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 I'm looking for information on my ancestor William O'Brien who married Esther Linton in the 1700's in Ballykelly. They had several children while living in Ballykelly the oldest being Timothy who married Margaret Gilmore.  Timothy and Margaret along with their many children then emigrated to Nova Scotia in approx 1768. William and Esther are supposedly buried in the Aghanloo cemetery.  We travelled to Ballykelly but were not able to find any further information or find any grave markers for any O'Briens. We are planning another trip this May 2019 and would love any leads that we could follow for more information.

Erin O'Brien

Sunday 6th Jan 2019, 07:15AM

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  • Erin,

    You haven’t said what denomination the couple were, but in any event, none of the churches in Aghanloo has any records for the 1700s. The earliest is Magilligan Presbyterian which start in 1812. Aghanloo Church of Ireland lost its early records in the 1922 fire in Dublin and has nothing before 1904. The earliest RC records (Drumachose) start in 1855 plus Magilligan RC in 1863. (There's no chapel in Aghanloo and so it's RC parishioners would have attended chruch in either Magilligan or Drumachose). None of the churches in Limavady has any records for the 1700s either. So there are almost certainly no church records covering the period you are interested in, in the Aghanloo area.

    Linton is a surname suggesting Presbyterian origins (ie they’ll be descended from Scots who settled in the area in 1600s) but O’Brien suggests a native Irish background which in turn points to being Roman Catholic. If it was a mixed marriage they almost certainly married in the Church of Ireland as that was really the only church that would marry them at that time. So their ancestors might be buried in any denominations graveyard. (Many graveyards were mixed anyway).

    Only the fairly wealthy could afford gravestones in the 1700s and so you won't find many. Most people were buried in unmarked graves. Some have become illegible or broken with the passage of time, but your main obstacle is that 90% of the population simply didn’t have a gravestone.

    I looked in the 1831 census for Aghanloo. There were no Linton households listed at all.  There was 1 O’Brien. It was a male plus 5 females, all Roman Catholic. Head of household was Alex. They lived in Dowling townland. That’s probably Dowland today. Dowland is on the Aghanloo Rd just north of Limavady. There were no O’Briens listed there in Griffiths Valuation of 1858. In the 1901 census there were 9 houses there. Total population 33. No O’Briens.

    Researching in Ireland in the early and mid 1700s is always difficult and often impossible simply due to the absence of records. Unless either family was a big landowner or notorious in some way, there are probably no records of their existence in Ireland to find.

    Possibly DNA testing may be a way of matching with others who have additional information about where the family originate. Family Tree DNA reportedly has more people with Ulster roots than any other company. That obviously increases the chances of finding a match. You might want to try them or, if you have already tested, you can transfer your results to them for no fee. The North of Ireland Family History Society is running an Ulster DNA project and can offer FTDNA testing kits at a reduced price. (Go to DNA project on the website).


    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Sunday 6th Jan 2019, 11:09AM
  • Elwyn, Thank you so much for your speedy reply.  I have just read the previous posts by Carter O'Brien from 2016 who was asking similar questions. I'm sure with the 100's of descendents of William O'Brien you are asked these questions frequently. William and Ester had 8 children (Timothy Jan 2, 1725, John Dec 10, 1726, Robert Dec 14, 1728, William May 12, 1731, Jacob Dec 8, 1733, Ester Mar 18, 1736, Isaac and Joseph July 21, 1738.)   I only have information of Timothy and his emigration to Canada. My assumption would be that some of the family would have stayed in the area, yet even with 8 boys there was no obvious evidence of further generations of O'Briens.  As I explored through various graveyards while I was there in May 2018, I did see markers with the name Linton and even Gilmore (Timothy's wife's family name) and even McLellan (my fathers maternal line) but no O'Briens.  Is there also a Ballykelly in County Clare? There is some family talk that the family originated in Clare. I have not done the DNA testing, perhaps that is the next step. The family line after arriving in Nova Scotia has been Prebyterian.

    With much gratitude for your response. Regards, Erin

    Erin O'Brien

    Sunday 6th Jan 2019, 07:12PM
  • Erin,

    Linton is a Scottish and typically Presbyterian surname. It’s not a native Irish name.  There were plenty of Lintons in Ulster. There were none in Co. Clare in the 1901 census. The majority of Scots who came to Ireland in the 1600s settled in the counties of Ulster, so I would expect to find Linton in Co. Londonderry but not in Co. Clare.

    Yes there is a Ballykelly in Co. Clare. It’s in the civil parish of Kilseily. That’s the RC parish of Broadford. Their records only start in 1845. The Church of Ireland’s early records were lost in the 1922 fire and they have nothing before 1881. There are actually 14 or 15 places called Ballykelly across Ireland, in 8 counties.  So I would be careful about deciding where your ancestors may have come from based on that place name alone.

    But it may not matter which county your ancestors came from, there probably won’t be any records of them, if they left in the 1700s. That’s an unfortunate fact of researching in Ireland. We weren’t very good at keeping records here in the 1700s.

    From a historical perspective, the majority of people who migrated from Ireland in the 1700s were Presbyterians from Ulster (known as Ulster-Scots in Ireland and Scotch-Irish in North America).  There are exceptions. Quite a lot of RC fishing folk from places like Waterford moved to Nova Scotia, but in general the majority were Presbyterians from Ulster. Native Irish didn’t start emigrating in large numbers till the 1800s. Two hundred thousand left from the counties of Ulster (ie including Co Londonderry) in the 1700s but very few left from Clare that century. (Thousands left Clare in the 1800s but not many before that).

    O’Brien is not a common name in Co. Londonderry. It is found there (and I mentioned 1 household in Aghanloo in the 1831 census) but it;s not a common name. You are wondering what happened to your family if they came from that county. Why are there no descendants, apart from perhaps Alexander O’Brien? The most likely explanation is that they either left or died before paper records began. But that’s just supposition. The population in Ireland in 1741 was 3 million. By 1841 it was 8 million. There weren’t the jobs for all those folk. Emigration and the famines led to about 5 million people leaving or dying during the 19th century. The population today is only 6 million. Huge proportions of the population have gone.

    The information that the family were Presbyterian in Nova Scotia fits with Presbyterian migration patterns from Ulster in the 1700s, but won’t make it any easier to find any records of them in Ireland. Sadly they probably don't exist.



    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Sunday 6th Jan 2019, 11:57PM
  • Thank you again Elwyn, Your information is both interesting and helpful. Like Carter O'Brien,  I too am working from the information contained in The History of Noel and the Genaologoy of the O'Briens. I'm curious, since there are no records or markers where the authors of that source got the original information, names and dates?  Best Regards, Erin





    Erin O'Brien

    Saturday 26th Jan 2019, 12:44AM
  • Erin,

    You ask about the source of the information in your 2 histories. From my experience, someone in the family may have recorded this information in north America. I doubt it came from any records in Ireland. Folk who emigrated seemed better at recording their ancestry than those who stayed in Ireland.  (We know where our ancestors come from and so don’t both so much to record it. If we emigrate we get all sentimental and only then seem to want to write it down). 

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Friday 8th Feb 2019, 11:25PM
  • Hi Erin, I thought I posted here earlier but I clearly slipped up - you can reach me at if you'd ever like to chat more. I've done Y700 testing for my father and that has led to some cool connections, including a shared O'Brien back from the late 1400s. It does look like many of Timothy's children also emigrated to Nova Scotia, so that may explain the lack of records in Ireland.

    I believe Elwyn is correct that the Noel book is based on a Nova Scotian O'Brien recollection, you can read John Wetmore O'Brien's journals and those connect a lot of dots:

    Best wishes,



    Carter O'Brien

    Sunday 10th Jan 2021, 01:02AM

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