Saturday, 2 July 2011


I have been thinking a bit more about some entries in the International Genealogical Index (IGI) which I haven't been able to fit into wider families. One such is the marriage of Janet McIlhaggan to William James McDowell in about 1843. According to the IGI William James came from Ballyeaston, so I googled Ballyeaston Presbyterian Church. I was delighted to find that the First Presbyterian Church, Ballyeaston offers a 'Record Search' so I emailed them asking for a search to be made for the marriage. Not only did they do this but they went the second mile and sent me by return a list of possible children from records which have already been computerised. It took a couple of days before someone could go to the Record Office (PRONI) to look up their marriages. Sadly their marriage search didn't produce anything, though clearly the couple related to 'First Ballyeaston' as the following list of births shows:

1. 1844 James (William John McDowell + Janet McIlhagan)
2. 1846 Ellen (William John + Janet McIlhaggan)
NB Ellen was the name of William John's mother. We know this from a baptism entry which appears to be for him: McDowell, M[ale], William John, father Gideon, mother Ellen Elliott, 22 May 1823, place of birth Glenwherry.
3. 1848 Robert (William + Janet McIlhinan)
4. 1850 Robert (William John McDowell + Janet McIlhaggan)
5. 1853 Eliza Jane (William John McDowell + Jane McIlhaney)
6. 1855 Janet (William John McDowell + Janet McIlhagan)
7. 1857 Wm John (Wm John McDowell + Janet McIlhaggan)
8. 1859 Samuel (William John McDowell + Janet McIlhagan)

First, I must say that the kind Elder of First Presbyterian Church, Ballyeaston, went back to the original records in PRONI and incidentally demonstrated that their own computerised records for these entries had no fewer than five mistakes, including the fact that the father was not William James (as in IGI) but William John.

These records raise a number of issues. The spacing of the children is what one would expect in a large family, so we can make the assumption that they are all siblings. Presumably the first Robert died in infancy. The first two boys are usually named after the two grandfathers, though clearly this isn't so if one was not called Gideon. The other, Janet's father, could therefore have been either James McIlhaggan or Robert McIlhaggan. The first two girls would normally be named for the two grandmothers, and given that William John's mother was Ellen, Jane(t)'s mother was probably Eliza Jane. This would give us a clan marriage of about 1820 of either James or Robert to Eliza Jane. Do I have such a marriage? Not in Ireland, though I do have a possible marriage in Scotland. The third son and third daughter would have been named after the parents, which is indeed the case, Janet and William John. This endorses the strong suggestion that the man who married Jane(t) was William John and not William James (as the 1823 baptism record also indicates) and that the marriage 'record' in the IGI is wrong.

Next, we have the variations in the mother's surname: McIlhagan (3 times) and McIlhaggan (3 times). These would all be written by a church official at or after the time of the baptism and maybe by two or more different officials. If the parents were known to be illiterate, or not given to correcting the minister, doubtless the spelling would not have been checked with them. What of the two 'deviant' spellings, McIlhinan and McIlhaney? These are both known Irish names, and again we may put them down to a church official who hasn't been too careful in checking what the mother's maiden name was. Incidentally my correspondent kindly gave me the full dates of all the children's (and the father's) dates of both births and baptisms.

I also sent through to the Ballyeaston record searcher what I thought was another clan marriage, from the IGI, that of Agnes McIlhaggo to John Blair on 30 July 1829 in the Second Presbyterian Church, Ballyeaston. This marriage he did find - but here's the value of checking the original - he says the surname is definitely not McIlhaggo, but is probably McCluggage. So here's one to strike out of my Marriage Index!

So - am I any nearer to fitting this McDowell family into a wider clan grouping? I wonder! I was hopeful that a Ballyeaston search would lead to something definite, perhaps the name of Janet's father. Now Ballyeaston is a village near the town of Ballyclare. I have written about Ballyclare before as it occurs in some of the earliest clan references in Ireland - three times in 1645 in Cogry, a townland near Ballyclare, once in 1713 when a man from Ballyclare Presbyterian Church married a clan member, and several times between about 1820 and 1912, in a family from Ballygallagh near Ballyclare, about which I have written (6 Nov 2010). This family were all born in the same decades as the McDowells. Interestingly one of the siblings of that family, like of the McDowells, was a Janet. One was William James and the father was William John McIlhagga/McIlhaggo/McIlhagar. Janet who married William John McDowell could easily have been a sibling of William John, the weaver from Ballygallough. To have had their father's name would at least have taken us back into the 18th Century! And a last point, there was often more than one marriage between two families, and I do have another McDowall / McIlhaggo link. marriage, Mary McDowel/McDowall married Henry McIlhaggo in about 1800. Their granddaughter Eliza also married a Mat(t)hew McDowell in Ballymena in 1856.

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