Friday, 20 February 2009

Brick Wall

Each generation that we go back in our Family Tree we double the number of lines that we can attempt to trace. So our parents give us two lines, our grandparents four and our great-grandparents eight. One of my grandparents (my paternal grandmother) gives me a Scottish Highland Clan which I have been fortunate to take back into the mists of time (and early Scottish Royalty!). My equivalent maternal grandmother's line, despite a very rare surname, fizzles out in the fields of Norfolk in about 1760.  However her mother's (so one of my eight great-grandparents') line goes back through Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire to Worksop Priory in about 1588 - not bad.  Both my 'long lines' have been traced more by the good work of others than myself, though I have had to do quite a lot of research to be able access their work. I have then been fortunate to find good research done by individuals and societies set up to trace the two names concerned.

However, as for most people the two lines in which I am most interested are those of my parents. My mother's maiden name, possibly with a French origin, finds me in Yorkshire, but at present only back to 1775.  The search goes on.  My father's line is what is known as Ulster-Scots and is of course one of the McIlhagga lines. Clearly this is the one I hand on to my sons and grandsons. But there is a 'brick wall' at the turn of the 18th/19th Centuries, in Ulster.  My great-great grandfather was William McIlhagga who married Agnes McCosh somewhere between 1828 and 1835. They probably married in Clogh Presbyterian Church, though I have yet to find the record, the original of which is possibly lost. They lived for most of their adult lives in the townland of Ballycloughan in the Parish of Skerry in County Antrim, near Antrim's 'garden-town' of Broughshane.  All their children were baptised in the First Presbyterian Church in Broughshane.  But the question is, can we get back earlier than about 1830?

What evidence am I working with?  First, William appears in the 1828 Townlands Land Apportionment book for both Ballycloughan and for its neighbouring Eglish (pronounced Aglish).  His surname there is spelled McIlhaggo. Other variants of his name are used in other records, like McIlhaggie (daughter Margaret's marriage certificate) and McElhagga (Griffith's Land Valuation in the 1860s).  Most usually he is McIlhagga.  Now the first interesting thing is that not only do a couple of neighbouring farmers have his wife's maiden name, McCosh, but another was a second McIlhagga, James. We can make the reasonable assumption that two people with such a rare surname and living and working in close proximity were related. William had no son James, so was he a brother or possibly William's father?  The next question must be whether we have any clues from any other James-William relationships which might possibly identify with the Ballycloughan men?  There are indeed two possibilities, though we must admit they are speculative at this stage.

First, there is a McIlhagar family living around the turn of the century in Shankill, Belfast.  We know this from records held by the Ulster Historical Foundation. The parents are James and Sarah, who had three offspring. In different documents we find their surname spelled variously, McIlhagar, McIlhaga and McIlhagart. Their son William (McIlhagar) was born in 1798. Martha (McIlhaga) was born in 1803 and Ann (McIlhagart) was born in 1809. There was also an earlier William born in 1792 to James and Sarah of Shankill, though this time with the spelling McIlhaggey. He may well have been an earlier son who died.  We must ask whether the second William, born 1798, was of the right age to be the future spouse of Agnes McCosh of Clogh?   Yes, he certainly was. For him to have married at the age of 36 would not have been all that unusual, though sadly we have no supporting evidence, for example from the naming pattern of William and Agnes' children, to claim James and Sarah as his parents, but it does remain a possibility.

Also, we might say that against this identification is that it is an unlikely thing that an urban family from Shankill would become a rural family in Ballycloughan. This however would not apply to a second possible identification.  There was a farming family of Samuel, James, James Junior and William McIlhaggo living on the peninsular between Belfast and Larne called Islandmagee.  If there was a James Junior, then the other James was 'senior', and father to Samuel, James (Junior) and William.  We know that these three were all farming near each other on the peninsular because leases exist for their respective plots of land, all leased from Lord Dunganon's estate.

From a gravestone in Ballypriormore Cemetery on Islandmagee we can calculate that Samuel was born about 1780.  James Junior was probably born a couple of years before, giving us an approximate birth year for James Senior, their father, about 1755.  But when was William, son of James Senior, born? The land leases imply he was the young brother, putting a birth year at the earliest about 1782.  But could he have been born as late as the turn of the century, the more 'reasonable' date for the birth of my great-great-grandfather?  If he had been this would make his mother in her late thirties, which is not impossible, especially if she had had other children, girls who are not recorded, though we must admit that the long gap of almost 20 years between Samuel and William makes it a bit unlikely.  However, rather than suggesting that it was James Senior (who probably had never farmed - he worked in the Linen Mill in Larne) and his son William who turned up in Ballycloughan in 1828 (and when after all James would have been in his mid-70s), a more likely scenario is that James Junior (born about 1778) had married and had had a son William (in say about 1798) and both had turned up 30 years later on plots in Ballycloughan. Against such a theory is that we have no evidence that James Junior did marry - unless of course he is the James married to Sarah in Shankill, who did indeed have a son William in 1798, and who, despite moving into Shankill's urban setting for a time, had Islandmagee's farming in his blood!

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