Saturday, May 7, 2016

2016 version of Olivers of Armagh

Recent DNA evidence reveals that most (if not all) of the Olivers who are currently living in and around Armagh City – no matter whether they be Catholic or Protestant - share a common Oliver ancestor. The question that Brendan Oliver, of Olivers’ Fruit and Veg on Thomas Street, had for me was: So who drank the soup? In the days of the Famine, impoverished Catholics who showed up at soup kitchens run by Protestants often felt pressure to convert. Those who did, were referred to as Soupers. The irony, in this case, is that no one drank the soup. Sometime in the early to mid-1800s, a Protestant Oliver, and perhaps more than one of them, converted to Catholicism.

My interest in the Olivers of Armagh is threefold.
  • Sir Thomas Jackson (the focus of my research) and I both descend from a William Oliver who held a lease and farmed at Ennislare in Co. Armagh - at least as early as the 1700s. Oral history has it that our ancestors were Huguenots from the South of France. My great-great-grandmother, Eliza Oliver (1815-1903), Sir Thomas’ mother, repeated this version of the family history, and her daughters and grand-daughters passed the tale down to me.
  • This holding in the southern part of the townland of Ennislare correlates with Deeds that I have found of William Oliver's holdings. Ballymoran is the townland on the southern border. Note that the house is a simple single story structure (not the largest house in the area).
  • Secondly, I am curious about how Protestants and Catholics lived together in Armagh in the mid-1800s when Thomas was growing up as a son of tenant farmers, and yet to become “Sir”. How many interfaith marriages were there? How did they pan out? How much interfaith socializing happened? And business deals?
  • A clue to the exact nature of the relationship between the Protestant and Catholic Olivers may eventually be revealed thanks to a legal cock-up – likely committed by my ggg-grandfather Benjamin Oliver (abt 1765-1831) of Killynure. Legal tidiness was clearly not his forte. After the death of his eldest son William Oliver (abt 1810-1873), a July 17, 1880 announcement advertised the sale of 66 acres in the townland of Lisdrummard; 31 acres in Knockagraphy; and 1 acre in Drumgar. These lands were part of his estate. Curiously, it was John Oliver (abt 1841-1909 - a Catholic Oliver), and his contemporary Benjamin Oliver (1842-1905 – a Protestant Oliver), who were described as owners and petitioners. Eliza Oliver, in a July 21, 1880 letter to her son Thomas Jackson, suggested that both of these men might have a legitimate claim to a third of the value of the land. We know that Benjamin never received any money from this (and subsequently left for Australia), and I assume that John didn’t either – but would love to know the whole story. Who had held the original deeds?

According to promise, I write to inform you of the sale of the Oliver estate which was appointed for Friday the 16th inst. We had no idea that it would be sold at all; times were so bad, and so many properties offered for sale; without a bidder; yet it was sold, and well sold, all things considered ₤2350 was what it went at. I have received a note from Thompson Brown, since then which surprised me a good deal. He says that it never was legally [deeded?] that Ben and John Oliver should get the third of the property, and that the case should be argued again before the Vice Chancellor. I suppose Mr McCombe to be the author of this opinion; though Thompson did not say so; and whether it is a bona fide advice; or whether it is only another seven years wait and more law costs; I cannot say. May the Lord direct whatever is best. I expect Thompson here today; when we will hear more particulars, and discuss the affair.

The earliest research that I have on the Protestant part of the family tree was done by my g-g-grandmother, Eliza Oliver (1815-1903).

This hastily sketched out version was likely written by her in the 1880s or early 1890s – before her penmanship got a bit shaky.

The documentation which I have assembled, for the Catholic Olivers, is based first on Church records (thank you Kieran McConville), and then on land records. These allowed me to construct a tree which is reliable going as far back as the early 1800s. A John Oliver of Tullymore was born abt 1810. He was the father of a John Oliver (1841-1909), who married, in 1863, a Margaret Rock (abt 1837-1905). I refer to their descendants as the Olivers of Ballycrummy. That townland has long been associated with this branch of the family. I only wish that I knew more about the Rock family.

NOTE: My current hypothesis is that the John Oliver of Tullymore was not only a father to John Oliver (b abt 1841-1909) but also might have been a brother of the James Oliver who sired an illegitimate child with an Isabelle M’Geogh: Sara Anne aka Saranne b. March 14, 1824 (this was quite likely an unsanctioned Catholic-Protestant relationship).  SOURCE: Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library. My next hunch is that both of John & James will both turn out to be children of James Oliver, uncle of Eliza Oliver (1815-1903).

Other than the work done by Eliza Oliver (1815-1903), evidence for the Olivers of Ennislare rests on a mix of Deeds research, family letters and such. Fortunately, a few of the leases were for the duration of three lives (lives of their children – with ages noted). Also, there were a few juicy legal battles. Nothing like a bit of dirty laundry to flesh out the tale. The resulting evidence – at least the bits that I have unearthed - are all posted on my web site.

As they say on the British Underground:  Mind the Gap.  Exactly how are the peeps from Ennislare related to the peeps of Ballycrummy? We can step back a bit to encompass a larger picture, and also look at single specific points in the family tree where there is no evidence of descendants, but where there may be some - waiting to be discovered.

With the big picture in mind, there are a number of Oliver family trees rooted in Armagh that are well worth considering.
  • Olivers of Tattykeel. This is a pre-Cromwellian line of Olivers. It starts with an Andrew, Stephen & William Oliver who all show up in Armagh Hearth Rolls of 1664two of them held leases in Tyrone, and one in Armagh at what is now know as Farmacaffley. Many of the hunches about their ancestors and descendants rely on a book: Henry William Oliver 1807-1888: His Descendants. It was privately published by Henry Oliver Rea in 1959 in Tyrone. Unfortunately, for the earliest bits, it relies on a document that I have not been able to find a copy of. It presumes that the descendants of OLIVERs in Tattykeel, Parish of Kildress, Co. Tyrone moved to Co. Armagh. A line of OLIVERs were already well established in Mullinture in the early 1700s, and are likely connected. This tree also includes the OLIVERs who became successful businessmen in Pittsburgh in the late 1800s in the steel industry. It is the descendants of the Andrew Oliver who are most likely to be the ones who are most closely connected to the two lines that we have DNA evidence for. My hunches about a likely fit with this early Andrew Jackson are based on the following snippets of facts (as well as naming patterns):
o   Although an 1938 Letter from Blin Brown (1886-1964) mentions a Dobbin family connection, they do not show up in the tree that her grandmother Eliza Oliver (1815-1903) wrote up. It is therefore noteworthy that Dobbins are included in the Olivers of Tattykeel tree.
o   A John Vance married into the Olivers of Tattykeel about 1720, and there is also a William Vance who married an Elizabeth Oliver in 1803 in the line of Olivers of Ennislare. This may just be coincidence of two intermarriages with VANCEs, although once two families intermarried in one generation, there were often subsequent couplings in future generations.
o   Tullymore townland, which borders on Ballycrummy, is mentioned in the Olivers of Tattykeel. in connection with a John Oliver and a Catherine Whiteside. The dates are close enough for this John Oliver (d 1806) and Catherine Whiteside to possibly be related to – or even to be the grandparents - to the John Oliver of the Olivers of Ballycrummy. We have no known children for them, but the following newspaper clipping From May 25, 1811 Belfast Chronicle is worth noting, given our unexplained gap. Did John and Catherine have a son John who had financial issues? Or was this John Oliver a nephew or some other relation who was pushing the envelope?

  • There is mounting evidence that the OLIVERs of Lislooney were also closely related in the early 1700s – at least at the 1st cousin level - to the OLIVERs of Farmacaffley aka Sherranmcaghully, Parish Of Eglish, Co. Armagh, hence to the Olivers of Ennislare, as well as to the Olivers of Tattykeel, Parish Of Kildress. 
  • Then there is the family of William OLIVER – probably of Cavanagarven. Where were they before 1800? That’s anyone’s guess. They ended up in Keady, but may have originated as a branch of the Lislooney tree. 
  •  The Olivers of Ballymoran are also of interest since this townland is on the southern border of the townland of Ennislare. Also, the 1938 Letter from Blin Brown (1886-1964) refers to burials of her relations at Lisnadill Church, where many of this lot were married or buried. The name Henry, who heads up this tree,  does not crop up often in the lines of Olivers of Armagh, but Benjamin Oliver (1765-1831) did have a son named Henry who died as an infant bwt 1818-1821. This is at least an unexplained echo of the name.

·       There is also DNA evidence of a connection between two other lines of Olivers, although we have yet to fully unpuzzle the mystery of how they are connected to the other known lines: 
  • The Olivers of Lisnacroy, Co. Tyrone (This tree includes the OLIVER ancestors of Maria Beattie, one of the many thorough and generous spirited researchers who I have had the pleasure to meet and whose research has been essential).
  • A line of Olivers from Aughnamullen that begins with a Thomas Oliver (abt 1741-1826) of Aughnamullen aka James Oliver. I have yet to post him as a separate tree on my website (and the data in this tree is thanks to the diligence of a descendant, Richard Oliver), but he is included in the Rootsweb version of my family tree. I will post his info in a separate tree on my web site when I get home. Both of these trees show only one degree of DNA separation from the Olivers of Ballycrummy and the Olivers of Ennislare.

When it comes to DNA, I checked with Peter McWilliams, a geneticist by training. He hosts the fabulous website: Treasure your Exceptions I was curious about what I could reasonably infer about the difference between those families where my Olivers enjoy a “0” degree of DNA difference, and those Olivers with whom we have a “1” degree of difference. He gave me some advice that is a useful caution: These changes are random so by chance can occur anytime and in one line of descent rather than another so I would never try to draw precise conclusions. Your various lines are clearly related but you need standard genealogy to do the rest. Thankfully – for those who wish to engage Peter’s services, he is good at both.

A few days ago, I gave a talk to a very enthusiastic group of Armagh Olivers. My hope is that by sharing what I both know and don’t know, it may help fellow researchers link the remaining bits together. I await new information (and correction).

L-R Marie, Francis, Moura, and Naill

Thanks to Larry and Francis whose DNA revealed the links between two families who had no idea that they might be related. Thanks to Carol at the Armagh Public Library, and Sean at the Armagh Country Museum. Thanks to my very able research assistant, who not only held down pages of an estate map collection so I could photograph them, but also made a stellar apple tart and scones to sustain us all later that day while we all talked (often at the same time - such was the enthusiasm) of our shared families and Irish history.
Maureen Oliver - who runs the best ever B&B at Fairylands.

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