As we all know, it is very hard to research ancestors from Ireland. Each earlier generation brings new complications and less places where their name might have been recorded. The sketchy details I have of the McKinley family are hard won and still too meagre to tell us much. But here’s what I have gleaned:
John McKinley was born in Donegal in about 1822 and was the son of James McKinley. Nothing is known of his siblings.
John’s grandfather – Mr McKinley – seems to have come from Scotland and only lived in the Donegal region for one generation. We don’t have a name for him. We do know, however, that John’s father had a brother Patrick and a sister Mary.
John’s Uncle Patrick married a woman of unknown name and had sons Patrick, Michael, Andrew and James. Those four were my John McKinley’s first cousins.
John’s Aunt Mary married James McGarvie in Donegal and had children including William McGarvie.
John seems to have grown up with his McKinley cousins somewhere near Meenaneary in Donegal.
Somewhere around 1820, Aunt Mary, her husband and perhaps some children moved to Enniskillen in Fermanagh. As a young adult, John also moved to Fermanagh, most likely boarding with his McGarvie cousins. His cousin William McGarvie was born in the same year as John.These were tough times in Ireland. Even without records unique to this family we know that starvation was beginning to bite. Disease was rife in the southern Irish counties, the military was very active, bandit groups were active, work was nonexistent. Displaced Irish folk were roaming all over the country looking for family to stay with, for sustainable work and for shelter from the harsh Irish climate. People starved.
From Fermanagh, John made his way to the city of Derry in the county Londonderry.
He may have been the John McKinley who appeared at the Antrim Quarter Sessions charged with stealing a quantity of linen yarn at Belfast in 1839. The result of that court appearance is not known and if that was our John, the case must have been dismissed. So possibly he was in Belfast then but he was not the only man of that name in the north of Ireland. What we know is that by the early 1840s he went to Derry.
Somewhere on this journey he met his future wife, Alice Bowles. They married in about 1842. Two children, Mary Ann and James Patrick, were born to John and Alice in 1844 and 1846 respectively.
The young family struggled and despaired.
Just about everything we know about this family comes from that generation of cousins, because all the named young people managed to flee to country to a safe home.
The children of Patrick McKinley emigrated to the United States. Patrick, Michael, Andrew and James settled in Pennsylvania where their name morphed to ‘McGinley’.
William McGarvie emigrated to Victoria, Australia where he was married in 1854.
The cousins emigrated as assisted emigrants but for some reason this option was not available to John. Maybe he was rejected on health grounds or he lacked the skill set required. It’s a puzzle.
Then in December 1847 or thereabouts, John McKinley took the gamble of his life, which qualifies him as the subject of a blog about luck.
Details are still sketchy, but John and his wife were arrested for stealing two geese. As was the system back then, they were placed in a holding cell from the time of accusation, awaiting trial to prove their innocence or receive sentence.
I cannot prove this, but I am pretty certain that this was a deliberate move to achieve emigration from the country.
There used to be lots of stories about convicts having done this in Tasmania. Many of those stories were the descendant’s way of reestablishing their family reputation in a time when society descriminated against the descendants of convicts. The ‘deliberate ploy for emigration’ and the ‘he/she stole to save a starving family’ are good ways to deflect shame and dishonour. I am always skeptical when I hear it. But once in a blue moon it was true. If the jury detected it as a motive for crime, they assigned a prison sentence instead. Or as in the case of John and Alice, they would sentence the husband to transportation and exonerate the wife entirely as acting under her husband’s influence. Looking through the court records this result was common for husband/wife first crimes.
John and Alice wouldn’t have known this. Their theft, conviction and sentencing resulted in John facing transportation and Alice facing a life without him in Fermanagh as single mother to two infant children.
The jury deliberated on this one and decided that since neither had a prior record they should be afforded lenience.John probably didn’t feel very lucky at this point. The big plan had failed, his reputation was in ruins and the best he could hope for was that he would live while his family would die. It must have been a hard night in prison.
But they didn’t give up. Two weeks later his wife was back in gaol, having committed an offence on her own. An anxious wait must have ensued as she was once more kept in the holding cells awaiting trial. Her children were probably with her in the cell.
This time it worked. Alice received her own sentence. She and the children were shipped out first.
John languished a whole year in gaol in Fermanagh before the transportation occurred.
Once in Van Diemen’s Land, John McKinley and his wife still had a sentence to serve before they could resume their own life. Their little boy died very soon after arrival, a fact which obviously depressed Alice. John would not have known of the loss of his child until they met. Their daughter was safe in the Orphan School where she received something of an education in being a domestic servant.
Both John and Alice were exemplary workers and servants and received their Tickets of Leave in almost record time. Two years after Alice’s arrival in the colony they were back in the one household. John gained further brownie points by accepting a position as a constable.
In those days, constables were basically police officers/sheriffs and council inspectors all rolled into one. They were often chosen from among the better behaved convicts with the additional incentive of six months knocked off the sentence as well as better working conditions than they would have as labouring men. But the job came with animosity from many fellow convicts who maintained an ‘us or them’ mentality, considering the constables to be turncoats and betrayers.
John committed one offense as a ticket of leave constable, probably a genuine mistake. He illegally impounded a horse that should have been left where it was.
But finally, after serving only half his sentence, John McKinley received a conditional pardon. He and Alice, now in their early thirties, settled in Kempton where John continued his employment as constable for the rest of his working life. A large family was born to them.
It was a long hard struggle, but that gamble paid off and changed the family fortunes forever. Their descendants have lived comfortably ever since.