THREADS of an amazing family story have come together thanks to a combination of anecdote, artefact and the internet.
Our family has long known that we have distant relatives somewhere across the Atlantic. My grandmother once lived in South America and her sister married and settled there.
However, the family connection was lost around the time of
the First World War, and no documentation existed to identify the surname which Ellen Craig had assumed through her marriage. For a long time we thought she had gone to Canada.
However one of the family members, Richard Wallace, a retired school vice principal, has found the time in recent years to try and track down the missing family. In this week’s edition of the Larne Times I tell the story of Richard and the amazing results of the family quest.
For through the agency of the internet and Ancestry.com, we now have established connection with the family again – after finding them in Argentina. The internet also highlighted another link to Canada, where my grandmother’s brother Alexander Craig, died in a mining accident in Alberta in 1907.
The artefacts which we had included a fading photograph from the early 20th century of Agnes Craig, my grandmother, in Argentina. There are also two large chests with her initials in an attic, reminder of her journey out to Buenos Aires and then return back in 1909 to County Antrim.
The amazing story of lost family connections started for Isobel and Richard Wallace when they were going through old family photographs.
One, which Isobel’s late mother had told her was her grandmother, Agnes Craig of Ballyboley, particularly intrigued. On the back of the mount was elaborate printing from the photographer, who was in Florida, Buenos Aires.
Richard was taking a family history class some time later and began to piece together his wife’s family as a part of illustrating how the internet could help to track down information.
Some details about the family were known, including how another of the Craigs – Alexander – died in the mining accident in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1907. Richard was able to access information on this accident on the internet.
And through work on the church registers at Ballyeaston, he was also able to detail the members of the Craig family.
This resulted in the pieces of the jigsaw coming together in relation to the South American connection. Agnes Craig’s sister Ellen had been the first to make her way to Argentina, along with another local woman named Mary J. McKinty. Richard was able to find online the ship’s list which showed that Ellen sailed from Newport in Wales on the ship Iberia in January 1899.
“I was looking for Agnes Craig in the search but an Ellen Craig came up. It was by sheer chance. She had sailed from Newport in Wales and her voyage took 50 days. There was no occupation listed for her but later we found out she had gone out to be a governess in Buenos Aires. While she was at the ranch she met John Lacy Clark, an American from Kentucky, who was visiting his godparents and learning the Spanish language. They were married and it seems that her sister Agnes and brother Thomas went to Argentina for the wedding,” Richard explained.
But it was through Ancestry.com that the mystery of the missing family was finally revealed. The Ballynure couple, having identified that Ellen had got married in October 1902 John Lacy Clark, then found details of the American posted on the family history site.
The story that emerged was that in 1902 Agnes Craig and her brother Thomas had gone to Argentina to live with their sister. The photograph which Isobel Wallace had of Agnes had been taken at that time.
Agnes decided not to stay in South America, however, and came home in 1909, while her brother Thomas remained in Argentina until 1914.
When she returned home she married my grandfather, Ballycarry farmer and local poet William James Hume, and settled down on the outskirts of the village. She died in childbirth when she was 46, leaving six children, the eldest of them 15 years of age.
Her brother Thomas came back from Argentina in 1914 on a ship to Liverpool and, along with other ex-patriots joined up. He served with the Scots Guards and was to be killed in France in 1916.
Ellen Craig sadly died young too, of consumption at the age of 40, leaving five children, the youngest 12 years of age. Her husband remarried and had a second family.
Once contact had been established with the Argentinian family, Richard says he was able to find out many more details about the Craigs including photographs taken on the ranch, and in turn they received details from Northern Ireland with great interest.
The Argentinian family had memories of their Uncle Thomas, who was killed in the First World War, but not of Agnes, probably because she left earlier.
All five of the children of William John Craig and Isabella Houston of Ballyboley crossed the Atlantic for new lives.
Richard believes that the death of William John Craig at the age of just 28 was the catalyst for this. His widow remarried, which resulted in her giving up the rights to the family farm, but her new husband Hugh Smyth of Larne died within a few years, leaving her with two more children.
The children of William John Craig were to receive monies from the Will when they reached the age of 21, and it is after this time that the Craig family starts to emigrate, leading Richard and Isobel to believe they had enough money to think of starting a new life elsewhere, perhaps through the sale of the family farm, managed by their uncle who was a local schoolmaster.
Isobel said “I grew up with mummy saying that the photograph was taken of her mummy in Argentina and that she went out to help her sister, but she never knew how long her mother was there,”
“My mother left her own home at Ballycarry when she was a young girl to work in Belfast and she never came back to live there, so she would have missed out on any information which may have been discussed at home,” she added.
Her mother, Iza Campbell died in January 2016 in her 103rd year, the last surviving child of Agnes and William Hume of Ballycarry.
Another of the Craig family – Sarah – married James Alexander Huxley of Larne and the couple and their son Thomas Hanna Craig Huxley made a new life in Edmonton, Alberta. But Sarah died at the age of 30 in 1913 and her husband enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was killed in France; his name is on Larne War Memorial.