Ballykelly Presbyterian old register of baptisms and marriages

I find old church registers interesting documents because they shine a light into the dark recesses of the distant past. They are historical treasures in manuscript form.  An early register for Ballykelly Presbyterian church is extant and contains baptismal records  from 1699 to 1709 and marriage proclamations from 1699-1740 in one small notebook (the original is held in the Presbyterian Historical Society, Belfast).  It was kept by the Rev John Sterling minister of the congregation from 1699 to 1752. It is valuable for the light that it sheds on local and family history. Within its pages familiar families abound - Martin of Crindle, Patton of Carrowmena, Douglas of Bovevagh, Morrel of Balteagh, Blair of Dunboe, Buchanan of Banagher and Oliver of Drumachose. The register  contains the essence of settlement in the early eighteenth century.

The first baptismal entry occurs on Sunday 8th October 1699 when five children were baptised by the Rev. John Stirling (surnames of Cross, Reid, Moore, Rodgers, Culbertson). The Reverend Stirling carefully entered over 600 baptisms in the register for the years 1699-1709 and over 500 marriages for the period 1699-1740. 

There are gaps in years covered - the exact coverage is given below:
Baptisms: 1699-1707, 1709
Marriages: 1699-1729, 1731, 1733-1735, 1737-1740

Ballykelly Presbyterian Church served the needs of the congregation over a wide area of the Roe Valley stretching from the parish of Faughanvale in the west to Magilligan in the east. The register reveals close ties between the people of the Roe Valley and those across Lough Foyle in county Donegal and also reveal a remarkably strong connection between Ballykelly and congregations that existed in the wider Coleraine area. Marriages were recorded over a very wide area including counties Antrim, Donegal and Tyrone. Below is a list of the parishes that were recorded in the marriage register (with numbers of entries). I have not included Ballykelly as the numbers of entries runs into hundreds.
Ballykelly marriage register 1699-1740:
Aghadowey (4), Aghanloo (11), Ahoghill (Antrim) (1), Badoney (Tyrone) (1), Ballymoney (Antrim) (2), Ballyrashane (4), Ballywillin (3), Ballyachran (2), Balteagh (22), Banagher (6), Billy (Antrim) (1), Boveedy (2), Bovevagh (28), Burt (Donegal) (4), Cumber (11), Dervock (Antrim) (1), Derryvullen (1), Desteroghill (4), Donagheady (Tyrone) (4), Donaghmore (Tyrone) (2), Drumachose (23), Dunboe (17), Dungiven, (10) Dunluce (Antrim) (1), Errigal (8), Fanad (Donegal) (1), Faughanvale (130), Finvoy (Antrim) (2), Glendermott, (22) Kilcronaghan (1), Killea (Donegal) (1), Killowen (3), Kilrea (1), Londonderry (1), Loughgiel (Antrim) (1), Macosquin (10), Maghera (4), Magilligan (47), Moville (Donegal) (2), Muff (1), Rasharkin (Antrim) (2), Raymoghy (Donegal) (2), Templemore (12).

The parishes closest to Ballykelly occur most frequently in the registers. Since there was no Presbyterian congregation in Magilligan (until 1814) many of the locals of the parish worshipped with the Ballykelly congregation or with Dunboe.

FIRST PAGE OF THE MANUSCRIPT; An introduction by the Rev Sterling

"A treu account of ye persons maried by Mr Jon Sterling Min'r of ye gospel att Ballykelly with ye yeare of God & day of ye month with ye name of ye paroshes wherein ye partys are".

For the record the first marriage in the register (above) is that of: Rob: Dinen & Margret Paton both in Ballykelly Octob'r 30 1699

The first page of the register lists 19 marriages mostly residents of Ballykelly parish but ten other parishes are mentioned as below. The handwriting is slightly difficult to interpret especially with the vowels 'e', 'o' and 'a' looking similar. The letter v also has a peculiar shape in the register. The minister the Rev John Sterling was consistent in giving the parish address in his entries from 1699-1740. Below are the parishes written on the first page of the marriage register (dates range from 1699 to 1701). Most are fairly recognisable - I have given the modern spelling of the parish as well:
Bovevie is Bovevagh 

Donahkiedy is Donagheady (Co Tyrone)

Drumnacose is Drumachose

Errecle is Errigal

Foughanvale is Faughanvale

Glendermond is Glendermott
McCaskie is the old form for Macosquin parish

Magilligon is Magilligan

Belteach is Balteagh

Banachor is Banagher

Surname spellings within the manuscript vary. The greatest difficulty encountered in transcribing the document was interpreting the hand-writing of the minister. Below are all examples from the first page of the register:

Surname Willson
The surname Wilson was given double L. Both the w and s are exaggerated letters.

Surname Houston
With the surname Houstoun we see two forms of the letter U. The u between o and n almost looks like the letter w.

Surname Beer
The surname Beer looks like Boor. As mentioned previously vowel formation is difficult to decipher in this register.

Surname Biggert
 Notice with the surname Biggert the inverted e and r a which was prevalent in this period.

Surname Brisbane
 The surname Brisbane is rendered as Brizben in this register - notice the style of the letter z.

Surname Eason
 I think this is the surname Eason - but rendered as Esson in the Ballykelly register

Surname Fleming
 The surname Flemmie appears frequently in the Ballykelly register. This was the older spelling of the surname Fleming.

Surname Laughlin
Here the Rev Sterling appears to have written the surname Laughlin phonetically as Lackland.

Surname Sherrard
In this instance local knowledge is key to unlocking the surname. Sherrard is a well known name in Limavady and the Roe Valley. In the earlier records it is often rendered as Sherar or Sheror.

Surname Steel or Sheal?

I am not sure about this surname but looks like Steal or perhaps Sheal (Shields).

I assume that this surname is Keys but written phonetically as Keez


  1. Hello! I am very interested in the Ballykelly Presbyterian Church records. I am wondering if this is a church that any Huguenots would have attended, as my ancestor was William Ramage, a son of an immigrant Huguenot from France, Mattias Ramage. William's son, Benjamin Ramage, left Ballykelly in 1802, so records would be between about 1760 and 1802. Do you happen to know if this church or another institution holds records for that time period.

    Thanks for the great information!

    Pauline Spring


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