Is It Time To Start Your Irish Fan Club?

Using the FAN Club approach in your Irish family History research can be a very useful way to uncover further clues and overcome some of those brick walls that are holding back progress. In this letter we look at just one reader's situation - and see how the FAN club approach might be applied.

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Is It Time To Start Your Irish Fan Club?

People join us in the Green Room with the aim of breaking down brick walls in their Irish family tree – while having a lot of fun alongside people with a similar goal. One piece of advice I hear our genealogists give constantly is to “go wide” rather than “go deep”. 

They mean that when you are stuck tracing one ancestor back to their parents – have a look at the extended members of the family, people mentioned as witnesses and sponsors on church records and neighbours before and after immigration. This approach is easily remembered using the acronym “F.A.N.” – which stands for “Family”, “Associates” and “Neighbours”. Think about looking for the “FAN Club” for one of your ancestors!

I was reminded of this “FAN” approach when I received the following letter from one of our members – Renee Hickey – and I have formatted it below in the form of a conversation. In this conversation, we pay special attention to the “N” (neighbours) in “FAN Club”. Over to you, Renee:

Renee: I am Renee Lizabeth Hickey-Niezgoda from Isabella County, Mount Pleasant, Michigan USA. I have been working on my Irish family tree since 2005.

Mike: Very nice to meet you, Renee!

Renee: The Irish ancestors that I am trying to track down are Stephen Black and his wife Mary Black (nee Stevenson) who are affectionately referred to as S&M in our circle of ancestry “cousins”. My Canada cousin, Jim Noble, found an Irish Marriage Bond in 1830 in County Armagh for Mary Stevenson.

Mike: That marriage record is a great find, Renee. I did have a look at the bond and see there is very little additional information there.

Renee: Mary was born about 1802 according to her headstone and died June 10, 1859. Stephen was born about 1799 and died on March 28, 1872.  Stephen Black may have been born in County Tyrone or Cavan, Ireland while the marriage bond for Mary Stevenson is from County Armagh, Ireland.   

Mike: Yes, it is most likely that Mary came from County Armagh – marriages often took place in the bride’s home-place. I would like to see how you concluded that Stephen may have come from Tyrone?

Renee: They appear in Canada in the 1851 Census Canada in Bentinck, Grey, Ontario along with eight children:  Robert age 21; Thomas age 19; William age 17; Joseph age 15; Mary age 13; Sarah Ann age 11; John age 9 and my direct ancestor, Margaret age 7.  Stephen is listed as a farmer and Mary as a housewife.

Mike: That’s a fine big family there – it’s a pity that Mary had to leave them so young.

Renee: It appears that they immigrated after their 1830 Marriage in County Armagh, Ireland and before their first child Robert was born in 1830 in Markham, Canada.  Stephen and Mary Black were Methodists.

Mike: I see from the 1851 census that Stephen is listed as “Church of England” and Mary as “Wesleyan Methodist”.

Renee:  I have not visited Ireland, but have been to Canada and around Michigan for records and visited many cemeteries.  It is always a moving experience to find a piece of the family history.

Mike: I agree with you there, Renee – it’s a very moving experience to walk on the same streets and land that your ancestors once occupied.

Renee: I would love to know more about the parents and siblings of Stephen and Mary?  What was their path/port out of Ireland to Canada?  Who are my “ancestry cousins” still in Ireland today, i.e. Blacks and Stevensons?

Mike: Thank you for sharing your Stevenson/Black family history, Renee. When faced with such a situation:

  • The earliest Irish record you have for your Stevenson/Blacks is from 1830.
  • The earliest record you have in Canada is from the 1851 census.

Let’s Use the “N” in FAN Club.

I think it is really worthwhile slowing things down here and concentrating on that 1851 census – especially examining the neighbours recorded in the census for potential “Family”, “Associates” and “Neighbours” of the Stevenson family. This may provide us with the best clues as to the origin of the Stevenson and Blacks in Ireland.

Let’s take a closer look at the 1851 census record for the Black family for potential leads for further investigation:

  • Location: Bentick, Grey County, Canada West (Ontario).
  • Year: 1851.

Listing for your Black family:

  • Stephen Black, age 52. Born: Ireland. Religion: Church of England.
  • Mrs Stephen Black (Mary), age 47. Born: Ireland. Religion: Wesleyan Methodist.
  • Robert age 21. Born: Markham. Religion: Church of England. Note: Robert is also noted as still resident in Markham.
  • Thomas age 19
  • William age 17
  • Joseph age 15
  • Mary age 13
  • Sarah Ann age 11
  • John age 9
  • Margaret age 7

From the above I find it is interesting that their son, Robert is still resident in Markham (where the Blacks first lived on arrival in Canada). I also see that Stephen is listed as Church of England while Mary is Methodist. This distinction may make a difference when examining records/clues back in Ireland later.

Now, let’s have a look at their neighbours in the 1851 census. I am especially interested in finding all other families/individuals with the surname of Black or Stevensons, any people born in Ireland and/or of the same religious denomination – and maybe anybody who arrived in Bentick from Markham (just north-east of Toronto).

I did a quick search and noticed:

  • There were NO Black and Stevenson families from Ireland (there was a Black family from Scotland). You may find that a Black or Stevenson may turn up in a later (or earlier) census.
  • James Baskerville – a Methodist preacher born in Ireland  – is staying just two houses from the Blacks. I think this is a New Connexion minister (seceded from the Wesleyan methodists). Who is this person? Does he have a connection to the Black family?
  • The neighbouring Cook family. I notice from a later census that William and Alice Cook of this family were married in 1831 in Ireland. Their eldest daughter was also born in Ireland. Was there an earlier connection between this family and the Blacks/Stevensons back in Ireland? I know that Cook is a very strong surname from County Tyrone in Ireland – is this somehow the connection you mention back to County Tyrone for Stephen Black?

These are just 3 questions to further research for clues after a quick examination of the neighbours that surround your ancestral family in just the 1851 Canadian census. It’s an example of using the “FAN Club” approach to “go wide” when you hit an ancestry brick wall.

I suggest that you have a deeper look at these questions in the Green Room with the help of our North American genealogist, PamHolland, and see what useful leads you may uncover.

Thank you very much to Renee for sharing just a little of her own Irish ancestral story. How about the rest of our readers – have you used the “FAN Club” approach with your own Irish family history? What kind of leads did you uncover? If not, maybe now is the time to give it a go! Do let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Slán for this week,
Mike and Carina.

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