Ambiguous beginning

John Joseph Huggins was born c.1816 in or near the town of Caledon, county Tyrone [source no. 1]. His parents were James Huggins, Esq. (c.1775-1860) and a woman whose name has been transmitted to us by oral tradition as Sylvia Ackerman. Perhaps it is best to quote from this tradition:

     Previous generation.
     Nameless. The youngest son of a squire, perhaps a Baronet, in
     County Armagh, N. Ireland. The squire's second wife—a Roman
     Catholic— took her child back to Denmark (Sylvia? Ackerman?)
     whence he was returned by her family 10-12 years later to the
     father. The boy refused to obey his father (Protestant), was
     disowned, joined the Army & rose to R.S.M.*

* R.S.M. is the abbreviation for Regimental Sergeant Major.

This paragraph was part of a four-page memoir, penned by John Joseph's grandson, John Alfred Huggins, in 1962 [2]. A copy was conveyed to me earlier in 2015 from newfound cousins. After researching this family for twelve years, this is an exciting find. Yet, as is so often the case in genealogical research, this document sheds light on certain questions but also raises others.

By parsing this paragraph, we may compare the details with what has been found to date in archival records:

  • The youngest son: Difficult to assess, unless other records emerge. The church records for the parish of Aghaloo do not survive from a sufficiently early date to confirm this. James Huggins' will, proved 1860, does not mention other sons.
  • ... of a squire, perhaps a Baronet: James Huggins did not hold a noble title. However, in the contemporary newspapers, his name was accompanied by the courtesy title of Esquire. His was the last of several generations of "respectable" gentlemen of this family line to occupy Glenarb townland, near the town of Caledon, in the parish of Aughaloo, county Tyrone.
  • ... in County Armagh, N. Ireland: Though the Huggins family had land ownership interests in the parish of Derrynoose, on the east bank of the river Blackwater, they lived in Glenarb townland, on the west bank of that river.
  • The squire's second wife: The gravestone for John's father lies in the Presbyterian section of Caledon churchyard, and is inscribed "James and Jane Eliza Huggins." There is no mention of a second wife.
  • ... a Roman Catholic: The only document found to date which states that John Joseph Huggins was R.C. is his death certificate. This, together with his marriage into a Catholic family originating from county Mayo, are reasonable indicators as to his religious denomination. But we have no record to confirm the name, place of origin, or religious denomination of John Huggins' mother. Recently (2015-07-08), the National Library of Ireland placed digital copies of all its Catholic registers online. Most unfortunately, as is the case for the Anglican and Presbyterian records for the parish of Aughaloo, the surviving Catholic parish registers commence too late to find a baptism for John Huggins. The same holds true for the neighbouring parishes of Errigal Truagh, Donagh, Tyholland, Tynan, Eglish, Clogher, etc. Only the records of the parishes of Clonfeacle and Tullyallen survive from an early enough period: these have been reviewed, and a baptism has not been found.
  • ... took her child back to Denmark: Difficult to assess, unless other records emerge. If the child were raised in another country, he should have acquired complete fluency in that language: no hint of this has come down the generations. The predominant religious denomination in Denmark was Lutheranism, while Roman Catholics comprised a very small minority: still, it was possible to raise a child in that denomination in Denmark. Yet, how did an Irish country squire meet and court a woman from Denmark who, instead of going home to her family, stayed in Caledon to give birth? Finally, there are townlands the names of which sound like Denmark, and these have to be considered as possible places of origin for John's mother. Examples are numerous and range across the province of Ulster, but to name a few: Dernahesk, parish of Rossory, county Fermanagh; Donaghrisk, parish of Desertcreat, county Tyrone; Drummuck, parish of Ballybay, county Monaghan; Dunnaluck, parish of Currin, county Monaghan; Dunseark, parish of Clonfeacle, county Tyrone; and, Dernamuck, parish of Errigal Truagh, county Monaghan, home of the Anketell family, familiar to the Huggins of Glenarb.
  • (Sylvia? Ackerman?): The surname Ackerman was rare in Ireland (but was common in Denmark). In considering local names that sound similar, one possibility is Kerman: Griffith's Valuation recorded two households with this surname in Stewartstown, in the parish of Donaghenry, county Tyrone (1860), and once in Dublin (1854). The family in Stewartstown appears to have been Church of Ireland (Anglican). Other possibilities include Kernan, McKernan, and McClernan which occurred frequently in the county Tyrone. These, and other surnames which sound similar to Ackerman would have been worth tracing, had the Catholic church records survived from the time of John Huggins' birth.
  • ... he was returned by her family 10-12 years later to the father: Difficult to assess in the absence of passenger records, but this is the kind of contextual information which can be preserved only by oral tradition.
  • The boy refused to obey his father (Protestant), was disowned: Ditto.
  • ... joined the Army & rose to R.S.M.: Confirmed to the British Army service record for John Huggins.

Because John Alfred Huggins wrote these notes in 1962—forty years after the death of his father, Samuel John Huggins, from whom he received this oral tradition—we have to allow that the accuracy of what was related might have suffered from the passage of time.

Whether John Huggins' mother was a local woman, whose family lived in a townland that sounded somewhat like Denmark, or if she were truly Danish, we may never know. I am inclined to believe the former, but am happy to be corrected by any record which emerges to solve this family history mystery.


  1. British Army Service Records 1760-1915; John Joseph Huggins (1816-1876), born in or near Caledon, county Tyrone, attested 30th June 1834, service no. 2841, pensioned out 8th October 1855; original records: National Archives, London, England, ref. WO97/1555/2841; copies obtained by commission from a military research specialist attending at the Public Record Office, England (2003); transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.
  2. Family history notes (1962) compiled by John Alfred Huggins (1896-1962), of Toronto, Ontario; from the collection of his niece, Mary Elizabeth Brandum née Huggins (1926-2007), of Ohio; gratefully received from Carole Herbert, 2015-01-25.

Next: The fractious years.

If you have a family history connection to a Huggins family from the county of Tyrone—or if you have information to add to the biographical sketches presented here—please consider getting in touch via the contact page.

This page was first published on the 21st October 2015, and edited subsequently on the 23rd October and the 18th November, 2015.

Return to John Joseph Huggins (1816–1876) index page.
Return to Huggins of Glenarb, parish of Aghaloo index page.

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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2015. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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