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A Lease for Lives from the Downshire Estate records held at PRONI

I’m betting that you’ve all had an “oops” moment in your genealogy research. Did you add the wrong person to your database…they had the same name and were from the same general area. Maybe their age was off, but that happens all the time when doing Irish research. When you discover, yes there were two Michael Dalys in the same area and you picked the wrong one, you now have to prune that entire line from your family tree. Those are the former ancestors…the ones you researched for years, suddenly discovering you’re in the wrong family! Before the advent of, you had to use the indexes from the General Register Office of Ireland (also on FamilySearch) and the only information provided was the name, the Registration District, the Quarter and the volume and page number. In the Index for 1886, Q3 (Jul-Sep) one Michael Daly was listed as Claremorris, vol. 4, p. 134 and the other listed in Q4 (Oct-Dec) as Claremorris, vol. 4, p. 124. At the time you had to visit or write to the General Register Office in Dublin and pay €5 for each photocopy of the original. Even today, there are no images available at FamilySearch. If you didn’t have additional information, such as the names of the father or mother, which one did you pick? You likely have common names somewhere in your family and it can become very easy to pick the wrong person.

Here’s another oops…not reading and/or understanding the record you are looking at. Working with cousin Deb at PRONI, we were trying to determine the birth of her ancestor, Samuel Moag. There was no baptismal record for Samuel and we knew his father, John, had married twice. Was Samuel the son of the first marriage (in which case we were full cousins) or the second marriage (in which case we were half cousins). According to various documents after emigration, Samuel was born about 1800. The Estate Records of the Marquis of Downshire contain over 50,000 documents including leases and rentals. John Moak [Moag] signed a Lease for Lives in 1805 when he was 58 years old (see above). Just above his name is Samuel who was named as a life and was two years old. Great, now we know that Samuel was likely a son from the second marriage. What you see here is some “confirmation bias” and not a good reading or study of the document. John Moak was in the place where I expected him and his age in 1805 made him the correct age to be the father of both my ancestor and Debs. However, if I had looked more carefully from the top of the record, I would have realized that the names of the lives were below the line, and the Samuel was actually, Samuel Scott, not Samuel Moak. Oops! After returning home, Deb discovered the error and let me know.

Here’s another problem…taking information from one record without further research. Remember that the first rule of the Genealogical Proof Standard is an “exhaustive search.” Yes, that’s right, a record can be wrong! William Moag died in 1879 in Annahilt, County Down. On one of my early trips to Ireland I found a reference to his gravestone at the Loughaghery Presbyterian Church. I was very excited in 1997 to visit the church (down a very narrow road with lots of twists and hills praying no one would come in the other direction) and to take a picture of the gravestone. It was quite prominent, just to the right of the church entrance.

According to the book...


(White limestone in a low-railed enclosure). Erected by James Moag in memory of his father William S. Moag who departed this life 19th Sept. 1879 aged 55 years. Also his three children: - Richard J. aged 14 months; John D. (aged) 7 (months); Minnie (aged) 7 years.

Not dead but sleeping

A quiet peaceful rest;

Jesus, the spirit keeping,

In the mansions of the blest.

Clarke, R. S. J. Gravestone Inscriptions County Down, Volume 18, Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast. 1979 p. 117.

When I visited, the “low-railed enclosure” was no longer there and an additional flat stone was in the space in front of the headstone marked “Hunter” with a flower My thought at the time was that this was perhaps a descendant. It turned out that was not the case.

I shared the picture when I returned with some cousins and photo found its way to Ancestry, on just about every Moag page. Years later when I shared the information with a cousin whose family remained in Ireland, he told me he had gone to the cemetery but the stone was not there. Corresponding with the minister, I discovered that the stone was knocked over and broken in a storm about 2003 and removed as the grave had been re-registered.

The oops here, was the information on the stone. It stated “also his three children” and the assumption was that Richard J, John D and Minnie were children of William Moag. The first hint should have been that the stone was “erected by James Moag in memory of his father.” James had emigrated in 1882, just a few years after his father’s death, and didn’t return to Ireland until 1929…so definitely second hand information. Once IrishGenealogy became available, I searched for the three children and discovered they were not the children of William, but his grandchildren…the children of his son John, who remained in Ireland. You’ll still find Richard J. (26 Oct 1880-24 Dec 1881), John D (29 Aug, 1882-4 Apr 1883) and Minnie (8 Dec 1876-8 Nov 1883) incorrectly listed on most Family Trees as children of William (not John). The extra step of searching for the birth and death records for the children would clarify that at least Richard and John couldn’t be children of William since they were born well after his death. Oops!

I could give you lots of additional problems with my own files, but I’m sure you have plenty of your own. My recommendation…slow down; make sure you understand the records you are reviewing; do an exhaustive search of the records and when conflicts occur (and they will) resolve them before you move on. Correlate the information, does it make sense? Also, don’t be afraid to admit your errors and share the results with other researchers. Make notes in your tree to explain when you find new information, so when a new researcher comes along and sees 10 trees with Richard, John and Minnie as the children of William and your tree has them as the children of John they won’t think that the 10 must be correct and you are wrong!

Happy Hunting!

I decided this year to participate in the 52 Ancestors challenge. After writing this blog for 16 years, coming up with new topics is difficult. I frequently encourage you to write, and so this year I'm challenging myself to write a short post about my ancestors and you will see some of my blogs this year tagged with 52Ancestors. This program devised a few years ago by Amy Johnson Crow provides prompts to write about your family history each week. Why not try it.

There are three slots left for the Dublin Research Trip and two for the Belfast Trip.

Registration forms can be found here.

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