5/14/10 & 1/12/12
A recent discovery by distant cousin Dan Norris, and his subsequent e-mail to me, has inspired me to compile this report. Dan, a government employee who resides in Virginia, had published extensive research about our Norris family of Northern Ireland on the internet several years ago. To make sense of this article, you should know that Annie Norris Gray (b.1850) was my great-grandmother on my mother Ruth’s (b.1917) side, and Grandma Annie’s grandmother was Mary MacKrell (baptized 1788). We’ll discuss the Dowling name later as it is somewhat more complicated. Dan and I traded information and I wrote an introduction to our Norris family at that time. And so he contacted me again to share an exciting new source. Unfortunately, the domain changed and the site has been sporadic ever since. But we keep trying WWW.MAGHERAGENEALOGY.ORG . To quote Dan:
A researcher obtained Norris baptism records for me several years ago, but he sent no other families’ records. Notice there is a Mary Mackerill listed in Ballinahone [near Armaugh, south of Maghera—pronounced “MA-ha-RAH”-in the Church of Ireland records]. Her parents are listed as well. I believe this Mary Mackrell to be the first wife of Robert Norris (1785-1867)4. I will let you draw your own conclusion!!! Interesting that the Norrises and Mackrells lived so close together in Derry County.
I continued to research the database and believe I have uncovered what could be a “nest” of Grays, my mother’s maiden name, and related families that I have been searching for in Ulster. This article is a brief review of what we think we know about the origins of four families in particular with American roots in West Deer Township, Allegheny County, PA: Gray, Norris, Mackrell, and Dowling. While the finding may be speculative, we believe it’s the methodology and correlations with regard to names and locations that are important.
My great-grandfather (X3), James Gray (b.abt. 1780), emigrated from, we believe, Derry County, Northern Ireland, to Western Pennsylvania in the late 18th century. While we can’t be absolutely certain at this time what parish James resided in, we know he sailed as a young lad with the Boyd family from what is today the Port of Londonderry. Going back a century and a half before James’ birth, we find the 1630 Muster Roll from there containing the names of both Joseph Gray, a swordsman, and John Norris, no particular weapon. These men and many others with Pearce and Gray-associated Scots-Irish names would have been prepared to defend the port city and region.
In looking at the Maghera website for our family names and their locations, I found no Grays on the 1791-1814 Rent Rolls. If there were Grays there, perhaps that indicates that they owned their land. The 1835 Ordinance Survey, which was commissioned by London to see which families hadn’t emigrated, lists both a “Doctor” and a James Grey of Ballynacross as “under proprietor” and “farmer.” There is also a reference to a John Grey, who “helped set up a butter market in Maghera.” A further note says, “Now in America.” A little later, the list of 1866 Londonderry County property owners reads as follows:
• John Gray and John Gray, Jr. – both from Maghera
• Samuel Gray – from nearby Castledawson
• Sara Jane Gray – from Garvagh
• William Gray – from Newtownlimavdy
Going back just one generation, the 1831 Census taken in Tamiaght O-Crilly (TOC) and Termoneeny (Ter), Derry County, Northern Ireland, lists the Grays as follows:
Name / Town/ No. in home/ Parish
John/ Boveedy/ 2/ TOC
Samuel/ Boveedy/ 7/ TOC
William/ Drumsara/ 4/ TOC
Andrew / Lurganagoose/ 5/ Ter
Mollie/ Mullagh/ 5/ Ter
Joseph/ Mullagh/ 6/ Ter
As for the church registries, almost all of the Grays are found in Presbyterian parishes. While a handful of our surnames are found in Boveedy, Curran, Kilrea , Swatragh, Tobermore, and Knockloughrim, the majority are listed in Maghera. In the lists of marriages, the first names could be from the family tree or our annual Gray reunion: Robert, Samuel, William, James, Annie, Sarah, Maria, and so on. What strikes me, however, is how young the couples are, ages 17 to 24. Almost all the men are farmers. One funeral in the fall of 1892 stands out; little Lizzie Gray, age 5, of Ballymacilcurr died of what the doctor listed simply as “diahorrea.” In studying a century of various church registrations, I see men and women, sons and daughters being widowed and remarrying, having children baptized, being buried in the churchyard, and some even changing churches. Which ones are we related to? At this point, we can only wonder. Perhaps, in the future, a professional genealogist can answer that question.
The Church of Ireland registries go back much further than the Presbyterian ones. These are just a few of the Norris baptisms that took place, mostly in Swatragh:
Date/ Name / Father / Mother
9/10/1788 – Thomas – John – Martha
8/23/1789 – Elizabeth – James -Mary
6.30/1790 – Elizabeth – James – Martha
3/9/1793 – William – James – Mary
7/26/1808 – William – William – Elizabeth
10/24/1820 – James – James – unavailable
The Presbyterian Church in Swatragh records the marriage of a Matthew Norris in 1828 with the father being Robert. Could this have been our Robert, Jr. from Castledawson? Internet poster Linda Merle on “Scotch-Irish-L Archives” has found support for Robert Norris, Sr. still living there within Swatragh Parish:
According to the 1831 Irish census, he [Robert, Sr.] was living near a James and William Norris, who are probably his brothers. His first wife was named Mary [last name unknown]. She bore him a son, Robert Norris, Jr. in 1784/5. Mary Norris either died in childbirth of shortly thereafter. Robert, Sr. remarried and had several other children.
Perhaps then Catherine Dowling was not Robert, Jr’s mother after all. There is still much confusion surrounding the surnames of the Catherines and the Marys.
In 1845, in Kilrea, a Robert Norris was buried at 81 years of age. This puts his birth in 1764. What is his relation to our Robert, Sr.? The 1911 Census of Ireland lists several Norris families still residing in Swatragh. This census also lists MacKrells in nearby Castledawson. Let’s look at that family now.
Public records of Ballymoney in 1796 mark the occupation of a John McCrellis as Flax-grower, but let’s go to the Church of Ireland baptismal registries, most from Ballinahone, very near to the above Norrises. Keeping in mind Grandma Annie Norris’s grandmother Mary MacKrell (baptized in 1788), the wife of Robert, Jr., look at the first entry below. Could this have been our Mary? Also notice the various spellings of MacKrell:
Date/ Name / Father/ Mother
10/5/1788 – Mary Mackerill – Henry – Mary
12/31/1790 – Thomas MacKrel – Nathaniel – Elizabeth
1/25/1791 – Hannah MacKrel – Henry – Mary
6/16/1793 – Nathaniel MacKrel – Nathaniel – Elizabeth
5/16/1800 – Jane Mackerill – Nathaniel – Kitty
8/18 /1811 – John Mackerill – Joseph M. – Elizabeth
8/19/1818 – Robert Mackerell – James- unavailable
3/26/1820 – James Mackerill – Joseph – Margaret
8/4/1822 – Elizabeth MacKrell – Joseph – Margaret
The Church records the burial of a Catherine Mackerill at age 76 in 1883. She would have been born in 1807. Could she have been a relative? Or could this have been the wife of Robert Mackerill of Ballinanone? He married Catherine Gibbins at St. Lurach in 1822. Incidentally, eighteen months later, an Archibald Mackerell of the same village married Jane McClain in the same church. As Dan Norris implied, the coincidences of names and proximities of residences points to a strong correlation to these families in Northern Ireland and our own in America. Read more about our family in “Introduction: MacKrell.” Now, let’s investigate the more mysterious Dowling name.
First, we believe that one of Robert Norris, Sr’s (b.1760) wive’s name was Catherine Dowling. If she were the mother of Robert, Jr. and if the Scottish naming customs hold, the grandson, our Dowling Norris (b.1823) could have taken her surname in some form. Unfortunately, at the time of this posting, we were unable to locate any Dowlings in or near the Gray, Norris, or MacKrell families of Northern Ireland. There are several possibilities. Could the surname Downing be a variation of our Dowling or vice versa? Dowling has been very difficult to pin down. Downing is more common throughout the British Isles than Dowling, from the courts of Richard the Lionhearted to the contemporary address of the residence of the Prime Minister. Both names refer to dark things, as we’ll see in a minute. Unfortunately, Great-great grandfather Dowling’s name has been misconstrued as “Dauling,” a name that we could not even find a meaning for. Possibly the “a” and the “u” have been run together to resemble “ow.” Even the records of the Bull Creek Cemetery have our Dowling Norris listed as “Dauling.”
We have found that the true Irish Gaelic surname Dowling is more common in the southeast Emerald Isle near Kilkenny. In fact, the original combination of words for the surname, Dubn (dark colored) and Laodh (for calf), is not that different in sound and meaning for the capital city of the Republic, Dublin (meaning “dark pool of water”), which is just east of Kilkenny County. Public records tell us that King James I, in 1609, transplanted several Dowlings from Kilkenny to other southern counties, Limerick and Kerry. Ironically, along with the Dowlings of Kilkenny on one set of immigration records are found four Grays and a MacKerill, but no Norrises. All this in no way diminishes the associations we’re offering from farther north. We’re just wondering where Robert, Sr. might have met his Miss Dowling.
In conclusion, with more and more historical records and registers being digitized to internet databases every day, our research continues at an exciting pace. As we said at the start, our findings here may be rather speculative, but the methodology used and correlations drawn offer an encouraging point of departure for future research. While we all can’t visit the villages of our ancestors in Londonderry County or explore the new Public Records of Northern Ireland (PRONTI) Center in Belfast, we can all contribute by searching the available databases on the internet and sharing our findings with others. That’s what we’ve tried to do here.