Marshall of Aghaloo:
The writings of Mrs. Sarah Jane Smith née McCracken


A cottage in Derrykintone townland,
with sheep grazing at pasture and
the wall of the Caledon estate in the background.

Sarah Jane McCracken (1824–1895) was the second eldest child of Henry McCracken and Harriet Louise Gillespie. Her father was a first-generation American descendant of Alexander McCracken (1749–1851) and Margaret Marshall (1763–1827), late 18th century emigrants from the parish of Aghaloo in county Tyrone. Margaret's father was Henry Marshall of Derrykintone.

From a very early age, Sarah's grandfather McCracken related stories about her Irish ancestors, which began with the tale of his elopement with her grandmother, Margaret Marshall, and their emigration to America. The oral traditions also included an accounting of the various ancestors and how they were related, with frequent references to place names in the parish of Aghaloo and environs.

As she grew older, Sarah became aware of another persistent family oral tradition—that a considerable legacy existed in Ireland [1], languishing there but for one of the American branch to make the trans-Atlantic journey, conduct appropriate enquiries, and register a claim. After a time, when other relatives had become too aged to travel, it became Sarah's lot to undertake this endeavour: she was in her forties when she travelled to Ireland c.1868.

These oral traditions and the story of Sarah Smith's Irish sojourn can be told no better than in her own words—first, in a notarized statement dated 23rd March 1877, [2] and second, her recollections of the history, traditions, statements, and lineage of the Marshall and McCracken families, composed on the 29th April 1879. [3]

These documents form part of a considerable archive of McCracken and Marshall family history, as organized by the late Terrance Andrew (Andy) Miller of Columbus, Ohio. This archive runs to seventy-five documents, ranging from correspondence between relatives, powers of attorney executed to authorize various individuals to seek out the elusive fortune, and Mrs. Smith's family history notes, cited above.

The value of Mrs. Smith's statement (1877) and recollections (1879) cannot be overstated. In these, she relates not only her trip to Ireland but also her interviews with Marshall relatives in the parish of Aghaloo and her musings about the same kinds of research conundrums that plague family historians today. Mrs. Smith's reportage provides us with a 150- to 250-year telescopic view of her ancestors—and for those of us with similar research interests, our shared ancestors—in Caledon and surrounding townlands.

This telescopic view begins with Mrs. Smith's interviews with her cousins in the parish, many of whom were born in the early part of the 19th century. Without a provincial newspaper, such as the Armagh Guardian (which did not commence until 1844) to report and record items of local history interest, people relied, as a matter of course, on the spoken word and on passing these oral histories from one generation to the next. Thus, this telescopic view could be extended another generation, to that of the parents, and extended still yet again, to the grandparents of the people who shared their knowledge and memories of family and local history with Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith's cousins had a fairly firm grasp of who had been hatched, matched, and despatched, and when, and of other fascinating details about various characters in their shared family history.

Of course, the reliability of this telescopic view declines with each successive extension, but arguably enlarges the iris of our historical lens into the last half of the 18th century—that period during which Mrs. Smith's grandparents lived in the parish. Because her interviews included a large number of descendants, the result is a pair of documents exceptionally rich in historical and contextual detail not otherwise available to us. 

Not surprisingly, then, analysis of Mrs. Smith's statement and recollections is an integral part of my research of the Marshall family of Aghaloo. Mrs. Smith also obtained, by engaging the services of a lawyer in Ireland, a list of deeds that Mr. Mills (the lawyer) compiled pertaining to Bohard, Derrykintone, Glendavagh, and Farnaloy townlands. By studying these documents with reference to other historical resources—such as memorials of Irish deeds, newspaper articles, and church records—we can assess the reliability of various elements of the documents and, ultimately, integrate the anecdotal data into a larger family history report. Analysis of Mrs. Smith's documents is presented with annotations on the following pages, which will be upated from time to time:

A word on the methodology employed in presenting the results of this research: I have adopted the approach of working chronologically, beginning with the earliest deed which dates to 1713, and moving forward through both the deeds and the kinds of historic documents described above. The memorials of Irish deeds pertaining to the Marshall surname—copies of which I obtained during a research trip to Salt Lake City in May, 2016—run to 248 in number. To date (26th Sept. 2016), I have progressed to 1753 in the transcription, indexing, and posting of these deeds. Indeed (pun acknowledged), it was a memorial dated 10th October 1753, involving a lease granted by Henry Marshall of Curlagh of forty acres in Bohard—a townland which figures significantly in Mrs. Smith's story—that triggered a diversion from the work on the memorials, to create the new section entitled, Enquiries conducted by Sarah Jane Smith née McCracken (1868–1879).

In fine, we would be remiss were we not to acknowledge that intrepid streak in Mrs. Smith's character which permitted her to travel to Ireland in 1868—a woman, alone, in an era when a man making such enquiries would have been taken more seriously. She arrived in port—presumably Belfast, Londonderry, or Newry—then made her way by train to Armagh, found lodgings and then her bearings, in order to conduct her pursuit of ancestral and tresorial legacy—getting around by shank's mare, or by carriage when friends‡ came to her aid. In 2016, such an undertaking would be notable: in 1868, it was nothing short of remarkable.

 ‡ Then as now, many Irish refer to their cousins as friends.


Sources and notes:


This legacy was understood to descend from the maternal side, that is, through Margaret Marshall's mother, Mattie Chambers, wife to Henry Marshall of Derrykintone. Please note that this study of the Marshalls of Aghaloo does not include the objective or an attempt to trace such a legacy, if it existed.


Smith, Sarah Jane née McCracken. Sworn statement, dated 23 March 1877 (Leavenworth, Kansas). Transcribed by Terrance Andrew (Andy) Miller of Columbus, Ohio, 2004-08-13, and annotated by Alison Kilpatrick, 2016.


Smith, Sarah Jane née McCracken. The history, traditions, statements, and lineage of the Marshall family and the McCracken family, dated 29 April 1879 (Leavenworth, Kansas). Transcribed by Andy Miller of Columbus, Ohio, and forwarded to Alison Kilpatrick, 13 August 2004.

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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2016. 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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