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Descendants of William de Irwyn ?- my family mystery


Good day,

First off I am a newbie so please excuse my ignorance.

My maternal aunt and uncles in Canada are Irvines. My late maternal Grandfather, Andrew Irvine and our relations in Scotland have told me many times that our family is descended from William de Irwyn of Drum Castle. They cannot point me to anything more specific, just a tale that he was the Arms bearer for Richard III. I think William de Irwyn was actually arms bearer for Robert the Bruce but the tale has become a bit twisted and the family seems to like Richard the Lionhearted better.

I am not convinced for a number of reasons, most importantly because of a lack of any kind of a paper trail. Secondly, because on his deathbed my Grandfather, who was born in Scotland, said his father was from Ireland. I think he wanted to paint a glorious family history of royal ancestors rather than one of poverty in Ireland. Rather than debate my uncles any more, I would like to clear this up once and for all.

Despite my doubts I am ready to start looking backwards and see if we are connected to William de Irwyn. If I can find just one connection to a well known ancestor in William de Irwyn's line, the rest is easy. But I am doubtful this will happen.

The biggest challenge in my mind is the scarcity of records. One tantelizing clue was that I read somewhere online that there was a branch of William de Irwyn's family who ended up in Londonderry. Londonderry is where my G Grandfather was from.

Here is my maternal grandfather's line as far as I can research so far:

1. Andrew Douglas IRVINE born 1919 in Dumbartonshire Scotland. He had a brother named Alexander Irvine b. 1914 in Dumbarton. For both brothers I have their birth marriage and death certificates.

2. William John IRWIN born 1879 in Limavady, Londonderry Ireland. He married Agnes Higgens. Their children were Andrew Douglas Irvine, Alexander Irvine and Margaret Rose Irvine. To assimilate they seem to have slightly changed their name from Irwin to Irvine. I have his birth marriage and death records. It is here that reliable records seem to have run out. From William John's birth record I know his parents names.

3. Father of William John Irwin is a man named John Irwin (the 2nd). My Aunt in Scotland told me he married a woman named Mary Jane Caldwell and I found a Church Record from Co. Derry dated 1871 that has these two names - also verified with William Johns birth record. There was only one result with these two names in the search for Irish church records (Roots Ireland) but I cannot be certain it is my GG Grandfather John Irwin (the 2nd). If it is him, he would have been born about 1851. I am certain that he and his wife had 3 kids. William John Irwin, Mary Jane Irwin b. 1877 and Margaret Elizabeth Irwin born 1872. Unfortunately the Roots Ireland website record does not name John Irwin's (the 2nds) father.

4. Possible father of John Irwin (the 2nd) is another man named John Irwin (the 1st) b. about 1824. Here I have no solid records other than some census data and a record that indicates he may have married a Labina Forsythe (and a letter from the Kinsella's in Canada). He and Labina had a number of Children including Matilda Jane Irwin who married a Robert Kinsella and moved to Brockville Canada (last contact with these people 1919), Elizabeth Irwin b. 1851, Robert Irwin, Margaret Irwin, and Samuel Irwin as well as John Irwin (the 2nd).

I am at a brick wall and need some help. If you have read this far thank you and I would welcome any suggestions. I realize I have a monumental task ahead of me that may well be impossible due to lack of records. I do have a male Irvine/Irwin's DNA results so if any of you have a documented relationship to William de Irwyn the Laird of Drum and wish to share your DNA markers that may be helpful.
Richard the First, or the Lionheart, died in 1199 in France and Richard 111 in 1485 at Bosworth. As England and Scotland were separate kingdoms I should be surprised if either king had a Scottish standard bearer. An interesting family story though. :)
Hi Ross

As a "newbie" you have done incredibly well in your research so far and in setting out the difficulty so clearly. I do hope one of the group will be able to help.
Proving or disproving such family stories can be a real challenge. I shall follow progress with interest

Just got the below from Margaret Berry Irvine, my cousin in Scotland. She is alot more knowledgeable than others in my family:

The de Irwyne's came over with William the Conqueror in 1066.

I do not know when they acquired the lands at Bonshaw

William de Iewyn was I think a younger son of Bonshaw who was
Armour Bearer to King Robert the Bruce who granted him the lands at Drum.

I believe they would have been part of the religious immigration from Scotland to Ireland when they were trying to convert them from Catholicism.
The names William John and Alexander are prominent in the history of Drum.

She also just sent me the male DNA from a man named William Irvine on my mothers side:
Specific Markers:
These markers define our group
Haplogroup R1b-M269
The DNA report says this Irvien DNA the most common family within the Irvines and includes the Irvines of Bonshaw and the great majority of Borders Irvines. 60% of Irvine men carry the S393 marker.

It says in wiki that "William Irvine (c.1298) (also known as William de Irwin) was a clerk in the royal chancellery and protégé of Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath and Chancellor of Scotland; he was granted land in Aberdeenshire in 1323 by Robert the Bruce for faithful service. This grant included a defensive work known as the Drum Tower, thus William became the first Laird of Drum. The family had previously held the lands of Bonshaw and took their name from the village of Irvine in Annandale."

It would make sense that most Irvine men would carry this marker because noblemen probably had more children and more children that lived.

This DNA report is convincing but where does my Irvine family fit in to William's line if at all?
Well I have hit a snag. I have my grandfather Andrew Douglas Irvine's birth certificate. I have my Great Grandfather William John Irwin's birth and marriage certificate and I have my GG Grandfather John Irwin's marriage certificate. However, I have been unable to find John Irwin's birth record. I have hired a genealogist in Ireland to check the parish registers. Hopefully I can confirm my GGG Grandfather was in fact also John Irwin. More to follow as the research progesses.


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I have also the 1851 Ireland census. I think My GG Grandfather is John Irwin age 7. My GGG Grandfather would also be named John Irwin probably born around 1819 if their first daughter Eliza age 12 was born when John Irwin Sr and Jane Irwin were 20 when she was born.


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Well after a few months of very frustrating research using family search, GRONI, Ancestry.com, wikitree, the irish genealogy index, Emrald Ancestors, Irish Roots, joining the Irish Research Group on wikitree, and everthing else I could find including a number of other websites such as online trees of William De Irvine's descendants, I was unable to find anything that could tell me solidly who John Irwin's parents are. I chased up many wrong trees, only to find some detail that completely shut down my research up that tree. A genealogy company also failed to find anything useful .
I decided to watch a "History of Ireland" on u tube one weekend and learned how ignorant I have been of Irish history. I learned that I have been searching in the wrong places and breaking a cardinal rule of genealogy - we must know the area we are researching (I get this tip at least once a month in email form OGS Genealogy eNews).
Anyway, I finally understand the history of Ulster to some degree, where John Irwin and William John Irwin called home (Limavady in Co. Londonderry). This led me to Ulster Ancestors. They have many records available free online. In addition, their archive contains 36 miles of shelving holding millions of records in the form of original documents, many of which are not available outside Northern Ireland, all relating to Ulster families the earliest being 1219, but most from 1630 onwards.
I have already found some early Irwins in Londonderry but cannot link them to my family without the bridging documents. Within 10 weeks I should have progress.
I am hopeful, and wish that they will find a link to Scotland somewhere in the 1600s, or 1700s, but I am managing my expectations. By all accounts they do good work.
At last some progress. Following the report from the 2nd genealogy company I hired, a report which asked the very important question whether the whole family of William John Irwin had immigrated to Scotland (including his sisters and parents), I searched ancestry.com.

1. I found a 1911 England census with the family of William John Irwin and a previously unknown brother of William John named Samuel James Irvine, born in Glasgow around 1889.

2. Using a website called Scotland\'s People, which has digitized birth death and marriage records, I found a Samuel James Irvine born 25 Aug 1888 to a man named John Irvine and Ann Irvine M.S. Pollock 3. Searched the 1901 Scottish Census and found John Irwin born 1854, Annie Irwin born 1855, Robert Irwin born abt 1894 and William John Irvine born 1880, all living in Glasgow.

4. Went back on Scotland\'s people and found the birth record of Robert, born 23 Sep 1893 to John Irvine and Annie Irvine M.S. Pollock. On both Robert and Samuel\'s birth records, the parents marriage was dated as 16 May 1887 in Glasgow.

5. Found the marriage record of Annie Pollock and John Irwin (widower) with the date 16 May 1887 in Glasgow. John Irwins parents are listed as John Irwin and Lavinia Forsythe. Mary Jane must have died and John Irwin remarried in Scotland.

6. Checked the 1851 old age pension claims in N. Ireland and found a family of John Irwin born 1824 and Labina Forsyth living with children Robert, Samuel, Margaret, and Matilda. John is not listed here because he was born 1854 as per his marriage record to Annie Pollock (age 33 in 1887). His father may not have been on the Irish marriage record to Mary Jane because John was under aged when he got married?

7. Have an old family letter from a Jennie Kinsella living in Brockville Ontario Canada. Matilda, a sibling of John Irwins (the 1854 John Irwin), is listed in the 1901 Canada census as living with a Richard Kinsella. They have a daughter named Jennie and they all live in Brockville. Jennie\'s letter also mentions \"uncle John\" and his son \"Robert\".

8. Finally, Matilda\'s Canadian death record says her parents were named Labina Forsyth and John Irwin, from Ireland.

I believe I will find John Irwin, born 1854, in the Parish of Balteagh, Ballyleighery, Co. Londonderry. I believe his parents will be John Irwin and Lavinia Forsyth.

Will keep you all updated.


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The IRA burned down the records office where John's Irwin's birth certificate probably was located in 1921. The genealogy company did eveything it could to find some new info. I just can't catch a break.

I have arranged for my uncle to have his Y DNA tested (my mother was an Irvine), so hopefully his Y DNA ill be close to a known descendant of William. There is actually an Irvines of Drum group of FTDNA.

Assuming the DNA that was passed from father to son was unbroken since the time of the common male ancestor that links us to William, we will have proof. Finding the paper trail to link us back is another story.

The info I need is out there somewhere....
Documentation found in Scotland and England. The census shows William John and Agnes with William's half brother Samuel. Robert born to the same parents. Marriage of Joh to his second wife Annie Pollock.


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Census where I found John, Annie and Robert.
And also the people who I think were John's family in 1851 (3 years before he was born). Matilda's record is also listed as is Jennie's letter (daughter of Matilda).


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83, Lewis Street,
Brockville, Ont
June 18th 1919

Dear Cousin,
Mother received your letter yesterday and was both surprised and pleased to hear from you. As I do all her writing for her I take this opportunity of introducing myself. I am your cousin Jennie. I am sorry I haven’t any photo of myself to send you, having never had a good one taken. However we have one of my Mother and Father to spare so will enclose one for you in this letter. It was taken some years ago, but looks very much like them, with the exception of Mother being much older. If you have any photos of yourself, your wife and children we would be pleased to have one. What is your little girl and boy’s names.

Yes we have heard of Uncle John’s death at the time. Robert wrote to tell us. He had been writing to us for his Father for some time before that and kept up the correspondence for some time after, but stopped writing all at once. We haven’t heard from him in a long time, now. I am glad to hear Auntie (Robert’s Mother) found a home with her Sisters in Ireland. Robert told me he promised his Father he would look after his Mother and take good care of her. I hope he has not forgotten that promise. We can never do too much for our own Mother who has done so much for us.

So you are living in Scotland now. Do you like it better than England? We hear from some of our relatives in Scotland occasionally. Are you anywhere near them, or do you go to see them? I am expecting a letter from cousin Lavinia, (Aunt Lizzie’s daughter) any day now. I hope your wife and little ones are well, and that you are not having as hot weather there as we are here. It is very warm for June. Mother finds the heat rather trying not being very strong. Our garden is doing nicely now. We had such a backward Spring we did not get it in very early. Have you any place for a garden? It is so nice to have a few fresh vegetables.

There is a good deal of trouble and unrest in Canada and United States just now, and so many strikes going on. I don’t know what the Government is going to do about it. We were all so glad to have the war over and the “flu” epidemic, and now the strikes have started. Well dear Cousin we will be glad to hear from you anytime. Mother joins with me in love to you all.

From your Cousin Jennie.


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Well I confirmed John Irwin born about 1852 - 1854 did first marry Mary Jane Caldwell underaged then married Annie Pollock in Scotland. Also discovered that his father, John Senior, was indeed his father and his mother was MARGARET Lavinia Forsythe. John Senior died 1872. He rented a small holding of 1 rood 20 perches from Samuel Forsythe (probably his wife's father) in Co. Londonderry then in 1870 upgrated to 3 acres. He died 1872 and passed the farm to John Junior who moved to Scotland in 1881 and in 1886 gave up the 3 acres which was later sold to a William Irwin and Sarah Ross. This line still owns the farm which is now Glen Mills in Co. Londonderry. I have been invited for a visit by the owners and hope to get to N. Ireland next spring. Hopefully they can shed some more light.


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Genetically we are border reivers, cousins of Bonshaw according to the administrator of the Irvine DNA project. See FTDNA test 361220.


William De Irwyn was of the house of Bonshaw who was later granted Drum castle for service to Robert the Bruce. So I could end the quest here where many have done before. We have a loose claim to William simply by virtue of a probable distant genetic relationship - we genetically match many Irvines still in the borders region.

However, while I have little hope of getting back further than 1821 and John Irwin senior, I will continue to search the paper trail because it has been highly informative and rewarding.
I notice you have a Margaret Hickey on your research list, while I haven't one on my tree, my maiden name was Hickey and as we have been here for five generations, I don't know much about my ancestors in Ireland

Good story
Have you done a library search for this book.

The Irvings, Irwins, Irvines or Erinveines, or any other spellings of the name : an Old Scots Border clan. By its present Chieftain: John Beaufin Irving of Bonshaw.

John Beaufin Irving of Bonshaw
Aberdeen : Rosemount Press, 1907.
Book Microform : Microfilm : English
(not yet rated) 0 with reviews - Be the first.

Irwin family.

Edit also National Library of Scotland


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The ancestor of the Canadian Irvings, Jacob ^Emilius, was
wounded at Waterloo; he was a gallant officer who was honored by
his country


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