Who Do You Think You Are? Paul Merton

Who Do You Think You Are? Paul Merton

Tracing the Power family for the Paul Merton episode of Who Do You Think You Are? was quite a challenge, not least because Power is one of the most common surnames in Co. Waterford.

Paul’s mother’s maiden name was Power.  At the time of Griffith’s Valuation), a land survey taken in the 1850s there were over 3000 Power households found in Ireland, over 1600 of which were found in county Waterford.  The sheer number of Power households in Waterford made searching for the correct Power family a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. 


The trick to searching for a family with a common surname is to focus the search on the family’s townland address.  The birth record for Paul’s mother identified his grandfather as James Power.  Both the marriage and birth registrations for James Power identified his family address as the townland of Crooke.  The townland of Crooke, where part of the village of Passage East can be found, is located in the civil parish of Crooke in the eastern part of Waterford.  Land records and census returns confirmed that James’ father, Edward Power leased property in the townland of Crooke in the 19th and 20thcentury.

A broad search for men named James Power in records that document the War of Independence found a large number of potentially relevant references, but it was difficult to determine which, if any, might have any relationship with Paul Merton. By narrowing the focus of our search to the area where James Power was from we were able to identify a reference to his military service. 

It is possible to focus War of Independence research on a specific area by using the IRA Nominal Rolls. These rolls were created in the 1930s as a record of the men who served during the War of Independence and are organised by Division, Brigade, Battalion and then Company area.   

If James Power was at home in Crooke in 1918/1919, he most likely enlisted with a local company.  In July 1921, on the eve of the truce the 3rd Battalion, 1st Waterford Brigade, 1st Southern Division of the IRA included companies from Callaghane, Passage East, Killea, Ballymacaw and Checkpoint & Faithlegg.  This area includes the townland of Crooke.  The Nominal Rolls for this Battalion have been published online by the Irish Military Archives

The unit strength for all ranks of this Battalion on 11th July 1921 was 160.  A reference to James Power was found in the Rolls for B Company, Passage East, which documented “2nd Lieut. Jas. Power (deceased)”.

It had already been established that James Power was deceased by ca. 1935 when this nominal roll was compiled, suggesting that the 2nd Lieutenant of the B Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Waterford Brigade, 1st Southern Division, IRA, was Paul Merton’s grandfather.  By keeping the research focused on sources specific to the area where James Power was born and resided, we were able to identify records relevant to Paul’s family.  We were also able to avoid getting side tracked by the many other men named James Power who were also active in Waterford during the War of Independence.

The Nominal Rolls can include very brief references to the activities carried out by each Company during the War of Independence.  In the case of Power’s Company, B Company, they were reported to have been “Drilling and organising according to scheme of organisation.  Raiding for arms.  Cutting and dislocating enemy telegraphic and telephone communications between Waterford and Wexford.  Maintained water transport service between Passage East and Wexford.  Trenching and blocking of roads.  Collecting IRA lorrys in Co. Area and policing area.”


Researching families with common surnames can be challenging, but by concentrating on sources that document people by place, it is sometimes possible to distinguish your family from many others with the same name by using their address.