Saturday, 9 October 2010

Ballymena to Belfast

Following my last blog I had an email letter from a correspondent in South Australia who does some very careful research, for which I am very grateful. She is a descendant of the family who in 1912 were at Azamor Street. I was comparing the 1912 Ulster Covenant with the Census of the year before. She has also compared her family with the 1901 Census when they were living at 67 Queen Street, Ballymena. She kindly sent me a photo from Google Maps, not of number 67 which has been demolished in favour of a commercial building, but of 83 Queen Street which would have been a similar property, and which fits the description handed down in the family.

Sometimes, however, one should be cautious about what is 'handed down'. I had included in my last blog that Robert James McIlhagga had 'run away to sea by 1896', when he would have been only eleven. I got this from another member of the family, also in Australia. Clearly it was part of the 'oral tradition'. But not so! The 1901 Census clearly includes him aged 16 and in employment as a machine boy. As my correspondent says, he can't have been on a home visit as his occupation would have been recorded as 'sailor' (or perhaps 'cabin boy') and also because he maintained that he never made contact with his family again after leaving home. Again, the family tradition is that he said he did return to Ireland a few years later but it was too far to walk from Belfast to his home in the few hours he had on shore. He must have meant walking to Ballymena, not knowing that the family had moved to Belfast. My correspondent has calculated they must have moved to Azamor Street between the 1901 Census and when daughter Matilda Jane married from there in September 1903. Robert James probably left for sea not long after the 1901 Census. She points out two other things which are probably true. The 1901 Census includes a child Joseph, aged 18 months, but as he is not on the 1911 Census when he would have been 11, he had maybe died. Second, Robert James spoke in later life of his two sisters Lizzie and Margret. Clearly Lizzie was Elizabeth. Although I have assumed that Minnie and Margret were two people, she thinks Margret, who must have been near Robert's age for him to have remembered her, was known as Minnie. As Robert's and Minnie's birth dates are only about a year apart, I certainly agree with this conclusion.

My South Australian friend has two interesting points about the parents, Robert and Margaret (nee Craig). A comparison of all the available documents offers no consistency about their ages. Her best calculation of Robert's age is from his death certificate. He died at 5 Azamor Street on 13th October 1912 aged 53 years. He had had bronchitis for 10 months. The informant was his son Samuel (see his Covenant signature above). His illness could explain why he didn't sign the Ulster Covenant in the February. There may however have been a second reason. Could he and Margaret write? They both marked the marriage register with an X, though they are both recorded as being able to read and write in both 1901 and 1911. This may not have been true as the signatures on the two Censuses are different, perhaps indicating that they were filled up by another member of the family. It has to be said that we are in the realm of probabilities here as often when a marriage register was being filled in a couple would defer to the minister or registrar and ask him to write their names, simply adding their 'mark' (an X). This said, my correspondent is I think right that the wild ages given for the parents (married for 38 years and only 42 and 40 shown on the 1911 Census!) probably indicates that the forms were filled up by a child.

PS: I have also added the Covenant signature of their son Andrew to my last blog.

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