I grew up just outside Ballymoney and from an early age was always interested in family history. I kept notes of some of my conversations with my great aunts. My ancestors are buried in the Old Churchyard in Ballymoney and I have spent many hours reading the graves. When I got as far as I could with my own family tree I started helping others with theirs as I had accumulated a considerable amount of information on the families around Ballymoney. A few years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to publish my research and try to help other people looking for their Ballymoney ancestors.
Researching family history in Ballymoney
The Old Churchyard is cared for by Ballymoney Borough Council. Among their records is a map and headstone listing which has been of great benefit to my work. For consistency, I have adapted this map for the purposes of this book. Irish records tend to be poor due to the loss of so many in Dublin at the time of the troubles in the twenties. However, we are lucky in the Ballymoney area as some of the church records go back to the 1700s. In addition, we have the 1901 census, an 1803 agricultural census, 1825 Tithe Applotment records, 1859 Griffith valuation and street directories of 1824, 1846, 1856, 1864, 1905, and 1952. All these archive documents give valuable information for researchers.
1st Ballymoney Presbyterian Church has part of an old Baptismal register from the mid 18th century. The records of this church were held in the house of Hugh Orr and the majority of them were destroyed in a fire. Rev. Robert Park kept very accurate records of baptisms and marriages of this church during the time of his ministry. He also carried out a census of his Congregation at the start of his ministry in 1817. It lists all the families with their children in order of birth, and where they lived.
The records of St. Patrick’s Parish Church are relatively complete and go back to the early 19th century. They include a book which list both the Presbyterian and Established Church (or
Church of Ireland) burials from 1807 – 1825 in the Old Churchyard. From 1825 to present day, the Presbyterian burials are no longer noted. Baptisms and marriages are recorded also from 1807.
There is also a census of the congregation taken in 1871.
St. James Presbyterian Church has baptismal and marriage records from 1835 with a census of the congregation in 1837. Unfortunately early records from Trinity Presbyterian Church are missing with only marriages from 1845 and baptisms from 1869. A fortunate discovery was records from the Unitarian Church in Ballymoney. This church no longer exists. As well as baptisms and marriages, there are several censuses of this small congregation and notes of members deaths and emigration.
George Millars’s list
George Millar, who was born in Ballymoney in 1797, and lived there until 1837 when he moved to Belfast, compiled a list from memory in 1871 of the inhabitants of Ballymoney between 1804 and 1811. This is referred to Millar’s list throughout the book.
It is interesting that not all the graves in the Old Churchyard belong to people who lived in Ballymoney. There are Hunter and Moore families from Dunluce, with more of these Moore families also found in Kilraughts Old Graveyard. McKighan is another Kilraughts family. There is a Craig from Islandbuoy which is closer to Ballycastle, with no known links in the town.
There are over four hundred graves in the churchyard, many of them completely illegible and some partly readable. I have used different approaches and techniques to try and transcribe them. Many of the gravestones have been vandalised in the last few years. A 1960s survey of the Old Churchyard is included in the McClay collection, which is held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).
The survey has been very useful although parts of it are missing. I have used church records to try and piece together a small history of each family as reading a list of inscriptions doesn’t really tell much about the families, their lives and occupations.
Some of the graves have only a name and no other details. This seems to be a trend of the trades families in the town. Not all graves were of wealthy people. It seems that some of these have been erected by their children who have emigrated and achieved success in their new lives overseas.
There was an attempt to close the graveyard for any further burials in 1938, but this created some dispute and the last known burial was in 1975.
Sources used for local research
1660: Hearth Money Rolls
1740: Protestant Householders’ Returns
1766: Religious Census
1803: Agricultural Census
1804-1810: Millers list
1825: Tithe Applotments
1859: Griffith Valuation
1882- 1932: Old Graveyard Internment Register