New Member Inquiry – searching before 1840 and into the 1700s

This topic has 11 replies, 7 voices, and was last updated 6 months, 1 week ago by tjcoffice.

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    Hello fellow IGRS members from a new member in Canada! Due to COVID-19, I’ve recently embarked on a personal journey of genealogical research. It’s certainly been an interesting endeavor, and I was surprised to learn I was of Irish descent (always thought we were thoroughly Scottish). Unfortunately, I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock due to the age of records I’m searching for and the fact that I’m stuck at home in Canada during this research spree.

    I’ve managed to make it this point. I’ve located who I believe to be my family’s original ancestors when they arrived in Canada from Ireland;

    • Father: John Brown – estimated to have been born in 1798, reportedly in Cashel, County Tipperary. Died 1888 in Ontario, Canada.
    • Son: Robert Brown – born between 1825 and 1829 (depending on who’s math you believe!) somewhere in Ireland, died in 1909 in Tara, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada
    • Son’s Wife: Mary J Brown (maiden name unknown) – born around 1824 somewhere in Scotland. Married Robert sometime before 1851.

    The last reliable record I have been able to find for them is the 1851 Canadian Census. The only older Canadian census (1842) only lists head of household and number of family members, so it is literally impossible to trace them in that record (do you know how many John Browns there were back then??). I have also been unsuccessful with online database searches of passenger lists to Canada from Ireland before 1865 to identify the date of immigration. None of the Canadian records I’ve seen have provided any information on John’s wife – he is listed as 51 years old in the 1851 Canadian census but the 2 subsequent census archives show him with different ages that don’t align with the progression of time so again I’m not too sure on how accurate the actual ages are. All Canadian records are pretty consistent on surname being “Brown” and not “Browne” or any other variant though.

    Any recommendations on records to search (if I have any hope at all) or assistance with this search would be extremely helpful. I’m trying to see if my family has an armigerial history at all as well, so I’d appreciate any guidance on that.


    I should add, census records alternately identify all three as belonging to the Church of Scotland, Presbyterian, and Methodist. The 1851 Canadian Census lists John Brown as being a widower as well.

     Bob Frewen

    Brown is not a very common name in Co. Tipp. – about 140 Browns in total in the 1901 and 1911 censuses. Most Browns there would be descended from either English settlers or from an Irish ancestor who adopted the English version of a Gaelic name. There are no Browns mentioned in the book ‘The Tipperary Gentry’; the few that are mentioned in the ‘Biographical Dictionary of Tipperary’ are not gentry (and are mainly RC). As Presbyterians with Scottish connections they would be more likely to have hailed from the Northern part of Ireland. What makes you believe they might be armigerous? As Ulster Scots they would likely have a claim to belonging to the Broun/Brown Clan and use of the clan arms, although those arms have no legal standing under Scottish Law. Not many people are armigers in their own right. I’d be more inclined to research a N.Irish aspect more deeply given the religion and Scots links unless there was good evidence to support the link with Cashel.


    Thanks for the post Bob! I have no idea if my family is armigerous at all, it’s just one of the reasons why I started researching. I was doing heraldric research for a writing project and thought it would be cool to see if my family had any history or not.

    I could be wrong about the Co. Tipp. connection – it’s just the most solid lead I’ve had on John Brown. All I really have confirmed is that John Brown is definitely Robert’s father, and they immigrated together sometime before 1851 because both were born in Ireland. I haven’t even found a confirmed grave site for John Brown yet that has a reliable source for family connections – in fact I think I found some tiny info snippets since I originally posted that suggest the grave site that indicated Co. Tipp. might be for a different unrelated John Brown.

    I’m assuming Robert & Mary married before they immigrated, but I’ve not been able to find any documentation to prove or disprove that. The 1851 census doesn’t provide that information, though the 1861 census implies they married around 1852 (after possibly having a child out of wedlock around 1848).

    I’m pretty good with Canadian records but after that, I have no idea what I’m doing haha. That’s why I posted, to see if there was anyone else who might have even tangential information.


    Hi .. I too started out of a simply family research when my father in 2007 asked me to try to find his ancestors.  That was thirteen years ago and although my father has passed away I am still researching and writing.  In other words, it becomes addictive.

    I cannot help you directly as I am also struggling with the Irish genealogy.  But it is a slow process.  Persistence and patients are required, not my strong points unfortunately.   Good luck and happy hunting.


    Thanks John! I’m sure I’ll eventually make a breakthrough – though it might take a trip to Ireland to do it!

    Whenever I get discouraged, I just start working sideways. I’ve already discovered distant cousins in Ontario, so that’s been a treat.

     Web Editor

    Something I say all the time now is “have you done a DNA test?” You may be able to link into others’ research this way or find people in Ireland that you share DNA with.


    There were definitely some Brown family in Clonmel in the late 18th century. The Directory of Clonmel 1787 includes an entry
    Brown Catherine, Mercer, Main St.
    You may wish to consult early trade and postal directories for the area. I suggest a look at Shane Wilson’s Irish directory database at It is searchable by location and provides links indicating which are online free to view and which are pay to view.


    Thanks Jill, I will definitely check out Wilson’s database!

    The biggest challenge for me is the sheer abruptness of how the Canadian records end. So far I’ve had no luck finding Robert Brown’s mother (and John’s wife), Robert & Mary’s marriage record, or even exactly when they came to Canada. For all I know, they may have even immigrated to the United States and then come to Canada – I have no idea. The 1842 & 1825 Canadian Censuses are so vague, and the digitized records carry very few column titles over across images, so it gets confusing doing electronic research from home.


    I assume you have had a look at Roz McCutchoen’s Early Irish Birth and Marriage Death indexes here on the IGRS website and of course the database from our journal The Irish Genealogist.
    Then too it might pay to have a look at the Registry of Deeds indexing project, which is run by our webmaster at These deeds date from 1708 and some give great family information. If you are unfamiliar with this resource the project website provides links to a number of guides to the Registry of Deeds.

     David Vuckson

    With regard to passenger lists in the 19th Century, you should also consider lists from Ireland to Canada via the Port of New York.  My 2x great-grandparents Frederick O’Brien/Mary Weber O’Brien were married in Dublin in July 1844, travelled to Liverpool and sailed from there to New York, arriving in late August 1844.  From New York, the route to Canada was north up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal, part way along the Canal and working one’s way north overland, possibly by railway, to Oswego then by ship across Lake Ontario to Toronto, and onward from there.  I have been told it was quite common to sail from Liverpool in those days.  Using this theory, I found the arrival date of my 2x great-grandparents in New York on August 29, 1844 as well as the name of the ship.


    I think you will have to work your way backward. Start by finding where they arrived, whether Canada or the US. Sometimes, the manifest will mention where in Ireland they are from. You will not get far until you figure out where in Ireland they are from. It helps if they came over as a family group. That will make it easier to find them In Ireland or on ship passenger lists. Good Luck!
    Tom Crane

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