Thursday 9 January 2020

Check the Margaret Higgins Database for Irish ancestors

In late December, the England-based Catholic Family History Society released its 'Margaret Higgins Database of Catholics in England and their Friends 1607-1840', a collection of records relating to approximately 274,500 individuals and transcribed from England's 'Returns of Papists' and a good many other sources.

For each entry in the database, you may find the following details:
  • Year
  • Surname
  • First name
  • Status/Occupation
  • Age in years
  • Length of Residence

The amount of information given varies and it is rare to find that all of these fields contain information for an individual.

Between 1680 and 1767, Returns of Papists were compiled in response to Parliament requesting information about known or reputed Roman Catholics. There were several compiled between 1680 and 1767, and those of 1705-6, 1711, 1735, 1745 and 1767 have been transcribed into this database.
Click to download
So, too, have the names of people in Essex who were fined £40 for not attending their Church of England parish church for more than one month during the 1640s. Other names have come from confirmation lists, godparent lists, wills (with names of beneficiaries and witnesses), Oaths of Allegiance and Oaths of Abjuration, and some church records.

There is good reason for those with Irish ancestry to check this database, and the clue is in its title. It is not a database of English Catholics. It is a database of Catholics who lived in England, and the names that appear in it are a mix of English, French, Portuguese, Welsh, Scottish and Irish names.

Do bear in mind that the Irish names (and probably others, too) may appear under many guises. The database introduction warns that it's possible to find 19 variations of the name 'Donoghue', and even more if you include 'O'Donoghue'. Use the wildcard.

After reading the introduction, which I'd recommend all researchers do before they head for the database, I was pleasantly surprised – shocked, actually – to find a batch of 16 Santry entries dating from the early 1825–1835 in the East End of London. Some of them appear to be duplications, and I shall have fun untangling them and trying to track them back to West Cork, where they would have originated.

None of them is noted as from Ireland, however, so I think it's fairly safe to assume there are a good number more Irish people in these records than the official tally of 1,293 'Ireland entries' suggests.

The 22.8Mb download is free – click the image above – and comes in three parts: A Bibliography; A Title and Introduction booklet; And the database itself, which you download to your computer from the link on page 2 of the Introduction.