Down the Rabbit Hole

It started with an innocent question? "Any chance your ancestors are from the Kinlough area of northern Leitrim?" Last week I attended a Webinar from the Ulster Historical Foundation, sponsored by the Westmoreland Historical Society. Messages and questions were being posted, and one caught my eye...a question from Wesley Johnston.


Back in 2012 I wrote a blog on the Mackeys and Johnstons of Kinlough, Leitrim and honestly, I haven't done much on this family since. At the time, I was getting ready for a combination choral tour and research trip to Ireland. My problem with this family is that for the most part, they were members of the Church of Ireland. Kinlough is in the parish of Rossinver in the very north of Leitrim and borders Donegal and Fermanagh. The records of the Parish Church were sent to the Public Records Office for "safekeeping," and we know what happened to those. Therefore the church records don't begin until 1876, twelve years after Civil Registration. Because it was a Protestant Church there are Civil records of marriages back to 1845 but no baptisms or burials until the 1870s.


There are lots of Johnstons in the area, including the Landlord (I don't believe there is a connection to my family); there were three Mackey/Mackay in Griffith's Valuation (1857), but by 1901, my family was the only Mackey in the area.


When I saw the name Wesley Johnston it rang a bell with me, and I checked my database. I did have a Wesley Johnston, son of William, born in 1898. Just to check I did a general search of civil registration for Wesley Johnston and found only six. OK, I thought it was worth a shot. I asked if perhaps he had done a DNA test and did he match me or a couple of other Johnston descendants I match but without a definitive relationship. Turns out he runs the Johnston surname group (to which he added me) and I'm now receiving 20+ emails a day! It is a Y-DNA group, and unfortunately, I only have documented female lines (one of the reasons I was hoping he was related to my Wesley in order to obtain evidence as to whether that Johnston family and mine were related). Although my to do list for this past week had three lectures to revise, including syllabus materials this became my BSO (bright shiny object) for the week. So where did I start?


First step...go back and re-read everything you have on the family. I'm good on everything from the marriage of my 2nd great grandmother, Rachel Johnston, to me. I've also got the information on her known sister, Margaret and her descendants. I have a DNA relationship to a half 4th cousin (a descendant of Matilda) who identified a picture from my great grandmother's photo album as her great uncle and identified a second marriage of my 3rd great grandfather, James. James is also named as the father on the marriage records of my 2nd great grandmother and her sister. And finally, I have a DNA match to a descendant of Arthur, but we don't know how Arthur and James might be related. I know this gets confusing so here's a chart of these relationships.

The descendant of Arthur Johnston and I share 72 cM of DNA. I put that into the cM Project at DNAPainter and it gave me a list of possible relationships. My thought was that possibly James and Arthur were brothers, making the previous generation the Most Recent Common Ancestor. That would make us 4th cousins 1x removed. Although that is a possible relationship, according to the Relationship Probabilities, it is down about 4%. More likely relationships are closer.

But, there are multiple James Johnstons in the area. I've also got marriages between Johnston and Johnston, as well as multiple generations with connections to Whittens. There are also marriages that cross the border into Fermanagh. It is possible that I'm related to these people on another branch of the family. Step 2, it was time to write. I began with my genealogical software and had it create a register report on James Johnston, including my research notes. I then added to this document from what I found in my paper files. The document is currently up to four pages. I found in my files a document created by my uncle in the 1990s when I first started researching that outlined what he knew about his mother's family. In it he stated Rachel Johnston "was born about 1845 and died in 1929 at the age of 84. The family homestead was a farm house called ‘Unshenaugh’ (Gaelic) in Tullaghan, County Leitrim in what is now S. Ireland.” I have no idea where he got this information, and at the time I didn't think to ask! I have been able to confirm that Rachel was born about 1845 and that her father was James (this comes from her marriage record to James Mackey). There are no birth or baptismal records prior to 1864, however on her marriage record (and also that of her sister) her residence was Cornagee. Rachel died at Laghta, which was the Mackey family home. Unshinagh is a townland in the parish of Rossinver, as is Tullaghan. I found no Johnstons in Tullaghan. I have to mention that previous research on Rachel and her daughter, my grandmother also a Rachel, but known as Minnie, indicated they are not reliable sources of information!

Because there is a gap in records from 1857 when Griffith's was published for Leitrim to 1864 when Civil Registration began, I started by looking at the Johnstons in Griffith's Valuation. The map at the top of the page, shows all of the townlands where Johnstons were located. Notice that they are all close and adjoin at least one other parish where Johnstons are found.


As I read through all of the information I had, saw that Matilda's marriage to Edward Beattie listed her as of "Inchenagh," her father as James and the witness was William Johnston. I've had this marriage record for years and hadn't picked up that detail. The process of re-reading the information I already had, and then writing it down in narrative form (rather than simply adding information to the database) allowed me to see the relationships with the new information.


I've got more work to do here. I wish Wesley had been related because it would have given me a male line descendant. I know that my Wesley married in 1922 to Margaret Pye so more research to do there.


Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!



I noticed that not a lot of people read the blog last week on the Landed Estate Courts. If you avoided it thinking that your ancestors didn't own land, give it another look. It's really about our ancestors who leased the land on the bankrupt estates of the large landlords. If they were on one of these estates, you may find out additional information about their lease.





Recent Posts

See All