cemetery near Sandfontein in German South West Africa, now part of Namibia – Gravestone (South African War Graves project) – we are not sure but his remains may have been removed to a Commonwealth War Graves site there.

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See also South African National Archives Reference 26575 – Transvaal Records  of NASA (National Archives of South Africa) – South African Sources. Aris is a mining-quarry area and Windhoek has become the capital of Namibia.

Thomas A Tiearney’s will of February 9 1915

  • did not mention his wife, nor his three children in South Africa
  • and the probate notice of 9 July 1915 lists his address as Strand 29 Springfield Johannesburg, stating that he was unmarried, with his mother named as Mrs Tiearney and his father deceased
  • a witness to the will was Robert Martin Harris, and also Nellie Wadsworth. Perhaps Robert Martin Harris was a relative of  Thomas’s widow ?
  • however the USA Consular Death Notice indicated that all of his effects and property had been willed to his widow, Elizabeth Harris Tiearney
  • the consular document showed that Elizabeth was resident with their children in Springfield Johannesburg, Transvaal.
  • ultimately, the expenses exceeded the receipts for his estate – life can’t have been easy for his widow and his children in South Africa.

Sadly, his death came only a month before Germany surrendered its German South West Africa colony to the Union of South Africa on July 9 1915 – Wikipedia War Summary – more. The South African forces consisted of mainly white troops, with Africans in support positions.

That military campaign, led by South African Generals Louis Botha (who was also South Africa’s Prime Minister), and Jan Smuts,  had been controversial in South Africa, particularly amongst the Afrikaner (Boer) population. There was an initial defeat for the South African forces at Sandfontein in September 1914, and open rebellion in October 1914 (Maritz Rebellion), but quashed by December. The Germans had expected support from the Boers. This is probably not so surprising, ie coming so soon after the Anglo-Boer War.  

Going forward however, the South African forces would outnumber the German forces by 10 to 1. German South West Africa  with Zambezi River access (see Map & article), had only been held by Germany since 1884. The former German colony was then under military rule until after WWI,  and then mandated by the League of Nations to South Africa in 1919-20. The mandate ceased on 1966, but South Africa did not cede control, and finally Independence was achieved in 1990, when it became known as Namibia.

Thomas’ widow, Elizabeth Cecilia Tiearney died in Capetown in 1934 (NASA Reference 87049). His son George Aaron Tiearney died in 1966 and other son Edward James Tiearney died in 1967.

George may have been married to Myrtle Georgina Tiearney nee Walters  with a divorce around 1927 (NASA Reference 30/1927). He may also have married Catrina Gertruida Roets with a divorce in 1948 (NASA Reference 1401/1948). His final wife was Jacoba Magrieta – they may have died together in 1967 (NASA Reference 8232/67).

Edward may have been married to Agnes Hendrina Wilkinson and divorced in 1947 (NASA Reference 190/1947)  – and Edward’s widow at his death was Maggie (NASA Reference 9805/67 – source). 

There are no details for daughter Doris May Tiearney, however she had not married at the time of her mother’s death according to the Death Certificate.


3 Responses to Tiearney Mysteries – USA, South Africa & Australia

  1. Shauna Hicks says:

    Wow great story and really good how you have followed all the clues in the different countries.

  2. Pieter Tiearney says:

    Hey. Im the 3rd generation of George Tiearney who died in 1966. His eldest son was my grandfather. We live in South Africa. How can I contact you?

  3. Pieter you can contact my husband (David Christian the Tiearney descendant), on dckckc@tpg.com.au

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