Annie’s Letter – Robert Burke


This is the true story of a search for Burke and Collingwood ancestors based on a family letter. It is extraordinary for several reasons, not least of which is the wonderful variety of family members uncovered. Admirals, farmers, surgeons and priests; widows and émigrés; rebels and conservatives; Irish, English, New Zealander and American are all part of the rich Burke tapestry which is unfolded. It is also extraordinary in its disclosure of the wealth of records that are available to the family historian, and the value of persistence and imagination in their use. But perhaps most extraordinary is the eerie mix of coincidence and chance which assisted the search. The story focuses on the Burke family of Mayo and their extensive connections with Collingwood, Collis, Creagh, Mullay, Blake, Kirwan, Browne, O’Mahony and many others.




Robert Burke was inspired to research his family history by his great-grandmother. In Annie’s Letter ..he recounts how his starting point led him to ancestors in Ireland (some of whom served in the British Navy alongside Nelson), the West Indies, and also to relatives in New Zealand and America. The story of his quest is inspirational…

Ancestors (Australia)

There would have been no story to tell if the author’s family had not preserved the undated piece of correspondence, the investigation of which created links between Hatton Garden and New Zealand , Mayo and Wisconsin . .. Written in a light but careful style the book is an interesting read in itself, and a template for anyone who is researching family history.

Ireland of the Welcomes ( Dublin) 54(3)

Useful and interesting for those with Irish Ancestry; a source of some envy that a similar book does not exist for families in Northumberland and Durham

Northumberland and Durham FHS J. 29(4)

This is the story of how the author became involved in searching for the history of his family and about the surprising revelations that followed. The story starts with a letter written 200 years ago by his great grandmother Annie Goodwin to her son and focuses on a Burke family and their extensive connections. The families of (Admiral) Collingwood, Collis, Breagh, Mullay and many others are also central. The author takes us step by step through his journey as he meets up with previous unknown family members such as admirals, farmers, surgeons, priests, widows, emigres and rebels. His visits to the various repositories such as the Royal College of Surgeons, the Representative Church Body Library, The Registry of Deeds and the Public Records Office (now The National Archives) at Kew, London show the wealth of records and assistance that are available to the family historian.

Irish Family History Society

… The anecdotes, of a visit to a Kerry house which turned out to belong to his mother’s family, a pen portrait of his father, his visits to Westport House and Howth Castle, serve to enliven the narrative. “Annie’s Letter” will also provide guidelines for those undertaking research of their own families.

BookView Ireland

Most of us would never dream of reading a family history if we were not assured that it contained information that specifically related to the families we were researching.  Recently, though, as I began reading Annie’s Letter, it occurred to me that some genealogy books have been blessed with an over-arching ability to be didactic, inspirational and entertaining simultaneously.  Annie’s Letter, written by Dubliner Robert Burke, describes the author’s twenty-year adventure seeking his BURKE roots in Ireland.  His search led him to evidence uncovered in numerous counties in Ireland, across the Irish Sea in England, Scotland and Wales, and outside the British Isles as far away as New Zealand and America. The search described in Annie’s Letter is remarkable in that the manifold clues successfully pursued by the author all came from a single piece of correspondence – a letter written in about 1881 by Burke’s great grandmother, Annie Goodwin Burke.  Each of the clues had genuine relevance to the search.  This book contains valuable lessons about genealogical research methodology, and some powerful reminders that many of our discoveries were the result of good fortune and not necessarily brilliant detective work.  Annie’s Letter is the perfect diversion – a chance to step back from our own genealogical brick walls and learn from Robert Burke’s experience.  This work paints a vivid picture of Ireland and the United Kingdom of years, decades and centuries past, but relying on modern-day research, communication and travel methods.  And if you like to read English the way the language was intended to be written, Annie’s Letter will not disappoint.  Burke’s style is both elegant and effective.  Needless to say, if you are currently researching Irish lines, especially BURKE, COLLINGWOOD, COLLIS, CREAGH, GOODWIN, KIRWAN, or MULLAY then Annie’s Letter will be all the more rewarding.

GRIVA News & Notes


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