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.


  1. Hi Sharon,

    You and I exchanged emails in the past regarding some relations of mine (the Atkinson family and one named Esmey Seaver)!

    Anyway, I must say that I love your website and blog and have always followed your posts on ARMAGH message board!!!

    I Am writing this time and wondering if you are aware of a number of films at the Family History Library regarding interest in Armagh families! I have found a lot of information from those films which I have at my local Family History Center! I mention this because I am wondering if you have ever consulted any of these films?

    Two batches of films that come to mind are those films containing the extracts of a number of sources by Philip Crossle called the Crossle Genealogical Abstracts! He has transcribed a number of records from the original sources prior to the destruction of records in the Fire!!! Have you consulted any of these films for documents and abstracts of records by Philip Crossle?

    Another group of films are those of Betham's Genealogical Abstracts! Have you consulted with any of these films regarding your Olivers???

    I only say this because many family researchers are not aware that there is a wealth of information that can be found on the many films on Co. Armagh!!!

    Many times I have found some gems all because this Philip Crossle had compiled many hand written transcription in the many notebooks he compiled! Now just why he was doing this, I'm not certain! But many of these books, documents, etc are available at the Armagh County Museum and were microfilmed by the LDS church and are available at their library for loaning at one of their Family History Centers!!!

    I haven't noted any Olivers in particuliar, only because I wasn't looking for them and they were not fresh or formost on my mind when I was consulting these films!!! I will keep my eyes open to see if I can find any Olivers!

    In Philip Crossles works, Crossles Genealogical Abstracts, he has a number of notebooks and they start at surnames begining with A and go all the way to Z! So you might want to look under the O's, etc. for the films available at LDS online catalog! Hope this helps!!! Maybe you are already aware and have consulted these! ... but I hope this will help!!!


  2. Bruce, thanks for this lengthy response. I do not have a "nearby" Family History Library (it takes half a day to get to one by ferry & driving), although I realize that I can order films in. I have read a number of the Philip Crossle papers at the Armagh County Museum - and I agree, they are great. I will check out the "O"s though. I hadn't thought of that, so thank you.