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My 2nd great-grandfather, William McKee emigrated to Canada and settled in Ontario. I'm trying to confirm his birthdate and whatever else I can find to add to my ancestors story.

My research has found Brice McKee 1775-1860 married to Mary Tannihill 1775-1850, Presbyterian, from Boardmills, Down, Ireland. They were married Aug 8, 1798. Brice and Mary had many children starting in June of 1799 (Agnes) but quite a few of them appear to have died young. I can't find any death records but birth records indicate subsequent children born to the same couple have been given the same names. I'm assuming that they died. 

The records available in Ancestry show that William McKee was born on Sept 30, 1805, no death date. Then the same, or a new, William McKee was baptized on March 4, 1810 (which is the year my William has used as his birth year). How can I tell if this is the same William or if the younger died early. For further context, there are three Elizabeth's in this family. The first born Oct 14, 1801, the second born Jan 6, 1806 and the third, Dec 25, 1807. The third was baptized on March 4, 1810 at the same time as William.

I can find only two baptismal records for this family (William and Elizabeth) but have found birth records for all except my William - this leads me to think that the two Williams are the same person. If death / burial records were available in the parish records that would help prove or disprove my theory- are these available on-line?

Please let me know if more information is needed. Although I've been researching for five years, this is my first time on your site and I'm not sure of the protocols.





Friday 28th May 2021, 08:32PM

Message Board Replies

  • Ellen,

    Statutory recording of deaths only started in Ireland in 1864. So no death certificates before that year. Presbyterians generally didn't keep burial records, so you are very unlikely to find any death records for family who died in the late 1700s or early 1800s, unless they are named on a gravestone or memnti0oned in a newspaper (wealthy folk only). 

    You are right to assume that if a name was re-used it often indicated the first child had died. Families liked to keep traditional names alive, literally. There are exceptions, sometimes where a family was following the Irish & Scottish naming pattern strictly you got 2 children of the same name (because say both grandparents shared the same forename) but in my experience that’s not terribly common. Where you find more than one with the same name, that the firstborn had died is usually the explanation. But as I say you will struggle to confirm that from church or other records, since such deaths were rarely recorded. 

    Boardmills 1st Presbyterian church has baptism and marriage records from 1782 onwards. There’s a gap in the marriage records from 1814 to 1823 but the baptisms are complete. There are no burial records.

    I don’t think the baptism & marriage records are on-line anywhere but there is a copy in PRONI (the public record office) in Belfast. A personal visit is required to access them. Access to the records there is free. This link explains what records exist, parish by parish:

    If you are unable to go yourself, you could employ a researcher. Researchers in the PRONI area:

    The 2 children baptised on the same date might be twins but they might just be siblings in a double baptism. No easy way of knowing with Presbyterians . (They didn’t necessarily hurry to baptise.  I have seen 6 children baptised together whose ages spanned 8 or 9 years).

    The RosDavies site records 2 Brice McKee marriages and some children:

    Looking at that, it seems to me that there were 2 separate couples both living near each other in Killaney parish. One was Brice McKee married to Mary McKee and another Brice was married to Mary Tannihill.  That may explain some of the name duplication but it still looks as though some children died young and names were re-used. There was  another Brice in what looks like a later generation.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Friday 28th May 2021, 11:29PM
  • Thank you for that very prompt reply. I am in awe of the database you have steered me too. Amazing amount of information - a lifetime of work it seems!

    I live in Canada and so too far away to do my own in-person research. I'll have to depend on others I think. 

    A couple of things occurred to me as I looked again at the records in Ancestry and compared them to the rosdavies/genealogy database. There is listed a marriage date for Brice McKee and Mary McKee but no marriage date for Brice McKee and Mary Tannahill. I'm wondering if they are one and the same. In addition, the two children baptized on the same day were born at different times and to "different mothers", if there were in fact two families. Brice is an unusual name, so it would be interesting to find how many Brice McKee's were born in that time frame. So many questions!

    I will be contacting someone from your list of researchers to further my research into this family and wanted to say thank you again for your help!




    Saturday 29th May 2021, 03:06PM
  • Ellen,

    My own feeling is there were 2 different Brices (likely related) with 2 different wives. Assuming the dates are accurate you have Jean born 29.4.1807 and then Elizabeth 25.12.1807.  Only 8 months between them.  It can’t really be the same mother.

    If you look at the original baptism records you might get a few more clues eg a townland or occupation. (Presbyterians don’t have godparents).

    The tithe applotment records list farmers, and I note there was McKee, Brice-Townland: Drennan Year: 1830-Drumbeg-Down. Drennan is not far from Boardmills (perhaps quarter of a mile) so this may be one of the families. No Brice listed as a head of household in the townland by the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1863 so he had probably died or left by then. However there were several McKee properties in the townland. One or more might be descendants. The modern Middle & Drennan Roads go through the townland.

    In the 1901 census there were 3 McKee households in Drennan, including one with a Bryce.

    Two families were Presbyterian and 1 Reformed Presbyterian (sometimes known as Covenanters). I am not quite sure what the nearest Covenanter church is to Drennan. You might need to make local enquiries. It may be Bailliesmills. See:


    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Saturday 29th May 2021, 04:46PM
  • Hi Elwyn,

    You are probably correct and I will separate the families in my tree to follow that lead. My goal is to find William's family in Ireland and unfortunately, I have very little to go on. Every Canadian census shows a different birth year for William but 1810 is indicated as the birth year on his death record. Brice McKee was suggested by Ancestry connections just this past week and I have been quite surprised by the number of McKee's found as I've been researching. My hope is that once I research the families I'll find some DNA matches that will confirm the connection. 

    In any event, you've been most helpful and informative! I'll check out the links you've shared here and see what they show.

    Take care,



    Saturday 29th May 2021, 08:20PM
  • Ellen,

    In general, people in Ireland in the 1800s didn’t celebrate birthdays, didn’t have birth certificates or passports (though they might sometimes have had a baptismal cert) and often had little accurate idea of their ages. Most ages on official documents were just a guess.

    Alexander Irvine was born in 1863 in Antrim town and became a Minister living in the US. This extract from his book “The Chimney Corner revisited” perhaps explains why people often had to guess their ages:

    “My mother kept a mental record of the twelve births. None of us ever knew, or cared to know, when we were born. When I heard of anybody in the more fortunate class celebrating a birthday I considered it a foolish imitation of the Queen’s birthday, which rankled in our little minds with 25th December or 12th July. In manhood there were times when I had to prove I was born somewhere, somewhen, and then it was that I discovered that I also had a birthday. The clerk of the parish informed me.”

    Family Tree DNA reportedly has more people with Ulster roots than any other company. That obviously increases the chances of finding a match. You might want to try them or, if you have already tested, you can transfer your results to them for no fee.

    The North of Ireland Family History Society is running an Ulster DNA project in conjunction with FTDNA and can offer testing kits at a reduced price. (Go to DNA project on the website).


    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Saturday 29th May 2021, 08:49PM
  • Elwyn - you are chock-full of interesting information. That's the first I've heard of Alexander Irving's quote about birthdays and I am already thinking of how I might incorporate that into the Family History book I'm compiling. AND the Ulster DNA project caught my attention right away. I've just send in a request to join. My DNA is already uploaded to FTDNA so I'm not sure how that works within the scope of the Ulster DNA project. I'm sure I'll find out in due course. I do have other kits that I manage, my siblings, one first cousin and my Uncle. Since my uncle is one generation closer to the ancestors I'm looking for, that's the one that would be most helpful. None of those are uploaded yet to FTDNA.

    Yesterday I sent a request to Family Ulster to see if they would be interested in helping me in my quest. And as I woke up this morning I've decided to expand my searches to include other Irish ancestors. Do you have a link for researchers in Ireland? My research seems to be going in circles and it would be so very helpful to finally have help to jump all the remaining brick walls. The family names English, Wilson, Brown, Johnson, Highfield, Kelly are all from Ireland but where, I don't know.

    Take care,



    Sunday 30th May 2021, 11:28AM
  • Ellen,

    There’s more information on the McKees if you want to dig for it.  I can see about 10 wills for McKees from Drennan on the PRONI wills site.  That Bryce McKee in the 1901 census’s father was William who died in 1865 aged 84, so born around 1781 (give or take 10 years). His will is on-line and names 2 sons and some daughters. But your best bet is to start by going through the Boardmills Presbyterian records and see what you can find from that.  There were quite a few McKee families attending that church but it shouldn’t be too difficult to piece some of them together.

    The majority of records for Northern Ireland are kept in PRONI, whereas many records for the Republic of Ireland are in either Dublin (National Archives and National Library) or in county repositories. So when you ask about researchers, you need to be aware that if some of the families lived in what is now the Republic of Ireland, it will affect your choice of researchers. However most of the names you have given suggest to me English and Scottish roots and so probably the families lived in Ulster. Researchers in the PRONI area:

    If you are interested in the “not knowing my age” issue, I have attached a letter which I found in parish records in PRONI from someone in Pettigoe, Co. Donegal in 1908, writing to his Minister asking for proof of age (ie a baptismal certificate). All he knew was that he was between “70 and 78 years of age.” He clearly had only the vaguest idea and couldn’t narrow it down to within 9 years. (The likely reason for the letter was that the old age pension was being introduced in 1909 for people aged 70 and over. Documentary proof of age was required. Thus, probably for the first time in his life, establishing his age accurately became relevant to him).



    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Sunday 30th May 2021, 11:47AM

    Attached Files

  • Good morning Elwyn,

    I was most interested to read more about birthdays and again you've sparked my interest. I'm sure you have more knowledge on this area and it's residents than I do in my little finger and I'm glad to have 'made your acquaintance' through this medium. I'm hopeful that I'll hear soon from the Family Ulster geneologist that I contacted the other day and that we can make an arrangement for them to explore the McKee line on my behalf. In the meantime, I started yesterday on the Highfield line. Elizabeth Highfield was married to William McKee, so the research is related. Both have been significant brick walls but with my recent work on my DNA matches, I'm making progress. I've found a strong DNA match between my Uncle and a Highfield descendant. He indicates that his ancestor is from Cork & Ross and if I read the map correctly, that leads me to a different area completely. 

    Take care and thanks so much for your insights, advice and expertise,



    Tuesday 1st June 2021, 10:03AM
  • Ellen,

    Yes, Cork & Ross is at the other end of Ireland from the McKees.

    Glad to have helped.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Tuesday 1st June 2021, 08:49PM