Irish genealogy is some thing new to me. In the past I have never ventured near Irish records except in a very superficial manner. The reason was partly due to the very few Irish ancestors in my own family as well as the fact that even when researching the Montreal Clay pipe makers I never pushed the Catholic Irish pipe makers back to Ireland beyond what was in Canadian records. This all changed recently.
I decided to embark on a new adventure in early 2017. As some of my readers know the Smith name is an adopted name. For context it would be best to tell the story.
On the 26th of July 1833 in Halifax Nova Scotia, my great, great grandfather George Young was born to Mary Young and a William Sharp. No Smith name there. Mary and William were not married and never were as far as I can tell. The birth record is in the records of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Halifax. George Young was christened on the 19th of December 1834. George Young was born out of wedlock, given a family story about no bastards in the Smith Family. Clearly this was a very sensitive subject. Mary Young married David Smith, a ship’s carpenter in Halifax on the 24th of December 1835. George Young would have been a year and a half old at that time. Mary Young’s father James Young had died of Cholera that summer on the 4th of July. Mary was left in Halifax with her Mother Elizabeth, her sister Jane and brother Alexander. The other siblings Robert and Ann having died of Cholera in 1834. David Smith from whom we get the Smith name is an enigma. Other than we know that he was a ship’s carpenter and that he died in Whitby, Ontario in 1888, I have been unable to trace his family. A total brick wall.
So who was William Sharp the father of George Young? An exhaustive search in the Nova Scotia archives turned up some intriguing clues. We knew from the records of the Schubenacadie Canal, where James Young was employed as a master mason and superintended the construction of the locks, that his crews included two brothers William Sharp and John Sharp both masons who were from the Amherst Nova Scotia area. The canal company had hired a large number of local masons in the early 1830’s. Linking the William Sharp who worked for James Young to the William Sharp who fathered George Young was altogether another issue. Again in an exhaustive search in the Nova Scotia archives we uncovered another William and John Sharp who were Scottish masons. Now this was significant, we thought, because James Young was working in Scotland prior to coming Halifax. Were these William Sharps the same person? In fact they were not. The William and John Sharp the Scottish masons were never employed by the Schubenacadie Canal Company and the dates of birth and death would have made them much older. So William Sharp and his brother John who worked on the Schbenacadie must have been locals from Amherst.
William Sharp, mason of the Amherst area married Maria Black on December 27th 1832 . The marriage record was not publicly available and took some research to find in the Black archives in Amherst. William Sharp was the son of Mathew Dunbar Sharp who was the son of Robert Sharp who was the son of Mathew Sharp. Mathew Sharp died in 1771 in the Cornwallis area of Nova Scotia. So was this the family? Extensive research failed to find any further Sharp possibilities. So the assumption was William Sharp father of George Young was the William Sharp who married Maria Black in 1832.
One can only speculate as to what happened in October 1832 when Mary Young got pregnant. Did William have a tryst before heading back to Amherst to be married in December of that year. Was Mary Young raped as my sister asked? Did William even know that Mary Young was pregnant when he left Halifax? Was there ever any contact again between Mary and William? These questions remain unanswered and probably will remain unanswered. What we know for sure is William was the father of George Young. DNA testing in 2008 connected my Y DNA to other Sharps who were originally from North Ireland.
The Sharp family has been relatively well researched in Nova Scotia and the 1770 and 1771 Nova Scotia censuses speak to their origins – Irish. Mathew Sharp was part of Saunders land Grant of July 9th 1772 that gave 500 acres to each of the grantees. The Saunders grant covered the Amherst area of Nova Scotia. Many of the grantees in the Saunders grant were from the Londonderry area of Northern Ireland. I always assumed Mathew was originally from Northern Ireland given the family was Presbyterian and the men were members of the Amherst Mason Lodge. In January of this year I connected with a Nova Scotia researcher from another branch of the Sharp family. Pat Carrigan had collected some of the old land deeds from the early 1800s from the Amherst area. Pat mentioned that there was a reference to a place in Northern Ireland. After a flurry of emails Pat had provided me with copies of the two original deeds.
The two deeds spoke of a family dispute over the proceeds of a land deal in Amherst. A Margaret Frazer nee Sharp living in Moyarget, Antrim, Ireland daughter of Mathew Sharp and Margaret Smith was asking her brother in Nova Scotia to represent her interest in the sale of land in Amherst. So where was Moyarget in Ireland? After some research the place was found just out side of Ballycastle in the north.
Irish research is difficult to say the least. In 1922 during the Irish civil war the Archives in Dublin were burnt to the ground along with hundreds of years of records. Records have survived in various places but are spotty at best the further back in time you go. The Sharp’s were staunch Presbyterians which makes things all the more difficult I have learnt. Presbyterians in Northern Ireland were only allowed to bury their dead in cemeteries of the established church – The Church of Ireland and the records were poorly kept. I connected with a number of Sharp researchers but it was Ron Price of Belfast who had a keen interest and had spent countless hours researching in the Ballycastle area. The Price family are inter married with the Sharps.
This year the LDS released into the IGI Irish land deed memorials. The memorials were previously available only on microfilm at PRONI in Belfast. Having the deeds online means that a wider audience now has access to the material. The problem however is nothing is indexed and there are thousands upon thousands of memorials starting in 1708. To be able to find things you have to know not only the townland location, and the land owner and or his agents name. A daunting task to say the least. Ron Price is highly skilled at searching the records and has contributed to the Registry of Deeds index project since 2011. Over the course of the past four months Ron and I have exchanged emails some times four or five a day with new discoveries. Over the same time period I have built up a family chart of the Sharps in the Ballycastle area going back to the mid 1600’s. At some point I will make it public.
Mathew Sharp 1746-1755
So what of our Mathew Sharp who came to Nova Scotia? The confirmation that his daughter was in Moyarget in 1811 and 1821 meant there had to be a family connection to the Ballycastle area. Andrew Sharp, a farmer at Moyarget was mentioned in the Nova Scotia deeds. We also knew that Margaret’s husband Adam Frazer was deceased in 1811 as the first deed states. The 1803 agricultural census of Antrim provided the proof that Adam Frazer was indeed alive prior to 1811. Adam Frazer was farming in Toberbilly just outside of Ballycastle. He is listed under a Thomas Sharp on the census.
The finding of Mathew Sharp proved to be incredibly lucky. A deed from 1746 and registered in 1755 was a lease of land once occupied by Robert Sharp. Mathew Sharp residing in Drumahaman was a witness to the memorial in 1746 and would have been around in 1755 when the lease was registered. Robert Sharp is probably Mathew’s father as the name Robert is most frequently found in the Nova Scotia Sharps. Some 10 years later Mathew was in Nova Scotia, possibly by way of the US. What brought Mathew and his family to Nova Scotia one can only speculate at this point but there are some interesting possibilities.
My adventure in Irish genealogy continues and at some point I will visit Belfast and share a pint with Ron, in the meantime I am compiling a Sharp family chart. I would love to hear from any Sharp descendants who hail from the Ballycastle area.