John McDonald

I learned of research Eunice Young did in the 1970’s of microfilmed Carnmoney parish records from Belfast.  She found a 1776 christening of a James whose father was John McDonnald (double “n”) and a 1778 christening of a Moses with the same father.  Another 1768 record appears to be of a daughter of a John M’Donnald named Mary

Cunningham christened in Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church.   Marriage records and christening records were often listed on the same page when clerks created a chronological register of ordinances performed.  Some have proposed that the apparent Rosemary Street “christening” of Mary Cunningham to John McDonnald may actually be the registry of their marriage 8 years before James was christened.  Eunice Young’s documented and well sourced research of actual 18th century records show greater promise than all of the undocumented dates sourced only from one Family Group Sheet to another that have cluttered much of our family tree. Eunice recognized that Mary Cunningham McDonald was the name Moses gave his daughter christened in Greenock, Scotland in 1805.   The combination of four given names common in our family is strong evidence, combined with the correct proximity and dates, that this is our Moses.  Three of the four given names were very common in Ireland & Scotland (James, John, Mary), but Moses was not very common at all.   The use of the mother’s maiden name as a middle name was a common practice in Ireland & Scotland and is still common among their descendants today. Various spellings of a surname were common back then, even within the same document as shown in Moses McDonald’s trial documents that spell Moses’ name M’Donald, McDonald, and MacDonald in the same official court documents. The yDNA tests done by descendants of James McDonald do show we have a common ancestor with living people in Northern Ireland and 83% of Clan Donald.





The difference between the 1820 Carnmoney Parish Church of Ireland and the 1806 Carnmoney Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Ireland says it all.   The grand Carnmoney Parish building of the Church of Ireland was the state Church and the Carnmoney Presbyterian Church building is much smaller and less ornate.  In the 17th century Presbyterian ministers weren’t even allowed to keep records of ordinances such as baptisms.  In many cases the only records of Presbyterian infant baptisms were Parish records in the Church of Ireland (Episcopal).  Presbyterians would often wait months or even a year before having an infant baptized. Catholic or Episcopal  christenings were traditionally completed within days of birth.  That is why Episcopal Parish records list our ancestor Moses McDonald whose children were all Presbyterian.

Carnmoney comes from the Gaelic Carn Monaidh meaning “cairn” (a Celtic memorial mound of stones) “in the bog”.  A neighboring community is called Ballymoney meaning “town in a bog”.  Carnmoney is best known throughout Belfast for its very large graveyard which consists of the Church of Ireland “Middle Cemetery” and the Newtownabby Cemetary around it.  Carnmoney is part of the community known as Newtownabbey. All of the communities our ancestors lived in are within a 10 mile radius East & South of Belfast.  Drumbeg, Drumbo,  & Lisburn are South of Belfast and Crawfordsburn, Bangor, & Newtownards are East of Belfast.  Even in the 1600’s Belfast was a divided city with Catholics living in the Southwest section and Protestants dominating the rest of the city, including Newtownabby.  The Protestants were also divided with the Church of Ireland (Anglican) being the dominant Protestant faith in Ulster (later known as Northern Ireland). The Presbyterians (Church of Scotland) were strongest in East Belfast and County Down.

In the 1700’s the Church of Ireland made it illegal for the Presbyterians or Catholics to keep records of their ordinances even in those areas that were mostly Presbyterian or Catholic.  Everything had to be recorded in the Parish record.  Knowing our ancestors were Presbyterian is a valuable clue, and knowing the history of Northern Ireland can also lead our search in the right direction.  It helps us understand that during the 1700’s we must look in Church of Ireland Parish records even though we know they were Presbyterian.

One of the main differences between the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and the Presbyterians was how they believed the church should be governed.  The Church of Ireland & The Church of England were both Episcopal (governed by Bishops) in much the same manner as the Catholic church. Presbyterians believed the church should be governed by a board of church elders (Presbytery) rather than Bishops.  Presbyterians responded to extreme intolerance from both Catholics & the Church of Ireland (Anglican) with a Covenant to defend their beliefs.  Part of those beliefs were that the Pope was the Anti-Christ and that violence against Catholics was necessary to protect their religious liberty.   They opposed efforts to establish home rule for Ireland which caused them to receive the backing of the British government.   An extreme faction of the Covenanters called the Orange order or Orangemen used violence in both Ulster (Northern Ireland) & Scotland to acheive their goals.  Many lives and many church records were lost as a result.  The Covenanters were strongest in Belfast, & Newtownards, County Down.

Ila Maughn said Jane McDonald Clyde’s children were aware of cousins living in Newtownards. Town records list both McDonalds and McDonnalds who lived in Newtownards, Down, Ireland in the 1800’s.   James McDonald & Sarah Ferguson were Presbyterian before their conversion by LDS missionaries in Crawfordsburn and they lived in an area where the Covenanters or “Orangemen” were strongest.  The flag of Ireland contains the green field representing Catholic Ireland, the orange field representing Protestant Ireland, and a white field representing peace between the two.  Searching the Ulster Military musters and the registers of the Orange Order or Covenanters in County Down may produce the 17th century records of our ancestors that have proven so illusive.