Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Finding My Family Roots in County Antrim


Bob Wilson

Beaufort SC USA

Back in 1997, after having been away from my original hometown at Newburgh, New York, for some ten years, I traveled there from my home in nearby Connecticut to begin the task of tracing the roots of my several ancestral families’ roots to their origins in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, and in England.

To begin with, I went to the Old Town Burying Ground in Newburgh where I made note of the markings on my paternal grandmother’s grandfather’s plinth/headstone in the Wiseman family plot there.

His name was Archibald Wiseman and the inscription on the stone says he “died at sea” on May 9th, 1853” at age 40. Aside from the fact that I had once heard from my grandmother that Archibald’s origin was from somewhere in Ulster, that was all that I knew about him at that time. Beginning with that information, and from a subsequent visit to the Local History Room of the Newburgh Free Library, I learned that Archie had married in the local Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on December 25th, 1838.

At the same time, I posted an inquiry on the Wiseman Family Message Board at Rootsweb, and also contacted the official historian of the Wiseman Family Association in the US, who keeps collected genealogies of any Wiseman family in the US, regardless of their origin. The message board posting soon brought two responses: one from another Wiseman family descendant now living in Ballymena who believed we might have a common family link, and another from a professional genealogist in New Jersey who was on an assignment for another Wiseman descendant whose ancestry had been traced back to Newburgh where an ancestor of his was born in 1844. From Ballymena, my contact referred me to an item in the “Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1833-1835 for County Antrim” that reported that a young 20-year-old man named Archibald Wiseman, from the Ballywatermoy Townland (now in the Glarryford area of Antrim), had left his home land in 1833, “bound for America.” I believe that he went to Liverpool at that time, and in the autumn of 1836, left from there to New York on the bark “Lanark”, perhaps in the company of a young wife or female relative with the same surname.

Soon after learning of Archie’s 1838 marriage (to my fellow ancestor, Susan Clyde), I consulted the 1840 US Census, and failed to find him… at first. Then I did find him there, under the name of “Achabad” Wiseman, with a wife and two young children, and employed as a clerk in a grocery store. This led me to the 1850 Census, where he and several members of his family appear with their ‘correct’ and complete names, and he is listed as a ‘brewer’ by profession. One of his children was a daughter Elizabeth, born in 1842, who was my maternal great grandmother.

The last reference I have to Archibald is that his marker in the burying ground says, as I noted above, that he died at sea in 1853. I have found no explanation or elucidation on that fact even though I’ve been looking for something for the past seven years. But I now know much more about Archibald than I did when I began this hunt.

And as a footnote to this, my son and I took a trip to Antrim while on the island, during a trip to the Republic. There, in Ballymena, we met with my presumed remote Wiseman family cousin and his son. He took us on a drive out to Cullybackey where there are several Wisemans interred in a churchyard there, and then over to the BallywatermoyTownland now in the area of Glarryford, where we visited the site of property at one time owned by Patrick Wiseman. Patrick was evidently part of our mutual family, gave the land on which a Gospel Hall was built in the mid-19th Century, and has his picture on page 22 of “Sandy’s Story”, a pamphlet published in 1991 by the Ballymena Borough Council.

Footnote: Another of my ancestral lines, the Wilsons, I believe may have originated in Ulster with the birth of my great grandfather and namesake, Robert Wilson, in 1826. However, because this name is so ordinary in all parts of the U. K. and Ireland, I’ve never been able to determine exactly from whence he came. He first appears in an early, circa 1860 New York City directory as a milkman, but that’s the absolute sum of all that I know of him prior to his later residence for 30-some years in Brooklyn, New York.

...a picture of the Patrick Wiseman farmhouse/barn just up the lane behind the present church on the grounds of the old Gospel Hall and churchyard

...a photo of the headstone of Patrick Wiseman in that churchyard

...a photo of our presumed cousins with my son at the right, taken in the parking area for the present church on Ballywatermoy Road

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