Friday, 15 April, 2022
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Rachel, living in Scotland had been researching her family history for years, however, despite many attempts, her trail went cold when it came to her Derry-born Grandfather. Knowing his mother was unmarried when he was born, she dearly wished to find out if he had been given up for adoption or kept by his mother and raised in Ireland.

“It was like she just vanished”.

David Connolly

Rachel’s Grandad, David Connelly was born in Drumcroon (Mascosquin civil parish) Co. Derry in November 1872. But Rachel could find no record of him (nor his mother) for the period between his birth and marriage. David’s marriage certificate placed him in Macosquin in 1898, where Rachel believed he lived and worked as a farm servant at Drumcroon House

Drumcroon House

Perplexed, Rachel decided to post a query to the IrelandXO Message Board in January of this year (2022) where our local IrelandXO Volunteer, Elwyn, confirmed that mothers were rarely mentioned on marriage certs during those times. Elwyn also gave Rachel an overview and description of the 17-house, agricultural townland (where 74 people resided in 1901) enabling Rachel to start painting a picture. Elwyn’s recommendations to examine the PRONI Griffiths Revisions Books online revealed that David Connoly lived in the keeper's house beside the Flax Mill for a short period after he married and had previously lived in the cluster of laborers' cottages on the Drumcroon House estate, in the service of William McCollum.

Rachel also posted her query to an IrelandXO Timeline entry for Macosquin, which sent an email alert to all members following that timeline. From there another IrelandXO Volunteer, Rua, picked up on the search for David’s mother, Matilda Conolly. Analysing Rachael's records, Rua noted that David could sign his name on his marriage certificate (when the rest of the wedding party only signed “X” as their mark) indicating he had some schooling and the others did not.

His birth record revealed his mother was unable to write with her signature marked as X. Rua advised that the search for his mother should include any Tilda (common in those parts), in a laboring-class household, signing X as her mark. This gave Rachel her first lead for her great grandmother.

Digging into Griffith’s Valuation, Tithe Applotment Books, and vital records for Macosquin, Rua established that Matilda Conolly (aka Conley) was originally from the townland of Kilure and that cottager Martha Connolly (1808-1898) of #7b Killure was very likely Matilda’s mother. 

A search on RootsIreland revealed that Matilda had 3 sons all out of wedlock, David (Rachel’s grandfather) being the third son. In one of those records, Matilda named a bachelor farmer, Alexander Lyons of Knockantern, as the father. 

Further searches for Matilda as a sponsor /informant of births confirmed that Matilda remained in Drumcroon actively supporting others – including Sara Conolly of Killure (presumably her older sister) who also bore a child for Lyons. It was also confirmed that Sara was still living there in the Census of 1901 giving hope that tracing Rachel’s ancestral family homestead in Killure was possible.

According to IrelandXO Volunteer Rua, this is  “one of the most intriguing family searches I’ve come across as a researcher”.

Click HERE for a full account of Matilda Conolly’s life as an unmarried mother in 19th-century rural Ireland.


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