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Hello from Canada,

I just wanted to clarify ... did Protestant Baptisms ever appear in the Catholic Parish Register in Newtownards in the mid-1800's?

Based on Ancestry, recorded in the Catholic Parish Register for Newtownards, I have the Bapitism of Robert Gibson 28 May 1868, Father: William Gibson. Mother: Catherine Murray. HOWEVER, all other information suggests that the family was Protestant.

Example: Marriage of the parents: 18 April 1849 , Bangor "married in the Parish Church ... United Church of England & Ireland".  

Example: what I believe to be the correct Robert Gibson in the Ireland 1901 Census living at House #12 Upper Balloo, age 30, heading up the household of several of his Brice cousins ... but all are listed as Presbyterian.

Example: what I believe is the marriage of this Robert Gibson (baptised 28 May 1868), which took place 11 August 1914 in Belfast , at the Donegal Street Methodist Church. (Bride: Grace Martin or Cowden - widow ... who, coincidentally at the time of the 1901 Census, was living just two doors away from Robert Gibson at House #14 Upper Balloo, but married to someone else at that time). 

I have been researching the Cowdens and Martins ... so the Gibsons are NOT a focus ... but I was just curious if it was incorrect to assume that all people who appear in the "Catholic" Parish Register" as reported by Ancestry ... are actually Catholic?

Thanks, in advance, for any input.




Sunday 28th November 2021, 04:39PM

Message Board Replies

  • Cam12,

    A Protestant baptism would never appear in a Catholic parish register. 

    A family might convert and in that case you might find them being baptised into the Catholic faith.  

    Looking at this 1868 baptism in the nli records. I note that the comments column at the end of the line has “Pater a cath.” That is, the father was Catholic. So it looks to have been a mixed marriage, and the child Robert was baptised Catholic. 

    Tradition was to marry in the bride’s church and so the fact that they married in the Church of Ireland doesn’t mean the husband was himself COI at that time. (Nor in fact that the wife was COI either.)  Until the 1860s, the Church of Ireland was the state church and would marry anyone. So it was popular with mixed marriages, as sometimes neither the RC nor the Presbyterian church would allow a mixed marriage, unless the other party converted. So don't assume the couple were both COI just because they married there.

    It looks as though William resumed/remained a Catholic if he had his son baptised Catholic in 1868. But then perhaps the family later switched to Presbyterianism?  What about the other children to that marriage? Were they baptised Catholic too?  I can see Richard 18.3.1865, William 31.8.1866 & Catherine 10.9.1872. There looks to have been at least 3 pre 1864 too.

    Perhaps when William died, the family reverted to Presbyterianism? Here’s a death for William Gibson, farmer, in 1873. That puzzles me slightly as in some of the children’s births he was a butcher, not a farmer. Could there have been 2 separate Gibson/Murray families?



    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Sunday 28th November 2021, 06:11PM
  • Elwyn ... thank you so much for the information ... it was very helpful.

    As I mentioned, I have just finished researching the Cowdens and Martins, and was just filling in a little background for the people who married into the family.  Sometimes there are interesting little bits, like the fact that it appears that at the time of the  Ireland 1901 Census, a Robert Gibson was living just a couple of doors away from Grace Cowden/Martin ... is this THE Robert Gibson who later married Grace in 1913 in Belfast (and immigrated to Canada)?

    However, I too was curious about the different Occupation descriptions - Robert is shown as a Butcher on the Marriage Registration, as was his father - and also wondered if there might be two different families.  I have resisted following the Gibson trail (I find it SO easy to go off on a tangent!!). LOL. Robert Gibson and Grace Cowden/Martin settled in the province of Quebec in Canada ... so their appearance in the Canada 1921 Census ... is in French.  The occupation shown there does not translate to "butcher" (it doesn't really translate to anything that I have been able to determine ... the penmenship is not great). Based on Robert's obituary, there is also no reference to him being a butcher in Canada. I am not bilingual, so have sent the French reference to a friend for translation.

    On a different topic: I was just curious ... you mentioned looking in the "nli records" at the 1868 baptism where you saw the notation "Pater a cath." . I only recently attempted to use those records when I was trying to find a Martin marriage (with no success). I have the impression that you need to know which church a marriage or baptism took place in ... is that correct??  My first "go to" has been irish ... ever since an irelandxo person suggested it last year ... what a great resource!  

    I was trying to find the marriage records of Patrick Martin (b: abt 1837) to Margaret Smith (b: abt 1840). This couple had 4 daughters in Ireland (Mary b: abt 1858; Margaret JR b: 1864 in Ballydavey; Susan b: 1866 in Ballydavey; Ann b: 1868 in Ballystockart). No birth information was available for the 1st child, Mary ... I found her in a later census and death registration in Scotland ... but Ancestry reported Margaret and Susan as being baptised at St. Matthew's Catholic Church in Belfast. 

    Patrick Martin moved his family from Ireland to Scotland around 1869 ... and three more children were born there ... all sons. Scotland Birth Registrations ask for the date and location of the parent's marriage.  The records said that they were married 24 June 1857 (one said 1858), and two said in Belfast, the other in Holywood.  Given that at least the 2nd and 3rd daughters were born in Ballydavey - likely living with an Ann Martin, (the only Martin that appears in that Townland in the Griffiths Valuation in 1861) - I suspect that the family LIVED near Holywood ... but the couple were MARRIED in Belfast.

    I went first to the records of St. Mattew"s Catholic Church in Belfast, given that 2 of the children were baptised there ... but could not find anything.  I then culled through the marriage records at St. Patrick's Church in Belfast as well ... but couldn't see anything there either.

    I was just wondering ... are there any other Catholic church records that I should look at?  And if there were any tips about using the nli records.  The Martins may also have had a connection to Newtownards - I found the baptism of their daughter Ann there in the Catholic Parish Register in 1868 ... but given what was shown on the Scotland certificates, it doesn't sound like Patrick and Margaret would have married there ... the Belfast and Hloywood references were very clear.

    Any comments about working with the nli records would be appreciated.





    Monday 29th November 2021, 09:10PM
  • Cam12,

    Regarding the nli records, you are correct that in order to use them effectively you need to know the parish (not necessarily the exact church) that the event took place in. They are all RC records incidentally so not relevant if looking for other denominations. 

    Rootsireland and Ancestry both have most of those records on their sites and there is a search facility so easier to use than working through the nli collection. The quality of the transcriptions isn’t perfect and some rubbish comes up occasionally. But the thing to do is to look at the original and decide what it says.

    There are a few RC parishes that don’t have records on-line at all. (For one reason or another the priest couldn’t make the originals available. He has the only copy).  Be aware that many rural parishes don’t have any records much before the 1820s.  You can see what records exist, parish by parish using this link:

    Click on the county, then on the parish and it will tell you what records exist and where they can be found. You’ll see the Ulster Historical Foundation mentioned. They have a tie in with rootsireland so their records are replicated on that site. Newtownards has no records before 1864. No easy way round that.

    Irishgenealogy is very good for statutory birth, death & marriage records. (Births, deaths & RC marriages start 1864. Non RC marriages 1845). It doesn’t have any records for Northern Ireland after 31.12.1921. For those you need to use the GRONI site (pay to view). Also irishgenealogy doesn’t have the same range of RC church records. They do have a lot of records for Dublin and some parts of the south of Ireland that are not on the rootsireland site and they only have some Church of Ireland records, though that is increasing. So church records are patchy on that site.  For Northern Ireland a lot of the church records are still not on-line anywhere at all. Notably Presbyterian records, some Church of Ireland and all the lesser denominations eg Methodists, Baptists, Quakers etc. For those you often have to go to PRONI and look them up by hand.

    Tradition was to marry in the bride’s church, so wherever Margaret was living at the time of her marriage is probably the key factor. Ballydavey is in the RC parish of Holywood. It has no records earlier than 1866 so if the couple married there in 1857 or 1858 there is no record to locate. The position with Belfast is slightly better. There are records for most churches but the oldest RC church in the city – St Mary’s which opened in 1784 – has no records before 1867. So if they married there, then again there’s no record to be found. I did search for the marriage on Ancestry for you but without success. So my money is on them either marrying in Holywood or St Mary’s Belfast. If the church where they married wasn’t keeping records or has lost them, there’s no easy way around that.  In some jurisdictions eg England there used to be system of sending a duplicate copy of births & marriages to the bishop (known as the Bishop’s copy). Sadly Ireland didn’t follow that system and so if the originals are lost or were never kept, that’s it.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Tuesday 30th November 2021, 09:07PM