in Family history

The Reverend James White 1715-1768

Eccl Hist edited

The above sentence comes from the preface to ‘The history of Limerick, ecclesiastical, civil and military: from the Earliest Records, to the Year 1787‘ written by John Ferrar.  It’s a wonderful book, a very enjoyable read and a useful reference if you have ancestors in Limerick.  I first found it about four years ago and I have read it several times.

This book is an update of John Ferrar’s 1767 work ‘An History of the City of Limerick: Containing Some Account of Its Antiquity &c‘.  This, also, is a good read.  What’s more, one really gains an understanding of Limerick society by noting the changes between the two editions. Changes in Limerick, and changes in perspective.

For a long time I wondered at the above sentence.  It’s not hard to detect the mood of the author in any piece of writing, and this book never came across as a laborious task for its author.  Eventually, the answer came to me.  To be strictly honest, John Ferrars told me right on the frontispiece of the 1767 edition, but I’d always skipped that page and headed for the substance.

John Ferrars Limerick

John Ferrars did not actually write the history.  He compiled it from the work of others.  This does not in any way devalue his efforts.  To locate private manuscripts, assess their accuracy, decide on a format for his book and to choose what to include and what to leave out without offending anyone of importance is a colossal undertaking.  If he hadn’t done this, those manuscripts would not be with us today.  I, for one, am very appreciative.

So who did write it?  In 1767, Ferrars makes only the briefest reference to his sources.

John Ferrar sources

There we have a reference to a man for whom I have the greatest respect.  The Reverend Mr White is not an ancestor of mine.  Since he was a Catholic Priest I expect he was nobody’s direct ancestor.  He was a man with an active mind and a gift for writing. I’ve known him for years through his writing.  I would guess that he was creative and generally enthusiastic. I’m sorry that I did not meet him.

The Reverend White did not exactly write the history either, although he created the format and it seems conducted several oral histories to fill out the detail.  He did as John Ferrars did later, and rescued manuscripts written in earlier times.  He was a great transcriber.  Still, I would credit James White with the arrangement of the history.  If flows very well.  I’ve read a lot of books from this era over the years and some are stiff and awkward, as if the author could not properly communicate without seeing how his words were being received.  The Reverend White was different.

Even though I knew this much about the Reverend White, I had no idea where he actually lived.  He produced a history of Limerick and one of Clare, and collected manuscripts from several counties.

Then came the Irish Catholic Parish Records, made publicly available last week by the National Library of Ireland. On the search for Fitzgeralds and Appleyards, my intrepid distant cousin went online, into the St Mary’s Limerick baptisms.  Here she found the records we needed.  She sent me an email, I went to see for myself – and there was the Reverend James White himself!

James White entries 1751 copy permissable under Creative Commons license 4.0

This parish register is a transcription, made probably at the end of each month, possibly each third month.  I first realised this when I noticed a few entries out of order.  A February 12th entry before a January 4th entry.  There were a few errors in name too, errors which are unlikely to occur at the time of the event.  Getting the mother’s name wrong, for instance. I don’t think it happened much, but there was an error in one of my own family records so I became aware of this.

This register is also indexed – something I have not seen with any other.  Remembering that these records have been available for one week so I’m hardly an expert on their organization. Someone – and my money’s on our Reverend White as the first – actually indexed seventy five years by first name of baptized child.  That’s what the numbers are all about at the side and the top.  Page number and each baptism individually numbered.

Indexing baptism St Mary Limerick Creative Commons 4.0

The indexing continues for half a century after the Reverend White’s death, but I do think he began it.

So what happened to the Reverend James White?  He passed away on 7th February 1768 and worked basically till the end.  Here are his final entries in the register, and since the handwriting changes permanently at this time I am pretty sure it was our Reverend White doing the writing up till now.  From here on, the Reverend Welsh seems to take over. creative commons 4.0 creative commons 4.0

Somewhere in early July 1767, Reverend Welsh takes the bulk of the work along with the continuing Reverend John Creagh, but the Reverend White remained on the payroll. He is named at the top of each page still.  He pops back in about once a month or so to perform a baptism or marriage.  He appears to be on light duties.

By today’s standards, he wasn’t even so old!  At this time he was in his early fifties. He performed his final baptism at St Mary’s Limerick on 29th December 1767.  Maybe he formally retired at the end of the year.

The 1787 edition of John Ferrars’ Limerick history contains the following brief biography:

James White was born in the city of Limerick in the year 1715; he returned from the College of Salamanca in Spain, in 1736, and was ordained a priest in 1738.  He published in 1764 a short description of the county and city of Limerick, and in 1766 a description of the county Clare, he also compiled in one folio volume, the annals of Limerick, from whence the first printed History was taken in 1767. 

He was for twenty five years, the pious and exemplary priest of St. Mary’s parish in Limerick, where he died on the 7th of February 1768.

John Ferrars’ History of Limerick is now available via Google books so we don’t need the hardcover to read it.  A few later versions on Google books come with pictures. I have not posted those images here since the terms of service are not clear regarding them.

There are several Ecclesiastical histories of Irish counties, and I recommend perusing these while viewing the records.  It gives the whole process context.  Otherwise one is faced with the very dry task of trawling smudgy faded Latin text on the search for family surnames, and one set of spidery handwriting looks very much like another after a while.  To visualize the life of the parish helps a great deal and keeps the mind alert.

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