24 November 2017

Ulster Mysteries and Discoveries

I have long tried tracing my Ulster ancestors.  A considerable history is probably impossible.  Too many vital records appear to be missing or destroyed.

Are you aware of my research via Ulster?

The National Library of Ireland has property records, but I am yet to find anything relevant there in connection with my family. 

The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland also has a wide range of records, though I have yet to find anything relevant there, either.  There are no relevant wills recorded.  My ancestors probably had nothing much to leave to the next generation.

I am still working out how to use the PRONI Historical Map Viewer.

There are many Irish genealogical websites.  Have you ever used the Irish Genealogy Toolkit?  It has some interesting information about the available Irish records.


Family history "dark ages"

The "dark ages" of my family history relate to the lack of Irish records from the 1800s.  I already know something of my paternal grandfather's parents and siblings in the early 1900s, mainly from the Irish census records of 1901 and 1911.

The absence of records has long prevented my further family history research on that side of the Irish Sea. Who really were my Ulster ancestors?

Locating the extended family of earlier generations has been impossible to achieve with any certainty. Did they originate in Ireland or did they migrate there from elsewhere?  Were they part of the Plantation of Ulster or the Plantations of Ireland more widely, or did they arrive at another time, or even from further afield or merely from a nearby field?

From all the available evidence, my Ulster family members were working class through and through.  I have been attempting to research their lives through cluster genealogy but have not yet had much success with that method.

Sketching the past

My knowledge of my grandfather's family is obviously still sketchy.  The family migration route in the late 1800s and early 1900s went from Belfast in County Antrim to Bessbrook in County Armagh and then back to Belfast.  The migration journey then went from Belfast to Devon, mostly during the First World War.

Fortunately, I know when and where my Antrim great-grandparents married.  Unfortunately, I know little about their lives before that.

My grandfather was descended from Ulster Protestants but he was not religious.  His family were not Presbyterians.

In 1901, my Ulster ancestors were working in the Quaker Richardson linen mill in Bessbrook near Newry.   As far as I know, the factory made damask.

My great-grandparents and their children lived in the model village.  My grandfather was not yet born.

Bessbrook is in County Armagh.  The village and its mill were founded by John Grubb Richardson (1813-1891).

I have no idea when, exactly, my ancestors moved from Bessbrook back to Belfast.  I only know that in 1911, Belfast was an industrial boomtown.

Having never worked in a factory myself, I find it hard to imagine how noisy a linen factory must have been.  And how did it smell?

Unrest and the rest

My grandfather was only a small boy when he went to live in England with his older brothers. That was before the Irish War of Independence, which began in 1919.  The partition of Ireland took place in 1921.

I would like to know more about the townlands where my ancestors possibly originated, and especially whether they migrated from a particular townland to Belfast.  I already have a vague understanding of baronies and counties, but that gives me no awareness at all of how my ancestors lived.

I have been trying to find out more about the riots around the Shankill Road from June to September 1886.  Do you know much about them?  I wonder how those civil disturbances affected my ancestors, if at all.

Church records

My Ulster great-grandfather was a widower when he married my great-grandmother in 1893.   I have discovered that his first marriage was in 1880.

Both marriages took place within the Anglican Church of Ireland.  My great-grandparents subsequently became Methodists.

If you have Irish ancestors, you may have been able to trace them through church records.  I am particularly interested in Methodist records.  Unfortunately, my earlier contact with the Belfast Methodists came up with nothing specific at all.

In 1911, my paternal Methodist ancestors lived around the Shankill Road.  There is a Methodist church still in the area, as well as a Methodist Boys' Brigade.

There are many Methodist churches in Belfast at present. In 1911, only 7% of residents in Belfast were Methodist.  Even so, most of my Irish ancestors probably had their major life events recorded through the protestant Church of Ireland.

Are you aware of social conditions in Belfast in the early 20th century?

A little more light

Recently, I came across a site called IrishGenealogy.ie - and found a few more links to my ancestors.  The website was launched in September last year through the Irish Government's Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Irish-speaking regions of Ireland are known as the Gaeltacht. Those areas are in the far west of Ireland, much like the GĂ idhealtachd is in the far west of Scotland.

None of my known Irish ancestors could speak the Irish language.  Nor were they Roman Catholics, unlike my Belgian ancestors.

I am not sure where my Ulster ancestors lived in 1886, though I now have more of an indication of where they were in the 1890s.

The IrishGenealogy.ie website currently only has records covering a few vital years for family historians.  Access is free of charge, at present, and there is no need to register to use the site.

Waiting for a few more facts

I am looking forward to the extension of the records to the 1840s.  Most of the available records now only reach the 1860s, but at least now I know the first names of all my great-great-grandparents.   Finding the names of those sixteen individuals has been one of my main family research goals.

Have you checked any of the relevant records recently?

How have you located the maiden names of your female ancestors though several generations?

How have you located information about your Irish ancestry?

The National Archives of Ireland last year also developed a website to help family historians trace their Irish ancestry.

I still have no idea of the maiden names of my Ulster great-great-grandmothers, though.  All I know is that one was born around 1823 and the other was born around 1842.

My Antrim great grandmother and great-grandmothers could not read or write in English, or any other language.  I am not sure what they thought, if anything, about the Irish Home Rule movement

Irish citizenship

My paternal grandfather and his forebears were born in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  I am an Irish citizen by descent through my grandfather though my name is not yet on the Foreign Births Register.

If at least one of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents was born in Ireland, including Northern Ireland, you may be entitled to register as an Irish citizen, too.  You will then be able to travel on an Irish passport.

Have you read my recent blog post on citizenships of ancestors and descendants?

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I especially appreciate historical insights.