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I am looking for information, please, about Walter Bell who is listed in the 1821 Census, aged 38, a farmer, and living with a daughter named Ann, aged 10, in Derrylovin Lurg, Drumbulkin. I have not yet found birth certificates for Walter or Ann.

I would also like information about Ann if there is any to be found, please. Was her age possibly rounded up/down to the nearest x years for purposes of the census?

No mother is specified for Ann, and no spouse specified for Walter, in the listing on the census.

Who might Ann's mother be? Where might Ann's mother be on the day of the census?

Does Walter already have a spouse at this time? If yes, who might she be and where might she be? 

I have found a possible marriage for Ann on IGP-Web, with a date in 1826 (which if her age in 1821 is accurate, would make her a young bride in 1826). In that record, Ann is from Drumbulkin and marries a James Woods at CoI Derryvullan North. I have not found who the parents are for Ann.

Could this Walter Bell be, or be related to, the Walter Bell that I am searching for who married Margaret Johnstone (and has a daughter named Sarah Bell, who married George Birney)?

Also, could this Walter Bell be a Walter Bell that married Mary Kelly? I am trying to work out whether the Walter Bell I am looking for possibly married both Mary Kelly and Margaret Johnstone, or not. DNA in my family tree seems to point to a Walter Bell with Mary Kelly and a Walter Bell with Margaret Johnstone, and I have not found any link as to whether Walter Bell and Walter Bell are the same person or two separate individuals who are somehow related to each other yet (father-son, uncle-nephew, cousins, etc).

There is a housekeeper named Eliza Buchanan, and a labourer named James Corrigan, listed as being at the property on the day of the census, if I'm understanding the listing correctly. I am not sure whether they might have any family-based relationships to Walter or Ann - are there possibilities?

Thanks in advance for any pointers anyone might be able to give.


Monday 4th Apr 2022, 09:47AM

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  • The townland where the family lived in 1821 was Drumbulkin (more commonly Drumbulcan).

    In the 1835 tithe applotment records there were 4 Bell farms in the townland, held by Watty (?Walter), John senior, John junior & James.

    By the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1862 there were just two Bell households, both farms. James had plot 1 which was 11 acres and Johnston had plots 4 & 5, a total of 17 acres.

    By the time of the 1901 census there was just 1 Bell farm in the townland:

    That was Edward Bell & Ann Mulligan who married in 1881. His father was William.

    You won’t find birth certificates for Walter or Ann as they hadn’t been introduced. They only started in 1864 in Ireland. You might find baptisms where the records exist. The family looks to have been Church of Ireland. Drumbulcan is in the parish of Derryvullan North. Their baptism, marriage & burial records start in 1803, so too late for Walter’s baptism. You might find Ann’s though, if born there c 1810. I had a look at the records but did not find her:

    You ask where Walter’s wife was on census night. The most likely explanation is probably that she was dead. That seems especially likely as he had employed a housekeeper. You wouldn’t need one if your wife was alive. Normally, anyway. I searched the Drumbulcan COI burial records 1810-1821 but did not find a death that might fit. I did note an un-named Bell death in the townland on 17.8.1807:

    Same records also contain Anne Bell of Drumbulkin who died 10.12.1841 aged 56. Burial records rarely recorded every burial, so they can be a bit hit and miss.

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Thursday 7th Apr 2022, 08:39AM
  • Thanks for your help with my query. I will look at all this and study it in more detail.

    I just had a random thought regarding Walter's wife probably being dead if Walter employed a housekeeper. Could it be possible to find a record of his wife having stayed in or died in a workhouse or a hospital or some similar place?

    Could Walter and Ann's mother have been separated without having death or being in a hospital / workhouse do it for them?

    Also - Is there a possibility that Ann Bell's mother may have been unwed and she was sent somewhere to give birth to Ann (and therefore may or may not have been alive for some time after Ann's birth)? Could Walter have found out that he was the father and took Ann home when she was young, and the mother was not allowed to go home with them because she was not married to Walter?

    Or could Ann have been adopted by Walter for some other reason and he felt they got along close enough to declare her to be his daughter?

    I think I might have to try drawing some people and possible relationships that are in my ancestry onto a paper-based family tree and spread them out on the floor of my place here in Australia, to make better sense of who should fit where in my family. On that thought - hmmm - might need a bigger house for this project!


    Friday 8th Apr 2022, 08:50AM
  • Anne,

    The workhouse system didn’t start in Ireland until the late 1830s/early 1840s, so Walter’s wife won’t have died there. Most likely she died at home. That’s where the vast majority of deaths (and births occurred). There wouldn’t have been many hospitals in rural Fermanagh in the early 1800s. The average small farmer’s wife wasn’t likely to be able to afford one anyway.

    She might possibly have a gravestone, if the family could afford one. That could be the only record.

    The parents could be separated but that raises the question of where would the wife go and how would she support herself. There was little state support at that time – just church poor funds - and most wives had to stick with their husbands whether they liked it or not, as starvation was often the only alternative. (If a husband died, widows with young children often quickly re-married. Necessity was as much a driver as affection, in most cases).

    Children were rarely left with their father if the mother was alive. Normally they’d be with her. Likewise it’d be fairly unusual for a single man to adopt a child. I have never come across that.

    There are all sorts of other possibilities eg the mother was insane, or was just staying somewhere else on census night (eg with a married sister), none of which are likely to be easily confirmed by any of the limited records available today. But the presence of a housekeeper indicates to me that the mother’s absence was probably permanent, and her death was the usual explanation for that.

    Research in Ireland in the early 1800s is notoriously difficult due to the general lack of records, so it may prove difficult finding out much about the family. 

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Saturday 9th Apr 2022, 07:08AM

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