The 20,000 mile, round the world search for a long lost Derry family

Joseph McBride-Wilson pictured with his wife, Edna, in New Zealand.
Joseph McBride-Wilson pictured with his wife, Edna, in New Zealand.

Joann Ransom believes it’s worth one last throw of the dice.

Later this summer, Joann will travel almost 20,000 miles from New Zealand to Derry in search of her long lost family.

Joann McBride-Wilson is travelling to Derry later this summer to search for her long lost family.

Joann McBride-Wilson is travelling to Derry later this summer to search for her long lost family.

Joann’s grandfather, Joseph McBride-Wilson left Derry for New Zealand in 1926 and never came back. Joann hopes her trip to Derry will help her unlock some of the secrets about her grandfather’s past.

“When my dad was very sick with cancer my mother contacted a genealogist in Derry and asked them to try and find out if we had any relatives still living there.

“Unfortunately, all the genealogist was able to find was my grandfather’s birth certificate. I am coming to Derry to try one last time and who knows, I might find a family I never knew I had,” added Joann.

Joseph McBride-Wilson was born in Linenhall Street on October 10, 1903 and according to one family story, Joseph’s parents might have been killed in a tragic accident when he was very young. Joseph’s parents were Patrick and Elizabeth (Lizzie) McBride (nee Wilson).

Joann's dad, Ian McBride-Wilson.

Joann's dad, Ian McBride-Wilson.

It is thought Joseph had one brother called Ernest who married a lady called Gertrude. Joann believes the couple had two children and may have moved to Birmingham in England.

After the death of his parents, it is believed that Joseph was raised by his maternal grandparents.

A possible explanation for Joseph’s double-barrelled name is that his grandparents let him adopt the surnames of both of his parents as a mark of respect.

Joseph was a Protestant and left Derry in his early twenties and according to Joann, he lost a lot of the money he had saved soon after arriving in New Zealand although it is unclear how this happened.

“I think Ireland went ‘bad’ for my grandad - he left and never wanted to look back,” explained Joann. “Grandad never wanted to talk much about Ireland.”

Joseph died in the late 1970s. He was cremated and his headstone is located in the Jewish section of the Karori Cemetery in Wellington.

“Grandad died in 1979. He was a railway worker and moved around a lot in the lower North island of New Zealand with his wife Edna, my grandmother - Edna was of Scottish descent.

“Grandad was lovely and very popular; I remember his funeral and all these men who came back to our house and drank whiskey - and more whiskey - and my mum getting a bit fed up with it all.

“My grandad’s mother-in-law was called Fanny Watson and she was Jewish - my grandad’s name is on the headstone in his wife’s family plot - that’s how he came to be in the Jewish section of the cemetery,” explained Joann.

Joann is a librarian and lives in Levin, in New Zealand’s north island.

“I have just finished as CEO of Te Horowhenua Trust, a charitable trust that delivers library and community services in Horowhenua under contract to the local council.

“I am a seventh generation Kiwi on my maternal side but third generation on my father’s side.

“My maiden name was Joann McBride-Wilson. My father was Ian McBride-Wilson and he was one of two children of Joseph McBride-Wilson and Edna Watson.

“Joseph and Edna married in Wellington, New Zealand on September 11, 1929.”

Joann explained in more detail why she is travelling to Derry in September.

“I am on a three months world tour speaking about Koha, a library management system we developed in Levin but which is widely used around the world - including Ireland.

“Koha is open source and there is a wonderful global community of librarians, developers and vendors who keep it moving along.

“I am visiting many Koha community members and speaking in the different cities I visit.”

Joan added: “My dad was part of a very small family; his only sibling was 16 years older than him so he was basically raised an only child.

“We always wondered if he had cousins and other family back in Derry.

“My mum researched what she could but came to a dead end. When dad was sick mum hired a genealogist in Derry who could not find anything other than grandad’s birth certificate. I can’t be sure about the details of the stories to do with grandad but it’s all I have to go on.

“I’ve scheduled a week in Derry during my speaking tour because I want to have one last attempt at trying to find grandad’s tracks in Derry and, hopefully, find the family he left behind.”