Showing posts from July, 2017

John Steinbeck's Ballykelly roots

John Steinbeck's mother Olive (Steinbeck nee Hamilton) was descended from Hamilton's of Mulkeeragh, Ballykelly. In August 1952 Steinbeck visited Ballykelly to trace his family roots with his wife Elaine. Steinbeck wrote about the trip in Collier’s magazine the following year in an article entitled, 'I go back to Ireland'. COLLIER’S MAGAZINE 1953 (In the 1920's one) of my uncles made the trip (Joseph Hamilton of Chicago). He reported that he had wept out of pure sentiment the whole time. He also reported that the family was just about played out; there remained two sisters and a brother—Katherine, Elizabeth and Thomas —children of my grandfather's brother, all old and all unmarried. They lived in the "new house" (the old house had burned down several hundred years ago). After my uncle's return, we had an occasional letter from Elizabeth. She wrote a thin, elegant hand, and her English had an exquisite quality, reminiscent of the eight

1831 census abstracts Co L'Derry

In 1831, the population of County L'Derry was 222,012 (Brian Mitchell –sources for family history, page 5). The 1831 census recorded the following details – name, age, occupation, and relationship to head of household, acreage of land, religion (John Grenham – Irish Ancestors page 22).  The 1831 census has survived for Co Derry in an abridged form. The census contains the names of 40,769 heads of household. So, the census that has survived for the county is not the original census, which was destroyed in the fire in the Four Courts in 1922, but abbreviated version, which was housed outside of the Public Record Office and so remains extant. Brian Trainor in Familia No 13, Volume 13 (1997, page 61) states that ‘ For 1831, for almost all of the parishes in county Derry, there are extracts from the census giving the names of heads of households and the number of male and female residents and the religious affiliations. These extracts were prepared for one of the 114 royal com

Congregational censuses

A census was taken for the whole of Ireland every year from 1821 through to 1911. Only those for 1901 and 1911 have survived intact. The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after the censuses were taken. Those for 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War, probably because of the paper shortage. The returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were, apart from a few survivals, notably for a few counties for 1821 and 1831, destroyed in 1922 in the fire at the Public Record Office at the beginning of the Irish Civil War. Pre-1901 census fragments 1901/1911 censuses for Ireland The destruction of the 1821-1851 census returns was a serious blow for the family and local historian. In the absence of formal census returns for the nineteenth century other sources can be traced that provide substitute for the data destroyed in 1922. Church r

Summonister court records part two

I have made extensive use of the summonister court records for my publication on the plantation of County Londonderry 1600-1670. The court records give a fascinating insight into the development of the new county of Londonderry (formerly known as the county of Coleraine).  In the records we find an eclectic mix of people brought before the courts and commonly listed offences included assault, homicide, cattle-stealing, extortion, rioting, salmon poaching, drunkenness, forestalling, contempt, Sabbath-breaking, treason, petty larceny, and negligence. Also listed are the names of recusants, that is, those who refused to conform to the established Anglican religion. Occasionally occupations are noted in the rolls such as publican, inn-keeper, miller, butcher, gaoler, labourer, weaver, coroner, yeoman

Summonister court records

The office of ‘Summonister and Clerk of Estreats, in the Court of Exchequer of Ireland ’ was in existence from at least the reign of James I as we have reference to the appointment of Edmund Beaghan to the post on 3 September 1618.  The summonister rolls were copies of fines imposed and recognizance’s forfeited at Assizes, Quarter Sessions and in the King’s courts. The rolls record, among other things, the names of people fined for non-attendance at quarter sessions, that is, the courts that dealt with less serious crimes similar to today’s civil courts. Names and residences are recorded. The original rolls were lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 but copies of some exist because of the work of the genealogist Tenison Groves. The surviving transcript for counties L'Derry and Tyrone appear to be fairly intact apart from a lengthy interval from 1641-1653, which reflects the impact of the Irish uprising upon administration. The rolls are a usef


Welcome to Ulster Genealogy and Local History Blog. I have had a life long interest in genealogy and local history. This blog is an attempt to share some of those interesting research findings and nuggets that one finds along the way when researching in the archives. I also want to share with those who are interested in researching their family history and or local history the research methodologies that are the best at guaranteeing successful outcomes. My interest is primarily in the historic nine counties of Ulster and the archival institutions that provide the primary source material for research purposes. Top of my list is the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) which is truly a world class facility. The records of PRONI are essential for the serious genealogist and local historian. In addition, we are blessed to have wonderful regional and

Van Morrison

I am a huge fan of Van Morrison. He is a legend and a genius and arguably the greatest artist to ever come out of these shores. George Ivan Morrison was of course born in Belfast in 1945 and often makes reference to local place names in his songs. His family are of humble origins - his grandparents George Albert Morrison, a machine man and Margaret Young were married in Westbourne Presbyterian Church in East Belfast on Monday 24 April 1916 - the same day as the Easter Rising. The marriage certificate confirms that Van Morrison's great grandfather was also named George. In the 1911 census George Albert Morrison was aged 14 and he worked as a machine boy. The family were residing at 151 Templemore Street, Belfast (Pottinger DED).

An age old problem

Civil registration of all births, marriages and deaths began in Ireland in 1864 (protestant marriages were registered from 1845). Sources for births, marriages and deaths in the period before civil registration are not plentiful. Church registers, newspapers and family bibles are the most common means of determining the age of an ancestor in the period before civil registration. Newspapers were invariably obsessed with recording incidences of longevity. One such case occurred in the Belfast Newsletter of 26th March 1860. A man named James Milles residing in the townland of Termadoen in the civil parish of Kilmore near Monaghan died allegedly at the age of 120 years. This would have given Milles an approximate birth year of 1740. Belfast Newsletter 26th March 1860: Of course, such claims could not be verified since no official records were available. Nor indeed would there be any contemporaries alive who could verify the veracity of the claim. It seems logical to conclud

In 1831 an 85 year old Dungiven man challenged the world

Newspapers are a useful means for providing contextual insight into the lives of our ancestors. They can throw up interesting surprises and nuggets. 'The Truth Teller' was a weekly Catholic newspaper that was published in New York from 1825 to 1855. It contained many notices requesting information about missing persons. An interesting notice appeared in the paper on 21st May 1831 (page 20). NOTICE: 'Henry McCloskey, a tenant of Robert Ogilby, Esquire of the County of Londonderry and parish of Dungiven, challenges the world to produce a man to fight him for the sum of 500 guineas, no matter what size, weight, height or color (provided he be the same age). He was born on the 12 May 1746; he does this to let the world know that old Ireland always produced the best man under the sun, both in youth and age and for the honour of his country'. We have no way of knowing if anyone took up the challenge of the 85 year old Dungiven man but you have got to admire

OAP returns an interesting source

The Old Age Pension Claim Forms are held in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (P.R.O.N.I) reference T550/1-39. These give information mainly from the 1841 and 1851 census returns for the counties of Ulster. Similar records are held by the National Archives in Dublin although here they are referred to as Census Search Forms and these contain the same essential information, but for the whole of Ireland. The claim sheets in PRONI are bound together and contained in large volumes primarily arranged by barony and county: ANTRIM T550/2-11 ARMAGH T550/12-16 DOWN T550/17-20 FERMANAGH T550/21-23 L'DERRY T550/25-29 TYRONE T550/30-35 DONEGAL T550/37 FREE STATE T550/1A&1B These volumes are packed with vital information on many Ulster families. Primarily, the 1841/1851 census returns were checked for proof of age. But the following sources were also used. Baptismal/christening records (for all denominations but especially Church of Ireland as these w

Ages in the 1901 & 1911 census returns.

Anyone who has made a careful search for their ancestors in the 1901 and 1911 census returns may be surprised to see a sizable jump in ages between the two returns. It appears that ages in the 1901 returns were often rounded up to the nearest ten so there are a disproportionate number of people aged 40, 50 or 60 and so on. Anyone who was older than 37 years in 1901 census was born before the onset of civil registration of births, which only began in Ireland in the year 1864. Not surprisingly many people, especially the older generations did not know their actual age and in the absence of formal civil documents may have made an educated guess in this regard.  The 1901 and 1911 census returns for Ireland are available online: How then does one explain why some people aged significantly between 1901 and 1911? The answer is relatively simple since the government introduced Old Aged pensions in 1909 and to be eligible one ha