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Identifying John Wilson’s Irish Origins, Part 3: Documentary Evidence & Conclusions

Using both Y-DNA and autosomal DNA (at-DNA) in the previous two blog posts, the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799) appears to be in an area east of Enniskillen, which is the largest town in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The purpose of the final blog post is to use documentary evidence to corroborate previous findings and use historical writings to provide rich context to John Wilson’s story of immigration to America.

For the documentary portion of the research, the relevant time periods span the late 1600s to capture the period leading up to the birth of John Wilson in 1716, to the mid 1700s to capture when the Pennsylvania Cluster likely left for America, and to the mid 1800s to capture when the New Haven Cluster similarly left for America. Unfortunately, very few Irish records are available to search due in part to the early period of interest and that many early records were destroyed in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. The available records searched for this research project include:
– 1630 Muster Rolls
– 1749-1753 Freeholders’ records
– 1766 Religious Census of Ireland
– 1823-1840 Tithe Applotment records
– 1848-1864 Griffith’s Valuation records

Religious Census of Ireland (1766)

The earliest and most comprehensive set of records is the 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, which provides a list of heads of households and their religion and was used to help the Church of Ireland retain its monopoly power in Ireland.1 Heads of household are listed by townland.

The prior Big Y, autosomal, and chromosome mapping DNA analyses suggest that Bannon, Burgess, Cosgrove, and Farry are, in a manner of speaking, the members of John Wilson’s FAN Club (friends, associates, and neighbors). While Wilson was one of the more common surnames in County Fermanagh in the 18th century (20 families), the surnames of Bannon (3 families), Burgess (2 families), Cosgrove (1 family), and Farry (2 families) were less prevalent.2 Identifying where the Bannon, Burgess, Cosgrove, and Farry families lived during the 1766 Religious Census and triangulating it with the locations of where the Wilson families lived may help to better pinpoint the ancestral townland for John Wilson.

All Bannons, Burgesses, and Farrys were found in the parish of Derryvullan or in neighboring Enniskillen (see Table 1 below). The only Cosgrove (Cosgrave) is found in the far north of County Fermanagh and not likely relevant given the locations of Bannons, Burgesses, and Farrys. As hypothesized in Figure 5 in second blog post, it is probable that the DNA cluster with Cosgrove is related to Henry Cosgrove’s reputed wife, Mary Jane Wilson, rather than the Cosgrove line.

When the Wilsons are overlayed onto the Bannon, Burgess, and Farry results, two clusters are visible around two different townlands, which are about 2.5 miles apart and to the east of Enniskillen in the Parish of Derryvullan. Five Wilson heads of household are found in Derryhillagh (i.e., John, Richard, William, William, and Widow) and one Wilson head of household in Cavancarragh (i.e., Robert). See Figure 9 below.

Derryhillagh is the townland from where two of the Big Y cluster matches hail (see Wilson 4 and Wilson 7 in Figure 2 in the first blog post). Cavancarragh is the townland where the Bannon New Haven at-DNA Cluster were from and the town near where the Farry County Fermanagh at-DNA Match was from. While more Wilson heads of household are found in Derryhillagh than in Cavancarragh, all the allied surnames of interest are found around Cavancarragh with only Bannon and Farry heads of household found here making Robert Wilson in Cavancarragh a person of interest.

Tithe Applotment Records (1823-1840)

The next earliest and most comprehensive set of records in County Fermanagh are the Tithe Applotment Records, which was a tax payable to the Church of Ireland for occupiers of agricultural holdings.3 Concentrating on the area east of Enniskillen previously identified in the Religious Census as the possible focal area, all Bannon, Burgess, Cosgrove, and Farry heads of households living in the area were mapped and is displayed in Figure 10. The Tithe Applotment Records in this area of County Fermanagh were created between 1829 and 1835.

Similar to the 1766 Religious Census, a majority of the Wilson heads of household were found in Derryhillagh, but only the Bannon and Farry heads of household are found in and around Cavancarragh suggesting that Cavancarragh may be a townland of interest, especially for the at-DNA clusters previously presented in the second blog post who arrived America in the mid 1800s, i.e., Bannon New Haven Cluster and the Farry County Fermanagh Match. Indeed, the ancestors of the Bannon New Haven Cluster are found in the Tithe Applotment Records in Cavancarragh (James, James Jr., and Michael Bannon).4 The Wilsons in Cavancarragh include Catherine, John, Mary, and Robert.

Griffith’s Valuation (1848-1864)

The final most comprehensive set of early records available in County Fermanagh are Griffith’s Valuation, which was a property tax administered between 1848 and 1864 and provided a detailed valuation of agricultural and built property.5 This resource is helpful in establishing where in Fermanagh the “County Fermanagh Farry Match” likely resided before arriving in Philadelphia in the 1880s (see the previous blog post for a more detailed discussion of the Farrys). Bridget (Farry) Carr is the immigrant ancestor for this cluster. Her parents were James Farry and Catherine Bannon, and their children were baptized in the Tempo Parrish, which is near Cavancarragh.6

While Griffith’s Valuation was administered between 1848 to 1864, the area surrounding Cavancarragh was principally assessed in 1862. James Farry’s first child appears to have been born in 18587 and so James should be listed in Griffith’s Valuation. One James Farry was identified in the vicinity of Tempo Parrish, and he was in the townland of Cloghtogle, which is a tier 1 townland to Cavancarragh.8 The only other James Farry near Tempo was in the townland of Cavantilly-Cormick, which is located further from Tempo but still only a couple of miles from Cavancarragh.9 In either instance, it establishes that Bridget (Farry) Carr’s origins are likely near Cavancarragh.

Historical Evidence

Based on the preceding evidence, it appears that Cavancarragh is the location of interest and the Robert Wilson found in the 1766 Religious Census in Cavancarragh is a potential person of interest. Reviewing historical accounts of County Fermanagh may confirm whether Cavancarragh is the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799) and whether John is a direct descendant of Robert.

Historical Context

The British (English and Scottish) settlement of Ulster (Northern) Ireland began in 1610, and by 1630 Scottish settlements in County Fermanagh were the greatest around Ballinamallard, Lisnaskea, and between Derrygonnelly and Lisgoole while English settlements were greatest around Castle Archdale, Enniskillen, and Newtown Butler (see Figure 11).10 The lands surrounding Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh are located in the Barony of Tirkennedy, which were granted to servitors (i.e., those who served the king in Ireland as soldiers or government officials) and to the native Irish (i.e., the Maguire clan).11 However, British settlement in this part of Tirkennedy was sparse in 1659.12 Indeed, in Derryhillagh, only eight Irish people were living in the townland during the 1659 Census of Ireland and none were British.13 The town of Cavancarragh was not listed in the Census.

Little migration from Scotland and England occurred after 1622 in County Fermanagh, and the Scottish and English populations in the County mostly grew naturally from this time forward.14 It seems likely that British migration into the townlands surrounding Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh came from neighboring areas, such as Enniskillen (English), Ballinamallard (Scottish), or Lisgoole (Scottish).

Freeholders’ Records (1749-1753)

While no other comprehensive records exist for the early time period of interest for this research project, one source may provide additional insight: The Freeholders’ records, which listed men who either owned their land outright or who held it for the duration of their life.15 These records were not a census and so no guarantee can be made that it includes all settlers of British origin, but the earliest Freeholders’ records in County Fermanagh are from the 1740s and 1750s. In the area of Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh (inclusive of Enniskillen), six different Wilson heads of household are found between the years 1749 and 1753, as shown in Table 2.16

Based on the Freeholders’ records in Table 2, no Wilsons are identified as living in Cavancarragh, which suggests that the Robert Wilson found in Cavancarragh during the 1766 Religious Census most likely had not yet migrated to this townland or had not yet acquired a lease. However, there are two Wilsons in Derryhillagh – Richard Wilson Sr. and Jr. It is probable that the Richard Wilson Jr. in the Freeholders’ records in 1749 is the same Richard Wilson found in the 1766 Religious Census. It seems that Richard Wilson Sr. identified in 1749 (Freeholders) likely died by 1766 (Religious Census) and the Widow Wilson in Derryhillagh for the later record was his wife.

While Robert Wilson was not found in the Freeholders’ records in Cavancarragh, there is a Robert Wilson in Ballydoolagh, which is a tier two townland of Derryhillagh and a couple of miles from Cavancarragh. It is possible that this Ballydoolagh Robert Wilson moved to Cavancarragh between 1751 and 1766 as no Wilsons are found in Ballydoolagh in 1766.

Theories of Migration Based on Historical and DNA Evidence

Up to this point, no early records establish a definitive location within County Fermanagh for the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799). Robert Wilson of Cavancarragh does not appear in this townland until 1766, which is after the birth of John Wilson. So, it seems unlikely that John Wilson lived at any point in Cavancarragh.

In absence of any other early records for the Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh areas, two competing theories are proposed. First, the ancestors to the Wilsons of Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh were in their respective townlands much before 1749 and may have arrived the area during the Ulster Plantation in the early 1600s. It’s possible then that no records survive to the present day to prove otherwise. Alternatively, the Wilsons could have migrated into this area from other places in Fermanagh or neighboring Ulster counties in the decades just before 1749 in search of better land and prosperity. Indeed, this area of Tirkennedy was sparsely populated by British settlers prior to 1659,17 and many early settlers were greatly disappointed with conditions in their new Ulster home and began migrating internally within Northern Ireland.18

Indeed, Castle Coole, which was the Ulster Planation manor associated with ownership of the area where Derryhillagh and Cavancarragh are found, changed ownership in 1655 from an English landlord to a Scottish landlord.19 Castle Coole is located just east of Enniskillen and a couple of miles from Derryhillagh and Cavancarragh. If the Wilsons were Scottish, as believed, then they may have moved into this area at this time.

Regardless, Derryhillagh, or the townlands immediately surrounding it, may be the original homestead for the Wilsons no matter when they arrived the area. Two early publications on the historical accounts of the region provide some valuable insight as to why this might be. The first is an 1881 publication of the historical deeds and family documents in the possession of Somerset Richard Lowry-Corry, who is The Earl of Belmore, and was at that time the owner of Castle Coole. The Earl of Belmore describes a 1707 improvement to Castle Coole and in doing so mentions a Wilson farm on the outskirts of this improvement in the townland of Killyvilly, which is a tier two townland of Derryhillagh:

“[The improvement] took up most of the townland of Killyvilly – the rest being held by one Wilson, a descendant of whom still holds a portion of the original holding, and is I think the only tenant now holding land in the manor who could trace his family back in the male line, in the same farm, to this time. There may be some indeed whose ancestors were undertenants, but I have no means in my possession of identifying them.” 20

The second publication is from 1919 and states that the Far Mill near Derryhillagh has been “for about two centuries connected with the name of Wilson”.21 In support of the evidence from the two publications is that most of the Big Y-DNA matches previously presented have ancestral origins in and around Derryhillagh, and two at-DNA matches identified earlier and found on FamilyTreeDNA also have Wilson ancestral origins in or near Derryhillagh (see Figure 8 in the previous blog post).

It is quite possible then that Robert Wilson identified in Cavancarragh in 1766 migrated from Derryhillagh to Ballydoolagh prior to 1751 and then to Cavancarragh by 1766 in search of better land.

Another interesting observation is that most of the at-DNA matches in Cavancarragh also have Bannon ancestry. Bannon is a native Irish clan residing in 1766 in Coolbuck, which is adjacent to Cavancarragh.22 Bannons were Catholic.23 The Wilsons were Protestant.24 Intermarriage between the British and the native Irish was rare, especially in the 1600s.25 Yet, despite this, evidence of an early Wilson-Bannon marriage was found in Cavancarragh and is discussed next.

Bannon descendants of a James Bannon (1768-1852) indicate that he was married to Sarah Wilson. A transcript of James’ will, which was dated 1829, indicated he lived in Cavancarragh, had a wife named Sarah, and six daughters and one son, Robert.26 It is possible James’ son may have been named after Robert Wilson, who resided in Cavancarragh in 1766. In his will, James names his son Robert of Tattymacaul and Patt Bannon of Killee as executors (Patt’s relationship to James is unknown). The will further mentions a promissory note to Thomas Wilson. What is interesting about the claimed marriage of James Bannon to Sarah Wilson is that the 31.6 cM DNA match shown in Figure 8 in the previous blog post claims descendancy from Patt Bannon, who witnessed James’ will and is named as James’ executor. It is possible that Patt Bannon is a brother to James and similarly married a Wilson, perhaps Sarah (Wilson) Bannon’s sister. This would explain the 31.6 cM autosomal DNA match descending from Patt Bannon. More research is required to sort out the possible relationships between these Bannons and the Wilsons of Cavancarragh.


Based on the Big Y-DNA analysis presented in the first blog post, it seems John Wilson (1716-1799) was likely from County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Evidence also suggests he may have been Scotch-Irish with his ancestors being part of the Ulster Plantation.27 No autosomal DNA matches or 18th century documentary evidence connects John with other Wilson families or Irishmen in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where he first appears in the 1740s. It is probable that John came to America on his own as a young man. Many emigrants from County Fermanagh in the 18th century were children of plantation settlers who realized conditions in Ulster did not live up to their expectations.28 Until the year 1770, many hundreds left each spring for the U.S. and Canada.29 Upon arrival to Bucks County, John likely worked at Thomas Pryor’s mill in Solebury Township like many of the Wilsons back in Derryhillagh who also worked at or owned mills.30

According to a historical account of Scotch-Irish immigration into the U.S., the first wave of immigrants to arrive American shores landed in Philadelphia and began migrating up the Delaware River entering Bucks County by 1720.31 It is probable that John was a latter participant of this first wave. The same text indicates subsequent waves of Scotch-Irish immigration into Pennsylvania came after 1766 moving through areas, such as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, up the Susquehanna valley settling in places like Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. This latter path is the route the Wilsons associated with the Burgess and Cosgrove families in the Pennsylvania Cluster traveled after the Revolutionary War.

In answering the research question proposed by this report and blog post series, it appears that John Wilson’s (1716-1799) ancestral homeland is County Fermanagh with further ancestral roots in Scotland. If born in County Fermanagh, it is probable that John was born in or near Derryhillagh. The Robert Wilson who appears in Cavancarragh in 1766 is most probably a close relative of John given the number of at-DNA matches and the size of the matching DNA segments for these individuals who descend from Cavancarragh ancestors. It is possible that Robert might be John’s father, but it seems more probable that Robert is a brother to John. Robert was not a common forename in John Wilson’s descendants, but it was in the Wilson/Burgess clan. Furthermore, no additional information is known about Robert other than his appearance in the 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, so it is uncertain whether Robert was John Wilson’s age suggesting a sibling relationship or much older suggesting a paternal relationship.

A link to full unabridged report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson is found on my website here.

This blog post was initially posted as a guest blog at

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1. NI Direct Government Services (n.d.), About 1766 religious census returns, accessed 22 August 2021,
2. The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, County Fermanagh, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland(PRONI,, accessed 21 August 2021); Tenison Groves transcripts. 
3. The National Archives of Ireland (n.d.), The Tithe Applotment Books, accessed 22 August 2021,
4. “Ireland Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838,” Irish Genealogy Hub (, accessed 15 August 2021), > Fermanagh Genealogy > Derryvullan Tithe Applotments, James Bannon Sr., James Bannon Jr., and Michael Bannon, Cavancarragh, 1835. 
5. Ask about Ireland (n.d.), What is Griffith’s Valuation? Accessed 24 August 2021,
6. Wilson, Rick T. (2022). Research Report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson, who died 1799 in Franconia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, available at
7. Ireland Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915, Northern Ireland, County Fermanagh, Tempo Parrish, Mary Cath Farry (16 Aug 1858), image 19 of 46, database with image, Ancestry (, accessed 13 September 2021); National Library of Ireland, Dublin, microfilm 05570/02. 
8. Griffith’s Valuation, County Fermanagh, Tirkennedy Barony, Enniskillen Parrish, Cloghtogle, James Farry (printed 1862), p. 216; database with image, Ask About Ireland (, accessed 14 September 2021). 
9. Griffith’s Valuation, County Fermanagh, Tirkennedy Barony, Magheracross Parrish, Cavantilly-Cormick, James Farry (printed 1862), p. 231; database with image, Ask About Ireland (, accessed 14 September 2021). 
10. Johnston, John (1979), “English Settlement in County Fermanagh, 1610-1640,” Clogher Record, 10 (1), 137-143. 
11. Johnston, John (1980), “Settlement Patterns in County Fermanagh, 1610-1660,” Clogher Record, 10 (2), 199-214. 
12. Johnston, J.D. (1980), “Settlement and Architecture in County Fermanagh, 1610-41,” Ulster Journal of Archaeology,” 43, 79-89. 
13. Poll Money Ordinances (1660-1661), Dublin, Ireland: The Stationary Office, Government Publications Sale Office. 
14. Johnston (1980), “Settlement Patterns in County Fermanagh, 1610-1660”. 
15. Northern Ireland Direct Government Services (n.d.), About freeholders’ records, accessed 8 September 2021 from
16. Freeholders’ Records, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI,, accessed 8 September 2021).
17. Johnston, J.D. (1980), “Settlement and Architecture in County Fermanagh, 1610-41”. 
18. Livingstone, Peadar (1969), The Fermanagh Story: A Documented History of the County Fermanagh from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Monaghan, Ireland: Cumann Seanchais Chlochair.
19. Lowry-Corry, Somerset Richard (The Earl of Belmore) (1881), The History of the Two Ulster Manors of Finagh in the County of Tyrone and Coole, Otherwise Major Atkinson, in the County of Fermanagh, and their Owners, London: Longmans, Green, & Co. 
20. Ibid, p. 149.
21. Trimble, W. Copeland (1919), The History of Enniskillen with References to some Manors in Co. Fermanagh and other Local Subjects, Volume 1, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland: William Trimble. 
22. The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, County Fermanagh, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland(PRONI,, accessed 21 August 2021); Tenison Groves transcripts. 
23. Livingstone, Peadar (1969), The Fermanagh Story: A Documented History of the County Fermanagh from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Monaghan, Ireland: Cumann Seanchais Chlochair. 
24. The 1766 Religious Census of Ireland, County Fermanagh, database, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland(PRONI,, accessed 21 August 2021); Tenison Groves transcripts. 
25. Johnston (1980), “Settlement Patterns in County Fermanagh, 1610-1660”. 
26. Transcript of James Bannon’s will, dated 1829 and extracted from the Registry of the Diocese of Clogher, County Monaghan, Northern Ireland; transcribed by E. Brown, Tampa Bay, Florida, U.S. 
27. Chapman Brothers (1887), “Robert J. Wilson” in Portrait and Biographical Album of Linn County, Iowa
28. Livingstone, Peadar (1969), The Fermanagh Story: A Documented History of the County Fermanagh from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Monaghan, Ireland: Cumann Seanchais Chlochair. 
29. Ibid. 
30. Trimble (1919), The History of Enniskillen with References to some Manors in Co. Fermanagh and other Local Subjects, Volume 1.
31. Ford, Henry Jones (1915), The Scotch-Irish in America, Princeton, NJ: The Princeton University Press. 

Published by Rick T Wilson, PhD

As the Family Pattern Genealogist™, I detect and analyze patterns in genealogically relevant data using DNA and other traditional records.

3 thoughts on “Identifying John Wilson’s Irish Origins, Part 3: Documentary Evidence & Conclusions

    1. Thank you. To make the maps, I used PowerPoint. It was a multi-step process. I found a map online that I liked and had the general level of detail I wanted. I took a screen shot/grab of it and inserted it as an image into a PowerPoint slide. Then I used the “freeform” line tool within the “Insert Shapes” section of PowerPoint and traced the lines I wanted. If you complete the shape by taking the freeform line back to a starting piont, PowerPoint will automatically close it and color it in. You can then edit the shape and change the color as needed. When I’m finished drawing lines, adding text, and other needed items, I again take a screen shot/grab or save it as an image and insert it into my Word document.

      Liked by 1 person

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