The American Connection

Updated: 19 December 2013

[A less current variation on this story appears in the October 2013 issue of the New Zealand Genealogist.  The theme of the issue was family taonga (Maori for treasure) and it features the bible I have inherited which belonged to Emily.  ScanTranscript.]

I am 1/16th American.  My great-great grandmother Emily Kinley Wilson was born in Cressona, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania in 1854, the daughter of William E Wilson of Magherafelt, Londonderry, Ireland.  She died in Auckland, New Zealand in 1939.

Grandad was my main source of information when I started out looking further into her family tree. He had found that William E was the son of Rev John (I) Wilson of Lecumpher Presbytarian Church in Magherafelt.  Rev John (I) (c1772 – 1821) was followed in his calling by his son James (1803 – 1878), who was then followed by his sons Thomas (1840 – 1884) and then John (III) (1831 – 1890).

Here’s what Grandad wrote about William E. in a letter to find more information:

He married in Ireland Florence M. C. Kinley and the couple immigrated to USA, where their eldest daughter Emily Kinley Wilson (my grandmother) was born in 1854.  Emily and her mother Florence next surface in 1872, back in Magherafelt where Emily married my grandfather Robert Black.  Her marriage certificate describes her father as “the late William E Wilson, merchant, of Cressona, USA”.  Another Irish record states that Wm E Wilson died on March 19, 1859, but where not stated.

Florence was believed to be the daughter of John and Mary Kinley.  This was supported by a silver spoon  inscribed with the initials J.M.K which is hallmarked to 1822.   Emily gave it to Grandad around 1930 saying it was a wedding present to her grandparents.  Florence was a witness at Emily’s wedding.

The daughter of the minister at Lecumpher in the 1980’s kindly sent Grandad a transcript of all the family inscriptions. Included was a tombstone in the cemetery  of the children of Rev John (I) Wilson.  William E. is listed at the bottom with his death being on March 19, 1859.  This photo was taken on a trip there in 2002.

Photo of Tombstone of John Wilson's children

Living in the UK, I started finding out more about the Wilson’s of Lecumpher.  I quickly found a family tree which had been lodged with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) which debunked the details of Emily’s mother.

It turns out William E’s mother was Anne Kinley, daughter of John Kinley (1750 – 1819) and Mary Carr (1755 – ?).  They were the JMK of the silver spoon – which could also be hallmarked to 1782, the year before they married.  Their lineage was documented in the tree I’d found.

So the mystery of who was Emily’s mother remained.  The search was not aided by not knowing her name. It remained a mystery to me for over ten years.

Then Ancestry got the Pennsylvania Church and Town Records.  I made a beeline for the National Library in Wellington to see what I could find.

I found some but not all.

William E Wilson married Matilda Bushe Wilson on 20 January 1853 at the St James Episcopal Church in Schuylkill Haven, the town next to Cressona.  On the 12 March 1856, at the same church, they had their daughters Emily Kinley Wilson (b. 1854) and Florence Coulter Wilson (b.1855) baptised.

So I had found the elusive Florence.  Emily had her sister as a witness at her wedding.  And I have since discovered from a bible held by the family that Emily’s godparents were Thomas and Mary Coulter which would account for her middle name.  Emily and Florence’s great-uncle Thomas Kinley married a Coulter, so there may have been a family connection.

Checking the other entries, I believe that Matilda’s maiden name was Wilson.  She’s not one of William’s relatives as far as I’m aware.  And I haven’t found anything else about her, such as when or where she was born.  But at least I now know her name!

For many many years I had no idea where William E died or was buried.  It was sort of assumed by the family that he had died in the US and was being commemorated by his siblings back in Ireland.  An inquiry in 2001 found that the local Pennsylvania authorities only held death information from 1893.  There is no entry for him being buried at St James.

Assuming that he had died in Cressona, there was also the question of when his family went back to Ireland.  They aren’t on the 1860 US Census – undertaken in June.  Passenger lists OUT of the US are not easy to come by.

So imagine my surprise to find this in the Belfast Morning News of 24 March 1859 (available on Find My Past for a fee):

March 19, at the residence of his brothers, in Magherafelt, where he had arrived a few days previously from America, Mr Wm E Wilson, late of Cressona, Pennsylvania, youngest son of the late Rev. John Wilson of Lecumpher.

So William E had returned home with his family.

Find My Past has yielded more.  The ‘Transatlantic Migration from North America to Britain & Ireland 1858-1870 Transcription’ collection includes their return journey.  They traveled first class on the Edinburgh which left New York on 24 February 1859 and arrived in Glasgow on 12 March.  It provides further information.  Firstly, there are 5 Wilson’s on the ship.  The fifth one traveled third class and is therefore not one of ours.  So William E and Matilda had no other children.

[As a small aside, the Edinburgh hit an iceberg on its next journey from New York to Glasgow in June 1859.  She didn’t sink, but what story that would be!]

But the best thing is the information it provides on Matilda.  She is aged 29, therefore born around 1830.  She gives her nationality as Irish, which is the same as her husbands, but the girls’ have American as their nationality.  Now I have somewhere to search for more on her, including her trip the US in the first place.

Here’s an edited condensed version of Kinley Wilson tree.

That ‘E’

I have yet to discover what the ‘E’ in William E stood for.  Grandad assumed it was Ernest as Emily named one of her sons William Ernest.  But William E also had a nephew called William Ebenezer – perhaps named for his uncle?

I have yet to see any document about him which states what it is.  The records of his marriage and his daughters’ baptisms both have the ‘E’.  In contrast, his wife’s name is spelled out in full.

Perhaps it was just as affectation?  None of his siblings appear to have a middle name.

The Wilson family of Lecumpher

Lecumpher Presbytarian Church is set in a lovely rural location in Magherafelt, Londonderry, Ireland.

Photo of Lecumpher Parish Church taken 2002

The congregation there started in the late 18th century – it was a shorter walk than to Ballygoney, six miles away.  In 1796, John (I) Wilson of Tyrone was ordained as minister of the church, starting a dynasty of Wilson ministers which lasted until 1890.

When John (I) died in 1821, the congregation waited four years until his son James could be ordained in 1825.  James was minister there for 53 years and died in 1878.  He left 6 children by his wife Sarah Weir (? – c1843).  Tragically, his fourth and sixth sons, James Mason and Hugh passed away of a fever within a month of each other in 1863.

James and Sarah’s youngest son Thomas Kinley Wilson followed his father as minister at Lecumpher.  He passed away suddenly in 1884 after “an attack of paralysis” aged only 44.  Thomas was Emily’s guardian at the time of her wedding (she was only 18 – I’m not sure if this is a sexist thing or if her mother was dead by then).

Thomas was followed at Lecumpher by his oldest brother John (III).  He and his wife Anna Jane Neilson tendered the congregation until John’s death in 1890.

Another brother of Thomas and James, Silas Ebenezer Wilson was also a minister.  He served in Dromore.

Given the lack of religion that now exists in my family, I used to wonder if William E had immigrated to America to get away from all that religion.  He followed his older brother John (II) who immigrated with his family on the Wyoming  in 1848.

It turns out I was quite wrong.  John (II) was married to Alicia Campbell.  Her uncle Alexander Campbell founded Bethany College in West Virginia and was an early leader in the “Second Great Awakening” – a religious movement which resulted in a number of new church groups in America including the Churches of Christ.

In addition, William E’s aunt, Sarah Kinley married Robert “Robin” Tener who, with their sons, was also a religious mover and shaker.  They too had immigrated to America.

See the Kinley Wilson tree for how they all fit together.


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