More than Travel for Family History

As we drove into Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, memories came flooding back to me.  Songs around the table in my grandmother's kitchen and all the heated discussion about the troubles and hunger strikes around my family dinner table.  I was there with my husband on a long awaited holiday and we were heading to the library and family history centre.

The first thing that struck me was the overt displays of the union jack in the town centre and in houses. It seemed to me an unnecessary provocation.  I wondered how someone who had family killed by the UK army would feel about it.

Ballymoney today.

The most important document I have about my GG Grandfather, William Stewart Heard is his attestation certificate from 14th June 1876.

This, and the other documents from the UK National Archives are lucky to have survived as many military documents did not. They are available on Ancestry.  These ones tell us he was 19 years, 8 months old (so, born in Oct 1856) and born at Ballymoney, Antrim, Northern Ireland.  He was enlisting in the 4th Hussars at Belfast where he was employed as a barber.

Another important piece of information, his religion was Church of England  - so from that I can deduce he was not from Catholic Irish extraction.  There is also a full description of height etc.  His Statement of Services does not show where he was posted, only that he was a private and was discharged on 11 March 1895 "at his own request after 18 years service with a view to pension under the existing royal warrant" .

Over the page I find that he served in India from Dec 76 to Jan 79 (2 years 13 days), then he appears to have been posted back to England.  There is a more important piece of information on this page however, information about his marriage.  It states his wife's name as Elizabeth and the date of marriage as 5th Jan 1880 in Cheriton, Kent, England.  At last!  I have the right William Stewart Heard, with multiple matches of information.

Military documents often hold vital pieces of information that allow us to  verify we have the right person, and key information such as date of birth, they can be a fantastic find, and this one led me to Ballymoney. 

I found it quite a shock to find that my husband did not really know anything about Northern Ireland and the troubles, it had been such a constant point of discussion around the dinner table in my family.  I had to explain to him what the Irish vs. England problems were, how the Irish had been persecuted and had lost their land.  Later on the trip we did a black cab tour of Belfast, which I recommend to anyone, my husband was quite shocked by the proof of violence and what we saw.

Thats the back of me and the cab driver in front of one of the murals in Belfast

At the library at Ballymoney I looked through some documents and found a few Herd (see note below about spelling of names) family in a little town called Claughey and these may be related.  Two vital things you need to know about Irish research:
  1. Its almost impossible to do until you know the county (in my case Antrim) your family lived in.
  2. Names changed quite a lot - read here for more information , and read here for searches.
An unexpected part of the trip was going to one of the cemeteries in Ballymoney where we met a lovely lady and her dog sitting in the churchyard.  She told us of the story of the cemetery and the terrible judge who had condemned so many children to hang! You never know who you may meet on a journey.

Part of the historic Cemetery at Ballymoney.

My next overseas Gen Trip?  I will be off to Aldershot where my GG Grandfather and Grandfather served and to Sutton where William and Elizabeth (Ellis) Heard is buried, then to Upper Hale where William and Eliza (Littleboy) Ellis are buried.

Grave of William and Eliza Ellis      


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