Friday, 8 January 2010

Irish Wills Index: Margaret McElhaga

Many wills were destroyed with other archives in the 1920s fire in Dublin. However reference to these wills exists, though without any details, in an Index, published on the Internet by the Origins Network, which is in partnership with an organisation called Eneclann. The 'Irish Wills Index' includes a testator, namely Margaret McElhaga of Ballymena, County Antrim. The date of her Will is 1835, which was proved in the Down & Connor Diocese. Although this Will has a National Archive reference (IWR/1835/692) and even a Volume number (4/236/26) I have been assured by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) that these references do not mean that any further details are available, despite the fact that the Index says that the Will has the status of 'Transcript'. The Index does however give us the name of the Will's Executor, J. McElhaga. The word Executor, rather than Executrix, implies that 'J' was a man, in which case he could have been Margaret's husband, son, or even brother.

Someone making a Will in 1835 was in all probability born in the latter part of the 18th Century. Can I assume that Margaret died in or soon after 1835? I wonder. In my Clan Death Index I have no other McElhagas. So do I have any relevant entries in my Clan Birth or Marriage Indexes? Just one in each, though neither may refer to the same Margaret. Margaret McIlhaggy was born to Nathan and Sarah in 1790 in Belfast. She was baptised on 4th March 1790 at St. Anne's Church of Ireland, Shankill. From a date perspective this could be Margaret McElhaga if 'J' were her son and she was unmarried. I think this is an unlikely scenario.
On 15th August 1828 Margaret Mawhinny married James McIlhaggo of Biggam's Brae at Templepatrick Presbyterian Church. This could indeed be Margaret McElhaga of nearby Ballymena and 'J. McElhaga' could indeed be James McIlhaggo. But is this identification probable? At present I have no supporting evidence and I have to note that this is a marriage found in the records of the IGI which has been submitted by an individual, which throws an element of doubt into the mix!

Now there is one serious possibility. The only other reference I have to the surname McElhaga is in fact an error for McElhago, the 18th Century version of the clan name that we find in the West of Scotland. I noted the error in my blog on 22nd April. So was there a Margaret McElhago in one of our Ayrshire families, who might have ventured to Ireland in the early 19th Century? No, not that we know of, but we do know of a Margaret McElhago who died in Pittsburg, Pensylvania in 1875! I wrote about her on 20th March last, and illustrated her gravestone. We know nothing more about her than the dates on her stone, 1803 - 1875, though I suggested that she could have been a younger sibling of the three McElhago brothers, James, Samuel and Robert. (It was Robert's name which was misspelled). I realise that a death date of 1875 is a long time after the date of the Will, 1835, but presumably she could have decided to make a Will before she ventured overseas. The Irish Will Index doesn't give us the date of her death or even the date when the Will was proved, simply the date on the Will, presumably when it was made. And her Executor was 'J'. James was the eldest of the three McElhago brothers and very possibly the ship's captain with whom Margaret had sailed to the USA. So perhaps we have here part of the story of a venturesome young lady, Margaret McElhago (AKA McElhaga) who first moved from Ayrshire to Ballymena, County Antrim, and then to Pensylvania, USA.

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