Lucky Break - Genealogy Research

Rex Kissack writes to the Isle of Man Family History Society about a 'lucky break'


This is a story our Family History Society always hope it would be able to tell. So often requests for genealogical help are met with sad shakes of the head, and the frustrating knowledge that we have no clue at all. But once it happened like this.

In June 1980, a lady in Tomah, Wisconsin, determined to take some step to find out about her Manx ancestry. She knew that two of her great-grandparents had emigrated from the Isle of Man. In an attic were some old postcards dating from around 1910, addressed to her father, and signed 'Your Cousin, Mary Jane Quirk'. The postmark was Peel, Isle of Man. Also in N. Clayton Cemetery in Crawford City, Wisconsin, was the grave of her great-grandmother, with the inscription, - 'Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Kissack. Born May 18, 1825, in Kirk Michael, Isle of Man. Died June 15, 18 In '. Her great-grandfather had married again, and moved away. Apart from. the cards and the gravestone she know no more.

So she wrote a letter to the Post Master at Peel, Isle of Man, and enclosed a photograph of the grave. She asked to be put in touch with any of her kin that might still be on the Island. She added a postscript' 'I would like a map of the Island, as I cannot find one that even shows your city of Peel'.

Ten days later this letter was on the desk of Miss Ann Harrison of the Manx Museum, promptly dispatched thither by a perplexed but wise Postmaster. And it so happened that just as the photograph tumbled out of the envelope, your Editor walked into the library, under Miss Harrison's very eye. And within two minutes the letter was consigned for action into the hands of a Kissack living In Kirk Michael.

The first thing that impressed me was the bold clear hand in which the letter was written. It was in a copperplate style of such rare clarity and consistency that it deserved a place in a museum for that alone. Calligraphy indeed. Then it occurred to him that the letter and photograph need only to be mounted on a board, to make an exhibit at the Society's Open Day at the Villa Marina, at the end of that same week. It had even been written only on one side of the pages! And so it featured in the Society's displays not only at the Villa, but in the Homecomers' Tent at Tynwald Hill, and at the Ramsey Cruinnaght, under the headings 'The sort of Problem we get, and sometimes solve'.

But even before I had left the Museum, the information on the gravestone had led to the easy discovery both of Elizabeth's marriage and baptism. She was Elizabeth Quiggin, baptised at Michael church on May 22, 1825, and married there on December 20th, 1851. Her parents were Charles Quiggin, Yeoman, and Mary Cain. Their address in Michael was the Intack Kion Eydha Moanney. Her husband was Thomas Kissack, whose residence at the time was in Maughold He and his father, William, were both farm labourers.

1851 being a census year, it was easy to identify Thomas. He was 26, and had been working as a servant on Ballaterson, Maughold. But his birthplace had been Jurby parish. It was as easy to detect his family. His mother was Mary Lewin who had married William Kissack in Jurby on September 22, 1825, and there was also a daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1827.

In those days William was the most popular name to give a Kissack, (and many other families too), but my luck held. For in the 1841 census I found a family of Kissacks at Ballamoar in Jurby, four of which were William, aged 40, Mary, 38, Thomas, 14, and Mary, 12, but which also included the parents of William, Stephen Kissack, agricultural labourer, aged 75, and his wife Ann,83. Stephen being a rare first-name in those days, I could trace the family further back into the 18th century. Stephen had married Ann Kelly in Jurby in 1785, and they had four daughters and three sons - Ellinor, 1788, Leah, 1790, Catherine, 1792, Daniel, 1794, John, 1795, William, 1798, and Esther, 1801.

In Jurby records, I also found Stephen's own baptism, in 1765. His parents were William Kissack and Esther Garrett. He had three brothers and two sisters, John (1755), William (1756), Thomas (1758), Esther (1759) and Ann (1762). Very interesting is the entry of his parents' marriage in 1751. It was a double wedding, the other couple being John Garrett and Ann Kissack (alias Kewish). I should add that at this point in history the fatally name was spelled Kissag or Kissage. I recalled from my studies of the Kissack family in Lezayre, that in 1727 a William Kissack had marred an Ann Kewish, and the Andreas registers recorded the baptism of a daughter Elizabeth in 1732, and the Jurby ones a son Robert In 1735. I cannot trace the baptism of any son William to then, but I found among the Testamentary cases of the Ecclesiastical Courts a document to the effect that Ann Garrett, alias Kiseage, died on July 12, 1767, intestate, and the administration of her estate woe granted to William Kissack, 'her only son'. So William was certainly the name of her son, and since weddings involving Kissacks were relatively rare in Jurby at that time, I think it is a fair presumption that Ann Kissack was the younger bridegroom's mother, and probably her new husband would have been the bride's father. There were other instances of Garrett/Kissack carriages in Jurby, a William Kissag married Mary Caret in 1679, and a Philip Garret married Catherine Kissage in 1772.

Ann Kewish, befog first married In Lezayre, would have presumably been of a family in that parish. It is a name almost extinct in the Island today, and not over plentiful In the 18th century, so that I think it very likely that Ann would have been the child baptised in Lezayre, daughter of William Kewish, in 1701. I cannot tell who might have been the William Kissack she married in 1727. There were several Williams alive in Lezayre, but I would hazard the conjecture that he would have come into the parish for the wedding, and be the son of the William Kissack who married Mary Garet in 1679. A William Kissack use buried in Jurby in 1734.

William and Ann clearly moved about from parish to parish, a fact that suggests that William may not have been a farmer. There were many Millers at the time in the Lezayre and Maughold branches of the name, and perhaps he too was one.

The search for the Quiggin side of Vesta Hendrick's ancestry (for that was our letter-writer's identity) was never likely to be easy, at least not in comparison with my own name. But here too I got off with unexpected good fortune. Present at the Villa Marina Display of June 28th was Tom Cashen, Schoolmaster and Historian of Kirk Michael. From the records of his school he could say at once that there had been a long connection of Quiggins with the western side of the parish. Quirk, however, was not so indigenous a name. Learning however that one of the Quirk postcards had borne the name Sartfield, he suggested that some of the older people at Barregarrow Methodist Chapel might be able to give me a lead.

This chapel, like many in the Island, stands at a cross-roads. The westward branch connects with the modern Peel-Michael coast road, and the ancient Staarvey road just above the Spooyt Vane. Northward the road runs through Michael village as the TT Course to Ramsey. The eastward branch strikes up the mountains, and is the main crossing route to Laxey. It passes the farms of Lower and upper Sartfleld. Southward the main road to Castletown heads towards St. John's, but more immediately passes farms named Ballaskyr, Shughlaghcain and Shughlagquiggin. Two miles uphill it reaches Cronk-y-Voddy, whence another road leads off to the left to join the Laxey road, via the Little London valley. It turns out that in this triangle Here the homes of Quirks, Quiggins and Caine

Barregarrow Chapel in 1980 celebrated the centenary of the present building, but in 1981 it celebrates the bicentenary of John Wesley stopping at the site to preach 'to a congregation of loving and artless people' as his Journal describes them, on the texts' If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink.' Those same people built a chapel on the site, and a century later decided to replace it by a larger and more ornate one. They insisted that it occupy the precise site of the older building - an insistence that strangely matched that of the Emperor Constantine on the precise location of his Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. Insistence's that sweep all constructional problems and cost on one side, give the strongest corroboration to the precise spot under which St. Peter Has buried, or on which John Wesley stood to preach.

I was planned to preach at Barregarrow Chapel one Sunday, in July, and I used the pulpit to ask if any one could give a word of long gone Quiggins or Quirks. And after the service two octogenarians pointed me further on the trail. The Quirks and Quiggins had had a noble part in the chapel's history. Tom Quayle volunteered that a Quirk, now in his 80's, still lived at St. John's. And Ada Kissack 'who had Quiggin on her herself', nodded to the Little London area, and said the Quiggins had held several farms all near each other, 'and I've heard it said, all the Quiggins in the Isle of Man came from round there - even the Timber Merchants in Douglas'.

Soon afterwards as I was driving past Upper Sartfield on the mountain road, I noticed the farmer who supplied us with milk at work In one of the roadside fields. So on his next visit I asked about his relation with Sartfield, and was told it was part of his holding. When I asked him about Quirks, he said he had an idea that he had seen the name in his Deeds, and even delivered the documents with the next batch of milk bottles. Having read them I duly returned them with the empties. And so I read the saga of three generations of the Quirks, mainly in pencilled genealogical comments made by some lawyer, as he worked out legacies.

In 1847, Thomas Quirk deeded part of his lands, namely Sartfield and Conrheanney to his youngest son, Robert. When Eliza, widow of his eldest son, Thomas, died in 1886, she left their estate to their nephew, John, the son of Robert, who inherited his father's part in 1895. John himself died in 1902, and the lands passed to his brother, Robert Charles Quirk. He did not live on them, and sold them in 1918 to a Philip Caley. The Mary Jane Quirk of the Postcards in the Wisconsin attic was the sister of John and Robert Charles Quirk. and their mother Has Jane, the elder sister of Elizabeth Quiggin, whom he had married in 1845.

The household of the parents of Jane and Elizabeth is described in the census returns for 1851. Charles Quiggin, aged 60, was a freehold farmer at Little London, and with him lived at the time, his wife Mary (nee Cain), 61, Elizabeth, 25, dressmaker, Eleanor, 23, and Mary 19, called 'farmer's daughters'. Mary Quiggin was to die at the age of 63 In September 1853, less than two years after Elizabeth's wedding to Thomas Kissack. She died at Kion Eyyda Moanney, Little London, and Charles Quiggin also was living there when he died aged 81, in 1873. Elizabeth's sister, Jane Quirk herself died in Kirk Michael, in May 1878 aged 54, less than a year after Elizabeth herself. Her husband, Robert Quirk, was 82 when he died in 1895, but her son John only 54 at his death in 1902.

I have not been able to trace the Quiggin family backwards as easily as the Kissacks. But Elizabeth came on both sides of families whose records in the parish of Michael go back well into the 17th century, the Quiggins to 1637, and the Caine 1611. I have already alluded to farms called still Shughlaghcain and Shughlaghquiggin. (Shughlagh means a piece of land running up into the mountains.) But this much I can conjecture with some confidence,

Elizabeth's father, Charles, was baptised March 25, 1791, the son of Philip Quiggin and Ann Shimmin. Her mother, Mary, was the daught er of John Cain and Jane Corlott, baptised November 15, 1789. Charles had brothers John (1793), Philip and John (twins) 1795, Robert (1797), kill (1808). Her mother had 2 brothers, John (17861 and William (1792), and a sister Ann (1794).

Beyond this progress is going to depend on chance evidence from non-register sources, such as Wills and Land-sales. I cannot find any record in the Michael marriage registers of the wedding of Philip Quiggin and Ann Shimmin, but there may be a record in another parish somewhere. The Michael registers mention Philip Quiggins born in the 18th century. The e first (1722) is clearly too old, the last, 1772, too young. And the choice seems to lie unresolved between the child of John Quiggin and Margaret Cain (1747) and that of Robert Quiggin and Ann Killey (1761).

Another happy spin-off of this research has been to relate Thomas Kissack to another family of Kissacks (not my own!) who have lived for over a century in Kirk Michael, and to which I have already alluded as helping me in my search for the Quiggin-Quirk connection. There was a John Kissack, who appears in the 1841 census, and again in the 1851 census as a manservant on farms in the Little London/Shughlagh/Ballaskyr area. He came from Jurby, and his age corresponds with that of another grandson of Stephen Kissack. He married Jane Kneale from Lezayre, in the sane year as Jane Quiggin married Robert Quirk (1845). Witnesses to the wedding were Thomas and William Quiggin, and Eliza Shimmin - this last name being the wife of Thomas Quirk, elder brother of Robert Quirk. It is no more than speculation, but could it be that Thomas Kissack, whose working life had been centred on Jurby and Maughold, came to meet Elizabeth through his cousin John ?

John and Jane Kissack remained all their lives in the area, raising a family - John (1845), Beth), William (1852), Ann Jane (1854) and Catherine Mary (1857). John himself was barely 40 when ho died in 1859. Jane worked on. The 1871 census shows her farming for herself with her youngest daughter at Balla-garroby, with William, the second son a farm servant at Ballaskyr. John, the eldest, it is said had emigrated to Cumberland, married, was widowed, returned to the Island and remarried to a Miss Renton, who bore him 2 daughters and a son, when she was over 40. He was a gardener, and lived at Ivey Cottage at the foot of Barregarrow hill. His son John Alfred, married Lila Boyle, and it was she who was so helpful in telling me of the Quiggin family. What is more their daughter, Phyllis Kissack, is the wife of Tom Cashen, the Schoolmaster.

One of the particular Joys of this little voyage of Family Exploration, was to receive from Mrs. Hendricks' husband photographic retakes of early photographs of Thomas Kissack and Elizabeth Quiggin, and their seven children. Particularly pleasing to to see Thomas not just in age, but as a soldier in the Unionist Army. All these faces show tremendous strength of will, and the tensions of frontier life over a century ago.

I like to think that these people, of pure Manx descent, drew from generations of wrestling with the insecurities of farm life in our Island, the qualities of will and endurance that were to serve no well in the building of America.

Mr. Robert Hendricks, by the way, is not only a keen photographer, but also an Amateur Radio enthusiast. His call Sign is W9 QVI, and he wonders if any members of the FHS have a like interest. If so call him up.

by Rex Kissack

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