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James Johnston of Unshinagh, Leitrim

I’m embarrassed that it’s been two months since I wrote a blog. My intent (as I retire) was to write about every two weeks. I was off on a family cruise to Alaska in June (where two of my daughters came down with COVID). When I returned I wasn’t feeling great, but kept testing negative for COVID. When I lost my sense of taste and smell I tested again and had a very faint line, which was gone two days later. So if I had COVID, it was a mild case…more like a bad cold.

Then in July, my husband and I drove to Maine to see our granddaughter in a play and we got back this past week. All that’s to say, I’ve been busy. In between all of the travel, I’ve been working on my own family and bringing my database up to date…and that has been a job. As I’ve discussed, my master database is on my computer and I haven’t kept my Ancestry tree (or others) up to date. I thought I would fill in the missing pieces in my database, export a Gedcom and create a new Ancestry DNA database. Well…I keep adding information thinking I’m almost done (right!)

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll recognize that I’ve been researching the Johnston families of Rossinver, Leitrim. I pretty much came to a dead end last year as I tried to find a male Johnston in my line to do a DNA test. I haven’t given up, however. Much of my research is focused on collateral families, referred to as cluster research. When records aren’t available to identify your direct ancestor, working sideways may provide the answer you’re looking for. I have identified back to my 3x great grandfather. I know the name of his father from a 2nd marriage, but I don’t know any of his siblings. I have to believe he had siblings in the area and in fact there are 10 other Johnston families in the Parish. Other than marriage records (the families were Protestant and therefore marriage records date back to 1845) there’s not a lot of other sources. The Church records were destroyed in the 1922 fire and only date from 1876 and there are no estate records that survive. I have clearly hit a brick wall with this family.

You can see from the references below, that I have done my research in Civil Registration Records and Griffith’s Valuation, but I’ve also followed the Revision Books and can see when the property moved from one family member to another. That typically indicates a life event, possibly a death or emigration. This allowed me to determine that James Johnston died before 1862 (which explains why I couldn’t find a death record) as that is the date the Revision Books show the property moving to Jane Johnston (his wife). The birth of James’ daughter, Tilly (her age taken from her marriage and various census documents) shows that James would have been alive at least nine months before her birth so his could have been as early as 1859. Sometimes it’s just not possible to get exact dates.

If your ancestors were in what is now Northern Ireland the Revision Books are online at PRONI. Unfortunately in the Republic, you can only view the records in Dublin at the Valuation Office. They are digitizing the books, so hopefully they’ll be online in the future. Last year I photographed all of the records for the localities where Johnston families lived in Rossinver Parish. In some cases the change of names in the Revision Books led to death registrations and also to probate records. In one case, a Johnston administration record provided a Power of Attorney to a non Johnston individual who identified himself as a cousin. It included an affidavit from the only brother of the deceased who had emigrated to Connecticut. Prior to finding that record, I had no idea what had happened to the brother. You can use the Calendar of Wills at the National Archives which cover from 1858-1922 (but also at Findmypast, Ireland Calendars Of Wills & Administrations 1858-1965). The Calendar of Wills can also be accessed at PRONI.

I’m always encouraging people to write up their research. It will frequently highlight additional questions or avenues of research. Here’s an example of the report I’m writing on my Johnston family. If you don’t have Johnstons in your Family Tree, read it as a case study and methodology example. If you do have Johnstons (or know some) from Rossinver Parish, please contact me.😀

James Johnston of Unshinagh, Rossinver, Leitrim

2. James Johnston2 (James1). James died in Unshinagh, Rossinver, Leitrim, Ireland between 1859 and 1862.

James first married unknown. James’ wife likely died between the birth of William (abt 1852) and his second marriage in 1858.

They had the following children:

3 i. Eliza Jane Johnston (abt 1842-8 Apr 1922)

4 ii. Margaret Johnston (abt 1844-28 Sep 1929)

5 iii. Rachel Johnston (abt 1846-15 May 1929)

6 iv. William Johnston (abt 1852-12 Dec 1930)

On 24 Mar 1858 James second married Jane Johnston, daughter of Edward Johnston, in Kinlough, Rossinver, Leitrim, at the Parish Church of Rossinver (Church of Ireland). James was listed as a widower of full age, a labourer and his residence was the “Kinlough Gate House.” His father was listed as James, a Farmer. Jane is listed of full age, a Spinster of Aghanlish. Born abt 1819 in Aghanlish, Rossinver, Leitrim. Jane died in Unshinagh, Rossinver, Leitrim on 17 Mar 1898; she was 79.

They had one child:

7 i. Jennie Matilda (Tilly) Johnston (abt 1859-1861-8 Jun 1910)

In 1857 James Johnston appeared in Griffith’s Valuation in the townland of Unshinagh in Rossinver Parish holding a lease on property 12 of 35 acres, 3 roods and 15 perches described as a House, offices and land; his immediate lessor was William Johnston (the landlord in the area).

In 1858, when James married Jane Johnston, his residence is listed as the Kinlough Gate House. My hypothesis is that the James(1) in Unshinagh in Griffith’s was the father of James (2) who married his second wife in 1858. That being the case, James (1) likely died after 1858. There is no indication on the marriage registration of James and Jane that the father was deceased. The death of the father is not always indicated, however in this case, since James residence is the Kinlough Gate House, he hasn't yet moved to Unshinagh. At some point after 1858, James (2) and Jane moved to Unshinagh. Their only child, Jennie Matilda (Tilly) was born about 1859 (before Civil Registration and the surviving church records from the Parish Church of Rossinver). Her approximate birth date is calculated from her age at her marriage (18) in 1877.

There is also a James Johnston in the townland of Moneen in 1857 on property 1a with just a house. This would be consistent with a Labourer. In the first revision book in 1865, James Johnston is no longer there.

In the second Revision Book for Unshinagh, Rossinver Parish, Leitrim James Johnston is crossed out and replaced by Jane [Johnston] in 1862. This would indicate that James died prior to that date and Jane had taken over the lease.

Jane continued to appear until 1877 when she is crossed out and replaced by William (Jane). The use of the agnomen (Jane) indicated that this William was the son of Jane to differentiate him from another William in the townland (in this case the landlord, William). By this time, William (the son of James) was old enough to sign a lease.

Jane continued to live at Unshinagh until her death, 27 March 1898 at the age of 79). The informant on the death registration is listed as William Johnston son, present at death. This is likely the reason some list Jane as William’s mother when she was actually his step mother.


1 “Griffith’s Valuation,” database online, FindMyPast,, Parish of Rossinver, Townland of Unshinagh, Property 12.

2 “Civil Registration,” Marriage, Ireland, Digital Image,, 1877 Ballyshannon, Marriage of Tillie Johnston (18) and Edward Beattie (35), Group Registration ID 2911278

3 “Griffith’s Valuation,” database online, FindMyPast,, Parish of Rossinver, Townland of Moneen, Property 1a.

4 “Revision Books,” Republic of Ireland, Valuation Office, Dublin, Ireland. Viewed May, 2022, Leitrim, Kinlough DED, Unshinagh townland. 1895 p. 13.

5 “Revision Books,” Republic of Ireland, Valuation Office, Dublin, Ireland. Viewed May, 2022, Leitrim, Kinlough DED, Unshinagh townland. 1895 p. 40.

6 “Civil Registration,” Death, Ireland, Digital Image, 1998 Ballyshannon, Jane Johnston (79) Death, Group Registration ID 4269093.

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