Luck Of the Irishes

UnknownIn truth, the Irish family wasn’t Irish. They were English. But it’s St Patrick’s Day weekend, and I can’t resist a snappy headline.

I finally took the plunge and joined AncestryDNA. FTDNA, the company I did my original 2006 testing with, has been amazing for the super-knowledgable people who work as project administrators, particularly Mark from my Eggleston Surname Study.

But I had huuundreds of matches outside of that study, and I had no clue who they were or how they fit in – and no realistic way of finding out. AncestryDNA offered a huge new pond to fish: way more people, and way more people with actual published family trees there for the perusal. Coming as I did from the old-school paper-trail kind of genealogy, this approach feels right to me. And BONUS – little to no Science Anxiety!

But what of the Irishes?  I have a John Irish in my tree – 1609-1677, the immigrant ancestor who married into my mom’s Richmond line. If I get a match hit with an Irish connection it’s generally easily traced back to him – and after most of four centuries, it would be a minuscule snippet of DNA the hit and I have in common. (Important point: If the snippet isn’t minuscule, AND Irish appears to be our only common ancestral surname, it suggests there’s a more recent common Irish ancestor.)

The exciting bit this week has to do with Margaret Watson, my 4th Great-Grandmother – someone about whom I know next to nothing.

  1. Based on state and federal census reports during her life, Margaret was born 1800-1801 in Saratoga County. That info is consistent through all five or six reports.
  2. As I’ve mentioned a few times here, I got a maiden name for her from the 1912 death certificate of her daughter Elisabeth Watson Spaulding. Elisabeth’s son was the informant, and he gave her name as Margaret Irish.
  3. She’s in the 1870 Census with her husband, but I think she died before he did (October 1873). There seems to be no grave for either. His death warranted a cursory notice in the Saratoga paper. Nothing for her, and no obituaries.
  4. There is no #4. 25+ years, and that’s the whole megillah.


Now as data goes, I realize the maiden name discovery is flimsy at best. But I feel pretty good about it. The son is a known and presumably well-informed Informant – that helps. But mostly, Irish was a big name in the village of Halfmoon, New York during the pertinent time period.

There was a handful of Irish families living near and directly adjacent to the 1820 home of John and Margaret Watson and their first two children. Specifically, father Abner Irish, plus his son-in-law Reuben Wood, his son Samuel Irish on the following page, and Smiton Irish, who might be a brother or a nephew – but Smiton is a family name, so they’re linked.

For now, I’m focusing on the son, Samuel. He and his wife Margaret had a large family in the 1800 and 1810 Census Reports – but those were the days when only heads of household were named, so I’ve never come up with more than one or two names for their children. They are buried in the Middletown Cemetery in Halfmoon. And they are my best-bets to be Margaret Watson’s parents. Why?

  • The obvious ones, for starters. Location, ages, and the large family – though no one among all those nameless kids seems to be an obvious match for Margaret, but that whole hash-mark system of counting children is notoriously inaccurate.
  • Affiliated families. Anna Irish, the wife of Reuben Wood and one of Sam’s sisters, ended up in my 3rd Great-Grandmother Watson’s Husted family line. They were in the same township, and had been for many years.
  • John and Margaret Watson had eleven children – including a Samuel and a Margaret. Sadly both died during a measles outbreak in June of 1849, when they were 21 and 15, respectively.
  • I put a fair amount of faith in what my gut tells me. And this feels right.

This week I was fishing for folks among my DNA matches who have the Irish name in their trees. One came up (let’s call her “Mary”), and she has not just Irishes, but she has Samuel and Margaret with a son I never knew about – Reuben. (Perhaps named for his uncle Reuben Wood???)

Mary’s and my relationship is listed as “Distant”, defined as 5th to 8th Cousin – based on the size of our matching DNA segment. So I added her line to my Ancestry tree – and based on our undisputed connection through the immigrant John Irish, she is calculated as a 9th Cousin, two times removed. That seems too distant given the size of the segment. 33% of the time our segment size indicates a 5th Cousin relationship.

This seems to point to there being a more recent common ancestor. So bear with me while I tip-toe into Conjecture Land. If – and I mean IF – my Margaret and her Reuben were siblings, children of Sam & Margaret, Mary and I would be 5th Cousins-Once Removed, which is right on target with the prediction.

I’ve sent Mary a message asking if she might share how she came to put Reuben in Samuel & Margaret’s family. In my perfect world, she’ll have a Bible or some such resource spelling everything out on the whole family and all my Margaret questions will be solved forever. 

Way more likely, she’ll say she doesn’t know, or it was just informal family knowledge and leave it at that. 

I’ll be happy just to get a response, frankly. Every bit of information helps.


  1. LOVE it! Have you seen a daughter named Theodocia Wood who might have married Daniel Walker? They were the parents of Debbie Walker who married Lewis Watson, one of my Elisha’s sons (& my 3rd GGP). I’ve “heard” that Theo’s maiden name was Wood, but have never seen any evidence of that.

    • I’m truly up to my earlobes in people named Wood. My Elisha’s son Truman, my 2ggf, married Josephine Wood from an oooold Staten Island clan. There’s another line that linked up with some of those Woods but also went back to the Hartford Stanleys. And Reuben. I think Wright might be the only name in my tree more confusing than Wood!

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