John and Jane Stewart are my Great-Great-Grandparents, they are some of my closest and most enigmatic GG-grandparents. Close, in as much as my Grandma was a Stewart, and I carry the name Stewart as one of my middle names. Enigmatic, as their identity seems to constantly shift. When I was young their identity was clear. They were Stewarts, clearly Scottish and possibly, like the tartan of the same name, Royal. Later, when I first had access to the on-line British censuses, I was rather shocked to discover they came from Ireland. The reality, like the history of Ulster itself, is more complicated.
First Things First – Terminology
But before I go further I need to make one thing clear. I have no pro-Irish or pro-Loyalist identity. In writing this I’m hoping not to offend anybody, but merely tell a family history. Ulster is somehow paying for the sins of the past, caught in the complicated relationship between Gt. Britain and Ireland. It can’t be solved by trying to right the wrongs of the past, but only trying to find a better future. I’m using the term Ulster as it fits in with the ethnic term Ulster-Scots, (the same as the more north-American term Scots-Irish), which, as far as I can see is how my GG-Grandparents would have described themselves.
I’m also writing this article to help those, like me, who struggle trying to understand the processes and terminology that you need to understand to trace Irish ancestors. For some people it will be a whole new world, for others I may well just be stating the obvious – probably rather badly.
The Stewarts in Darlington
To understand John and Jane it is perhaps best to start with one of the key documents identifying the family. The 1871 Census. The first English census record I can find for the family.
This is an interesting record. For a start, although the parents are quite old (John was 60, Jane 54) they still have many of their children living with them. In fact the only known child not living with them is their daughter Eliza, who as you may have spotted was now married and living next door. I’ve already written about Eliza. She married George French on the 2nd August 1869 in Shildon. I suspect that the whole Stewart family moved together from Ireland to England before Eliza got married, so dating their move to England as before then, but after the birth of robert Stewart around 1858-59. As you can see from the census both John and Jane are recorded as coming from Tyrone in Irland (sic), whilst the children are from derry (sic). As I understand it, the enumerator was supposed to enter the country of birth for anyone born outside of Gt. Britain. I assume that in this case he/she recorded the country and county.
The Stewarts in Ireland
For many years that was the best I knew of the family, they were my proverbial genealogical “Brick Wall”. For Jane I had no maiden name, so she had to suffer the indignity of being recorded in my family tree as Jane Unknown. This all changed, by luck, this year.
In April there was the annual “WhoDoYouThinkYouAre?LIVE” show at the Birmingham NEC. I planned to go there anyway, but a couple of weeks before the show I won an Ancestry.co.uk competition. The prize included 2 free tickets for the show and a free consultation with their pro-genealogists. The net result I was able to talk to one of their Irish specialists. She had a number of advantages in researching John and Jane, one of which was access to a bunch of Irish websites that I was too cheap to pay for. Based on the family tree I’d provided she guessed that John and Jane were probably married some time just before their first child. Assuming their first child, Eliza Stewart, was born around 1849, this would have been in either 1848 or 1849. Searching through findmypast.co.uk and rootsireland.ie gave only one John and Jane married in 1848, in Magherafelt district. Other clues also supported this couple:
- They were married in Lissan, a small village based on the border between the old Co. Tyrone and Co. Derry (see map below, Lissan is on the yellow/green border).
- John Stewart’s age was 37, which put his birth around 1811, as predicted by the 1871 census.
- The parents of John and Jane were recorded as Charles Stewart and Alexander Bell. Interestingly John and Jane named 2 of their 4 sons Charles and Alexander.
The next obvious step was to get hold of a copy of the marriage certificate. This is where the Northern Irish bureaucracy can be rather cumbersome. There are two records offices for Northern Ireland. The GRONI (General Register Office of Northern Ireland) and the PRONI (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland). The correct place to go for this record would be the GRONI as they hold the following records: (luckily for my research my ancestors were “Non-Roman Catholics” !)
- births registered from 1 January 1864 in what is now Northern Ireland
- adoptions recorded in the Adopted Children Register Northern Ireland from 1 January 1931
- deaths registered from 1 January 1864 in what is now Northern Ireland
- registered non-Roman Catholic marriages from 1 April 1845 and all registered marriages from 1 January 1864
- civil partnerships registered in Northern Ireland from 5 December 2005
World War II death indexes from 1939 to 1945
Naively I called the GRONI and asked for a record. They told me they didn’t have it and referred me to the PRONI. I emailed the PRONI and 2 weeks later they sent me back to the GRONI. I then battled the rather rubbish GRONI website until I found the marriage record and could order it (I couldn’t find the marriage record until I removed the Magherafelt district from the search field).
Finally roughly 6 weeks later the marriage record arrived
The record is hard to read in places, but this is my interpretation:
John Stewart, age 39, Widower, Gamekeeper, Derryganard, son of Cha’s Stewart, Labourer
Jane Marshall otherwise Bell, age 26, Widow of a farmer, Cluntyganny, daughter of Alex’r Bell, Farmer
OK, there a lot of interesting detail here. The main points are
- Both John and Jane are in a second marriage after the death of an earlier spouse. It could be just co-incidental but they married in the middle of the Great Famine in Ireland. Whilst Northern Ireland did not suffer as much as the south and west of Ireland, it could well be that the death of previous spouses was due to the famine. It also leaves open a question of children from the earlier marriages ?
- John was a Gamekeeper. I find this unusual in a land of small-holders. Perhaps he was employed by the Staples Family that owned the nearby Lissan House. The Parish of Lissan lies at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains, so would be an good base for someone looking after grouse in the Sperrins.
- The “Residence” information for both John and Jane is a little hard to read, my best guesses are the townlands of Derryganard (Doire gCeann Ard) and Cluntyganny (Cluainte Geanaidh). These townlands are both in the Parish of Lissan. Interestingly Derryganard is in Co. Derry, whilst Cluntyganny is in Co. Tyrone.
- We finally have a surname for Jane. She is Jane Bell, the daughter of Alexander Bell, but was previously married to a farmer called Marshall.
Townlands & the Griffith Valuations
Having found the marriage record I was curious to see if I could find any other references to John Stewart and his family, which means I need to touch on two very important concepts for genealogists researching Irish ancestors; namely Townlands and the Griffith Valuations. If you’re familiar with both of these ideas, fell free to skip forward, whilst the rest of us hopefully learn a bit.
As wikipedia put is “A townland (Irish: baile fearainn) is a small geographical division of land used in Ireland. The townland system is of Gaelic origin”. It’s smaller than a Parish and normally sub-divided into plots for the Griffith Valuations. To give you some idea of the scale. Lissan Parish has 40 townlands. Cluntyganny townland was 264 acres, whilst Derryganard was 828 acres.
As per the National Archives of Ireland “The Primary Valuation (also known as Griffith’s Valuation) was published between 1847 and 1864. There is a printed valuation book for each barony or poor law union in the country showing the names of occupiers of land and buildings, the names of persons from whom these were leased and the amount and value of the property held.”
In the absence of pre-1901 census records these are a key primary source for anyone researching their Irish ancestors. The downside is that the Griffith Valuation was a valuation book. It only describes who owned something and who leased it. The only names recorded are the head of the household.
The Griffith Valuations are available on a number of websites, however I’ve found the best free source is the National Archives of Ireland site. This site includes the maps associated with Griffith Valuations, so you can see the exact land that each person leased.
The Stewarts in the Griffith Valuations
Now we’ve got the terminology out of the way, what can we discover of the Stewarts ? The good news is that we have a good match in the Griffith Valuations for John Stewart, still living in the Derryganard townland. Below is the valuation for Derryganard, it was published in 1859, the same year as Robert Stewart, that last known of John and Jane’s children:
John is recorded twice, first leasing a small “House and garden” to Alice M’Keever and secondly leasing a”House,offices,and land“. Clearly this second record is a relatively large area, over 32 acres. In addition there is a John Stewart sharing a plot of 452 acres in Derryganard with 17 other tenants. The land looks to be rather rough land on the edge of the Sperrin Mountains, so I’m guessing that this would be common grazing land.
This is all exciting until I checked other Griffith Valuation records for the parish of Lissan. These show two other John Stewarts leasing property in the nearby townland of Tullynure. The first Tullynure reference is for “House,office and land“, in this case 16 acres (as shown below). Notice that the landlord is a Staples, the family who owned nearby Lissan House.
The second Tullynure reference is for a John Stewart leasing a “House and Land” in 2 smaller plots directly from Sir Thomas Staples, 9th Baronet of Lissan. This would be an appropriate location for a Gamekeeper to live.
As a result of this information there could be anywhere between one and three John Stewarts living in Lissan, one of who could, but need not be, my ancestor. For reference I’ve mapped all three plots (see below). The red plot is in Derryganard townland. The two orange plots are the ones leased directly from Sir Thomas Staples. Directly below the orange plot, and just off the map, is Lissan demesne. These are the lands owned and used directly by the Staples family, including the parklands around Lissan House.
This is, sadly, all we can find out about John and Jane. It appears that the Lissan parish registers were lost, along with many other records when the Public Records Office of Ireland was destroyed in 1922.
The Stewarts DNA
Before we leave John and Jane we need to look at one thing that wasn’t lost, their DNA. I’m lucky to have a Stewart cousin who has been heavily involved with the Stewart yDNA project. The yDNA is the DNA that determines that a child is male and is passed down, normally totally intact, from father to son. Mutations in the yDNA can be used to determine common ancestors among a group of testers. In this case my cousin has mutations that confirm his link with many other Stewarts alive today. More importantly he has a specific mutation, ZZ52, which has recently been tested and identifies him as a direct descendant of King Robert III of Scotland.
I wonder what my ancestor, John Stewart would make of this ?