Saturday, 9 October 2021

The Comerford-Kneen family
and a genealogical search
that begins in Alexandria

The Obelisk in Alexandria in the early 20th century … the Comerford-Kneen family lived in Alexandria for four or five generations (William Henry Goodyear, Brooklyn Museum Archives)

Patrick Comerford

I recently came across the story of a branch of the Comerford family that passed on the Comerford name to a family that lived in Alexandria in Egypt for four or five generation in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

It is a story that begins with a marriage in Limassol in Cyprus in 1882, and that brings the Comerford name to Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt, Limassol in Cyprus, Kavala and Thessaloniki in northern Greece, Nairobi in Kenya and to Mexico City and Australia. There are hints of minor aristocracy in Croatia and Slovenia, of descent from families in Romania and Lebanon, and of Egyptian, Syrian, Maltese and Jewish heritage. But it also involves places from the Isle of Man to Liverpool and through many parts of England.

It is a family whose story has inspired the Australian writer Krissy Kneen in her semi-biographical stories of Slovene women who became the nannies of choice for the wealthy Italians of pre-war Alexandria in The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen: Travels with My Grandmother’s Ashes, a new book published earlier this year (May 2021).

I am still researching this story of the Comerford and Comerford-Kneen family, and I remain uncertain of many of the genealogical details. But it begins with Helen Pauline Comerford who is in Limassol when she marries John Bernard Kneen from Liverpool who is living in Liberpool in 1882, and I thought it was worth sharing some of my research at this stage.

John Bernard Kneen (1841-1894) was born in Liverpool on 9 December 1841, the son of William Kneen (1813-1891), originally from the Isle of Man, and his wife, Jane Rowan (1821-1885). Kneen was married twice. He married his first wife, Sarah Ann Blunn, in Sheffield, in 1864. They soon moved to Alexandria, Egypt, where they were living by 1867. He worked in Alexandria as a ‘foreign correspondent.’

Sarah and John Kneen were the parents of four children:

1, John William Kneen (1867-1870), born in Alexandria 1867, died in Liverpool 31 May 1870.
2, Amy (1868-1895), born in Alexandria ca 1868, died 1895.
3, Edith (1873- ), born in Alexandria ca 1873.
4, Edward Justin Kneen (1878-1933), born in Alexandria ca 1878.

Sarah Kneen died in Alexandria on 16 November 1881.

John Kneen married his second wife, Helen Pauline Comerford, in Limassol, Cyprus on 14 April 1882. She was born ca 1844 and they were the parents of six children, four sons and two daughters:

1, John Albert Comerford-Kneen (1881-1931), of whom next.
2, Paul Bernard Comerford-Kneen (1884-1930), of whom after his eldest brother.
3, Hilda Helen Kneen (1881-1931). She was born in Alexandria 11 January 1888, and was married twice: firstly in Alexandria in 1908 William F Draycott, and they were the parents of a son, William DJBA Draycott (1921- ), born in Alexandria 1921, later married twice in England; Hilda married secondly in Alexandria in 1933 Percy George Crosbye Farrell (1896-1990), and they later lived in Chersey, Surrey.
4, Henry (Harry) Philip Kneen (1889-1963), of whom after his elder brothers.
5, Victor Comerford-Kneen (1892-1953), of whom after his elder brothers.
6, Gladys Mary Comerford-Kneen (1893-1973). She was born in Alexandria 1 June 1893, was married, and died in Leicester in March 1973.

John Bernard Kneen died in Alexandria on 10 January 1894. The eldest son of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

John Albert Comerford-Kneen (1881-1931). He was born in Alexandria 16 November 1881. He married Georgiana Naoum-Cassir (1895-1960) in Alexandria in 1913. He died in Alexandria in 1931; she died in Sussex on 3 March 1960. They were the parents of three sons:

1, Charles Albert Comerford Kneen. He was born in Aleaxandria and lived in Egypt (1939), Blacktown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (1963-post 1980). He married Dragitca (Dragica) Marušič, born in Miren, near Nova Gorica or Gorizia in Slovenia, 13 December 1916, daughter of Perina and Carlotta (née Mozetic) Marusic. He worked at the British Embassy in Cairo. They fled Alexandria in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis with other expatriates, and lived in England before moving to Australia. In Australia, Dragitca was known as Lotty Kneen, and died in 2014. They were the parents of two daughters: Sheila; Wendy who is the mother of the Australian writer Krissy Kneen.

2, Wilfred J Comerford-Kneen (1920-1910). He was born in Alexandria on 5 March 1920, and died in Worthing on 19 October 2010. He was married twice: first in Cairo in 1946; secondly in Fulham in 1958 to June Rosemary Smythe (1934-2011). There are surviving children.
3, John Anthony Comerford-Kneen (1928-1982). He was born in Alexandria on 8 May 1928, and died in Crawley, Sussex, in June 1982. In March 1961, he married in Horsham, Sussex, Ansley M Summerfield (1933-2005).

The second son of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

Paul Bernard Comerford- (1884-1930). He was born in Alexandria in 1884. He worked as a quarantine officer with the Egyptian government. He married in Alexandria in 1908 Edith Ellen Mabel Elsie Draycott (1889-1966). She was born in Cyprus on 14 November 1889, and died in Ormskirk, Lancashire, on 20 March 1966; he died in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, in March 1930. They were the parents of two children, a daughter and a son:

1, Helen Alice Pauline Comerford-Kneen (1910-1976), of whom next.
2, John Bernard Paul Kneen (1912-1937), born Alexandria, born 3 September 1912, died in Alexandria 28 October 1937.

The Comerford name was continued among the children of the only daughter and only surviving child of Edith and Paul Comerford-Kneen:

Helen Alice Pauline Comerford-Kneen (1910-1976). She was born in Alexandria on 12 June 1914, and died in Norwich in December 1976. She was married twice. She married first in Alexandria on 12 January 1935 Paul P de Relya (1912-1981), also known as Paul Ivo Ritter von Relya Ohmucevic (or Reglia von Ohmucevic). He was born in Kavala, east of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, on 2 October 1912, into a family of Croatian ancestry, and died in Hounslow in December 1981. They later moved to Liverpool and were the parents of six children, three daughters and three sons:

1, Patricia Paul Alice Ivana von Relya Ohmucevic (or Reglia von Ohmucevic) (1935-1937), born Alexandria 28 November 1935, died 25 September 1937).
2, Pavo (Paul) Patrick Denis Cyril Reglia von Ohmucevic (or de Relya) (1938-1970), travel consultant, born Alexandria 21 July 1938, died in a car accident in Mexico 7 March 1970.
3, Dalice (Dalys) Paule Roxellane Marguerite Patricia John Ma de Relya, born Liverpool 13 March 1948, married in Liverpool December 1973.
4, Mark Godfrey Patrick de Comerford von Kesmark (1949-2019), born 17 March 1949, lived in Norfolk from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and from 2017; died iy St Edmunds, Suffolk, 7 February 2019.
5, Michael Anthony Ernest Sebastian Paul Dereyla d’Ohmucevic, born Liverpool 10 July 1973.
6, Ann.

Helen Alice Pauline Comerford-Kneen married secondly Ernest Wilson (1924-1999), a former flying officer in the Royal Air Force, and she died in Norwich in December 1976.

The third son and fourth child of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

Henry (Harry) Philip Kneen (1889-1963) was born Alexandria 1889. He married in Alexandria in 1913 Elvira Katherine Varzon (1893-1996). She as born 14 September 1893, and died in Milton Keynes in October 1966; he died in Leicester 24 July 1963. They were the parents of one son:

1, Herbert George Kneen (1917-2011), born Alexandria 19 December 1917, married in Alexandria 1948 Blanche Simone Daoud (1925-2006). She died in 2006; he died in Nuneaton 17 December 2011. They were the parents of one child.

The fourth and youngest son and fifth child of Helen (Comerford) and John Bernard Kneen was:

Victor Comerford-Kneen (1892-1953). He as born in Alexandria in 1892, and was married twice. He married firstly in Alexandria on 8 November 1913 Victoria Mallia and they were the parents of:

1, Gerald Denys Kneen (1932-1995). He was born in Alexandria 15 November 1932, and died in Thanet, Kent in June 1995.

Victor Comerford-Kneen married a second time before he died in Nairobi, Kenya, on 20 June 1953.



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