Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Irregular Marriages

In 1842, if the Primate of Armagh had succeeded in outlawing certain kinds of Presbyterian marriages in Ireland, then the future Sir Thomas Jackson would have been legally declared a bastard. After all, his father was an Episcopalian, aka an Anglican, or a member of the Church of Ireland , while his mother was a fervent Presbyterian. They had been married at 1st Ballybay Presbyterian church by a Presbyterian minister.  Unfortunately for them, High Church Episcopalians, such as the Primate of Armagh, a hereditary landlord named Lord George John de Poer Beresford, definitely did not approve. Along with many of the members of the so-called Ascendancy, he regarded these liaisons as: irregular marriages.

It is often strange how changes in law regularly get triggered by something that seems on the face of it to be so utterly tangential. This legal shift started in the 1840s when Dr. Miller, the surrogate of the Primate of Armagh, as part of a ruling on a bigamy case was able to declare irregular marriages to be null and void when they were performed by a Presbyterian Minister. His ruling rested on the precedence of a Saxon law passed in the Tenth Century that required that a priest be present to solemnize a marriage. Of course, a priest back in the Tenth Century could not have been Anglican, since Henry VIII had yet to be born. Details, details. That kind of irrelevancy didn’t daunt the Primate. He used his own money to help to fund this case, and he also used his not inconsequential influence to tilt the laws against the needs of Presbyterian families.

Not unsurprisingly, this ruling opened a whole new can of worms. There was now uncertainty over existing marital property agreements as well as inheritances linked to marriage portions. It meant that dead-beat dads could and did legally cut loose from financial responsibilities to their wives and children. It also would result in a whole new cohort of children who were now legally termed: bastard. Had the ruling gone unchallenged, the future Sir Thomas would have been one of them.

It took a second legal case to totally put the cat amongst the pigeons. Fast on the heels of this first judgement, a similar case in Antrim was referred to the Court of Queen’s Bench in Ireland for decision. Since the judges in this case were divided, the issue got punted on to the House of Lords for a ruling. After much debate, the Lords were split when it came to a vote, so the custom of presumitur pro negate prevailed . This meant that the ruling tilted in favour of the one who denied – aka the defendant. The result was that the bigamous defendant wiggled out of his sticky wicket, but it was now the entire Presbyterian community that was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

It is hard to believe that the Primate’s itch to make these irregular marriages declared illegal wasn’t provoked by other issues, including the usual provocation: money. After all, Presbyterian activism in the Tenant Rights movements felt threatening to those holding the reins of Anglican landlord power. Just a few years earlier, in 1850, Rev. David Bell of Derryvalley, Co. Monaghan had ended a speech at the Belfast Music Hall with the rousing In the name of Justice, in the name of humanity, in the name of mercy, in the awful name of God, I call upon Lord John Russell.... to render the poor man’s property as sacred as that of the rich.

It is therefore no surprise that Thomas Jackson’s uncle and future mentor, Rev. Daniel Gunn Brown, was a key mover of one of the resolutions to be forwarded to Parliament.

MOVED by the REV DANIEL GUNN BROWN: That by this unexpected decision, not only are the feelings deeply wounded of more than one half of the Protestants of Ireland, but the rights of property, in innumerable cases, may be unsettled and overthrown: a consequence hurtful to the best interests of society, and affording many opportunities for base and heartless miscreants to violate, with impunity, solemn vows, and desert those whom, by the laws of God and man, they are bound to protect and cherish.

Now this is the kind of story that I could never have found all by myself. Luckily for me, the news clipping was included in a scrapbook assembled by Kieran McConville. On my most recent trip to Armagh, we were unable to meet, but he kindly drove up to Armagh to leave it for me at TheIrish & Local Studies Library so I could photograph the parts I had missed when I first saw the collection at the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Librarya few years earlier.

I didn’t measure it, I am guessing that it is a good eight inches thick,, eighteen inches wide, and two feet tall.
  That day in Armagh, I took 322 photos of the pages of this book, and each page includes anywhere up to six news clippings. I have already entered the ones that describe births, death or marriages of people pertinent to the story of Thomas Jackson in my website or in my family tree. News items that connect to the experiences of the families that I am following will also be transcribed, and annotated, in much the same way as the article that I posted relating to this issue of Presbyterian Marriages.

It is through the actions of transcribing these articles, then checking out the back story, and then annotating the news clippings accordingly accordingly that I am able to get a much more complete picture of many of the events in Creggan Parish  from 1748 to the early 1900s. By sharing it, we all learn – and I am happy to be corrected if I have misunderstood anything in this tale.

As the narrator in an early 60s TV show, used to say: There are eight million stories in The Naked City. This has been one of them.

Background to the court cases: The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. XVI. London 1867. p. 437.
See also: History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Vol III. James Seaton Reid. Belfast. 1867. 
News clippings for members of the extended Jackson family (exceedingly extended - given that there are more than 10,00 names so far) can be found on my Silver Bowl web site at: Newsclippings

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A couple of “Unchurched” OLIVERs.

Curious pictures begin to take shape when you stare at birth records, deeds and other such mind-numbing documents for long enough. It reminds me of when my husband and I used to develop black and white negatives in our darkroom in the basement. It was like watching a time release film of a bud opening into a flower. Slowly, the image on the paper would sharpen in the watery bath of chemicals under the glow of the soft red light. Not that anyone does this much anymore, but I remember well the feeling of watching the picture emerge.

I’ll get to the unchurched bit that I referred to in the title of this piece – just give me a moment. This is after all, merely a blog, not The News of The World – although look where their playing up the muck got them.

For a decade now, I have been mucking about in hundreds of documents trying to make sense of a great swat of Olivers who peopled rural Armagh from the late 1600s onwards. A few of them also lived and/or conducted business in the city of Armagh, often referred to as the City of Saints and Scholars. You can blame Eliza Oliver, the mother of Sir Thomas Jackson, and my great-great-grandmother for this obsession of mine.  After all, it was her legacy of letters which started me on all this.

The story is that her Olivers had initially immigrated to Ireland as Huguenots after the revocation of the Treaty of Nantes in October 1685. It appears that her family, like many, had secured an early foothold in the burgeoning linen industry in Northern Ireland. Missing records make some of this story tricky to authenticate, but the story has seemed to be a good fit as far as it is currently possible to prove.

Recently, an unknown fact about one of her cousins, a William Oliver, turned up in a most unexpected place: the church records of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The reason that this was unexpected was that this was not the Protestant St. Patrick’s, but rather it was the Catholic one.

It turned out that this William had fathered not only one, but two children, unchurched, as my great-aunt Blin would have put it, and both of them with the same woman - a Mary Anne Mallon aka Mullan. Their son Benjamin was baptised on August 21, 1841, likely on the day of his birth. Their daughter Sarah was both born and baptised 31 Aug 1844.

The story gets curiouser, as Alice in Wonderland would say. In PRONI – aka The Public Records Office of Ireland – I found a will abstract that makes this relationship between Willaim and Mary Anne, well, as I said: curiouser:

Mary OLIVER, deceased January 24, 1892, wife of William OLIVER; granted 23/02/1892 to Mary Anne MULLEN of Killynure, spinster. Effects ₤54

So, who was this Mary, wife of William Oliver, and what was her relationship to Mary Anne Mullen? This is where I hoping that kind readers can help me.

  • Clearly, a next step is to get this Mary Oliver’s death certificate. Since she was described as a wife, not as a widow, perhaps her husband William Oliver may be further identified in that document.
  • A second step would be to find a death certificate for Mary Anne Mullen, which would be some time after 1892. This should give us an idea of her approximate birth date. It turns out that there were 64 Mary Mallons recorded in the 1901 Census, but all the likely ones are described as widow, which may or may not be true. My guess is that Mary Anne Mullan died before 1901.
  • A few further questions to pursue are: Did this William Oliver marry a Mary after he conceived children with Mary Anne Mullen aka Mallon, or are they two different William Olivers? Did William Oliver’s wife Mary raise the children of her husband’s unmarried partner? Is there any record of these children, other than their birth? None of the Sarah Olivers in Irish census records look to be a fit, and there is not a single Benjamin Oliver in either the 1901 or the 1911 census. I suspect that this is a result of emigration, rather than premature death.

For now, I have placed this William Oliver as a son of William OLIVER of Ennislare and Brootally, Co. Armagh and Elizabeth BALLANTYNE. The links to this information are beneath. Another William Oliver, who I have yet to place and whose photo is beneath, would have only been thirteen years old at the time of the birth of first child with Mary Anne Mallon, so I doubt that it was him.

On the front of the photo: Yours truly, William [Oliver]
On the back of this photo is written (in different handwriting than on the front of the photo):
Height: 5 feet 5 inches
Weight - 8 stone 13 lbs
Dark complexion
Age 18 years and 3 months
Left his
country for his
country's good

62 Deleware St.,
Leavenworth, Kansas

Regardless of what we have yet to learn, this was an interfaith relationship that was carried out over some time, and it may turn out that it is one of many in this particular Oliver line. It is likely not a fluke that while there were initially dozens of Protestant Olivers in Armagh up until the mid-1800s, the preponderance of those who show up later in the records are mostly all Catholic.

It is also intriguing, given the interfaith aspect here, that the William Oliver who fathered children with May Anne Mallon had a cousin, also named William Oliver (abt 1810-1873), who was described as dying unchurched and who left £50 to his housekeeper, Sarah Rock. I suspect that this Sarah was related in some way to the Margaret Rock (born abt 1839) who married John Oliver (1841-1909) of Ballycrummy and Tullymore. Their descendants still live and farm at Ballycrummy. It may be that the story of the ROCK family in the region may become the clue to unearthing more of this particular puzzle.

To help anyone who may be curious, I have recently uploaded a few new compilations of data. There are close to a hundred pages of new material here. SEE:

Willof William Oliver (abt 1810-1873).

My email contact info is on my web site.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Blame Housekeeping

I realize that this may sound dangerously like something Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in New York last year, but I as for The Moi, I have the more conventional kind of housekeeping in mind when I say: blame housekeeping. It was the main reason that my blog enjoyed a month-long hiatus. Recent challenges included not only the usual dishabille of hearth and home, but also my digital backlog. The dust bunnies behind my sofa, aka the herd of dust buffalo – given their size and numbers, were absolutely nothing compared to the digital backlog that urgently needed attention.

I don’t mean to insinuate that my computer caught a virus or anything like that. Pas de fear. It is just that my digital life was totally snowed in under an avalanche, and the only tool that I had to dig myself out of it was a teaspoon.

The worst of started when I came home from Ireland late October last year. I had piled dozens of new books, and hundreds of pages of new documents onto the pool table in my study, but that was not the biggest challenge that faced me. It was all the new digital material on my computer. Even I was aghast at the scope of it.

The most daunting part was the more than 1,000 emails that I had not yet read, let alone dealt with. Since 50-100 new emails were being added daily – many of them either interesting or helpful or both -  I feared that I would never catch up. Ever. To make things worse, I then got flattened by a month-long flu. Think avalanche. Think teaspoon. If I were writing this in the form of doggerel, then I might have to say that I went from bad to verse. Ooh – that was awful.

So, I quit blogging for a bit and amongst other things, I attacked the pool table, and with good reason. The Christmas season is when actually playing pool is a significant part of the family scene. I could have thrown all my piles of papers into boxes, and hid them under my desk, but instead I filed and processed each and every bit of paper. Well, most of them. There is still one more half-sorted box to go. Still, I do plan to award myself a medal for this accomplishment.

The really good part of my blogging hiatus is that my email backlog is down to 145, from a high of 1,237. Just as importantly, the piles on my side table are organized in terms of urgency. Hopefully, the wooden surface beneath them will once again see the light of day.

I don’t mean to infer that I spent the entire past month doing nothing but all of the above. There was also a wonderful amount of time spent eating, drinking, conversing and cavorting as one does at this time of year. Amongst other things, I reckon that I baked close to 50 loaves of bread that all were consumed at the various family and community events:
My cup - aka my Bosch machine - overfloweth

One of our family pleasures included the stunning meals prepared by my eldest daughter and her husband:
The seasonings in the eggplant and basil haunt me still - in a good way.

Another pleasure was joining dozens of others in a Roberts Creek tradition as boats were set forth on January 1st:
Andreas' boat is one of these. Photo Credit: Micah Silver

Thankfully, our beach was readied for our 12th Night party by Andreas and Micah. Now – that’s taking housekeeping to an extreme point, but the log that they were wrestling with was totally blocking our path to the beach.
Andreas in his Mennonite Mafia hat. The log is bigger than it looks in the picture.

With that and many more such tasks accomplished, not only was Twelfth Night celebrated in fine form, our tradition was recorded in the Globe and Mail, and a heart-felt piece of writing was shared for the first time with all and sundry: 
Vanessa read a heartfelt piece. The Moi on the right. Photo Credit: Russ Tkachuck

Now that the aftermath has all been attended to, I am finally back in the saddle, even if it is some forty-one days later. One of my plans for the rest of 2012 is to post six pieces to my blog every month. Just as last year, they will focus on my research and whatever else catches my eye. Books. Food. You name it.

Onward. 2012.