Friday, 1 April 2011

Cattle Drover to Car Driver

I have been checking my own clan Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes against those available at the Ulster Historical Foundation. I'm afraid that 82 of my entries are missing facts which are hidden in the UHF entries, so I had better do something about it! Fortunately I have a little credit left in my UHF account, enough to check about twenty, and it seems logical to start with one of the oldest. I have 11 births/baptisms from the 1790s. The one I decided to check was that of Margaret McIlhaggy. I knew she was born to Nathan and Sarah and that her birth/baptism was 4th March 1790. The church was St. Anne's Church of Ireland, Shankill, Belfast. I hoped to find Sarah's maiden name, but didn't. I also hoped to find whether the date was a birth or a baptism. The full record has the birth and baptism dates separate, but gives 4th March for both. I can only conclude that Margaret's baptism took place on the day of her birth, possibly because it was thought she would not survive. I have no knowledge of whether she did or not.

I next decided to look up the two entries I have for Samuel McIlhage in 1832 and 1871. Oddly the 1832 entry recorded no parents' names. The full record shows the reason. Born on 1st Jan 1832 Samuel was conditionally baptised in St. Mac Nissi's Roman Catholic Church on 10th Nov 1850 at the age of 18 years by the Rev. A. O'Neill. The baptism of an adult probably needed no parental sponsors. But if only I could find another Samuel born in 1832 I might have found his father, but I can't! There must have been a good reason for Samuel being conditionally baptised in 1850, and the second Samuel McIlhage entry surely reveals it. Samuel born 25th April 1871 and baptised on 28th at St. Mary's Roman Catholic church by the Rev. M. McCashin had parents Samuel McIlhage and Elizabeth Glass. The family lived in Abbey Street, Belfast. There were two baptism witnesses, John McIlroy and Alice Fagan. Surely the father Samuel in 1871 was the Samuel conditionally baptised in 1850.

The reasonable assumption would I think be that in order to marry Elizabeth Glass, Samuel converted to Roman Catholicism. He converted in 1850 when he was 18 and would have been legally able to marry when he was 21 in 1853, and I do have a record of a marriage on 23rd June 1853 of Samuel McIlhagga to Elizabeth Glass at Carrickfergus Roman Catholic Church by the Rev. J. Cunningham. Sadly, on the marriage record the two fathers' names are given simply as surnames, McIlhagga and Glass, and no mothers' names are recorded. We may read into this scenario that the families were not in favour of this inter-church marriage, this being the reason not only for 'surnames only', but also for the fact that Samuel waited until he was 21 to marry. The witnesses' names are given, Bernard Conway and Susan Higgins, but these do not give any clues to Samuel's family.

From other records we do know a little more about this couple. They had other children than Samuel in 1871. John McIlhagga/o was born on 12th May 1875 also in Belfast. Susan McIlhaggo was born on 23rd June 1867, also in Belfast. And most interestingly Agnes McIlhaggo was born on 11th Dec 1862 (and registered on 14th Jan 1863) at 5 Corporation Street, Carlisle, Cumbria. So this family gives us the earliest of our English references. And the Cumbrian baptism gives us an occupation for Samuel. He was then a Cattle Dealer. In the UHF records there is a third McIlhage entry, with a father Samuel, but no given name, born in 1876. At first I assumed this was a child born to Samuel and Elizabeth who had died at birth. But on checking I was again taught the lesson not to take anything for granted. It was an entry for a completely different family. This nameless child, who probably did die at birth, belonged to Samuel a Flax Buyer who was married to Grace Marrs and who lived at 33 Greenmount Road, Belfast.

In order to check whether I had collected all the references to this family I then returned to the UHF to get the full entries of all the births/baptisms with a father Samuel from the middle of the 19th Century. In addition to Agnes in '62, Susan in '67, Samuel in '71 and John in '75, several more were revealed! Margaret was born in Carrickfergus on 14th May 1854, the year after Samuel and Elizabeth were married. John was born two years later, on 3rd February in Carrickfergus. A later John born in 1875 must mean this first John died as an infant. Elizabeth was born on 16th January 1858 in Carrickfergus and Mary Anne was born on 8th October 1860, also in Carrickfergus. All these are recorded as Roman Catholic baptisms. None record an occupation for Samuel, though we may suspect that a move from Carrickfergus to Cumbria by 1862 may have meant he was involved in cattle dealing in Ireland. There are three significant changes when we come to 1867. On 23rd July that year Susan was born and registered in the 'Civil Parish' on 2nd August, and the family had moved back from Cumbria to 30 Greenland Street, Belfast. Second, Samuel's occupation is given as Car Driver. Third, the witness's name is recorded as Samuel McIlhagga. Conceivably this could have been Samuel himself, but it may have been his father. If so, then we know the name of Samuel's father, of which we have not had a clue up to this point, though we must say we cannot be certain. We must also record that there is the birth of another Susan, 14 months later on 9th September 1868, from which we must conclude that the first Susan must have died as an infant. By this time the family had moved to 57 Boundary Street, Belfast.

Lastly I must return to Samuel McIlhage's 1871 birth/baptism mentioned above, because there is also a Civil Parish record of Samuel son of Samuel and Elizabeth (nee Glass) McIlhagga in the same year. Clearly these are two records of the same event, but the mystery is that the dates differ slightly though significantly. The McIlhage record says born 25th April 1871, baptised 28th. The McIlhagga record says born 18th May 1871, baptised/registered 2nd June. The Abbey Street address is the same. The parents are the same. The McIlhagga record has the additions of Samuel's occupation, namely Car Driver, and there is a witness, also a Samuel McIlhagga. I have no explanation for the discrepancy. Samuel's occupation accords with an entry in the Belfast Directory for 1880 when Samuel was living at 27 Abbey Street, as a Car Owner, presumably running an early taxi service.

Finally, in the UHF records there is one more event that surely refers to the same Samuel, whose occupation is also a Car Driver. Eleven years after the birth of Samuel, but only two years after the 1880 Directory, we have a record of the birth of Mary Jane on 13th October 1882, baptism/registration a week later on 20th. The address is different, 20 Brown's Square. The parish named is St. Stephen's and the denomination is no longer Roman Catholic, but Church of Ireland. The significant difference is that the child's mother is not Elizabeth Glass, but 'Sarah Jane' (no surname). We must presume that Elizabeth had died and perhaps Samuel had remarried, this time in a Protestant Church. The officiant was the Rev. R. Irvine. For some reason there is a second copy of this record in the UHF, the only difference being that the officiating minister's name is give in full, Richard Irvine. We not only have Samuel's job evolving from cattle drover to car driver, but his conversion to Roman Catholicism being reversed as he returns to the Church of Ireland.

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